Financial Peace of Mind

Financial Fire Drill: Quick, What's The Password?

I have a confession to make. I don't know how to run our washing machine. I knew how to run the old one, but not the new one. Truth be told, we've had the "new" washing machine for at least five years now. Sad excuse. Fortunately, I have a loving wife who does laundry for me. As a double bonus, my college and high school age children know how to run it. I'm on easy street, it seems. But I would be up the creek if I had to do laundry myself. Heaven help me.

Schedule a Financial Fire Drill

We're in a similar situation when it comes to our home banking and bill-paying. I do it all. I am as high-tech and paperless in our banking and bill-paying as possible. My dear wife, God bless her, is out of the loop. I have told her the master password to our accounts, but we've never had the equivalent of a fire drill to see if she remembers it and would know what to do if I became seriously ill or died. I need to put that on the "should do" list.

In the old days, if a spouse or child had to take over banking for their spouse or parent, they just picked up the checkbook and started writing checks.

The days of just picking up the checkbook and writing checks are over.

So stage a fire drill. There is no gender bias here. If the spouse who pays the bills had a stroke, would the other spouse be able to pay the bills? If your single mom or dad had a stroke, would you be able to pay their bills?

It's better to be safe than sorry.

"If your single mom or dad had a stroke, would you be able to pay their bills?" [Tweet This]

About Bruce J. Berno, CFP® Bruce J. Berno, CFP® is the founder of Berno Financial Management, Inc. a fee-only comprehensive personal financial planning and investment advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 1993, Berno Financial Management has been helping individuals and families achieve financial peace of mind. For more information about Berno Financial Management, visit http://www.bernofinmgt.com.

Financial Planning Must Be Inspired by the Heart

With February comes the celebration of St. Valentine's Day, which leads us to highlight a financial planning belief that isn't commonly considered: Successful financial planning must be inspired by the heart. Financial planning takes time and effort and requires the sacrifice of today's pleasures for tomorrow's. Why would we do this? We do it because of our heartfelt desire for financial peace of mind for ourselves and because of our love for those most near and dear to us. Have you ever thought of financial planning this way?

What Does Your Heart Want?

There are many things we "should" do or "want" to do but, in reality, we only get done what we truly commit our hearts to accomplish. Think of the priority you assign to:

  • Your relationship with your spouse or significant other
  • Your relationship with your family
  • Your relationship with your friends
  • Your mental well-being
  • Your physical well-being
  • Your spiritual well-being
  • Your career or avocation
  • Your financial well-being

It's OK to Ask for Help

Some people can accomplish all they want on their own. Most cannot, due to limitations in expertise or time. Most people need some help from other people.

For example, some people enhance their physical well-being with the benefit of a coach or trainer or by being on a team for support. Since personal financial planning is confidential by nature, it is hard to achieve in a group setting. You can do financial planning on your own, but most people don't have the time or expertise. There are also behavioral finance obstacles that are best managed with help from another person's perspective. In other words, you may need another person's insight before you can see how you need to change your behavior.

A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional is best qualified to serve your comprehensive personal financial planning needs.

Put your heart into it today. Your financial peace of mind will be greatly improved.

"Successful financial planning must be inspired by the heart."
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About Bruce J. Berno, CFP®
Bruce J. Berno, CFP® is the founder of Berno Financial Management, Inc. a fee-only comprehensive personal financial planning and investment advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 1993, Berno Financial Management has been helping individuals and families achieve financial peace of mind. For more information about Berno Financial Management, visit http://www.bernofinmgt.com.

Personal vs. Web-Based Financial Advice

Technology is a wonderful thing. It has dramatically improved our access to information. But is it a double-edged sword? Is information the same as advice? Can the web be a substitute for, or a supplement to, personal advice?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Would you see a doctor for medical advice or do a web search?
  • Would you consult an architect to design your house or pick a blueprint from a website?
  • Would you consult an accountant for a tax question or rely on the IRS website?

