‘Budgeting’ has negative connotations for some, but it doesn’t have to be that way

In personal finance parlance, it is known as “the B word.” And not in any sort of positive way.

Budgeting, defined as the excruciating act of creating a personal or family summary of income and expenses for the purposes of determining what can be spent and (hopefully) saved, carries such a negative vibe that some alleged PF gurus claim you can effectively manage your money without it.

Not likely…

Look, it’s really a matter of what you want to accomplish, in life and specifically when it comes to your money.  Are you truly satisfied to wing it from week to week, month to month and hope you have enough to get by?  Or are you willing to put in a little effort, in the boring form of crunching numbers, to improve your circumstances?

If you are among the vast majority of folks who want to make financial progress ongoing, there’s no way around some version of monetary accountability.

Still, that doesn’t mean it has to be painful… or a pain in the posterior. Budgeting is actually relatively simple, if you decide to keep it that way. Here’s how:

Know as accurately as possible your monthly take-home pay

True, determining what you make isn’t always that simple.  Sales professionals who work on commission, for instance, can have a wide variation in what they make from month to month. But there are ways around this.  First, determine an average income.  Go back three months, six months, or whatever time-frame you believe can most accurately reflect your net pay, and come up with a “common” figure.

Obviously, if you are on salary, you simply need to take a peek at your paycheck, or observe the associated direct deposit in your bank account.

Now reduce that number by 20% for budgeting purposes.  For instance, if you’ve determined that your average monthly net income is about $3,000, reduce it by 20% ($600) and work with $2,400 as you figure your budget. The 20-percent fudge factor allows for errors and anomalies while also demonstrating to you (eventually) that you can get by with less than you think. What if you only make $1,500 in a particular month… are you going to have to move back in with your parents?  You may be nodding your head after reading this, but we both know you’ll do whatever it takes to avoid that scenario.

Make savings an integral part of any “spending” plan

Next take at least 5% of the $2,400 (10% is reommended), and mark it down as your monthly savings goal.  Yep, do it now… this resulting $120 for socking away in our example is important – commit to it, even before you figure out what your bills are.  That comes next.

Once you have your typical monthly income established, and your associated monthly commitment for savings, the next step is to mark down your fixed expenses.  These are the monthly bills that are the same every month – rent or mortgage payment, car payment, TV/internet bills, cellphone bill (in most cases), loan payment to Mom and Dad, etc.  It doesn’t matter what they’re for, if you pay them and they are constant, they should be included here.

Determine your expenses in two broad categories first

Now add up the total of your fixed expenses, tack on the aforementioned $120 savings figure, and come up with a total.  Then, take that total and subtract it from the $2,400.  The result is what you have available to spend monthly on what is referred to as discretionary spending – the costs that change every month, such as groceries, gasoline, and entertainment.

Guess what? You’re more than half finished.  Not exactly bamboo under the fingernails, correct?

OK, sure, I’m not claiming this is as fun as Space Mountain on Halloween. But it’s a lot less costly.

Be willing to go back through previous spending history

Now comes a little bit of effort, because you need to go back through your on-line banking or credit card receipts, and determine how much you’ve been spending on those discretionary costs.  My suggestion is that you separate them into the following categories:  groceries, eating out, gasoline, entertainment, and miscellaneous.

After you have those figures determined for the last month (ideally, figure out three months’ worth of each category and average for a more accurate monthly reference), take the monthly figures and add them up.  Compare to what your new budget “allows” you to spend.  Analyze what you’ve been overspending on, and what you’ve been more reasonable about. Adjust accordingly. Let logic and common sense be your guide.

For instance, let’s say your discretionary spending amount that you determined from your income/fixed expenses/savings portion of the budget is $600 per month. And you’ve determined you’ve been spending closer to $900 per month.  That means we need to find $300 to cut, but remember that we took your initial average take-home pay and cut it by 20 percent.  That was $600 lopped off the $3,000 average monthly pay, yes?

Decide on spending cuts if needed, but you don’t have to go overboard

So whatever we determine needs to be cut, it probably doesn’t truly need to be as drastic because we padded the initial income figure by using only 80 percent of it.  Are you with me?

In other words, you have some leeway… as long as you’re prepared to make some needed cuts when it’s obvious.  Are you going out to the movies a lot, or do you mostly stay in and watch Netflix? How ’bout fast-food?  That is the young adults’ most significant bug-a-boo, bar none.  Are you on a first-name basis with the folks at Carl’s Jr.?  If so, that has to change.  Cooking at home typically costs a fifth of fast-food, and a tenth or less compared to eating at sit-down restaurants.  How about at the grocery store?  Do you buy a lot of processed and/or name-brand foods, or do you focus on produce, dairy, and generic stuff?

After you have determined all your adjustments, be sure that the first thing you do at the beginning of each month is put the savings away. “Pay Yourself First” is a universally accepted personal finance adage for assuring you save regularly regardless of your budget.

Ultimately, as long as you’re willing to do a little self-analysis with what you spend, and make some common-sense alterations, it can be pretty simple and only a little painful.

If nothing else, make a commitment to avoid high-interest debt

Last item:  I could easily write 10,000 words about sensible budget decisions, cutting spending, etc.  But that isn’t the point of this post.  Instead, focus on the idea that getting basic organization in your financial life doesn’t have to be difficult and it truly doesn’t have to suck.

A huge take-away is this:  Whatever path you go, do your utmost to stay out of debt… specifically, credit cards that – speaking of sucking – will suck the life out of any possibility of you getting ahead with your money and ultimately being able to reasonably afford many of the things and experiences you desire.

