The Money Pros are standing by to take your questions.
Q. I'm trying hard to be smart about my money as I look ahead to retiring and achieving financial independence, but there seems to be so much to know. What's the best way to plan for this?
A. Achieving financial independence, whether it means choosing to work for the rest of your life or retiring at a certain age to pursue the next chapter in your life, is what most of us strive for.
Yet the No. 1 number reason many fail to achieve this goal is procrastination -- failing to put together a plan that includes your short- and long-term goals and then carrying through with it. Putting your goals in writing gives a sense of commitment.
Here are my "Ten Commandments," or principles that, when followed, can help create an action plan to organize your financial life and help you to better understand what it takes to achieve financial independence:
1. Know your goals. First, step back and ask yourself, "Where am I going? How am I going to get there?"
Then identify the goals and a few actions that will bring you closer to achieving them. Don't be afraid of dreaming a little, but make sure the goals are specific, measurable, realistic and even a little challenging.
2. Develop a plan. A goal without a plan is nothing but a wish. You also need to be flexible enough to recalculate as goals and situations change.
This is where a trained and certified financial planner can be an asset by monitoring your performance, how it measures up to the market and whether or not you are on track to meet your stated goals.
3. Don't be paralyzed by past mistakes. Most people, even the most financially literate among us, have made bad investments at some point in their lives. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and move forward.
4. Know your cash flow. This is the financial equivalent of taking your blood pressure. It's not about putting yourself on a budget -- it's about knowing how much money is coming in and where it's going. You might be surprised at how much you're spending on certain items.
5. Understand your liquidity. Liquidity is the ability to convert your investments into cash quickly. Life is dynamic, and you need to be ready to move quickly, whether it's due to an opportunity like a good investment or an unforeseen expense like a flood in your basement.
6. Manage your risk. Things go wrong; accidents happen. Whether it relates to a downturn in your health or your finances, you want to protect your family. Understanding your insurance options is an important part of every financial plan.
7. Establish an estate plan. This gives you control over your money and your children's future when you're gone. Unfortunately, too many people relegate this to the bottom of their list.
8. Manage your taxes. You should have a strategy in place that will minimize your taxes while helping you achieve long-term value.
9. Manage your debt. Carrying debt creates anxiety and stress, especially high-interest credit card debt. It's important to do whatever it takes -- from borrowing from a home equity line of credit to asking family members for help -- to pay down such a debt.
10. Understand your investment strategy. Your strategy should be tied to your goals, time horizon and risk tolerance. Having a plan guides you so that you avoid the type of panic that can lead to making bad decisions in certain situations, such as during a volatile market.
Frank Jaffe is a certified financial planner with wealth management firm Access Wealth Planning.
Over two-thirds of financial advisors have encountered financial fraud among their elderly clients at least a few times a year, but only about 5 percent say the fraud has caused a substantial financial impact.
Instead, its the emotional toll that concerns advisors. About 37 percent of advisors surveyed by the American Institute of CPAs say financial fraud caused a significant emotional impact, while about 40 percent reported it caused a moderate impact.
Why the low rate of financial impact? It could be related to the fact that the survey was taking into account clients working with financial advisors, says Jean-Luc Bourdon, a member of the AICPAs Personal Financial Planning executive committee and co-founder of California-based BrightPath Wealth Planning.
The fact that they do have financial advisor mightve played a role, having a gatekeeper to prevent the fraud, Bourdon says.
Overall, almost half of advisors reported seeing an increase in elder fraud or abuse. And the AICPA expects that trend to continue. We started with a scary number [68 percent] and we seem to be moving toward a scarier number, Bourdon says.
The demographic seems to be indicating we will see more of it because the elderly population is growing. The fact that a lot of the fraud is related to technology would also lead us to think it will grow, Bourdon says.
According to the survey, the most common type of elder financial abuse or fraud is phone and Internet scams, followed by situations in which elderly clients are unable or unwilling to say no to relatives at the expense of their own financial security.
Individuals with $5 million or more (68 percent) were more likely to do so, compared to those with $1 million to $5 million in assets (61 percent), according to the survey, conducted by Spectrem Group for CNBC, which polled 750 millionaires.
Republicans (68 percent) were also more likely to use a financial advisor to establish an estate plan than Democrats (61 percent) or independents (58 percent).
The numbers dont surprise Mitch Drossman, national director of wealth-planning strategies for US Trust, who said the constant changes to the federal estate-tax law for nearly a decade (until it was made permanent in 2013) resulted in estate-planning fatigue.
We have had an incredible amount of uncertainty with respect to estate taxes, and every change led advisors to reach out to their clients to explain these changes and be sure their documents were up to date and reflective of those changes, he said. Clients finally said, Enough already.
The higher federal estate-tax exemption amount, which now stands at $5.43 million per person due to annual inflation adjustments, has also rendered estate planning a lesser priority for many wealthy families, said David Mendels, a certified financial planner and director of planning for Creative Financial Concepts.
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The Wealth Markets Group of Union Bank has a new chief.
Michael T. Feldman, the institutions former head of branch banking and private banking, now directs the Wealth Markets Group, which includes private wealth management, wealth planning, and trust and estate services as well as the banks brokerage subsidiary, UnionBanc Investment Services, and its asset management unit, HighMark Capital Management.
Feldman took over the group from Dennis Mooradian, who retired earlier this month, Union Bank announced in a press release. He is based in Irvine, Calif.
Feldman joined Union Bank in 2009 and held a number of senior leadership roles before heading up Unions branch banking and private banking units. Before joining Union Bank, he was a managing director of retail banking at Countrywide Bank and president and CEO of Countrywide Investment Services.
In addition, the bank elevated a long-term member of HighMarks leadership team. David B. Wines was named president and CEO of the unit, replacing Mooradian who served as CEO. He will assume his expanded role while continuing as HighMarks chief fixed income officer, Union Bank said.
Both Feldman and Wines report to Tim Wennes, West Coast president and head of Retail Banking and Wealth Markets.
We believe that these appointments underscore the depth of talent and experience within our wealth markets team, Wennes said in a statement. Under Mikes leadership and with Davids oversight of our investment advisory firm, we are very well positioned to serve as trusted financial advisors to our clients as we help them achieve their financial goals.
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