Women and Money Don't Have to be Like Oil and Water

Guest blog by Mary McGrath

He always took care of her.

Judy never worried about money, investments or taxes. But now she finds herself alone -- a widow scared out of her mind.

Things are changing. She's only going to receive one Social Security check, and her husband's pension was cut in half upon his death. Plus, he never mentioned unpaid credit cards. She thought the cards were paid monthly.

How will Judy ever manage?!?

You may not think this could ever be you, but think again. The average age of a widow in the U.S. is 55. Eighty-five of every 100 American women will be on their own financially at some point in their lives. And only 47 percent of women participate in pensions. 

It's time to get educated. This doesn't mean you need to get a degree in finance or even start reading the Wall Street Journal. But it does mean you need to know where you stand financially and what will happen if your husband predeceases you. Only YOU are responsible for your financial well being. 

Start out by being actively involved in any decision your husband makes that will affect your financial security if he dies.

Find out where your income comes from. If you're in the retirement stage, it's probably a combination of Social Security, pension income and investment income. The next question is to know what happens to this money when your husband dies. 

If the pension is from your husband's employment it could possibly change at his death, depending on an election made at retirement. Most pensions have what is called a survivor option. This is the percentage of the original pension that continues after the death of the retiree. You should know if his pension will continue unchanged (100 percent survivor option), stop all together (no survivor option) or something in between.

Did you know that his Social Security check will stop at his death? But you, as the survivor, will receive the higher of his Social Security or yours.

In other words, if he is receiving $2,000 per month and you get $1,000, on his death you will lose his benefit, but your total will increase to $2,000 per month. That's still $1,000 per month less than you received as a couple.

And what about investment income? Based on what you are taking from your investments, how long is it projected to last? Women live, on average, seven years longer than men. If your husband is five years older than you, the investments need to last at least 12 years longer after his death. Find out how this is calculated and make sure there will be enough left for you.

What if your husband plans to put your assets in a trust? How much control will you have over the trust? Can you access both income and principal or only income?

Next, look at your expenses. If you find trouble ahead after reviewing the income side, try cutting expenses. Don't take that big trip, drive your cars longer and don't overindulge the grandkids. It's easier to trim expenses now than to wait until the money's not there.

It's true that some expenses will be cut when there's only one of you -- but not many. Get an idea of how much your expenses will fall if your husband were to die before you.

All of this is not an overwhelming task. It's time to be in touch with your finances. A little work today can save years of agony later.

The lion's share of all women will be solely responsible for managing their finances at some point in their lives. Be sure you're one of the ready ones.

Women's Financial Statistics

Guest blog by H. B. Johnson

In 1981, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution establishing National Women's History Week. The week was chosen to coincide with International Women's Day, March 8. In 1987, Congress expanded the week to a month, and it has issued a resolution every year since then for Women's History Month. The U.S. president also issues an annual proclamation on Women's History Month. As last year's presidential proclamation stated, "Women's History
Month provides our country the privilege of honoring the countless contributions that American women have made throughout our history."


The median annual earnings of women age 15 and older who worked full time, year-round. After adjusting for inflation, earnings for these women climbed 3.5 percent in 2001, the fifth consecutive increase. In contrast, earnings for their male counterparts did not change significantly over that period.    <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2002/cb02-124.html> 
76 cents
For every $1 their male counterparts earn, that is the amount women earn who work full time, year-round. This ratio represents an all-time high, eclipsing the previous high of 74 cents for every $1, first recorded in 1996. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2002/cb02-124.html>

$2.9 million
Estimated work-life earnings of women with a professional degree (i.e., medical, law, dental or veterinarian) who work full time, year-round. For women, like men, more education means higher career earnings: it is estimated that those without a high school diploma would earn $700,000 during their work lives, increasing to $1.0 million if they have a high school diploma and $1.6 million with a bachelor's degree. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2002/cb02-95.html>


The percentage of women age 25 and over with at least a high school diploma, slightly higher than the percentage for men. (From soon-to-be-published Internet tables.)

-- The gap between men and women with college degrees has not closed completely, but the percentages are close: 25 percent of women age 25 and over have a bachelor's degree or higher compared with 29 percent of men. (From soon-to-be-published Internet tables.)

-- Younger women have gone beyond closing the education gap. They have opened a reverse gap: 33 percent of young women, ages 25 to 34, have completed college, which exceeds the 29 percent of their male counterparts who have done so. Young women, 25 to 34, also have higher high school completion rates than young men: 89 percent versus 85 percent. (From soon-to-be-published Internet tables.)

The percentage of college students who are women. Women have constituted the majority of college students since 1979. <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/BasicFactsServlet>

In each year since this year, more American women than men have received bachelor's degrees. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2002/cb02-95.html>


The percentage of women age 16 and over in the civilian labor force. The percentage for men is 70 percent. <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/BasicFactsServlet>

Labor force participation rates for women age 16 and over vary greatly by state, ranging from 66 percent in Minnesota to 48 percent in West Virginia. <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/BasicFactsServlet>

Among the 71 million women at least 16 years old who work, the percentage who work full time, year-round. More than 9-in-10 employed, civilian women age 16 and over work in one of three occupational groups: sales and office (37 percent); management, professional and related (36 percent); and service (18 percent). <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/BasicFactsServlet>


Percentage of women, age 18 and over and citizens, who cast a ballot in the last presidential election. This compares with 58 percent of their male counterparts. Among all voting-age people, women have voted at higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1984. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2002/cb02-31.html>

Women in the Military

1.6 million
Number of women who are military veterans; another 164,000 currently serve in the armed forces. <http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/BasicFactsServlet>


The average number of children currently born to women 40- to 44-years-old by the end of their childbearing years. This average is one child fewer than the average for women in this same age group in 1980 (3.0 children). <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01-170.html>

The percentage of mothers in the labor force who have infant children, down from a record 59 percent in 1998. This marks the first significant decline in this rate since the Census Bureau began asking the question in 1976. In that year, 31 percent of these mothers were in the labor force. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01-170.html>

Among mothers ages 15 to 44 who do not have infants, 74 percent are in the labor force. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01-170.html>

The proportion of all women, ages 40 to 44, who are childless. That is almost twice as high as women of the same age group in 1980 (10 percent). <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01-170.html>

Marriage and Family

25.1 years
The median age of women at the time of their first marriage. The median in 1970 was 20.8 years. Women, on average, are 1.7 years younger than men the first time they marry. <

-- Fifty-five percent of women are currently married (including those married to an absent spouse and those who are separated); 25 percent have never married; and 10 percent each are divorced and widowed. 

The percentage of wives who earn at least $5,000 more than their husband. In unmarried-partner households, that proportion is 22 percent. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01-113.html>

The percentage of wives who live in married-couple households and have higher levels of education than their husbands. In unmarried-partner households, that proportion is 28 percent. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01-113.html>

10 million
The number of single mothers, up from 3 million in 1970. About 26 percent of all parent-child situation consist of a single mother and her own child or children, up from 12 percent in 1970. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01-113.html>

30.7 million
The number of households ? about 3 in 10 ? maintained by women with no husband present. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01-113.html>

Population Distribution

145.0 million
The number of females as of July 1, 2001. That exceeds the number of males, who numbered 139.8 million. Males outnumber females in every age group through ages 30 to 34. Starting with 35- to 39-year-olds, women outnumber men. At 85 and over, there are more than twice as many women as men. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2003/cb03-16.html>

Unmarried Couples Should Consider Living-Together Documents

Guest blog by Stephanie Ackler
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Many unmarried couples living together should have several written legal documents to serve as a proxy in place of a marriage contract and to help minimize potential financial disputes or complications in the event of a breakup or death, say financial professionals.

Unmarried couples face many of the same financial issues as married couples but without benefit of marital laws: property rights, inheritances, employee benefits, and division of income and debts, for example. Unmarried couples should consider signing these legal documents when one or both bring substantial assets or debts to the relationship, they plan to stay together a long time, children are involved, or they plan to buy a home or move into one of their homes. 

The first key document is a non-marital agreement, commonly called a "living together" or "domestic partner" agreement. This agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement that a couple with accumulated assets might sign before they marry.

The agreement can be as specific or as broad as you wish to make it. Typically, the agreement will spell out how assets and income will be divvied up during a relationship, or after a relationship should it end. For example, it might spell out what portion each will contribute to the monthly bills. Will paychecks be pooled or kept separate? Will assets each person brings to the relationship be pooled or kept separate? What about assets inherited by one person during the relationship? Will they share employee benefits if the employer allows it? Will ownership of property bought during the relationship be based on who actually buys the property, kept proportional to the income each party earns, or split down the middle? How will existing or future debts be handled (it's often best to avoid jointly titled credit cards)? How will property be divided at separation or death?

A living-together agreement is especially important when the purchase of a major asset is involved, such as a home. How will ownership be titled? Who pays what portion of the down payment and monthly mortgage, and how will any gains from the sale of the house be split up? 

The agreement also might spell out a method for resolving future financial disagreements, such as using third-party mediation before resorting to the courts. Some agreements even go so far as to delineate who will cook and wash dishes and take out the trash, though some legal experts recommend that a separate agreement might be drafted for non financial issues. 

While there is little in the way of state statutes, most courts recognize living-together agreements-even oral agreements in some cases. But interpretations vary, so you'll want to hire an attorney (perhaps one for each party) to draft the agreement based on your specific needs and local court rulings. 

A living-together agreement is only a start, however. Unmarried couples also should have a will, living will, and powers of attorney-legal documents even married couples should have. A power of attorney allows the partner to step in financially should the other become incapacitated. You can rescind such a power as long as you're mentally competent, so don't feel stuck with it. 