As always, thank you for reading.

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DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

Worried about a market correction? I’m not, because it won’t determine my fate

As I write this weekly entry, the Dow Jones is coming off a gain of more than 200 points.  Despite predictions of impending doom by some, and the realistic acknowledgement from even the most optimistic of investors that the markets won’t go up forever, they continue their improbable ascent.

It’s a lot like late 2006 and most of 2007, when we hit record highs according to all the major benchmarks… right before falling to Earth like a rocket in 2008, reducing many account balances by almost half in a matter of months, even weeks.

So why am I not concerned about the inevitable decline?  What puts me in a position of being so confident?  Simple… I’m flat broke and, thus, have nothing to lose.

LOL… JUST KIDDING.  How I crack myself up.  Truth is, while my wife and I are far from being considered wealthy, we have some decent retirement savings… we’re doing OK.

And the really cool thing is that our funds aren’t invested in the markets.

“But Bob, you’re missing out on some of the greatest profits ever!”

That’s true.  And we’re perfectly fine with that.  Our nest-egg is invested in dividend-paying whole life insurance, which gives us a steady and predictable gain… with NO chance of loss.

None. Nada. Zilch.

Look, friends, unless you’re brand new as a reader on this site, you’ve read here before about how losses annihilate an account more significantly than the same rate of gain helps.  I’ve demonstrated how average annual rate of return is a fallacy.  Go up 25% one year, go down 25% the next… and instead of being even, you’re actually down 12.5%.  Reverse the order – down the first year, then up the second – and you’re STILL down 12.5% after the second year.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

And while it is absolutely true that we are missing out on some pretty sweet gains right now, it is without question that we will be better off over the long run than those who insist on riding the roller coaster.  History says so… and I’m not willing to buck a trend lasting more than 140 years.

“Okay, but hasn’t the S&P 500 averaged about a 10% return all-time?  That’s what I always read.”

Again, that’s a bogus average – taking all the returns and adding them up (since after The Great Depression, I believe), subtracting the losses, and dividing by the total number of years.  The effective return, according to Morningstar.com, was slightly better than 3%.  The effective return is how much your money would have actually grown.  Dividend-paying whole life insurance returns between 4% and 5.5% (depending on dividends) EVERY YEAR, and is tax-free when the money is correctly acquired via withdrawals of principal and dividends and/or non-qualifying policy loans.

It’s truly great having a fairly specific idea of how much money you will have at any given time in the future.

“If this is true, why doesn’t everyone use dividend-paying whole life insurance, and get the heck out of the stock market altogether?”

Many would if they knew about it.  And more and more people are going that route, thanks to the strategy getting more publicity from sources such as this blog.  Still, the same conventional drivel of favoring 401Ks, IRAs, etc. continues to be perpetuated by Wall Street, many personal finance gurus, and our federal government.  It’s a constant battle.

The purpose of this blog is to educate folks… primarily, younger adults and families… that there is a much better way than conventional retirement savings vehicles.  The key is starting NOW.  This superior approach offers more safety, liquidity, a steady rate of return, tax benefits, and a living benefit that allows for self-financing of major purchases and other handy uses that you simply can’t get from traditional savings and investments.

And I’ll continue to plug these in this space and others.  Slowly, the tide will turn in favor of Americans who, like myself, want to retain complete control of their finances at all times.

As always, thank you for reading.

***

DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

Earning more income these days? That’s great, but be willing to spend less anyway!

One of the more common mistakes that folks make regarding personal finance, especially you younger adults, is to believe that getting a raise at work should equate to raising your standard of living.

The smart money managers don’t think that way.

The common mindset for those who simply haven’t yet fully embraced the idea of getting ahead financially, rather than merely keeping up, is to dedicate those extra dollars into new and improved personal benefits… a more spacious crib (I’m so street), a nicer ride, new clothes, or whatever… rather than the simple step of increasing the amount you save every month.

Worse, many still aren’t saving yet and are spending all (or more) of their income, whether it increases or not.

Now please, don’t get me wrong.  If you earn a substantial raise at work (or even a modest one), there’s nothing wrong with a little celebration – going out to a nice dinner, or maybe a splurge on a new outfit not available at Ross Dress For Less.  You probably worked hard to earn that pay increase, and you should feel fine about enjoying the fruits of your labor… to a point.

If, however, you’re the type who figures out that your monthly take-home just went up by $75, and you’re trying to determine which additional expense you can afford, that you couldn’t before, you’ll never really get ahead monetarily.

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog for any length of time, you will know that I am not a proponent of the live-below-your-means philosophy, but I only feel that way in that I believe saving should not be considered part of the means formula.

To clarify, I’m saying that savings should come off the very top (remember, always “pay yourself first,”), before your means is determined.  If you do that, then it’s fine to live right up to your means, provided you don’t go over it by running up debt or doing something else ill-advised.

Of course, a common response to this is “that sounds all well and good, Bob, but I don’t have any money to spare. I’m barely getting by.”  It’s the most common refrain by a wide margin – people simply refuse to believe there’s anything in their current routine that they can go without, but when I press them about how often they eat out (including fast food), shop for goodies on-line, have coffee at the local coffeehouse, or go to the movies, their answers inevitably range from “occasionally,” to “well, a person has to live.”

Sure they do.  But when you eat fast food, can you focus on the joint’s budget menu rather than get the $8 No. 1 combo?  Couldn’t you simply spend less time thinking of crap you want to buy at Amazon or Overstock.com? Can you settle on a Tall rather than a Venti?  Might you go see a flick during the daytime and pay matinee prices?

