Dow Sets First Record Close of 2015 Weekly Update – February 23, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/cooldesign

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/cooldesign

Stocks rallied on the news that Greece reached a new deal with its creditors, sending the Dow and the S&P 500 to new record closes and bringing the Nasdaq close to its own record set in March 2000.1 For the week, the S&P 500 gained 0.63%, the Dow rose 0.67%, and the NASDAQ grew 1.27%.2

Greek leaders, who have been in talks with EU creditors for several weeks, were able to reach an 11th-hour deal on Friday to extend the Greek bailout for an extra four months. Though the agreement just kicks the can down the road until the next major deadline, it avoids (or at least postpones) a debt default and fresh economic crisis and keeps Greece in the Eurozone for now. The delay also gives leaders breathing room to negotiate further economic reforms that will likely be unpopular with Greek voters.3 Investors reacted positively to the news and sent the major indexes to record highs.

In other geopolitical news, one of NATO’s highest-ranking generals warned that alliance members should prepare for a Russian assault on an Eastern European member state. Though the current ceasefire between Russian and Ukrainian forces continues, the remarks highlight a serious decline in trust between Europe and Russia.4 How real is the threat of all-out war? It’s impossible to know at this juncture, but it’s clear that European military commanders are taking Russia’s territorial ambitions seriously.

The week ahead is filled with important economic events. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will speak before the House and Senate about monetary policy, putting future rate changes in focus. If the Fed holds to a mid-year interest hike, it would signal the bank’s confidence in the economy’s resilience; holding off might indicate concern about how the global picture might affect domestic growth.5 Investors will also get their second look at fourth quarter 2014 Gross Domestic Product, giving us a clearer look at how the economy performed in the last three months of the year.

 

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Existing Home Sales, Dallas Fed Mfg. Survey

Tuesday: S&P Case-Shiller HPI, Consumer Confidence, Janet Yellen Speaks 10:00 AM ET

Wednesday: New Home Sales, Janet Yellen Speaks 10:00 AM ET, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Thursday: Consumer Price Index, Durable Goods Orders, Jobless Claims

Friday: GDP, Chicago PMI, Consumer Sentiment, Pending Home Sales Index

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HEADLINES:

Weekly jobless claims fall more than forecast. After some seasonal disruptions, weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell to 283,000 in the latest sign of an improving job market. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to its lowest level in 15 weeks.6

U.S. home construction falls in January. Groundbreaking on new homes dropped 2.0% last month as builders slowed down construction of new single-family homes. However, building activity is still moving faster than it did a year ago.7

U.S. loosens trade restrictions against Cuba. The federal government announced plans to allow small Cuban businesses to export goods to the U.S. Though there are restrictions on what can be imported, the move represents an important change in relations with the communist country.8

U.S. factory activity rises. The manufacturing sector, a significant contributor to economic growth, expanded in February at its fastest pace since November. This is good news after the cold-weather related slowdowns of early 2014.9

Prices At Pump Help Drive Savings Weekly Update – February 9, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/digitalart

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/digitalart

Markets shook off losses last week and ended with strong weekly gains on the back of a positive January jobs report. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 3.03%, the Dow rose 3.84%, and the Nasdaq grew 2.36%.1

January’s monthly Employment Situation report showed that the economy gained 257,000 new jobs last month. Though the unemployment rate rose to 5.7%, it went up for the right reasons as Americans rejoined the labor force and began searching for jobs again. Best of all, average earnings grew 0.5%; since economists have been worrying about the slow pace of wage growth in the recovery, a jump in earnings is good news for the economy.2

Though wages went up, consumer spending in December dropped to its lowest level in five years as Americans cut spending and used extra gas money to boost their savings.

Higher incomes, lower prices at the pump, and falling inflation are giving American households a much-needed boost in spending power this year.3 Though the drop in consumer spending could hit Q4 economic growth numbers, the underlying factors set the stage for a strong 2015 for American consumers.

