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Topics: Life Planning Advice

November 11, 2023

Many Americans spend more hours than they’d like managing necessary financial components of life while balancing caring for a family, performing at work and enjoying time with loved ones. Despite working hard to try to strike a perfect balance, financial planning, saving and investing can be tedious and time consuming, and maybe even daunting.

This is where a fiduciary comes in.

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What Is a Fiduciary?

The term fiduciary is thrown around in the financial services world, but few people truly understand it.

A fiduciary is a person or organization that acts on behalf of another person or persons, and puts their clients' interests ahead of their own. A fiduciary has a duty to act in good faith and serve clients by earning trust and confidence. Being a fiduciary thus requires being bound both legally and ethically to act in the client’s best interests.

To the Financial Advisors at Trilogy Financial, it’s more than that. Yes, we believe “fiduciary” means putting clients best interest before our own. However, we take it steps further to demonstrate with evidence that our proposals are in the client’s best interest. The evidence, be it in a financial planning concept or investment strategy, is the key to being a fiduciary.

Why Is It Essential To Work With a Fiduciary?

When a fiduciary presents evidence that their proposals are in the clients best interest, it leads to confidence. That confidence leads to good financial decisions over time. As Life Planners, that is what Trilogy’s Financial Advisors are working towards.

A fiduciary's main goal is to help set clients on an upright financial track through financial behavioral coaching, accountability and to help clients develop a Life Plan. A financial advisor and fiduciary will also help you prepare for retirement by maximizing the profitability of resources directed towards saving plans, develop estate plan strategies and more.

As Advisors, we anticipate individual’s or family’s needs over time, which allows us to be a better fiduciary. We believe a true fiduciary guides clients through life’s roughest patches and toughest situations.

Let a Fiduciary Be By Your Side When Life Planning

Let’s face it…a fiduciary can help ensure your financial goals are aligned in the same direction as your ambitions. Right? Proper financial planning requires objectification of your goals through the hands of an excellent financial partner who can help you with the following.

Help you save for retirement

For many, having $1 million worth of liquid cash and a list of profitable assets by the time they retire is a dream come true. However it’s a difficult dream to work towards for many Americans. That’s where a fiduciary comes in.

The secret to getting the retirement and lifestyle you dream is preparedness and time. The earlier you begin to save, the better. Beginning early allows you to make small contributions that will accumulate to a lump sum amount over a long period. For instance, if you start saving $5,000 every year from your mid-20s, by the time you are 40 years old, you will mostly likely have crossed a quarter a million mark. Remember, you will still be young, energetic, and even determined to save more. Because compounding is so powerful, if you continue saving the same amount by the time you are 65, you could be almost at $1.5 million, more than what you had intended to save.

In contrast, if you start saving at 35, even if you double that amount to $10,000, you may stagnate at $840,000 by the time you hit retirement age. So, the earlier you begin to save, the more you will receive at retirement. But do not be deterred if you are starting later in life. With the right planning, it’s never too late to achieve your goals. A Trilogy Financial Advisor can develop strategies to compound savings through investments and other growth opportunities.

Save for education stress-free

According to Market Watch, an average American will spend over $58,464 on their child's education from primary school to the undergraduate level, doubling the UK's average spend and tripling France's. Now imagine you are the head of a typical American family with more than 3 dependents; you will need almost $200,000 for education alone.  This is a huge dent in a family's finances. Fortunately, a fiduciary can help you save for education and college. Saving about a third of your earnings for a decade with the purpose of spending it on education will take the pressure of school fees off your shoulders.

Grow your wealth

The potential of growing your total net worth is an exciting process. Our Financial Advisors help you to navigate investment opportunities and mitigate risk, serving as guides as you work to grow your investments. At Trilogy Financial, we believe investing is about more than positive returns. Growing your wealth is a tool that can help you achieve financial freedom and live the life you’ve dreamed of. A fiduciary can coach you through building out the investment portfolio that aligns with your unique goals, and empower you to make the meaningful decisions to pursue your life dreams.

Plan your estate strategy

Due to the complex nature of estate planning, estate strategies should be tailored to your unique needs. And each strategy should aim to protect and preserve your assets for future generations.

Regardless of the value of the estate, a fiduciary will help you plan for the estate by:

  • Ensuring your beneficiaries receive what you’ve planned for them after you pass
  • Planning for lifetime gifts through trust and minimization of diminishing estate taxes
  • Helping you to pass assets or a business to your younger generations
  • Identifying powers of attorney to ensure your wishes come true

 

Trilogy Takes a Bold Financial Approach

For us, care is at the center of everything we do as fiduciaries.. We care about each client like they’re an extension of the family. Every day, with every piece of advice, we empower our clients to live wealthy. Ready to explore the benefits of working with a fiduciary? Review Trilogy's Financial Life Planning Tool to see some of the areas of focus we’d suggest on the path to financial freedom.

Bottom Line

A fiduciary helps you make critical financial decisions that are in your best interest, for your Life Plan. Our Financial Advisors work with clients nationwide. Regardless of your location, we have an office nearby or a virtual way to connect from the comfort of your home.

Start Life Planning today.

Fiduciary investment advisory services are only offered through Trilogy Capital (TC), a Registered Investment Advisor. TC markets advisory services under the name of Trilogy Financial (TF), an affiliated but separate legal entity. TC and TF are separate entities from LPL.

May 22, 2023

As the cost of living rises, households worldwide feel the squeeze. Inflation impacts everything from groceries to housing to healthcare, and families struggle to make ends meet as they stretch their budgets to the limit.

Recent statistics show the inflation rate in the United States has risen to its highest level in over four decades. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased by 7% over the past year alone. Inflation is a persistent increase in the prices of goods and services over time, leading to a decline in purchasing power of money. It affects the economy in many ways, including households, as it erodes their buying power, making it difficult to afford basic necessities.

A couple seeking help from a financial advisor.
A mature diverse couple shakes hands with a financial advisor.

How Is Inflation Impacting Households Today?

Inflation is affecting families significantly, with prices of goods and services rising rapidly. One area where inflation has a noticeable impact is the cost of groceries. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices have increased by 6% in the past year.

Inflation is also impacting the cost of housing. According to the National Association of Home Builders, lumber has increased by more than 167% since April 2020, making building, renting or renovating homes much more expensive.

Other areas where inflation impacts households include transportation, healthcare and energy costs. With gas prices rising, transportation costs are increasing making it more expensive for families to commute to work or travel.

Healthcare costs are also rising, with medical services and prescription drugs becoming more expensive daily. Additionally, the cost of energy, including electricity and natural gas, is increasing impacting household budgets.

 

How We Got Here and Why?

The United States has experienced an increase in inflation in recent years, fueled by a combination of factors, including:

Supply  chain disruptions: The COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions in supply chains, leading to shortages of goods and raw materials and higher consumer prices.

Government stimulus: The US government has implemented several rounds of stimulus packages in response to the pandemic, flooding the economy with cash and contributing to inflation.

Labor shortages: The pandemic also caused labor shortages in many industries, which has led to increased wages for workers and higher prices for consumers.

Rising energy costs: The cost of energy has increased, with higher prices for gasoline and other commodities, which has increased the cost of goods and services.

Monetary policy: The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low to stimulate economic growth, contributing to inflation by making it cheaper for consumers and businesses to borrow money.

These factors have all contributed to the current state of inflation in the US. However, inflation is complex and multifaceted; many other factors are also at play.

7 Tips to Help Navigate Inflation

Inflation can be a challenging economic environment for households to navigate. Here are tips from our team of advisors at Trilogy Financial that can help you manage inflationary pressures.

1. Calculate Your Inflation Rate

This measure provides a more accurate reflection of the inflation you are experiencing compared to the general inflation rate reported in the media.

A financial advisor can help calculate your personal inflation rate by analyzing your spending habits and identifying the goods and services that make up your personal consumption basket. This process can involve reviewing bank and credit card statements, examining household bills, and discussing significant lifestyle or spending habits changes to help you track the prices of these items over time and calculate your inflation rate.

2. Create a Cash Management Strategy

A cash management strategy will allow you to preserve your purchasing power and financial stability. A financial advisor can help you create a strategy that aligns with your financial goals and risk tolerance by:

  • Assessing your current financial situation,
  • Identifying your short-term and long-term cash needs, and
  • Recommending appropriate investments that balance liquidity, yield, and risk.

The strategy can involve diversifying cash holdings across different asset classes, using inflation-indexed bonds or money market funds, and considering alternative investments that offer potential inflation protection.

3. Discuss When and How to Use TIPS to Protect Against Inflation

Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are a type of U.S. government bond indexed to inflation. As inflation rises, the principal and interest payments of TIPS adjust accordingly, providing investors with a hedge against inflation. A financial advisor may recommend TIPS if you want to protect your portfolio against inflationary pressures or maintain your purchasing power over the long term. It could involve assessing your risk tolerance and investment objectives and recommending an appropriate allocation to TIPS within a diversified portfolio.

4. Discuss Alternative ‘Inflation-Hedging' Assets

In addition to TIPS, assets such as commodities, real estate and stocks of companies with pricing power can provide inflation protection. A financial advisor can help you choose the right assets for your portfolio by assessing your investment objectives, risk tolerance and time horizon. As a result, they can recommend an appropriate allocation to inflation-hedging assets that balance return and risk, like commodity funds, real estate investment trusts (REITs) or sector ETFs offering exposure to companies with pricing power.

5. Strategize for How to Avoid ‘Tax Bracket Creep' as Income Rises

Tax bracket creep pushes an individual's income into a higher tax bracket, resulting in a higher tax bill. This move can erode the purchasing power of your income and reduce your savings.

A financial advisor can help you strategize on how to avoid tax bracket creep by considering tax-efficient investment vehicles, such as Roth IRAs, tax-loss harvesting and charitable donations.

6. Review Homeowners and Other Insurance Solutions to Avoid Under Coverage

As the value of assets, goods and services increase due to inflation, the cost of replacing them also rises. A financial advisor can help you review your insurance coverage and ensure they have inflation protection from risks.

Advisors can also educate you on the different types of insurance available and their benefits, such as umbrella insurance, which can provide additional liability coverage in case of a significant lawsuit or accident.

7. Reassess Long-Term Inflation Assumptions for Retirement Projections

Inflation can significantly impact retirement savings and planning because it reduces the purchasing power of money over time. Individuals will need to save more to maintain their living standards in retirement.

A financial advisor can help you reassess your long-term inflation assumptions for retirement projections by analyzing your current savings and investment strategies, projecting future inflation rates, and identifying potential gaps in your retirement plans.

From Us to You: Control Your Financial Future

As inflation continues to affect households, you should take control of your financial situation and work with a financial advisor to develop a plan aligning with your goals, risk tolerance and personal situation.

Trilogy Financial is a financial advisory firm dedicated to helping clients navigate the complex world of personal finance. We offer comprehensive services, including financial planning, investment management, and retirement planning.

If you are concerned about the impact of inflation on your finances, contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced advisors. We are here to help you take control of your financial situation and navigate through the challenges of inflation.

Female financial advisor meeting with clients.
Female financial advisor meeting and discussing expert inflation protection tips with clients.

 

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The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual 2. Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

May 16, 2023

Planning for retirement amid changing market dynamics can be stressful, especially as retirement age approaches. Fortunately, there are a myriad of ways to prepare for it, even if you plan to retire early.

OPTIMIZE YOUR RETIREMENT INCOME

One of our top tips is to optimize your retirement income by setting yourself up with a diversified portfolio that offers a solid return. If you are in your twenties, there is a big opportunity to let compound interest work its magic. If you are in your thirties or forties, compound interest may not be as lucrative for you, but there are still plenty of ways to maximize your returns.

Here are some of the different options available to help plan for retirement:

  • SEP IRA – a self-employed retirement plan known as the Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA requires employers to contribute 100% of the accounts' funds and provide equal benefits to all eligible employees.
  • 401(k) – An individual retirement plan for which contributions are not tax-deductible, but withdrawals in retirement are tax-free.
  • Roth IRA – An individual retirement plan for which contributions are not tax-deductible, but withdrawals in retirement are tax-free.

Each option has its differences, so it is important to work with an advisor to identify which is best suited to your situation and your goals. There’s a lot that can go into your Life Plan and we are here to help.

happy woman on piggyback with man enjoying outdoors
Senior couple enjoying happy retirement lifestyle

DEVELOP A BUDGET AND SAVINGS PLAN

Budgeting can make a world of difference. If you haven’t already, establish an emergency fund. This will give you peace of mind and will help pay for any unexpected expenses that may arise. Once you’ve set that money aside, you can plan your monthly expenses, retirement contributions and more with the rest of the income you have.

As you develop this budget and savings plan to get you to your retirement goals, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What quality of life do I want to experience in retirement?
  • What medical expenses do I anticipate?
  • Do I plan on working during retirement?
  • Will I have a flow of income during retirement?

These are all important considerations and will help you develop an actionable plan to achieve the retirement lifestyle you dream of.

DETERMINE YOUR TAX BRACKET AND MINIMIZE YOUR TAXES

In retirement, taxes can eat into your available income, leaving you with less to live on. It's important to remember that taxes don't stop once you're retired. Our financial advisors are here to help guide you take steps throughout your working life to minimize your IRS obligations now and later.

The same basic tax brackets that apply to working taxpayers also apply to retirees. Determining your tax bracket in retirement is just like determining your tax bracket while you’re working – which  is determined by your filing status and taxable income (income minus deductions).

Common sources of retirement income that are taxable include:

  • Distributions from traditional 401(k)s and IRAs
  • Investment income
  • A portion of your Social Security benefits (in some situations)
  • Some pension income
  • Income from work (full or part time)

INVEST TO ADD ADDITIONAL CASH FLOW IN RETIREMENT

If building wealth is your goal, the stock market or other investment strategies are common options. Investments such as annuities, real estate investment trusts (REITs) and income-producing equities can offer additional retirement income beyond Social Security, a pension, savings and other investments.

DETERMINE THE AMOUNT OF RISK THAT IS APPROPRIATE FOR YOU

It is important to keep in mind that all investments come with risk. If you are young, you can probably tolerate more risk. If you are in your thirties or forties, however, you might benefit from taking a lower risk approach. This is because people in their twenties have more time to correct and mitigate losses. A financial advisor can help you decide if you would like to take a low-risk, slow-and-steady approach, or guide you through a high-risk approach with the potential of yielding higher returns.

PAY OFF YOUR DEBTS

It’s important to pay off credit card debt and student loans as soon as possible. Systematically chipping away at debt now, can have a significant impact on your future debts and purchasing power.

A mortgage can be looked at as both a good debt and a bad debt, depending on your goals. Many people choose to rent a home to avoid being tied to a mortgage, and others use that property as a cash-positive asset. Depending on your goals, it’s important to discuss each of these approaches with a financial advisor so they can help guide you through something that will ultimately benefit you and your family.

MAXIMIZE YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

Navigating Social Security income can be complicated, but there are several ways to maximize your social security benefits, including:

  • Work for 35 years or more
  • Earn as much as you can right up until full retirement age (or past it)
  • If you can, wait until you are 70 years old to claim – this can increase your benefit by 8% a year beyond your full retirement age

The goal is to maximize the income you will receive from Social Security, but the answer for you will depend on your age, current income, marital status, spouse’s income, and the age disparity between you and your spouse. With all the complexities to Social Security planning, there is no substitute for meeting with a trusted financial advisor so you can best navigate your life in retirement.