And then they get a raise, and they start eating out more, frequenting Starbucks twice as often, add E-Bay to their binge shopping, and see movies they liked a second time, under the premise that “I can afford it.  I just got a raise.”

How about, instead, increasing your savings… and potentially knocking several years off your working life that can be added to your retired life?  I don’t know about you, but why in the heck would anyone work until they’re 65, when the ability to retire 10-15 years sooner (or even earlier) is available?  They like their work?  Great… they should put themselves in a position to dictate EXACTLY how much they do, how often, for whom, etc. by making income a non-factor.

To summarize, you don’t have to go without basic needs and a few wants in order to be smart with your money.  But if you’re not saving something every month without questioning it – preferably, at least 10 percent of your take-home pay – and committing it before you pay any of your expenses, you’re missing the financial boat.

If your tendency is toward spending instead of saving, you have a decision to make.  Have a little more fun now.  Or, with the amazing power of compound interest, have a lot more fun later… both in quality and increased number of years you can worry about playing instead of working.

Then, your next raise won’t matter.  Thanks for reading.

***

DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

Seven steps for successfully beating the credit card companies at their own game

By BOB CUNNINGHAM

There are many folks out there who believe the credit card companies (more specifically, banks and other institutions which offer credit cards) are evil entities, with no other earthly purpose than to suck as much money from unsuspecting card holders as is inhumanly possible.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Who else would have you pay more than $17,000 for a $5,000 loan by essentially tricking you into paying a smaller monthly (minimum) payment when you could easily afford more in order to pay less interest?

But I’m not really down on these financial firms.  The folks at Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, and Wells Fargo… at Visa, Mastercard, and Discover are like virtually all businesses out there.  They want to make a profit in order to grow their business to, in turn, make more profit.  It’s an American mindset that has worked well for a lot of folks, and allowed a lot of other folks to obtain gainful employment.

Still, trying to learn the subtleties of how credit cards work – what you can be charged for, how much interest you pay if you run a balance, and how best to take advantage of the myriad of offers for new accounts – is a daunting task, especially for younger adults and families trying to navigate their way out of too much month at the end of the money.

So with that in mind, here are seven steps for the personal finance newbie to consider that will allow for befriending the credit card companies and coming out ahead of them in their own arena.

1) Start off by obtaining one new card with a small line of credit in order to begin establishing a credit history.  Even if you’re fresh out of high school and have never had your own credit card of any kind, it’s fairly easy to obtain one if you have a job. And if you do encounter difficulties getting a traditional card, contact a company like Premier Bank that will allow you to pay into a card account in advance, then charge off your established balance.

2) With your new card, go ahead and make one or more SMALL purchases, adding up to no more than $200, and start paying it off with monthly payments.  The purchase doesn’t have to be something separate, and certainly doesn’t need to be anything you wouldn’t otherwise buy.  Use your card for gas and groceries a few times, for instance.  When you have roughly $200 charged, plan to make four monthly payments of about $50.

By doing this, you are establishing a credit history.  In four months, the account will be paid off (do NOT charge anything else during the period you’re making the monthly payments).  And you will start receiving offers for more credit, from other companies with higher credit limits, including perhaps an offer or two of 0% APR promotional rates.

The cost for this exercise in credit-building?  About $14, based on the average newbie interest rate of 21% (according to BankRate.com).  So if you pay off your $200 in four months – or, one third of a year – the full-year interest you would pay would be $42, divided by three = $14.  Fourteen bucks is a small price to pay when you consider all the benefits you will ultimately reap from a quickly-established positive credit history.

I should point out that stretching the $200 purchase into four payments is a much better and more effective way to establish credit than paying off the whole $200 during the first month.  Why is this?  Because the credit card companies want you to carry a balance.  They make a lot more money if you have a monthly balance owed, and they prefer you pay the minimum payment – a practice we will never, ever do during our life of savvy money and credit management.

3) If you’re offered a 0% APR promotional rate card, it’s okay to accept it but be 100% sure you understand all the terms.  Some cards simply want to acquire you as a long-term customer in the hopes you will buy stuff after the 0% intro period expires and end up owing interest.  This is fine, because you will learn the discipline and strategies to avoid that scenario.

There are other companies, however, that will try to small-print you past an annual fee of as much as $69… just to be an account holder.  Note this here and now:  NEVER PAY AN ANNUAL FEE ON A CREDIT CARD ACCOUNT.  If a company says it will charge you, tell them you’ll cancel the account and go elsewhere.  Simple as that.

4) Determine the length of the promo period on your new 0% card, decide a comfortable amount you’re willing to dedicate per month to pay off a purchase before that period expires, and pull the trigger.  Any time you can use OPM (Other People’s Money) to buy or invest without paying a fee or interest to do so, the only decision you need to make is whether you should make the purchase at all, because the method of payment has been intelligently determined.

For instance, let’s say the promo period is six months, there is no annual fee, and you are comfortable spending $50 per month for this purchase.  That means you can spend $250 – not $300, because we generally prefer to pay off the purchase a month or so before the expiration of the promo period.  This is simply a buffer to allow for unforeseen circumstances that might interfere with this payment.  Make the buy, pay $50 a month on it (always pay the monthly payment a few days before the minimum payment is due, and use online banking to establish the payment in advance so it becomes automatic), and have it paid by the end of Month 5 of the six-month promo period.