A living will spells out what life-sustaining medical treatment you wish or don't wish should you become incapacitated, and the medical power of attorney grants your partner or other appointed agent such as a relative the legal authority to make medical decisions on your behalf, usually based on what you spell out in your living will. While married couples should have such documents, they are especially important to unmarried couples because relatives would otherwise likely supercede such decisions.

The same goes for a will. While married couples should have wills, state statute will typically-though not always-distribute property to the surviving spouse where there is no will. For an unmarried couple without a will, however, it's unlikely property or custody of a child will go to the surviving partner. 

All these agreements may sound unromantic, but many relationships, unmarried ones as well as married ones, can end in bitter feuds. Written agreements not only can minimize such feuds, they can actually promote a healthier relationship by focusing attention on financial issues central to all relationships.

(Please consult with your own tax and legal advisors before taking any action that would have tax consequences.)

Unemployment-proof Yourself Create your Dream Business

Guest blog by Marianna Olszewski
Author of Live It, Love It, Earn It: A Woman's Guide to Financial Freedom

With the unemployment rate so high these days, many of us women are either without a job or worried about being let go, downsized or having our salary cut in half. Because of these uncertain economic times, I suggest women more than ever be creative and be prepared ‘just in case” you find yourself looking for a job. 

The secret is what I call going fuzzy to firm – to get in touch with ourselves and our intuitions, follow our flow and put in down on paper. This is how new ideas are seamlessly transformed into dream businesses. It’s really quite simple. Start with spending quiet time and getting in touch with “ideas that keep nudging you” and look inside to see what it is that comes easy and natural to you. Some women I know have four or five business ideas floating around in their heads and they never write any of them down. The result – none of these ideas ever materialize. I agree it is much easier to keep your ideas in your head, then taking the time to write them down and see them as real. Seeing your idea, goal or business dream on paper can be scary. We might think “What if my ideas are silly, and I get laughed at”, “What if my business fails” or even “What if it works, then what?” As long as we keep our dreams as just that our dreams we are safe. But our talents, ideas and dreams are there for a reason – for us to look at what keeps “tugging” at us and keep coming up for us so we can manifest this goodness in our lives. Each one of us has unique talents and ideas that are put there for a reason, so we can explore and manifest them. We women deserve the very best in life and that starts with saying yes to ourselves and yes to our dreams. The first action needed to start any business is to formulate the idea on paper. When the idea is staring at us in black and white it can be read and reread, revised and changed. Otherwise it is just a bunch of fuzz in our heads.

Try my “Dream Business” Exercise in Live It, Love It, Earn It or downloading it from my website liveitloveitearnit.com. The exercise gives you space to write down some business ideas. Once your ideas are on paper, pick the idea that excites you the most, and work on that one.

Once your ideas are down on paper, the next step is doing a bit of due diligence – digging around per se. Researching similar business is helpful in learning how to best approach your business and figuring out how your business idea is both similar and different. I call this doing your due diligence. Talking to others in your field, asking how they got started and what they think the difficulties of the business are is very helpful. People are usually flattered and generous with information. I suggest networking organizations specifically for the purpose of exchanging experiences and information with other people in similar industries. Also contact legal and financial experts for their advice before beginning. Hire the best accountants and lawyers you can afford. 

After doing a bit of due diligence, the next step is creating a short (yes, short) business plan and calculating your financial needs. B-plans are easier and less time-consuming than you probably think. You definitely don’t need a b-plan as thick as a phone book. I recommend 5 or 6 pages maximum, to start. As long as your business, strategy, numbers and projections are clear and realistic, you can be succinct. Business plans are important for two reasons: one, so you can be clear about your business, its mission and your financials; and two, so you can present your business in a clear and concise way to outside investors if you are looking for cash. (The 5-Step B-Plan can be found in my book Live It, Love It, Earn It or downloaded from my website liveitloveitearnit.com) My first business plan helped me clarify my goals and find an investor to invest immediate cash into my dream. Thank goodness for b-plans! 

War of the Sexes More Like War of the Wages!

Guest blog by
Source: Soroptimist International of Chicago
Submitted by: Marion E. Gold. President of Marion Gold & Co.
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog!

When American Suffragist Susan B. Anthony said, "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less."  She was right.  Unfortunately, 37 years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, woman still is paid less than man. Sorry Susan—looks like we have not "come a long, long way!" President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, hoping it would end wage discrimination based on sex. At that time, women made 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. And, the wage gap has been closing—but at less than half a penny per year.  

Since 1960, and in 1998 dollars, the great divide between women's and men's earnings has only closed by $1,203. (Data from the Census Bureau March Current Population Survey.) About 60 percent of the improvement in the wage gap from 1979 to 1997 can be attributed to the decline in men's real earnings.  Approximately 40 percent of the closing of the gap is a result of women's better earning power. 

In 1998, women earned only 73 percent of the wages earned by men. Not much different than in 1996—except that the problem grows larger as more women and people of color enter the job market. By the year 2006, it is estimated that women and people of color will account for two-thirds of all new entrants into the workforce. Nearly 69 million women had jobs in 1998, making up 47 percent of workers 15 years and older.

Women of color experience the most severe pay inequities. Hispanic women earned only 53 cents, African-American women earned only 63 cents, and white women 73 cents for each dollar earned by a white man who faces no sex or race-based wage discrimination. Men of color also experience significant wage inequities. Hispanic men earned only 62 percent, and African-American men earned only 75 percent of the wages of white men. 

Contrary to data from the Employment Policy Foundation, The National Academy of Sciences reports that between one-third and one-half of the wage difference between men and women cannot be explained by differences in experience, education, or other legitimate qualifications. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for 1998, women earned more than men in only two of nearly 100 detailed occupational categories: food preparation and legal assistants. In all other categories, women still lag behind the guys. For example, women dry cleaning machine operators made 10 percent less than men operators; women accountants made 25 percent less, women in administrative support made 19 percent less, and women educators and reporters made 24 percent less.

Women in unions do a bit better, earning $166 more per week on the average than those women who were not union members. Union women also earned weekly wages that were slightly more than men who were not union members.

But don’t let those figures fool you. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, although working mothers who are union members earn $1.25 an hour more than nonunion working mothers—the same women gain only about 30 cents per hour for five additional years of work experience, compared to their white men counterparts who gain $1.20 for the same number of years work experience. 

Even women who have reached the highest levels of corporate America are not immune to wage discrimination. In November 1999, a Catalyst survey of Fortune 500 top earners showed that women take home 68 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

The lifetime cost to women can be devastating. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a 25 year-old woman who works full-time year-round for the next 40 years will earn $523,000 less than the average 25 year-old man will, if the current wage patterns continue. Worse, the gap widens as women mature. Among workers 16-24, the wage gap is only 91 percent; yet by age 55-64, women are earning only 68 percent of men's earnings. Lower lifetime earnings translate into lower pensions and income for women in their senior years and contributes to a higher poverty rate for elderly women.            

Are women’s choices to blame? 

While some may argue that the wage gap is a result of women's choices — mainly women taking time out of the workforce to have children —  there is much more to the story than "choice." There is no doubt that time, education and experience play a role in pay rates—but only when you compare men to men! When women enter the picture — it changes drastically. 

Here are just a few of the facts from the National Committee on Pay Equity:  

- A survey of public relations professionals shows that women with less than 5 years of experience make $29,726 while men with the same amount of experience make $48,162. For PR professionals in the 5-10 year category, women earn $41,141 while men earn $47,888. In the 10-15 year category, women earn $44,941 and men earn $54,457. In the 15-20 year range, women earn $49,270 and men earn $69,120.

- Women in the field of purchasing with 3 or fewer year’s experience earn $35,900 and men earn $47,700. For purchasers with 4-6 years experience, men earn $52,100 while women earn $38,300. Women purchasers who have 7 -10 years of experience earn $42,300 while their men counterparts earn $56,400. For those with 11- 15 years experience, women earn $43,500 and men earn $63,400.

- Among video programmers, women with advanced degrees earn 64.6 percent of the earnings of their men counterparts, and women with college degrees earn 80 percent on the dollar earned by men.

Wage discrimination is much more than a so-called "women’s issue."  

In today’s society, with the earnings of "wives" and "mothers" so essential to family support, pay equity is a "bread and butter" issue, according to a national study reported by the AFL-CIO and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In analyzing data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they jointly reported that "working families" pay a steep price for unequal pay.

Almost two thirds of the 50,000-working women who responded to the 1997 AFL-CIO survey said they provide one half or more of their families’ incomes. More than 25 percent report they are heads of households with dependent children. 

Still need convincing that pay equity is critical to this country’s economic health?  

It is estimated that America’s working families lose $200 billion of income annually to the wage gap—an average loss of more than $4,000 for each working family every year. Although some states fare better than others, a reduced wage gap does not necessarily coordinate with improved economic status for women and their families. For example, women earn the most in comparison to men in our Nation’s capitol—Washington, DC. But the primary reason is that the wages of minority men is so low.

This is bleak news when considering that working women represent the bridge out of poverty for many married couples and working families. A 1997 labor department analysis found that 7.7 percent fewer white families, 11.4 percent few African-American families, and between 9 percent and 25 percent fewer Hispanic families are poor because both husbands and wives are working. 

- If married women were paid the same as comparable men, their family incomes would rise by nearly six percent, and their families’ poverty rates would fall from 2.1 percent to 12.6 percent.

- If single women earned as much as comparable men, their incomes would rise by 13.4 percent, and their poverty rates would be reduced from 6.3 percent to one percent. 

Bottom line is that if single working mothers achieved pay equity, their poverty rates would be cut in half, according to the AFL-CIO Sorry fellas. This is not a women’s issue—it is a national issue.