CONSIDER ESTABLISHING STREAMS OF PASSIVE INCOME

It's important to remember that there are multiple ways to set yourself up for prosperity during your golden years.

These include:

  • Investing in real estate
  • Investing in the stock market
  • Starting an ecommerce business
  • Writing books
  • Earning royalties of any kind
  • Investing in collectibles
  • Investing in gold and silver

In short, it's best to invest in as many financial assets as you possibly can in order to establish streams of passive income so that you are not solely reliant on one source for your earnings and returns.

ESTABLISH MULTIPLE STREAMS OF INCOME

You may want to consider continuing to work during retirement. This provides many people with a sense of satisfaction and purpose, AND you will be able to keep your benefits.

The earlier you establish multiple sources of income the better. Ideally, at least a few of these would be passive.

You deserve to be comfortable during retirement, and planning for this phase of life right now will likely help you achieve your goals, perhaps even surpass them. You have worked hard for most of your years around the sun, and you deserve to relax and enjoy every moment on your own terms during your golden years.

Why Choose Trilogy Financial

Planning your retirement strategy is important but not something to stress over. If you’ve already started saving, one of our certified financial planners can help you optimize your savings, investing and risk approach so you can live the retirement life you dream. However, if you haven’t started planning for retirement yet, there’s no better day than today!

Our Advisors will work with you to develop a deeper understanding of your alternatives, pinpoint practical needs and make plans for the care you and your family deserve. Please contact us to start your retirement planning today.

happy senior couple holding hands and walking on summer beach
You deserve to be comfortable during retirement
March 8, 2023

Estate planning is an essential step to help protect the wealth that you've spent your life building. Meeting with an estate planner will help to create a comprehensive plan that will allow your assets to effectively pass to your assigned beneficiaries. Creating this initial plan can feel overwhelming, and we are here to help you prepare.

Here are five important questions you can expect to discuss with your estate advisor as you start to plan for your future.

How Would You Like Your Wealth to Pass to Your Heirs or Elsewhere?

The basis of your estate plan is where you want to direct your wealth and how you'd like that to happen. No matter how large or small your estate is, you'll need to decide how it should be distributed among children, grandchildren, other family members or favorite charity organizations. For example, this could mean leaving different parties a percentage of your total assets, or leaving one child your business and another child your vacation home.

It’s important to also think about whether you want your beneficiaries to receive their inheritance all at once or not. If you have a disabled child requiring lifelong care on your list, or someone who needs a little extra help managing their money, you may want a trust or annuity structure in place to pay out the inheritance in increments.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Costs and Conflicts for Your Heirs?

Costs for your beneficiaries are most likely to come up if your estate needs to go through probate, which is the process by which a court distributes your assets. In addition to financial costs, there are other reasons to avoid probate. Probate can be a long and exhausting process – meaning, your heirs will not be able to access your estate right away. If you have dependents who will rely on the money in your estate, this can be an especially serious concern. In addition, probate adds your estate information to the public record, which you may want to avoid. There are several strategies your financial advisor might recommend to avoid probate. These include placing assets in a trust and moving funds into joint accounts with your beneficiaries.

Conflict among heirs is another common concern, especially in families where conflict already exists. While the legal documents included in your estate should help minimize disagreements and make it more difficult for someone to contest your wishes, communication during your lifetime is important as well. Disagreements often surround specific items like jewelry or sentimental pieces rather than your financial assets. Labeling these items, writing a letter of instruction and starting to pass on these things during your lifetime can all help make your intentions clear.

How Can You Reduce Your Tax Burden?

After a lifetime of working to earn your money, you likely want to direct your wealth to your loved ones rather than the government. In 2023, only estates valued at $12.92 million (or $25.84 million for some married couples) or more may be subject to the federal estate tax. If, upon your death, the total value of your estate is less than the applicable exclusion amount, no federal estate taxes will be due.

Depending on the state you live in, your heirs or your estate might also be subject to state estate or inheritance taxes. If taxes are a concern for your estate, there are several ways to reduce your tax burden.

One simple option is to start passing money along during your lifetime. Based on the 2022 gift tax exemption limit, individuals can give up to $16,000 per recipient per year. This lets you give money directly to your children or grandchildren while reducing the value of your estate, which will reduce your tax bill. Other options include a marital trust, which allows one spouse to place assets in trust for the other spouse, and an irrevocable life insurance trust, which can pay for life insurance premiums with tax-deductible funds and then avoid estate taxes later on.

Are You Already Working with Financial Professionals?

If you're already working with an estate attorney, a financial planner or a tax professional, it's important for your estate planner to understand the strategies your existing financial team has recommended. You'll want to make sure that all of these members of your team are working together so you aren't paying for duplicated efforts or conflicting suggestions.

If you aren't already working with a financial team, your estate planner may recommend that you do so depending on the details of your estate plan. If you have complex tax concerns, you might need to talk to a tax expert. Depending on the type of trust that you wish to establish, you may need an estate attorney to set it up.

How Will Changes in Your Life Change Your Estate Plan?

Your estate plan should have the flexibility to adapt to changes in your lifestyle, family structure or life expectancy. Your initial plan will be based on your current circumstances, but you should consider potential future concerns and possible solutions.

Divorce and Remarriage

Divorce and remarriage are common life changes that can affect your estate plan. If you remarry, you may not want your new spouse to manage the inheritance of your children from the first marriage. This can create the need for a new trust to be established. In addition, if you have more children in later marriages, you will again need to update your estate plan.

Life Expectancy and Medical Issues

There are other lifestyle considerations that might change as well. For example, if based on your family history you expect to live into your 90s, you might not want to start giving away assets to avoid estate taxes. And if medical issues arise and your life expectancy changes, you will likely need to adjust your plan.

While you won't need to make any decisions based on hypotheticals, it's a good idea to discuss the possibilities.

How to Get Started?

Your estate plan is a key component of your Life Plan. To create an estate plan that addresses the above questions and any other concerns you may have, you'll need to start by finding the right estate advisor. Talk to the Trilogy Financial team to take control of your finances today while maximizing your future opportunities.

Download your free Estate Strategies eBook to learn how to protect your estate.

 

family happy after meeting with estate planner
family happy with estate planning and secure future

 

May 13, 2022

Have you ever had one of those months? The water heater stops heating, the dishwasher stops washing, and your family ends up on a first-name basis with the nurse at urgent care. Then, as you're driving to work, you see smoke coming from under your hood. Bad things happen to the best of us, and sometimes it seems like they come in waves. That's when an emergency cash fund can come in handy. One survey found that nearly 25% of Americans have no emergency savings. Another survey found that 40% of Americans said they wouldn't be able to comfortably handle an unexpected $1,000 expense.1,2

How Much Money?

How large should an emergency fund be? There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. The ideal amount may depend on your financial situation and lifestyle. For example, if you own a home or have dependents, you may be more likely to face financial emergencies. And if a job loss affects your income, you may need emergency funds for months.

Coming Up with Cash

If saving several months of income seems unreasonable, don't despair. Start with a more modest goal, such as saving $1,000, and build your savings a bit at a time. Consider setting up automatic monthly transfers into the fund. Once your savings begin to build, you may be tempted to use the money in the account for something other than an emergency. Try to avoid that. Instead, budget and prepare separately for bigger expenses you know are coming.

Where Do I Put It?

Many people open traditional savings accounts to hold emergency funds. They typically offer modest rates of return. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures bank accounts for up to $250,000 per depositor, per institution, in principal and interest.3 Others turn to money market accounts or money market funds in emergencies. While money market accounts are savings accounts, money market funds are considered low-risk securities. Money market funds are not backed by any government institution, which means they can lose money. Depending on your particular goals and the amount you have saved, some combination of lower-risk investments may be your best choice.

Money held in money market funds is not insured or guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency. Money market funds seek to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 a share. However, it is possible to lose money by investing in a money market fund.4

Money market mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the charges, risks, expenses, and investment objectives carefully before investing. A prospectus containing this and other information about the investment company can be obtained from your financial professional. Read it carefully before you invest or send money.

The only thing you can know about unexpected expenses is that they're coming. Having an emergency fund may help to alleviate stress and worry that can come with them. If you lack emergency savings now, consider taking steps to create a cushion for the future.

 

 

Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

  1. MarketWatch.com, 2020
  2. Bankrate.com, 2021
  3. FDIC.gov, 2022
  4. Investopedia.com, 2021

 

May 10, 2022

How long do you think it would take a hacker to crack your current passwords?

On average, it takes a hacker about 2 seconds to crack an 11-character password that only uses numbers. See the attached chart that illustrates the time it takes for a hacker to brute force attack your password. A brute force attack is when cybercriminals use trial and error to guess your details. Cybercriminals currently use sophisticated software that can run thousands of password combinations in a minute, but their technology and resources are only getting stronger.

A general rule is that your password should be at least 11 characters, utilizing both numbers as well as upper and lowercase letters. That combination will take hackers 41 years to crack. Regardless of the possible variations, the shorter your password, the easier it is to crack. Check out how long it will take a hacker to crack your password at https://www.security.org/how-secure-is-my-password/.

Lastly, simplify and secure your accounts by using a password manager that creates and stores all your passwords for you.

Strengthen your password security with the following tips:

  • Prioritize the length and complexity of your passwords.
  • Don't use personal information. This can be publicly available and easily accessible by hackers.
  • Avoid using dictionary words as passwords. Cracking tools can easily process every word in the dictionary.
  • Don't reuse passwords. If one account is breached, your other accounts would be vulnerable as well. Rather, use password managers, which are a convenient and secure way to manage complex passwords on multiple platforms.
  • Use multifactor authentication (MFA or 2FA) for especially sensitive accounts.
  • Avoid typing passwords while using public Wi-Fi. Instead, use a VPN or avoid websites that require your login information.

 

 

April 18, 2022

Financial advisory firms have historically endured a bad reputation ­– either because they were too expensive, or they only helped people with lots of money to invest, or they were trying to sell clients a product or plan that didn’t align with the heart of their goals and situation. Too many Americans don’t think they can afford a Financial Advisor and planning services. Too many of them avoid partnering with an Advisor because they don’t think they have enough money to meet some criteria. But those are often the people who could benefit from a financial coach the most! It’s also the largest population in America. That’s why we founded Trilogy Financial almost 30 years ago – to provide a true fiduciary and financial coach to everyday Americans who want to live the best life possible. Our goal at Trilogy was to create something different, something people hadn’t seen before. And over the last 25 years, we’ve been evolving the firm and honing our practices to improve the financial planning industry and make an Advisor accessible to everyone.

A Purpose Driven Financial Advisor and Coach

In Trilogy Financial’s beginnings, our vision and purpose was to help Financial Advisors be better Advisors so they could help more people. However, as time has gone on, that’s evolved into something bigger. Now our purpose is to help everyday Americans gain financial independence. They are the group of people that often struggle to achieve their financial goals, and we want to focus and help those that need advice. This is the culture we’ve built today. Our Advisors want to help as many people as they can, and we’re on a mission to make those Advisors more productive so that can help provide more for our clients. That is purpose-driven business.

How to Make Financial Advisors More Productive For Clients

Most financial advisory and planning firms have an advisor-led service model, and there’s nothing wrong with that – except that not all Advisors have service as their strong suit. As a Financial Advisor, many people perceive our job is to advise people how to save and spend their money. But we believe it takes more than that to make an impact. We’re striving to build what we call a “trust transfer” where our Advisors spend more time advising clients, building Life Plans, and making recommendations, and a service team does what they do best. This is how we’re optimizing our operations at Trilogy for the benefit of our clients. This service team consists of a group of people with a distinct culture and skillset that will deliver great, helpful service to our clients. This is contrary to what’s “the norm” for financial advisory firms – and that’s exactly why we’re doing it. This is part of our efforts to bring quality financial planning and advice to everyday Americans.

Introducing the Mack Service Center

The Mack Service Center is a robust client experience service center that was Trilogy’s late co-founder Kevin “Mack” Mackintosh’s vision for the firm. His core focus was to build a meaningful client service team to support Advisors so they could do what they do best – financial planning – and provide the clients with a high quality experience. Mack designed and developed the Trilogy Service Team based on what he learned over the years as an Eagle Scout, rowing crew member and in his time in the financial planning business. From day one, he had a clear vision of what Trilogy could accomplish when we all worked together and focused on service. A few years back, he took the ball and really got it rolling for this project. He found the right people to lead it and get it off the ground. Right before his untimely passing in early 2020, he had nearly completed building the Service Center team vision. Following his loss, under the leadership of our founder/President, Jeff Motske, in conjunction with Eric Perkins – we built out the actual Service Center, team, outlined processes, operations and more. Kevin Mackintosh instilled the right attitude, built the right culture and we’re proud to name our Mack Service Center after him so his legacy lives on.

The Future of Trilogy Financial and the Mack Service Center

 Our goal is to have a well-regarded Advisor in front of every everyday American.  Too many financial advisory firms want to work with high-net-worth individuals, but it’s those who are 52 years old with $400,000 in their retirement who really need our support and education to get to where they want and need to be. These are everyday Americans, and they deserve for someone to help them pursue their dreams. And we’re changing that. We rolled out the Mack Service Center team this year to support our Financial Advisors’ current planning efforts with each client. This is our way of connecting the financial planning industry back with the real-life issues of Americans and helping each of them plan and live the life of their dreams.

February 14, 2022

Re-evaluating your plan and re-evaluating your opportunities is really important. According to Northwestern's 2020 Planning and progress study, 71% of Americans feel their financial plan could use some improvement. So maybe you have a plan, but you're saying, “Maybe I can use some improvement”. At Trilogy Financial we look at the work that's been done in the past. Remember that we're not judging what was done in the past, but we'll look at that and say, is there any way that we can make improvements upon what's been done in the past to help you plan for the future. Understanding that is really important. A plan is not static, it's a living, breathing document, and you want to make sure that you're updating and reevaluating your opportunities on a regular basis.

Another thing to think about is interest rates is we don't know what's going to be in the future. I think this is an interesting one as well. Many Americans for 2020 stayed at home a lot and a lot of them spent less money. Matter of fact, Northwestern Mutual did a study for 2020 on average, people say it's about 10% more money in their personal savings than they did in 2019. Well, why didn't they spend? Some of it was lifestyle – they didn't go out to dinner as much; they didn't go on their vacations- there’s a lot of things that were held back due to all the craziness that had gone on. But there were people that spent on home improvements in other areas as well. People were spending more on their houses because they were living in their houses more. There's a lot of people that saved more or in that period. You might want to evaluate what to do with that savings. Maybe that's the first step in building out a financial plan. Maybe that's the money that should be put towards the college plan. Maybe that's the money that should be put towards lowering your debt overall. Maybe that's money that you should use to increase your path to financial independence. Re-evaluating your opportunities, your long-term financial plan.

