Consumers may be at risk for many years.
How long should you worry about identity theft in the wake of the Equifax hack? The correct answer might turn out to be “as long as you live.” If your personal data was copied in this cybercrime, you should at least scrutinize your credit, bank, and investment account statements in the near term. You may have to keep up that vigilance for years to come.
Cybercrooks are sophisticated in their assessment of consumer habits and consumer memories. They know that eventually, many Americans will forget about the severity and depth of this crime – and that could be the right time to strike. All those stolen Social Security and credit card numbers may be exploited in the 2020s rather than today. Or, perhaps these criminals will just wait until Equifax’s offer of free credit monitoring for consumers expires.
Equifax actually had its data breached twice this year. On September 18, Equifax said that their databases had been entered in March, nearly five months before the well-publicized, late-July violation. Its spring security effort to prevent another hack failed. Bloomberg has reported that the same hackers may be responsible for both invasions.2
Should you accept Equifax’s offer to try and protect your credit? Many consumers have, but with reservations. Some credit monitoring is better than none, but those who signed up for Equifax's TrustedID Premier protection agreed to some troubling fine print. By enrolling in the program, they may have waived their right to join any class action lawsuits against Equifax. Equifax claims this arbitration clause does not apply to consumers who sought protection in response to the hack, but lawyers are not so sure.1
Should you freeze your credit? Some analysts recommend this move. You can request all three major credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) to do this for you. Freezing your credit accounts has no effect on your credit score. It stops a credit agency from giving your personal information to a creditor, which should lower your risk for identity theft. The only hassle here is that if you want to buy a home, rent an apartment, or get a new credit card, you will have to pay a fee to each of the three firms to unfreeze your credit.1
Three other steps may improve your level of protection. Change your account passwords; this simple measure could really strengthen your defenses. Choose two-factor authentication when it is offered to you – this is when an account requires not just a password, but a second code necessary for access, which is sent in a text message to the accountholder’s mobile device. You can also ask for fraud alerts to be placed on your credit reports, but you must keep renewing them every 90 days.1
What other tools can help watch over your statements? If your bank, credit union, or credit card issuer does not offer identity theft protection and credit monitoring, consider free apps such as Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Clarity Money. Apart from simply protecting your credit and bank accounts, programs like EverSafe, Identity Guard, and LifeLock have the capability to scan the “dark web” where personal information is sold in addition to monitoring your credit reports. (You may be able to take advantage of a free, 30-day trial.)1
When a pillar of worldwide credit reporting has its data stolen twice in five months, the trust of the public is shaken. The lesson for the consumer, as depressing as it may be, is not to be too trusting of the online avenues and vaults through which personal information passes.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
1 - time.com/money/4947784/7-questions-you-must-keep-asking-about-the-equifax-hack/ [9/20/17]
2 - bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-18/equifax-is-said-to-suffer-a-hack-earlier-than-the-date-disclosed [9/18/17]
Wise money moves for parents under 40.
As you start a family, you start to think about certain financial matters. Before you became a mom or dad, you may not have thought about them much, but so much changes when you have kids.
Parenting presents you with definite, sudden, financial needs to address. By focusing on those needs today, you may give yourself a head start on meeting some crucial family financial objectives tomorrow. The to-do list should include:
Life & disability insurance coverage. If one or both of you cannot work and earn income, your household could struggle to meet education expenses, medical expenses, or even paying the bills. Disability insurance payments could provide some financial support in such an instance. Some employers provide it, but that coverage often proves insufficient. Every fifth American has a disability, and more than 25% of 20-year-old Americans will become disabled before reaching retirement age. One in eight working people will be disabled for five years or longer during their pre-retirement years. Could you imagine your household going that long on only a fraction of its current income?1,2
Generally, the earlier you buy life insurance coverage, the cheaper the premiums will be. The biggest savings await those consumers who buy coverage before age 30 and before they marry and have kids. After 30, high blood pressure and cholesterol problems may begin to show up on blood tests, and other health problems may surface. As an example, a single, child-free 25-year-old in good health purchasing a 30-year term policy with a $500,000 death benefit will pay a monthly premium of about $75. The premium jumps to around $115 for the typical 35-year-old married parent in good health.3
Estate planning. Is it too early in life to think about this? No. Life insurance, a will, a living trust – these are smart moves, especially if you have children with any kind of special needs or health concerns of your own that may shorten your longevity or lead to weaknesses in body or mind. Besides documents linked to insurance and wealth transfer, consider a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy.
