The following guest post is a personal story written by an intelligent, conscious friend, who wishes to be anonymous. I post it here, because all couples need to work on their communication regarding money issues. And all individuals and couples need to be aware of why they make the decisions they do.
I believe that individuals and couples will learn something from the experience Anonymous shares, his honest assessment and changed behavior.
Money Challenges for a Conscious Couple
Like Roger, I am a Certified Financial Planner (now retired, however) and have an MBA in Finance. For several years, I have been very involved in The Mankind Project, a men’s organization which is dedicated to improving the world by helping each man achieve his full potential. My wife is a therapist who counsels people on developing effective communication, especially with their primary partners and family members, and learning to live life to the fullest.
You might imagine, then, that we, a happily married couple, would be very effective at communicating with each other about any and all matters that arise in a marriage, including those issues with a financial aspect. Unfortunately, that is not the case; the issue of managing our finances has been far and away the major point of contention in our marriage. Embarrassing as they may be, I will relate our struggles with the hope that, by sharing this, you can learn from our mistakes.
One thing that we have never had to worry about, fortunately, is having enough money. I was an executive at several different banks; I earned a good salary, received stock options, had a 401k, and I now receive a small, but entirely adequate, pension. Just as important, I did not marry until I was in my 50’s, and my then wife-to-be had no children. Thus, as a childless mature couple, we avoided the major expenses of child rearing and college.
When we got married, my wife was an independent, intelligent businesswoman from New York City who made good money in a commission-based job. I moved into her NYC apartment afterward, and was, I admit, pretty unhappy. Having lived in that apartment for over 20 years, my wife essentially “owned” it; The apartment was filled with “her” things, top to bottom, and I missed having my own stuff around me.
Life Events Caused a Re-evaluation
I got laid off from my bank job in 2001- the fourth lay-off in ten years, as banks went through one round of layoffs after another. That was the last straw; I examined my life hard and decided that, in order for me to be happy, I had to quit the corporate game, and move back “home” to the Washington, DC area. I had enough money saved so that both of us could stop working full-time, if we so chose. My wife, understanding that I was just not happy in NYC and open to a change, agreed to give up her established career and move to the DC area.
Once settled back in the DC area, my wife attempted to re-create the success she had had in NYC by doing the same type of work—helping people find jobs (attempted being the operative word.) For whatever reason, and in spite of her incredible work ethic and outgoing, buoyant personality, she just could not replicate her NYC success. (And with all due respect to Frank Sinatra and the lyricist who wrote the words to that wonderful old song, New York, NY, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” simply did not apply in my wife’s case.) So, she became dependent upon me and my savings to live. Of course, I didn’t mind her being financially dependent on me, but I also didn’t think it unreasonable for me to assume that I would be the one who would control our finances. In my mind, it made perfect sense; I was the financial expert, after all. I believed that she should be grateful, not just for my generosity but for enabling us both to retire at relatively young ages, and for my willingness to take control of the finances. I truly thought she would not mind relinquishing financial control to me.
Our Background and Baggage
Both my wife and I had come from homes where money was tight, thus a constant issue between our respective sets of parents. That was the baggage we each carried into the marriage; we both viewed money, not as a tool for enjoyment, but rather as security.
It’s often been said that money is power, and I recognize that implicitly. But here is what I failed to recognize: that the person in power does not have the same “sense” of a power imbalance as does the person out of power.
I enjoy working with numbers and have more experience with and knowledge of money management than my wife. So, it was only natural for me to take on the role of Chief Financial Officer for our family, and for many years, my wife had no objections to it. I paid all the bills and made all the investment decisions and we did just fine.
Having gotten married for the first time when I was 54, I was used to making decisions on my own, without consulting anybody else. Even after getting married, I didn’t really see the need to change my behavior and consult with my wife, especially in areas where I felt supremely confident, namely with respect to money management. After all, she couldn’t possibly add any value to the decision making process, given her lack of knowledge. I didn’t know it then, but my wife was very hurt at how easily I could make financial decisions on our behalf, but without consulting her.
Mauled by the Bear Market
The Great Recession of 2008-2009 presented us with a particularly challenging time. As with so many others, our nest egg suffered a major hit, and we lost over 25 % of our savings. One major bone of contention was my investment philosophy; I was (am) basically a “buy and hold” kind of investor and was more than willing to leave our asset allocation alone. My wife, on the other hand, had told me, even prior to the downturn, that we should get out of the stock market, because she “did not have a good feeling.” I was the financial expert so I dismissed her “feeling” and overruled her.
