Marital Agreements

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Thursday, April 20, 2017

If you are going to get married and you and/or your fiancé has some financial history, a marital agreement is worth exploring. The term pre-nuptial or pre-nup generally refers to an agreement where people getting married set out how they’ll handle issues – usually financial issues – in their marriage. Colorado is one state that allows agreements after a couple is married.  A financial advisor with expertise in these matters is a great person for you and your fiancé to consult on the terms you want, but ultimately you each need to have a separate attorney for legal advice on the agreement.

One common area to address in a marital agreement is how assets and debts are allocated in the event of a divorce. In Colorado, and many other states, assets that an individual brings to the marriage, has given to them during the marriage, or inherits during the marriage is separate property – not marital, so belongs only to one spouse – as long as it’s kept in that one spouse’s name. If assets increase in value, the growth is marital. A marital agreement can address this by saying that increases in separate property and/or income from separate assets are also separate. Debt is handled the same way, but debts are also contracts. Whoever signs for the debt is liable to the lender for it.

Spousal maintenance, which is what Colorado calls alimony, is also often addressed. A few years ago a Colorado statute giving guidelines for spousal maintenance was put into place. The formula can be found at https://www.courts.state.co.us/Forms/Forms_List.cfm?Form_Type_ID=71. Most judges tend to go with the guidelines, but a judge can use discretion. This is another area where a couple can agree on spousal maintenance in a marital agreement.

Why would a couple construct a marital agreement when they’re already married? Perhaps one of them starts a business and there is concern about either the potential liability or the potential upside to the business. If a couple is arguing about money, each of them being willing to take responsibility for their own decisions – and documenting that in an agreement – might make both spouses more comfortable.

Do you think that you’ll keep things easy by just living together? Better think again. If you get married and don’t have an agreement on how to handle your finances if you divorce, there are courts and laws with some general guidelines on how to settle things. If you live together, there aren’t a lot of protocols for deciding how to legally split things up. You can – and should – have a cohabitation agreement. It would cover some of the same things as a marital agreement. You can talk about how each of you divide assets and debts you’ve acquired jointly.

Legal agreements aren’t romantic. But neither are arguments about money. Think of the agreement like home insurance – you hope you’ll never need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.

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Financial Tips for Second Marriages

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

If you’re considering getting remarried, there are some financial issues to address. Whether your previous spouse predeceased you or you divorced, you’re probably bringing some assets and/or debts that predate your current relationship. You owe it to yourself and your new spouse to discuss your money situation together and agree on how to handle finances. You should seriously consider having a pre-marital agreement that details what will meet your joint needs and protect each of you. Many people feel that it’s awkward and unromantic to negotiate a financial agreement. Be aware that if you can’t discuss and agree on financial issues while you’re planning your walk down the aisle, you can rest assured that it will be more difficult to address financial disagreements if your relationship is strained.

First, you and your fiancé need to share information. There are many situations in a marriage where lack of candor can be a mistake, and this is definitely one of them. You each need to tell what your income is, what your assets are, and what your debts are. It’s fine to start with some general information, but before you tie the knot, share documents – tax returns, account statements, payment schedules. In Colorado (and many other states), what you bring to a marriage, inherit, or have gifted to you – and keep in your individual name is considered “separate property”. Your spouse doesn’t co-own separate assets or owe separate debts. There are at least two ways this can change. The growth in separate assets and debts is marital, even if it’s only in the name of one of you. Also, if you change the title of an asset or debt to joint, it’s now joint. So if you add your spouse to your investment account, you’ve made what the legal community calls a “presumptive gift to the marriage”, meaning it’s presumed you gave it to the marriage. Is there any way to change that? There are instances where the court has assumed a joint asset is separate, but you need a good attorney to have that happen.

