SH&J Blog

Protecting the Recently Deceased from Identity Theft

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When a loved one passes away, there are so many things to do in the midst of grief. The last thing on a grieving mind is the risk of identity theft of the person who has recently passed away. Sadly, hackers have reached a new low by taking advantage of such a sorrowful time.

Identity theft hackers have been using information from hospitals and obituaries to steal a deceased person’s identity and file a fraudulent tax return. According to an AARP article, “With a name, address and birth date in hand, they can illicitly purchase the person’s Social Security number on the Internet for as little as $10.”

The term for this ugly practice is commonly referred to as “ghosting” because it can take six months for financial institutions, credit-reporting bureaus, and the Social Security Administration to register death records. This gives the “ghosting” hackers plenty of time to cause a lot of damage. Thankfully, the surviving family members are not necessarily responsible for the financial destruction.

To make it even worse, an article from ABC News warns of a “disturbing pattern of identity theft of financial information belonging to people who were dying. It’s easy to see how that could happen, since people who are gravely ill can easily lose track of the details of their finances.” Therefore, it is always important to help protect the identity of a loved one, especially one who is ill as well as the recently deceased.

The AARP article lists suggested steps to take after a loved one’s death, such as not including a date of birth or any personal identifiers in an obituary and mailing a death certificate copy to the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Consumer Action provides a more extensive list of steps to take to protect the identity of a deceased person.

If you would like to discuss identity theft protection with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER®, please call Sharkey, Howes & Javer at 303-639-5100 to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Inside the Economy: Chinese Stocks & The Fed

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On this week’s Inside the Economy with SH&J, we discuss the Fed’s recent rate increase. Is there an end in sight for these rate hikes? We review manufacturing indexes both domestically and globally. The U.S. remains in a slow growth mode, but what about the rest of the world? Over a billion dollars left the Hong Kong stock market recently, is recent performance to blame? Tune in to find out!

What to Do Now: Financial Advice for Your 40s and 50s

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For many people, their 40s and 50s are still a period of financial transition. Some people are opening their own businesses while others are considering retirement. No matter where you are at this point in your life, it is likely that you still have some financial goals to work toward. These tips may help you work towards a brighter and more financially secure future.

Pay into Retirement

If you have an employer sponsored 401(k) plan, we suggest creating a goal to contribute the maximum amount allowed based on the IRS limits ($18,500 in 2018). Alternatively, if you own a business and don’t have a 401(k) through an employer, you can may be able to set up your own retirement plan to contribute with tax-deferred funds.

While you are adding money to your savings regularly, also make sure to project your savings, ensuring you are on the right track. If you feel like you’re off track and you’re over the age of 50, you can contribute an additional $1,000 to your IRA and $6,000 to your 401(k) to help catch up.

Monitor Stocks and Bonds

It is important to keep your stock/bond allocation near it target design and may require periodic rebalancing of the account. This is something you should discuss with your Financial Advisor.

Consider Life & Long Term Care Insurance

Life insurance policies can be important if you have children or any other dependents. If you were to pass away suddenly, your dependents may rely on life insurance proceeds to maintain their standard of living.

You might also consider long-term care coverage, especially if you are in your mid-50s. If you are ever in a position later in life, with illness or injury where you need assistance with daily tasks, this type of insurance plan may pay for these expenses.

Pay Down High-Interest Debts

Credit cards, student loans, and some car loans are all high-interest debts. You can use one of several techniques to fight debt. You should always start with a budget so you can determine what exactly you can afford.

Then, you need a battle plan. Will you use the snowball method to start with the lowest balance and work your way up? Will you use the avalanche method and start with the debt that has the highest interest rate? You can discuss strategies with your financial advisor to establish the right plan.

Consider Social Security Benefits

When was the last time you estimated your Social Security benefits? This is a good time to assess whether you have the ability to delay until age 70 to collect the highest monthly payment in the future. Knowing which benefits will be available to you in the future can help you with this decision.

Create a Retirement Plan

A retirement fund is great, but you also need a retirement plan. Will you be moving into a smaller home? Are you considering buying a home in an area with a lower cost of living? Will you be refinancing your home to lower your debt?

Your retirement plan should take into account your current budget, current savings, and future savings but also consider what it is you want to do in retirement with your time. Are you setting aside enough right now to meet your goals in 10 years? 20 years?