We stood pat and watched our net worth go down, and down again. Never giving up, my wife would regularly lobby for us to get out of the stock market and, as usual, I would resist. It wasn’t until near the absolute bottom of the market, that my wife’s constant lobbying (and I admit now, grudgingly, my own annoyance for not having listened to her in the first place much earlier), persuaded me to finally really listen. She wanted the mortgage on our house paid off, so I sold off enough stock from our portfolio to pay off the loan balance. In truth, to me, paying the mortgage off didn’t make sense – smart investors buy low and sell high! But the majority of people do the opposite. Much to my chagrin, we later joined the masses in buying high and selling low.
Preparing to be a Widow
A couple of years ago, the husband of one of my wife’s dear friends died after a long bout with cancer, and his wife had to learn how to handle the family’s financial affairs. Unfortunately, she was not well-prepared to take on this task, and struggled with the burden of it, in spite of her husband’s well-detailed instructions on what to do with each account. It was my wife’s observance of her friend’s struggle that was the wake-up call that she, too, should become more knowledgeable about our finances. Now.
My wife insisted that I make no financial decisions without consulting her first. I hated the idea, but acquiesced once I realized how strongly she felt about it. It took me some time to get used to the idea of it, but now we have regular meetings to discuss how our finances look and what we should do or changes we should make. My wife has assumed responsibility for monitoring our expenses, using the free on-line tool, Mint.com. She has become disciplined in reviewing each and every expenditure on that system and assuring that it is correctly categorized. I calculate our net worth on a monthly basis and evaluate our asset allocation. As a result of our most recent look at our asset allocation, we decided to change our portfolio allocation, together.
My Advice for Couples
To those couples who argue over money (and really, who doesn’t nowadays!), I suggest the following:
- Understand that both money and knowledge are power.
- Share the three major tasks of managing your money, i.e., paying bills, monitoring expenses and investing.
- Monitor your expenses on a monthly basis. The free on-line tool, mint.com, is a wonderful way to understand what you are spending money on and how much by category.
- Determine what asset allocation you are comfortable with and rebalance your portfolio so that you stick to your target. Take on only the amount of risk that you are comfortable with and that you need to achieve your goals.
- Monitor your net worth on a quarterly basis.
- Have regular financial meetings to discuss expenses and investments.
And most importantly, never assume anything with respect to your partner’s feelings about money management- have the tough discussions early on to make certain you are both on the same page.
Postscript by Roger Streit
Many people are not motivated, or do not have the time, to analyze and monitor their financial situation. A good financial advisor should be able to help you assess your goals, discuss your risk tolerance, set up a sensible portfolio, and even help you unpack your feelings about money. Do-It-Yourself is not right for many people.
Now that most of us have filed our tax returns (or extensions, if you’re waiting till the last minute again) it may be a good time to think about that other inevitable – death. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but let’s face it, not a one of us is going to live forever. This is not exactly an original thought. Witness the memorable aphorisms of yesteryear. Tempus Fugit and Carpe Diem. (For those of you who slept through high school Latin classes, I’ll translate: Time flies and seize the day.)
And witness the recent obituaries – much more than a few – of lovely people who died in their 50s or 60s, an age I now consider young.
Financial planners have to deal with life’s uncertainties and we do our best to prepare our clients for some really unpleasant possible outcomes, e.g. dying very young, becoming frail and needing long term care when very old, or worse, becoming frail and needing long term care when very young. In many cases, the economic blow can be softened to some extent by buying insurance, whether life, disability or long term care, for ourselves and for our families.
And since we can not know how long we will live (only that we are living longer), insurance companies have developed a new policy called “longevity insurance” which only pays off if (and only if) you live past 85.
But life is about more than financing the future. The other side of saving for “tomorrow” is enjoying “today.”
Everyone has different goals and priorities. For some, enjoying today means buying a new and snazzy car, for others, taking a trip to Europe with dear friends or even taking a year off to do charitable work.
The challenge, of course, is to strike the right balance between current consumption and saving for the future. And of course what matters is the kind of life you want.
One life coach uses a series of questions to help clients determine what is truly important to them. The first question is “If your doctor told you that you had 5 years to live, what would you do now?” The discussion proceeds from there and can have a striking impact, because it allows you to focus on what really matters to you.
In the future, I will be writing about practical concerns and strategies for spending less and saving more. But for now I wanted to emphasize that the quality of life should be foremost in our planning.
“The most common excuse parents give for putting off writing a will is trying to decide who will raise the children.” – Ric Edelman.