While you could rely on the web for any of the above, should you?

We live in a complicated world, but we are fortunate to have experienced, knowledgeable professionals in many specialties. The web can supplement, but not replace, personalized professional financial advice.

At Berno Financial Management, our goal is to give you the advice that you need, tailored to your specific situation, or to refer you to a specialist when needed and then coordinate implementation of that advice.

Personal, professional advice should always put your interests first. Can you trust the web for that?

About Bruce J. Berno, CFP®
Bruce J. Berno, CFP® is the founder of Berno Financial Management, Inc. a fee-only comprehensive personal financial planning and investment advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 1993, Berno Financial Management has been helping individuals and families achieve financial peace of mind. For more information about Berno Financial Management, visit http://www.bernofinmgt.com.

All That Twitters Is Not Gold

The most common question we have heard from our clients lately is, "Should we buy gold?" There is a long list of reasons why the answer is "No!"

  1. Gold investors made absolutely no money for 25 years from 1980 to 2005, according to Ibbotson Associates.
  2. The price of gold actually declined about 50% from 1980 to 2000. Even the most disciplined of investors would have given up during that time, since traditional stocks and bonds were performing well above average during that same period.
  3. Gold, like all commodities, does not pay any interest or dividends.
  4. Only about 11% of gold has an industrial use. It is not sold and consumed like oil or natural gas.
  5. The actual replacement cost of gold is about half of the current value. According to Dan Denbow, co-manager of the USAA Precious Metals and Minerals Fund, it costs about $600 to produce an ounce of gold, but that rises to about $1,000 per ounce when all of the costs of mining are factored in.
  6. As of this writing, gold recently spiked above $1,900 an ounce.
  7. Gold was up about 16% for the month through August 22, 2011, therefore heading for its best monthly performance since September 1999.
  8. Gold has increased in value in value for 11 years, the longest winning streak since at least 1920.
  9. Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) have made it very easy for individual investors to buy gold. But if selling is triggered, heaven-forbid panic selling, then the price swing could be swift and sharp.

In our opinion, buying gold today is like buying tech stocks in the late 1990s. It may continue to go higher in the short-term, but the long-term trend is screaming "buy high," to be followed, of course, by "sell low!" Let's not do that!

About Bruce J. Berno, CFP®
Bruce J. Berno, CFP® is the founder of Berno Financial Management, Inc. a fee-only comprehensive personal financial planning and investment advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 1993, Berno Financial Management has been helping individuals and families achieve financial peace of mind. For more information about Berno Financial Management, visit http://www.bernofinmgt.com/.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Disability Insurance (But Were Afraid to Ask)

May is Disability Awareness Month. While most people know about life insurance, fewer people consider the importance of disability insurance. Here are some noteworthy facts about disability from credible, third-party sources, compliments of Bob Gertie of Advisor Insurance Resource.

Causes of Disability

Many people think of disability as something that only happens to a manual laborer or blue collar worker. But a disability can happen to anyone. Consider these facts:

  • While many people think that disabilities are typically caused by freak accidents, the majority of long-term absences from work are actually due to illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. (Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, November 2005)
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007)
  • Common causes of individual disability insurance claims are:
  • Over 85% of disabling accidents and illnesses are not work related, and are therefore not covered by worker’s compensation. (National Safety Council®, Injury Facts® 2008 Ed.) 

Need for Protection

A disability can happen to anyone, at any time.

