Top Ten Financial Considerations for Women

As a woman, your financial needs and goals are different that a man’s. Women often lag behind men when it comes to taking the necessary steps to build wealth and financial security, such as investing and establishing a long-term financial plan. If you’re ready to take control of your financial future, here are 10 reasons why you should start now.

1. Have money and credit in your own name.

Keeping your own financial identity is key to getting credit when you need or want it, and to maintaining your independence. Establishing and maintaining your own savings account can provide peace of mind as well.

2. Discuss finances with your family.

Too often, money is considered a “taboo” topic, but uncertainty, fear and conflict arise when finances are not discussed. Knowing how much you have, how much you owe, where you spend your money, what you are saving it for, when you may need it, which items are most important and why they are important can help to demystify finances and keep you on track.

3. Know your credit score and maintain a good rating.

There are three major credit bureaus –Transunion, Equifax and Experian — and, at your request, each will provide you with a free report on an annual basis. Paying bills on time and using credit that offers perks and low interest rates help your scores. Similarly, this report can identify if there are any errors, fraud or identity theft perpetrated on you.

4. Build and manage your own plan AND integrate it with other family plans.

Studies show that those with a plan are more likely to follow it and succeed. Documented plans remove emotion from your decisions, enabling you to act upon your plans more effectively. Similarly, sharing your plan with others ensures you don’t have conflicting or overlapping plans or goals that impact your ability to succeed. Finally, sharing your plans helps to ensure you keep your goals in mind and your focus on achieving those goals.

5. Build and manage a budget.

Knowing where you plan to spend your money, and learning about where you actually spend your money, can help you identify additional requirements to plan for and/or areas to eliminate. Ensure that saving is a component of your budget, too. Additionally, while charitable donations are wonderful, make sure you are able to afford your required expenses first.

6. Understand and manage your debt.

Debt is NOT a bad thing, but you should know what you owe and how it fits into your budget so you are not uncomfortable or overly worried. It’s fine to use credit cards as they provide an excellent record of your expenses for your budgeting and spend analysis.Credit card bills should be paid in full monthly as the cost of carrying balances can be expensive if your credit cards have high interest rates.

7. Keep your estate plan current.

There are several estate documents in addition to a will that you should create and keep current. These include but are not limited to: power of attorney (can be separate for finances and for health care decisions); living will, also known as an advanced medical directive; inventory of your assets and liabilities; beneficiary forms for your assets such as insurance, 401(k)s, and IRAs; contacts for others to continue your wishes; passwords for everything including email, social media, bank accounts, credit cards, your advisors (financial advisors, attorneys, bankers, accountants) and vendors (lawn care, pest control, utility providers); funeral arrangements / desires; and, if applicable, trusts as well. While these do not need to be updated every year, an annual update will make the tasks easier.

8. Review your insurance requirements regularly.

Health insurance has become a larger expense, and with lifespans lengthening and healthcare reform continuing, costs and options continue to change. As you progress through your own stages of life, your needs change, too. Additionally, consideration of long-term care, disability protection and life insurance all should be considered for your specific circumstances.

9. Plan for future needs.

Review Social Security and your retirement interests periodically. Also, consider your ability to take care of yourself and others, as well as others’ ability to care for you as you age. Determining where you will stay is key as well – will you stay in your own city/ home, move closer to loved ones, or find a location catering to others in a similar stage of life? Long-term and geriatric care are considerations that should be planned for today.

10. Set short-term, medium-term and long-term financial goals.

As part of your plan, be careful not to be too short-term or long-term focused at the expense of another. For instance, raising children and planning for education can span many years and may need different prioritization at different times. However, while those goals are important, sacrificing retirement to fund your children may leave your long-term plans more vulnerable.

11. BONUS –

Find an advisor who you trust, enjoy, and has your best interests as their first priority. There are many fine advisors in the industry, and finding one you like can help you build, modify as appropriate, and stick to your plan so you have more confidence about attaining and maintaining your financial goals and standard of living.