An earlier post discussed some of the psychological and practical reasons why people put off writing a will. For young parents, the biggest challenge, and the main reason for procrastinating and not writing a will, may be the task of choosing a guardian or guardians for their children.
Since it is such a prevalent challenge, you can find many articles on the Internet addressing the issue of choosing a guardian. Actually if you enter “choosing a guardian” in Google, your search will yield 4.7 million hits. One article I found particularly useful is Why Parents Procrastinate in Writing Their Will . . . and Nine Questions to Help You Overcome It from Ric Edelman’s newsletter Inside Personal Finance.
The bottom line is that since “deciding on a guardian and how to provide for their kids’ financial needs is difficult …a lot of parents do the worst thing of all: nothing. This means the decision, if one becomes necessary, will be made by a judge or county official.”
To avoid this outcome, that article sets out a procedure for young parents to follow.
“Sit down with pen and paper and answer the following questions, providing as much detail as possible. If you’re deciding as a couple, answer the questions separately and then compare your answers. Some of the questions will take some thought, so you might not be able to answer them right away. That’s okay. Answer what you can at the first sitting and set a deadline to finish the rest.”
There is not space to repeat the 9 questions, which are quite good, so please read the entire article. I hope that mulling over this issue will empower you to move forward. Consulting an experienced estate planning attorney should be high on your agenda of things to do before the end of the year, if not sooner.
Although the article is recommended as a good place to start, here are some additional thoughts from two other articles.
If you’re having a hard time choosing someone, take some time to talk with the person you’re considering. One or more of your candidates may not be willing or able to accept the responsibility, or their feelings about acting as guardian may help you decide.
If You and the Other Parent Can’t Agree
When you and your child’s other parent make your wills, you should name the same person as personal guardian. If you don’t agree on whom to name, there could be a court fight if both of you die while the child is still a minor. Faced with conflicting wishes, a judge would have to make a choice based on the evidence of what’s in the best interests of your child.
Writing a Letter of Explanation
Leaving a written explanation may be important if you think that a judge could have reason to question your choice for personal guardian.
Judges are required to act in the child’s best interests, so in your letter explain why your choice is best for your child.
If Your Child’s Other Parent Is Your Same-Sex Partner
If you coparent your children with a same-sex partner, you will probably want to name your partner as the personal guardian of your children. Because some courts will be unfamiliar with your family structure, consider writing a letter to fully explain to the court why it’s important for your partner to be your children’s personal guardian.
After you’ve made the decision, choose an alternate guardian to include in your will. He or she will take care of your child in the event that your primary choice is unable to do the job.
If you have a life insurance policy, 401k, or IRA account, be aware that … the beneficiary forms accompanying these documents overrule wills. The funds in these accounts will be distributed to whomever you name—regardless of whom you specify in your will. You’ll need to double check the names on these accounts and make changes to match the names with those you dictate in your will.
“Above all, remember: If you fail to make a choice, you are leaving the decision up to the probate court, where all of the people you considered above (and possibly others) will fight over the decision, with the judge acting as referee. It’s a difficult task for a judge, since he or she has never met you and will have no idea what you would have wanted.
If the thought of making a choice sends you into a panic, remember that you can always change your mind. I’ve seen clients change their minds every other year, as their family circumstances change. If your parents seem the best option today, pick them. In a few years, when they’re older or have become ill, you can change your mind. Or maybe your choice marries someone you don’t like, or suffers a setback of some kind. No problem. Just base your decision on the facts as they are today, and rest assured that as times change and people change, your mind can change, as well.”
As I discussed in the last post, individuals tend to delay estate planning for many reasons; no doubt one of those is the daunting lingo and complicated jargon. Truthfully, it is confusing the first time you hear these words and concepts explained. While it’s not quite a foreign language, it sure feels like it.
But don’t be intimidated; don’t be deterred. A basic understanding of a few estate planning concepts and terms will help you feel less reluctant to move forward and complete an important aspect of financial planning.
1. Will. A will directs where and how you want your estate property distributed when you die, and appoints the individual(s) who will take care of your children. Without a will, the state will decide, according to statute. A will does not control those properties with specific beneficiary designations such as life insurance benefits, retirement accounts, and trust assets.
2. Probate. The court process that ensures that the portion of an estate passed by a will is properly settled. The court establishes the authenticity of the will (if any), appoints a personal representative or administrator, identifies heirs and creditors, directs payment of debts and taxes, and oversees distributions of the assets according to the will, or according to state law in the absence of a will.
3. Executor/ Executrix. The person (male or female) who administers your final estate, as appointed by you in your will. The politically correct, modern terminology is a “personal representative,” which removes any reference to the sex of the person.