Simply put, pay discrimination based on gender hurts all of us—as individuals, as families, and as a nation. Because of pay discrimination, literally hundreds of thousands of households will have less groceries, make fewer doctors visits, and have less money to put aside for retirement. Does pay equity mean setting up a national wage-setting system? Of course not! But it does mean that wages must be based on job requirements like skill and responsibility— not skin color, religious beliefs, age or gender.  Will pay equity solve every problem? Of course not! But when the day comes that wages are truly equitable, people—individuals and their families—will grow healthier, stronger and more confident. And so will our businesses and our economy! 

The facts and figures presented in this article were provided by Soroptimist International of the Americas and compiled by the National Committee on Pay Equity from the following sources: The U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau;  The U. S. Department of Labor; the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; and the Institute for Women's Policy Research. 

Marion Gold is the author of two books on women in the workforce and writes frequently on women’s advocacy issues. She was recently named the Year 2000 Communicator of Achievement by the Illinois Woman's Press Association.

Equal Pay Day

Guest blog by
President of Source: Soroptimist International of Chicago
Submitted by: Marion E. Gold, Marion Gold & Co
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog!

According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, a woman will have to work Jan. 1, 1999 to May 11, 2000 to earn what a man would have between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 1999. Here are some suggestions on how individuals, companies and organizations can recognize Equal Pay Day: 

- Restaurants and retailers can give a 27 percent discount to women, good for the day.  
- Coffee shops can sell special $1 cups of coffee to men, and charge women 73 cents.
- Organizations can hold brown-bag luncheons to discuss topics such as "How To Negotiate A Fair Raise" or "How To Ask For A Raise."

Financial Statistics Concerning Women Equal Pay Day War of the Sexes ..More Like War of the Wages!

Guest blog by Mary Ellen Spiegel, CFP
President/Founder, Fiscal Plus
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog!

Did you know that the average age of widowhood is 56 years old, and that 76% of married women are eventually widowed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  the savings rate for single women is 1.5% compared to 2.1% for single men. And,  in the United States,  women over the age of 75 living in poverty represent the highest percentage of those of any other industrialized country. Over 70% of the United State's four million elderly poor people are women; 48% of this group are widows. Women still earn 74 cents for each dollar a man earns, which qualifies them for less Social Security and pension. The statistics speak for themselves.

Start Now To Cut Next Year's Tax Bill

Guest blog by  Grace W. Weinstein
Author of The Procrastinator's Guide to Taxes Made Easy

It's too late to do much about your 2003 tax bill - although a contribution can be made to an Individual Retirement Account for 2003 right up to the day you file your income tax return for the year - but it's none too early to start thinking about 2004. Planning early can produce big savings.

Here are a half dozen money-saving tips:

1. Adjust your withholding to reflect the tax you'll actually owe. The goal is to come out even, or close to even, at the end of the year. Don't under-withhold or underestimate, or you'll owe Uncle Sam a nondeductible penalty. But don't over-withhold either. Some folks deliberately have too much taken out of their pay so that they'll receive a refund, but over-withholding means that you lose the use of your money while giving an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam. If you use withholding to discipline yourself to save, sign up for automatic saving or investing and have money transferred directly to a bank or mutual fund.

2. If your deductions exceed the standard deduction - $9,500 for a married couple filing jointly in the 2003 tax year - itemize deductions by listing them on Schedule A with Form 1040. Be sure to do the arithmetic. The government points out that 500,000 taxpayers overpaid their taxes, by an average of $600 apiece, by claiming the standard deduction when they could have itemized. For many of these taxpayers, mortgage interest alone exceeded the standard deduction.

3. Close to the edge? If you usually take the standard deduction, consider "bunching" deductions in alternate years so that you can take advantage of itemized deductions. To bunch your deductions, make annual charitable contributions in January and December of one year, then skip the following calendar year. In the year you double up your charitable donations, prepay January mortgage interest and first-quarter property taxes in December. 

4. Consider consolidating personal debt into a home equity loan or line of credit to make the interest deductible and - very likely - lower your interest rate. Just don't put your home on the line unless you're confident that you can repay the loan on schedule.

5. Contribute as much as you can to tax-sheltered retirement plans. For 2004 the ceiling on IRA contributions is $3,000 plus $500 if you are age 50 or more. The ceiling on employer-sponsored 401(k) and 403(b) retirement plans is $13,000 plus catch-up contributions of $3,000. In all of these plans, earnings aren't taxed until you take the money out. In employer-sponsored plans, you may also benefit from employer matching contributions.

6. If you have children or grandchildren, take advantage of one or more of these education tax incentives:
a) The Coverdell Education Savings Account lets you put away up to $2,000 per child per year in a tax-deferred account. 
b) The interest on U.S. Savings Bonds is tax-free if the proceeds are used for tuition and fees and if your income is under specified limits in the year the bonds are redeemed.
c) Qualified Tuition Plans ("529 plans") provide tax-free savings when the money is used for college tuition, fees, books or room and board. Contributions are not tax-deductible on your federal tax return but some states offer tax breaks to residents. 
d) Meet income limitations and you can deduct tuition and fees of up to $4,000 in 2004. This deduction is available even if you don't itemize other deductions.
e) Up to $2,500 in interest on college loans may be deducted, whether or not you itemize deductions, if you meet income limitations.
f) Meet income ceilings and claim the Hope scholarship credit for $1,500 in tax credits, per student per year, for the first two years of college.
g) The Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000 a year is per-family, not per-student.

Income ceilings are a moving target. And, since Congress made the rules regarding each tax break, those rules are complicated. 

Savings is Leverage: Cash is King (Queen)

Guest blog by Dr. Audrey Reed
Author of MoneyToolBox For Women: Simple Solutions For Mastering Your Money
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

At a recent Debt Free Diva Seminar, a participant asked why should I save? With interest rates so low, why should I put my money in the bank?

It is a really good question. What is the advantage of having a savings account, with interest at less than 2% on a good day? 

Savings accounts hold the money that we might normally keep around the house or in a checking account until we decided to buy something with the "you could have saved this" money. Savings accounts will give you the small advantage of interest without the stock market worry. And when you do decide there is another place you want to invest, it is there for plodding along like the tortise, you know the one that won the race.

Going to the bank and setting up a savings account is nurturing. It gives us a lift (almost as good as chocolate or shopping). Saving or investing is like shopping without the bags to carry home. I love to go to the bank and hand over the cash….yes cash, not a check…to nurture me, even if I have a check that could be put right into the savings account I will stand in line twice for the Yummy feeling I get from the cash rich ritual.

$1. I cash the check
$2. I take it over to one of the desks or a cozy chair.
$3. I count the money, put it in order (1's - 100's) and bless each and every dollar bill,
grateful for the abundance.
$4. I then go back to the teller and put my money into my savings account.
$5. I get the receipt in my book, say thank you with a bright smile and I am good to go……
feeling rich and rewarded.

When you are ready to take your money out of the savings account to invest in other ways, you may be surprised how the money has grown. Then invest in your dreams, but keep some liquid funds available for that rainy day, and may it never come…

A pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure, as my mother said. Yes, I have a mother, too!

This is a habit that lots of affluent people I have interviewed tell me they do. The bank knows who they are, they could be anonymous, they could bank by Internet, but the choose to be recognized as a participant in their money matters. So they show up, act friendly, joke around with the tellers, learn whom the assistant manager and bank manager is, and know them by name and face. 

My friend Rosalee from Austin, Texas says, when I first started to go to the bank and deposit money into my savings account, it was $20 a week. Every week. The bank tellers must have thought it was cute.

Now 30 years later, I have a substantial portfolio, and have developed a great relationship with my bank.  I developed the relationships when there was nothing. Now that there is a substantial portfolio, I am honored to still stand in line, chat with the other customers and tell the teller what a great job they are doing for me. That works! 

How does the savings become leverage?
It is the fuel that allows you to make investments without touching your saved money.
When you have money, you don't necessarily need to give that money to a lender, they will allow you to keep the money in the account or in a Certificate of Deposit (CD) as collateral for the loan or business/personal transaction.

It is like owning a house…..cash is always queen.

Last month, Stella got a line of credit from her bank for $25,0000, for her new business.
She does have $15,000 in her savings account, that the bank had her put into a CD to guarantee the loan. You will notice that she has kept the money and the interest coming into her account. The bank will only take the money and interest if she defaults (does not pay when due) on her line of credit.

Magic! Yes, because we don't normally think like this….. a great way to use OPM (other peoples' money) and keep your own in the bank creating some ROI (return on investment).

Be blessed.

Preventing Online Identity Theft

Guest blog by Angela Hart
Author of Through Angela's Eye 

In what could only be described as a life altering experience, when I discovered that my identity had been stolen and bank account closed, I set out on my own investigation to find out who had done this. When the police told me that homicides took precedence over the fact that hackers had threatened my life, then I decided to become my own advocate and wage war against those terrorizing me through my computer.

The two and a half year investigation, which started in July 2003 and ran through December 2005, codenamed “Operation Firewall” resulted in the arrest of 48 people; 28 of which were from the United States and 20 from overseas. In a book entitled Through Angela’s Eye the Inside Story of Operation Firewall, I chronicle, my ordeal. I reveal the methods I used to expose the identity of the first hacker listing all of the steps I took to get his picture, name, address and phone number. The book also outlines how and why they were doing this. Exposing this information led to all of their arrests. Over 4,000 cases and 64,000 arrests resulted. New laws were also put on the books to prosecute those perpetuating the crimes. My efforts have made it safer for people to make purchases over the internet.

Let’s face it, many shoppers prefer the convenience and ease of ordering goods online from the comforts of their own home and having them delivered right to their doorstep without having to set foot outside. However, such conveniences open new doors for identity thieves. 
In today’s day and age, you can never take too many precautions to prevent and protect yourself from identity theft. By following a few simple rules of thought, you can enjoy this convenience without it costing you your identity.

Credit card companies have many new laws and regulations that were implemented to protect the consumer with online purchases.