I would highly encourage you to re-evaluate those opportunities again. At Trilogy Financial, we do that all the time. We look at current plans and make sure they make sense. Then when you have extra money that's saved, we look at is it working hard for you and is it working hard for your financial why. Maybe you're in a place where you can refinance. Saving money, and refinancing is another really good tool to help create more cash flow and help you get on that path to financial independence.

I'm big on this thing called Financial date nights. Earlier, I talked about the fact that people argue about money, financial date nights once a month, get out of the house, go do something different. I've had people do financial date drives that live in big cities – go have a cup of coffee, have dinner, whatever it is. Get out of the house and talk about your financial whys, talk about your planning, and talk about your goals. Don't argue about them. This is an opportunity for big picture, global type discussions within the couple and then work through those things. And when you need help and more clarity, that's where a financial advisor can really jump in and help you jump-start whatever is going on in your financial plan.

Another thing is to be flexible and willing to adapt. I said this earlier but good financial plans are living breathing documents. In regard to this, all of our clients at Trilogy Financial have their own portal. Inside that financial portal is their financial plan that updates on a regular basis. We can put paperwork in there or documents in there and it's something that's living and breathing. You may need to be flexible with what's going on in your world. Timeframes constantly are getting adjusted. We've had people come in and say, “You know what? I'm thinking about retiring early” or “My companies offering me an early retirement package.”, or “I have to work a little bit longer” for whatever reason. That's just something you update in the plan. College scenarios too. Some kids are deferring going to college and I don't blame them. You didn't pay for online college, and you may want the experience. If that’s the case, you’d go in a different direction. Whatever those things are, be willing, flexible, and adjustable and in communication with your spouse, your partner, or business partner.

Meet and talk with your financial advisor regularly. They should be asking you those questions and they will be updating you on the markets and current events. what I would say are the unknowns or the instability side. The other thing about having that advisor is that joyful accountability. Have an advisor, have a coach, have a financial team – they'll help you stay accountable to do what you say. They're not going to be bugging you, they're going to be reminding you of the good things that you've said during those planning discussions. They're going to be reminding you where you are and they're also going to be praising you when you're doing what you said you were going to do. And when you do that, you make great progress, and when you make great progress, then the plan progresses year after year after year.

How much closer are we to financial independence, that's the conversations that happen over time. So, take action on what you can do, be in control of your knowns, and plan for the unknowns. Again, insurance is a great thing for that. Work with your advisor on the unknown, so you have less anxiety. Be flexible and will be willing to adapt and remember the financial planning documents and plans are living, breathing documents. Life happens, life events happen, and you've got to plan for those things. If you're not working with a trust or a financial advisor investment fiduciary, look to find one that can help you build your own personal plan.

 

January 4, 2022

As scammers get more sophisticated, be sure to protect yourself and your access points, such as your smartphone.

Start by making sure your phone is encrypted. Most phones, such as iPhones, Google Pixels and post-2018 Samsung phones are encrypted by default. Should you have a different model, search online for instructions on how to encrypt your phone.

Be sure to have a secure passcode for your phone. 6-digit passcodes are better than the standard 4-digit. Face or fingerprint recognition is secure as long as you use the phone’s built-in systems rather than a third-party. Utilize your smartphones’ “find phone” feature if it has one. Your smartwatch can also be utilized to locate a misplaced phone.

As your data can be intercepted on Wi-Fi networks that are not encrypted, it’s best to disable the Connect Automatically feature on your smartphone. This usually requires the simple UNCHECKING of a box. If storing payment methods electronically on your phone, only keep debit cards. Most vendors require a PIN to be entered when debit cards are used, adding an extra layer of protection. Lastly, should you be switching to a new phone, factory-reset the old phone after the switch, regardless of who will be receiving the old phone.

Ultimately, treat your phone with the same security as you treat your wallet, if not better.

December 20, 2021

TSA PreCheck Scams

 

TSA PreCheck is garnering a lot of interest, from both travelers and scammers alike. In addition to pocketing your renewal/application fee, these scammers take your personal information to sell on the dark web or create false identities that can be used illegally. TSA PreCheck scam emails are quite sophisticated, lacking many of the typical red flags such as misspellings, grammatical errors, and slightly-off-looking versions of TSA logos. We recommend that you continue to check the email address and web address of the sender, as well as how they’re asking for payment.

Always verify that the TSA PreCheck web and email address ends in ‘.gov’ – not ‘.com’, ‘.org’ or anything else. If they don’t, these are not official TSA PreCheck communications and you should not provide personal information or payment information. Additionally, don’t purchase or renew a TSA PreCheck membership by clicking on a link you were sent via an email. Instead, go directly to the TSA or Homeland Security website.

The other major red flag comes when it’s time to pay for your renewal or application fees. While there are multiple ways to make a payment for government services, scammers typically only give you the option of using PayPal. If you get an email and suspect it’s a scam, or end up clicking on a bad link yourself, TSA says to do the following:

  1. Report the fraud to your local Police Department.
  2. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission website.
  3. Contact your credit card company or bank and let them know about any fraudulent charges.

In the event that your credit card information ended up in the wrong hands, you will need to work through your bank or credit card company. TSA specifically states on its website that it “will not issue a reimbursement to applicants who attempt to enroll in TSA pre-check through a fraudulent website.”

May 12, 2021

Beware of Post Covid-19 Scams.

Using bogus surveys or social media posts, criminals are crafting scams to target a new audience as more COVID-19 vaccines are being administered.  Be suspicious of any post-vaccine evaluations/surveys you receive and do not post a picture of your vaccine card on social media.   There may be legitimate surveys and follow-up evaluations that could be conducted, but these details should be clearly provided to you during your final vaccination appointment.

This two-minute video shows the new trends in vaccine scams and why you should avoid posting pictures of your vaccination card on social media.

May 10, 2021

Weak passwords can compromise the best security tools and controls. With a never-ending list of applications and services that users and consumers access, people may have dozens of passwords to maintain at any given time. Often, the temptation to use familiar terms such as pet names, favorite teams or the names of children or friends can cause risk since much of those details can be discovered by a simple examination of social media.

Creating strong passwords offers greater security for minimal effort. Weak passwords can compromise the best security tools and controls. With a never-ending list of applications and services that users and consumers access, people may have dozens of passwords to maintain at any given time. Often, the temptation to use familiar terms such as pet names, favorite teams or the names of children or friends can
cause risk since much of those details can be discovered by a simple examination of social media.

Under Lock and Key
You can buy a small padlock for less than a dollar—but you should not count on it to protect anything of value. A thief could probably pick a cheap lock without much effort, or simply break it. And yet, many people use similarly flimsy passwords to “lock up” their most valuable assets, including money and confidential information. Fortunately, everyone can learn how to make and manage stronger passwords. It is an easy way to strengthen security both at work and at home.

What Makes a Password ‘Strong’?
Let’s say you need to create a new password that’s at least 12 characters long, and includes numerals, symbols, and upper- and lowercase letters. You think of a word you can remember, capitalize the first
letter, add a digit, and end with an exclamation point. The result: Strawberry1!

Unfortunately, hackers have sophisticated password-breaking tools that can easily defeat passwords based on dictionary words (like “strawberry”) and common patterns, such as capitalizing the first letter.
Increasing a password’s complexity, randomness, and length can make it more resistant to hackers’ tools. For example, an eight-character password could be guessed by an attacker in less than a day, but a 12-character password would take two weeks. A 20-character password would take 21 centuries. You can learn more about creating strong passwords in your organization’s security awareness training. Your organization may also have guidelines or a password policy in place.

Why Uniqueness Matters
Many people reuse passwords across multiple accounts, and attackers take advantage of this risky behavior. If an attacker obtains one password—even a strong one—they can often use it to access other valuable accounts.

Here is a real-life example: Ten years ago, Alice joined an online gardening forum. She also created an online payment account and used the same password. She soon forgot about the gardening forum, but someone accessed her payments account years later and stole a large sum of money.

Alice did not realize the gardening forum had been hacked, and that users’ login credentials had been
leaked online. An attacker probably tried reusing Alice’s leaked password on popular sites—and
eventually got lucky.

Guarding Your Passwords & PINS. Passwords and PINS protect sensitive data and it's critical to keep them safe. Try these best practices to stay protected.

1. Do not write them down – Many make the mistake of writing passwords on post-it notes and
leaving them in plain sight. Even if you hide your password, someone could still find it. Similarly, do
not store your login information in a file on your computer, even if you encrypt that file.
2. Do not share passwords – You cannot be sure someone else will keep your credentials safe. At
work, you could be held responsible for anything that happens when someone is logged in as you.
3. Do not save login details in your browser – Some browsers store this information in unsafe
ways, and another person could access your accounts if they get your device.
4. Use a password manager – These tools can securely store and manage your passwords and
generate strong new passwords. Some can also alert you if a password may have been
compromised.
5. Never reuse passwords – Create a unique, strong password for each account or device. This
way, a single hacked account does not endanger other accounts.
6. Create complex, long passwords – Passwords based on dictionary words, pets’ names, or other
personal information can be guessed by attackers.

 

 

 

April 26, 2021

Protect yourself from these tax-related scams.

Tax-related scams have become increasingly common, and they happen year-round.  Fraudsters will contact you pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a tax accounting service, or another tax-related agency.  You could receive fake emails, phone calls, letters, or other communications.

Be on high alert for phishing emails. Scammers are attempting to steal information such as tax IDs, account information, passwords, and other valuable data.  Be immediately suspicious of any unsolicited communication (email, text message, letter, or call) that asks you for your Social Security number, login credentials, or other personal information.

Review these helpful FAQs:

  • Will the IRS contact me via email?

The IRS will never initiate contact with you via email, text messages, or social media with a request for personal or financial data. Be extremely careful with any unsolicited email that claims to be from the IRS.

  • What should I do if I receive an email or text message claiming to be from the IRS or another tax service that asked for sensitive information?

Do not reply! Do not click on any links or download any attachments. Forward any IRS-related emails to phishing@irs.gov.

  • What should I do if I discover a website claiming to be the IRS that I suspect is not legitimate?

Do not click on any links, download any files, or submit any information. Send the URL to phishing@irs.gov

  • Are there any trusted resources I can use to identify email scams or websites claiming to be
    the IRS?

The IRS highlights examples of email scams and bogus websites. Find the information online at www.irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing and https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumeralerts.

  • What should I do if I receive an unsolicited phone call or letter claiming to be from the IRS that
    I suspect may not be legitimate?

Contact the IRS yourself to confirm any requests made via phone or letter, particularly those that are threatening or demand immediate payment. Visit www.irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing for phone numbers and other tips.

  • If I receive a suspicious tax-related email while at work, should I notify my company?

Yes! Report suspicious emails to IT. The IT team can help you determine if a message is legitimate. In addition to confirming requests for your personal data, you should verify any email that asked you to provide copies of W2 forms or your coworkers’ tax-related information.

February 18, 2021

What is a fiduciary?

When selecting a Financial Advisor, it’s important to know they will be looking out for you and the money you worked hard for all your life. Not all financial advisors are the same. When considering a financial advisor to partner with, it’s important to know if they are fiduciaries, meaning they will be ethically obligated to work in your best interests to help you reach your goals.

Why choose Trilogy?

At Trilogy, we operate by suitability standards in offering advice and recommendations that are the most suitable to your needs. We aren’t just salesmen looking to sell products that earn the highest commission. We are dedicated Advisors, financial life planners, who use our expertise to guide you to make smart money decisions. We recommend investments and financial products that are the best fit for your life situation.

Trilogy Capital Inc. is a Registered Investment Advisor. We are a fee-based firm. That means some of our Advisors earn commissions from the sales of certain insurance or securities products. While this incentivizes our Advisors to be the best they can be at their job, be assured that they put people first to select the best solutions for you.

You have a team behind you

When you work with Trilogy, you don’t just have just one Advisor, you have a team who have an ethical duty to recommend what’s best for you. We are specialists with decades of experience in wealth management and protection.

Life planning

With our Advisors, you can be sure they have a fiduciary duty of care to work at the highest level of trust in creating and reviewing your Life Plan. When they make a recommendation, it’s because they feel strongly it’s the right fit for you and your needs, in the life stage you are now and for the future.

Investing for your future

Our financial professionals work in a fiduciary capacity with our investment platforms. We value our relationship with you and work to maintain your trust. We look at the big picture and consider all aspects of your life regarding your personal financial situation.

We know managing your finances can be a full-time job. That’s why our Advisors are there for you to ensure your investments are properly diversified for your risk tolerance. We also monitor other service providers working on components of your plan (including investment companies, record keepers and third-party administrators) to make sure they are catering to your needs and in a cost-efficient manner.

Managing risk

Your fiduciary Financial Advisor will review your personal situation to determine where the risk factors are when it comes to protecting your wealth and recommend insurance products that best fit your needs to add peace-of-mind protection. Whether it’s long term care or life insurance – we’re here to set you up for success so you have a solid plan for whatever comes your way in life.

In keeping with our fiduciary commitment to you, we are an independent financial planning firm. That means we don’t own any insurance products. We’ve done the legwork to find reputable insurance companies who have a proven track record of financial security and claims-paying ability, so you can be confident we recommend products that have the credibility you can count on.

A partner you can trust

When you work with Trilogy, you can finally take a breath in knowing you have a partner who will look out for your finances and do what is best for your life situation and help you meet your financial goals. You can get on with enjoying life, not worrying if you have the money to cover it.

January 21, 2021
Don't get caught up in the here and now. Short-term moves and market timing are not sound financial strategies for your serious long-term plan of pursuing financial independence.  Good planning does, however, require intermediary decision-making. A few things to consider before year-end:

  1. Charitable Giving – To receive 2020 tax benefits, donations must be made by year-end. Be sure to keep a record of all giving for future tax purposes. Other planning strategies to consider are gifting highly appreciated stocks and bunching charitable donations in the same year.
  2. Tax Harvesting – Look for opportunities to sell stocks that have dropped in value to offset potential capital gains liabilities.

As always, we are available to help you with these year-end decisions and keep you focused on your long-term financial plans. Thank you for entrusting us with your financial life. Let’s all remember to be grateful and enjoy this holiday season.

October 29, 2020
 

Today, conversations, screens, and ads on how the upcoming election will affect our economy and the American way of life are unavoidable. Naturally, we start to ponder how the outcome might impact our own financial independence. Since market forecasters and economic commentators ever really get it right only part of the time, formulating investment strategy based on “expert” prognostications and financial journalism routinely sets individual investors up for failure.

According to historical analysis, in 19 of the past 23 election years from 1928-2016, stock market returns were positive, no matter which party held office. In fact, during an election year, the S&P 500 has experienced an average return of 11.3%—data that demonstrably counters the stock market doom and gloom headline hysteria generated in the media.

While it is crucial not to be emotionally reactive, it is equally important to plan for economic changes that are realistically possible. Following an election, it is wise to assess how federal policies could impact your plan.

A few takeaways…

  1. Separate your personal politics from your investment decision-making.
  2. Remain calm and focused on your long-term plan: thoughtful planning plus sound decision-making matters.

During his First Inaugural Address, our 32nd President reminded the nation that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” If not kept in check, fear becomes a catalyst for rash decision-making which can impede your path to financial freedom. As always, I am here to talk things through with you, to listen, and to assuage your fear; that’s my job.

