Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Apps to help you budget for holiday spending. But it's still up to you

 "What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money: a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer." - Ebenezer Scrooge in "The Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens. 


Remember the old days when we used paper envelopes to budget our spending? One envelope for paying the basic bills, another envelope for meals out and another for Christmas gift spending.

Now technology is making it easy to manage your spending with an app or two on your smart phone.

Pulling out the credit cards for a holiday gift buying splurge is painless. The pain comes in January when you get the bill.  Apps on your smart phone linked to your credit cards and bank will automatically update and categorize your spending.

Best of all, some will tell you when you’ve reached your spending limit by category and/or how much you can spend and still stay within your budget limits. Some apps customize the way you manage your money by pulling transaction data. Others ask you to input your spending, manually.

At least two apps -- Acorns and StashInvest --- will help you save by rounding up the spare change from your purchases and putting it into an investment/savings account. For example, if you make a purchase costing $9.45. These apps will round up the transaction to $10, and put the extra 55 cents in savings for you. Painless, right? 

Below are some of the MOST POPULAR FREE APPs that will help you get on track with your holiday budgeting, with savings and spending. Just keep in mind that it still takes discipline to do this. It you tend to blow your budget, no app will prevent that. Just make a commitment, use the apps as reminders. 

MINT.com  https://www.mint.com/https://www.mint.com/

This may be the most popular. Track and pay bills. Easy budgeting, alerts and advice, investment tracking, top security.

WALLABY -- https://www.walla.by/  Tells you what credit cards to use for the best savings, lowest fees.

DOLLARBIRD   https://dollarbird.co/  Manual input. Helps you budget.

FUDGET   www.fudget.com

Simple budgeting, one-tap adding and editing.

GOODBUDGET  -- https://goodbudget.com/  Creates envelope budgeting. Spend only from designated categories. Helps keep you accountable.


LEARNVEST  www.learnvest.com  -- Categorizes transactions. Track goals

PERSONALCAPITAL ---www.personalcapital.com  Manages your entire financial life.  Track your net worth. Investments.

MVELOPES.COM -- Uses envelope budgeting with the latest technology. Helps you make better financial decisions. Syncs with bank accounts, credit cards and other financial accounts. Real time budgeting.

PENNYAPP.IO -- Keeps tabs by sending you text messages.  Your personal financial coach.  Spend smarter. Save more.

According to Forbes magazine, spending is “highly individual” with expenses the result of many individual decisions that might seem inconsequential at the time. For example, the major you choose in college, jobs you take, your spending and saving habits. The clothes you buy. Grocery shopping.

These apps are here to help you set guidelines, remind you of your long-term strategy for saving and spending, building a retirement nest egg. But it's still up to you. 


"Best apps to manage your money," Business Insider, click here.


"10 Smartphone Apps to Boost Your Budget," - USNEWS, click here. 

The 6 Best Budgeting Apps,"  - Digital Trends, click here.


"Tech that will change your life in 2017" WSJ - click here.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Marrying after 60? Five steps to keep your kids happy and give you both peace of mind

"Embrace each other with love, smiles and warm hug." -- Lailah Gifty Akita, author, "Think Great: Be Great." 

Editor's note: First published at Sixtyandme.com. Earlier version at sixtyandsingle.com, click here. 

By Julia Anderson

The recent marriage of long-time public radio host, DianeRehm, was written up in the Washington Post with the attention to detail that big weddings in big cities receive.

Coverage focused on the flowers, her dress, the post-ceremony dinner party and their love story. Rehm, 81, married John Hagedorn, 78, in a ceremony described as “traditional, serious and formal” by the Post’s Style Section writer, Roxanne Roberts. After falling in love with all the passion of 20-year-olds, Roberts reported that the couple decided to marry even though some friends asked why.

Rehm’s response? Living together “wasn’t me.”

For many of us who fall in love after age 60 and wish to share a hopeful future, marriage is important. So, we stand before a judge or minister with our friends and say, “I do” with full knowledge of what “richer or poorer” or “in sickness and in health” might mean.