  • At age 40, the average worker faces only a 14% chance of dying before age 65 but a 21% chance of being disabled for 90 days or more. (Insurance Information Institute, www.iii.org, November 2005)
  • In 2007, 12.8% of people ages 21–64 surveyed had a disabling illness. (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2007)
  • In the U.S., a disabling injury occurs every second, and a fatal injury occurs every 4 minutes. (National Safety Council®, Injury Facts® 2008 Ed.)
  • In the home, a fatal injury occurs every 12 minutes and a disabling injury every three seconds. (National Safety Council®, Injury Facts® 2008 Ed.)
  • There is a death caused by a motor vehicle crash every 12 minutes and there is a disabling injury every 13 seconds. (National Safety Council®, Injury Facts® 2008 Ed.)
  • Almost 3 in 10 workers entering the workforce today will become disabled before retirement. (Social Security Administration, Fact Sheet, January 31, 2007)
  •  In 2007, the employment rate of working-age people with disabilities in the U.S. was 36.9%. (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2007)
  •  Forty-three percent of all 40-year-olds will have a long-term disability event prior to age 65. (JHA Disability Fact Book, 2006)

Disability Duration

The average disability lasts longer than you think.

  • The average duration of a long-term disability is 30 months. (JHA Disability Fact Book, 2006)
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans will become disabled for one year or more before the age of 65. (Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education, November 2005)
  • Three out of 10 workers between the ages of 25 and 65 will experience an accident or illness that keeps them out of work for three months or longer. (Social Security Administration, Fact Sheet, January 31, 2007)

Social Security Misconceptions

People have many misconceptions about the Social Security benefits they may receive if they become disabled. For example:

  •  More than 1 in 5 adults believe that unemployment or Social Security will cover them if they become disabled. (Disability Literacy: How Consumers Rate Today, April 2005, The Hartford)
  • Less than half―39%―of the 2.1 million workers who applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2005 were approved. (Social Security Administration, Office of Disability and Income Security Programs)
  • The average monthly SSDI benefit is $1,004. (Social Security Administration, Fact Sheet 2008)
  •  In 2007, the percentage of working-age people with disabilities receiving SSDI payments in the U.S. was 17.1%. (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2007)

The Bottom Line

Disability is a major risk both in terms of probability and financial impact. Social Security is not a viable solution in many cases. Employer plans have limits―and you won’t work for your employer forever. Individual disability insurance coverage is often needed to supplement employer coverage, plus it is portable when you change jobs. Simply compare the cost of disability to life insurance and you can see the probability risk and financial risk of disability. Disability insurance is expensive but important!

About Bruce J. Berno, CFP®

Bruce J. Berno, CFP® is the founder of Berno Financial Management, Inc. a fee-only comprehensive personal financial planning and investment advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 1993, Berno Financial Management has been helping individuals and families achieve financial peace of mind. For more information about Berno Financial Management, visit http://www.bernofinmgt.com/.

Where Does Your Money Go?

Are you saving more money than you want to or planned? Probably not. Does it seem that even when your income goes up you can’t save more money? Where does your money go? How much money are you saving? If you have a hard time answering these questions―and most people do―there are some easy solutions.

First, try a manual or “back of the envelope” approach. Start by identifying your annual income from your W-2 tax wage statement or year-end payroll stub. Then identify how much you contributed to investment accounts like your 401(k), IRA or 529 college savings plans. Next, calculate how much cash you accumulated or depleted by comparing your bank account balances from the beginning of the year to your balances at the end of the year. If your bank account balances were higher at the end of the year than at the beginning, you accumulated cash. If they were lower, you depleted some cash.

To calculate the percentage of your income that you saved, divide the amount you contributed to investment accounts plus any cash that you accumulated minus any cash that you depleted by your annual income total. For example, if your annual income was $100,000 and you contributed $15,000 to your 401(k) and accumulated $5,000 in your bank accounts, you invested or saved $20,000 or 20% of your income. That is very good and you may be able to stop here, unless you want to learn more about where you are spending your money so that you can try to save even more.

If your income was $50,000 and you contributed $1,500 to your 401(k) and $500 to a 529 college savings plan and your bank balances remained about the same, then you saved 4% of your income. Obviously, the higher your income, the greater percentage you should be able to save. However, it doesn’t always work out that way, as people tend to ratchet up their lifestyle spending as their income increases. As a general rule, you should try to save 10% to 25% of your income. Saving 5% is better than nothing, but it’s probably not enough to accumulate a retirement nest egg in the long run.

