MONEY retirement planning

4 Signs You May Be Addicted to “Financial Porn”

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If you like to follow what the smart money is doing, you're probably hurting your returns.

“Financial porn,” or money advice that teases and titillates more than it informs, is ubiquitous these days, promising everything from safe returns with no risk to all-gain-no-pain paths to financial success. All of which would be harmless enough, except it can create false expectations and lead to poor financial decisions. Here are four signs that you may be at risk.

1. You’re a sucker for double-your-money schemes. With stock valuations on the gaseous side and many advisers forecasting well-below-average returns for the future, you might think that few investors would be receptive to the lure of doubling their money in a hurry. But you don’t have to look hard to find stories touting stocks in areas ranging from biotech to real estate that are supposedly capable of doing that in a year, or less. (One article even talks about doubling one’s money in five hours!) In the event you find this too extreme, not to worry: There’s a seemingly endless stream of articles on stocks, funds and ETFs that will merely beat the market.

Given the plethora of investments available, there will always be some that outpace the market or even double in value quickly. And you won’t have trouble finding them with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. But the reality is that it’s nearly impossible to identify such top-performers consistently in advance. Besides, any investment with the potential for huge returns also comes with outsize risk. Rather than speculating on which stocks or funds might clobber their peers or shooting for unrealistic gains, you’re better off building a low-cost diversified portfolio of index funds or ETFs that reflects your risk tolerance. This approach might not deliver the thrill of seeing an occasional pick pay off handsomely. But you’ll avoid the inevitable (and more frequent) spills that occur when risky high-fliers flame out.

2. You like to follow the “smart money.” It seems like such a simple and effective route to financial success: Piggyback on the moves of the financial pros and market savants who supposedly know better than the rest of us. And a constant supply of stories purports to offer us insights into what financial savants are up to. But there are a couple of things you need to know about this oft-cited advice.

One is that it’s not always clear what the smart money is doing. Depending on which story you believe, the smart money has recently been buying precious metals or energy stocks or consumer discretionary shares or getting out of stocks altogether. Or maybe the smart money’s been making these moves serially or doing them all at the same time. Who knows? And really, who cares? Because the the second thing you need to know about the smart money is that it isn’t always so smart. In fact, “dumb” index funds beat the majority of “smart” money managers over the long-term. So don’t waste time and effort tracking the smart money (whoever the smart money is). Invest based on your financial needs. That’s the smart thing to do.

3. You’re a seeker of “secret” solutions. We all like the idea of getting a tip from an insider. Which is no doubt why there’s no shortage of stories that rope us in with the promise of letting us in on some secret, whether it’s the investing secrets only the pros know, the secrets to a successful retirement, the secret to financial success or (kudos for killing two birds with one stone) the secret to doubling your money.

But we all know that real secrets are rare in the financial world. Want a secure retirement? It’s no secret that the secret is getting an early start on saving and then saving diligently throughout your career. Investing? The open secret there is that it’s virtually impossible to consistently beat the market, so your best shot at investing success lies in creating a low-cost diversified portfolio and rebalancing periodically.

Which is why stories that claim to share secrets are almost always a tease. The secrets are usually things we already know, or ought to. That said, I don’t think the desire to unearth secrets is dangerous so much as a diversion that might distract you from focusing more on what’s really important in investing and planning. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also add that I’m not above reproach when it comes to divulging putative secrets, witness the headline of this RealDealRetirement.com story: Is Sex The Secret To A Happy Retirement?

4. You love hearing about new and novel investments. Whether it’s skittishness about stocks and bonds in today’s market or a natural desire to want to spice things up, many investors are on the lookout for fresh, cutting-edge investment opportunities. And advisers, as well as personal finance journalists, are more than willing to cater to that desire by touting all manner of “alternative” investments. The choices range from what you might call the usual suspects—long-short and absolute-return funds, private equity, hedge funds, commodity funds, etc.—to more arcane offerings: tax-lien certificates, parking spots, equipment leases, peer-to-peer lending and fishing rights, to name a few.