If you are considering designating a guardian for your children in the event of the unthinkable, whoever you appoint needs to be comfortable with the possibility of taking legal responsibility for your child. That person must also have the financial wherewithal to be a good guardian, and his or her family or spouse must also be amenable to it.
College planning. What will a year at a public university cost in 2035? Vanguard, the investment company, conducted an analysis and projected an average tuition of $54,070. (The 2035 projection was $121,078 for a private college.) So, the message is clear: start saving now. Saving and investing for college through a 529 plan, a Coverdell ESA, or other accounts that offer the potential for tax-deferred growth may give you a better chance to meet those future costs.4
An emergency fund. Ideally, your household maintains a cash cushion equivalent to 3-6 months of salary. Build it a little at a time, set aside a bit of money per month, and you may be surprised at how large it grows during the coming years.
Address these priorities now, and you may lower your chance of financial stress in the future.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
1 - ssa.gov/disabilityfacts/facts.html [8/10/17]
2 - blog.disabilitycanhappen.org/life-insurance-vs-disability-insurance/ [7/14/17]
3 - moneyunder30.com/buying-life-insurance-young-saves-money [1/5/17]
4 - teenvogue.com/story/college-tuition-cost-future [3/18/17]
Crises pass, and markets eventually regain equilibrium.
We have seen some uneasy times lately. Uneasiness impacts the financial markets. When it does, we all need to keep some long-term perspective in mind. Those who race to the sidelines and exit equities may regret the choice when crises pass.
Wall Street loves calm. Traders literally want “business as usual,” every day. If breaking news disrupts that calm, it can rattle the market – but every investor must realize that these disruptive events are exceptions to the norm. (If the major Wall Street indices rollercoastered dramatically every day, who would invest in stocks to begin with?)
History shows how the market has bounced back in the past. You probably know the old financial industry saying: past performance is no guarantee of future results. That is certainly true, but it is also true that the major indices have staged some impressive recoveries when confronted with turbulence.
We do not need to look back very far to see some of this resilience. In May, the S&P 500 posted a single-day loss of 1.8%. Just three market days later, 85% of that loss had been recovered. Remember the stunning Brexit vote in the United Kingdom? The S&P fell 5.3% in the two trading days after that news broke. It took about a week to gain all of that back.1
When China startlingly devalued the yuan in August 2015, there was a true correction in the S&P; it lost 11%. In roughly two months, it was back at its former level.1
Looking back further, we can be encouraged by how stocks rebounded after the unthinkable shock of 9/11. Wall Street was closed for five calendar days after the attack; on September 17, 2001, the Dow slid 7.1% (684 points). It would eventually drop more than 14%. The S&P 500 retreated 11.6% during the week when the market reopened. Even so, one month later, the three major U.S. equity benchmarks had recouped their losses.2
Stock market corrections happen regularly. In fact, this current period is one of the calmest on record. As the summer of 2017 wraps up, the S&P 500 has gone more than a year without a 5% dip. The last stretch this long without a 5% pullback was in 1995, and this has happened only six times since 1950.3
Back on May 17, the Dow slipped 373 points. Yet with the index comfortably above 20,000, that single trading session saw only a 1.8% retreat. A 1,000-point, single-day fall for the Dow 30 is now a possibility. If the Dow drops 1,000 points in a day for the first time, investors will be shocked – but they should remember that the Dow also rises.4
1 - businessinsider.com/stock-market-news-buy-the-dip-bulletproof-rebound-2017-8 [8/15/17]
2 - investopedia.com/financial-edge/0911/how-september-11-affected-the-u.s.-stock-market.aspx [9/11/17]
3 - investopedia.com/news/why-stock-market-correction-may-rattle-investors/ [7/18/17]
4 - latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-market-corrections-20170530-story.html [5/30/17]
Basic estate planning documents may not communicate your intentions.