4. Guardian. A person designated by court appointment and given the responsibility of managing the personal affairs of a minor child or a person who is legally incompetent to manage his or her own affairs.
5. Advanced directives. The two key advanced directives are a living will and a medical power of attorney. In the event you become permanently incapacitated and unable to communicate, a living will is your expression of what life-sustaining medical treatment you want or don’t want employed on your behalf. Though not always honored, with a medical power of attorney you give a third party, such as a spouse or an adult child, the power to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated and unable to communicate them.
6. Power of attorney. This gives another person, such as your spouse or an adult child, the legal power to act financially on your behalf should you become incapacitated. This can be as restrictive (bill paying only, for example) or as comprehensive (able to sell property, file tax return) as you wish to make it. It can be amended or rescinded at any time.
7. Title. Document proving ownership of property. Improperly titled assets could mean property being transferred contrary to your wishes or could result in higher estate taxes or probate costs.
8. Trust. A legal entity created for holding property for the benefit of the creator of the trust or other beneficiaries. Trusts are used for everything from avoiding probate and helping heirs manage assets, to saving estate taxes and ensuring that certain assets go to certain heirs.
9. Trustee. The person or institution appointed that manages the trust property under the terms of the trust agreement.
10. Revocable and irrevocable trusts. A revocable trust means the creator of the trust can change fundamental aspects of the trust or even dissolve it. An irrevocable trust severely limits what changes the creator can make in the trust document. Irrevocable trusts typically are used to reduce estate taxes.
11. Testamentary trust. A trust created by a will. A testamentary trust is established upon the creator’s death and an inter vivos trust is established during the creator’s lifetime.
12. Estate tax and gift exemption amounts. The amount of an estate’s value passed on to heirs and subject to estate tax depends on the size of the estate. By federal law, in 2009, the maximum amount of estate that is exempt from taxation is $3.5 million. The law is repealed completely in 2010, but in 2011 it returns with a $1 million exemption cap or limit. These exempt estate tax amounts are reduced by any gift-tax exemption amounts taken during lifetime. The maximum in gifts you can exempt from gift taxes during a lifetime is $1 million.
13. Annual gift exclusion. Each person can donate tax free up to $13,000 (indexed for inflation) a year to as many people as he or she chooses. For example, you could give away a total of $39,000 a year to your three children or three friends ($78,000 a year if your spouse joins you). The annual exclusion does not count against the lifetime gift-tax exemption amount.
14. Codicil. A written change or amendment to a will.
15. Disclaimer. The refusal of a beneficiary to accept property willed to him. When a disclaimer is made, the property is generally transferred to the person next in line under the will.
“Procrastination is the chronic postponement of necessary tasks – generally those considered difficult or unpleasant. We waste so much time trying to avoid these tasks that our failure in doing them is assured.” – Eric G. Matlin.
Most sensible people understand that it’s important to have an estate plan to protect their family. Yet, it is estimated that 7 out of every 10 Americans die without a will. What is going on?
My guess is that most people just don’t want to face the issue of their own mortality. (And really, who does?) They also don’t want to deal with the legal complications and the decisions to be made. And then there is the legal terminology that can be off-putting: Probate, executor, irrevocable trusts, etc. If ever there was a task that engendered procrastination, estate planning is certainly right up there.
And if all of that isn’t enough to give you pause, were you aware that estate tax laws will be changing in the near future? Why do anything at all now, when better information will be available next year?
Now, I am not a lawyer, so I cannot in any way provide legal advice or documentation for estate planning. However, as a Financial Advisor, I can help alleviate the anxiety, frustration, fear and loathing that may be causing you to avoid the estate planning that you know you should do. It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but not if it leads to further questions of an estate planning expert.
Let’s start with the realization that even if you have never actually signed a written last will and testament, you still have one. How is this possible? Simply put, if you don’t have a will, your state will provide one for you. And most certainly, you (and your heirs) will not like the results imposed on you.
Without a will, there will be unnecessary delays in settling your estate, not to mention increased costs, all of which will come out of the money you’d have otherwise left to your family. Court costs will be increased, as will family aggravation. Without a will, your estate can be decimated by legal fees and/or additional taxes.
That is a summary of Chapter 1 of The Procrastinator’s Guide to Wills and Estate Planning by Eric G. Matlin. I highly recommend you read this book, because not only does it explain complex matters in plain English, but it also deals head-on with the issue of procrastination. The top 12 list of the most common reasons that people delay estate planning makes for interesting reading. Counting down, the author tops the list with “Most people don’t like to think about death or money” and ends with “Guilt feeds upon itself.”
