Financial planning: Helping you see the big picture

Do you picture yourself owning a new home, starting a business, or retiring comfortably? These are a few of the financial goals that may be important to you, and each comes with a price tag attached.

Thats where financial planning comes in. Financial planning is a process that can help you target your goals by evaluating your whole financial picture, then outlining strategies that are tailored to your individual needs and available resources.

Why is financial planning important?

A comprehensive financial plan serves as a framework for organizing the pieces of your financial picture. With a financial plan in place, youll be better able to focus on your goals and understand what it will take to reach them.

One of the main benefits of having a financial plan is that it can help you balance competing financial priorities. A financial plan will clearly show you how your financial goals are related — for example, how saving for your childrens college education might impact your ability to save for retirement. Then you can use the information youve gleaned to decide how to prioritize your goals, implement specific strategies, and choose suitable products or services. Best of all, youll know that your financial life is headed in the right direction.

The financial planning process

Creating and implementing a comprehensive financial plan generally involves working with financial professionals to:

  • Develop a clear picture of your current financial situation by reviewing your income, assets, and liabilities, and evaluating your insurance coverage, your investment portfolio, your tax exposure, and your estate plan.
  • Establish and prioritize financial goals and time frames for achieving these goals.
  • Implement strategies that address your current financial weaknesses and build on your financial strengths.
  • Choose specific products and services that are tailored to meet your financial objectives.
  • Monitor your plan, making adjustments as your goals, time frames, or circumstances change.

Some members of the team

The financial planning process can involve a number of professionals.

Financial planners typically play a central role in the process, focusing on your overall financial plan, and often coordinating the activities of other professionals who have expertise in specific areas.

Accountants or tax attorneys provide advice on federal and state tax issues.

Estate planning attorneys help you plan your estate and give advice on transferring and managing your assets before and after your death.

Insurance professionals evaluate insurance needs and recommend appropriate products and strategies.

Investment advisers provide advice about investment options and asset allocation, and can help you plan a strategy to manage your investment portfolio.

The most important member of the team, however, is you. Your needs and objectives drive the team, and once youve carefully considered any recommendations, all decisions lie in your hands.

Why cant I do it myself?

You can, if you have enough time and knowledge, but developing a comprehensive financial plan may require expertise in several areas. A financial professional can give you objective information and help you weigh your alternatives, saving you time and ensuring that all angles of your financial picture are covered.

Staying on track

The financial planning process doesnt end once your initial plan has been created. Your plan should generally be reviewed at least once a year to make sure that its up-to-date. Its also possible that youll need to modify your plan due to changes in your personal circumstances or the economy. Here are some of the events that might trigger a review of your financial plan:

  • Your goals or time horizons change.
  • You experience a life-changing event such as marriage, the birth of a child, health problems, or a job loss.
  • You have a specific or immediate financial planning need (eg, drafting a will, managing a distribution from a retirement account, paying long-term care expenses).
  • Your income or expenses substantially increase or decrease.
  • Your portfolio hasnt performed as expected.
  • Youre affected by changes to the economy or tax laws.

Contact Matt Hoffman at 1-800-346-5785.

5 arrested in Houston ID theft ring used leasing records, targeted fancy cars …

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Pair charged in ID theft operation

SAN ANTONIO – A man and woman already in trouble with the law face an additional charge in connection with what San Antonio police describe as an identity theft operation.

This latest alleged crime involved tapping into an elderly mans life savings.

According to an arrest affidavit, 29-year-old Emily Benson committed some of the crimes under a fake name and using a fake ID.

The affidavit stated Benson also had counterfeit checks made with the 86-year-old mans bank information printed on them and used the checks to buy a $4,800 truck.

She also stole hundreds of dollars in cash, police said. Police believe Benson and 34-year-old Dustin Watters were involved in the ID theft operation.

The pair originally was arrested last month at a motel where police said they also found stacks of other peoples mail, fake drivers licenses, a credit card making machine and other equipment that helped them commit fraud.