The idea behind this is two-fold.  First, you’re continuing to establish a better credit history.  Secondly, you’re learning the basics for OPM use that, down the road, can be done on a much larger scale with the purchase of asset-bolstering investments rather than a new gizmo or blouse and matching skirt.

5) Request credit limit increases on both of the first two cards you have obtained and used.  This can be done on-line at the card issuer’s website, or by phone to a toll-free customer service numbers.  You’re not interested in buying more stuff or more expensive stuff – that’s wrong-headed.  Instead, what you want is to maximize the available credit in your name but not utilize it.  That’s a key factor in establishing a great credit history that will allow you to qualify for the best-available financing on your first home, and/or maybe a car (although there are better ways to buy a car).

6) Seek out one or two more credit cards, focusing on those that offer cash-back rewards, but don’t get carried away.  Applying for credit means credit history inquiries, which are a temporary hit to your credit score, so they should be kept to a minimum.  That said, the small score deduction you will endure in the short run will be more than offset – fairly quickly – by having more available credit in your name, and the pay-off can add up fast if you’re able to acquire a card or two with meaningful cash-back rewards.

There are cards on the market currently offering quarterly cash-back of as much as 5% on certain types of purchases.  For instance, as I write this in August of 2017, the Chase Freedom card is offering 5% back at restaurants and movie theaters.  Others offer a flat rate of cash back on all purchases.

7) Use the cash-back card(s) smartly to maximize your benefit. This is very important, so please note:  Do NOT start buying things you don’t need, can’t afford, or wouldn’t buy were it not for the card and its associated perks.  If you typically go out to dinner once a week, for example, don’t start going six times a week.  But for that typical date-night dining, use the card with the 5% back on restaurants, and be sure to pay the entire balance off before the next minimum payment is due.

Look, we are no longer trying to establish credit.  You’ve achieved that already.  Now our focus is to take advantage of the available rewards without paying for the privilege in the form of interest.  DO NOT carry a balance!

Follow these steps, in order, and you will be a happy carrier of multiple cards, boaster of an impressive credit history, and will have paid a grand total of about $14 in the first four months for the accomplishments.  Pretty shrewd, dude!

Thanks for reading.

***

DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

Now that you know dividend-paying whole life insurance is the answer, here’s why…

By BOB CUNNINGHAM

Last week, I made the pronouncement that THE best thing you can do with your savings and investment dollars is to put them into a certain type of dividend-paying, whole life insurance.  I referred to the features and benefits of such policies, to illustrate why I have come to feel so strongly positive about these products.

But some additional perspective might be helpful, in the form of direct comparisons to the government-sponsored, conventional approaches promoted by so many self-proclaimed personal finance experts today.  (Remember, I am NOT an expert… but I am a licensed life insurance agent in California and, at the risk of coming across as full of myself, somewhat more knowledgeable in this area than most because I’ve studied this subject for most of the last decade, and I’m a graduate of SOHK – the School of Hard Knocks).

Okay, so why whole life insurance?  Here’s a breakdown:

Reason No. 1:  These policies offer clients virtually zero risk.  You’ll notice the word ‘virtually’ in there.  OK, technically, the insurance company that accepts your money and writes your policy could go out of business.  Any entity can.  But insurance companies rarely fail.  According to consumer research firm A.M. Best, less than 0.6 percent of life insurance companies have gone bankrupt outright since 1950.  Only a handful more had issues serious enough to require a take-over.  Some might point to conglomerate AIG and its need for a bailout about a decade ago.  But the equities investment arm of that company is what was on the brink of failure, not insurance.

And consider this:  If an insurance company does go down, the Guaranty Association will “insure the insured,” covering your cash values up to a certain figure and percentage.  Values and coverage vary depending on size, age of the policy, etc. but according to the California Department of Insurance, 80% of the cash value or death benefit (whichever applies) is paid typically.

Also, only a few of the more than 2,000 insurance companies nationally offer the specific types of dividend-paying whole life insurance that works best for this approach.  Stick to a company you’ve heard of and, well, your risk of losing your money is infinitely less than having it stuffed under your mattress at home.

Reason No. 2:  YOU control your own money at all times.  According to Douglas Andrew, the author of several pioneering personal finance books including his most famous, Missed Fortune, the most important characteristics shared by truly astute investments are:  safety, liquidity, and a rate of return.  He also adds tax-favored status as a factor that separates wise investments from the rest.

No. 1 above covered the aspects of safety, and the second point is the idea that you can access your money pretty much whenever you need it.  That is a seemingly basic but actually uncommon and invaluable control.  Conventional methods, such as saving in your company’s 401K Plan or in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), immediately restrict you from your own funds unless you’re willing to pay penalties.  With both 401Ks and Traditional IRAs, you pay a 10% penalty plus the full income tax hit if you try to get at your money before age 59 1/2 and/or if the account has been open less than five years.  In a Roth IRA, you can pull out your contributions if you wish, but not the gains without the aforementioned extra costs.

And, with the 401K and Traditional IRA, you also have a problem on the back-end. Even if you prefer not to, the government has a minimum required distribution clause – fully taxed, of course – beginning at age 70 1/2.  If you don’t take it, Uncle Sam will make the withdrawal for you and penalize you on top of taking the taxes due.  That, my friends, is complete LACK of control… of YOUR money!