August 4, 2020

Recently, I came across two competing headlines: “Dow Dropped Because the Wheels are Coming Off” and “The Dow is Up Because there are Flashes of Optimism.” On any given day, financial markets swing—one-day values are up and the next they are down. Trying to figure out how to build your wealth by focusing on market ups and downs can be overwhelming. I choose to champion an altogether different approach—behavioral finance. I believe the key to long-lasting financial independence lies in individual behavior inasmuch as it does the markets or various investment tools. Knowing that success lies within you – your choices, your responses to the market, and your long-term habits over time – rather than in the whims of the market, keeps you on the road to financial freedom.

Dangers to your wealth aren’t so much the downturns in the market as they are your own biases and emotions. Behavioral finance requires discipline and rational thought processes which can present challenges for many investors. We may feel obligated to put our kids through colleges we really can’t afford. Keeping up with the Joneses can deplete our savings or prompt us to invest in things that aren’t aligned with our long-term financial plan. And, in times of stress or change, we may be tempted to react by pulling our money out of the market or by doubling down on an investment. Such actions might play out well in our heads but disastrously so in real life. Ultimately, behavioral finance shows us that individuals carry much of the responsibility for their own financial success.

When you assume this responsibility, it becomes clear that you also gain control of your financial future. You have the ability to build wealth and establish a sense of security without worrying about the market. After all, it is the plan and the decisions you make (or don’t make) that have the greatest impact on your journey to financial independence. So, you may wonder, how do I embrace this concept of behavioral finance? First, you have to do some analysis – predominantly on yourself. What kind of spender/saver are you? Is your money going towards your goals and values? Are there steps you should take to limit habits that lead to unhelpful emotional responses? Besides self-reflection, you will need to create a financial plan. Whenever you are tempted to pursue a course of action, pause, and make sure it is in line with your plan’s goals. If it’s not, you must weigh the risks against the rewards. For those situations that require deeper insight, another great tool is a trusted financial advisor. Their expertise and guidance will be an invaluable resource as you strive to build wealth and turn your dreams into reality.

You have a multitude of tools at your disposal once you realize that financial independence is yours to create. It will take work, discipline, and time, but with that comes agency and autonomy. Start planning now so you can start making the decisions and exhibiting the behaviors that will set you up for a prosperous future.

 

Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

May 19, 2020

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Financial Health

  1. Create an emergency fund (3-6 months fixed expenses)
  2. Identify your priorities/goals
  3. Plan for unexpected life events
  4. Understand your monthly cash flow (money in vs money out)
  5. Discuss finances with your spouse/partner
  6. Reward yourself for hitting financial goals
  7. Save up for large purchases
  8. Use risk tolerances and an allocation strategy for your investments
  9. Give yourself a raise (increase 401(k) contributions)
  10. Have a financial plan and review it annually

 

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine what is appropriate for you, consult a qualified professional.

April 15, 2020

When is the “end” of this Coronavirus season? Do we return to “normal” at the end of the summer? I have no idea. However, I do know that when it happens, I will have already given intentional thought to my plan to return because there are some lessons learned and best practices to hold on to during this period of being at home with my family and work. Here are just a few I’d thought I share:

Be Present. Being more present has always been a pursuit of mine. And amidst a shelter-in environment, I’ve been more present without the back and forth to the office. When we are present, we thrive. When we are present, we are listening to our clients. When we are present, we are having more fun with our family. Compare it to being in the zone in athletics. We are solely focused on the conversation or task at hand, making us ultimately more effective as leaders and parents. Be present.

Be Proactive. Even though none of us anticipated the spread of this virus, there have still been plenty of opportunities to be proactive. Despite the uncertainty, a forward-thinking strategy creates freedom and reassurance. Having the flexibility to make anticipated adjustments and then course correct from there helps us weather the difficult days and be ahead over the long-term. This relates to our financial strategy and our day-to-day structure with kids at home. Have a plan, discuss it, and see it to completion. That might result in a strategy to invest in the market with dollar-cost averaging or decide to double recipes so you don’t have to cook as much. Either way, be proactive in life and at work.

Keep Up Good Habits. I have enjoyed the opportunity to connect over Zoom. I’m still improving my ability to read the emotion through the technology but with the effectiveness of virtual meetings, could I plan to only have Zoom meetings on Friday and stay at home? This would give me a few more hours to spend with my family. I don’t think my clients would disagree with that. Give it some thought. Have there been practices at home that should continue? Read for 20 minutes in the middle of the day? Exercise at lunch?

I’ve been grateful for this time and yet I know, this has created immense difficulty for most people. Through my numerous conversations with clients and friends, I’ve been encouraged by the attitude and fortitude these times require. Here’s to having a plan before we return to normal again.

“The most powerful weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. Train your mind to see the good in this day.” –Marc & Angel Chernoff

 

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine what is appropriate for you, consult a qualified professional.

September 23, 2019

There have been countless news stories about how Millennials are different than previous generations, including their relationship with debt. The principles on debt – the difference between good and bad debt and how to make sure your money works for you – haven’t changed. What has changed are the ways to prepare for retirement and the mountains of student debt that many millennials are struggling under. This large debt slows down their ability to build toward their financial independence, which is a road that many have to pave on their own.

First off, preparing for financial independence has changed. One’s golden years are no longer secured by a pension. More and more people are accepting that preparing for retirement rests solely on their shoulders. The look of retirement has changed as well, with some expecting to continue working because they want to, not because they need to, as well as some embracing the FIRE movement and planning to retire well before 65. For many, the financial landscape that people are planning for has changed.

One of the things that hasn’t changed is what we have historically considered “bad debt”. Credit card debt, high car payments and other depreciating assets, can be harmful to your bottom line. These expenses don’t increase your net worth and often simply distract you from your long-term goals of financial independence. It’s a good idea to keep expenses in this category to a minimum.

Good debt, on the other hand, is money you borrow to ultimately increase your wealth. Historically, student loans for higher education and real estate have fallen under this category as they were seen to be investments that would bring sizable returns in the future. As with any investment, though, you need to critically examine your likely return to make the right decisions. If you are looking at taking student loans for higher education, the goal is for that education to secure a position that will provide you a greater salary. However, if you take out a $100,000 loan to enter a profession that generally generates an annual $40,000 salary, which doesn’t seem to be the best return on your investment. This is the lesson Millennials are laboring under. With $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loan debt[i], Millennials are struggling to make ends meet, let alone build for the future.

Like a series of dominoes, consequences of financial decisions can be far-reaching. Yes, real estate can be a building block to your financial freedom. Yet, many Millennials are delaying buying a home due to their significant outstanding student loan debt[ii]. Additionally, if you’re looking to buy a house that requires a mortgage that leaves you with little funds to contribute to savings or other investments, it may no longer be a good debt option.

In the end, everyone should be looking for ways to invest in their future. You need to be mindful about your money and how it’s working for you. While it’s good to make sure that you’re not throwing your money away, you also want to make sure that your debt is worth the expected rate of return. Everyone has multiple goals, both short-term and long-term. If you plan the right way, you can make sure that the money you have today can work for your dreams for tomorrow.

[i] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/student-loan-debt-i-had-a-panic-attack-millennials-struggle-under-the-burden-of-student-loan-debt/

[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenparis/2019/03/31/student-loan-debt-still-impacting-millennial-homebuyers/#6a8ff1073e78

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine what is appropriate for you, consult a qualified professional.

July 23, 2019

The road to financial independence isn’t always a smooth one. There are plenty of things that can pop up and derail us from our goals. Sometimes it’s an unexpected turn of fortune, like a sudden loss of a job or a medical crisis. More often than not, though, the things that derail us from our financial goals are our own financial bad habits.

There are a lot of financial bad behaviors that plague every-day Americans: impulsive purchases and overspending, not living within your means, lack of a financial plan for emergencies and the future. One of the most challenging aspects of financial bad habits is how unassuming they seem at first glance. Most of these bad habits appear to have a minor impact in the moment. Yet, living years with these bad habits left unchecked can do more damage to your long-term financial health than some of these situational detours, like the loss of a job or a medical crisis.

Awareness of these bad habits is the key to kicking them. Once you identify what they are, you can put steps in place to work against them. Not sure where your money is going? Make a budget and make sure that where your money goes reflects your values. Are you an over spender? Perhaps avoid those spending triggers like a mall or online vendors and give yourself a cash allowance rather than utilizing credit cards. Do you need to put more money away for an emergency fund or investments? Have money automatically transferred every month to ensure that you’re paying yourself first.

If you’re not sure what your financial bad habits are or how to fix them, working with a financial advisor might be your best course of action. Having a third-party look over your financial house and habits can help identify unhelpful behavior or areas of improvement. Our Decision Coach program was especially designed for those folks who may need some additional accountability and coaching. In fact, if one of your financial bad habits is lending money you can’t afford, a financial advisor can be a great scapegoat as to why you have to start saying No. We don’t mind being the “bad guy” to your loved one if that helps you stay on your path to financial independence.

The path to financial independence can have some pot holes, the most significant being our own self-sabotaging behaviors. However, the proper awareness can bring change. Changing any type of behaviors take time and support, and we’re happy to help those who are committed to helping themselves.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

July 2, 2019

Words are power, and each word has its own weight and energy. Words have inspired people to stand up for what they believe in or hang their head down in defeat. Therefore, choosing the right words to describe that which you want to manifest is very important.

For example, when speaking of aspirations for the future, there are those who use the words dreams and goals interchangeably. However, they ae distinctively different in definition and performance. A dream is boundless, fueled by your passion and imagination. However, it is akin to fantasy, with no immediate call to bring it to life. When someone tells me they dream of owning a sports car or starting their own business, I know most of the work to make that dream a reality hasn’t taken place and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.

A goal, on the other hand, is the mapwork to that dream, concrete and behavior-driven. When you have a goal, you have markers, measurements and steps to get to the destination. Setting the right goals, especially when it pertains to financial goals, can have a significant effect on how and when you achieve them. In fact, a guide to good goal-setting has long been to make it S.M.A.R.T.1:

Specific: if we are truly making a map towards our goals, telling ourselves to go in a general direction or for an undefined distance is most likely only going to get us lost. Steps towards our dreams have to be detailed and specific.

Measurable: When a goal is measurable, there is a way to track your progress to stay motivated or identify issues that may need problem-solving.

Attainable: It is admirable to be striving for something grand and lofty. However, it’s imperative that we have feasible goals that we can accomplish to keep us motivated and actually accomplish said goal.

Relevant: Having impressive goals are fine and dandy, but if they don’t move you closer to your overall goals or work against other goals you may have, it may be time to rethink them.

Time Bound: Once something has been stated as a goal, the stop watch has started. There is an expectation of completion, which is necessary to keep us moving forward towards that goal. It may not get completed in the expected timeframe, but just by having a deadline, we can stay accountable.

Based on this description of a S.M.A.R.T., you can see that there is a difference between, “I’m going to start saving money for a house,” and “I’m going to put 15% of my paycheck into a savings account specifically designated for my eventual down payment, and I should have enough saved after 3 years.” One expresses a desire while the other one lays out a concrete plan to achieve the goal.

If one seems to be fueling the other, how can a dream inhibit a goal? Well, one way is when your lifestyle fits with your dream rather than your goals. To achieve many financial goals like saving for retirement or buying a home, one needs to save and stick to a budget. However, if you fail to save and incrementally work towards the goals, it will take longer and longer to see results. Worse is if you choose to skip the incremental steps and live your dreamer’s lifestyle by using credit cards. The debt you accumulate will take you farther and farther from your goals and possible put you in an unfortunate and stressful predicament.

Sometimes when we haven’t developed a goal for a dream, it’s vagueness can work against an already established goal. Perhaps a good friend asks you to go into business with them. If you choose to pour funds into this new endeavor without any parameters, you may find yourself taking funds away from saving for retirement or depleting savings you already had. Of course, if you had outlined your goal on how to contribute to your friend’s business, with specific and timely parameters, the situation could be completely different.

Please understand that I’m not asking you to stop dreaming. In fact, quite the opposite. I happen wake up every day saying, “Dream Big! Work Hard! Laugh often!” I sign letters and thank you notes and end employee meetings with those very words. Dreaming is important.

So please know I want you to dream big and bold. At the same time, I want you to buckle down and create some S.M.A.R.T. goals to propel you closer to your dreams.

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

May 31, 2019

It’s graduation season, and there’s an excitement in the air about starting a new chapter. Mixed in with this excitement is an element of stress to make the right decisions: decisions on how things should be done, when they should be done and where they should be done. All these decisions are common, but they often distract from the purpose of what comes after high school.

We need to remember that higher education has a purpose. It’s more than an experience. The purpose of a college degree is employment. It is an investment, and as with any other investment, you should be calculating the return on that investment.  Spending $100,000 for a degree that secures a job with an annual salary of $40,000 is not the best rate of return.

There are plenty of creative ways to get a great college education without breaking the bank. Parents can start a 529 plan, the earlier the better, to help cover costs. Students can begin their higher education at a community college or secure college credit via Advance Placement (AP) exams. Additionally, students need to be sure that the field they are spending their time and energy on is going to reciprocate by providing solid career opportunities.

Making the wrong decision is not simply an unwise financial move. It can have lasting implications. Recent figures show that outstanding student loan debt has reached $1.5 trillion[i]. Our younger generation is not only struggling under this debt, they are also pushing off other personal and financial milestones, such as purchasing a house[ii], getting married or starting a family[iii]. These decisions can have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences.

Lastly, let’s not forget the countless parents who put their path to financial independence on hold to financially assist their struggling children. While wanting to financially help your loved ones is admirable, it helps no one to offer assistance at the expense of your own security. Just like when traveling by airplane, you need to put your own oxygen mask on and secure your safety first before aiding others. There are no scholarships for retirement, and you won’t have a financial safety net for the future if you don’t work towards creating it now.

College is truly an exciting time. Our young adults are learning who they are, where they want to go and how they intend to get there. At the same time, we cannot forget that college is a fleeting moment, one that is meant to arm the student with the tools needed to create a brighter and more successful future. Be sure to chat with your students to ensure that this experience does just that, rather than straddle these students with debt and stress.

[i] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/student-debt-just-hit-15-trillion-2018-05-08

[ii] https://www.businessinsider.com/student-debt-preventing-the-us-from-having-normal-housing-market-2019-5

[iii] https://www.bankrate.com/loans/student-loans/student-loans-survey-february-2019/

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Prior to investing in a 529 Plan investors should consider whether the investor's or designated beneficiary's home state offers any state tax or other state benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors that are only available for investments in such state's qualified tuition program. Withdrawals used for qualified expenses are federally tax free. Tax treatment at the state level may vary. Please consult with your tax advisor before investing.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Prior to investing in a 529 Plan investors should consider whether the investor's or designated beneficiary's home state offers any state tax or other state benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors that are only available for investments in such state's qualified tuition program. Withdrawals used for qualified expenses are federally tax free. Tax treatment at the state level may vary. Please consult with your tax advisor before investing.

Disclaimer:

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

Investing in mutual funds involves risk, including possible loss of principal.