Stocks lost a little steam on Friday due to growing concern over a standoff between Greece’s new anti-austerity government and Eurozone leaders. Greek leaders are seeking to tear up the agreements signed by the previous government in favor of debt forgiveness from the EU. However, the message from EU leaders to Greece is clear: Uphold your financial commitments and stick to the plan.4

Though Greek voters are unequivocally tired of painful austerity cuts, Greece still depends on EU money, and its new leaders must tread carefully. Citing concern about how a liquidity crunch would affect Greece’s ability to repay debts, Standard and Poor’s downgraded Greek sovereign debt from B to B-.5 What will the outcome of the showdown be? Hard to know at this stage, but the conclusion will likely affect how future negotiations with Spain, France, and Italy play out.

Looking ahead, though the week ahead is light on economic reports, analysts will be closely monitoring the January retail sales report to see how Americans are spending. The Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey that comes out Tuesday will also give some more insight into the overall health of the jobs recovery.6 Positive data could renew focus on the Federal Reserve and a possible interest rate hike this year.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: JOLTS

Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report, Treasury Budget

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Retail Sales, Business Inventories

Friday: Import and Export Prices, Consumer Sentiment

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HEADLINES:

Q4 earnings reports show revenue weakness. Though overall earnings are positive, U.S. firms are still struggling with weak demand. Including reports from 274 S&P 500 companies, overall earnings are up an optimistic 6.7% from Q4 2013; however, revenues are up just 0.2%.7

U.S. motor vehicle sales catch fire in January. U.S. automakers reported the strongest January car and truck sales in seven years. Ford and GM had strong months, showing that sales increased 15% and 18%, respectively, over last year.8

U.S. productivity falls in Q4 2014. Hourly output per worker, a measure of the productivity of the U.S. economy, fell 1.8% in the final three months of 2014. This could mean that employers have eked out every drop of labor from their workers (and may be forced to raise wages).9

Brent crude has best gains in 17 years. Oil rallied again and showed the best two-week performance since 1998, gaining 19%. Price volatility was stoked by falling oil production and violence in Libya.10

Hixon Zuercher February 2015 Monthly Video Update

Are Your Estate Documents In Order?

As wealth managers, it’s part of our commitment to you to help you guide your financial affairs. One area that is particularly critical to get right is estate preparation and the protection of your loved ones from the unexpected. Proper estate preparation is an act of love and responsibility to those you care about.

Estate Preparation Questions You Should Consider

  • Have you discussed your wishes with your spouse and loved ones?
  • Do you have an updated Will?
  • Have you executed a Living Will and healthcare proxy to protect your wishes in the event of incapacity?
  • Have you named guardians for your children?
  • Have you created a Trust and titled your assets in the name of the Trust?
  • Were your estate plans constructed to minimize tax consequences?
  • Have you reviewed your primary and secondary beneficiaries to make sure they reflect your priorities?

These questions are not exhaustive and are only designed to act as a starting point for your preparations. If you’re not sure about any of these issues, it may be time to request a legal and financial review.

Why is estate preparation so critical?

  • It documents your wishes and helps ensure that they are carried out when you are no longer able to look after your affairs.
  • It helps protect the financial stability of your loved ones and support your life priorities.
  • It helps minimize the taxes, expenses, and legal hassle involved with transferring assets to heirs.

Do I really need estate preparation if I have beneficiaries on my accounts?

Beneficiary provisions are a valuable tool for reducing the expense and time associated with transferring wealth; however, they do not replace proper estate preparation. We believe that the process of preparing your estate is critical to protecting your family and future financial affairs. We have also found that estate preparations offer an opportunity to explore your life priorities and discuss your thoughts with your loved ones.

Many Americans put off estate preparation because they view it as morbid or depressing. We prefer to treat it as preparing for life and protecting your family from the unexpected. Though you cannot control the future, these preparations help you focus on what you can control and empower you to care for your loved ones long after you’re gone.

If you have worked with an attorney to develop your estate plans, it’s still a good idea to regularly review your documents to make sure that they still reflect your wishes. Letting your documents go out of date can create legal problems or expensive tax bills for your heirs. To help ensure that our clients have professional recommendations for their circumstances, we partner with legal professionals who specialize in helping clients create a personalized estate blueprint. Please let us know if we can provide an introduction.