The Post story was all about the event, not the nuts and bolts of getting married after 60. We would call in a financial writer to tackle that report. But no doubt, estate planning was an important part of the Rehm-Hagedorn match-up. As it should be.

A bit of long-term estate planning, experts say, will make all the difference to your adult children who may wonder about the man you’re marrying and what happens to their inheritance, if you die before he does.

These FIVE STEPS will help avoid worry, now, and possible confusion down the road.

Step one: Put a prenuptial agreement in place that spells out what assets will be held separately by each of you. Do you have tax-deferred retirement funds that when you die should go to your kids rather than to your surviving spouse? How about stock investments? Do you own real estate that will be held separately for your heirs? Is there separate debt? Shared debt? How will that be handled?

If one of you sells a house does the house that you plan to live in together remain a separate asset? What will you jointly own? Your vehicles, a vacation home that would pass to the surviving spouse?

All these questions can be answered with a prenup.

Step two: Update your separate wills to align with the prenup. Also designate who you would want to hold your durable power of attorney, if you or your spouse becomes incapacitated. Name the executor of your estate. Update the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts.

Step three: Buy term life insurance on each other for at least for 10 years. This coverage provides a financial cushion for a surviving spouse while the bulk of each estate goes separately to your heirs. 

Step four: Put together a list of tangible assets. Jewelry, works of art, important furniture. Explain what items you would like your new spouse to continue to enjoy if you precede him in death.  Spell out how you would like the rest of separate tangible assets dispersed at your death and/or his death. This way everyone knows who gets what and when. The list and instructions bring clarity and peace of mind to your future together.

Step five: Some time after the dust settles hold a family money meeting. Tell your children about your financial plans. Explain the prenup and how it will work when one of you dies. Mention the tangible asset distribution list and how that would work. (DO NOT hold this family money meeting after a holiday dinner when everyone has had a few drinks. Instead make it a separate but important meeting where everyone has a chance to ask questions, digest the information.)

 During the meeting listen to feedback, answer questions but stay in charge. Spell out the plan. Explain that this is how the two of you want things to be settled when one of you dies.

Revisit these plans every three years to make sure your wills and other instructions are up-to-date. Is Susie still the one you want in charge of your finances when you are in the care facility?

As for Diane Rehm and John Hagedorn, the only hint we have of their advance planning is that they will keep their own names and maintain separate homes in Washington D.C. and in Florida. 

For more on prenuptial agreements and late-in-life marriages, visit these web sites:

“Why you’re more likely to have a prenup than your parents were” - Washington Post.

“Who Says Prenups Aren’t Romantic?” -  Wall Street Journal  https://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2010/11/01/who-says-prenups-arent-romantic/

"After the Loss of a Spouse, There is no Right Amount of Time Before Moving On," -  Wall Street Journal

More couples are saying “I do” to prenuptial agreements” -  Seattle Times


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Smart Money video links. Thanks, TVCTV public cable channel

During our Smart Money video conversations, co-host Joe Smith and I have covered more than 20 money-related topics. The short videos are distributed by TVCTV, the public television operation in Beaverton, Ore. These have been great fun. Our topics range from reverse mortgages to writing a will. We have discussed marrying after age 60 and how to keep your kids happy while doing it. Financial elder abuse, Social Security and downsizing, all topics. Below are YouTube links to some of these shows. 

Why women should approach Social Security differently than men.


Why have a will.


Timeshares: Buying and selling. What to watch out for.


Social Security 101.


How to Hold a family money meeting.


May to December relationships require special planning.


Reverse Mortgages: Questions to ask.


Charitable giving in Retirement


Evaluating an Early Job Buyout Offer 


Should you buy a franchise in retirement? 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Robo-calls: How to Fight Back!

“…scams first tried to sting older people, new immigrants and those who speak English as a second language but now the crooks try to swindle just about anyone,” Internal Revenue Service.

By Julia Anderson

Robo-calls seem meant to drive us bonkers. They come during dinner hour or in the evening when the ringing phone implies a family member or close friend. Only when we say, hello, do we realize we’ve been had one more time by the obnoxious telemarker in the cloud.