Procrastinators of the world, “You are not alone.”
According to Matlin, many people avoid using attorneys, but “hiring an estate planning attorney isn’t like hiring most lawyers. Usually an attorney is hired when it’s necessary to go to court. Estate planning attorneys are hired, at least in part, to keep your family out of court. And while any dealing with an attorney is likely to cost you money, the odds are good that in estate planning attorney will, in the end, save you more in taxes and probate costs then she charged as a fee – possibly much more.”
Matlin’s use of questionnaires, tables and forms help you get organized enough to prepare for a visit to an attorney. And it encourages you to create an action plan by giving you the confidence that you can make good decisions.
Understand, though, that nothing you read in a book will replace the knowledge and expertise of an experienced attorney who specializes in estate planning.
Nevertheless, you have to start someplace, and understanding the lingo will make your journey much easier. Accordingly, Part 2 will cover estate planning terminology.
The first article in this series covered my recommendations on financial planning issues related to becoming unemployed. The second article, by Belinda Plutz, discussed things you must do before beginning your job search. This article offers practical and insightful tips on how to maintain a positive attitude while seeking new employment opportunities.
MANAGING YOUR JOB SEARCH
by Belinda Plutz of Career Mentors
Job hunting can be a very frustrating process. People either don’t return your phone calls as quickly as you hoped they would, or they ignore your call completely, and more often than not email and letters go unanswered. Opportunities seem hidden from view. Time is limited, the clock is ticking and you want results NOW. So how do you keep up your spirit, energy and commitment for as long as it takes?
MONITOR YOUR INNER MONOLOGUE (you know… those words that run around in your head automatically and are usually uncensored)
If you continue to say negative things to yourself (I’m never… I can’t… I won’t…) your actions will reflect this negativity. If you insist on telling yourself that the process is futile, and won’t yield a job that will satisfy your needs, you could very well wind up with just this result. One way to fix this is to actively listen to what you say internally and consciously work at replacing that negative self-talk with positive (or, at the very least, more neutral) words.
LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE TO NEGATIVE PEOPLE
We all know people who, for whatever reason, are always negative or overly critical or who couldn’t offer an encouraging word even if they were paid for it; real “downers” to put it succinctly. What you need to do is to associate with people who feel good about themselves and about you. They can help bolster your spirits and energy. Being with people who radiate good feelings and enjoy whatever activity they are doing is essential.
COMMIT (IN WRITING) TO GOALS AND WEEKLY TARGET ACTIVITIES
Plan what needs to be done each week and break the projects into do-able time frames. Make sure that you set realistic goals so you can meet them and keep things moving along.
GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT FOR YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS – BIG AND SMALL
When larger goals take time to realize, it is essential to give yourself credit for the intermediate steps that you’ve taken along the way. For example, if you have two good weeks and then a not-so-good week, you can neutralize or mitigate the negatives by looking back at the positives and focusing on them.
WORK AT MANY JOB HUNTING ACTIVITIES SIMULTANEOUSLY — NOT SEQUENTIALLY
If you only focus on one thing at a time, you will not maximize your effectiveness. Put more of your time and energy into the activities that have the greatest potential for generating positive results. Keep moving the process along. For example, if you have an interview that looks promising, keep working to get others lined up behind it. If the first interview doesn’t result in a job offer, there will be other things happening and you won’t have to keep “restarting.” Work methodically, and try not to let the lows (or the highs, for that matter) of job hunting affect your productivity.
ACCEPT THE FACT THAT YOU CAN CONTROL ONLY WHAT YOU DO
Unfortunately, you cannot control what others do or think or say. But, even controlling only what you do, means that you have a lot to control. Make sure that you take care of all necessary tasks, not just the ones that are easy. Follow-up is critical when you are job hunting. And you must do what you say you will do — always.
FIND A WAY TO ENJOY SOME PART OF THE PROCESS
Everyone is unique. Everyone is better at some things than others. If you can find pleasure in some (or even one) of the things that you have to do anyway, the process will go by much quicker and be less painful.
KEEP A BALANCED PERSPECTIVE
You’re not working, but that’s not all bad. Spend some time with family and friends, take a course, renew a hobby, do some volunteer work. Job hunting should be a part-time job if you are working or a “light” full-time job if you are not. Spending too much time on the hunt can be counter-productive. The goal is to work smart and hard, not just hard.
Belinda Plutz can be reached by telephone at (212) 947-3180 or by email at email@example.com.
