(BPT) - If you had to grade your financial literacy, what would it be? Are you an A+ saver, investor and planner, or do you think you could do better? If you grade yourself average at best, you’re not alone.
When asked to grade their own financial literacy, more than half of Americans say they’d earn a “C” or lower, according to new data from Prudential Financial. This isn’t surprising, considering data from Prudential’s Financial Wellness Census shows less than half of Americans are on track to meet their financial goals, including planning for retirement.
“Regardless of where you are on your family’s financial wellness journey, the best way forward is through financial literacy,” says Prudential Advisors President Brad Hearn. “Researching, educating yourself and getting advice from a financial professional can help you make the best decisions based on your life stage, risk tolerance and goals.”
Hearn says each family’s situation and goals are unique, and things like life stage and personal preference will impact how they choose to prepare for their financial future. To get started, here are five financial wellness basics every family should master:
Set up an emergency fund
Life is a series of experiences, and sometimes the unexpected can hit your finances hard. Whether it’s a car breaking down, your AC unit on the fritz or even losing a job, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, start saving a little each month until you reach your goal. A good rule of thumb is to have three months’ worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund. So, if your monthly expenses are $2,500, you should have $7,500 saved.
Create a budget
Saving for college? A new car? How about starting that emergency fund? Whatever your family’s financial goals are, it’s important to have a plan in place that helps you achieve those goals. Budget to manage day-to-day expenses, and include in that budget a commitment to save for bigger milestones. For tips on getting started, do some research. There’s no shortage of advice, whether you decide to go it alone or consider using the help of a professional financial advisor.
Plan for the unimaginable
If you have people who count on you for financial support or caregiving, you should have life insurance. A life insurance policy can help give your family financial peace of mind should the worst happen. There is no rule as to how much life insurance you need, but important things to consider are your annual income, mortgage debt, potential college costs for kids and other future financial obligations.
Save for retirement
According to Prudential data, of Americans who have retirement savings and debt, nearly one-quarter have more in total debt than in retirement savings (23%), while 15% of Americans say that they have no debt, but also have nothing saved for retirement. Planning for retirement is something that should start as soon as possible. If your work offers any type of matching program, make sure to take advantage. If you don’t, you’re essentially leaving free money on the table.
Seek professional advice
Retirement, life insurance and savings can be confusing. Information overload is partly to blame. According to Prudential data, two-thirds of Americans agree that the list of things they need to learn to successfully manage their finances keeps growing, not shrinking. That’s where financial literacy programs and professional financial advice can play a key role. Nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t have a financial advisor. They say they cannot afford one (42%) or don’t believe their financial situation warrants needing an advisor’s help (26%). The reality is that advice is more within reach than ever before — and it’s not just for the wealthy. A financial professional can help at various stages in life and work with you to create a strategy based on your timeline, risk tolerance and goals.
“Financial wellness isn’t always a matter of having more money,” says Hearn. “Instead, it’s a journey that takes a combination of proactive effort, dedication and professional guidance.”
Prudential Advisors is a brand name of The Prudential Insurance Company of America and its subsidiaries. Life insurance is issued by The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, NJ and its affiliates.
(BPT) - You’re familiar with the saying “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”?
Just like any other scheme to “get rich quick,” attempting to buy low and sell high based on intermittent fluctuations in the stock market—also known as “market timing”—is almost always a losing proposition over the long term for the investor. Studies have repeatedly shown that those who attempt to align their investments with short-term fluctuations earn less than those who stay in over the long haul.
“Once again, market fluctuations are messing with average investors’ minds,” says J.D. Roth, author of “Your Money: The Missing Manual” in Entrepreneur. “They panic and sell when prices drop, then fall victim to what Alan Greenspan in 1996 called ‘irrational exuberance’ and buy when prices soar. That's a sure way to lose money.”
The truth is that even the most stellar investment advisor lacks a crystal ball into the future, and can only make recommendations based on historical research, industry guidelines, and experience. Unfortunately, past performance in the stock market is not at all an indicator of future performance.
So what are some better guidelines for investing in the stock market? Consider the following sound strategies, built on the mounds of evidence saying market timing doesn’t work as a long-term strategy:
1. Establish a long-term plan.
Set clear goals and objectives such as funding children’s college educations or investing for your own retirement. An advisor can help you evaluate risks, decide on asset allocation and set benchmarks for success while minimizing risk.
2. Use dollar-cost averaging.
Instead of trading when you think it’s the right time, the principle of dollar-cost averaging (DCA) says to invest a fixed dollar amount at predetermined intervals. The result is that you’ll end up buying fewer shares when prices are high and more shares when prices are low.