There are three degrees of estate planning: advanced, basic, and none at all. Basic is better than none, but elementary estate planning can still leave something to be desired. While appropriate documents may be in place, they may not be able to fully convey what you really want to do with your estate.
Have you communicated your wishes to your heirs, in writing? Cut-and-dried, boilerplate legal forms will hardly do this for you.
In a wealth transfer strategy (as opposed to a basic, generic estate plan), you share your values and goals in addition to your assets. You hand down your wealth with purpose, noting to your beneficiaries and heirs what should be done with it. You also let them know how long the transfer of assets may take. This way, expectations are set, and you reduce the risk of your beneficiaries and heirs being unpleasantly surprised.
Are your heirs prepared to inherit your wealth? Prepare them as best you can during your lifetime. Introduce them to the financial, tax, and insurance professionals who have helped you through the years; they should know how to contact these professionals, and they should value their wisdom.
Explain the “why” of your estate planning decisions. For example, if you intend to transfer assets to heirs or charity through a living trust, a charitable remainder trust, or a qualified charitable distribution from an IRA, share the logic behind the move.
Also, let your heirs know that your wealth transfer strategy is dynamic. It can change. Five or ten years from now, you may have more or less wealth than you currently do, and life events may come along and prompt changes to your estate planning documents. Speaking of communication, this leads to a third, important aspect of a wealth transfer strategy.
Have you double-checked things? Look at your beneficiary forms and other estate planning documents. Are they up to date?
When a beneficiary form is out of date, it can invite problems – because legally, the instructions on a beneficiary form can overrule a will bequest. What if the named beneficiary is dead, and the contingent beneficiary is dead as well? What if your named beneficiary is estranged or divorced from you? In such instances, the asset may not transfer to whom you wish after you pass away. Looking at the wealth transfer process from another angle, you also want to make sure you have an executor who is of sound mind and who has the potential to remain lucid and reasonably healthy for years to come.1
A basic estate plan is better than procrastination. A bona fide wealth transfer strategy is even better. Involving your heirs in its creation, refinement, and implementation may help you guide your wealth into the future in accordance with your goals.
1 - thebalance.com/why-beneficiary-designations-override-your-will-2388824 [8/28/17]
How can you convey its importance and its meaning?
Are you an owner of a thriving business or a medical or legal practice? Are you a highly paid executive? If you have children, at some point they may discern how wealthy you are – and in turn, learn how “rich” they are. How will you handle that moment? How will they handle that knowledge?
Some kids end up valuing family wealth more than others. We all know (or have heard) about children from wealthy families who grew up to become opportunistic, materialistic, and unmotivated young adults living off their parents’ largess. Other children learn to treat family money with respect and admiration, recognizing the role it plays for the family, while glimpsing its potential to help charities and the community.
What accounts for the difference? It may boil down to values. When the right values are handed down, a young adult is poised to hold wealth in high regard and receive it with maturity.
Some parents never tell their children how wealthy they really are. This is not uncommon: in a recent U.S. Trust survey of households with investable assets greater than $3 million, 64% of those polled indicated that they had said nothing or nearly nothing about their net worth to their kids.1
This is also a risk. In hiding the details and avoiding the talk, parents may see a child grow into a young adult who is ill-prepared to understand and manage wealth.