The principal value of a target fund is not guaranteed at any time, including at the target date. The target date is the approximate date when investors plan to start withdrawing their money.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

May 9, 2019

Whenever new technology enters the world there are two inevitable emotions: excitement and fear. The thrill of new possibilities tempered by fears of new tech failing to live up to the hype. Take, for example: Robo-advisors. A great example of the complexities surrounding emerging tech, Robo-advisors provide automated digital financial advice based upon algorithms and/or mathematical rules.

When Robo-advisors launched in 2008 they were heralded as the dawn of a new era in financial planning. Some experts even believed this advancement signaled the end of financial planning (and real, human financial planners) as we know it. Not so. Over a decade later Robo-advisors are still around; however, they have failed to take over the financial planning world as predicted and in fact many are shuttering their doors or seriously scaling back on size.

So what happened? Why did Robo-advisors fail to eliminate the role of humans in the financial planning process? At the end of the day, it comes down to human connection. While an algorithm can crunch numbers, make predictions, and even offer investment advice, it cannot form impactful and lasting relationships like a real human. Investment selection and management is a part of what financial planners do – but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Real, effective financial planners are there to prepare you for and coach you through life’s unexpected inevitables. What happens when some life event inevitably occurs or you have a pressing question about your financial plan and when you try to get an answer you reach an automated phone tree that leads nowhere? Unlike a Robo-advisor, a financial planner is a real human available to provide advice and support when you need it. Think of them like a coach for your finances!

True, a human financial planner may cost more than a Robo-advisor. But in return they provide much more value. A study conducted by Vanguard found that working with a financial planner can add about 3% to client returns with 1.50% of that coming from behavioral coaching (that’s half the value coming from coaching alone!). When you start working with a planner you are not simply hiring an investment manager. Instead, you are partnering with someone who will work with you as life evolves to achieve your unique priorities. As you progress along your financial journey you form a trusting relationship with your advisor, so whenever you have questions or concerns you know there is a real human you trust who will answer the phone and provide clarity for you.

April 17, 2019

“Don’t invest and forget.” This is a common sentiment that advisors try to communicate to their clients. We understand the importance of having a solid financial plan, but the plan doesn’t serve you if you set it and then don’t check in with it for years. A financial plan is a living and breathing document. As your life changes, so should your plan because those life changes can cause changes in your goals and your risks.

As you start your adult life, risks are generally low, and timeframes are typically long. You may be single, you may be renting. Should you hit some rough times, not that much may be rocked. This also applies to your investments. If there is a market shake-up, you have plenty of time to wait for the market to correct itself. Therefore, this is the time to be aggressive on your way to financial independence.

However, as your life changes, so does your risk. Perhaps you get married and start a family. Perhaps you buy a house or maybe you start a business. Suddenly, there is more at stake, there is more to lose. Additionally, while there is more at stake, there is less time. There is less time to save, less time to recoup any losses. These changes undoubtedly influence our decisions and our behavior in the market.

This change in risk isn’t done with the flip of a switch. Everyone’s life is different, hitting different life milestones at different times, starting to work towards financial independence at different places and having different goals to work towards. Therefore, computing risk, can be a gradual and complicated process. Working with a financial advisor can help you know when and how to change your risk so that you can steadily work towards the future and protect what you have today.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

March 6, 2019

The world of finance is tricky to navigate. With so many options available for your investments, it can seem complicated and daunting when trying to plan for your financial future.

The three buckets principle is a way of simplifying the complex and is suitable for people with substantial savings as well as people who are just starting out. Whether you’re well established in your career or fresh out of college, setting up your three buckets should be a priority.

How does it work?

The three buckets are:

  • Bucket 1: Emergency Funds
  • Bucket 2: The Goal Bucket
  • Bucket 3: Retirement Bucket

Bucket 1 – Emergency funds

Expect the unexpected and make sure you’ve planned financially for it.

Unanticipated costs can be devastating financially. Getting laid off work, writing your car off or escalating medical costs, for example, can set you on the financial back foot for many years.

Bucket number 1 creates a buffer of cash that is only to be used for such emergencies. By having this bucket available, it means that should the need arise you won't be dipping into other savings or going into debt to cover the cost.

How much to save in your emergency fund bucket

Aim to have 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses here. Add up all your monthly costs, such as mortgage, bills, transport costs, and groceries, and that will give you the total to aim for.

Bucket 2 – The goal bucket

This bucket is for your short to mid-term financial goals. Savings for your kid's college, a down payment on a house, or even saving for a vacation can go in this bucket.

How much to save in your goal bucket

This is effectively disposable income so anything left over after you’ve attended to your monthly outgoings and buckets 1 and 3 can be added to bucket number 2.

If you've managed to fill bucket 1 already, you can use that cash to start filling bucket 2.

Bucket 3 – Retirement bucket

It's never too early to start saving for retirement, so you should aim to have this bucket set up as soon as you possibly can, ideally, as soon as you enter the workforce.

How much to save in your retirement bucket?

Aim to save 15-20% of your gross income for retirement. If your company offers a 401(k) plan, deposit part of your bucket 3 money there. If you don't have access to a 401(k) plan, consider a Roth or traditional IRA to maximize your investment.

Bucket 3 is made for investing as you want to maximize your returns for your golden years.

These three buckets will help you successfully save for your future. It's a good idea to attend to buckets 1 and 3 first. Once you have them filling nicely, you can look to start filling bucket number 2.

This simple strategy is easy to follow yet priceless for effective financial planning. If you haven’t got yours set up yet, make it a priority to do so.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax deductible in the contribution year, with current income tax due at withdrawal. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax in addition to current income tax.

The Roth IRA offers tax deferral on any earnings in the account. Withdrawals from the account may be tax free, as long as they are considered qualified. Limitations and restrictions may apply. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ or prior to the account being opened for 5 years, whichever is later, may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax. Future tax laws can change at any time and may impact the benefits of Roth IRAs. Their tax treatment may change.

February 25, 2019

Coming from sunny southern California, there’s nothing quite as nice as an aimless, leisurely drive down the coast. As delightful as that is, it’s not a metaphor for life. Life is complicated and moves fast. It’s easy to get sidetracked. That’s why when it comes to any of your goals, especially financial independence, a clear vision of what you’re working towards and a developed idea of the best way to get there will keep you in route to your goal. Many folks have a general idea of where they want to go. They want to be fiscally responsible, perhaps investing in a home and saving for retirement while still prepared for the financially unexpected. However, 1 in 3 Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement and only 16 percent of those surveyed had more than 15 percent of their income saved. We know that most people have good intentions. So why do their actions take them so far away from their goals?

It all comes down to that lack of a map – not having a well-defined goal and detailed route to get there. Yes, it’s good to know that you want to be fiscally responsible, but if you don’t have a detailed definition of what that means, how do you know when you’ve achieved it? What are you saving for? How much do you need to save for retirement and how much do you need in your emergency fund? What other financial goals do you have, and which ones take priority? Lacking those details may make it easier to get distracted by impulse purchases or detoured by a financial commitment that might not be the best for your budget or your long-term financial goals.

Once you have the destination, then you need to determine the most direct route to get there. Do you have a distinct budget for all your needs and your goals? Are you going to have a monthly amount deducted from your account to your savings goals? Have you considered the influences that work against your goals and what you might do to counter them? Having a distinct plan doesn’t mean that everything is settled. Circumstances may arise that distract or reprioritize your goals. Having a definitive plan, though, can help you recalibrate your course and prevent you from being shifted away from your goals long-term.

The road to your financial independence is oftentimes anything but direct. Between relationships, families, career, health and everything in between, it’s easy to lose sight of your goals. Yet, by thinking things through and creating a detailed plan, we can stay on course. Despite every fork in the road, every decision that tempts us away from our goals, we are able to remember what we’re saving for and the right steps we put in place to get there, which makes it easier to stay on course to our financial independence.

  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/27/1-in-3-americans-have-less-than-5000-dollars-saved-for-retirement.html
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/15/bankrate-65-percent-of-americans-save-little-or-nothing.html
February 19, 2019

We all know we should save more. We all want to save more. Yet, month after month we face the same Groundhog Day scenario: paying all of the bills only to realize that – yet again – there is simply nothing left to save. Sound familiar?

Think about it for a minute. In our Groundhog Day scenario, you are dutifully paying every creditor in your life except for the most important: yourself! It’s time to change the narrative: moving forward, think of saving money as paying yourself. You spend all month working hard. You deserve to keep some of the compensation for that hard work. You on board? Great! To keep you honest, we’re going to set up automatic contributions.

Automatic contributions to savings or investments are a crucial step in building a stable financial foundation. Establishing automatic transfers tied to your paycheck schedule ensures that you will pay yourself for all of your efforts at work and invest in your future. It codifies the “pay yourself first” mentality and aligns your monthly spending with your available discretionary income. For example: if I see extra money sitting in my account, I’m likely to splurge on a fancy meal, or buy a plane ticket to visit my sister. Then the end of the month rolls around, and there is no money left over for saving and investment. On the other hand: if I never see the money in my account, I don’t miss it!

By paying yourself first (saving as money comes in), you will see less money sitting in your account and, accordingly, you will spend less. Over time, you won’t even notice the money being set aside. Your spending habits will have auto-adjusted to your new, post-savings cash flow. (I promise!)

One of the best parts of a “pay yourself first” system is that you don’t have to feel guilty about spending the money in your checking account. Having automatically set aside your monthly savings, you’re free to spend the rest of your money as you wish! Regardless of your balance at the end of the month, you can rest easy knowing your financial foundation is secure.

As a financial advisor, I find a “pay yourself first” savings model to be far more successful than any strict budgeting system. Budgets require line item expense tracking and don’t adapt easily to unexpected expenses. Establishing automatic transfers to “pay yourself first” allows you to maintain a more flexible budgeting system – while still sleeping well at night knowing that your saving objectives have been met.

If you would like to talk about establishing an automatic savings plan or your personal situation please contact me at zach.swaffer@trilogyfs.com.

February 4, 2019

Role models have a very powerful function. They shape values and behaviors in all facets of life, including our relationship with our finances. Knowing the influence they have, it’s obviously important to select the right financial role model. However, many are selected with very little consideration, if any at all. When it comes to something as important as your financial independence, you need to be confident that you’re following the right example to ensure that you and your money work together for your greater good.

There are those who are fortunate to have great people in their lives to provide an example of what to value and how to live. If this good example extends to finances, you are very fortunate indeed. However, good behavior or strong values doesn’t always guarantee a good financial role model. A generous nature doesn’t guarantee a good budgeter. Support in your youth doesn’t mean they planned well for their future. When selecting a financial role model, you need to make sure you’re selecting them based on sound financial behaviors and a relationship to their financial independence that you would like to emulate.

Oftentimes, though, many haven’t realized they have already unconsciously selected a financial role model. They may assume that they are simply reacting to circumstances happening to them. However, their response may be a direct duplication of mom’s ardent saving, dad’s faith in the stock market, or Aunt Flo’s blatant disregard for a budget. When we really stop and study our financial patterns, we realize that we have adopted many financial behaviors that may or may not be aiding us in our path to financial freedom. Without any scrutiny of these behaviors, we may be in for a rude and unfortunate awakening in the future.

Rather than unconsciously mimicking behaviors, we should be consciously selecting a financial role model. As with all decisions, be aware of whose lead you are following and what you want that to mean for your finances. Selecting the right example of financial behavior will pave the way to our goals. Don’t forget that your money and your road to financial freedom is under your control – choose wisely.

January 14, 2019

I am a big believer in personalization in all aspects of life. The road to your goals, financial or otherwise, is paved by the personalized steps you’re willing to take and in the direction you wish to work. Driving all of that should be more than an idea or a simple plan. What is needed is a personal mission statement. A mission statement creates a sense of purpose and authenticity that acts as a compass and drives all your decisions in the right direction.

When creating your mission statement, be sure to keep it brief. Just one to two sentences will do. Approach it the same way you would approach starting your own company, reflecting your goals, your dreams, and your values. At the same time, be sure that it extends beyond your professional life and encompasses your personal life and your lifetime goals as well. Once you have your personal mission statement, be sure to read it or recite it daily.

Lastly, make sure that your actions reflect your personal mission statement. Your mission statement is meaningless if you’re not committing action to it. If your statement reflects your family values, be sure to make time for your family. If your mission statement focuses on financial independence, make sure that you’re sticking to a budget and have an all-encompassing plan. Be sure what you’re doing reflects what you claim to value.

Life can move fast, and everyday decisions can distract from your long-term vision. To ensure that you stay true to what you value and on course with your goals, create a mission statement to act as your compass and ensure that your life truly reflects you.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

January 8, 2019

There are so many passwords that people need to remember these days. You have your online passwords, your wi-fi passwords, the passwords you use at work, and more. It can be enough to drive you crazy. By the time you think of yet another original password, you have forgotten the last one. It can be a little easier, however, if you follow the following Dos and Don’ts. DON’T use a password that is easy to guess. That means no password 123 or admin 2018. Don’t use something anyone could figure out, like your birthday, dog’s name, or your address. DO choose a password that only you could figure out, such as the embarrassing moment you never told anyone about or the name of the fish you overfed as a child.

DON’T share your password. Unless it is an account that you and your spouse share, there is no reason to give your account information to someone else. Remind your kids of this too. Many kids give their passwords to friends, which can lead to trouble down the line.

DO make sure your password has a combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Each website will have their own rules about what is required. Make sure it is at least six characters long, too, because length can contribute to the security of the password. For example, sTE”vE218 is a lot harder to crack then STEVE218. The trickier you can be the better.

DO use underscores or spaces. If the system will allow you to, this is a great choice. Not many people who are trying to guess a password will consider spaces or underscores. Trying to decide where you inserted them is even harder.

DON’T use the same password for multiple accounts. If someone is trying to steal your information and they figure out one password, you don’t want them to have the keys to your kingdom. It is much smarter to have a different password for each site to protect your assets.

DON’T make your password so difficult that you cannot remember it. If you notice a spider outside the window as you set your new work password and you make your password SPIDER875, there is a good chance that you will not remember it the next day. While the password has to be hard for other people to guess, it should be easy for you to remember.

DO have a password to protect your passwords. If you have all of your passwords saved to your computer and you are the only one that uses your computer, you can add a second layer of protection. Choose the option to have a password on your laptop. Then you can allow Google to save your passwords for each site you visit, but no one can access them because your laptop itself is password protected.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

January 7, 2019

When we look outwards, most of our world can seem like chaos. Political events impact the market. Technological changes create new employment opportunities and put others to rest. Illness and misfortune affect those we love. It is easy to fall under a sense of helplessness in these moments. The key to weathering these storms is to focus on the elements you can control to make for a better financial future.

The first step is to create a solid plan. Many hope for a good outcome, but hope is not a strategy for a sound future, financial or otherwise. Your plan should reflect personal and financial goals. If you have created a personal mission statement, the goals in your plan should be inspired by that. The key aspect to a plan is that it identifies possible issues and gives you concrete steps to take to weather any storms.