Jeff Kort, MBA, Munn & Morris Financial Advisors, Dallas, TX, can be reached at jkort@munnmorris.com or (972) 692-0909

Are you board-ready

Are you board-ready?

Overseeing a nonprofit is an honor that comes with potential liabilities

There’s a certain nonprofit organization whose work you’re passionate about, and you’d like to take the relationship to another level – as a member of its board.

This is an opportunity to be a leader in your community, do work with purpose and expand your network, and it will look great on your LinkedIn profile. Plus, you know the basics: You’ll need to further the group’s mission through fundraising, advocacy and governance, making sure management is doing its job. What else is there to think about?

Taking stock

First, you’ll need to set aside some time. The average board holds seven meetings a year, at about 3.4 hours each, according to nonprofit group BoardSource. The average length of a member’s term is three years, and in general the position is unpaid – only 3% of the nonprofits surveyed offer an honorarium for service.

Also, you’ll need to think of what resources and skills you can dedicate. In a 2015 BoardSource survey, 42% of board members provided names of potential donors to receive letters and calls, and 22% met with prospective donors face-to-face. Nearly 70% of nonprofits also require a personal contribution.

Seeking a board seat?

These sites might turn up an opportunity.

  • Boardnetusa.org
  • Volunteermatch.org
  • LinkedIn.com
  • Idealist.org
  • Bridgespan.org

Keeping it on the up-and-up

Next, it’s time to think integrity. As a board member, you have an obligation to put the interests of the organization ahead of your own and avoid any conflicts. For example, if you have a direct financial relationship to the nonprofit (such as being its landlord or legal counsel), serving can pose a risk.

Also good to know: You can be held personally liable for decisions made on behalf of the organization. If a nonprofit doesn’t pay enough in payroll taxes for its employees, for example, the IRS can hold the board negligent. To guard against this risk, ask about the group’s liability insurance and possibly secure your own insurance policy as well. Once you’re on the board, review financial statements and budgets with care to ensure good stewardship.

Giving with confidence

It’s not unheard of for a board member to be asked to cover a budget gap at the end of the year. Avoid surprises by asking upfront how much you’re expected to donate, and run that figure by your financial advisor to ensure it fits with your financial plan. With proactive planning, you can avoid getting in over your head.

If you were recruited because of your skill set rather than your wallet, it may be possible to use in-kind services toward your required donation. If you were tapped because of your extensive contacts in the community, bringing in big donors might be enough of a contribution.

Gaining a greater purpose

Working for a mission you believe in can enrich your life and future career prospects. However, it’s important to weigh whether you’re truly up for board membership. Your advisor can help ensure you are financially prepared for this important endeavor and help you coordinate with other members of your planning team.

Due diligence to-do’s

  • Review annual report, recent financial statements, and staff and board organization charts.
  • Get to know the current board members and their affiliations.
  • Request a description of board member responsibilities.
  • Ask how much you’re expected to donate.
  • Review a schedule of board meetings.
  • Request a program site visit.
  • Ask about liability insurance.

Next steps:

Talk to your professional team about:

  • Budgeting for donations
  • Risk management strategies
  • Insurance coverage

Material prepared by Raymond James for use by its financial advisors.

7 Year-end Tax Tips

7 Year-end Tax Tips

The end of the year is approaching, and so is another tax season. The good news is that some of the uncertainty about deductions for small businesses has been lifted this year thanks to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, which Congress passed in late 2015. Here are some ways to square your bill so you – and your business – will benefit.

Consult the pros – Because the rules are complex and ever-changing, it’s a good idea to schedule a meeting with a knowledgeable accountant and your other professional advisors, who know your specific financial situation.

Maximize depreciations via Section 179 – This tax break, extended in the PATH Act, allows your business to deduct the price of qualifying equipment or software purchased or leased during 2016. The expensing limitation is $500,000 and applies to items including office furniture and vehicles. Then there’s bonus depreciation, which lets business owners depreciate 50% of the cost of new equipment purchased and placed into service in 2016. This provision was extended through 2017 and can be used in conjunction with Section 179. Learn more at IRS.gov.