Once information is exchanged, you and your beloved can talk in detail about how you want to handle family finances. There are basic items to discuss. What does a joint budget look like? How much do you want to put into savings each month? How do you handle your debts? It’s also good to discuss how financial decisions will be made. That’s a sweeping subject. It can include everything from whether either of you buy impulse purchases at the grocery checkout to how much research you do before buying a car.

A legal marital agreement should have all financial facts disclosed, be drawn up by an attorney, and you should each have your own attorney advise you on it. Unromantic? So is arguing about financial issues that you never discussed before getting married.

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Financial Impacts of Addiction

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Friday, March 17, 2017

The understanding of addiction as a health care crisis is growing in society. For purposes of this article, we’ll define addiction as a compulsion to use a habit forming chemical, such as alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, or prescription drugs, and drugs will be considered to include alcohol. In addition to the emotional trauma that addiction can bring to an individual and family, monetary impacts can be huge.

Chemical habits can be expensive. Money intended for household expenses might be diverted to buy alcohol or drugs. With intensive drug use, assets might be sold, accounts deleted, and credit cards charged to the limit. If someone other than the addict isn’t monitoring finances, financial repercussions can be devastating. Regardless of who is in charge of day-to-day money decisions and investing, both spouses should be familiar with how to access accounts and check them regularly. Even after an addict is drug free, it’s wise to keep a close watch on accounts and potential theft. Addicts occasionally relapse – sometimes more than once.

Another potential impact of addiction or chemical abuse is poor job performance. While some addicts are relatively high functioning or don’t use drugs at work, if there is impairment that negatively effects their job, it can result in missed work, lost promotions, reduced wages, or ultimately job loss. This can impact the individual as well as the entire family.

There are various forms of treating addiction. Several twelve step programs are free, although donations are accepted. There are counselors and therapists who specialize in addiction treatment. These services, generally with appointments at least weekly to begin, can cost a few hundred to thousands of dollars per month. If inpatient treatment is appropriate, a 21 to 30 day stay is often recommended with follow up treatment after discharge. This intensive treatment may cost tens of thousands of dollars, with health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act generally covering some of these costs.

With extreme use, an addict might resort to illegal acts to obtain drugs. Stealing from others, selling drugs, and violence to get money or drugs can result in arrest. Only individuals of limited monetary means are eligible for a public defender and legal fees to defend from charges can easily run to thousands of dollars. Any criminal record can impact future earning capacity and limit job eligibility. Some employers, through legal limitations or corporate policy, won’t hire an individual with a felony record.

Ignoring or denying a problem is one of the most expensive mistakes you can make. If you’re suffering from addiction, get help. Many people operate in our Happy Hour and Party Drug Society without drinking or using drugs. If you care about someone who is an addict who’s succumbing to the compulsion to abuse drugs or alcohol, encourage treatment. You can’t make an addict stop using, but you can set your own boundaries. And you can emotionally support your loved ones as they fight to overcome challenges.

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New Retirement

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Friday, February 17, 2017

The definition and expectations of a working life and retirement have shifted through the years. They continue to shift, both out of our changing desires and out of necessity. When the safety net of the Social Security system was introduced in the US, unreduced benefits were available at age 65, but life expectancy was only a few years beyond that. The changes in that system, at least partially, reflect the broader shift in retirement. People are living longer, which is good. But that means that we need resources to support us for a longer period of time. That means we either need to work longer, save more, or a combination of both.

An important issue that’s related to the financial issues is what to do in retirement. If you’ve got a stressful job or work in an unpleasant environment, you’re probably saying to yourself that you’ll have no problem deciding what to do with all the time you’ll have on your hands in retirement. But, like many aspects of life, sometimes we tend to romanticize things.

Barry LaValley, founder of Retirement Lifestyle Center, has noticed some trends in the emotional reaction people have to retirement. The two or three years immediately prior to retirement are full of excitement, but often the first year of retirement is stressful. Work gives structure to our daily lives, a sense of identity and purpose, and often a social network. After the first year, people find things to do and develop new structure resulting in a honeymoon phase with retirement that lasts a few years. They’re still healthy and have found things they enjoy doing. The retirement activities become routine after a while and after a few years of the new schedule, people tend to be disenchanted.  After a few more years, people re-orient over several years, then become content.