But sprinkling a helping of such investments into your portfolio no more guarantees a well-diversified portfolio than helping yourself to every item on a smorgasbord assures a balanced diet. If anything, once you go beyond a healthy mix of U.S. stocks and bonds and perhaps a dollop of international shares, you run the risk of di-worse-ifying rather than diversifying. Besides, most investors are unable or unwilling to do the research necessary to make informed decisions about esoteric investments. Throw in the fact that fringe investments often come with lofty fees (often to pay the person peddling them), and your chances of doing better loading up with alternatives than you would be simply sticking to a plain-vanilla portfolio of low-cost index funds and ETFs are slim. Which is to say, just because investment firms regularly market sorts of new investments doesn’t mean you should fall for their pitch.

Financial porn has been around a long time, even well before Jane Bryant Quinn first coined the phrase “investment porn” in a Newsweek column back in 1995. And given the fertile ground of the internet, I expect it will continue to grow like kudzu in the years ahead. Read it, if you like; enjoy it, if you can. Just don’t rely on it for your planning and investing.

Walter Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.com. If you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at walter@realdealretirement.com.

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Cleaning Up After Another Financial Adviser’s Bad Advice

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Corbis—Alamy

Explaining to clients that another financial adviser has given them bum advice can be awkward. Here's how I do it.

Average Americans have a poor opinion about financial advisers, and with good reason. Too many “advisers” are just salespeople for products that generate commissions for the adviser but rarely deliver the promised investment returns to the client.

As a financial adviser myself, I often see unsuitable investments in prospective clients’ portfolios. I can’t just badmouth those clients’ current adviser. If I point out how this adviser has abused their trust, how are they going to trust me? What can I tell the prospect about another adviser’s bad advice without dragging myself down to his or her level?

Recently I reviewed the investment statements of a prospect family who owned about $1 million in assets in joint taxable accounts and IRAs. The IRAs were invested primarily in variable annuities. The family had already shown me that their retirement income needs were covered by pensions. Their primary interest was in asset transfer to their children.

There’s nothing wrong with variable annuities if used for the proper purpose. For example, clients may have already maxed out 401(k) contributions but still want to set aside additional cash in tax deferred investments. However, there is no reason, in my opinion, why you would ever put a variable annuity inside an IRA. There is no additional tax benefit, but there is an extra layer of cost and complexity and there is a loss of liquidity due to surrender charges. If you don’t like the investment returns of the annuity, it could cost you up to 11% or up to 11 years to get out.

There’s a wrong way and a right way to deliver bad news. The wrong way is a declarative statement along the lines of, “You idiots were totally taken advantage of.” The prospects tend to grab their papers and stomp out the door.

The right way is to engage the prospect in a series of questions and answers; that educates clients without making them feel stupid.

“Tell me about your thought process when you purchased these annuities,” I asked.

“Our broker explained that the annuity would grow tax-free with the stock market, and then at a certain point we could convert to a term annuity which would pay out a level payment for the rest of our lives.”

“Did he note that your assets are already in an IRA?” I asked. “Where growth is tax-free already?”

“No,” they replied.

“Did he tell you that you could also achieve growth by investing in a basket of mutual funds?”

“No.”

“Did he advise you that once you convert to a fixed annuity, there’s no residual value for your children?”

“No.”

“Did he explain that, because of the various fees loaded onto your investment, you were likely to have sub-par returns?”

“No.”

“Did he explain what the surrender charge is?”

“Sure!” they replied. “That’s the insurance company’s way of making sure we stay committed to the annuity.”

“That’s the marketing department’s answer to what a surrender charge is,” I said. “What the insurance company doesn’t tell you is that they paid a commission of up to 11% to your broker on the sale, which the insurance company amortizes over the next 11 years at one percentage point a year. So if you exit in year five, there’s still 6% of that 11% commission to recover, hence the 6% remaining surrender charge.”

By this point, the couple was looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Look,” I said, “there may have been some other reason why he recommended this strategy. All I can say is that for the needs that you have described, I would have invested you in a plain vanilla basket of fixed income and equity mutual funds. We would have complete flexibility to adjust the asset allocation over time. If for some reason you weren’t happy, you could cancel your relationship with me with an e-mail, no surrender charge. We apply a monthly advisory fee to the assets in this plan, which is 1/12 of 0.75%. The fees you pay me are computed and disclosed to you in our monthly report. As your assets rise in value, so does our monthly fee, so no mystery about my incentives.”