Although both of them were taken into custody last month, the new charge was added Tuesday.

Education Ministry database breach leaves millions at ID theft risk

Breach in Ministry of Education IT system puts id information of 15 million students, their parents, and teachers at risk.

Heidi Foster: Budget, set goals for financial health

As the new year starts, many people set goals to improve their overall well being. Some of the top goals for people this year include improving their physical and financial health. Improving physical health often begins from diet and exercise. Overall financial health starts with setting goals and budgeting to achieve your desired goals.

It is no secret that finances can be a strain on a marriage, however ignoring finances does not make them go away. I encourage and support those of you that have added financial goals to your new year’s resolutions to move forward. If you are married, your probability of success is far more likely if you plan your financial goals with your partner.

Setting financial goals and working through the budgeting process brings peace and confidence. Once you take the time to establish a budget, you will most likely feel an increased sense of control and comfort. Even if you discover that your finances are not where you want them to be, at least you will know where they may be lacking and can then make adjustments to bring your financial ship back on course.

Creating a budget takes work; remember the adage nothing worthwhile happens easily. To create an accurate, real and effective budget you will need to keep a fairly detailed accounting of what you are currently spending and income. Organizing your income is not usually too difficult, however consolidating where and when you are currently spending money is similar to keeping a food diary and can be a more daunting challenge. Don’t let this become too overwhelming; you can keep track with a pen and paper, your computer, or cell phone.

It is important to set out your goals and establish what you are hoping to achieve with your income. Know your values and priorities and make sure that your spending is consistent. Look to see if you are allowing nonessential and insignificant purchases to dwindle away your long-term goals of a rewarding retirement, paying for college, donating to charity and memorable family vacations.

To make your budget:

1. Itemize all of your income sources.

2. Subtract all of your fixed expenses, ie mortgage payments, electricity, garbage, and phone.

3. Have automatic transfers established for your long-term goals, ie retirement, college savings, vacation fund.

4. Review what remains for your fun and flexible spending and enjoy it in peace.

Setting goals for your financial health and well being in 2015 will bring peace and confidence not only to this year, but also for many years to come. There are many web sites available to assist you in this process, or you may find it easier to work with a financial adviser. The main point is to get started.

Heidi Foster, CFP® Wealth Advisor and Investment Manager with American Wealth Management, may be reached at www.financialhealth.com, 775.332.7000 or heidi@financialhealth.com. Securities offered through Foothill Securities, Inc. member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through American Wealth Management, a registered investment adviser and a separate entity from Foothill Securities, Inc. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice. The author is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. If assistance or further information is needed, the reader is advised to engage competent professional.

Poughkeepsie woman charged with 7 counts of ID theft

Poughkeepsie woman charged with 7 counts of ID theft

A Poughkeepsie woman tried to open different lines of credit in another persons name, police said.

Financial Sense 101: Prepare For College Before the Freshman Fifteen

In 2013, college grads left school with a diploma — and an average of $35,200 in college-related debt. While the costs of a college education continue to rise, post-graduation earnings remain stagnant. Obtaining a college degree is a huge financial burden to many students and their families, and its only getting worse.

In spite of rising costs, studies indicate that a college education is still worth the investment. A 2014 study conducted by Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz found that … although the wages of college-educated workers have stagnated since the early 2000s — and even declined in the years since the Great Recession — the wages of high school graduates have also been falling. The return on a college education remains at about 14-15 percent, easily surpassing the threshold for a sound investment.

Its encouraging to know that college is still worth the investment; however, it doesnt make the financial burden easier to bear for families struggling to put their kids through school. The good news is that there are ways for students and their families to ease the financial pain and make smart choices that will help make college more affordable and set students up for financial success after graduation. Students can take their education a step further and set up a healthy financial future by making smart choices now.

Plan and Evaluate the Cost of a College Education

According to Sean Moore, Certified Financial Planner at SMART College Funding, parents and students should begin planning for college when students are sophomores in high school. Beyond working hard to achieve good grades and participating in extracurricular activities, it is important for high school sophomores to know their options, research potential colleges and universities, and understand the different programs that each offers. It is also crucial to begin applying for scholarships and grants during this time, as it will help them gather all the information they need to make the most informed decision.