One wild card that impacts many people is poor health. For this reason, doing many of the desired retirement activities in the early years makes sense. Travel, golfing, and being with young grandchildren might not be possible if there are health concerns. The spending patterns in retirement tend to follow these stages. The first few years tend to be big spending years. Then spending declines for several years, but increases again when the cost of declining health become an issue.

Consider a new retirement approach. Phasing out of the workforce rather than an abrupt end to working – what financial professionals sometimes call a “cliff retirement” – can be a less stressful transition and ease the financial burden. It can enhance the sense of fulfillment, keep ties with professional people, and allow a flexible schedule for travel, golf, and other retirement activities. If you’re interested in reading more about a phased retirement, look at The New Retirementality by Mitch Anthony. Open your thought to the possibilities of changing the way people retire.

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What to do?

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When there is a big world event – especially one that seems to have an impact on economic markets – many people wonder what they should do in response to protect their financial well being.

The best time to protect yourself from a financial downturn isn’t when the downturn happens. It’s before it happens. If you live in the part of the country that regularly has tornadoes, you don’t start building a storm shelter when you see the sky getting dark. You build the shelter during good weather and keep it stocked with the things you’d need if a storm hits – food, water, batteries, flashlights, candles, and blankets. To prepare for financial storms, have a balanced financial situation. It’s good to have some money for long term goals invested in the stock market – in the US and abroad – and to have some money in more stable accounts like certificates of deposit, bonds, or bond mutual funds. You also need savings in something stable like a bank savings account or a money market fund. The point of the money in savings isn’t to make money, it’s to avoid losing money and to have if you need to pay for an unexpected expense or for your living expenses if your income is interrupted.

Next, recognize what impacts you and what doesn’t. A worldwide financial catastrophe impacts everyone. And some big financial events have ripples that can touch us all. But a negative event that happens thousands of miles away doesn’t necessarily impact you directly. When there are effects, go back to the planning you did ahead of time. If needed, tap into your savings. But don’t react in a panic to something that doesn’t effect you. It can have the self-fulfilling negative impact of becoming a bad incident for you if decisions are made out of emotion, instead of well thought-out conclusions.

In making short term and long term decisions about your financial situation, be realistic about what you can control and what you can’t, then plan accordingly. You can’t control the weather, but you can control if you have insurance to cover weather damage to your home or vehicle. You can’t control if your boss is always in a bad mood, hiring and firing people on a whim. But you can look for a more stable job if you find yourself with an irrational employer.

If you are surrounded by negative or uncertain news, look for stability and for opportunities. If you’re in a store with some items on sale, you don’t run from the sale items in fear. You look to see if there are some bargain items you can use. Is a slump in the stock market a bad event or an opportunity to buy good quality mutual funds at bargain prices?

You can’t always control world events, but you can control how you plan for them and how you react.

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Unexpected Cash Flow Crunch

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Just about everyone gets surprised by a month that has more expenses than income. As with any unpleasant surprise, how we handle it can determine whether it turns into a long term problem or just a short term bad situation that we learn from. Here are some ways that might help with cash flow and, depending on the next steps you take, keep it from causing you angst in the future.

While dealing with the cash flow crisis, rethink your needs and wants for the short term. Trimming some spending around movies, restaurants, weekend trips, and other niceties for a while may get you out of your tight financial spot. Then you can have some of these luxuries go back into your spending patterns. Look in your pantry and freezer. Most people who grocery shop regularly have some canned goods and frozen foods that can be a good meal at home. Cooking instead of eating fast food or living off heat-and-eat foods can also save money. An entrée or meal with a few different food groups that you make in bulk from scratch may feed you for several meals of leftovers, cost less than the convenient pre-made items, and actually be better for you.