Nobody likes to find out that their current adviser isn’t focused on their best interests — that is, a fiduciary. I provide information, let the prospects draw their own conclusion.

We turned to other topics, and I followed up with a formal investment proposal a few days later. I was not surprised that the family decided a few weeks later to move their accounts to my firm, nor was I surprised that the annuity accounts would trickle in only after the surrender charges had expired. Even though the family had concluded that they had received a raw deal from their current adviser, those annuities still were locked in for a few more years.

———-

David Edwards is president of Heron Financial Group | Wealth Advisors, which works closely with individuals and families to provide investment management and financial planning services. Edwards is a graduate of Hamilton College and holds an MBA in General Management from Darden Graduate School of Business-University of Virginia.

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7 Ways Couples Cheat on Each Other — Financially

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Financial infidelity and the lies we tell

Several years ago, a friend of mine admitted she had a bank account her husband didn’t know about so that she could spend from her secret stash on the sly. And recently, an acquaintance who owns a luxury jewelry store revealed to me that some of her clients purchase the high-end gems with cash in order to keep their spouse in the dark about their indulgences.

These breaches of trust are surprisingly common: According to a recent survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education, one in three adults who have combined their money in a relationship admit to committing financial infidelity against their partner. And 76 percent of those people concede that their deception has affected the relationship.

Why all the fibs about your finances? We dug into the reasons behind some of the biggest fiscal lies couples tell, and the steps you can take to get back on track.

Lie #1: “Yes, I paid that bill.”

Where it Comes From: There are two primary reasons why people hide money moves from their significant other. Number one: “You might feel controlled by your partner, so you act out as a form of rebellion,” says money coach Deborah Price, CEO and founder of the Money Coaching Institute and author of “The Heart of Money.”

If one person is in charge of the purchasing decisions (picking apart every detail of the credit card statement, deciding what their spouse can and can’t buy, imposing a spending limit), while the other doesn’t have much of a say, anger and resentment can build up — which results in deceptive behavior.

Number two: “You feel ashamed about your financial situation, so you try to cover it up, hoping you’ll be able to get a handle on things before your spouse finds out,” says Price. “You’re afraid that your partner won’t be able to cope with the truth.” Maybe you’re in debt, and are worried your husband wouldn’t want to be with you if he discovers what’s really going on. Or perhaps you feel guilty about splurging, and don’t want your partner to judge you.

Break the Habit: The first step is to get to the bottom of the lie. “Most money problems aren’t actually about money — they’re symptoms, and the problems are truly about something else,” says Price, who advises to look into when and why the behavior initially emerged. One method: Write what she calls a “money biography.” Did the fib predate your marriage or start after you wed? How does lying make you feel — guilty for being dishonest, thrilled about getting away with something, or afraid that your partner will learn the truth?

“Most of our money patterns are formed in early childhood and get acted out in our relationships unconsciously,” says Price. “Once you understand your patterns, you have some power over them and can begin taking measures to correct them.

Next, consider what it would feel like to come clean. Ask yourself, if you were sure that your partner wouldn’t freak out, what would you ideally like to happen? Now, how can you start to move toward that? “In order to tell the truth, it’s important that you feel safe in your relationship,” explains Price. “You can’t be worried that your partner will run out the door.” She suggests starting the conversation by saying, “There’s something important I need to talk to you about, but I’m afraid that it will upset you. Before I tell you, will you promise to stay calm and help me work through it?” Yes it will be a tough discussion, but coming forward will ultimately help you build a stronger bond.

Lie #2: “I’m terrible with money — you handle it.”

Where it Comes From: This is an incredibly common phenomenon: People who are perfectly competent mistakenly believe that they are financially inept. “You feel powerless and are fearful that you will make a mistake,” says Price. “Maybe you were told you weren’t smart growing up, or had parents or teachers who made you feel insecure.” She also points out that sometimes there’s a subconscious benefit to not being powerful with money, in that it lets you off the hook about having to be the “responsible one” and sets the stage for you to be rescued by someone more “capable.”