One good step is to set some expectations. After your kids learn how wealthy you are, they may expect your money to play a financial part in their personal lives, especially in adolescence. Tell them, frankly, what you are willing or not willing to do and why. Where will the family wealth come into their lives? Will you want to fund their college educations, or help them with car payments? You may or may not want to do that.
You can help them see that wealth has meaning. Some financial professionals like to ask their clients the question, “what does having money mean to you?” In other words, what should that money accomplish? What dreams should it help you pursue, and what fears or worries could it be used to address? How does having money fit into your vision of success – is it integral to it or inessential to it?
It has been said that money never transforms character; it simply reveals it. The responsibility of handling wealth amounts to a test of character. Thoughtful conversations with your children about the meaning of wealth may help them pass that important test when the time comes.
1 - reuters.com/article/us-money-generations-strategies-idUSKBN0OX1RH20150617 [6/17/15]
You may assume you will. That assumption could be a retirement planning risk.
How long do you think you will work? Are you one of those baby boomers (or Gen Xers) who believes he or she can work past 65?
Some pre-retirees are basing their entire retirement transition on that belief, and that could be financially perilous.
In a new survey on retirement age, the gap between perception and reality stands out. The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) recently published its 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey, and the big takeaway from all the data is that most American workers (75%) believe they will be on the job at or after age 65. That belief conflicts with fact, for only 23% of retired workers EBRI polled this year said that they had stayed on the job until they were 65 or older.1
So, what are today’s pre-retirees to believe? Will they upend all their assumptions about retiring? Will working until 70 become the new normal? Or will their retirement transitions happen as many do today, arriving earlier and more abruptly than anticipated?
Perhaps this generation can work longer. AARP, for one, predicts that nearly a quarter of Americans 70-74 years old will be working in 2022, including nearly 40% of women that age by 2024. That would still leave many Americans retiring in their sixties – and more to the point, working until 70 is not a retirement plan.2
What if you retire at 63, two years before you can enroll in Medicare? EBRI’s statistics indicate that this predicament has been common. You can pay for up to 18 months of COBRA (which is not cheap), tap a Health Savings Account (if you have one), or take advantage of your spouse’s employer-sponsored health coverage (if your spouse still works and has some). Beyond those options, you could either pay (greatly) for private health insurance or go uninsured.3
What if you end up claiming Social Security earlier than planned? Given an average lifespan (i.e., you live into your eighties), that may not be so bad – you will get smaller monthly Social Security payments if you claim at 63 rather than at the Full Retirement Age (FRA) of 67, but the total amount of retirement benefits you receive over your lifetime should be about the same. Retiring and claiming Social Security well before Full Retirement Age (FRA), however, may mean a drastic revision of your retirement income strategy, if not your whole retirement plan.4
What will happen to your retirement assets if you leave work early? Will you still be able to contribute to your IRA(s) or pay the premiums on a cash value life insurance policy? Could you postpone withdrawals from your retirement accounts for months or years? How long can you count on this bull market?
If you are a baby boomer or Gen Xer, hopefully you have planned or built wealth to such a degree that the shock of an early retirement will not derail your retirement plan. It is realistic to recognize that it could.
If you want to work past 65, one key may be keeping your job skills current. The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies reports that only about 40% of baby boomers are doing that.1
Lastly, if you switch jobs, you may improve your odds to work longer. A new study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College notes that 55% of college-educated workers who voluntarily changed jobs in their fifties were still working at age 65, compared with only 45% of workers who stayed at the same employer.1
1 - cnbc.com/2017/04/21/the-dangers-of-planning-on-working-longer.html [4/21/17]
2 - aarp.org/politics-society/history/info-2016/baby-boomers-turning-70.html [1/16]
3 - forbes.com/sites/financialfinesse/2017/02/09/how-to-cover-medical-expenses-if-you-retire-before-65/ [2/9/17]
4 - fool.com/retirement/2017/03/04/the-one-social-security-mistake-you-dont-want-to-m.aspx [3/4/17]