Don’t let sunk costs trick you into spending money. A sunk cost is a business concept that is basically money that was spent that you can’t recover. Let’s say you’d planned a weekend trip to the mountains and have already put down a non-refundable deposit on a condo or hotel room. You’re hit by a surprise budget crunch and are trying to decide if you should go on your trip or not. While there might be some variations of a right answer, don’t let the deposit weigh too heavily in your decision. If that lodging payment is a small piece of the entire cost of the trip, you might be better off seeing if the money can be applied to a future stay or accepting the loss, rather than spending several times the amount of the deposit to avoid having it go to waste.

If you work at a job where there is an opportunity to pick up some extra income, do it. Two things that can generally be traded are time and money. We pay extra to have someone do our laundry, yard work, or prepare meals. If we need money, using some of our leisure time to get extra money is a practical trade off.

All these austerity measures, of course, assume that you don’t have enough in savings or credit card availability to take care of the financial crunch for the month. This is evidence of a bigger financial concern for the household. While getting through this short term problem, take a close look at your income and expenses. And be willing to make major changes to avoid tight financial times in the future.

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Your Money Script

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Views about money come from our upbringing, our personal experience, and the people who influence our opinions. When these financial feelings become extreme, they can lead to dysfunctional decisions, so making yourself aware of any severe money attitudes can help you achieve your financial goals. The Klontz Money Scripts were developed to identify some common negative financial scripts to help financial professionals assist clients in meeting goals.

Money Avoidance is the belief that money is bad or undeserved. Money avoiders feel fear, stress, or anxiety. Their concerns may lead them to be their own worst enemy in regard to finances. Their beliefs include that money corrupts people, that there is virtue in having little or no money, and that it’s not likely that rich people are good people often mean that they don’t make decisions that will have good financial outcomes.

At the other extreme is the money script of Money Status. This attitude relates a person’s self-worth to financial worth. Rather than concentrating on goals of the greater good or personal satisfaction, these people concentrate on acquiring financial things, to the detriment of their happiness, well-being, and sometimes even their health. They are aware of socio-economic class and are competitive with those around them in regard to acquiring financial status. Ironically, many people with this outlook are not very wealthy.

Money Vigilance is a state of mind in which people feel shame and secrecy about money. It doesn’t matter whether or not these folks have a lot of money or not, they cannot comfortably discuss or share information about money. While an individual’s money situation isn’t generally a topic for public discussion, the money vigilant aren’t able to even share information about finances within their immediately family. They are unable to spend without guilt or enjoy financial benefits available to them.

Money Worship is a belief that money is the solution to everything, which is a common belief among Americans. People who believe this also often believe that money is the source of happiness, that they can never have enough money, and are distrustful with people in regard to money. Many people with this attitude have low income and tend to carry credit card debt that they can’t pay off each month.

Like so many areas of life, balance is a good way to make goals realistic and manage day-to-day finances. Extreme actions and beliefs, especially ones that are harsh and judgmental about a life necessity like money, make achieving accomplishments difficult. In regard to money, it can be something that is part of your life without becoming the driving force, a source of stress, or a cause for shame. You can earn money in a career you love, and spend and save with your financial resources. Keep your finances in perspective, giving money neither too much nor too little control over how you see yourself and those around you.

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So What Do All Those Letters Mean?

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Many of us look to professionals to give us valid financial planning and investment advice.  This seems reasonable.  People choose to have a professional help them with many aspects of their lives.  It may be having a competent attorney write or review your will or having a professional auto mechanic change the oil in your car.  In some areas, their is really a need for professional help to guard against making costly mistakes and protecting the interests of the ones we care about, including ourselves.  Other times professionals are more a matter of convenience.  (I never wash and iron my cotton dress shirts.  It’s not that I can’t, I just don’t want to take the time and the folks I take them to do a better job.)  Financial planning and investing are areas where many people choose to have some degree of professional help.  Lots of times professional qualifications can pay a big role in deciding who you ask to help you.  All of the designations and initials that can get thrown at you can be confusing.  Here is a basic primer on what some of those designations entail.