Break the Habit: Is it true that you don’t have a good grasp on finances, or is it a projection based upon your fears that you’ll mess up? To find out, list your fiscal skills: Are you aware of how much you have in your checking and savings accounts? Do you know how much you earn? Are you contributing to a 401(k) or IRA? When you were on your own, did you pay your bills on time and spend within your means? You might realize that you’re more in control of your money than you thought. Or, you will identify what areas where you need need some guidance. (Check out our DIY Financial Planning Guide.)

Even though you haven’t done something in the past, it doesn’t mean you can’t become proficient,” stresses Price. “And while it’s okay for one person to have the role of ‘family CFO,’ both of you should be involved in your finances to some extent.” In the worst-case scenario, if you lose your spouse or get divorced and they have the keys to your fiscal life, you’ll be in a bind — especially if there are kids in the picture. So, no matter who takes the lead with financial decisions, make sure to sit down together at least once a month to discuss where your joint finances stand.

Lie #3: “Sure, we can afford that.”

Where it Comes From: This one might not be an outright lie. Many people simply aren’t connected enough to their daily financial accounting to knowwhether or not they can afford a new car or trip to the Andes. And once you’re married, money cluelessness can get even worse — assuming that your spouse will handle the finances gives you an excuse to grow more out of touch.

Plus, when there are two of you, it’s easy to pass the buck so you won’t be the one at fault for having made an irresponsible decision. “Some people might also avoid telling the truth [that a certain item is out of your price range] in order to avoid a potential fight,” adds Price. (Of course, that backfires: You might end up pointing the finger at each other later on when fiscal remorse sets in.)

Break the Habit: Part of the problem here is that we are hard-wired to want to spend money. “We are largely governed by a part of the mind called the instinctive brain, which is driven by desire and is wholly distinct from the prefrontal cortex, the section that processes rational thought,” explains Price. As a result, money decisions are often guided by emotions, rather than logic. So, before making a major purchase you and your spouse should list all of the positive and negative consequences of the decision. “This slows down your neural processing centers and activates the prefrontal cortex,” says Price. Not only will you be less likely to get carried away in the excitement of the moment, but it also forces you to take a hard look at your financial situation.

Lie #4: “My money is your money.”

Where it Comes From: The survey mentioned earlier found that three in 10 adults with joint finances have hidden a purchase, bank account, statement, bill, or cash from their partner. So what’s with all the covert ops? “Concealing fiscal information is a self-protective response to feeling unsafe in the relationship,” says Kate Levinson, PhD, author of “Emotional Currency.” “Even though you may like the idea of merging your money with your spouse’s on an intellectual level, you ultimately don’t trust that your partner will be there for you.

This sense of insecurity might be triggered by past experiences with someone who abused money (for example, a parent who gambled away the rent or burned through the grocery budget to fund a shopping addiction). It can also be a sign of emotional unrest — if you were betrayed by an ex or had an emotionally unavailable parent, you might have learned that you can’t rely on others. “Money represents an internal need to stay independent, and squirreling it away reassures you that you aren’t overly vulnerable,” says Levinson. Thanks to your cash stash, you feel like you have a way out.

Break the Habit: Begin by investigating the underlying cause of your deception on your own — write about it, talk to a friend or therapist, or meditate until you understand what’s going on underneath. “You need to recognize that your behavior is being driven by elements outside of your awareness,” explains Levinson.

After you gain some insight into the underlying causes, work through the issue with your partner. To begin the discussion, try focusing on the relationship with an opening like: “There’s something that I’ve been afraid to talk to you about. I know you’re going to be mad, but I need you to help me figure out what’s going on because it’s getting in the way of me being close to you.” You may also want to preface the conversation by asking your partner to just listen without interrupting so that you can tell him the story in full. “Keep in mind that the core problem might have nothing to do with money, but rather can shine a light on something that’s missing in your relationship — be it that you need more one-on-one time with him, or want him to help out more around the house,” adds Levinson.

Lie #5: “I’ve had these shoes for years.”