Part of your plan should always include paying yourself first. There are going to be numerous obligations and goals to funnel your finances towards. Be sure that saving for your financial independence is one of them because there aren’t any do-overs when it comes to retirement savings. Just as important as saving is how you save. Make sure to fill your three buckets for more financial flexibility when you retire. The more options you have, the more control you have over your financial future.

After all that work, make sure to protect your plan. Life insurance will cover your debt and obligations, should you pass. Other forms of insurance can also provide during retirement or should you become disabled. Preparing for unfortunate or far-off events is a difficult thing for many to do, but a little planning in this area can protect everything you’ve worked so hard for, for your loved ones and your legacy.

None of us can see the future or know what tomorrow will bring. With a little forethought and planning, though, you can make sure you’re prepared for whatever life throws your way. Be sure to focus on what you can control and those strategies will help you build a better financial future.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

September 5, 2018

As the fall approaches and football season begins, each team has a new energy, a fresh game plan, and oftentimes, a new coach. A new coach brings a different strategy, culture, and mindset. When a new coach arrives, expectations are higher, but remain realistic as fans know winning a championship takes time. With that said, I’m going to argue for a coach who has staying power. Remaining with the same team or school has a long-term impact and provides a consistency that develops into success. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said it best, “It takes time to create excellence. If it could be done quickly, more people would do it.” As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and decision coach, I’m committed to long-term client relationships. By developing and strengthening these advisor-client relationships, I will better understand the context of each client’s story and the history of their decision-making, guiding them to their next best decision. I know life will happen to my clients and I will be alongside them for each step, helping them to adjust the game plan and strategy for continued success. I have and want staying power, because I know it benefits my clients over the life of their financial plan. I create this staying power by working on a referral basis, where trust and credibility already exist, because I want to attend their retirement party. I want to see their kids go to college. I want to guide them through a job transition or business venture. Now, be careful, because a coach can get stale and lose the team, so if you need a second opinion on your current plan, or you’re looking for an advisor with staying power, please reach out to me at mark.nicolet@trilogyfs.com.

August 26, 2018

The one constant in life is change.

It sounds cliché, but it’s very true. Almost everyone will have a moment where change will rock the typical steadiness of your life. A health scare. An unexpected job change. Divorce. A significant drop in the market (i.e., a bear market) as you’re on the verge of retirement. These shocking twists can make us want to scramble and take immediate action to right our suddenly turned around world.

However, sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. When coping with physical imbalance, the key is to focus on a stationary point.1 This allows your brain to make adjustments to maintain your equilibrium. The same applies to other life changes. Fear and frustration may urge you to take some unexpected course of action to address sudden changes, and sometimes these knee-jerk reactions cause more harm than good. In those highly-charged moments, soliciting some professional council, like from a trusted financial advisor, can help us locate that stationary goal and work with us to identify any adjustments that need to be made.

Every time I meet with my clients, I remind them what we’re working towards. Yes, I want to be made aware of any changes they may have experienced, but I also want to remind them what all the decisions we’re making and actions we’re taking are working towards. We planned for the unexpected expenses by saving an emergency fund. For my younger clients, momentary dips in the market don’t necessarily derail us from our long-term goals. In fact, it actually provides purchasing opportunities. Additionally, markets go down, but they are always achieving new high’s long-term. For my clients on the cusp of retirement, these dips were prepared for by diversifying their savings and expanding their emergency fund. With the long-term goals in mind, it’s easier to see the horizon from within the storm.

The trick of it all is to stay focused on the long-term vision of the life you’re trying to create. I’ve learned that this applies not simply to your finances, but other aspects of your life like your career or your family as well. Changes will occur, and your world may get a little rocked, but as long as you take a breath and continue to focus on your long-term goals, you’ll find yourself on sturdy ground once again.

  1. https://www.scienceabc.com/sports/why-focussing-on-something-helps-in-maintaining-balance.html
August 22, 2018

Recently, I followed up with a client after the client had been away on a family vacation for two weeks. Prior to that trip, the chaos of summer, work travel, and meetings had prevented the client from following up with me on a minor but impactful recommendation I had encouraged the client to consider in our last conversation. Before I had the opportunity to even say, “Hello,” the client apologized and communicated that I was owed a phone call. Yes, I had encouraged a decision knowing the impact would further strengthen the client’s financial situation, but in my diligence, I didn’t expect a phone call. The definition of diligence: careful and persistent work or effort. I love the simplicity of this definition and the use of the words persistent and effort. From knowing the client, I know the client is incredibly diligent in her own work and personal life. You see, when my client picked up this phone call, and the diligence of my follow up had just replaced the client’s call, eased the burden of the client having to call me back (amidst her intense work schedule), and ultimately resulted in the client making a best decision to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of her plan after re-clarifying the client’s priorities and current time frames.

An ongoing and sound financial plan requires an immense amount of diligence. If you are not ready to double down on this level of diligence on your own, why not hire a Decision Coach and Certified Financial PlannerTM professional to sprinkle the entirety of your plan with some diligence? Have you rebalanced your 401(k) lately? Have you increased your contribution percentage after your last raise? Did you update your life insurance planning after you moved into a new home after your second child was born? Are you planning on saving for that dream trip to Europe, or is that just going to magically happen in the next five years? What are the trading fees on your brokerage account? You have given thought to each of these questions. You have even discussed the answers with your spouse or close friends. Yet, you are busy and these action items are on the top of your priority list on a Tuesday. All of these questions require thoughtful planning with ongoing diligence, communication, and action. As soon as you settle into a plan with the right cash flow, life happens and you will need to adjust the game plan. My client didn’t forget to call me back. My client wanted me to call me back. Yet, my client didn’t call me back and didn’t make up her mind, until I called. Was I upset that I had to follow up several times? Was I frustrated my client seemed non-responsive? Of course not! It’s my career and joy as a Decision Coach. It’s part of my role as your financial planner to be diligent, to hold you accountable, to help you make qualitatively better decisions over time. Do I expect this to take a few follow up calls and three incredibly productive and ongoing quarterly progress checks between annual reviews? Of course! I love crafting a game plan for you. I love when you approach a financial decision and prior to making a decision, you reach out to me. I want your plan to be dialed in, so ultimately, you are living the life you want now, saving for the life you want in the future, as I provide the guard rails of diligence all along the way. A lot happens in a year and all of those little decisions have a significant impact over a long arch of time. Why I am so diligent with your financial plan? So, you don’t always have to be…don’t apologize, let’s just make the next best decision together and I’ll handle the follow up so we can one day celebrate together, not just because you are retiring, but because of the life you lived to get there.

August 13, 2018

Money can be a complex thing. No, I’m not necessarily talking about the stock market or the emergence of cryptocurrencies. I’m talking about how every financial decision you make affects all the others. It sounds like a simple enough theory, but when it comes time to putting it into action, it’s often difficult to see through.

I see many clients who come in clearly stating their goals: they want to retire, they want to start their own business or pay for the children’s college education. They want to be financially independent. Yet, when we look at what they’re doing with their finances, we find that their actions may be working against their goals. That daily Starbucks habit has a different cost when you calculate how much you’ve spent in a given month that could have been used towards other expenses. For those who are constantly leasing new vehicles, those payments that never end take on a different perspective when you consider how they could have been applied to a down payment for a house.

We see it now with millennials struggling under immense student loan debt. While much of their income is funneled towards basic needs and paying down debt, little is left for necessary things like amassing an emergency fund and saving for retirement, let alone other milestones like purchasing a home. Putting off funding these other items can have a serious detrimental effect down the road. Furthermore, while millennials have grown to be the largest generations purchasing homes1, this major decision has prompted additional complications like borrowing from retirement to afford a down payment or underestimating ongoing maintenance cost. In fact, based on a survey by Bank of the West, 68 percent of millennial homeowners now have regrets about buying their home2 because every decision made truly impacted everything else.

Things can get especially tricky when decisions are being made by more than one person. Couples can have household goals, but if they’re not united in working towards them, these goals can often get sidelined. Perhaps they’re trying to save for a house, but one of them isn’t sticking to their plan. Maybe they’ve been diligently saving for retirement when one wants to take a major withdrawal to start their own business. Sometimes it can be as simple as not even bothering to discuss the household’s financial goals. Very often, if you’re not working together, you’re working against one another.

Please understand, I’m all for enjoying your hard-earned money. Sometimes, though, difficult choices have to be made. Perhaps it’s deciding to put off that trip with friends to pay off your credit card, or eating out less to build up your emergency fund. I remember being in that predicament when my family first moved into our home – we lived without furniture in two of the rooms! You see, the key to your personal financial success isn’t typically making more money. It’s really about being aware of your financial behavior and of how your daily financial decisions impact your long-term fiscal future.

1. https://www.housingwire.com/articles/42748-millennials-lead-all-other-generations-in-buying-homes

2. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/18/most-millennials-regret-buying-home.html

July 20, 2018

Over the course of hundreds of conversations with clients, I’ve found that quite a few them have wrestled with the idea of whether they should go back to school for an advanced degree. As their advisor, I am commonly asked if returning to school would be financially beneficial. The risk/return analysis is not always cut-and-dried in this situation. Investing X amount of dollars in a degree program does not always result in an equal or higher return in the future.

The True Value Of Education

Education is about more than just the money. After a recent conversation with a client, I had the realization that while I don’t need an MBA for my job as a financial advisor, the MBA experience itself shaped and molded me to become the advisor I am today. While I did take numerous finance classes to enhance my knowledge and quantitative skills, the greatest value I gained from earning an MBA came from improving qualitative skills, such as working with people, networking, effective communication, and time management. These are skills that I use daily in my current role.

Every experience we go through, especially those that push us out of our comfort zone and require plenty of work and time, leads to personal growth. Had I not gone through the MBA program at USC’s Marshall School of Business, I might not have developed the work ethic required to succeed as a financial advisor, and I could have ended up on a completely different career path altogether.

My Pre-MBA Self

Before entering the MBA program, I had a passion for the financial services industry, but like most college grads, I wasn’t sure how that would translate into a career. I didn’t have a clear direction for my future. I was interested in becoming an advisor but knew that it would be fairly tough to advise people on what to do with their finances when I hadn’t gone through many life experiences myself.

I had always loved the idea of making money and becoming more efficient with what I had, but I was young and dumb (and willing to admit that)! I fell into the cultural mindset of wanting to work typical business hours, earn a large salary, and enjoy life. In essence, I wanted the rewards but didn’t want to do the work involved to achieve those rewards. In my naive way of thinking, an MBA seemed to be the simplest path to achieve this end result. I can tell you that I was so wrong in this assumption!

What I Gained from My MBA

Networking Skills: USC is known for networking. Everything I heard about business school prior to attending was that the most important takeaway from the experience is to network, network, network. Unfortunately, my pre-MBA self was uncomfortable talking with people I didn’t know. I didn’t like to take the initiative to introduce myself and sometimes avoided conversing with people unless I was introduced first. As time went on and I experienced the pressure of competing against my peers and other highly qualified candidates for the same jobs, I was forced to rise to the challenge and become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This skill alone has helped me immensely in my career when it comes to collaborating with a client’s other professionals, such as an estate attorney or CPA. In order to do a thorough job for a client, it’s often necessary to work with their other professionals to make sure we’re on the same page. In many cases, I’ve reached out to a client’s CPA to make sure they had my contact information so that if questions arise about the client’s investments, they call me rather than my client.

This skill has also helped me in reaching out to client referrals or prospective clients because I’ve found that people often want help with their financial planning, but they might not tell others or take the first step.

Effective Time And Task Management: During my time at USC, multitasking became the norm. If I wanted to effectively balance school, attend recruiting events, revise my resume, participate in mock job interviews, network for potential jobs, and somehow find time for a personal life, I had to become better with time management.

My job today is multi-faceted and includes juggling many tasks, such as answering client questions, servicing and monitoring their accounts, staying on top of changes in the industry, and dealing with changes life throws my clients’ way. Knowing that I was able to handle my heavy load in the past gives me confidence that I can prioritize my work today. Most importantly, I’ve come to realize that with all of these moving parts, it’s impossible to be rigid in only working business hours (again, something I aspired to when I was young and dumb), because not everyone is available from 8 am to 5 pm. Instead, I’ve become flexible with my schedule and instituted taking a day off during the week so that I can occasionally meet with clients on the weekend or do a phone call later in the evenings.

Is An Advanced Degree Right For You?

In my case, obtaining an advanced degree was one of my best decisions. It’s difficult to imagine doing anything else with my life and I am fortunate that I went down this path. If you or someone you know is trying to make this decision, I would love to give you some insight and help you look at the situation from an objective perspective. Or, if you would like to network and see if we could work together, call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128, or email me at michael.loo@lpl.com. I’d love to see you thriving in your life!

July 12, 2018

There may be plenty of factors outside of your control that impact your financial situation, such as the markets, the economy as a whole, or an unexpected illness. But those circumstances may not play as critical of a role in your financial life as you might think. The real dangers to your financial future are the lies you tell yourself when it comes to financial planning. Here are some ways you could be undermining your financial success and some ideas on how to change course.

Lie #1: I Don't Need Help. I Know What I'm Doing

Let’s say you read a plethora of financial planning books, stay up-to-date on the markets, and know all about budgeting software. That may put you ahead of a lot of other people, but there are certain aspects of financial planning that often go ignored even by the most knowledgeable people. Let’s look at a couple of hypothetical examples.

How Often Do You Review?

How often do you refresh your goals, adjust your plan, and determine how and when to make changes? A financial planner does more than just monitor your portfolio. They act as your coach, motivating and guiding you when things get tough. They bring an objective perspective to the table and develop a customized strategy based on your financial priorities. The end result is increased confidence in your financial strategies and decision-making. You don’t want to suffer a financial setback just because you were too busy or too forgetful to keep up with your financial plan.

In Case of Emergency

What if the unthinkable were to happen and you couldn’t make financial decisions? Will your family be able to handle the details and figure out your financial plan? An advisor can offer a holistic overview of your net worth and determine what elements need to be in place to protect your family and your wealth. These are often things you may not be aware of, such as life insurance or a living trust.

Market Research

Investing is tricky business on a good day. Can you manage the emotions, anxiety, and possible second-guessing of your investment choices if you were living on a fixed income and the market were to face a correction? An advisor has tools to evaluate cash flow to help you determine the probability of your money lasting through your retirement years. They can also keep you accountable and committed to your long-term strategy in the midst of market ups and downs.

Lie #2: I Can Always Get Help When I Need It

If you were going on vacation, would you rather have everything packed ahead of time and enjoy your restful break? Or would you prefer to be disorganized and arrive without essential items, forced to then spend your time off running around shopping for things you forgot? When it comes to money, it’s the same idea. When you really need the help, you may have lost your most valuable resource – time. Instead of thoughtfully researching your options and making decisions with a clear head, waiting until you need help will result in a frantic scramble to just get things done.

Whatever it is you experience in life, having a financial planner on your team will help you stay on top of your money and prepare in advance for future milestones and events.

Lie #3: I Don't Need An Advisor, I Have Financial Technology

Financial planning has evolved. Years ago, it was about who had the most up to date information on a company to buy a stock, and the planning industry was mostly concerned with buying and selling stocks and bonds rather than portfolio management. Today, financial planning is more about what’s missing in your overall strategy, what have you not thought of, and what could you be doing that you’re not. On top of that, the financial planning process helps you emotionally connect with your goals so you can get on the right track. Technology, at the present time, can’t do that.