What technological resources are available to help you boost your savings? You have a wide range of options to choose from. Your bank website may have a resource to help classify and summarize expenses. Your credit card company may provide an annual statement that shows you how much you spent in certain categories. Check out the “restaurant” or “entertainment” categories and you may be shocked how the discretionary expenses add up.

Two popular software packages that can help you track your spending and saving are Quicken and Mint.com. Quicken is a PC-based software and Mint.com is web-based. They are both owned by the same parent company, Intuit.

Mint.com is free and automatically collects your transactions from your bank and credit card accounts. It assigns an expense category based on the merchant code that is tracked when you swipe your credit card or debit card. For example, if you swipe your card at Kroger’s it will be classified as groceries and if you fill up your tank at Speedway it will show as gasoline. You can manually edit any entries in Mint.com and you do have to manually categorize any checks your write and any cash transactions.

Quicken is similar to Mint.com, but you have to manually download your transactions. Credit card transactions are automatically categorized, just as they are with Mint.com. Quicken has a much wider range of reporting capabilities and more flexibility in choosing historic time periods for reporting. Quicken also has an “Easy Answer” function to answer the questions “How much did I pay to…”  or “How much did I spend on…” for a wide range of time periods that you can select. Quicken also offers bill pay and check writing capability to further simplify your cash management. Different versions of Quicken are available that cost between $60 and $90 before rebates and discounts.

Whether you use manual or software methods to track your income, expenses and savings, the process is enlightening and well worth your effort!

 

About Bruce J. Berno, CFP®

Bruce J. Berno, CFP® is the founder of Berno Financial Management, Inc. a fee-only comprehensive personal financial planning and investment advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 1993, Berno Financial Management has been helping individuals and families achieve financial peace of mind. For more information about Berno Financial Management, visit http://www.bernofinmgt.com/.

What Is Long-Term Care Insurance and Is It Right for Me?

We often find there is confusion regarding long-term-care insurance. Who should purchase it? When it should be purchased? Here is our four-point mantra on long-term-care insurance:

  1. Age 50 to 65 is the ideal time frame to consider long-term-care insurance; the earlier the better.
  2. Invest time to learn about long-term-care insurance, understand it, and decide if it is right for you.
  3. Apply to see if you qualify medically. If you don’t, your decision is made for you!
  4. Buy it or don’t buy it, but make an informed decision that you won’t look back on and question or regret.

But what is long-term-care insurance? It is not just nursing home insurance. You qualify for benefits if you cannot perform a number of “activities of daily living” such as getting out of bed, dressing yourself, feeding yourself, using the bathroom and bathing yourself.

Long-term-care insurance can therefore provide benefits at any age, whether a stroke, traffic accident or other event puts you in a situation where you cannot perform some of the activities of daily living.

Long-term-care insurance can cover services at home, in an assisted living center or a nursing home.

Here’s a real-life example: My step-father is in an assisted living center because we do not want him living at home alone―he needs help taking his medications on a regular schedule, and we want him to have some supervision, social opportunities and good meals. But he can perform most of the activities of daily living, so he would not qualify for benefits if he had a long-term-care insurance policy.

Consider your personal circumstances when thinking about purchasing long-term-care insurance: 

  • Are you married? If so, what is the age difference between you and your spouse? If you are both close in age, what would happen if you both needed care? If there is an age spread, could caring for the older spouse leave the younger spouse with fewer assets for their life?
  • How many children do you have, where do they live and how able would they be to help care for you? Would you want to move in with them?
  • Do you own a home that could be sold to pay for your long-term care?
  • Is the idea of needing care in the future and paying for it something that you worry about?
  • What is your family health history? Did both your mother and father die before age 75 or did they live past 90? What about your other relatives?
  • How is your current health? Are you an obese smoker with multiple health issues? Ironically, the healthier you are, the more likely you are to need long-term care insurance!
  • Are you comfortable relying on government plans or would you rather have individual coverage that may afford you more choices and flexibility?
  • Would you prefer to self-insure and rely on your savings and investments?
  • How important is it to you to leave an inheritance for spouse or children?