© Career Mentors, Inc. 2009
It’s my pleasure to introduce Belinda Plutz as the Passionate Planner’s first guest blogger. I’ve known Belinda for more than two decades, and over the years have come to realize that she possesses such an amazing combination of characteristics – she’s insightful and direct yet diplomatic, business-like but empathetic – that there can be no better individual to speak to the often highly stressful and emotional task of effective job hunting in a slow-to-recover economy. Belinda is the person behind the company, Career Mentors of New York City. If you need individualized help you can reach her by telephone at (212) 947-3180 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Belinda Plutz of Career Mentors.
So, you’ve lost your job. While you’re probably very eager to “get out there” and “hit the street” there are quite a few practical, yet very important things that you need to do before you begin a job search. Working on these concrete actions can help you start moving; it is a way to “get your act together,” especially when you feel paralyzed by the lay-off. Once these things are accomplished you can more readily, and effectively, focus on your job search.
TEST YOUR EQUIPMENT
Make sure your computer (both hardware and software), printer, internet and email access, telephones and answering devices (landline and/or cell) are all up-to-date and in excellent working order. Purchase a back-up printer cartridge to avoid running out of ink at a critical moment, i.e. printing up your resume. If you don’t know how to use any of your equipment – now is the time to figure it out.
Record a clear, easy to understand landline and/or cell phone voicemail message with no kids, no pets and no comedic routines. The message should be as professional as possible. Give your name and/or your complete telephone number (including the area code) to make it easy for callers to be sure that they have reached the correct party. Not changing the computerized phone message (typically the default program on your answering machine or service) may give callers the impression that you either are not technologically savvy enough to change it or simply too lazy to do it; definitely not a good first impression.
Establish a professional email address that projects the right image. No nicknames, birthdates or cutesy personal references. For example, using “email@example.com” clearly gives the wrong message. Because email is a primary method of communicating with potential employers, it is very important to get this right.
To update your résumé begin by doing an analysis of your recent and previous positions. Make sure that you acknowledge your accomplishments and functions, especially those that are relevant to your future job focus and those that you like or enjoy. Highlighting experiences or activities that you hated doing will not get the results you want. Do not lie, or even stretch the truth just a little bit – dates of employment and job titles are easily checked.
Create an easy to visually scan and read document. Bullets are better than paragraphs. Your résumé needs to be accomplishment focused, as well as “keyword rich” and “number rich” (e.g. sales results, staff supervised, budget figures). It must be perfectly written with no typos, grammatical errors or mistakes; have someone (or a couple of someones) proofread it for you. Test how it prints and also how it transmits electronically before you begin using it.
PERSONAL BUSINESS CARDS
Have personal cards made with all your contact information so that you can offer it to people or respond when someone offers you their card. You will want them for casual connections as well as formal networking events. Carry a few with you at all times. If you run into someone while out walking, you will make a positive impression if you can hand them your card (as opposed to having to write your contact information on the back of a store receipt). The image that you want to present is that you are professional and always prepared. And don’t even consider “freebie” business cards with the name of the printer on the reverse of it; remember, first impressions…
Carefully script the self introduction you use to answer the standard American social question, “So what do you do?” Your response needs to be positive, because what you say first is what people will remember about you. Do not start with the news that you were recently laid off — that should be the third or fourth thing that people hear. Beginning your response with, “I just lost my job…” focuses on your current non-work situation, not you.
Your message needs to be consistent and clear with virtually everyone getting the same message. And if you can frame yourself without clichés, in a “features and benefits” kind of way, not just “title” and “function,” it will be far more interesting (and memorable). This self introduction is one that you will use verbally, but you will also need to create a written paragraph that you can drop into emails.
This is worth repeating: What you say first is what people will remember about you. You are helping to craft their impression of who you are and what you do, and it is up to you to present yourself in the most professional and appealing way.
You may not realize this, but you already have a “network.” Your network is all the people you know, and have ever known, and all the people you have ever worked with in any capacity. Begin putting your list together – who should you be reaching out to and connecting with. You can network for information, connections, insight and advice or any combination of those.
People will want to help, but you have to have realistic expectations; no one is going to hand you a job just because you need or deserve one. In tough times (like now), it is very difficult to network directly “for a job.” But, since companies do not hire people – people hire people – it is critical that you make connecting with people a major priority.
Having a professional social networking presence can be a good way for people to find you and for you to reach out to people. If you are on one or more social networking websites, make sure that the message and image you project are the ones that you want potential employers to see… because they are definitely looking.