CFA
A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is someone who has completed an extensive set of examinations on ethical and professional standards, tools and input for investment valuation and management, asset valuation, and portfolio management.  There are also professional experience requirements.  CFAs often work as institutional money managers or stock analysts.

CFP
A Certified Financial Planner (CFP) is predominantly involved with individual clients.  A CFP is required to have educational expertise and pass a test covering estate planning, income tax, retirement, insurance, and investments.  Also, they must have applicable work experience and subscribe to a code of ethics.  A CFP may or may not hold licenses to sell investments or insurance.

CLU
Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) is a designation held mostly by life insurance agents.  They have completed a college level curriculum of 10 college level courses, have at least three years of professional experience, and subscribe to a code of ethics. With 3 more courses, they can become a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC).

CPA
A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) has an extensive education in accounting, has passed an extensive exam, received from state accountancy boards, and qualifying work experience.  The knowledge and experience of CPAs about investments will vary.  The American Institute of CPAs issues the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) designation also.  A PFS designee has passed an additional test and has professional experience in personal finance.

Enrolled Agent
Enrolled Agents (EA) must pass a test on tax law.  They are authorized to practice before the IRS.  Like CPAs, the knowledge and experience of independent EAs about investments will vary. If you want financial planning from an EA, look for additional designations.

MBA
This is a graduate degree in business, a Master of Business Administration (MBA).  The degree will vary with whether or not there is a specialization to their degree.  It may be a general degree which covers a broad base of business issues or it may have a special focus.  You may find a great deal of comfort in working with an MBA in Finance, but do you want to take financial advice from someone with an MBA in Marketing?

Registered Representative
These professionals are also often referred to as stockbrokers or investment representatives.  These people are generally licensed to sell some type of securities.  They are generally versed in the types of investments for which they are licensed, but their experience and training in regard to financial planning varies with the individual.

RIA
A Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) has registered with the Securities and Exchange commission or a state securities agency to be able to charge for investment advice.  The registration requires a listing of qualifications and business practices.  The appropriate regulatory agency can perform examinations of RIAs to see that they are complying with applicable laws and record keeping requirements.

In choosing your financial professional, look at the qualifications that meet your needs.  If you expect them to help you with financial planning as well as the actual investing of money, you should get a sense of their qualifications in both areas.  Also, an understanding of what they are licensed to do will sometimes explain why your planning and investments take a given turn.  For instance, if your financial professional is only licensed to sell insurance and is not licensed to sell securities, that may have something to do with the fact that your retirement plan, your kids’ college fund, and all your other long term goals are funded solely with life insurance.  Also, if your professional is not licensed to sell insurance, that may explain why they think you don’t need any.

You should also have a sense of how your professional gets paid for their services. Many consumers are now seeking out fee-only advisors. Even in that arena, there are differences.  Some charge hourly, some charge a flat fee for specifically agreed upon advice, some are paid a percentage based on assets you own that are held by them. If you want a fee-only planner, don’t be confused by someone who says they’re fee based. They could charge fees or they could be paid through commission from products sold or some combination of the two. If your questions about how they are paid aren’t answered well, you might want to consider another professional.  Answers like “It’s all built in”, which refuse to specify how and how much are red flags.  Most financial professionals are not one person non-profit agencies, so you have a right to know how they’re paid.  As a consumer, it’s not an area where you should be too stingy either.  Someone who helps you meet a long term financial goal shouldn’t make more money than you do from the advice, but they should be compensated for their work.

Don’t ever forget to follow your gut reaction to someone.  Working with someone you trust is one of the most important criteria.  All the credentials, degrees, and fast talk in the world can’t outweigh the need for honesty.

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No Green Bananas?