Moore recommends that students and families first determine the total cost of obtaining a college education. He says that the actual cost of a college or university can vary as much as 46 percent from the advertised cost of tuition when you factor in scholarships, grants, school aid, etc; however, tuition is only part of the equation. At nearly all public universities, tuition accounts for between 1/3 and 1/2 (or 27 – 49 percent) of the total cost of attendance, says Moore. The difference is the cost of room and board, books, transportation, and incidentals.

Students and their families should speak with representatives from the universitys financial aid office who will be able to provide a more detailed and accurate estimation of the cost of attendance.

Get Paid to Attend College

According to Moore, at the end of a students junior year in high school, parents should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This document determines what the familys expected financial contribution (EFC) is to the students financial education.

Unfortunately for many families, the EFC is far more than the amount of money the family has on hand — and what they can afford — leaving parents and students stressed about how theyre going to meet the financial obligations. Luckily, families do have options when it comes to figuring out how to bridge the gap between what theyre expected to pay and what they can actually pay.

The single most important way to subsidize the cost of education is to apply for scholarships and grants that will absorb some of the cost. Moore recommends that students first apply for grants and then for scholarships. Scholarships are generally merit-based, meaning they are granted based on certain qualifications the student possesses; however, dont let that sway you from applying if you dont think you have anything merit worthy. Some scholarships are zany, meaning, you could get a scholarship just because youre left-handed, tall, or a vegetarian.

Resources like Studentaid.ed.gov, Finaid.org, and Fastweb.com are great resources for grants and scholarships. It is also beneficial to use an existing network of friends and family, who may know of opportunities through their employers or community organizations.

In addition, schools are equipped to provide a certain amount of aid to families who may have trouble contributing enough finances to fund a students education. Schools use the parents EFC to determine whether or not a student qualifies for aid. If a family cannot meet the EFC, then the school may offer additional aid to help them cover the cost.

Moore says that when shopping around for schools, one of the most important things to determine is how much money the school will provide. Some schools will meet 100 percent of a familys need, while some will only meet 20 percent. Two schools might have the same sticker price, but if one school will meet 100 percent of your need and the other will only meet 50 percent, the choice is obvious.

Alyssa McCloud, Vice President of Enrollment Management for Seton Hall University, says that financial aid offices should be able to provide a fairly accurate picture of how much aid is available. We do our best to estimate costs, but we are often waiting on the state to finalize their budgets and that may change the amount of aid we can award. Schools have no control over this, but we give the clearest, most accurate picture we can of the net cost (total cost minus all grants and scholarships).

Selecting the Right Loan Provider

Oftentimes its hard to get a scholarship or grant if your family makes too much money or even due to the high number of applicants applying for the same scholarships. Many college students will have no choice, but to acquire some amount of student loans. Researching and carefully selecting who to get your loan through will ensure students make the best decision for their individual situation.

There are a number of sources families can rely on to help them find loans and determine the best loans for their needs.

Choosing a loan varies, depending on the individual. The first and most important step in choosing the right loan is to perform adequate research, which can take hours of your time, but thats why we suggest you begin your college planning as a sophomore in high school. Moore recommends speaking with a financial advisor and the universitys financial aid office, pursuing a Stafford subsidized loan first, and then resort to a loan from a bank if necessary.

Before agreeing to any loan terms, students should have a clear understanding of the repayment terms of those loans. Knowing when payments will begin, how much the payment will be each month, and how much interest will be paid over the life of the loan will enable the borrower to determine whether or not, given their projected earning potential after graduation, they will be able to afford the loan. In addition, if a borrower is planning on obtaining a graduate degree, they will need to determine if their loan payments can be deferred while they continue their education.

While Abel and Dietzs study found that the benefits of a college education are high regardless of ones major, it is still important that students pick their major carefully and consider the costs of their education and projected earnings.