Even though many companies have a “policy” of only releasing titles and dates of employment when called for a reference, you should be prepared to give a prospective employer the names, titles and telephone numbers of three or four pre-screened people who are connected with your most recent and previous jobs who can speak about your performance.
It is both flattering and courteous to let people know in advance that you want to list them as a reference. It is also a great way to network. Give each person a copy of your current résumé and review the pertinent information with them. Reach an agreement with them regarding dates, titles, responsibilities, achievements, etc., that you would like them to address.
Once you have all of these things in place, give yourself credit for accomplishing them. You are now in a great position to put all your energy and attention into a successful job search.
© Career Mentors, Inc. 2009
Losing your job and becoming one of the growing number of unemployed can be a shock to anyone. Even if you weren’t all that happy with your position, at least you had one. But once the shock of losing a job wears off, there are several things that you need to attend to. Some are obvious, and some require a bit of analysis.
File for unemployment benefits
First, you will want to file for unemployment benefits. Each state sets its own benefit amounts, eligibility requirements, and benefit length. Benefit amounts are based on a percentage of what you made during your last year of employment, up to the maximum in your state. Remember that unemployment benefits, like regular income, are taxable.
To determine your benefits, inquire at your state unemployment agency or, if the option is available to you, file for benefits online. Still, understand that it can take up to a full month before you will receive your first unemployment check.
Verify your termination benefits
The second thing you need to do is to verify what termination benefits your employer will provide. You may be entitled to severance pay, continuation of medical benefits, and possibly support in finding your next job. Take advantage of anything and everything your former employer offers in the way of help.
Obtain health coverage
Speaking of health insurance, you need to maintain your existing coverage or find a replacement insurance policy. If you worked for a company that had 20 or more employees, you’re eligible for COBRA. This federal law ensures that you can continue coverage for an additional 18 months, but you must pay the premiums for it yourself. With no employer contribution you may be quite surprised at how much money your continued coverage will cost you.
It’s important, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition, that you not let your health insurance lapse or you may find that pre-existing condition will not be covered under a new plan.
The recent federal stimulus program may cover 65% of the COBRA premiums for up to nine months, and that is certainly worth looking into.
Decide if you need life insurance
Your employer might allow you to continue to participate in the company’s group life insurance provided that you pay your own premiums. But life insurance might not be worth the expense if you have no dependents or your children are grown up and self-sufficient.
If you do want to keep your coverage through your former employer, you may be able to find less-expensive term plans on your own, though it will take a little homework.
Review your budget
After taking care of the necessities of health and life insurance coverage you may want to evaluate your budget to see where you can cut expenses. Depending on your field, your flexibility, how well you network and a host of other things – including a little bit of luck – your job search could take a year, or even more. That should be motivation enough to look for ways to save money.
Analyze your retirement plan options
What you should do with your retirement savings accounts is one item that requires extra care and analysis. If you withdraw funds from your 401(k) or 403(b) employer-sponsored savings plan, you will pay ordinary income taxes on that amount, and if you’re less than 59½ years of age, incur an additional 10% penalty.
If you transfer your employer’s retirement plan to an individual IRA by “rolling it over,” you will not have to pay any income taxes. Moreover, you can likely build a better portfolio, since you will have more investment choices in your IRA. Do this with care, by doing a trustee-to-trustee transfer. And by all means, consult a fee-only advisor to avoid high up-front commissions.
Once your money is safely ensconced in an IRA, you may be able to tap it without penalty, if you need it to cover large medical expenses or pay medical-insurance costs. For additional details, read this article.
How best to approach your job search and other tips on how to survive your unexpected unemployment will be continued in Part 2.
“In the aftermath of the financial-market crisis, investors are leaving Wall Street to sign on with independent investment advisers.” – Wall Street Journal.
A perennial topic for articles in the mainstream press (and, subsequently, in this blog) is how individuals do, and also, should, choose a financial advisor.
Wary Investors Are Seeking Out Objective Voices in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal is the latest installment on that subject. They report that “registered investment advisers brought in more than $108 billion of net new assets into the three largest custodians” while “the four major Wall Street brokerage firms saw an outflow of $8 billion in 2008.”
While an individual investor may find it difficult to identify with billions and billions of dollars, that’s still good news; it means (in my opinion) that the good guys are winning. Recall as I said in previous posts that registered investment advisors must act in the best interests of their clients, while brokers follow a less stringent rule.
More and more prospective and actual clients are getting that message, as the article reports that “investors seeking to repair their damaged nest eggs say the chief lure of independent advisers is more-objective guidance.”