Robo-calls are part of a scamming universe that targets immigrants who may not have a good command of English, the elderly who are more vulnerable to fraudsters and (these days) the rest of us.

Americans are receiving an estimated 2.6 billion robo-calls a month, according to the Washington Post. That is despite the Federal Trade Commission shutting down three “massive” robo-call centers earlier this year. 

So how do we fight the robo-call plague?

Lately, I’ve been taking the time to block these numbers on my smart phone after each annoying call. So far, I’ve blocked six numbers and counting. These are the ones that "spoof" my local area code. 

I’ve also learned  not to answer calls (land line or mobile) unless I know the caller. If a caller is legitimate but I don’t recognize them, they will have to leave a voice mail and call back number.

Our global Internet-connected world makes it easy for scammers to operate outside the U.S. but still “spoof” numbers that look local by using a local area code. Those fooled me for a while.

Meanwhile, phone service providers worry that if they shut down a known robo-call number, it may affect an innocent customer whose number has been “stolen,” the Post said. The calls, say experts, are nearly impossible to trace.

Robo-call scams come in many forms. Among the latest are:

-Supposed calls from the IRS demanding back taxes, fines and fees that must be sent, immediately.

-Fake Microsoft tech calls asking you to log into your computer and hand over personal info.

-Sales pitches for false extended auto warranties.

-Fraudulent vacation club memberships.

-Credit card rate reduction offers if you send money to what is a fraudulent address.

The IRS says scammers are trying new tricks all the time. Since October 2013, nearly 4,500 victims have collectively paid over $23 million because of tax-related phone scams.

“…scams first tried to sting older people, new immigrants and those who speak English as a second language but now the crooks try to swindle just about anyone,” said the IRS in its latest warning.

Verizon.com reminds us that robo-calls or any prerecorded telemarketing sale message are illegal (except for political and charitable calls to wireline telephones, even if they are unwanted).

Verizon acknowledges that “there is no perfect fix,” but that we can do a lot to fight back.

Consumers should still use the National Do Not Call Registery at DoNotCall.gov to register their phone number(s). And we should use the anti-robo-call tools already on our phones such as Verizon’s Caller Name ID and call blocking and other features such as Anonymous Call Rejection.

If you get an illegal robocall:

  Hang up the phone. Do NOT interact with the caller.

  Do NOT call back in order to be taken off the list. That’s because calling back can cause you to get more calls because the scammers know you are a real person.

  If you do end up in a conversation with a scammer, never reveal any personal information such as passwords, social security numbers, or account numbers. If you are not sure whether a caller is a scammer or not, remember that legitimate callers don’t call asking for personal information.

Hang up immediately. Report the call to the FTC at DoNotCall.gov. Information to include: time and date of call, the number that appeared on your Caller ID screen, your telephone number, and a description of the message.

You normally won't see immediate action, said Verizon, but the FTC's complaint database is important because it helps government agencies and companies track illegal callers and come up with new ways to attack the problem This is war. Sign me up!


Verizon, "What are Robocalls?"  click here.

FTC Robocalls, click here.

WSJ, "FCC takes Stronger Aim at Robocalls," click here.

"How to be your own Robocop and stop robocalls," Oregonian, click here.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Why do women under-rate themselves when it comes to investing? OK, it's fear.

 "In order to rise above this fear, you need to be confident and comfortable in the moment and with yourself." - Lisa Haisha, creator of Transformative Therapy. 

By Julia Anderson

Women are more likely than men to under-rate themselves when it comes to investing. Yet women are usually in charge of household budgets, are more willing to save for the long-term and are better bargain hunters.

So why do we feel uncomfortable when it comes to taking charge of our investments be they a 401(k) retirement plan, an Individual Retirement Account or a retirement stock portfolio?

Friends give me these reasons:

“I am just not interested...that’s something my spouse takes care of.”

“We like our financial guy…he seems to be doing a good job for us.”

“When I met with my financial adviser, I thought we were on track. But I never asked questions."

“I feel over my head when it comes to the stock market, bonds. I’m clueless.”