Reason No. 3:  Your money gets a guaranteed and steady rate of return, with no chance for loss.  The normal basic ROR is 4-5%, plus any dividends paid out.  Dividends aren’t guaranteed, but the companies that specialize in these special whole life policies have literally paid out dividends every year going back more than a century.  Refer back to previous posts about the importance of steady annual returns versus the volatile nature of traditional investments such as stocks and bonds.  Losing money hurts more than gains help. With these policies, you simply don’t lose money, regardless of what the markets do, domestically or internationally.

Still, I must ask… could you invest your money elsewhere and possibly earn a better return?  Of course, but consider that the government programs littered with Wall Street mutual funds and other similar products often carry with them high fees as well as no guarantee of any return at all (and thus, no downside protection).  Insurance companies have some associated fees as well, true, but those are already factored into the return and dividends – and made known to you up front – rather than subtracted from the end results. And they are typically lower than the fees charged inside a 401K Plan, notes Tony Robbins in his personal finance best-seller of a few years ago, Money: Master The Game.

Reason No. 4:  Tax-free access, bay-bee.  This advantage is often the most misunderstood, so let me clarify.  Any monies you’ve paid in as premiums into a whole life policy, as well as dividends earned, can be withdrawn from the policy free of income tax.  Any other funds accrued in the cash value can be accessed through policy loans.  Loan proceeds are never taxable.

And although there are those who think the government intends to eliminate that last feature from these products, such talk has purportedly been going on for decades and nothing’s come of it.  Plus, if the law did change it would almost certainly affect only future policies not yet written, not current ones already on the books.

Reason No. 5:  The policy can include a feature that allows your cash value nest egg to grow even if you borrow from it, as if you didn’t borrow at all.  That sounds too sweet to be factual, but it’s completely true and actually pretty straight-forward.  Written properly, these policies allow for this huge benefit because the loan proceeds come from the insurance company’s general fund, NOT the actual cash values of the clients.  The cash values are just the collateral, thereby allowing them to stay in place and grow as if no loan had been taken against them at all.

So imagine having $25,000 built up in the cash value of your policy and you want a new car.  You can borrow the funds from the insurance company (without qualifying – just request it, and the money will be made available to you in a few days), and the $25K will still be accruing the guaranteed ROR plus be part of how your potential dividend is determined.

You are charged interest on the loan, usually about 5%, but with the roughly matching rate of return, the loan is costing you a net of nothing.  And, you can choose the terms for paying it back.  You can even decide NOT to pay it back if you wish.  If the insured individual dies, and there are unpaid loans on the books, the loan balance is simply deducted from the death benefit before it is awarded to the policy’s beneficiary.  It should be noted that for most financial planning strategies involving whole life insurance, it is recommended that policy loans be repaid.

With all these valuable advantages – and truthfully, I’ve only touched on the most basic benefits – it’s hard to imagine anyone choosing instead to let the government control his or her funds.  But that choice remains out there and selected by a whole host of folks, most of which simply have no idea that the proper kind of life insurance has living benefits rather than just a death benefit and is far superior to traditional approaches to saving and investing.

Continue to consider all your choices, and be savvy… because you CAN Build Wealth Early!  Thanks for reading.

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DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

Dividend-paying whole life insurance: The best financial strategy available today

By BOB CUNNINGHAM

Since establishing this personal finance blog last spring, I’ve alluded to a superior approach for allowing anyone to save money in a way that allows for maximum safety, a respectable rate of return that is free of income taxes, and the liquidity to access the funds that build up – plus have those funds continue to earn interest for you even while utilizing the money for purchases simultaneously.

But while I’ve touched on these different factors… given you varied teasers, if you will… I haven’t gone into much detail about the strategy of using properly-structured, dividend-paying whole life insurance as your primary savings vehicle.  And there’s a couple of different reasons for that.  1) I wanted to focus primarily on basic financial principles with this blog, because they aren’t taught with any degree of consistency but should be, with the idea that using the strategy I’m about to uncover is more of an advanced approach,  and 2) Even though I’m a licensed insurance agent in California, I’m still learning about the specifics of this technique and its plethora of “living benefits” to go along with the traditional death benefit.

In previous posts, we’ve covered the evils of government-sponsored investment/savings programs such as workplace 401Ks, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), and 529 Plans for college education expenses.  I explained how your lack of control over these instruments can subject your money to avoidable taxation, often ridiculously high fees, and an inconvenient (and needless) inaccessibility to your own funds.

We’ve also delved into the high-risk nature of investing in Wall Street via the equity markets; buying and selling real estate; commodities; collectibles; and just about anything else that will allegedly rise in value over time.

Despite the realities just mentioned in the preceding two paragraphs, the substantial majority of Americans continue to follow the herd and put virtually all of their hard-earned monies into these conventional accounts while holding their collective breaths wishing for steady appreciation and hoping not to get killed by taxes.

Why??????????????

Simply answered, because no one has ever bothered to show them a better alternative.  We hear, see, or read folks who purport to be personal finance “experts” (Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, David Bach to name three) claiming the conventional, government-controlled approaches are the only way to go and assume what they’re pitching must make sense… because we simply don’t know any other way.  These personalities tend to black-ball permanent insurance (of which whole life is a type), criticizing what they don’t know enough about and, frankly, likely have never taken the time to truly investigate.

So, myself and many who have preceded me have decided we will be the voices (or written words) of reason, truth, and logic.

And on that note, and without further adieu, allow me to briefly detail the advantages of utilizing the proper type of dividend-paying whole life insurance:

Enjoy an immediate death benefit, while building a nest-egg you can access anytime you want.  When you open the right type of whole life insurance policy, your pre-determined death benefit is good from the first day in the event something happens to you (or whomever is the insured on the policy), and at the same time you begin building cash value that you can access whenever you want – no waiting until age 59 1/2 to avoid penalties like there is with the government -sponsored programs.