We’ve asked some questions that we hope will help you think about your priorities and prompt a discussion with your loved ones. Please feel free to share this information with your friends and family; everyone deserves the benefit of professional recommendations and the confidence of knowing that their future wishes are protected. If you would like to review your current estate provisions or need help finding an attorney, please call our office at 419-425-2400.

What Are These Central Banks Doing? Weekly Update – January 26, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/suphakit73

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/suphakit73

Markets ended the week in the black for the first time in 2015 on the back of major moves by multiple central banks. For the week, the S&P 500 gained 1.60%, the Dow grew 0.92%, and the Nasdaq added 2.66%.1

Central banks ruled market headlines last week with the European Central Bank, Bank of Canada, People’s Bank of China, and Bank of Japan all making key announcements. The ECB led the pack by announcing its first round of quantitative easing, promising EUR 60 billion in monthly asset purchases. The move is designed to boost the Eurozone economy and fight deflationary pressures, though some experts are dubious about the potential for success.2 In an effort to stem outflows of cash from the Chinese economy, the Chinese central bank used short-term monetary tools to inject more liquidity into the financial system ahead of the Lunar New Year Holiday.3 The Bank of Canada joined the party by announcing a surprise interest rate cut to spur growth in the face of falling oil prices.4

Markets reacted positively to the news that central banks are making an effort to boost the global economy, helping the major indexes post gains for the first time this year. However, the news last week wasn’t all good.

The Eurozone faces another major challenge in Greece; voters went to the polls Sunday and elected the radical left Syriza party, which wants to end austerity measures and refuse European debt inspections. Though it’s unclear if the party has enough parliament seats to form a government, the election result highlights Greek voters’ frustration with austerity and increases the risk of a so-called “Grexit,” a Greek exit from the Eurozone.5

 

The U.S. is also facing new foreign policy challenges. The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud may change America’s relationship with its largest ally in the Middle East and affect global oil markets.6 Yemen, a major Saudi supporter and U.S. ally, also experienced leadership turmoil with the resignation of its president after being besieged by rebel fighters.7 If the political vacuum causes Yemen to splinter along ethnic and religious lines, it could spark civil war, also threatening U.S. policies in the Middle East.

 

Looking ahead, we see a lot of uncertainty this week. Though the U.S. continues to do well, we see markets driven by energy prices, worries about Europe, and concern that new central bank policies may not be enough to stoke economic activity in the rest of the world. Next week’s Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting will be key in setting the tone for the year’s monetary policies. Although the Fed has indicated that it may raise rates this year, the increased stimulus measures from its counterparts overseas may make it harder for the Fed to move ahead with rate hikes. Even if global economic policy isn’t part of the Fed’s mandate, the interconnectedness of the world’s economy and the importance of the U.S. dollar in global trade mean our central bankers must take into account global risks when making policy decisions.8 The week ahead is also filled with important earnings reports, which could make or break the Q4 earnings season. Thus far, earnings have been uninspiring, though overall earnings growth is expected to be positive.9

 

When markets turn volatile, it’s important to remain disciplined by sticking to your own financial strategies while staying flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. We’re keeping a close eye on market events as they develop and will keep you updated.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Dallas Fed Mfg. Survey

Tuesday: Durable Goods Orders, S&P Case-Shiller HPI, New Home Sales, Consumer Confidence

Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report, FOMC Meeting Announcement

Thursday: Jobless Claims, Pending Home Sales Index

Friday: GDP, Employment Cost Index, Chicago PMI, Consumer Sentiment

 

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HEADLINES:

Jobless claims fall from 7-month high. Weekly claims for new unemployment benefits dropped last week, erasing the previous week’s increase, which pushed weekly claims to the highest level seen since June. Seasonal factors around holiday hiring are likely to blame for the volatility10

U.S. factory activity slows. The manufacturing sector continued to grow in January, but the pace of activity slowed as new orders weakened. Though some seasonal factors may be affecting data, job creation in the sector remains steady, indicating underlying demand may not have dropped.11