Update Your Estate Planning

Review your estate planning documents and make necessary updates. If you have been divorced, remarried, or added new children to your family, you may want to change your beneficiaries. Also If you have accumulated new assets, your estate plan should be reviewed. Furthermore, changes in tax law might also impact your estate plan.

Connect with a Financial Advisor

Building a relationship with a financial advisor you trust can be beneficial for planning your financial future. An advisor can create a customized plan tailored to suit your needs. Sharkey, Howes & Javer can help you plan for retirement. Get in touch today to learn more about your options.

What to Do Now: Financial Advice for Your 20s and 30s

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Becoming financially savvy can take decades. Each stage of life poses different challenges, some of which can make smart financial choices seemingly impossible. While it’s inevitable that there will be financial slip-ups throughout your life, following these tips in your 20s and 30s can help build a solid foundation for healthy finances.

Create a Monthly Budget

It is very difficult to save responsibly if you don’t first learn how to spend responsibly. Establish a budget, even a simple one, so you can track where your money is going. Remember: no budget is set in stone. You can always revisit your budget in a few weeks, months, or years to reassess your income and needs.

One popular and simple technique for budgeting is the 50/30/20 method. First, use 50 percent of your after-tax income on necessities like rent, groceries, insurances, and auto payments. Next, 30 percent of your income goes to your wants like shopping, travel, and entertainment. The remaining 20 percent of income goes right into savings.

Avoid Credit Card Debt

Credit cards can be a powerful tool, but to avoid losing money on interest payments, you need to pay off your balance in full each month. Spending only as much as you can pay off by the end of the month limits your credit card spending and can prevent you from falling into a pit of debt.

If you are already in debt, set up a repayment plan now and no matter what, avoid paying your credit card bills late. Playing catch-up puts a heavy strain your budget.

Create a Retirement Fund

Many employers offer a matching program for 401(k) retirement accounts. If available, your employer will match your annual contribution to your retirement account, typically up to a certain percentage of your salary or up to a dollar for dollar limit. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of this program. With a traditional 401(k), your contributions will not yet be taxed, allowing additional savings to accumulate.

If your company does not offer such a program, consider setting up a Roth IRA. The benefit of a Roth IRA is the funds can grow tax free.

Diversify Investments

Investing in stocks while you’re in your 20s and 30s gives you plenty of time to let your money grow, but you should be careful not to put all of your eggs in one basket. The stock market is unpredictable and an undiversified portfolio carries a greater amount of risk. Consider multiple assets classes and products like mutual funds and ETF’s which spread your investment across a wider range of different companies.

Monitor Your Credit Reports

Even if you do not plan on making major purchases in the next few months, routinely check out your credit reports. Each reporting bureau must offer one free report per year, but you can stagger your reports from each agency to receive one every few months.

A higher credit score helps you receive better rates on loans and may help you avoid hefty deposits on rentals, utilities, and more as you work to establish yourself financially. When you check your reports, be sure to verify you have not been a victim of identity theft and no one else has taken out credit in your name. Consider placing a credit freeze at each of the three credit bureaus if you do not have a need to access credit soon.

Maintain Health Insurance Annually

Even if you are healthy, you don’t want to skimp on health insurance. Whether you get a plan through your parents, at work, or from the marketplace, you are potentially saving thousands of dollars on a trip to the emergency room.

Medical care is expensive, so any coverage allowing you to pay less for in-network health care is beneficial. Preventative care, like vaccines and check-ups, are often covered and not subject to your deductible. After you meet your deductible, your healthcare costs are reduced while individuals without healthcare coverage risk paying for serious medical care.

Build an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund should cover at least three to six months worth of expenses in case you were to lose your job or become unable to work. This fund also prevents you from going into debt because of unforeseen circumstances, such as your car or air conditioning unit breaking down. Statistics show that most millennials could not pay for a surprise $1,000 expense.

Consider Financial Planning

Having questions about your financial future is natural. Financial planners understand the challenges young people face when they begin setting themselves up for success. If you are ready to set up a complimentary consultation with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, contact Sharkey, Howes & Javer today.

Inside the Economy: Trade, China, & Corporate Profits

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On this week’s Inside the Economy with SH&J, we turn our focus to the Guangdong province in China. Guangdong is used as a barometer for how global trade is doing. With the talk of U.S. tariffs over the past few months, how has this affected manufacturing and exporting in Guangdong and what does it mean for global trade? The U.S. stock market is continuing to flirt with all-time highs, are corporate profits growing to sustain the stock valuations? Tune in to find out!