Yet most women over 60 will someday be financially on their own either from divorce or the death of a spouse.  Why not get involved now, take charge of your finances and be ready for the future when you may need to manage on your own?

5 ways to take charge

No. 1 Ask about investment management fees.

If you still are on the job make sure you are getting the best performance from your 401(k) plan or Individual Retirement Account. Annual management fees should be 1 percent or lower. If retired and living on your nest egg, the same goes. The goal is to make your money last as long as you do. Mutual fund management fees are a huge factor in how much you accumulate from compound reinvesting during your work life and how much your nest egg will keep earning for you in your later years.

No. 2 Check up on financial advice costs.

Are you are using a financial adviser to guide your investment strategy? Ask about upfront commissions on investment products or funds offered to you? Anything more than 1 percent deserves a clear explanation. Why not go with dividend-paying individual stocks or low-cost index funds?  The reality is that most “managed” funds do not have the performance of a cheaper S&P 500 Index fund (see WSJ link below) but instead tend to have higher management costs and weaker performance. That’s a big negative in the longer-term.

No. 3 Banish your insecurities. Investing is rewarding.

Start learning by doing. Wealth coach Deborah Owens gives women an “F” when it comes to finances because of the myth that “financing and crunching numbers are too complicated.” Owens (www.deborahowens.com) encourages women to get beyond the fear and take on “calculated risk” with their money. Sitting on cash is not an investment strategy.

To get the most bang for the buck, put time into improving your investment knowledge and skills, ask questions about management fees and commissions and don’t just hope for the best without bringing your retirement picture into focus. “Your ability to build wealth is directly related to your ability to take calculated risks,” Owens says. That’s now and in retirement.

No. 4 Build a portfolio. Set up an individual online investment account.

Do the research. Start small. Use low-cost online brokerage firms. Put money into an S&P 500 stock index fund and/or a few blue-chip publicly traded companies with a stock dividend of about 3 percent. Reinvest the dividends. Don’t panic in a market downturn. The reinvested dividend money is buying more shares at a cheaper price! Meanwhile, keep an eye on business news. Shifting markets may require adjustments. The goal is to balance risk with a record of performance over time.

Candace Bahr and Ginita Wall at www.WIFE.org encourage women to take on financial responsibility and they remind us that for most “A Man is Not a Financial Plan.” In their “Five Steps to Building a Portfolio,” they recommend reading “how to” books on saving and investing, using rating reports and staying up on financial news to gain confidence.

No. 5 Get real about retirement income.

Figure out where your income in retirement will come from by first looking at your Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov. What are your benefits at 62, 66 or 70? What income will you have from tax-deferred retirement savings or investment income? Will you inherit money from your mother?

Will you work longer to delay retirement and increase your Social Security benefit? Can you catch-up by putting more money in your nest egg? Answers to these questions will help you know where you stand and what you must do before quitting the job. 

The trick is to bring retirement household expenses in line with expected retirement income.

Plenty of women have made the transition from work to retirement. I see them managing their money, traveling, starting up new relationships and getting the most from life. Taking charge of their finances is a key element of their confident future.

Editor's note: This piece first appeared at www.sixtyandme.com. 

Helpful follow-up links:



www.wiser.org Divorce and widowhood



Wells Fargo Investment Institute https://www08.wellsfargomedia.com/assets/pdf/personal/investing/investment-institute/women-and-investing-ADA.pdf

Wall Street Journal



Monday, July 10, 2017

One woman's retirement savings advice: Ask questions, especially about fees

“The power of compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe,” - Albert Einstein.

We sat in the restaurant booth,  coffee at hand, while peering at her open lap top computer screen.

“I thought everything was going well, until I saw this,” she said, gesturing toward the computer. “I wasn’t sure what to do with this or where to start. This feels over my head.”
The “this” was a screen filled with a list of holdings inside her Individual Retirement Account. There were lots of mutual funds, more than 20. All with obscure names, each with several thousand dollars of value.

“The plan was to simplify my life but this feels much bigger, overwhelming,” she said with a laugh. “I am not sure where to start.”
For more than 25 years, my friend had focused her creative energy on owning and running a marketing business. It was a hectic enterprise with employees, lots of clients and an ever-changing list of challenging projects. Not much time to worry about retirement. Besides, she had someone taking care of that for her.