Where it Comes From: Denial of spending is a fear-based reaction. “You’re worried that your partner might judge you for being indulgent, selfish, frivolous or undeserving — and that they won’t love you for it,” says Levinson. Your response might be an accurate reflection of your current bind, say, if your partner is financially controlling, or you have a problem with overspending. Or it might be a byproduct of your upbringing; according to Levinson, you could be modeling behavior that you saw play out in childhood (for example, your mom encouraging you to hide new purchases from your dad.

Break the Habit: Do a realistic assessment of your financial situation: “Clarify your financial goals and priorities and establish a specific budget based on your fixed expenses and discretionary spending,” Levinson recommends. Knowing exactly how much you have to splurge will alleviate any fear that your partner might disapprove. Stick to that budget, and review it monthly or bimonthly to make sure it’s still working for you.

Lie #6: “I don’t have any debt.”

Where it Comes From: Thirteen percent of survey respondents said they’d committed a serious infraction, like lying about the amount of debt that they owe. “This fib stems from shame, feeling overwhelmed, or a fear of being judged by your partner,” says Levinson. You might also be in a state of denial — subconsciously, you feel like if you haven’t told your partner the truth, then the debt doesn’t exist and you won’t have to face the consequences of it.

Break the Habit: It’s time to confront your financial situation head-on. “Own your debt,” urges Levinson. “Talk to someone you trust — a counselor, financial advisor, or family member — to begin figuring out how to get debt-free.” That way, when you come clean to your partner (try using the same conversation technique as before), you’ll have a plan of action in mind, which sends the message that you’re finally taking control of things. “You also might want to consider separating your finances to show that you understand the debt is your responsibility,” adds Levinson.

Lie #7: “I don’t have that much money.”

Where it Comes From: On the flipside, some people claim they make less than they actually do. “You may keep an inheritance or large salary from your partner while you’re dating because you’re concerned about being taken advantage of, or loved only for you money,” says Levinson. “Then you hang onto the lie because you don’t want to rock the boat.” This whopper also unleashes a cascade of tough personal questions: How will I be able to handle having so much more than my spouse? What kind of person will I become if I tap into this money? What will it do to our relationship to go from being financially equal to unequal?

Break the Habit: In this case, Levinson strongly suggests seeing a counselor, because it can be unsettling to have huge wealth discrepancies in a relationship. “Some couples are naturally financially compatible and agree on how to spend and save,” says Levinson. “But for many, it’s difficult. Your spouse might be scared of wealth, judgmental about rich people or afraid that having money will turn them into a different person with different values.

There are also questions about how your dynamic changes: If one of you has a lot more money, does what you say hold more weight? “Issues of feeling better than or less than your partner are very tricky territory to navigate, especially when there’s a sense of betrayal on top of that,” says Levinson. “Just be sure to find a couple’s therapist who’s comfortable talking about money.

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The Hazards of Financial Advisers Who Are ‘Just Like Family’

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Trust should be a byproduct of skill and integrity — not a marketing tool.

We financial planners may know more about our clients than their doctors do. We are often among the first to know when clients’ families are affected by significant life events such as engagements, pregnancies, career successes and setbacks, or serious illnesses.

Does that mean clients should think of their planners as part of the family? According to a recent article by Deborah Nason for CNBC, some planners would like clients to see them in that light.

I was one of the professionals interviewed for the article, which discussed planners providing emotional support for clients and building long-term relationships with them. It also addressed the impact these services have on client retention rates.

My firm’s client-centered services focus on clients’ emotional as well as financial well-being. Still, I was uncomfortable with the tone of part of the piece, especially statements like: “. . . advisors are serving as thinking partners, therapists, surrogate family members and community organizers” and “Some advisors set out intentionally to become part of the client’s extended family.”

Some of my unease came from one essential word that was missing from the article: integrity. My guess is that for the advisers quoted, integrity is such a given that they didn’t think to mention it. Supporting clients’ well-being with services like financial coaching only serves clients well when it is built on a solid platform of professional skill and integrity. The only way to build the trust that is such an essential aspect of comprehensive financial planning is by being trustworthy.

Both clients and planners need to be fully aware — not just at the beginning of their professional relationship, but as they work together over time — of the importance of that essential foundation of integrity and skill. It has to be maintained through transparency and professional safeguards. Otherwise, a “family” relationship could obscure an adviser’s lack of knowledge in a particular area or make it very hard for a client to question advice that may not serve them well.