To be fair, the Roth IRA will allow you to withdraw your contributions at any time without having to pay taxes or a penalty, but that doesn’t apply to any gains the account may have made.  With the whole life policy, you can access virtually all of your account with the right approach (either via withdrawal or non-qualifying policy loan).  Refer to your individual agent for guidance on how to accomplish this.

Know, within a reasonable level of certainty, how much money you can build over a given period of time at essentially no risk.  Although dividends are not guaranteed, the companies that issue the type of policy I am referring to here have enjoyed profits (and, therefore, dividends paid to policy owners) for well more than 100 CONSECUTIVE years.  According to Pamela Yellen at www.BankonYourself.com, these companies have profited every single year since before 1900 – that includes during The Great Depression, times of war, The Crash of 1987, and the recession we endured about a decade ago.

Utilize the unique advantage of borrowing against your policy’s cash value, while it continues to grow as if you had never touched the funds.  That’s because you don’t.  Set up properly, these policies allow for the loan proceeds to come from the insurance company’s general fund, with your cash value as collateral, meaning that the cash value itself stays in place and continues to work for you, earning a rate of return plus dividends.

Loans are tax-free, and don’t have to be paid back on a schedule, or at all if you choose. The flexibility of this type of account is unheard of.  You want to borrow from your cash value?  Just let the insurance company know how much you need.  And although a sensible, long-term financial plan utilizing these policies as retirement vehicles compels you to repay these loans (pay yourself back at a lower-than-market interest rate), you are NOT required to do so.  Any unpaid loan balances still in effect at the time of the insured’s death simply results in that owed money being deducted from the impending death benefit.

In the coming weeks, we will cover more features – in more detail.  Bottom line, you should be excited about what I’m introducing to you here.  This immaculate alternative to conventional investing will greatly simplify your financial life, and benefit you multiple times over on multiple levels.

Until next time, thanks as always for reading.

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DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

Focusing too much on Rate of Return can result in long-term costly mistakes

By BOB CUNNINGHAM

So many people who I talk to about personal finance and investing are obsessed almost exclusively with what the interest return is on their money, referred to as Rate of Return (ROR), without truly considering the risks involved.

And too many people assume that the stock market, real estate, and other forms of investing will always create wealth in the long run.  While it’s true that most accepted financial instruments have gone up over differing time periods in history, the assumption that it will always continue to do so, under all circumstances, is both ignorant and foolhardy.

Just ask the tens of millions of folks who saw their investments shrink by as much as 70 percent during the downturn that occurred in both stocks and real estate less than a decade ago.

Putting your money into the stock market or real estate can be a boon, sure.  But there are major downsides.  It’s gambling for all intents and purposes, and therefore doesn’t strike me as the smartest thing we can do with our life savings, the funding of retirement, attempting to pay for college tuition for our kids, etc.

Consider this.  As I have demonstrated in a previous post (or two), average ROR isn’t the same as the actual return you get.  If you have Investment A which earns exactly a 10% annual return over, say, five years, the average ROR for that time frame is, indeed, 10%.  Likewise, if you have the following results over a five-year span:  up 20%, down 35%, up 40%, down 5%, and up 30%, you have an average annual ROR of 10% as well (the five annual figures add up to a positive 50%, divided by five years equals 10% per year).

But when it comes to the actual numbers, the first scenario – 10% each and every year for the five years – gives you about $1,552 if you started the stretch with a $1,000, while the second scenario leaves you with just $1,348 – more than $200 less!!  How can this be?  It’s because losses hurt more than gains help.

Let me illustrate that point with a question:  If you have $100, and you lose 50% the first year and gain 50% the second, you should be back to an even $100, right?  If you bit and said yes, it’s because you didn’t take the time to do the math.  Fifty percent of $100 lost the first year leaves you with $50, followed by a 50% gain the second year which results in your account balance being $75 (50% of $50 is $25, added to the $50 = $75).

Your net return was zero, yet you lost 25 bucks!  Mathematical fact of life, my friends.

The actual stats can be confusing, I realize, but don’t miss the inclusive point, which is that steady gains are more valuable than big years followed by significant declines, or losses followed by gains, or the two inter-mixed.

Everybody has been told that you need to have your money invested in the stock market, which can be most easily achieved if your job offers a 401K Plan, and if not you can open up an investment account or an individual retirement account, and get your money in the market that way.  Now tell me, after what I have demonstrated above, are you really sure that’s the way you want to go?

As the expression goes, “there’s got to be a better way.”

Well, folks, there is.  I’ve alluded to it, but not delved deeply, in previous posts.  We’re talking about the proper type of cash value, dividend-paying whole life insurance.  It’s the strategy of many of the country’s wealthiest individuals, but it is a game-plan that those of more modest means can utilize effectively.  It has numerous benefits, some that will really blow your mind (as they did mine when I first learned about this concept) with no significant downside.

Next week, I will write a more detailed (but fundamental) explanation of how the correct type of whole life insurance can replace any and/or all of your other financial and investment instruments.

For now, here’s a teaser benefit:  You can know within about 90% accuracy how much money your policy will build, in advance, based on a fixed ROR combined with annual dividends that, while not guaranteed, have been paid out every single year for the last CENTURY by the top companies who specialize in these types of policies.  And all the while, your money isn’t invested in the ultra-volatile stock market, and so you’re not dependent on its whims.