The advantage of dollar-cost averaging is that you put your money into the market earlier—increasing the likelihood of price change—rather than holding onto cash until you think prices are low. Regardless of whether you have a flat, positive, or negative price return, if your investments earn dividends, dollar-cost averaging is a useful strategy for earning dividend returns.
3. Ride the market by tracking an index and optimize your costs.
Trying to achieve alpha—i.e., beating the market with price returns—isn’t necessarily the most evidence-based way of getting the highest returns over time, especially looking at your returns net of costs and taxes.
By investing in funds that largely track a market index (index funds), historical results show that the lower fees typical of index funds and the long-term gains often outperform actively managed funds with higher fees. Investors should always focus on what they take home over the long term after fees and taxes. Looking purely at the price return can lead to lower-than-expected results.
4. Be aware of tax implications.
A major reason why investors should lean on professional support in today’s world is so that they can optimize their investments to lower taxes. Specifically, how assets are located within tax-advantaged and taxable accounts can be managed to lower your tax liability. Also, investment losses can be “harvested” via a process called “tax-loss harvesting,” and that’s generally a process many investors cannot do themselves.
Finally, any time you want to reinvest dividends or have reason to switch to a different investment, there are ways to make regular transactions as tax-efficient as possible. The same goes for making your eventual withdrawal. This kind of back-office tax work can have a major impact on how much you, as an investor, keep from your investment, so it’s important to find the right solution—whether that’s a financial advisor or learning to do it yourself.
5. Stay skeptical.
When it comes to outlasting a spike in the market, any investor should be aware of their own biases and behaviors. Pay little attention to financial TV shows and other media reports that hype short-term fluctuations. And be cognizant of the speaker’s motivation. Those who think they have a real get-rich-quick scheme are unlikely to share it with others.
Above all, don’t let uncertainty stop you from investing. If you look back all the way to 1926, keeping your money in cash/cash equivalents has underperformed both bonds and stocks. The key thing is to just get invested.
Betterment optimizes its technology and experience to help you make informed decisions in your investment strategy. Founded in 2008, the company manages $9 billion in assets. Investing in securities involves risks, and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities. Before investing, consider your investment objectives and Betterment’s charges and expenses. Betterment distributed this article through Brandpoint. Visit Betterment.com for more information.
(BPT) - We know the old saying: when it rains, it pours… and when it pours, it floods. With winter snow storms coming to an end, the threat of flooding increases as the snow begins to melt and the rivers and creeks begin to swell. It’s easy to forget about how powerfully destructive water can be. In fact, nine out of 10 natural disasters include flood, making it the number one disaster in the United States according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). However, only 15 percent of homeowners have flood insurance. From 2006 to 2015, total flood claims cost more than $1.9 billion per year and the average claim was more than $46,000 during that time.
“Even just a few inches of water can cause thousands of dollars in property damage,” says Corise Morrison, executive director of underwriting at USAA. “While it’s possible to mitigate flood damage, complete prevention is nearly impossible. If you don’t take the proper precautions, it can be devastating to your family finances.”
For most homeowners, that means looking into flood insurance. But does it make sense for everyone? As an insurance professional, Morrison has heard all the explanations. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about flood insurance:
“Flood is covered by my homeowners insurance policy.”
Typically, flooding is not covered by a homeowners insurance policy. Therefore, homeowners must purchase a separate policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) from their insurer. If the homeowner does have flood insurance, it’s important to regularly reevaluate it to ensure it provides adequate coverage.
“Flood insurance is too expensive.”
To emphasize an earlier point, the average cost of a flood claim hovered around $46,000 from 2011 to 2015. The average annual premium for flood insurance in the U.S. is $650, according to NFIP. Do the math.
“I don’t live in a flood plain so I don’t need flood insurance.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency found that as many as 20 percent of flood claims come from moderate-to-low risk areas. These are areas in which lenders don’t require the purchase of flood insurance. However, "less likely" doesn’t equal "no risk." Complete this quick self-survey: "Does it rain where I am?" If the answer is yes, consider flood insurance because it can flood anywhere it rains.
“Flood insurance won’t provide me with the coverage I need anyway.”
It is true that the NFIP limits coverage of a single residence to $250,000 for the structure and another $100,000 for contents to the home, but they aren’t the only source for coverage. Excess flood coverage can also be purchased above the $250,000 limit.
“I’ll just wait until it rains.”
Sorry to break this to you, but most insurers require a 30-day waiting period before a policy is effective. Unless your own forecasts rival the best science and technology have to offer, it might be wise to stick to the mantra, "better safe than sorry."
The consequences for being ill prepared for a flood can be long lasting. Research and carefully weigh the risk to you and your property. Chances are that you’ll find that it might be more reasonable than you thought. Visit USAA.com/flood for more tips and information on flood insurance and what to do before, during and after flooding occurs. You can also visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center for more information or to determine your flood risk.
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