1. Always use a credit card and never a debit card. A hacker can drain your bank account and close it which you are not able to reopen. A credit card charge can always be disputed. Most credit card companies will only make you responsible for the first $50.00 in fraudulent purchases. Check with your credit card companies. 

2. Check your credit cards to see if you have identity theft protection on them. 

3. Check with them also to see if they offer online protection. Some companies will assign you a bogus credit card number that you can use for purchases that is only good for one day. 

4. Shop at reputable online merchants. This includes Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, or any other trusted household names. If you are shopping online at small companies that may not be as popular, do some research. Sometimes typing in the name of the store and the word complaints or rip off will get you additional information. You can check the Sellers online reputation through such sites as the BBB (Better Business Bureau) or the Attorney General. 

5. Only shop at secure web sites. If it says http:, it is not secure. If it says https:, the S means that it is a secure site. 

6. Make sure the page where you enter your credit card details and other personal information is also secure. When the data is transmitted, it is encrypted when it is sent to the credit card company. The credit card company is the only one who will see your full credit card number, expiration date, name, address, phone, transaction number, and items you purchased. When the receipt is sent to your email, you will only be able to see the date, last four of the credit card number, transaction number, total, and what you purchased. This is the same information that the merchant will also see. Therefore, if you
need to add to your order, you will need to input the data again. If you need a refund, they only need the date, transaction number, amount, and last four digits of the credit card number to process it. 

7. Make sure the website requests a CVV or CID number. The Card Verification Value code is an extra layer of security provided by credit card companies for those who shop online to prevent identity theft. It is usually three or four digits that is located on the back of the card. It acts as a pin number. 

8. Another option, is to have your credit card issuer place an additional password that users have to enter before an online transaction is processed MasterCard calls it Secure Code, while Visa calls it Verified. This service is provided free of charge by the respective issuers. 

9. Never e-mail a credit card number to a company. The e-mail does not encrypt the number. Phishing emails are rampant. They are designed to trick you into providing personal

information including credit card details. Sometimes they will tell you what the last four digits of you card is before asking to verify the full number. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Follow your gut. 

10. If you feel unsure about making a purchase online, call the company. Most merchants can safely place the order over the telephone. 
For more information on this subject, please check:  http://throughangelaseye.com/ http://throughangelaseye.wordpress.com/  or http://www.hackingidentitytheft.com/ 

Older Women MUST Prepare Better For Retirement Years

Guest blog by Stephanie Ackler
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Men and women hoping to retire within the next five to ten years are being forced to face a cold truth-they may not be financially prepared to retire. And women are especially vulnerable. Consider these facts about older women from the Administration on Aging:

· In 2001, women accounted for nearly 60 percent of the population age 60 and older, and 70 percent of the population 85 and older.
· Seven out of ten baby-boom women will outlive their husbands.
· Older women are twice as likely as older men to live in poverty, and half of the elderly widows living in poverty were not living in poverty before their husbands died.
· Older women are three times as likely as older men to live alone.
· Most older women depend primarily on Social Security for their retirement income, and are half as likely to receive employer pension benefits as men.
· According to the Census Bureau, retirement income for women over age 65 is just over half of the retirement income received by men in the same age group.

The reasons older women find themselves in this financially precarious position are many, ranging from working fewer years in lower-paying jobs than men, to saving less for retirement. But the question now is, how can older women approaching retirement make up for lost time?

Make retirement a priority. It's common for women to make financial sacrifices during their working years, such as staying at home to raise children or care for elderly relatives. And many tend to rely on their husbands for their principal financial support. But the problem is, women outlive men by an average of five years, and thus have more years in retirement to fund. Their husband's income from Social Security and employer pensions will drop significantly if the husband dies first, which is why widows commonly fall into poverty unless they have some of their own retirement resources. 

Beef up savings. A woman in her fifties or sixties can't make up for decades of lost retirement income and tax-deferred compounding, but she can at least make up some of the shortfall by beefing up savings. First, establish one or more retirement accounts if you don't already have one, such as joining a retirement plan at work or opening an individual retirement account (IRA). Even a nonworking spouse can put up to $3,000 a year into an IRA, and an additional $500 if she is age 50 or older. 

Next, pay your retirement accounts just as you would any critical monthly bill-before it is frittered away in discretionary spending. Direct deposits make it easier and less painful.

Contribute the most you can afford to contribute and that rules allow-at least enough to earn the entire match an employer might make into a 401(k) plan if that's available, and ideally up to the maximum allowed by the plan. For many types of retirement plans and IRAs, workers over age 50 can kick in an extra "catch up" contribution above what younger workers are allowed.

Beef up Social Security benefits. Returning to work can beef up a woman's Social Security benefits ultimately earned in her name. Social Security bases its payments on a 35-year employment history, and even part-time work may earn more in a year than what she might have been making three decades ago.

Know your retirement rights. For example, women are guaranteed to continue to receive a portion of their husband's company pension if their husband dies before they do-unless they sign away that right. Women sometimes do that out of ignorance or because the couple decides to take the "single lifetime" payout because it provides a higher income stream than the "joint and survivor" payout. But those single-lifetime payouts stop when the beneficiary dies, and women are more likely to outlive their husbands.

Older women also should educate themselves about what Social Security benefits they might receive because they are married-and what benefits they might still receive in the event of divorce.

Long-term care insurance. While many men and women should investigate long-term care insurance, it can be especially important for women. Women are twice as likely as men to live in a nursing home, and they're less likely to be able to stay at home because they will have outlived their husbands who might care for them.

(Please consult with your own tax and legal advisors before taking any action that would have tax consequences.)

Money Is Never Just Money

Guest blog y Dr. Liz Perle
Author of Money, A Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash

Women relate to money much differently than men do. There are many reasons large and small why this is true. When I ask Stephen Goldbart, a prominent psychotherapist and co-director of the Money, Meaning, and Choices Institute, about these differences, he tells me that they are ancient and deeply embedded psychologically and biologically in both sexes. These differences are so old, so deep, and such a part of our basic wiring that they cannot be ignored. "There are strong gender differences when it comes to money -- differences of identity and of historical roles. For men, the interplay of money and love and power has not really changed in thousands of years; they have always been the providers, and their identities and power come from this old survival-based role." 

Goldbart has spent years observing how both men and women commingle money and power, which, he says, they need to do in order to survive. While men directly equate money and power, women, who have traditionally had no access to money, combine the two in a very particular way that has a lot to do with romantic love. 

"Historically, money was melded with being provided for and taken care of. Thus it's a challenge for women to separate out love and money," Goldbart points out. "The degree to which a man provided for a woman has been her sustenance and her life. Therefore, for a woman, a man's success and his sharing of that success financially is more than just what we see in her lifestyle. On an unconscious level, it has to do with knowing that she and her children will survive. When we talk about money, we're talking about providing for basic human needs; this is basic human wiring. And while these providing and dependent roles have changed in the last seventy-five years, to brain stem psychology, that is no time at all." 

The way we're raised also has much to do with the different approaches men and women have to money. Somehow I sincerely doubt my grandmother pulled either of my male cousins into her boudoir and handed them a secret sack with a $20 bill in it. They weren't told that their social and financial security would be determined by their marriages or that talking about money was "not done," immoral, selfish, tacky, or just plain bad manners -- quite the contrary. Joline Godfrey, the CEO of Independent Means and author of Raising Financially Fit Kids, reassures me that my family experience is far from unusual. Godfrey, a financial educator, feels that our culture remains stuck in the belief that we must take care of girls. She observes that we still expect too much from boys financially and too little from girls, and explains that for boys, the issue around money is shame because money is more directly tied to their manhood, whereas womanhood is still very much connected to a girl's beauty and to her ability to connect to others in relationships. Godfrey believes it is easier for women to disconnect from financial responsibilities because our identities aren't at stake if we do. But for boys and men? Money and providing determine their feelings of self-worth. 

My male cousins understood quite clearly that they'd be judged by their abilities to go out, club the money dragon over its head, and haul home that cash. Holiday dinner conversations centered on what happened in the stock market, other people's (lousy or lucrative) investments, football, and "Did-you-see-the-Shermans'-new-Vista-Cruiser?-Someone-must-be-doing-well" observations of others' good or ill fortunes. We all absorbed the import of these conversations, but as in most families, the emotional impact of these messages differed depending on whether you were the girl cousin or the boy cousin. All of us learned that money would determine our social standing and whether or not we were perceived to be "successful." Indeed, we all went on to have good jobs and good careers. But looking around the table, it was clear for the girl cousins that we had two paths to this achievement: We could get there by work or by marriage. 

For the most part, men know that society sizes them up rather two-dimensionally by how much they do or don't make. Most (if not all) men grow up with the lurking suspicion that the job description of "manly man" still includes the task of being the classic "provider." "How do men rank their self-esteem?" Goldbart asks. "By their productivity in the world and whether or not they are successful. Most men would still define success in terms of their work and their finances first and their families second." Goldbart feels that the way men view their purpose and judge their value remains unchanged by the fact that women now contribute to family income. "There was a women's -- not a men's -- revolution," he concludes. 

Although this bottom-line assessment of a desirably successful man is broadening in tiny increments to include the unquantifiable (and uncompensated) nurturing skills of fatherhood, men still understand that their very worth is measured by their financial prowess. They think -- and not unjustly -- that women evaluate them by how much wealth they can create and how much money they can provide. This is something women don't like to admit they do, but Pamela York Klainer, a financial consultant and the author of How Much Is Enough? has seen it for years in her clients. "Many men tend to want to exaggerate their differences through money. Someone has to be 'top dog,' 'alpha man.' It's clear that men use money as a differentiator. They will show their power by buying expensive gifts for those around them to show that they have 'made it.' It's a form of power. Whereas women will use money to form bonds and friendships." 