Seriously, this stuff is really cool.  I look forward to going into more detail next week.  Until then, as always, thanks for reading.

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DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

Neither consolidation nor settlement is wisest for those seeking debt elimination

By BOB CUNNINGHAM

You’ve seen the ads plastered all over the internet:  “Pay off your debts for a fraction of what you owe!,” or “Consolidate your credit card debt into one, easy monthly payment.”

When you’re deep in debt, credit card debt in particular, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeking easy answers to suddenly and miraculously rid yourself of that burden.  Paying off four and even five figures worth of debt can be daunting, and seemingly impossible to achieve.  But as someone who has been there, I can tell you without reservation that you CAN do this on your own, and by avoiding the temptation for radical shortcuts, you WILL be much better off in the long run.

Before we go further, let’s make two separate but related points.  1) There is a moral, ethical obligation to pay all of an owed debt.  You borrowed the money, you should be willing to pay it back 100 percent (plus reasonable interest), 2) We will not be discussing bankruptcy here, because that is literally NEVER your best option, regardless of what some attorneys claim.#

#To reinforce my disclaimer that comes at the bottom of every post I write, this statement is an opinion only, and is NOT intended to be taken as specific legal advice.  I am a financial coach and licensed life insurance agent. I’m not an attorney.

There are, however, two somewhat radical yet more industry-accepted measures that can be taken for those in deep debt:  Debt Consolidation, and Debt Settlement.

Consolidation refers to hiring a company which specializes in the reduction and eventual elimination of unsecured debt.  The company helps you organize your debts and can negotiate on your behalf with the credit card companies for reduced interest rates, 0% periods to help you pay your debt down more quickly, and can arrange to take in your payments and then forward negotiated payments directly to the creditors.  Let’s be clear:  Consolidation companies help you with something you can readily do on your own, and charge you a monthly fee for the service.  But in certain circumstances, they can be of some assistance.

However, there are two primary negatives with working with a consolidation company.  First, as I just indicated, they’re not really providing any service that you couldn’t do on your own with a little effort.  You can call your creditors and ask for rate reductions, or request to have payments lowered and spread over a longer time frame in an effort to stay current.

The second downside is that signing up with such a company usually will be reported on your credit report, and can take as long as seven years – from the date of your final payment made to/through the consolidation company – before it is expunged from your record.  This information can lower your score and, thus, make it more difficult to qualify for more beneficial types of financing such as a home mortgage.

In most instances, consolidation is unnecessary and not helpful enough to justify the price – in terms of the monthly fee (typically $35-$75 monthly) or the detrimental credit hit.

Debt settlement is a much more aggressive strategy in which you’re essentially hiring lawyers to negotiate discounted settlements of the debt.  Say you owe Capital One $8,000, and you have no feasible way of keeping up with the minimum payments, and certainly no chance of paying more than the minimum in order to pay the balance off anytime soon.  The company might approach Capital One on your behalf and offer to pay a flat $4,000 within the next 30 days in order for the entire debt to be forgiven.  This is referred to, should Capital One agree in our example, as a “charge-off.”

Hold on!, you may be saying.  You’re telling me I can pay off an $8,000 debt for just $4,000?  Where do I sign?

Yes, it may sound like a Godsend, until you really peek under the hood of how this engine functions.  First off, where are you going to get the $4K to pay off the account within 30 days?  If you’re hoarding cash, you should have already used it to pay down your debt.  Assuming you don’t have that kind of scratch available, you’d have to turn around and borrow it from someone else.  How, in the name of sound financial planning, does that eliminate debt?

Another problem is that in most cases, and depending on the state where you live, that $4,000 “discount” on what you owe is recorded as income for you for tax purposes.  You would be liable for income tax on $4,000 at the end of the fiscal year… on money you never actually saw.  Be sure to consult with an accountant or tax attorney for specific details on your situation.

And the settlement company needs to get paid.  Want to know how?  By charging you a percentage of what they save you, sometimes as much as 25 percent according to Experian.com.  In the above example, that means $1,000 of the $4K discounted off the Capital One balance would be paid to the settlement company.

Also, the knock on your credit report for charge-off’s is significantly worse than just utilizing a consolidation company, and can take a decade to come off your report, says FairIsaac.com.

And didn’t I already mention the audacity it takes to justify paying less than what you actually, legitimately owe?  Sure, the credit card companies are rolling in it, and they often charge ridiculously high rates of interest.  Won’t hurt them much to contribute a little back to the common folk, right?  Perhaps, but it still ain’t right to pay $4,000 for an item you agreed to pay $8,000 for.  Period.

The truth is that you do not have to resort to such drastic measures, nor should you.  A little common-sense planning and spending reduction, following the advice of this blog and others like it that propose you handle your own issues prudently, and you can escape your debt much more quickly than it may seem now.

Forget consolidation, settlement, and other non-traditional methods.  Do the right thing, and pay your debt off as quickly as you can using good, savvy savings strategies.  You’ll feel a lot better about it, AND be fiscally better off as well.

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DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

Just this once, I’d appreciate your OK to take this finance blog off topic

By BOB CUNNINGHAM

Make no mistake – this is a website dedicated to personal finance… unconventional in many cases, in a world that constantly nudges you against your own best interests… but specifically about your money, nonetheless.

But for the second consecutive week, your visit here will not yield you some new, relevant information in the economic world.  I do apologize for that.  Please stay with me, however.