Single-family housing starts to reach multi-year high. Groundbreaking on new single-family homes reached the highest level in 6-1/2 years in December. Though housing activity has lagged in the last year, the new construction trend could indicate greater demand for housing as the economy improves.12

Mortgage applications surge. The volume of mortgage applications increased dramatically last week, pushing total volume 41% higher than the same period last week, in another hopeful sign for the housing sector. Economists cite low mortgage rates and a reduction in Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance premiums as factors.13

Friday’s “Relief Rally” Weekly Update – January 20, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Stocks experienced another rollercoaster week, pummeled by a dismal global growth forecast and missed earnings reports. However, markets ended a four-day losing streak on Friday with a “relief rally” as energy prices rebounded slightly.1 For the week, the S&P 500 lost 1.26%, the Dow fell 1.27%, and the Nasdaq dropped 1.48%.2

The World Bank underscored investors’ concerns about the global economy by slashing its global growth forecast for 2015 and 2016. Citing disappointing growth in Europe and concerns about some emerging markets, the development organization cut its predicted global economic growth rate to 3.0% from 3.4% in June.3 Though U.S. growth remains strong, slowing demand overseas may hurt U.S. firms.

December holiday sales reports arrived, and the news wasn’t very jolly, showing that overall retail sales dropped 0.9%. Cheaper gas, earlier shopping, and significant discounts all contributed to the drop, and retailers have chosen to call the season a win. The National Retail Federation says that overall holiday spending rose 4.0%, making it the best season since 2011. Investors were less enthusiastic about the data, which could indicate weakness in consumer spending.4

Earnings season shifted into high gear last week, bringing total S&P 500 company reports to 37. So far, the news isn’t great. Financial companies are the first large group to report in, and although there are some individual success stories, the Major Banks sector (which includes companies like JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup) dragging, with earnings down 13.7% since the same time last year. However, outside the Finance sector, the picture is brighter, with total earnings up 17.4% so far on higher revenues.5 Though it’s still early in the season, S&P Capital IQ predicts that overall earnings for the S&P 500 increased 6.5% in the fourth quarter.6 Though the U.S. demand picture appears to be strengthening, external factors like oil prices and the dollar’s strength relative to other currencies is likely to significantly affect company performance this year.

Does January’s rocky start bode ill for the rest of 2015? Probably not. Right now, Wall Street is preoccupied with the murkiness of recent data. Macro issues like oil prices, the dollar’s strength, central bank moves, and global growth forecasts are overriding individual company data, which makes it hard to pick winners and losers. Fundamental trends within the U.S. economy haven’t changed: U.S. firms are hiring, Americans are more confident about their prospects, and many sectors of the economy are showing improvement. Markets are closed on Monday, but the week ahead is filled with more earnings reports as well as Tuesday’s State of the Union address by President Obama.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: Housing Market Index

Wednesday: Housing Starts

Thursday: Jobless Claims, PMI Manufacturing Index Flash, EIA Petroleum Status Report

Friday: Existing Home Sales

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NY Post Twitter feed hacked, traders respond.
Investors were shocked when the New York post tweeted Friday that the Federal Reserve was holding an emergency meeting to set interest rates. Though the paper quickly regained control of the Twitter account and deleted offending tweets, some traders may have responded to the news. Lessons? Don’t believe everything you read.7HEADLINES:

Swiss franc soars after 1.20 euro peg dropped. The central bank of Switzerland abandoned a 3-year-old currency agreement by dropping the floor on the Swiss franc Thursday, allowing it to float freely against the euro. Traders responded by rushing for the euro exits, buying Swiss francs and pushing the currency 30% higher against the euro.8

U.S. import prices post record drop in December. The cost of U.S. imports fell by the largest amount since 2008 as petroleum costs continued to plunge. Import prices fell by 2.5% in December, dropping 5.5% for all of 2014. Weak import inflation may help stave off Fed rate hikes.9

U.S. foreclosures down 64% from 2010 peak. The number of foreclosed U.S. homes fell again in November, bringing monthly foreclosures down 64% since the peak in September 2010. Though foreclosure activity is falling, analysts believe it won’t reach normal levels for at least two years as distressed loans continue to move through the system.10

How Should I Start Saving for My Kids Education

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/hywards

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/hywards

The other day, I (Tony) got an email from a long lost friend of mine that I hadn’t chatted with in years.  He knows I’m in the industry and he reached out to me with an email question that I thought our blog readers might find of interest.  Turns out, he and his wife had a daughter about a year ago and they were thinking through what type of account would be the best way for them to save for her college education.  Below is my abridged reply.