Over her years of self-employment, she stashed money when she could in an Individual Retirement Account managed by a local adviser representing a national brokerage firm.
Occasionally she met with her broker friend to get an update on her account, learn that it was “doing well” and growing in value. Little to ask about, right?

Now it was time to make some changes.

My friend, widowed seven years ago and in her mid-60s, has sold her business, downsized from a big house and has found a new rewarding relationship. Still working part-time, her life is full.
Meanwhile, her long-time financial adviser has retired to Palm Springs.

With the personal connection gone, she asked herself why not move her retirement money to an online self-managed account and take charge of her IRA portfolio?

It seemed like a simple plan. Step one, electronically transfer the account, which she did.

But what popped up on her new account screen with the online brokerage firm was a surprise. This was not what she thought she was invested in. The multitude of mutual funds would each need evaluation for their performance rating and management fees.

She also realized that yes, she had an IRA but some of her savings had been placed in a taxable account. That meant sorting out the cost basis and tax implications of the holdings there.

Fees matter

Not long before her broker retired, my friend had asked what the overall annual management fee was for her account. The answer: 2 percent on the total assets.
In talking this over with my friend, my guess is that the fee did not include separate transaction fees charged every time a new mutual fund was purchased or sold. That is a lot of churn over the past 25 years.

My friend listened with interest as I explained why fees are such a big deal when it comes to retirement savings.

While 2 percent may not sound like a lot, I said, over a life time of saving it can mean the difference of tens of thousands of dollars of fund value. That’s because a higher fee means less money is going back into fund reinvestment. According to a report in U.S. News & World Report, “the top determinant of (fund) performance is expenses,” not superior management skills.

For example: An investor, age 25, who contributed 10 percent of her salary a year to a 401(k) or IRA that earned 7 percent annually would have $730,000 at age 65, with a management fee of 1.5 percent.
By comparison, with expenses of just 1 percent, the end result at age 65 would be $830,000. And if expenses, according to U.S. News, were just 0.5 percent, her retirement savings nest egg at 65 would total $934,000, all other things being equal.

The shocking difference in end result between 1.5 percent and 0.5 percent in management fees over a lifetime of savings and reinvesting is $204,000!!!

While there is plenty of commentary out there on this issue, my guess is that most women such as my friend are uninformed and are not aware of how management fees can undermine long-term savings strategies.

Managed vs passive

In addition to management fees, there was a second issue for my friend: the performance of actively managed mutual funds versus passive index funds.

According to an annual Dow Jones report, actively managed (with higher fees) mutual funds DO NOT perform as well as the S&P 500 -- the 500 largest U.S.-based companies.
In the latest (2016) comparison, 84 percent of large-cap mutual funds generated lower returns than the “passive” S&P 500 index. In other words, you are paying more and getting less return.
My experience also proves the point. My portfolio that includes a mix of individual dividend-paying stocks and a couple of index funds is 7 percent behind the performance of the unvarnished S&P 500 in just the past 12 months. Sigh.

Nurturing the nest egg

So here my friend is at age 64, starting to take charge of her ongoing retirement nest egg that may need to last another 20 or 30 years.
She has a lot of work ahead of her. She will need to determine the cost basis (how much she paid) of each of the taxable funds in her individual portfolio, then determine the tax hit if she sells them and whether it makes sense.

Separately, she will need to sell some or all of the higher-fee mutual funds in her tax-deferred IRA and then decide how to reinvest her consolidated money. Why not a low-fee S&P 500 stock index fund?

Because of her business experience, my friend is far more capable of getting on top of this than many women I know. These are the married women who may have earned a full-time paycheck, who may have managed the ongoing household budget and paid the bills and who may have occasionally met with a financial adviser or broker.

But who also may have not been interested in the details because their spouses took the lead or they were too busy and trusted a financial adviser.

“Can you imagine coming at this, if you had no clue,” asked my friend.