Last week, I wrote you a quick note asking you to excuse me from a new post due to illness – I had surgery to have my gallbladder removed, received doctor’s orders not to work for two weeks, and was in enough post-operative discomfort that proper concentration on work was challenging.  So I took the week off.  I promise it won’t happen often.

I’m feeling significantly better as I write this, and I certainly could attack a new angle in the world of personal finance with this post.  Instead, however, I’d like to request the opportunity for some inflection in light of recent events.  Your humoring of me by reading the following is most appreciated.

In the world of personal finance, and the accompanying “blogosphere,” we spend a lot of time discussing the best ways to save, spend, and invest our money – tools that are extremely handy, strategies that are surprisingly lame, and everything in between.

What we don’t talk enough about is enjoying the fruit of our labors, taking full advantage of how lucky we really are, sharing with those less fortunate, and so forth.

Now please don’t get me wrong – my recent illness was never life-threatening, and by this time next month I should be fully recovered from the ordeal.  Millions and millions of people are a whole lot worse off than I was even at the pique of my abdominal pain a week ago Sunday.  My perspective isn’t improperly altered.

But this did serve as the third reminder of the last five years that life can change drastically.  One minute, you’re going along fine with all your ducks seemingly lined up in a row.  And then suddenly, you learn that your father has died unexpectedly.  You’re cruising with everything planned, and falling into place as you had anticipated, and then BAM!  Your brother obtains a blood infection and is only 50/50 to survive.

Both these things happened in my life.

My brother’s illness came first during this stretch, and for six solid weeks I was doing virtually nothing except heading the 35 miles or so from my home to the hospital every day to check on his condition and try my best to keep my sister-in-law, niece, and nephew informed and calm.  Somehow, he had contracted pneumonia through a strep-throat like bacteria and his condition grew worse as he lay in the Intensive Care Unit, a ventilator inserted to help him survive.  He had become septic, and at one point the doctor informed us that he was “a coin-flip” to make it through, and if he did so, there was a good chance that he would permanently lose kidney function.  They had to do a juggling act, balancing a dangerously accelerated heart rate with declining blood pressure that made him susceptible to a crash.  Very, very dicey.

Ultimately, we were blessed with his recovery.  And, he regained proper kidney function just two weeks after leaving the ICU.  He was laid up at home for several months after the initial stint in the hospital, but today he’s doing just fine and back to work as a restaurant manager.

My dad had been battling multiple forms of cancer, active and in remission, but was feeling as well as he had for months when my son and I drove up to see him at his home not far from the south entrance to Yosemite National Park.  We had a nice visit, and he informed us that he was to have a review from his doctor the day after my son and I were leave for home, with the distinct possibility that he could be taken off of chemotherapy for as long as six months.  With that potential green light, my dad was hopeful of taking a road trip in his RV with my stepmother.

And he certainly looked and acted better.  My wife and I had gone up for a visit about two months prior and it was scary how sickly he looked at the time.  This once 6-foot-2, 215-pounds of brawn built by decades of working as a heavy duty equipment mechanic was 155 pounds and he had begun hunching over to the point that I was now taller than he.  I’m 5-10.  He had always towered over me, but not on this visit.

That trip forced me to start trying to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable.  He was 78, and I was realistic enough to recognize he might never get better.  That’s why the visit two months later when my son came with me was so very encouraging.

But in the following wee hours of the morning, barely 12 hours after my son and I had gotten home, we received the call that my dad was gone – passing away in the local Emergency Room after a coughing fit that apparently burst some blood vessels in his fragile lungs, a side effect of an immune system severely weakened by the months of chemo.

I was devastated, and embarrassingly unprepared for the emotional strain of his loss.  That was 2015.  Less than two years later, I endure the aforementioned illness requiring my own trip to the ER and, subsequently, surgery.  My maladies were nothing compared to what my brother and father went through, but when you’re laying in a hospital bed, all sorts of thoughts race through your mind.  It’s just human nature to ponder the what-if’s.  That said, there are also positive take-aways from the experience:

  • Be sure you live your life to the fullest while you’re healthy enough to do so.  Don’t be reckless, of course,  But don’t wait so long to smell the pizza that you never actually get to.  We get only one life, friends.
  • Be sure you’ve made the arrangements you need to make to assure your loved ones are taken care of in the event something happens to you.  THE dumbest thing you can possibly do is convince yourself that nothing will ever happen to you.  You simply don’t know that, nor do you have any real control over it.
  • And lastly, don’t forget to take the time – time after time – to tell your loved ones how important they are to you, and how much you appreciate them.  I’ve always loved my family – my wife, two sons, daughter-in-law, grand-daughter, parents, brother, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles.  But these days – before I got sick but, admittedly, not so much until after my dad died – I make sure everyone I care about most knows how I feel – frequently.

This is, after all, so very much more important than IRAs, online savings accounts, or even “pay yourself first.”   Please always keep the proper perspective.  Thanks for reading.

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DISCLAIMER:  This post represents the author’s opinions only.  In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment.  Results are never guaranteed.  Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.

My apologies: No new post this week

A QUICK NOTE FROM BOB CUNNINGHAM:  Unfortunately, I will be unable to post this week due to illness.  An abdominal issue forced me into surgery Sunday, July 16 and I’m now recovering (nicely, thank you).  I will return to this space for a new post no later than July 25.

Please take this time, if you would be so kind, to review some of my previous posts and submit comments.  Just scroll down, or you can refer to my list of Recent Posts on the right-hand portion of this page.  The battle to do the best and most with your money should never take time off.

Thank you for your time and understanding. See you next week.