Calculate the Return on Your Educational Program and School

After students understand what their financial obligations will be and the expected amount of debt upon graduation, they should find out what their salary will need to be in order to comfortably meet payment responsibilities. This may seem like a task for current college students, but this could have a direct impact on the degree they choose to pursue.

Moore says students must have realistic expectations about choosing their perfect school versus what that school will cost, and what the earning potential will be. If you want to be a social worker, thats an incredibly admirable job. But you can be just as effective as a social worker coming from a state university as you can coming from a school that will cost you $60,000 a year.

Some fairly simple research can provide an estimate of the potential salary for any given career. According to Payscales 2013-2014 College Salary Report, Petroleum Engineering, Actuarial Mathematics and Nuclear Engineering have the highest post-graduation earnings potential, with starting salaries of $103,000, $58,700, and $67,600 respectively. Social Work, Elementary Education and Child amp; Family Studies have the lowest post-graduation earnings potential, with starting salaries of $33,000, $32,200 and $30,300 respectively.

If, after researching schools and financial options, attending a four-year university doesnt seem worth the cost of that education, students do have alternative options. Choosing to attend a community college for the first two years can be a cost-effective way to complete basic credits that can be transferred to a university. Not all credits will transfer or hold the same value at a university, so keep that in mind when considering the school you plan to attend after you get your associates degree.

Students can also consider a trade school. Trade schools typically have shorter, less expensive programs that prepare graduates for immediate employment in certain fields such as information technology, HVAC, cosmetology, court reporting and more.

Regardless of the individual situation, there are a number of trusted online resources that can help families make these difficult decisions. Federal Student Aid offers a wealth of information, including choosing a career, choosing a school, identifying options for financial aid, budgeting and more. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Student Aid offer debt calculators that can help borrowers determine how much their monthly payments will be, including how much interest they will pay over the life of the loan.

Start Saving and Building Credit

Once you have decided what educational path to take, your funding is squared away and you have a grasp on your return upon entering the job market, students can start planning for the fun part — finally being on their own.

But beyond simply getting out of their parents house, students have an opportunity to start building their credit by making smart financial choices. Saving money and building credit may be the last thing on a college students mind, but building a solid financial base at a young age will have numerous benefits after graduation and beyond.

Students can make their parents a part of this process. Parents can open an account in their name or a joint account with their child as an authorized user. This will help students learn to manage money and help build their credit. Further resources for parents and students can be found on sites like College Parents and Pathway to Financial Success.

As students look forward to attending school and experiencing all that college has to offer, they may not be thinking about how to properly manage their money. Making smart financial choices while in school will not only ease the burden of college debt, but also set them up for financial success beyond graduation.

Police seek to ID theft suspect

East Lampeter Township police are asking for the publics help in identifying a man wanted in a retail theft incident Monday at Wal-Mart, 2034 Lincoln Highway East.

The man stole $99.58 worth of items, then fled on foot as as store employees tried to stop him. He dropped the merchandise as he ran.

Police ask anyone with information to contact Sgt. Randy Shrom at 291-4676.

Undercover Detectives Bust Couple in ID Theft Operation

In a surprise bust in Point Loma Friday night, San Diego Police arrested a couple who they say were creating fraudulent credit cards using real San Diegans identities.

Undercover financial crimes detectives ended a three-month long investigation by taking a woman and her boyfriend, both in their 30s, into custody at the corner of Plumosa Drive and Chatsworth Boulevard.

Save Money in 2015: Here are the Best Money Management Apps and Practical …

If saving enough cash to finally splurge on that trip to Tahiti youve been dreaming about is on your New Years resolutions list, then look no further than these helpful tips and apps that can help you stay on top of your finances and help you save a buck or two. Before you know it, you may just find yourself not only in financial and credit freedom, but also sipping that Pina Colada by the sea this 2015.

Many of us let our budget get away with us. With any luck, these tricks will help us stay financially responsible all throughout the year.