The subhead of the article is a somewhat wordy, “Independent Advisers Are In Demand, but Picking One Means Homework.” If not for that, the article would have been suitable for a Twitter post! Nevertheless, the writers offer some good advice, which I summarize below.
…while most independents call themselves “advisers,” they aren’t all required to adhere to the same fiduciary standards. As a result, the degree to which each must put a client’s interests before his or her own can vary. The upshot, says Marilyn Dimitroff, chairwoman of the board of directors of Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., is that “the public is so confused.”
“To hire an independent who suits your needs, you should consider how much you have to invest, how much you can afford to pay and whether you want someone to oversee your entire financial life, or just pieces of it. It’s also important to probe the potential conflicts of interest your adviser may face.
Here are some questions to consider:
What type of adviser do you need? As with their counterparts on Wall Street, independent advisers come in two basic flavors: brokers, who typically focus on investment advice, and registered investment advisers, or RIAs, who may help you with everything from saving for college and retirement to tax and estate planning.
What are the potential conflicts of interest? Brokers’ income depends on commissions from client trading. As a result, they have a financial incentive to steer clients to products that pay them the most, such as variable annuities or mutual funds with high sales “loads.”
Still, many independent brokerage firms receive so-called revenue-sharing payments from mutual-fund and other financial-services companies. In return for making such payments, fund companies may be given opportunities to promote their products to a firm’s advisers.
Investors wary of such potential conflicts may want to consider an RIA. RIAs not only generally refrain from accepting commissions but are held to a higher “fiduciary” standard—a legal requirement that they act in clients’ best interests. Brokers follow looser “suitability” guidelines, which means they can’t put clients in inappropriate investments. (A recent Obama administration proposal would require brokers to operate under the higher fiduciary standard.)
What are the adviser’s credentials? To find an adviser with specific skills, look for certain credentials. A Certified Financial Planner must complete courses in investments, taxation, estate planning and insurance. They also must pass a two-day exam, have at least three years of experience, and comply with ethical standards that require them to put a client’s interests ahead of their own.
To be continued… (as always)
“A report by Rand Corp. last year found that 63% of investors think brokers are legally required to act in the best interest of the client; 70% believe that brokers must disclose any conflicts of interest. Advisers always have those duties, but brokers often don’t. The confusion is understandable, because a lot of stock brokers these days call themselves financial planners.” – Jason Zweig.
If you are confused by the difference among these titles: Financial Planner, Stockbroker, and Registered Investment Advisor, you are not alone. The “Name Game” in the financial services industry is downright confusing. How does your financial advisor operate? How does she get paid? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each arrangement?
Many people believe that they are getting financial planning from a stockbroker, when in fact financial planning is usually only an incidental part of what a stockbroker does. Similarly, many people are not aware that a stockbroker does not have to act in the client’s best interests.
A June 19th Wall Street Journal article Big Change in Store for Brokers in Obama’s Oversight Overhaul brings home this point.
According to the article, stockbrokers might have to change the way they do business; they might have to act in their client’s best interests, the way a Registered Investment Advisor already does.
Wow! What a concept.
Here are the relevant quotes:
Buried in President Obama’s proposed regulatory overhaul is a change that could upend Wall Street: Brokers would be held to a higher “fiduciary” standard that would compel them to place their client’s interests ahead of their own.
Currently, brokers are only required to offer investments that are “suitable,” which means they can’t put clients in inappropriate investments, such as a highly risky stock for an 80-year-old grandmother. The move could change the way products are sold and marketed and even how brokers are compensated.
Many investors don’t even know the difference between the two standards, believing their brokers already are acting in their best interests.
But requiring brokers to operate under a fiduciary standard could force them to offer products that are less costly and more tax-efficient. They will have to disclose any potential conflicts of interest, such as any fees they may get for favoring one product over another. That could mean clients will be offered fewer proprietary products if the broker can find a lower-cost option elsewhere.
For example, a broker couldn’t put you in a mutual fund with higher fees — or one he gets a bigger commission for selling — if he could get a comparable fund with lower fees elsewhere, says Tamar Frankel, an expert on fiduciary law at Boston University School of Law. (Emphasis added.)
The article implies that some stockbrokers sometimes put their interests above yours. Hmm. This might just be worth investigating.
Luckily, I’ve discussed this topic many times, and in fact I have a series called The Dark Side of Wall Street, which lists all of the relevant posts. If you start with Choosing a Financial Advisor, Part 1 at the bottom of the page, you can read them in order by following the “To be continued” link at the end of each post.