“It’s great to hear your desire of being a good steward of your family and finances.  Unfortunately, your question isn’t as easy as one might think.  We typically look at a variety of ‘first steps’ that we believe should be in place before beginning to fund a college goal.  First, do you have a Will in place?  A Will should be developed that would name an Executor of your Estate and your desired caretaker of your kids in the unfortunate event of you and your wife’s death.  It would be a travesty to allow the courts to decide who would care for your daughter.  You should have a Will fully executed before beginning to fund your college goal.  These aren’t outrageously expensive, but they aren’t cheap either.  You’ll need to seek and find a qualified attorney to draft a Will for you and your wife.

Next, you should have adequate life insurance in place.  In the unfortunate circumstance of your death, you’ll want to leave your wife and daughter adequate income to survive.  Future college costs can be worked in to the equation of adequate life insurance amount.  Further, if you and your wife should both die at the same time, your chosen care-takers of your daughter will be grateful that money is available to help raise your daughter over the long term.

Third, you should establish and fully fund an Emergency Fund.  We recommend 3-6 months of your living expenses to be set aside in this account to be used for emergencies.  While saving for your daughter’s college is a noble cause, if you lose your job or some catastrophic event causes you to have a large outlay of cash, you’ll want to make sure your family’s needs are met first for the here and now…in which an Emergency Fund could be used.  Once money is in a college savings type account, you will be unable to take the funds back out of it without penalty.

Fourth, it is to your advantage as well to ensure that you and your wife’s retirement is a primary consideration above college contributions.  The main reason is that you may put your own retirement at risk by not funding it fully, only to find out your daughter receives a hefty scholarship or perhaps doesn’t even go to college for various reasons.  I’ve dealt with too many clients who have put their own retirement in jeopardy to send their kids to college and are now living with regret and having to work for longer than they had ever anticipated.

Next, it is to your advantage to make sure you’ve dealt with any consumer debt that is outstanding.  High interest rate student loans, auto loans or credit cards will kill you financially over time.  It is recommended that you extinguish most, if not all, consumer debt (not mortgage) before considering funding a child’s college education.

Last, but not leastJ, if these other financial considerations are in order, you could consider college contributions.  We typically steer clients to CollegeAmerica which is Virginia’s 529 Plan managed by American Funds.  This Plan is only available through advisors.  American Funds has a robust line-up of target date offerings and has had stellar performance.

For those living in Ohio and not working with an advisor, consider Ohio’s 529 Plan.  www.collegeadvantage.com  Choose the Do-It Yourself Direct Plan.  You can sign up everything online and do your contributions via EFT from your bank account.  Choose an age-based option that will vary in risk as the child gets older.  The closer they get to college, the less risk the model will take.  Also, Ohio’s plan allows for a small tax credit that many find helpful in tax planning considerations.

For more information of which I pretty much agree with, visit www.daveramsey.com  He lays out many of the principles I’ve written above in book form.  Also, a lot of times there are live classes in the area in which you can attend.  You can search for those and you and your wife can learn more.”