But it's different with women. We may keep a beady eye trained on the wardrobes and kitchen appliances of those around us, but part of keeping pace with our friends lies in the fact that we don't want money to separate us. Put six women together in a room with a range of incomes, and all will find a safe middle ground in order to minimize our differences. We intuitively know that nothing divides us faster than money. 

Where men use money as shorthand to determine who has the power in a relationship, women will let it be a surrogate for love and attention. This frequently shows up in divorce settlements, where, as Stephen Goldbart has seen, a woman will want a certain amount of money because, psychologically, that money represents all the love the husband didn't give her. In this way money compensates for emotional disappointments. 
Copyright © 2006 Liz Perle

My Journey to Wealth: How I Rode the Bull Right into Wall Street

Guest blog by Natalie Pace
Author of The ABCs of Money

I Went from Copper Miner's daughter to Golden Girl, from divorced and desperate to dream come true. You can do it too!

Bucked off (the Bull) and overwhelmed!
When I got hit with the sledgehammer of divorce and the challenges of providing a home for my son, being the breadwinner and the nanny and the chauffeur, et al., I thought, "Teaching! I'll be home for my kid after school, and I'll make decent money." How naīve I was. When you consider teachers don't get paid to be at school early, or to stay late, or to grade papers into the middle of the night, my babysitter was earning more per hour than I was.

Within two years of teaching, I was so far behind on my bills that the county was threatening to put a lien on my one asset -- my condominium -- to collect the property taxes I owed. My credit card debt had blossomed into a nuclear waste dump that I stored on the top of my refrigerator - so toxic that it made your eyes bleed just to pass by. Needless to say, I was an emotional wreck, and I could only approach the nuclear fallout of which bills to pay, which companies to plead with and which to completely ignore on the nights when my son went to his father's. How could I have let things get to this point? What kind of world expected me to work all day just to provide basic necessities and then criticized me for having a latchkey kid who turned to drugs or video games for comfort? 

When I stopped my whining and complaining and blaming others and gnashing of teeth, and focused on possible solutions, they seemed relatively simple. I needed to earn more and spend less. 

Within a few weeks, I landed an executive-level position at a nationwide phone company. It was a small office owned by a friend of mine. Initially, the position was on a trial basis, but within a few months, under my operational direction, the company was out of the red and into the black. The salary was double what I earned as a teacher, and the hours, though longer on paper, were much less in reality.

At the same time, the wonder of investment cycles began to work in my favor. In 1998, at the time of my divorce, I was locked into that home that I couldn't afford and couldn't sell. It was only a two bedroom, so I couldn't even rent out a room to help make up the difference.

Burned for nine years by my first major real estate investment, I turned my eye to Wall Street. You could have thrown a dart at a wall full of stocks and found a winner in 1999, and cocktail parties were abuzz with people touting their gains. 

Bull Run!
In August of 2000, I met with a certified financial planner. I will call him, Steven Snappy. He had been referred by my bank and had a set of impressive initials after his name -- NASD, SIPC, and so on, which lent him credibility. I sat down, feeling as though I was in good hands. He served up a pie chart telling me that if I tossed my real estate profits into a bowl of mutual funds, I'd churn up a minimum of 12 to 15 percent return. If, that is, I also dumped in an additional $500 a month, which was the minimum amount I could commit to.

"12 to 15 percent," he said, behind a cupped hand, "is very conservative." (Never mind the fact that I'd have to give up eating to afford the $500 per month.) His mutual fund brochures which he proposed to put all of my money into, which I still have, boasted up to 43 percent returns on funds anchored by AOL, Global Crossing, and Enron, to name three. These brochures quoted returns from March 2000, at the stock market high, something Mr. Snappy neglected to tell me, even though our meeting occurred after Nasdaq had already tumbled about 40 percent, dragging those gains into the gutter.

Snappy became impatient with my questions. It was perfectly easy to see from his charts that the mutual funds he was recommending were amazing, he insisted. By diversifying, I would be protected from the fluctuations of any one sector. How hard was it to see this? Besides, he was making a huge, unauthorized exception for me by lowering the minimum buy-in. If my money sat in savings, that was less than inflation. We were talking ten times gains in upside potential. Just what was it I didn't understand? (If you ever hear someone talking to you like this, remember s/he is a salesperson, not an investment genius, and run.)

There I was -- a professional woman in sharp new clothes with a pen poised to sign a slew of documents I didn't believe in because I wanted some sleazy salesperson to approve of me. Think fast, Natalie.

I left that day without signing, using the lame excuse that I was late for work. Snappy was exasperated with me but that didn't keep him from continually calling and nagging me to sign the documents. I was too busy researching P/Es, PEGs, Debt/Equity ratios, and the 10-Ks of my favorite companies to spend time offering him more ridiculous excuses. (Thank God for the ignore option on my cell phone!)

By the end of 2000, the markets tanked and the recession deepened. So instead of throwing away my life savings on Snappy's "big winners" -- Enron, Global Crossing and AOL -- my investment chugged along at 4 percent interest in a certificate of deposit.

Confidence: My real Cash Cow!
When I did invest in the stock market in August of 2001, I tripled my money in just four short months -- without shorting. I can remember only a handful of times being that elated over money -- when I bought my first car, when I purchased my first home, and when I tripled my money in the stock market. It's better than winning the lottery!

Since then, I've had extraordinary gains in the markets, including having 70% winners in my monthly stock report cards in 2008 -- another year when people lost a ton of money. And I was able to found and become the majority shareholder in my own financial news company -- all of which led to my new book, Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is.

I'm thrilled I didn't invest my money with Steven Snappy, but the most important gain I received that year was confidence. When you have nagging doubts, remember: it's your heart begging for more information. Trust that your uneasy spirit knows something. By prospecting into the heart and soul of your concerns and educating yourself to answer those concerns intelligently, you will start on your path to financial wisdom. Knowledge and information are better strategies for decision-making than blind trust in a stockbroker/salesperson, or anyone for that matter.

Get Your Accounts in Shape

Guest blog by Tiffany R. Love
Author of Surviving Financial Disasters: Bankruptcy, Foreclosure, Eviction, Auto Repossession, Excessive Debts and Much More 

With 57 percent of wage-earners with children living paycheck-to-paycheck and the record total of outstanding consumer non-mortgage debt nearly $2 trillionÜ it's time to take charge of your finances. Great news, help is available. Women have historically relied on husbands to care for their finances. In the event of divorce and, oftentimes, death many women don't know where to turn. Furthermore, a growing number of adults are choosing to remain single. What to do when prince charming isn't around? While I, a single woman, was completing my first book I was suddenly and unexpectedly found unemployed. This distressing event didn't alter my spending habits. With the threat of foreclosure lingering I took control of my financial future to save my property and rescue my sanity. Each of us have stories that lead to the disappearing of our savings, but knowing how to alter spending patterns sooner rather than later can enable us to take charge as opposed to running and hiding from creditors. 

I often liken money management to working out at the gym. How many people sincerely want to spend an hour working out each day? Most of enjoy eating ice cream and watching our favorite video. Similarly becoming financially fit takes work, a little bit each day to get into shape. The first step is to obtain your credit report; regard this stage as the enrollment process. Don't fear obtaining your credit reports; this is a pivotal sobering step that shifts our focus onto our finances. A contact list of the three major credit bureaus is included at the end of this article.

For some, your credit report may tell you that you're not in bad shape. However, others are laden with a history of unpaid debt and need to take action to prevent you from collapsing under pressure. Consider this your lucky day because it's not too late to turn your finances around. Even if the house is in foreclosure, bankruptcy is the only way you can stop creditors from calling, or the repo man is stalking you there's still time repair your finances. However, you must remove the blankets from over your head and face the problems; this is an important requirement to becoming financially healthy. 

Ready? Let's begin working out. Here are a few exercises adapted from my book Surviving Financial Disasters to help lift debt off your shoulders:

∑ For those with several credit cards, don't spend your income tax return building a deck or painting the house, use the money to pay off your credit cards and then close accounts, cut up the cards, and don't look back. 

∑ Maybe you owe the IRS and a refund is a fantasy, but you have steady income and plenty of write offs. It's time to increase the number of dependants claimed on your income tax. This should provide you with more money each month to pay off your debts. Contact a knowledgeable tax accountant to ensure you have enough write offs to prevent owing additional money to the IRS. 

∑ Don't delay selling possessions to obtain extra cash. Instead of refinancing a home consider selling the property and relocating to a less expensive area. This could be a temporary move until your debts are manageable. Don't forget yard sales. Items hidden in your closet and garage may be the find your neighbor has been searching for. Yard sales are an excellent source for immediate money.

∑ Think resourceful. We're constantly tempted with the lasted and greatest. Think long term. A Mercedes Benz isn't the only vehicle that can get back and forth to work. Wait for the sales. Evaluate the importance of the purchase. Ask yourself if it can be realistically liquidated to pay the mortgage next month?

∑ Missed mortgage payments can be made up. Don't worry, missing mortgage payments frequently occurs. Lenders allow borrowers to enter forbearance (or mortgage modification) agreements. The delinquent balance can be paid over time or added the balance of the loan.

It's time to live each day as a deposit into an account of your ultimate happiness. Women don't need to feel alone nor do we need to learn the hard way. Numerous options are available to those who want to prevent and get out of debt. Don't feel discouraged, remember it will take time to have a nice tight account, but it's worth the work. Best wishes.

Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374

P.O Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-2104

Trans Union
Consumer Disclosure Center
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022

Don't Overlook These Lessor-Known Features for Long Term Care Insurance Policies

When buying a long-term care insurance policy, most consumers concentrate on the basic features of the policy such as the dollar amount of the daily benefits, the length of coverage and what circumstances trigger the policy's benefits. But newer LTC policies offer features and options consumers frequently overlook, that can be very beneficial to the insured. 