Remember, no one wants to live in a nursing home. No one wants to be infirmed or unable to take care of herself. No one wants their house to burn down, to be in a traffic accident, to get sick or to die prematurely, but that is why we buy home and auto insurance and health insurance and life insurance. The same principle applies to long-term care.

Your financial peace of mind will be well served by learning about long-term-care insurance and deciding if it is right for you.

About Bruce J. Berno, CFP®
Bruce J. Berno, CFP® is the founder of Berno Financial Management, Inc. a fee-only comprehensive personal financial planning and investment advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 1993, Berno Financial Management has been helping individuals and families achieve financial peace of mind. For more information about Berno Financial Management, visit http://www.bernofinmgt.com/.

Your Path to Financial Peace of Mind

What does financial peace of mind mean to you? For some people, it may simply mean being able to pay all their bills every month. For others, it may mean having “x” dollars in savings and investments.What would have to happen for you to experience financial peace of mind? Everyone has a “to-do” list. Maybe you’ve been meaning to review your 401(k) plan, consolidate your investments or have a Last Will and Testament written. Maybe you have questions about using a Health Savings Account or funding a Roth IRA for a grandchild. If you have questions, you need answers. Where do you get them?

The easiest way to achieve financial peace of mind is to understand what you can control and what you cannot control.

You cannot control:
  • The stock market
  • Interest rates
  • Healthcare reform policies
  • Real estate prices
  • The economy

You can control:

  • How much you spend and save
  • Strategies to minimize income taxes
  • Being properly insured
  • Diversifying your investments and minimizing investment costs
  • Having an estate plan for incapacity or death

Recognize that wishing for higher income or more assets will not provide you with financial peace of mind, nor will waiting to earn a higher income or accumulate more assets. The best you can do today is focus on being financially secure with the income and assets that you have. A recent survey by Merrill Lynch revealed that investors with a minimum of $1 million of investable assets believed they needed $7 million, on average, to be “financially secure.” Do you want to be the hamster racing on the wheel?

Financial peace of mind cannot be achieved alone. You must include the significant people in your life, whether that be a spouse and children, parents or grandchildren, siblings or other relatives, or significant others. Communication is critical and takes time and energy. Financial peace of mind is a great personal value to instill in your children.
Financial peace of mind comes from having goals and reasonable expectations. Have you thought about your goals and formalized them in any way? As the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll never know when you get there.” If your expectations aren’t reasonable and realistic, you will never achieve peace of mind.
So what has to happen for you to achieve financial peace of mind? The first step is to clarify your top three money concerns. In other words, what keeps you up at night? Then establish how you are going to address these concerns along with a time frame and deadline for each issue.
You may wish to break the issues that bother you most into categories, such as:
  • Income and expenses (paying the bills and saving and investing)
  • Insurance coverage
  • Income tax strategies
  • Education funding
  • Retirement planning
  • Charitable gift planning
  • Estate planning

Can you do it alone? While you can take control of your finances on your own, most people find they don’t have the time or knowledge and experience to manage their personal finances effectively. If you fall into this category, it may make sense for you to seek professional advice. The Choosing the Right Financial Advisor worksheet on our website can help you find the appropriate advisor to help you take the steps you need to reach financial peace of mind.

About Bruce J. Berno, CFP®
Bruce J. Berno, CFP® is the founder of Berno Financial Management, Inc. a fee-only comprehensive personal financial planning and investment advisory firm headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since 1993, Berno Financial Management has been helping individuals and families achieve financial peace of mind. For more information about Berno Financial Management, visit http://www.bernofinmgt.com/.