Hixon Zuercher January 2015 Monthly Video Update

Perspectives On a Volatile Week Weekly Update – January 12, 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

Stocks ended the first full week of 2015 in the red, pulled in different directions by a mixed December jobs report, fresh oil declines, and renewed terrorist fears in the West. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 0.65%, the Dow fell 0.54%, and the Nasdaq slid 0.48%.1

The December employment report was released on Friday and it has both good news and not-so-good news. Preliminary data shows that the economy added 252,000 jobs last month, bringing the total new jobs for 2014 to 2.95 million. The headline unemployment rate dropped to 5.6%.2

While the jobs growth is good news for continued economic growth in 2015, investors are worried about a lack of wage growth, which could put a damper on consumer spending. This prolonged absence of wage growth is perplexing. As the number of available jobs rises and the pool of unemployed Americans shrink, Econ 101 teaches us that employers should be forced to raise wages to attract and keep qualified employees. However, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Inflation-adjusted hourly pay actually fell 0.2% between November and December and ended 2014 just 1.7% higher.3

Why is wage growth so slow? One theory developed by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco posits that “downward wage rigidity,” the reluctance of employers to reduce wages in the recession, has created a backlog of pay cuts that’s causing many employers to hold back on raises. Until the labor market tightens much more, stagnant wages are likely to remain.4

So, in the overall calculus of the economy, more new jobs = good, but frozen wages = not so good.

Oil prices continued to plunge last week. Benchmark Brent crude dropped below $49 a barrel, but closed above $50 on news that the number of U.S. drilling rigs had dropped significantly.5 The fallout from cheap oil for some North American oil producers, many of which rely heavily on debt to fund projects, is already being felt; Shell announced layoffs of up to 10% of the workforce of an Alberta tar sands project.6 A small Texas oil producer filed for bankruptcy protection last week after being turned down for financing by a lender.7 Given how reliant on credit many oil and gas producers are, more bankruptcies may follow in the weeks and months ahead. If small producers are squeezed out of the market, it could allow oil prices to climb back up to the levels preferred by OPEC nations.

On Wednesday, Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly newspaper in Paris, was attacked by three gunmen who killed 12 employees.8 Gunmen later attacked a kosher grocery, killing four others.9 Our thoughts are with the victims’ families and the Paris community as they grapple with the aftermath of these horrific attacks.

The week ahead is heavy with economic data, including reports on retail sales for December and business inventory spending. A significant number of earnings reports are also due to be released, giving investors something other than macro-economic headlines to consider.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

 

Tuesday: JOLTS, Treasury Budget

Wednesday: Retail Sales, Import and Export Prices, Business Inventories, EIA Petroleum Status Report, Beige Book

Thursday: Jobless Claims, PPI-FD, Empire State Mfg. Survey, Philadelphia Fed Survey

Friday: Consumer Price Index, Industrial Production, Consumer Sentiment, Treasury International Capital

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HEADLINES:

Automakers end 2014 with gains. Falling oil prices contributed to solid sales numbers for U.S. automakers, helping each company close out December with better results than December 2013. Trucks seem to be back in vogue as consumers take advantage of lower gas prices to buy less fuel-efficient vehicles.10

U.S. trade imbalance falls to 11-month low. The bill for U.S. imports fell in November as lower oil prices reduced transportation costs. The report caused economists to revise their estimates of fourth-quarter GDP growth to as much as 3.5%.11

Federal Reserve FOMC minutes highlight differences in opinion. The official minutes of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting in December showed that though the Fed doesn’t plan to raise interest rates until at least mid-April 2015, some committee members feel the central bank shouldn’t commit itself to any particular timeline.12

Retailers shutting stores due to demographic and competitive pressure. Retailers like RadioShack, J.C. Penney, Macy’s, and Wet Seal are laying off workers and closing stores. The companies cite increased competition from online retailers, demographic shifts away from suburbs, and changing consumer preferences as reasons for the closures.13

15 Financial Resolutions for 2015

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/noppasinw

Image courtesy of
FreeDigitalPhotos.net/noppasinw

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to start thinking about how to make 2015 a success for you and your loved ones. Though there’s little consensus about their origins, we know that Americans have been making New Year’s resolutions since at least the 1770s. In 2013, 54% of Americans made resolutions about their finances.

Here are 15 financial resolutions to help make 2015 healthy, happy, and successful:

  1. Set aside emergency savings

Emergencies are unpredictable, and a serious illness or sudden financial need can derail your finances. Prepare for unpredictable expenses by putting aside three to six months of expenses in an easily accessible cash-equivalent account.