Survivorship benefits. This is an attractive feature for couples who buy individual policies from the same insurer. When one spouse dies, the company waives the remaining premiums on the surviving spouse's policy. For this to go into effect, the insurer generally requires that both policies have been in force for several years (typically seven to ten years), and some policies require that no benefits have been paid to either spouse during that period. 

Shared benefits. Couples who buy policies with benefits for a limited number of years, such as two or five, versus lifetime benefits, might find this feature attractive. This comes in three forms. One type allows people who exhaust their benefits to dip into their partner's policy benefits. Another version creates a third pool of benefits that either partner can dip into. A third form is to have a single pool of benefits that both partners draw on.

The obvious risk here is that with two of the types, you could drain the other partner's benefits. Financial planners commonly recommend that consumers buy lifetime benefits if they can afford it.

Alternate plan of care. One reason consumers are reluctant to buy an LTC policy when they are younger (say in their 50s) is the concern that the policy will become obsolete and not cover newer forms of care. For example, adult day care centers and assisted living facilities weren't around years ago, and older policies still in force won't cover them. With the alternate plan-of-care feature, the insured, his or her doctor, and the insurance company will ideally agree on a plan of care not currently specified under the policy but which the company will pay for.

Accelerated payments. This allows you to pay up the policy within a certain period instead of over the rest of your life by making accelerated premium payments. Examples include ten-year pay or payments made until you turn 65. Accelerated premiums, which are not allowed in some states, might run two to three times more than lifetime premiums.

This feature eliminates the challenge of making payments when you're living on limited retirement income, and it can provide a tax advantage for some business owners (especially C corporation owners). On the other hand, should you need the policy earlier in your lifetime than is normal, you've "overpaid" your premiums. Disciplined savers also could bank the extra premium money they otherwise would have made, letting it earn interest and drawing on it for premiums once you're retired.

Enhanced elimination period. LTC policies offer a choice of elimination periods, which is the number of days you must pay for long-term care out of your pocket before the policy starts paying. The elimination period may range from zero days up to 180 days or even a year. The longer the elimination period, the smaller the premium. 

With an enhanced elimination period, you can start or accelerate the elimination period "clock" with just a few home health care visits. This can save you out-of-pocket expenses during the elimination period.

Respite care. It's common for family members or friends to provide informal care at home to someone who otherwise would have qualified for their policy benefits. When this occurs, some policies will pay for temporary care while the family caregiver takes a "break," even though the insured has not met the elimination period. Policies typically limit the number of respite days you can take.

These are just of a few of the lesser-known long-term care features. Others include bed reservation benefits, non-forfeiture benefits, geriatric care management coverage, international care, return of premium upon death, restoration of benefits and caregiver training. Some are standard in most policies, others are offered as options at additional cost. Review these and similar features with your financial planner and long-term care insurance agent to see if they're available and if they make sense for you.

(Please consult with your own tax and legal advisors before taking any action that would have tax consequences.)

Don't Just Dream; Execute By Setting Goals

Guest blog by Lynnette Khalfani
Author of The Money Coach's Guide to Your First Million: 7 Smart Habits to Building the Wealth of Your Dreams

Too many people dream of becoming a millionaire but have no real plan for how to achieve it. Well, you can't become a millionaire just by dreaming, wanting, or wishing for wealth. As you develop the framework for your millionaire's budget, think about planning for the future and reaching some of your bigger goals. So many times we get caught up in daily tasks and activities that we forget about setting substantive goals for the future. But in order to accrue substantial wealth, itís essential that you write out your short-, medium-, and long-range goals. Some of you may not have thought about your own goals much lately. Perhaps your life has been consumed by your children's world; their needs and wants always come first, and you constantly put your desires on the back burner. It's a mistake to do that. Financially speaking, you can get yourself so wrapped up in another person or whether that individual is your child, partner, or parent or that you neglect yourself and fail to engage in smart, practical financial planning. You don't want to look up 20 years from now and think that you should have managed your money better when you were younger. 

To immediately improve how you handle your finances and make a giant leap toward becoming a millionaire, one of the most important things you can do is to write out your personal goals. This one act alone will help you build a foundation for a lifetime of wealth. If you are married or in a committed relationship, I suggest you do this exercise with your partner. Write your individual goals first, and then share your goals with the other person. Ultimately, we are all individuals with our own unique dreams and ambitions. Yet, for those of us involved with significant others, it's crucial that you make a habit of setting and reaching your goals together. 

I want you to think of your goals in the context of how long it will be before these goals can be realized. Short-term goals should be something that you can accomplish in a relatively brief period of time, say in one to two years, at most. Medium-term goals can be classified as those that require two to ten years to accomplish. Long-range goals are those that require ten years or more to fulfill. To jump start your thinking, I've included a laundry list of goals below. Some of these may be relevant to you; others may hold no significance. The idea, however, is to give yourself permission to focus on the things you want to accomplish in the future goals you may never have acknowledged to yourself, let alone written down or verbalized to someone else. Among the goals you might pursue are: 

¶ Eliminating credit card debt. 
¶ Buying a new home. 
¶ Saving for a college education.
¶ Investing for retirement.
¶ Starting a business.
¶ Establishing a cash cushion.
¶ Paying for a wedding.
¶ Saving for a new baby.
¶ Purchasing a vacation home.
¶ Traveling around the world.
¶ Buying a boat.
¶ Paying off student loans.
¶ Making a large contribution to church, synagogue, etc.
¶ Buying a new car or a second car.

One of the most important things you can do to reach your goal of becoming a millionaire is to write out your personal goals.

The Write Way

No matter what your goals, you should know that writing out your plans gives you a far better shot at making them happen. In fact, written goal-setting is a phenomenally powerful act as demonstrated by a number of high-profile cases. 

A compelling example of the power of written goal-setting is represented in a 1979 survey of Harvard University students which found that 84 percent of them did not set goals. Another 13 percent of them did set goals, but didnít bother to write them down. And only 3 percent of the graduating class had written goals and an action plan. Ten years later, researchers resurveyed the group. The 13 percent with unwritten goals were earning double the income of those with no goals. But hereís the whopper: the 3 percent of the student population with written goals earned 10 times as much as the other 97 percent! 

Clearly, written goals are important. But do you realize how it is that written goals are able to propel you to reach success? Here are a few reasons why goal-setting works:  

¶ PURPOSE: Goals give your daily and long-term actions meaning and purpose. This helps you stay motivated when you realize that youíre engaging in certain financial behaviors for a reason and not just randomly acting.

¶ ACCOUNTABILITY: Goals also make you accountable. If you find that you're regularly falling short of your goals, it could be that youíre not really committed to them.

¶ STRUCTURE: Goals provide a framework or structure from which you can operate and achieve your objectives. Many of us need this structure to plug away at reaching our goals, especially long range visions.

¶ DISCIPLINE: Goals spur you along to be consistent and disciplined in your actions since you know that a lack of discipline on your part will cause you to deviate from your plans, thereby jeopardizing your chances of hitting your goals.

¶ SPECIFICITY: Goal-setting forces you to not just think about what you want in general terms, but to write down your aims in concrete terms. Adding the element of specificity to your goals makes you far more effective in taking the practical steps required to reach your objectives.

Written goals give you purpose, make you accountable, make your financial plan concrete, supply you with a discipline to follow, and identify specific areas to focus on.

Setting Smart Goals

Your goals have to matter to you. They have to be achievable. You want to push yourself and stretch to achieve a goal without putting it so far out of reach that you become disillusioned and give up. Remember, failure is not an option for a Millionaire-in-Training. And I believe| 

that's what you are if you're reading this book and taking this advice seriously. I'm also a believer in setting the appropriate type of goals. SMART is an acronym that describes goals that are:


Specific goals are the exact opposite of vague, hazy dreams. With the latter, someone might say, "I want to be rich," or, "I want to save money for my kid's college education." Those are just general wishes, and chances are they won't be fulfilled. But the person who sets a specific goal would define (in writing) exactly what "rich" means from his or her point of view, as in "I want to have a net worth of $5 million." A specific goal regarding college savings might be: "I want to save $80,000 for my sonís college tuition." 

¶When you make goals measurable, you quantify the objective you're seeking. In doing so, you ensure accountability and track your progress. For instance, to know where you're going, you have to know your starting point. So if one of your goals is to have no debt, you need to know how much debt you currently have. If you add up your credit card bills and they total $20,000, then you make your goal measurable by writing down something to the effect that, "Over the next two years, I want to eliminate my $20,000 in debt." In light of this goal, you know that after one year, if you're staying on task, you should be able to measure your progress and find that you've knocked out half of your debt, or $10,000.

¶ Action-oriented goals require you to do something, not just think about doing something. Not weigh your options. Not analyze a certain situation. Not research possibilities, and so forth. No, in |order for the goal to carry weight, you must act upon it. So letís say you initially thought that, "I want to start a business," was a goal. That's far too vague. You have to amend that statement and write something along the lines of: "By the end of the month, I want to create a business plan for my new interior design business." This way, you know you actually have to draw up the business plan. If you look up sample business plans on the Internet or investigate what lenders want in a business plan, that's fine as a prerequisite to what you have to do. But ultimately, itís the actual writing of your business plan that you need to accomplish. 

¶ Realistic goals are neither too ambitious nor too easy to accomplish. If you set the bar so high that itís impossible to reach your goal, you're only setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. By all means, make your goals challenging to reach, but be realistic in your expectations. Here's a case in point. Let's say one of your goals is to return to college and obtain an MBA. You already have a Bachelor of Arts degree, and you know that the MBA program you want to attend typically takes two years for the average full time student to complete. If you work 40 hours a week, will take courses only part time, and can study only on the weekends, don't expect to finish the MBA program in 18 months. Given the confines of your situation, a more realistic yet still challenging goal might be: "I want to earn my MBA in two and a half years." 