To take this one step further, it’s wise to remember one of the reasons unscrupulous con artists are able to fleece unwary customers out of millions of dollars. They have honed the ability to manipulate people’s emotions to persuade customers to trust them, and they then abuse that trust.

Also a matter of integrity is the question of whether it’s even appropriate for planners to “set out to become part of the client’s family.” This has the potential to lead to a manipulative and patronizing view of clients.

Serving clients’ best interests in a fiduciary relationship is the opposite of viewing them as customers to be sold a service. Planners who “sell . . . the relationship,” as one adviser quoted by Nason put it, run the risk of putting their agenda and their goal of creating a relationship ahead of the clients’ agenda and goals. There is nothing wrong with wanting clients for life; such long-term relationships can certainly serve clients well. But those relationships are built, not sold.

One of my clients who read the article told me: “I don’t want a planner to set out to ‘become part of my family.’ I want a planner to provide an impeccable level of service and trustworthiness that invites me to start thinking of him or her as ‘family’ — eventually, if that is comfortable for me.”

This, I think, is at the heart of client-centered fiduciary planning. Over time, advisers might become ‘family’ because of their integrity, advocacy, or chemistry, but such close relationships should always originate with the clients. Moving into such a position of trust has to be earned and only comes by invitation.

———-

Rick Kahler, ChFC, is president of Kahler Financial Group, a fee-only financial planning firm. His work and research regarding the integration of financial planning and psychology has been featured or cited in scores of broadcast media, periodicals and books. He is a co-author of four books on financial planning and therapy. He is a faculty member at Golden Gate University and the former president of the Financial Therapy Association.

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The 3 Biggest Money Worries of First-Time Parents

first time parents
Ashley Gill—Getty Images

Good news, explains a financial planner: They're easily addressed.

Over the last 13 years I’ve worked with countless millennials preparing to embark on their journey to parenthood. First-time parents are concerned about many things, starting with feeding their newborn, keeping the little one healthy, or just sleeping through the night (for both parent and baby).

Amid the whirlwind of emotions a single parent or couple may go through leading into the birth of their first child, I’ve found that first-time parents all find themselves confronting the same three financial questions:

  1. How will we afford this baby?
  2. How will we pay for college?
  3. What if something happens to us?

As a financial adviser, I often find myself counseling first-time parent trying to process it all. The great news is that all three of these questions can be answered with a little bit of planning.

1. How will we afford this baby?
You can count on new and unexpected expenses with your little one on the way. Many of my new-parent clients have found that three of the most significant expenses in the first year are daycare, diapers, and baby food. By increasing your monthly contributions to a liquid investment savings account, you can get a head start on changing your spending habits and begin to prepare for costs you know are coming.

2. How will we pay for college?
College is getting more expensive every year. If you want to put your money to work, start saving early and take advantage of time and compound returns. A 529 college savings plan offers you 100% federal tax-free growth for qualified higher-education expenses. (State tax advantages vary from state to state and may depend on whether you are a resident of the state sponsoring the plan.) As the parent, you retain complete control of the assets. To help bolster their child’s college fund, many parents encourage family and friends to contribute to their child’s 529 plan instead of giving toys or other presents for major events like birthdays and graduations.

3. What if something happens to us?
It probably isn’t going to hit you in the first trimester, or maybe even the second, but it’s a realization so many parents reach by the time their newborn comes home to the nursery: What if something happens to us? Most new parents have never had to sit down and plan for contingencies like death. But the moment you have someone depending on you — both financially and emotionally — for the next 20-plus years, it hits you: “I need a plan.” For many, this plan has two major pieces that ultimately answer two questions:

a. Who will take care of my baby? An estate planning attorney can help you gather information and consider some important issues designed to protect your family. Through your estate plan you can dictate guardianship instructions for your baby, control over the distribution of your assets, and medical directives.
b. Who will pay all my baby’s expenses? Life insurance can provide your child, or your child’s guardian, with a lump sum payout upon your death. Term life insurance is typically the least expensive, and thus the most common, option; you pay a set amount each month over a certain number of years, and in turn are guaranteed a death benefit should you die during that term. The policy’s lump sum payout can help your beneficiaries cover the costs you would have otherwise paid.