What is Filial Law

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Filial Laws impose responsibility on a third party to cover support for poverty-stricken parents and relatives. The concept is derived from a term called filial piety, which is a key virtue in Chinese culture. This virtue essentially stands for respecting and taking care of elders. In more modern context, these laws allow the states to go after the assets of adult children if their parents were on government assistance. This issue often comes up if there has not been proper planning for long-term care needs.

With baby boomers growing older and living longer, almost 70% of people will need some sort of long-term care in their lifetime. Many people do not have the ability to purchase long-term care insurance, so they rely on their own assets to pay for care until they can qualify for Medicaid.

One of the most recent examples of these laws being enforced happened in Pennsylvania in 2012. In the case of Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas, the court ruled that a son was financially responsible for his mother’s nursing home costs during the 6 months that she spent in the facility. The total debt that the defendant had to pay was $93,000.

Filial Laws in Colorado?

There are currently 30 states in the Union that have Filial Responsibility Laws, but Colorado is not one of them. Just because you live in a state that doesn’t have these laws, doesn’t mean they may not affect you. If your parents live in a state that recognizes Filial Laws (say, California for example), you could still be held responsible for paying for their care.

These laws rarely come into play because there are certain requirements that need to be met for them to apply. One of these requirements is that the plaintiff has to have reasonable belief that the relative they are suing has the means to pay the outstanding bill.

If you or anyone you know is concerned about how to plan for long-term care expenses as part of your overall financial plan, contact Sharkey, Howes & Javer to meet with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.

Inside the Economy: New Stock Market Highs

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On this week’s Inside the Economy, we discuss the current bull market for the U.S. stock market. How does it compare to other bull markets, and what is the driving force behind it? In addition, there has been a lot of talk in the news about the Turkish Lira. What other emerging market currencies are at risk of a crisis, and what kind of effect would it have on the U.S. economy? Tune in to find out the answers to these questions and more!

What Costs More? Inflation Comparison Then and Now

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We all know that inflation raises prices, but how many of us really understand the compounding effect that it has on the cost of everyday items? What other factors influence prices besides official inflation numbers? And how many of us know how we may protect ourselves from inflation and, at the same time, make the most of inflationary pressures as we plan for the future?

Inflation Through the Years

Let’s take a brief look at individual inflation rates from 1990 to 2018, at the cumulative rate, and at some specific numbers over just the past 28 years.

Comparing prior years, inflation stood at 6.1% in 1990, 3.4% in 2000, 1.5% in 2010, and is expected to be around 2% for 2018. On their own, those numbers may not look too daunting, but when you look at the cumulative effect that it has over the years, small increases over time can have a huge impact.

By adding together each year’s inflation rate, we can see how much the cost of an ordinary $20 item increases over the years. Since 2010, the cumulative inflation rate is 15.4%, so the same item that cost $20 just eight years ago would now cost $23.08. Going back to 2000, the cumulative rate has been 46.1%, raising the cost to $29.22. Looking back another 10 years, we see a cumulative inflation rate of 92.5%. This means the cost to buy that $20 item from 1990 would today cost $38.50.

To put that into perspective, it means that to live in 2018 the way people did in 1990, just taking inflation into account, pay increases would have had to average 3.3% every single year. Which means that a salary of $100,000 in 1990 would need to be $248,204 in 2018. If a person’s annual raises did not average at least that much, then their savings and investments would have had to make up the difference, just to stay even. Since 2000, incomes would have had to increase every year by 2.56% to stay even.

What About Specific Items?

Inflation is not the only factor that affects prices. A company’s research and development has to be paid for, marketing costs, product launches, building new plants, funding benefit schemes, and the value of innovations to existing and new products or services all impact prices. Let’s take a look at some specific product prices today compared to their prices in the year 2000. All figures are based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You can see how the price of other items from the Consumer Price Index have changed over the years here.

Planning Ahead

No one knows what the future holds, but by planning ahead and analyzing your present versus future financial situation may be a good way to feel confident about what lies ahead.

If you’re ready to take a look at your situation and work out a plan for the future, contact Sharkey, Howes & Javer today to meet with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.

Inside the Economy: Inflation, Earnings, and More

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On this week’s Inside the Economy, we review core inflation numbers. Now that we have the highest core inflation in the past decade, what could this mean for the U.S. economy? Have the second quarter earnings numbers supported the all-time highs in the U.S. stock market again? Tune in to find out the answers to these questions along with a review of the U.S. debt to GDP ratio and a new challenge public utility companies are facing.