Technology has many good points, but several drawbacks as well. For example, you can find more information than you’ll ever need, but you’ll also come across plenty of misinformation which could lead you astray. It’s not uncommon for someone to research something on the Internet and find just as many pros as there are cons. If you want to save for your child’s college education, you’ll find articles touting the value of using a 529, a Roth IRA, or a Roth 401(k). How do you figure out which one is truly right for you? The abundance of information has created so much noise that in many cases, people don’t do anything at all.

While technology should be used in financial planning, it should not replace the role of an advisor. The importance of what advisors do from a human aspect is help clients sift through the noise and misinformation and encourage them to move forward in taking action.

A Change In Perspective?

Have you ever believed one of these lies? It’s easy to do, but the consequences are real. Don’t take a gamble with your money. Join forces with a financial advisor who can help you make the most of what you have, where you are, and get you positioned for a bright financial future. Call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128, or email me at michael.loo@lpl.com for a no-strings-attached meeting to discuss your situation.

June 21, 2018

Regardless of where it comes from, getting an unexpected chunk of change usually makes for a pretty good day, week, or even year. But if you aren’t intentional about what you do with your extra cash, you could follow in the footsteps of many lottery winners who squander their winnings and end up unhappy and broke.1  Even if the gift you receive isn’t a significant amount, you’d be amazed at how some smart planning can make a big difference down the road. Let’s look at some ways you can you use your raise, refund, or windfall to get ahead financially.

  1. Pay Off Debt

Big debt, small debt, it doesn’t matter. Debt is debt. Start with high-interest debt and work your way down. Did you know that the average American household carries over $16,000 in credit card debt and pays an average of $1,292 in interest annually?2  Sure, using your extra influx of money to reduce debt isn’t as fun as going on a trip, but think of the satisfaction you’ll feel when you see your balance decrease, knowing that you are saving yourself thousands of dollars in interest in the long run.

  1. Beefing Up Your Retirement Savings

Even if you diligently contribute to a 401(k) or IRA, chances are you aren’t maxing out those accounts. Let’s say you receive a $3,120 tax refund, the average amount according to the IRS.3  You then deposit that $3,120 in an IRA and see a 7% rate of return annually. In 20 years, you will have earned approximately $8,000 on that investment due to compound interest. Let’s go a bit further. If you invest your tax refund every year for 20 years, your retirement savings could see a boost of almost $150,000! If you’ve received a raise, use some of it to increase your contribution percentage right away. That way, you won’t get used to living with that extra money and it puts you ahead for the future.

  1. Invest In Education

Most of us dream of our kids going to a great school and getting a solid foundation for their future career, but have you considered how much of an investment it will take to get them to that point? The numbers can be daunting. These days, a high school graduate can expect to pay upwards of $200,000 for an undergraduate degree at a top school4 and over $10,000 each year for in-state tuition alone at a public institution.5  The costs will vary depending on room and board and other educational costs, but either way, it’s a lot of money.

One option is to open a 529 account with your tax refund and, once again, let compound interest help you get ahead. Not only will your investment pave the way for your child’s future, but it could also give you a tax break.

  1. Build Your Emergency Fund

An emergency fund provides you with a cushion for those times when life gives you lemons. If you don’t have readily available savings, something as simple as an unexpected car repair or medical bill could derail your finances. Or, if you know you have a large purchase or a life milestone approaching, such as welcoming a baby into your family, having an emergency fund will help you avoid digging into long-term savings or going into debt to cover costs. You can’t put a price on the peace of mind that an emergency fund will give you, so think about investing some of your tax refund to boost your short-term savings.

  1. Be Generous

Giving your tax refund away may not help you get ahead, but it could make a lasting impact on someone else’s life. Find a charity or cause that is close to your heart and pay it forward. Your gift could also help you when the next tax season rolls around. Just make sure to get a receipt for your contribution and itemize your deductions.

Have You Received Some Extra Cash?

It’s okay to treat yourself when you find yourself with excess income, but don’t splurge just because the money is there. Make a list of your financial priorities and then map out how your additional money could give your financial future a boost. If you would like guidance on how to use your raise, refund, or windfall, call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128 or email me at michael.loo@lpl.com.

June 6, 2018

Approaching retirement can sometimes be as overwhelming and nerve-wracking as the transition into your Golden Years. You may start reflecting on what you’ve accomplished thus far in life and what you envision still achieving.

As you near the finish line, here are four things to do in the last ten years of your career.

Create a List of Things You Want to Accomplish in Retirement

The first step is understanding your goals for your retirement. What lifestyle do you envision maintaining? Will you travel? Will you live in the same home? What will you do during the day? As much as you may enjoy golf, you may tire of doing it every day for weeks on end.

Creating a list of retirement goals gives you something to look forward to, and may even motivate you to save more aggressively to reach your retirement goals faster. For example, if you imagine enjoying plenty of family vacations in retirement, you may need to establish a vacation fund.

You may instead envision spending your time volunteering or enjoying hobbies, be it woodworking, gardening, or painting. Regardless of how you choose to spend your time, make plans for it. If you don’t, other family members may be planning out your time for you. For example, you may become the default caretaker for your aging parents, especially if your other siblings are still working. Or you may become the “full time” babysitter for your grandchildren because your children assume you aren’t doing anything all day.

Pay Off Debt

The less debt you have when you enter retirement, the better. Review all current debts you face and compare interest rates and balances. This can help you decide which to pay off first. Once you’ve eliminated credit card and auto debt, see how you can aggressively pay off your mortgage. Not having a mortgage could significantly reduce your monthly expenses and make a considerable impact on how quickly you deplete your savings.

Along with tackling debt, take care of the big-ticket items now, rather than delaying them. These include replacing your home’s roof or other expensive repairs, updating old appliances, addressing your long-term care needs, and keeping your car in good working shape. It’s ideal to do this now while you still have a paycheck rather than when you’re retired and trying to live off of your savings.

Plan Out Your Expenses and Create a Budget

A common question pre-retirees ask is, “will my income sources cover my needs in retirement?” A budget is helpful throughout life but can be particularly beneficial during retirement when your income may be more limited.

Start by creating a budget that includes your essential expenses (housing, healthcare, and food) and your discretionary expenses (such as traveling, entertainment, and dining out). With this list, match essential expenses with guaranteed income, such as setting aside your Social Security benefits to pay for your healthcare. Then, look at your other savings and income to cover your discretionary expenses.

If your projected expenses don’t match your income and savings, you’ll either need to reconsider your expenses or increase your retirement income. These 10 years leading up to retirement can serve as a “trial run” to help instill a higher level of confidence that you can live off a certain level of income once you retire.

Hire a Financial Advisor

How much should you contribute to your 401(k)? What types of investments make the most sense for your circumstances and goals? Often, it’s not until we face a significant decision or make a mistake when we realize that we weren’t equipped with the proper knowledge. And then it may be too late to find help or rectify any missteps we make.

A financial advisor isn’t just there to hand you a financial plan and set you on your way. Think of an advisor as your lifelong financial partner. He or she can provide education, objective advice, and ongoing guidance as you encounter new challenges and opportunities.  This could mean adjusting your strategies, or simply reassuring you of your progress. With education and a reliable partner available to answer your questions, you can feel empowered to make informed decisions.

Next Steps

You don’t have to go at it alone and plan for your retirement on your own. At this point in your life, you should work with an advisor who can help you create a personalized retirement roadmap and work through various retirement scenarios, not just help your money grow. As an independent financial advisor, I want to help you address your retirement questions and feel confident about your future. I can work with you to establish a retirement strategy that integrates your goals and needs. Take the first step by reaching out to me for a complimentary consultation. Call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128, or email me at michael.loo@trilogyfs.com.

May 29, 2018

We live in a dynamic and inspiring time. Advancements in healthcare are doing wonders for retirees. Many are living longer, in greater physical health, maintaining their mobility and independence. However, there has also been a growing impediment to that independence – dementia. This syndrome that characterizes the decline of cognitive functions and encompasses degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s is impacting more and more every year. While it can be very uncomfortable to consider yourself or a loved one suffering from such an illness, living in this age of dementia makes planning for its onset a necessary endeavor.

The statistics are sobering. Those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease can typically live four to eight years after the initial diagnosis. However, there are also those who can live up to twenty years after their first diagnosis. As this is a disease that wrecks the mind, not the body, some can live up to 5 years in long-term care, rather than the typical two years of other illnesses. Needless to say, the costs of care can be staggering. With expenses ranging from various prescriptions, personal care supplies, limited or long-term care services, there is clearly a lot to plan for. Many rely on Medicare to cover the expenses. Yet, Medicare does not cover everything, oftentimes paying up to 80% of costs, only covering fees that are considered “medically necessary” and taking time to determine what falls under that qualification.1 When you or your loved one is struggling daily with the complications of dementia, hope can seem far off or entirely out of reach.

Due to the subtle ways symptoms can first appear, many can go years without a diagnosis. Unfortunately, that does not mean that the illness is not affecting their lives. While there are specific stages of decline with various forms of dementia, financial matters are generally impacted immediately. Memory suffers, with individuals forgetting to stay current with their bills or having issues understanding their bank and account statements. With subsequent stages, financial skills, along with others, decline further. It can be a rapid and steep decline. An individual’s independence, financial and otherwise, can be compromised very quickly.

This is why it is very important to discuss financial and legal matters once a loved one has been diagnosed, regardless of whether it may feel awkward or uncomfortable. The sooner these conversations take place, the better. There is a lot of information to cover and a lot of decisions on the possible future to make. Most importantly, the earlier the conversations are started, the more of a role the diagnosed person will have. At the end of the day, that is what we all want, for our loved one's wishes and desires to be upheld, even when they may no longer be able to vocalize them.

In addition to helping our loved ones afflicted with these diseases, we cannot forget the loved ones providing the assistance. The strain that can get placed on a familial caregiver can often get overlooked. If not adequately planned for, some will dip into their savings and sell their investments to cover the mounting costs to care for their loved ones. Additionally, the stress of the situation can detrimentally impact the physical and emotional health of the caregiver, which can put both individuals at risk.

Clearly, there is a lot to consider, and for many, it is easy to get overwhelmed, flounder in all the unfamiliar information and overlook that which we are not well-versed on. This is where your financial professional can assist you, both in the midst of this difficult time and also well before the actual diagnosis. They can help you make decisions and preparations, as well as educate you on the myriad of things you may not be aware of but need to know. Additionally, Trilogy Financial advisors are trained to not only identify when clients may be exhibiting symptoms of dementia but to continually monitor these behaviors as well. We truly do take our clients’ well-being seriously. Many individuals I have encountered have two distinct fears about growing older. The first is running out of money. The second is becoming a burden to their family. With dementia, those two fears can become a reality. However, with the proper preparation and planning, they don’t have to be.

Sources: 1. https://www.medicareresources.org/faqs/what-benefits-does-medicare-provide-for-alzheimers-patients/

May 18, 2018

Some people believe that one of the most frustrating words in the financial world is the word “taxes”. But it doesn’t have to be…and it actually shouldn’t be. Understanding the world of taxation takes enormous amounts of education, understanding and application. The average person doesn’t necessarily want to become an expert on taxes, but they certainly don’t want to pay more than they have to, either. Hence the reason many people and businesses reach out for help. Finding a tax professional can be complicated; hoping to find the right kind of tax professional for the services needed tends to be the number one challenge.

When starting a search to find the right tax professional, there are basically two major things to consider. Firstly, it’s important to understand the differences between the types of tax professionals. Secondly, it’s important to ask the right kind of questions to help discern if a working relationship with a particular tax professional is a good fit.

Start with having a basic understanding of a few different types of tax professionals.

TYPES OF TAX PROFESSIONALS:

Tax Preparer – A tax preparer can help individuals, families, and businesses prepare tax returns. They cannot represent clients during an audit. Their role is limited to tax preparation. A large percentage of the general population might find that a Tax Preparer is a match for their filing needs.

EA – An Enrolled Agent (EA) has passed an IRS examination that puts them in a position to not only help clients prepare tax returns, but they can also represent their clients in the event of an audit. Generally speaking, EA’s may tend to have more thorough knowledge and understanding in regards to tax preparation than that of a Tax Preparer. Individuals, families, and business owners might find that an EA is helpful due to the complexities that their tax preparation needs may entail.

Tax Attorneys – Tax Attorneys can not only prepare tax filings, but they can also represent their clients during an audit, as well as represent clients in court proceedings. Tax attorneys play a significant role in helping their clients through complications with tax liabilities, responsibilities, and other issues that may arise.

CPA – Certified Public Accountants are tax professionals who have a degree in accounting or a related field. They have passed the state CPA exam, and are able to perform a myriad of services for their clients. They can prepare tax filings, represent clients during audits, prepare and certify audit statements. They cannot, however, represent their clients in court.

There are additional types of tax professionals, but the above mentioned tend to be the most widely sought after by individuals, families, business owners, non-profit entities, and others.

Secondly, it’s important to ask questions that are relevant for finding a professional that might be best suited for the specific needs at hand. Here are a few questions to consider when interviewing a tax professional:

QUESTIONS TO ASK:

  1. What is your designation, or professional title?
  2. What industries or types of clients do you have?
  3. How many years of experience do you have?
  4. How many people do you have in your organization, and what are their roles?
  5. Do you help clients with tax planning strategies, as well as tax preparation?
  6. Do you work in collaboration with financial planners and other professionals?
  7. What kind of ongoing service model do you have?
  8. What is your fee structure?

When discerning which tax professional to work with, having a basic knowledge of the types of tax professionals might go a long way with helping to build a productive relationship, and subsequently, possibly more favorable tax solutions. Taxes are a major part of life, and having a strategy around how finances are built, managed, and maintained could possibly help significantly. It’s important to be responsible with taxes, and having a professional that can help discern taxation with efficiencies could have significant importance to overall financial planning.

April 24, 2018

Congratulations. You’ve decided to work with a financial professional to help improve your financial situation. How do you find a good one? Unfortunately, that’s harder than it sounds. There is a huge barrier between people seeking good financial advice and professionals offering it. Advisors can be found in the yellow pages (Millennials, you might have to Google that), on various online sites, by answering incoming phone calls, by asking your friends and neighbors, or any number of other ways. Personally, I believe a referral or introduction from an existing client is the best way, but that could be another entire article. Here are some suggested questions you should ask a prospective advisor.

  1. Start by asking yourself what kind of help you think you want and/or need

Are you just seeking help with your investments? How about someone who will be the “quarterback” of your entire team of professionals (tax preparer, estate attorney, bookkeeper, banker, investment manager, etc.)? Are you looking for someone who simply suggests things for you to go do by yourself (what I call the “travel agent” model), or someone who will give you advice and then help you carry it out (what I call the “Sherpa” model)?

The answers to these questions will determine what kind of professional to seek out. I know some of you are thinking, “Wait—aren’t they all the same?” Trust me; the answer is an emphatic “NO”! One of the best ways to determine what type of professional someone is, is by asking about their credentials.