By starting your planning early, you can set aside the extra cash you’ll need when your family’s newest addition arrives, split the college bill with your old pal “compound returns,” and prepare for the unthinkable. Once you have these pieces in place, you’ll have your mind clear to focus on what is most important — your family. (And your sleep.)

Joe O’Boyle is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., O’Boyle provides personalized, full service financial and retirement planning to individual and corporate clients. O’Boyle focuses on the entertainment, legal and medical industries, with a particular interest in educating Gen Xers and Millennials about the benefits of early retirement planning.

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A Good Financial Planner Is Like This Year’s Hot Pitching Prospect

150511_ADV_Pitcher
Nick Turchiaro—USA Today Sports/Reuters Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Daniel Norris throws a pitch during first inning in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Rogers Centre.

Like the Blue Jays' Daniel Norris, a good financial planner is true to him- or herself.

“Stop asking questions, Maurer, and do what I tell you to do,” said the general agent for the Baltimore region of a major life insurance company.

At the time, early in my career, I was sure this guy watched Glengarry Glen Ross every morning before work. His lines were a little different, but they were no less rehearsed.

“I made over a million dollars last year!”

“I buy a new Cadillac every two years — cash on the barrelhead.”

I was told how to dress: Dark suits, white shirts, and “power ties” that weren’t too busy. Light blue shirts were allowed on Wednesdays. Never wear sweat pants, even to the gym. Enter and exit the gym in a suit. Your hair should never touch your ears or your neck. Facial hair was strictly forbidden. Jeans, outlawed.

When you have a “big fish on the hook,” invite them to the Oregon Grille, one of the nicer restaurants in the rolling horse country north of Baltimore. Get there a half-hour early and tell the maître d’ your name so that he can use it when you return shortly with your guest. Ask where you’ll be seated and pre-greet your waiter. Also let him know your name — along with your “regular” drink, so that you can ask for it momentarily.

As one in a class of newly minted “financial advisers,” who was I to argue with this six-foot-five collegiate lineman as he passionately outlined his method of perception manipulation? Who was I to argue with a million-dollar income and cash on the barrelhead?

Who was I to be original in a world that ranked sales and profit above, well, everything? Who was I to be myself?

This is the old school, and, thankfully, a new school is emerging. The new school doesn’t eschew teamwork, but it questions uniformity. The new school doesn’t worship individuality, but it also doesn’t fear personality. The new school isn’t anti-profit, but it refuses to elevate sales above the personhood of the advisor or the best interest of the client.

While the old school is proprietary and exclusive, the new school is open-sourced and inclusive. The old school insists while the new school nudges. The old school deflects questions and denies suggestions for improvement while the new school welcomes both.

The old school crafts a narrative to which it requires conformity. The new school sees the benefit in allowing advisers to tell their own story and attract the clients who resonate with it.

The financial services industry is not the only realm where this is true. Insistence on conformity may be even more evident in professional baseball, where one of the MLB’s most promising young pitchers is putting convention to the test.

Daniel Norris is a 22-year-old surfer dude who lives in a WalMart parking lot. His ride, a 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia, doubles as his residence. His manner and method might cause any prospective employer to hesitate before bringing him into the fold. But his ability to mow down major league batters with a fastball consistently in the mid-90s earned him a $2 million signing bonus and a spot on the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster. Of course, he’s instructed his agent to limit his allowance to only $10,000. Per year.

Here are three reasons why nonconformity is working for Daniel Norris and could also work for you:

1. He’s authentic. He’s not being different just for the sake of being different. He’s not rebelling against convention as much as he’s being true to himself and his values.

The point isn’t to not be everyone else, but to be yourself. This means that if dark suits, white shirts, power ties and Cadillacs are your thing, that’s what you should wear and drive. But if you prefer no ties—or bow ties—and Levi’s, well, you get the idea.

2. He’s a great teammate. There are certainly players who’ve questioned his unorthodoxy, but no one questions his dedication. “He’s in great shape. He competes on the mound,” says Blue Jays assistant general manager Tony LaCava. “He has great values, and they’re working for him.” And for Toronto.