Any worthwhile goal is time-bound and includes a deadline by which the goal should be met. When you include a deadline, you make your goal time-bound. Therefore, itís not good enough to say: "I plan to buy a new home." Instead, when writing out your SMART goal, put down something like: "Two years from now, I plan to put down a 10 percent down payment toward the purchase a $450,000 Tudor home with four bedrooms and two bathrooms." This goal is clearly specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic for many people, and time-bound.

Build a Better Nest Egg with 6 Easy Sound Strategies for 2009

Guest blog y Natalie Pace
Author of The ABCs of Money

The stock market lost 38% in 2008, but if you lost more than 20%, your problem wasn't really the stock market, it was the design of your nest egg. Storms occur in markets, as they do in the real world, but your home shouldn't be flooding every time it happens. 

You know intuitively that your retirement plan doesn't work. Your nest egg has drowned twice now in the last eight years. You were elated with your returns in 1999 and then devastated when your assets imploded during the DOT COM bust of 2000-2002. Same thing when Dow Jones Industrial Average broke through 14,000 in October of 2007, only to drop below 8000 in 2008. If you had a healthy fiscal plan, your nest egg wouldn't be sinking all of the time. 

And contrary to what your financial advisor may be telling you, the markets returned only 4% over the last ten years, not 12%. That was less than a percentage point above Treasury Bills, at 3.3% annual gains, with a whole lot more risk.

Sound Nest Egg Strategies:
Rule #1: Always keep a percent equal to your age. 

Modern Portfolio Theory, the cornerstone of a healthy nest egg, has been around for half a century and Harry Markowitz, the economist who wrote it, won a Nobel Prize in 1990. Many financial professionals are paid on commission to sell you mutual funds, so, if you weren't protected from the 2008 financial crisis, chances are that either 1) your guru just didn't know the theory, or 2) s/he wasn't paid to employ the theory, or 3) s/he had bosses who pushed sales hard and couldn't employ the theory, or 4) s/he was dumb enough to think s/he could outthink a genius Nobel Laureate.

Grade Your Guru
You wouldn't hire an architect whose buildings flood in a storm. Since there are so many ìprofessionalsî and ìpunditsî who are spouting off -- when in reality they drowned their clients' nest eggs in 2008 -- it's your job to take charge and design a better dream life. As TD AMERITRADE Chairman Joe Moglia says, "Nobody cares more about your money more than you do." 

Bears get lucky in bear markets. Bulls get lucky in bull markets. Sound nest egg strategies work in any market!


Add up your losses. If you lost more than 20% in 2008, your guru isn't making the grade.
Check your allocation. If you didn't start 2008 with a percent equal to your age SAFE in Treasury Bills and/or high-rated bonds (GM, Fannie, etc. DO NOT QUALIFY), your guru isn't looking out for your best interest. 

The pie charts and strategies outlined in Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is saved Bill (a handyman) and Nilo (an office administrator) Bolden's nest egg, while Nilo's bosses lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since employing my strategies, they haven't lost anything.

Before I give you the details on my track record this year, which was outstanding, please note that novices have no business trading individual stocks in this financial storm anymore than beginning surfers should race into the jaws of a tsunami. Don't trade individual companies in 2009 unless: 1) you know how to buy put options and have had a few years of successful trading long and short, and 2) are willing to take your profits early and often. Obviously, if you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to focus on sound nest egg strategies first and education second -- perhaps at my Get Rich and Enrich Retreat. (Check out the banner ad on the home page at NataliePace.com for more details.)

70% of the companies I featured in my 2008 monthly article and stock report cards were winners. Of those winners, more than half (58%) were shorts, i.e., companies that we expected to go DOWN in value. 

Blind faith lost you a lot of money in 2008. 2009 is poised to be another stormy environment in stocks, which means that if you don't pull your head out of the sand and get a better dream life plan, you're going to be get buried. 

My Golden Nest Egg Formula
ALWAYS KEEP A PERCENT EQUAL TO YOUR AGE SAFE. Treasury bills are the safest investment today. (High-rated bonds, money markets and CDs are traditionally and will be again in the future.)

DURING RECESSIONS, OVERWEIGHT 15-20% ADDITIONAL INTO SAFETY. Cash is King in a recession, i.e. not losing is winning. You will not be stuck overweighted in cash forever. If the markets continue to drop in 2009, as they are poised to do, you'll be glad you employed this defensive strategy. And you will have cash to invest, while those around you are scrambling to hang on and/or are forced to sell low to cover basic needs. 

REMAINDER IN YOUR NEST EGG SHOULD BE DIVERSIFIED INTO 10 ETFS. You will find detailed pie charts in Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is.

EMERGING INDUSTRIES, NOT DYING COMPANIES. General Motors and Ford Motor Company combined are worth less than one-tenth of Toyota Motor Company's $102 billion. It is not just that Ford and GM have more expenses. GM and Ford lost market share this decade because their gas guzzlers were far less popular than the fuel-efficient Prius and other Toyota models. 

KNOW WHAT YOU OWN, i.e., not mutual funds. The top mutual fund holdings in the U.S. in 2007 included some of the most poorly run companies, including General Motors, AIG, Fannie Mae and Phillip Morris Tobacco Company. ETFs allow you to target sections of the stock market by size (small, medium and large), style (value and growth), industry (gold mining, clean technology, international, biotechnology, etc.) and more. 
DON'T TRADE. If you don't know how to take your profits early and often and/or if you don't know how to buy put options, do not buy and sell individual companies at all in 2009. (Own companies you love in ETFs where you are more protected from the price fluctuations of any one individual company.) 

If you used this 6-step formula and rebalanced only once a year (say in January), you could have captured your gains in 2000 at the NASDAQ high. Likewise, in January of 2008, you would have captured your Dow Jones Industrial Average gains before the major fall-off and redistributed. Identifying where your gains are coming from allows you to increase your assets and redeploy your holdings back into a sound, dream life blueprint – which is a combination of Modern Portfolio Theory, ETFs, common sense and basic investing recipes. 

Almost 50% of Boomers Don't Have Enough Retirement Savings: So What Can They Do?

Guest blog by Lisa Orrell
Author of Boomers into Business: How Anyone Over 50 Can Turn What They Know into Dough Before and After Retirement

Did you know that Baby Boomers are currently retiring at the rate of 1 every 8 seconds (Judy Chartrand, Ph.D. and Bonnie Hagemann)? And this massive retirement trend has just started!
That’s a huge amount of Boomers, willingly or unwillingly, leaving their income- generating jobs daily. But due to the economic shifts in our country the past couple of years, many Boomers cannot afford to retire securely or as comfortably when, how, and as, they’d hoped…regardless of whether they’ve been an employee their entire career or self-employed.
Here are some startling stats to put this in perspective: According to The EBRI Retirement Readiness RatingTM in 2010: 

• 47.2% of older Boomers (56-62) are at risk of outliving their retirement savings.
• 43.7% of younger Boomers (46-55) are at risk of not having enough money for basic monthly expenses when they retire.

47.2%??? That’s almost half of the Boomers! Those statistics are frightening, especially the one about the younger Boomers (46-55). It means we have millions of people (close to 30 million) who cannot afford to stop working at 65 and who are currently seeking ways to make more income now and on an on-going basis past 65. 

But, on the other end of that spectrum, there are Boomers who simply don’t want to fully retire, even if they can, and are looking for something different to do. Regardless of which category you may fall into, what can you do? Boomers have options that can generate income, full-time or part-time, or on the side of a current job, that is flexible, interesting, fun, possible to start on a tight budget, and that can be done way into their golden years. 
So what is this career possibility that can potentially improve your current and future financial outlook? The premise is quite basic: Become a Topic Expert. Most everyone knows something, from their career background, life experiences or from a hobby that other people will pay money to learn about. 

Whether you’ve been an HR professional your whole career, or a construction worker, homemaker, dentist, Life Coach, housepainter, or a hobbyist at growing amazing roses, Boomers can monetize what they know to create a good income, in a wide variety of ways, as a Topic Expert. And, health permitting, it’s something a person can do for years…way past 65…and, as just mentioned, for many Boomers working past 65 years-old is going to be necessary.

More good news is that just about ANY Boomer is qualified to embark on this journey without much money! Seriously, you can launch a Topic Expert brand platform with little more than a basic website and a lot enthusiasm. There are many people who have done it for under $500 bucks and within a short time were making a significant income. 

But you may now be wondering where the money is in this? As a Topic Expert, it can lead to a variety of revenue-generating paths, such as: consulting others; conducting training seminars online and offline; developing many strategies for on-going passive income; creating simple “how to” products to sell; and much more.

To illustrate here’s a true story of what can happen if you think outside the box a little:

A typical “mow & blow” neighborhood gardener was struggling financially and the physical nature of his work was affecting him as he got older. But, during his career, he had developed a unique method to bring totally dead lawns back to green, lush lawns. And neighbors of his clients started to ask him for help with their brown lawns, and then he started charging other gardeners to learn his method. This then led to him being an in-demand speaker at local and national Home & Garden Expos and industry tradeshows, as well as conducting his own workshops for homeowners that he charged people to attend. 

Needless to say, by branding and marketing himself as a “guru of growing green lawns” he went from an income for years that was in the low 5-figures to one in the 6-figures, and he was able to leave his daily “mow & blow” gardener business behind. Plus, this all happened in his mid-60s and he was able to do it for many years afterwards…thus greatly improving his financial situation and his quality of life.

But what if you’re a homemaker in your late 50’s and 60’s (or even 70’s!), your kids are now adults, you have been a homemaker for the past 30+ years (focused on everyone else except you all those years), and you now want, or need, to generate more income? 

Needing to generate an income has become a serious reality for many Boomer homemakers due to divorce; retirement accounts taking a dive; house values declining; investments not yielding their anticipated projections; unexpected emergencies draining savings and/or assets; or due to becoming a widow.