  1. Make a budget and stick to it

Budgets may sound like a lot of unnecessary work, especially if you’re financially comfortable, but it’s quite easy to let your spending go off the rails if you’re not tracking it in some way. Contact us if you’d like some tips on making budgeting hassle-free.

  1. Spend less and save more for the future

Most Americans could stand to put more money away for the future. We recommend keeping separate “buckets” of savings for short-term and long-term goals and leveraging tax-advantaged accounts where possible. Let us know if you’d like help saving for specific goals so that we can help ensure you have the right strategy for your needs and timeline.

  1. Make retirement plan contributions regularly

We believe that “time in the market” is critical to long-term investing success. Instead of waiting until the last minute to make your annual contributions, give your money more time to grow by making automatic contributions to your accounts every month.

  1. Maximize your retirement plan contributions

Tax-advantaged retirement accounts are one of the most powerful tools in your financial arsenal. Make the most of them by contributing as much as you can each tax year. We usually recommend maxing out employer-sponsored plans first in order to take advantage of any matching contributions your employer may offer. Give us a call if you need help understanding your retirement account options.

  1. Pay down debt, especially high-interest credit card debt

High-interest debt can make it very hard to get ahead financially. If you’re carrying significant debt, make it a priority to pay down the debt and get out from underneath high interest payments.

  1. Set goals for the future and work with a professional to create strategies to help you work towards them

In our experience, people who set goals for themselves and create strategies to pursue them are much more likely to see success. One study found that investors who leveraged specific financial strategies saw greater long-term financial success. Sit down with your loved ones to discuss your financial goals; when you’re ready to discuss your thoughts, call our office to schedule a no-obligation consultation.

  1. Create a legacy that makes a difference in the world

We believe that a rich life is about more than financial success and a comfortable lifestyle. Whether you want to leave something to your loved ones, or contribute to causes close to your heart, take time to think about the legacy you will leave for the future.

  1. Review your estate planning and legal documents

Your core legal documents should be reviewed regularly to make sure that they keep up with your life. If it’s been a few years since you took a look at your documents, dust them off and make sure that they still represent your wishes.

  1. Review the beneficiaries of your financial accounts and insurance policies

Most Americans have a significant number of financial accounts that they have accumulated over the course of their life. Take the time to gather up your account documents and make sure that the beneficiary information is still current; remember, beneficiary provisions are independent of your will or other estate provisions.

  1. Take care of your health

Healthcare is a major expense for many Americans, especially when serious illness strikes. Take steps to protect your health (and your wallet) by living a healthy lifestyle and being proactive about preventative care. 

  1. Protect your credit

Identity theft and financial fraud are serious threats that can compromise your financial wellbeing. Protect yourself by reviewing financial statements and bills carefully for unauthorized activity. Check your credit report for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.

  1. Review your tax strategies for potential savings

Recent changes to tax laws mean that you may be paying too much in taxes this year. Give us a call to discuss tax strategies that may help you reduce your tax burden.

  1. Involve your spouse and loved ones in your finances

If you (or your spouse) don’t get involved in the family finances, it’s time to start. Work together to make financial decisions and make sure that each of you understands the overall game plan for your finances. At a minimum, make sure that your loved ones know the location of financial accounts and understand your wishes.

  1. Keep your resolutions!

One study found that just 8% of New Year’s resolutions are actually kept. Improve the chances that you will keep your resolutions by making your goals simple, concrete, and actionable. Instead of saying: “I will save more for the future in 2015,” say: “I will contribute $4,500 to my retirement accounts by December 31, 2015” or “I will pay off $2,000 of credit card debt by April 15.”

As 2014 draws to a close, we would like to extend our thanks for the trust and confidence our clients have placed in our firm. Our clients made this year one to remember and we are sincerely grateful for the privilege and opportunity to serve. We look forward to serving you and yours for many years to come.

If you have questions about your future or would like some support in keeping your financial resolutions, please give us a call. Together, let’s make 2015 a success.