In the past few months, she learned a lot: How complicated the financial industry makes it for individuals (women) to sort out their investment portfolios, how account management fees can have a long-term impact on saving, eroding a retirement account by tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Her trust in the financial advisory industry is in serious jeopardy. She is frustrated at feeling over-her-head when trying to sort it all out.

Here’s her retirement savings advice to other women:
- Get the details of your investment portfolio and the fees you are paying on the holdings inside that account.

- Keep asking questions until you absolutely understand what is going on.

- If you don’t understand something, work with a fee-only adviser or trusted friend to simplify your portfolio or convert your plan to one that YOU can manage.

- Stop paying the brokerage firm and start paying yourself.

- Have a trusted friend or family member attend all meetings during the process of discovery and implementation. A second set of ears will help to reduce the stress of trying to understand all this involves.

- And keep learning!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Timeshare contracts: How to get in, how to safely get out

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you." - Anne Lamott, novelist, essayist. (1954 -    )


Millions of Americans have purchased a timeshare. Nine million households to be exact, according to the American Resort Development Assn. and Consumer Reports magazine.

With an estimated 1,500 timeshare resorts operating in the U.S. and some 121,000 vacation properties worldwide, there is a lot to choose when searching for that piece of paradise.

The good news is that the industry has come a long way from the 1970s when timeshare properties were marketed with shady come-ons and high-pressure, misleading sales tactics.

Consumer Reports says, the “industry has become more consumer friendly and transparent.”

That’s because major hospitality chains --- Disney, FourSeasons, Hilton and Marriott – now are among the big players and have made the business more attractive and reputable.

These days you can shop online or chat live with a property representative to get detailed information about the costs of ownership including the buy-in fee and ongoing annual maintenance costs.

For many, the timeshare concept makes sense: Multiple individuals share rights to use a property, each with his or her own allotted time frame…usually a fixed week each year. Often now called, “vacation ownership” or “interval travel” programs, the idea is to get an affordable vacation at a luxury location.

In 2014, consumers bought almost $8 billion worth of timeshare properties in the U.S. The average sales price was $20,020 with an average annual maintenance fee of $880.

Median age of timeshare owners is 51.  However, the median age of more recent buyers is 39, half have children younger than 18.  The newer owners are younger, more affluent, more diverse and better educated.

Questions to ask yourself when buying a timeshare contract:
- Are you committed to vacationing every year? Will the resort you are considering stand the test of time?
- How much will you be spending on vacations in the next 10 years?

The experts recommend that you consider this a LIFESTYLE investment, not a FINANCIAL investment. It is best not to expect your money back.
Average out your annual vacation expenses. If you’re paying $100 a night in annual timeshare maintenance fees for a week’s stay and you already paid $20,000 for that week’s stay upfront, it doesn’t make sense to pay full retail price for a timeshare.

The reality is that there are many timeshare properties for sale at a fraction of their original cost. The Internet offers lots tips for how to get a good deal by buying a resale.

When buying new or a resale make sure the written contract contains all the promises made during the pitch. You could run the contract by a timeshare attorney. Know what the cancellation policy is in case you change your mind. Talk to other owners in the timeshare you are considering. What is their level of satisfaction with the property?

Buy-in with a flat upfront fee, don’t buy over time, the experts say. And be prepared to manage your contract going forward, along with the program’s “point system,” changes in ownership and tiered memberships.

As for resale value, a timeshare is more like a car than a house, it depreciates. There is no shortage of web sites including eBay, RedWeek, and Timeshare Resale Vacations that advertise timeshares for $1, put up for sale by owners who want out.

Resale scams

But reselling a timeshare is where the industry still wallows in potential scams. A reseller may offer to unload your timeshare for an upfront fee. Then ask for more money for marketing. You finally realize that they are NOT selling your timeshare, but just taking your money. Lots of consumer complaints about this.

Recently, a timeshare resale operator was charged with fraud by the feds for bilking timeshare property owners out of $15 million by charging up-front fees based on false promises.

Legitimate fees are typically paid after a sale is concluded.

The Federal Trade Commission Web site at consumer.ftc.gov offers resale tips.

Also check out the American Resort Development Association at arda.org.