So what can you do? Aside from going back to school or enrolling in a vocational program to learn a new skill set (which can take a lot of time and money), focus on the skills you’ve acquired as a full-time homemaker and as an intelligent woman. Perhaps you are an amazing cook; have a flair for home decorating; or are brilliant at running a house and raising three kids on a tight budget. Maybe you are known amongst friends and family as a terrific time management and scheduling pro; or have created the most amazing vegetable garden that everyone admires. Great! You can take that knowledge and develop a Topic Expert brand platform that can generate money for you.

Here’s another quick example to illustrate my point: If you’re a CPA, rather than just focus on doing tax planning and tax returns to generate money, you can increase your income, now and into the future, by also conducting presentations that you can charge for, or you can develop products that people will buy, or you can do things like create a 2-day “financial success” boot camp with other guest experts/speakers…and you can charge people a lot to attend them. 

By speaking, creating products, and/or writing articles and Press Releases that get published by the media, you can position yourself as a “tax & accounting” Topic Expert and go beyond “just being another CPA in your town”. This can increase your income in a variety of ways!
Now, I realize that many of you may not want to travel for speaking engagements or have no desire to speak publicly. Luckily, with modern technology, you can conduct webinars and teleseminars that are easy to set-up, that people will pay to attend online or via phone…and you don’t have to leave your house. Plus, any 1-on-1 or group consulting you may do can be done online or on the phone. 

Furthermore, there are Topic Experts who never do any speaking, consulting or product development. They do things like develop blogs or newsletters to share their expertise and sell ad space on them to generate income. 
See? There are TONS of ways to make money when you decide to position yourself as an expert in a specific area.

One final key fact that supports why becoming a Topic Expert is something you should consider is that we now live in a 24/7 media world. Therefore the media is always looking for experts to interview on a wide variety of interesting topics and on breaking news stories. It’s amazing how quickly someone can land media interviews when the media perceives them as “an expert”. Media coverage can quickly help build awareness for you and that can also lead to attracting more revenue-generating opportunities to you. 
The bottom-line: Whether you’re already self-employed, unemployed, or an employee, you can expand on what you do and offer outside of your actual “job”, and/or promote what you know, to increase your income and build your notoriety. And you, a Baby Boomer, may fall into the 50% category of Boomers who are at risk of struggling financially now and into your golden years. 

It’s time to seriously start considering your options for income opportunities that can improve your financial future. And branding and marketing yourself as a “Topic Expert” is certainly one viable option to think about!

FIVE Tips To Avoid Letting Financial Issues Ruin Your Relationship

Guest blog by Dani Johnson

FIVE tips to avoid letting financial issues ruin your relationship. According to most studies, financial issues are the # 1 cause for divorce.

 1) THE ENEMY IS NOT YOUR SPOUSE IT IS YOUR DEBT. Debt can be overpowering, you work all month just to dig yourself deeper in debt, increasing stress, which leads to fighting that can destroy your relationship and your happiness. STOP! The enemy is not each other; the enemy is your debt and it is time to declare a war on it together.

2) LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS, RICH PEOPLE GO BANKRUPT, TOO: Whether you are worth $5M or make a modest salary, you need to live within your means. For the average American, there are simple and proven techniques that work. One example: stop wasting thousands of dollars each month on food you don’t need. Eat every item in your fridge and pantry before you go shopping and you will save THOUSANDS each month. I feed my family of eight on $100 per week.

3) PROSPER WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED: Whether you are a small business owner, an entrepreneur, or work in corporate America you need to learn to prosper where you are planted. Blaming your spouse, your parents or your boss will not fix your problems. The debt fairy is not coming. It is time to stop complaining and get to work.

4) TURN THE BLACKBERRY OFF: Work as hard at your home life as you do at the office! Set aside time completely devoted to your wife, husband and kids. Don’t take business calls or even think about business. This not only reminds you how much you love each other but will recharge your batteries so you are itching to go back to work to kick butt.

5) COMMUNICATE AND DO NOT COMMIT FINANCIAL INFIDELITY: A poll recently commissioned by Forbes Women showed that 31% of Americans lie to their spouses about money. This is the fastest way to sabotage your relationship. Sit down with each other, figure out where you can trim back and set goals for yourselves. Money should not tear you apart. If you are open and honest with each other, you can overcome these issues together and it will make you stronger.

First Steps to Wealth” is available for free at www.danijohnson.com

A Five-Step Strategy for Getting Out of Debt

Guest blog by Loral Langmeier
Author of The Millionaire Maker: Act, Think, and Make Money the Way the Wealthy Do 

Most people with debt problems are so caught up in their Lifestyle Cycle or their debt juggling that they can’t imagine finding a positive solution that will enable them to build wealth. Many would be so grateful to end the pain and panic of debt that they don’t think much further than that one issue. Chuck Wallace had made the decision to remove himself emotionally from his debt and the reasons he got into it. For him this became, as it should for you, a pure business venture, a matter of simply applying dollars and cents to abolish debt. Committed to putting the debt plan in place, Chuck had relinquished the idea that he was too far in and only a windfall could save him. Chuck also understood that it takes longer to get out of debt than it does to get into it; but since, as he started to get out of debt, he was also creating wealth, he didn’t feel that he was losing any time making himself a millionaire.

I know for a fact that because you want to, you can and will be able to end your role as a debtor and become a lender. By diligently employing basic debt elimination measures, you can get out of the debt cycle within three to seven years and at the same time start to build your Wealth Cycle. It is key to understand that these processes are simultaneous. The following Five-Step Debt Elimination Plan is what we use for all of our clients. If you have debt it will help you begin to get out of that debt, as well as into the habit of the Wealth Account Priority Payment. As you move forward in this process you will note that what makes this different from the other debt elimination processes is that this approach allows you to live a normal life while you eliminate your bad debt. I’ve actually seen books that make you question why you need to buy any new clothes for a year. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t work for me. If you personally do not have debt, you may know many others who do, and by helping them through this process, you help all of us to live in a better society.

Step 1. Create a Debt Elimination Box
List all your consumer debt. Like your Financial Baseline items, this should be done electronically so you can keep track easily. This list should include all of your credit cards, charge accounts, any high-interest loans that are not against an asset, and other outstanding credit or liabilities. The list should include (1) the name of the creditor, (2) the amount you owe, (3) minimum monthly payments, and (4) the interest rate. 

Step 2. The Factoring Number
To fill in the last column, the factoring number, the following simple calculation is necessary. Take the number in column 2, which is the amount of the debt, and divide that number by the number in column 3, which is the minimum monthly payment required. For example, if you owe $7,000 on your credit card and the minimum monthly payment is $200, your factoring number would be 35. Fill in the factoring number for each item on your consumer debt list.

Step 3. Priority Payoff Box
On a new list, take the debt with the lowest factoring number and put it at the top. This debt is the first priority payoff. Continue to list the debt in order of the factoring number, with the debt with the lowest factoring number appearing in first place, the debt with the second lowest factoring number in second place, all the way down to the debt with the highest factoring number listed at the bottom.

Step 4. The Jump-Start Allocation
In addition to the minimum payments required, you are going to take $200 from your current spending and allocate this to your debt elimination plan. This amount, about $7 a day, will greatly accelerate your debt elimination plan. Don’t scream. This is going to be easier than you think. And once you put together your detailed Financial Baseline you will have a clear understanding of where your money comes from and where your money goes. Finding that $200 will not be difficult, and your cash flow from new assets may create the extra money. In my experience, when you list every single expenditure
in your Financial Baseline, you will find a cut that doesn’t even come close to forcing you to scrimp or sacrifice.

On the Financial Baseline of one of my clients, I discovered $600 a month spent on sushi. After several attempts to defend this expenditure, she finally, reluctantly, painstakingly, made a decision to spend just $400 a month on sushi. My guess is that when you honestly dig up your expenditures, you’ll discover a few sushi-like items that you could, perhaps, not do away with altogether but cut down on a bit. For those of you still smoking, you can kill two birds with one stone: take care of your health and your wealth by cutting out cigarettes.

Step 5. Debt Payments
Take the debt listed in the first spot of the priority payoff box and apply the $200 jump-start allocation to the minimum payment listed with this debt. For example, if the minimum payment is $350, add the $200 for a new monthly payment of $550.While you continue to pay the normal monthly minimum payments on all the other debts, you will pay, in this example, $550 monthly on this specific debt until it is paid in full. When you’re finished paying off the debt in the number one spot, you will take the amount you paid for those minimum monthly payments, plus the jump-start allocation, in our example $550, and add this amount, $550, to the minimum payment on the debt in the second slot. As you can see, the payments build and build as you drop on down the list of debts and your capacity to pay off your debt accelerates incrementally. Though you will be uncomfortable with this process at first, when you witness the speed at which you make progress, debt elimination will become as addictive as accumulating the debt once was.

In this plan, it is vital that you commit to making the minimum payments, and also to adding the jump-start allocation. That number, the jump-start allocation, must be specific and consistent. Additionally, you must have in your mindset that as you pay off one debt, the minimum payments stay in this debt payment pool and contribute to the next debt’s payments. That is the only way this will work. And it works wonderfully well. You will be amazed at the speed with which you cross off each debt payment. And by the time you get to the one at the bottom, the one with the highest factoring number, which in reality represents the months it should take to pay it based on the original monthly payment, you’ll see that you’ll pay that debt off much faster than the factoring number indicated.

Making these commitments is tough to do on your own. I strongly recommend that you share your priority payoff box with members of your team. At times, you’ll be tempted to use your credit cards or assume some additional debt. If your close friends and advisors have been given permission to check in with you about your debt, they will facilitate your process with a system of checks and balances against your old impulses.

Copyright © 2006