Being yourself doesn’t mean being on an island. Some, like Norris, might thrive off of extended periods of solitude, but our greatest work often complements and affirms the great work of others.

3. He’s good. Really stinkin’ good. His 11.8 “strikeouts per nine innings” ratio was the best in the minors last season, according to ESPN. And he’s competing for a starting role in the majors ahead of schedule. If Norris were just another dude living down by the river in an old VW bus, we’d never have known about it. That he throws a 96-mile-an-hour fastball low in the strike zone — while doing so in a way that is true to his values — is what makes him special.

If you do things differently, especially in the financial industry, you may well encounter some resistance. You’ll likely have to work harder to prove yourself. But if you do so with a high degree of excellence, you’ll earn the respect of your peers.

There are a growing number of financial advisers who have diverted from the conventional path, and to good effect.

Carl Richards drew criticism from many in the industry when he confessed his greatest financial sin, but a willingness to acknowledge his imperfection endeared him to those skeptical of the industry’s propaganda campaign regarding adviser infallibility (read: everyone).

Carolyn McClanahan gave up her career as a medical doctor when she failed to find a financial adviser who would focus on her as much as her investments. She went back to school and started a planning firm that centers on clients’ values and goals. She’s also become a recognized expert in all things money and medicine.

Recognizing the dearth of women in the advisory realm, Manisha Thakor seems to personify much that the field is lacking, this imbalance considered. Manisha became an industry thought leader, a voice for women advisors and clients.

Michael Kitces is, at heart, a nerd. He struggled with individual client interaction, but turned his passion for education and teaching into a thriving business as the adviser to advisers. “To do anything other than what I do, given my story, would feel like a violation of myself and who I am,” he told me.

How might your life and work look different if you took the same conviction to heart?

Financial planner, speaker, and author Tim Maurer, is a wealth adviser at Buckingham Asset Management and the director of personal finance for the BAM Alliance. A certified financial planner practitioner working with individuals, families and organizations, he also educates at private events and via TV, radio, print, and online media. “Personal finance is more personal than it is finance” is the central theme that drives his writing and speaking.

MONEY Estate Planning

This Is When You Actually Need to Make a Will

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Justin Horrocks—Getty Images

The simple answer will surprise you.

If there is one thing we need to get done before we die, it’s making a will, but you probably won’t find it on anyone’s bucket list. A lot of us never get around to it. In fact, more than half of Americans between 55 and 64 (presumably at or close to retirement) are without wills, according to a survey by Rocket Lawyer.

What that means is when they die, the state where they live will determine how their assets will be divided. (And if they are parents of minor children, the state may also decide who will raise them.)

Jim Blankenship of Blankenship Financial Planning in New Berlin, Ill., said the arrival of a first child is often what prompts couples to make a will. The desire to choose a guardian then leads to considering how the chosen person will fund the raising of the child. The other impetus for writing a will may come when a close friend or family member dies unexpectedly.

But it’s clear from the statistics that many of us either think we don’t need wills or that we’ll do it later. The real answer to when you need a will is when you have obligations or assets, Blankenship said. If, for example you’re just starting out and you used a co-signer to get a loan, if something happens to you, your co-signer is most likely on the hook for your debt. Or if you have children, then you have someone who depends on you. You’ll want to be sure you have insurance and a will to take care of them.

Homeownership can also prompt people to make wills, Blankenship said. In most cases, a home is both an asset and an obligation, and it should be included in a will.

For the very simplest wills, Blankenship said the kit type you can buy online or at an office supply store is probably adequate. You’ll need to be sure you get the version for your state. For more complicated situations (say, a second marriage, a business or more complex assets), you probably will want legal advice, he said. And remember that some assets can be passed to heirs outside a will — 401(k)s, IRAs, insurance benefits, “just about anything that has a beneficiary,” Blankenship said.

Will kits can walk you through making a will, step by step. The biggest mistake you can make, Blankenship said, is putting it off. The second-biggest, one he sometimes sees with his own pre-retirement clients, is failing to update it as life circumstances change, which is a great time to revisit your beneficiaries.

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