Discuss whether to defer income and accelerate deductions –There are several ways to put off income into the next tax year and increase deductions now if you expect your income to be at the same or a lower rate next year. For example, you can plan to send your bills out a few days later in the last month of the year, which means getting paid a few days later in January of next year. You can also prepay some bills to take the deduction now.

Consider a retirement plan redesign – If your business has changed significantly since you first started a retirement plan, it’s a good idea to make sure this important employee incentive is still the right fit. There are several options to choose from, including SIMPLE IRAs, profit-sharing, and safe harbor 401(k)s. A qualified plan offers a deduction for your contributions, and you defer tax on earnings on contributions.

Reconsider your business structure carefully – Some businesses can gain an advantage by changing the ownership structure. Owners with an LLC can still elect to be taxed as an S-corporation retroactively at year’s end.

Find the silver lining of a net operating loss – If your business losses exceed your income for the year, the excess loss can lower your income and cut your tax bill in another year. You can apply the loss to prior years’ taxes and get a refund or use it in the future. The rules and formulas for this maneuver are complex, so make sure to consult an expert.

Check changes due to the Affordable Care Act – Businesses that have fewer than 25 workers and cover 50% or more of health premiums might qualify for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Keep these tips in mind at tax time and keep your accountant and professional advisors up to date on any changes to help make the best decisions for your business.

Next steps:

Don’t hesitate to talk about some of these strategies with your advisor and your accountant.

  • Retirement plan redesign
  • Budgeting for equipment purchases
  • A holistic view on personal and business finances

Material prepared by Raymond James for use by its financial advisors.

Making a Life, Not Just a Living

Making a Life, Not Just a Living

Serial entrepreneur Brian Scudamore knows how easily the wheels can fall off for business owners. “My marriage was over. I was working on my first company, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, to the point of exhaustion, but it wasn’t growing. Add to that co-parenting a newborn baby, and I was on track for total burnout,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal of his life 12 years ago .

He turned his situation around by taking every Friday off for biking, spending time with family, cooking and other hobbies. “I realized I had to stop trying to keep up with everything and start focusing on the right things.”

The power of focus

That advice is echoed by Charles Duhigg, author of “Smarter Faster Better,” who warns not to fixate on a goal without asking if it’s the right one. He suggests writing to-do lists that break goals into short, concrete steps. This approach, pioneered by GE and imitated throughout the business world, is a proven way to boost productivity.

Productivity expert David Allen has another suggestion: If a to-do item can be dealt with in two minutes or less, tackle it immediately. Such “small wins” can build to something larger, and give us the energy to keep going.

A team you can trust

Even at the leanest of startups, there comes a point when you’ll need to hire employees to take some of the burden from you. At a small business, it’s critical to hire someone who not only has the specific skills you need, but is also a self-starter. Micromanaging is counterproductive – when people feel a greater sense of control over their work, it boosts motivation, Duhigg says.

It’s also important to foster a culture of commitment – let your employees know that you’re committed to their growth and development. Offering flexible work arrangements, 401(k)s and other perks that make employees happy can help retain the talent you’ve recruited.

Taking time to unplug

With the right team in place, you can take the time you need for yourself – and it can actually enhance your venture. “When I’m away from the office, things have time to marinate. Connections bubble up and often turn into big, business-changing ideas,” Scudamore says.

Giving yourself permission to take a break is key, whether you need a six-week vacation off the grid or a mini-break to clear your head. Studies have shown that working long hours doesn’t seem to result in getting more accomplished – but it does have a negative effect on well-being.

Breaking the cycle of overwork

It’s time to create a new cycle as a business owner: prioritize your most crucial tasks, engage your team, then rest. At the end of the day, your work – and your life – will be better for it.

Next steps:

To help your business run more smoothly, ask about:

  • Creating retirement plans and other employee incentives
  • Investment strategies
  • Budgeting for vacations
  • Goal-based planning

Material prepared by Raymond James for use by its financial advisors.