  1. What are your credentials and what do they mean?

Anyone can call themselves a financial advisor. A stockbroker, a life insurance agent, a mutual fund sales rep, an annuity salesperson, a banker, a mortgage broker. Seriously, there are no rules for the title Financial Advisor. The title Financial Planner, on the other hand, has very definitive rules. There are only two kinds of people who can legally call themselves a planner. One group took classes, passed some exams given by an industry group, and received the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation. The other group took classes, passed some exams by a governmental group, and received their Series 65 or Series 66 registration. These folks are called Registered Financial Planners, although that moniker hasn’t caught on yet the same way the CFP® has. Both of these groups can legally charge you a fee for giving you advice.

You might also encounter professionals who received a Series 6 registration (this allows them to sell you a mutual fund) and/or their Series 7 registration (commonly called the stockbroker license). You will also encounter people who have some combination of these.

Someone who only has a CFP® can give you advice but can’t help you execute it. These are the “travel agents” I referred to. This might be a good choice if you want to pay for advice but then go do everything yourself. Another example might be people who hire a personal trainer at the gym one time to teach them the right exercises to do; then they go do them by themselves.

Someone who only has a Series 6 or 7 registration can sell you products for a commission, but they can’t give you any advice. Let’s call them “luggage salespeople.” This might be good for people who don’t want professional advice, make their own decisions, and simply need to buy financial products in a transactional relationship with a salesperson.

Someone who has their Series 65/66, or has their Series 6/7 and 65/66, or who has their CFP® and Series 6/7 and/or 65/66 can perform the “Sherpa” function of going on the journey with you and helping you implement the advice. These are good choices for someone who recognizes the value of professional advice and knows they need a little extra help with actually getting things done (or want that extra accountability). Think people who hire a personal trainer at the gym and see them week after week. In my experience, clients of these professionals make the most consistent progress toward their long-term goals.

  1. How will I be charged? How do you get compensated?

Sometimes those are the same question and sometimes not. Does the professional make a commission when you buy a product? If so, how much is it? Do they charge an hourly fee, a monthly fee, or a one-time flat fee? Is the professional paid a fee based on the size of your invested assets? What is that fee?

If you are buying products, are there any fees built into the products themselves? How much? Are the fees for the product clearly spelled out or are they buried internally?

Will ALL of your fees be clearly itemized on your statements? Ask to see an example.

  1. What services do you provide?

This should line up with your answers to Question #1. Don’t make any assumptions here. Make sure the service you are seeking is actually provided by the professional you are interviewing. The professional might want to sound like they can do everything for you. For example, a stockbroker can open an IRA for you, but that’s not the same thing as doing retirement planning for you. Be clear.

  1. Are you a Fiduciary?

Due to a recent regulatory change, this is the new industry buzzword. There are multiple standards of care in the financial services industry. One is the “suitability” standard. Professionals who do not give advice are held to this standard. They need to show that the product is appropriate for someone in your situation, but they don’t have to disclose their compensation or prove that the product they recommended is actually in your best interest. If there were two products that both accomplished the same thing, but one resulted in the professional receiving higher compensation, the professional doesn’t have to tell you that.

The other standard is the “best interest” standard. People held to this standard are fiduciaries. They must always act in the client’s best interest. If they sell you a product, they must demonstrate that it is in your best interest rather than their own.

Conclusion

I’m a Sherpa, so I naturally believe that’s a better choice for most people seeking professional help with their finances. My fees are very clear and, they appear right on the statement or contract signed by the client. I think hidden fees should be avoided at almost any cost. My clients hire me on an annual basis to be their DecisionCoach. I give them advice, I help them make better financial decisions over time, and I help them implement the advice. Depending on the client, I might be helping with organization, cash flow, investment management, budgeting, retirement planning, college planning, income planning, tax mitigation, asset protection, insurance, advanced medical expense planning, estate planning, and much more. Are you looking for a professional like me?

April 16, 2018

Have you ever noticed when you turn on the news, the media is either panicked because the markets are down or celebratory because the markets are up? This may make for fun entertainment, but it can also impact people’s emotions, which are dangerous when they affect investment choices and financial decisions.

While you shouldn’t hide your head in the sand when it comes to the news, there’s a fine balance between staying up-to-date and obsessively following every market change.

The Problem with the News

Many people think watching the news will help them decide what financial or investment decisions to make. The problem with this is that the news is late, especially in terms of investing.

Capital markets efficiently price in all widely known information. As soon as news is available to the public, it becomes reflected in share prices. Therefore, looking at the same things as everyone else doesn’t give you a leg-up on other investors.

Additionally, we know that most news stations have a bias or slant. Many major networks tend to lean either right or left, and this can actually impact the type of actions they suggest in terms of financial decisions. Furthermore, when their guest is the head of a bank or works for a credit card company, you’ll want to be aware that their advice may be biased.

The Information to Turn to Instead

One of the best solutions is to ignore the pundits and spend more time sticking to your personal financial strategies and investment plan. It may sound crazy for me to suggest this, but I’ve found that it helps my clients feel less stressed and less likely to make emotionally driven decisions.

It takes training to tune out the media noise levels and focus on your long term plan. It is tough to do, but with a little coaching, you can feel less stress from media influence and more focused on your plan.

Let Your Advisor Do the Heavy Lifting

While working with a financial advisor is a collaborative approach, requiring work on both ends, it can be helpful to rely on your advisor for staying up-to-date on financial news and investment trends. Part of an advisor’s job is to stay current with financial news and changes in the markets. Your advisor will then suggest changes, if needed, based on your personal goals and needs.

Stick to Financial Wellness Tips

While listening to the news and recommendations of pundits can lead to emotional decision-making, reading general articles and blogs about financial health and wellness can be beneficial, and even motivating. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs out there that share tips on sticking to a budget, savvy ways to save money at the grocery store, and how to find the best credit card rates. These sources of information can help you maintain a healthy outlook regarding money and keep you motivated to stick to your financial goals.

How I Can Help

As an independent advisor, my personal goal is to provide my clients with guidance that can help them understand and better define their financial goals. I stay up-to-date with the latest financial news, trends, and market shifts so my clients don’t have to. I hope to allow them the time to focus on their passions in life knowing I am here proactively monitoring their investments and financial strategies.

To learn more about how I can help you focus less on media noise and more on your passions in life, contact me for a no-strings-attached meeting. We can discuss your goals what strategies can help you pursue them. Call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128, or email me at michael.loo@lpl.com.

April 13, 2018

Many people accept that humility is a virtue, one that contributes to an individual’s success or legacy. Treating others respectfully and as equals is a courteous thing to do, as is recognizing everyone’s individual value and innate strengths. This is what I teach my children and the value that I integrate into how I run my business as well as my life.

This extends far beyond an altruistic ideal, though. Humility is not simply being self-depreciating or passive. In fact, it’s less about our relationship with other people and more reflective of the relationship we have with ourselves. Humility is about being fully aware of your humanity and your interdependence with others. It allows us to be self-aware and recognize where we may have gaps in our knowledge or in our control. This is a proven value that can have concrete and positive ramifications in our everyday life, specifically in our investments. Trust me, it’s not that big of a leap.

  1. Humility is understanding that I do not know everything. This means that I can make mistakes. It also reinforces that there are others who may have more knowledge or a different perspective that may provide value to the decisions I make. Whether you’re talking about a doctor, a lawyer, a tax accountant or in my case, a financial planner, there are folks who have the knowledge and passion to help you.
  2. Humility is understanding that I do not control everything. This means that things will happen that I have no power over, that I could not predict, and that may cause a few bumps in the road. In those moments, it’s good to refrain from acting impulsively or emotionally. Preparation and flexibility are also key. It’s best to plan for emergencies, fluctuations in the market, and other surprising events to understand what to expect, stay focused on the bigger picture and be prepared for not necessarily doing things “as usual”.

Once we accept these points, we can recognize where we may need assistance and be open to advice from expert counsel. When we do that, we do it for our own personal benefit, arming ourselves with the resources for monetary and overall success. Michael McGrath sums it up nicely in his article, “Humility in Investing: Why It’s Important”,

“Overconfidence tells you that it must be the other thing that was wrong—I see it all the time in my work. But humility allows you to say, “I’m not perfect, was there something that I might have been able to do better?”1

The Advisors at Trilogy Financial are here to be your resource on the road to doing things better. Our accomplishments are measured by your success and ability to achieve your financial freedom.

1 http://moneyinc.com/humility-investing-important/

April 11, 2018

Not all goals are equal in their achievability. In fact, 92% of people don’t reach the goals they set.1 While goals can be difficult to achieve, they’re not impossible. However, the best way to set yourself up for success is to set meaningful goals.

A meaningful goal sets itself apart from a standard goal in three main ways.

  1. It’s Specific and Measurable

The more specific your goal, the more likely you are to reach it. According to one study, setting specific goals led to a higher performance 90% of the time.2 The reason for this is fairly simple: the clearer the path, the easier it is to follow it to the final destination.

I hear so many people tell me their goal is to save more, spend less, or build a retirement fund. The problem with these goals is that they lack specificity. Saving more could mean saving $10 per month or $1,000 per month. You can’t track your progress or know if you’re on track toward your goal if you haven’t specified it and you can’t measure your progress.

One of the first things I tell clients is to make their goals as specific as possible. For example, instead of “build a retirement fund,” you can specify it to “build a retirement fund of $100,000.” Finally, make it measurable—”build a retirement fund of $100,000 by age 45.”

  1. It’s Relevant to Your Life

A goal is only meaningful if you’re passionate about it. Those who meet their goals do so not just because they’re hard workers, but because they are passionate about what they want to achieve. Their goals reflect their values and interests, rather than being random or something they think they’re supposed to achieve in life.

For example, some clients tell me they want to build their savings account because they’ve been told that’s what they should do. While true, you likely won’t feel very inspired to save more if you don’t have a reason for it that makes sense for your life.

I tell these clients to think of what having a savings account would mean for them. Would they feel they could sleep better at night? Would a savings account mean they could go on an annual family vacation? If they build a savings account up to a certain amount, could they finally upgrade their unreliable and problematic car?

Whatever your goal, you should be passionate about it and it should be relevant to your life, not what you think you’re supposed to achieve.

  1. Frame it Positively

We’ve all heard about the power of positive thinking, and it translates to your goals, too. We are much more likely to work toward something we want to achieve or do rather than what we want to stop doing or don’t want.

For example, rather than a goal of “stop overspending” or “spend $200 less each month,” frame it in a positive light: “spend more mindfully” or “save $200 each month.” This can help you view saving as a good thing you’re supposed to do, rather than spending as a treat that you no longer should do. It’s easy to reverse any goal, so there’s no excuse not to!

Don’t Go it Alone

The process of setting a goal is just as important as the process of working towards it. Think of your goal as the frame of a house. You can’t build a stable home without the proper foundation and a clear blueprint.

If you’re struggling to achieve your goals or aren’t sure how to set ones that are meaningful, an advisor can help. As an independent financial advisor, my mission is to make a meaningful impact on the lives of my clients and the people they love. I help families make informed decisions with their money and pursue a strong financial future, from setting meaningful goals to guiding them along the path toward the finish line.

Contact me for a no-strings-attached meeting to discuss your goals, how to make them meaningful, and what strategies can help you pursue them. Call my office at (949) 221-8105 x 2128, or email me at michael.loo@lpl.com.

1 http://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/science-says-92-percent-of-people-dont-achieve-goals-heres-how-the-other-8-perce.html

2 http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1981-27276-001

September 28, 2017

The world of financial planning is so incredibly diverse. And so it is with financial professionals, as well. The challenge that most people have is that by not being familiar with the various types of advisors; styles, approaches, licenses, abilities, qualifications, etc., it makes it hard to know what questions to ask in order to formulate an opinion as to whom to work with. People tend to go with their “gut feelings” about someone. And while that certainly can be an indicator as to what kind of working relationship one might have with a particular financial professional, it is equally, if not more, important to have objective information at hand for that decision-making time, as well.

There are a few questions that advisors rarely get asked, but should be asked. Sometimes these questions get avoided because the person asking might not even realize these questions are important. Past experiences drive many of the questions people ask. But if the goal is to be as informed as possible, it’s important not to forget to ask these three questions:

Question #1: Are you a fiduciary? And how do you get paid?

Not all financial professionals are fiduciaries. There are various types of securities registrations a financial professional can acquire; some are simply registrations to sell certain products, some are registrations to give advice (as opposed to just suitable recommendations for product sales). In other words, some financial professionals are “Registered Representatives (RR)” who are affiliated with a broker/dealer, with some securities registrations that allow them to sell products. While some financial professionals are “Investment Advisor Representatives (IAR)” who are affiliated with a Registered Investment Advisory firm, who have a few more/different registrations that allow them to be fiduciaries within the advisory services they offer their clients. Some professionals are both a Registered Representative and an Investment Advisor Representative. Others are not. Many consumers don’t know the differences. Below is a very basic breakdown.

Responsibilities to Client:

IARs – Fiduciaries. Are legally bound to do what is in the best interest of their clients…above all else.

RRs – Are responsible for making sure the products they sell to their clients are suitable.

Primary Responsibility/Function:

IARs – Primary responsibility is as an advisor to their clients

RRs – Sell securities and handle sales transactions for their clients

Compensation:

IARs – Generally charge a flat % fee for advice surrounding assets under management (AUM)

RRs – Tend to be commission based. They get paid commissions for products they sell.

Compliance and Regulations:

IARs – Are associated with Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firms that are regulated by the SEC and/or state regulatory agencies.

RRs – Are regulated by FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), along with the SEC and other state regulatory agencies.

Question #2: What is your particular expertise?

Not all financial professionals have niche markets….or only specific types of clients that they work with. But it’s important to know if they do. Understanding what kind of experience and typical clients the advisor has is important to understanding what to expect from them in regards to knowledge and experience that is relatable. Knowing what kind of team they have, and what kind of experience the team as a whole has is important. What do they specialize in? What resources do they have access to?

Here are some examples:

Tax efficiency with investments

Protection Planning – Estate planning collaboration

Small business owners

Multi-generational planning

Etc.

Question #3: What is your ongoing service model?

Taking the initial steps to get things organized and onboard with a financial advisor can be activity-filled and very important. But equally important is the clear communication about expectations for moving forward. Understanding what to expect between the advisor and client is critical to insuring that communication and expectations are being managed positively for the relationship, from both sides.

How often does the advisor reach out to clients?

Is there a team to support clients? Or just one individual?

What can be expected in regards to calls? Meetings? Paperwork? Statements?

What method of communication is used? Phone calls, meetings, email, video conferencing, etc.?

How accessible is the advisor if the client has a question?

These are just a few questions that might prove important to ask when interviewing financial professionals. There is no generic right or wrong answer. At the end of the day, it’s all about understanding what the relationship would be, the expectations for the relationship for both the client and the advisor, and communication. Being logical with interviewing an advisor is critical…look for proof and conviction between what they say they do vs. what they can prove they do.

Our financial well-being is critical for empowering our lives….we work hard for the life we want. And there are almost always some form of financial element to all we do. So please, don’t be afraid to ask the intrusive questions of the advisors you are considering working with. It could mean a great deal to how life gets funded….now and through all ages.

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