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Monday, October 3, 2016

Very often, retirees or people almost in retirement don’t want to hear about issues involving their money if it suggests any type of long range view of things.  Often I’ll talk to someone in that category about the long term performance of something relevant and they’ll reply that they don’t even want to look at long term issues and that they “don’t even buy green bananas”.  While that makes for a great come back, it may be more short term in nature than is in the person’s best interest.

The biggest problem with a “no green bananas” attitude is that it assumes one of two things of which you can’t be sure.  One assumption is that inflation and whatever you currently have your money in will cooperate so that you will have as much money as you need for the rest of your life.  The other assumption is that you aren’t going to live long enough for it to matter.  Both premises are pretty risky.

There’s good news in retirement planning and it’s that people are living longer.  That means more time in retirement than your parents and grandparents had.  It may mean that instead of having 10 years or less in retirement, most of you will have 20 or even 30 years.  What can be bad news is outliving your money.  It doesn’t take a Harvard economist to figure that if you’re going to be in retirement longer than your predecessors, you need to save more money and make it work harder to have the lifestyle you want in your Golden Years.

In terms of making your money work harder, you’re more likely to get higher returns over the long haul with some type of equity.  CDs and money market funds are safe, but don’t really pay much – especially these days. And what little money you make in interest is subject to income tax. So even with low inflation, you might not even be breaking even.

The other important factor to consider is that you should not have all your money in the same place.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is that you probably need your money to do different things.  Some of it needs to be available for emergencies, some needs to produce income, and some needs to grow for the long term.  (There are those green bananas, again.)  The other main reason is that almost any investment will have good years and bad years.  Some years bonds have performed better than stocks.  Most years stocks have performed better than bonds.  Some years, the money in your mattress may be your favorite investment.  If you have your money spread around in a variety of places short term events should not cause you major problems.  Being willing to look into different alternatives can certainly help you get where you want to be financially and actually help reduce some of the risk of having all your eggs in one basket.

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Your Social Capital

By Linda Leitz - Last updated: Tuesday, September 6, 2016

One of your biggest financial assets is you and your professional potential. Part of how you make the most of your ability to earn at your desired level and have a fulfilling career is your social capital, which is the academic term for your personal and professional network. You may have natural social capital. That’s your family, as well as the people you meet through work and other activities, past and present. You can develop your social capital.

There are three primary aspects of social capital – obligations and expectations, information channels, and social norms. Obligations and expectations involve the give and take of relationships within the network. Think of this in the vein of the old fable of stone soup. Someone puts a rock in a pot of boiling water and everyone who wanted some soup had to bring something to share – a potato, some meat, spices. The stone and water alone aren’t even a meal. But individual contributions and strengths make it good for everyone who participates. So with social capital, you need to give what you can and be respectful of other people’s contributions.  Think of a networking event. If you listen to what people tell you about their business, what type of services they offer, and what type of clients they’d like to meet, you’re making the right steps toward your obligations. It’s also reasonable to expect people to listen to your offerings and needs. But you can’t be a viable participant only by selling your services.

Information channels allow appropriate communication. In the example of a networking event, you might exchange business cards with the folks you spoke to. You establish regular communications to make those relationships grow and prosper. That doesn’t mean that everyone you meet needs attention. But concentrate on the people where you have something to offer each other.

Social norms in social capital can be as general as common courtesy or as specific as what constitutes appropriate attire. One way to ascertain the norms for your social capital is observation. See how people interact, what they wear, how they keep in touch. Another is to ask someone you trust. And different groups in your social capital might have different norms. You probably don’t need to wear professional attire to meet with your neighbors, but wearing the clothes you wear to mow your lawn when you’re at work is probably not a good idea.

One of the best ways to make the most of social capital is to listen more than you speak when you’re with someone who’s a good contact for you. Ask thoughtful questions that can help you decide the direction you want to take your career, express respect for the person’s expertise and experience, and ask for their opinion. If your social capital is going to pay big dividends, nurture relationships and do your best to contribute what you can.

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