Author Archives: Andrew Thomas

blooom’s Year-End Checklist

The end of the year is a great time to reflect on your financial situation and plan ahead for next year. Here are some tips from one of our advisors:

  1. Update wills/trusts and beneficiaries.
    Get married this year? Have kids? Get divorced? Big life events mean it’s time to make sure legal docs like your will or trust, powers of attorney, life insurance policies, and account beneficiaries are all up-to-date. Forgetting to make these updates can be disastrous for families at some of the worst possible moments in their lives. Get in the habit of reviewing these things annually so nothing is missed.
  2. Get a handle on your debt and plan ahead for next holiday shopping season.
    Lay it all out there to get ready to tackle debt in the new year. If you’re like most Americans, you probably racked up some credit card debt you aren’t proud of this holiday season. What can you learn from that going into next year? Figure out how much of a holiday spending budget you need to plan for, divide that by 10 or 11 months and automate your savings into a savings account dedicated to holiday spending.
  3. Use your raise (and possibly your bonus) to increase your 401k contributions.
    Starting this year, get into the habit of taking a portion of any raise you receive and dedicating it to your 401k. For example, if you get a 5% raise, consider bumping up your contributions by 1% or more. Your paycheck still goes up, but your 401k also gets a boost. This habit can help you work toward maximizing your contributions over time, while having no real impact on your cash flow or budget. Also, see if your employer will allow you to contribute all or part of any year-end bonus you may receive toward your 401k. This can help reduce your taxable income come tax season and it also means you avoid the extra tax withholding on bonuses for that money.
  4. Set aside time for a year-end financial review.
    Look back on the year and take note of what you were able to accomplish financially and what setbacks you may have had. Use this past year as an opportunity to continue making smart financial decisions in the new year and learn from any of the times you may have stumbled. If you have a family, talk about upcoming trips, savings goals, and any other things you need to focus on next year. Set goals and even plan to celebrate financial accomplishments as a family throughout the year. Make money fun and before you know it, you’ll feel the freedom that comes along with financial security and eventually, financial independence!
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6 Pitfalls Why You Don't DIY Your 401k

6 Pitfalls of Going it Alone with Your 401k

In this day and age of DIY tutorials and life-hacks, you might be tempted to do your 401k all by yourself. But be wary, brave traveler! There are several pitfalls you could get into if you follow this path.

Pitfall #1: Being Too Conservative

The old rule of thumb was that if you subtract your age from 100, then that should be the percentage of stocks in your portfolio. For example, if you were 20, then 80% of your portfolio would be in stocks, and 20% in bonds.

With Americans living longer, and empirical evidence of higher long-term returns from stocks vs. bonds, this framework is a bit outdated. Instead, raise that number to 110, or even 120. So, your portfolio would have 90-100% of stocks.

To find out why, read some friendly tips from Investopedia, and a blog that our CEO wrote.

Pitfall #2: Being Too Aggressive

We know, we know. You literally just read not to play it too safely. But here’s why you shouldn’t be too reckless with your investments. Say you’re less than 5 years away from retirement. We recommend that around 40% of your 401k get invested in bonds, with the other 60% in stocks.

As folks start getting closer to retirement, their nest egg needs to be safer from a market crash or a decline in stock prices. That’s why blooom continually monitors and periodically rebalances our clients’ accounts as they get closer to retirement, bringing down the percentage of stocks and increasing bonds.

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Study Abroad at 37? How to Hoard Cash for Return to College

This is part two in a three-part series addressing how people can save for college or reduce or eliminate student loan debt.  In our first post, we shared some tips that are “better than faking your death” to pay off student loan debt. In this sampler tray (or beer flight) of savings ideas, we’ll share how adults who are looking to return to college can find financial assistance or reduce the cost of post-secondary education.

We covered the reasons why in more detail in our first post, but we’re chatting about college savings and student loan debt for two reasons:

  • First, plain and simple. The quicker you can wipe out debt, the quicker you can start saving properly for other life events.
  • Second, we recently launched a personal financial advice service. Clients can access it via mobile or desktop using the chat feature on the bottom-right of the screen. Since we’ve launched, the topic of student loan debt has been a top question posed by our clients.

A Happy Hour of Options for Adults Wanting to Return to College

So maybe you’ve always eyed going back for that graduate degree. Perhaps you launched yourself into the workforce early and never quite finished your undergrad. Or you’re looking to make a career change. Whatever your reason for returning to the BIG U, many options exist for scholarships, financial assistance and strategies to reduce your overall cost.

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Student loans :(

Faking Your Death to Pay Off Student Loan Debt? 6 Better Ways

How much do you owe in student loan debt? Enough to consider fleeing the country? (All of a sudden I get why many recent U.S. college graduates want to backpack Europe and never return.) Or worse. You contemplating faking your own death?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of Americans with federal student loans grew to 42 million in the last decade. (1.) In that same article, they quote a gentleman whose solution to dealing with his student loan debt is to stretch it out until he dies.

Don’t believe me? Read the entire Journal article. (And BTW … only Federal loans discharge with death. Private loans do not.)

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, you may be asking, this isn’t about retirement or my 401k.

Why Are You at blooom Talking About Student Loan Debt?

We’re addressing student loan debt for two reasons.

First, you’re right, we focus a great deal on helping you with your retirement. We want you to wipe out this student loan debt so you can save more for it. But we also recently launched a personal financial advice service that clients can access via mobile or desktop using the chat feature on the bottom-right of the screen.

Once we launched the service, how to deal with student loan debt was one of the most frequently asked questions posed to me and my advisor team.

We’ve seen so many varied inquiries about student loan debt that we’ll be running a three-part series:

  1. Tackling debt: This post will help if you currently have student loan debt and you’re looking to pay it off faster (if you’re exploring forgiveness options, I recommend reviewing the following guide.
  2. Working adults returning to college: Later this summer, we’ll talk about how non-traditional students or working adults who want to go back to school can proactively address (read: avoid or take on as little as possible) student loan debt.
  3. New college students: Our final post will provide tips and resources to high school students and parents on ways to avoid student loan debt.

Who knows? Perhaps we’ll receive some real-world triumphs of people who’ve defeated this insidious whack-a-mole known as student loan debt (Hint, hint. If you’re a victor, message us with your story. Let us celebrate your achievement with a proper victory lap).

First, the Simplest Thing You Can Do to Get Out of Student Loan Debt

Okay. I’m NOT going to be jerk and say the simplest way is by never getting into student loan debt in the first place. Too late for that.

So …

1. One of the simplest things you can do is set up automatic payments. It works for saving and it works for tackling that debt head on. To sweeten the deal, some services even offer discounted interest rates if you set up auto-pay.

Auto-pay

We like it simple here at blooom. Set it and try to forget it.

How About the Most Effective Ways to Tackle Student Loan Debt?

I’ve covered the simplest tip, but what about the most effective. My next five tips could provide the points to pierce that ballooning student loan debt.

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Spend Your Tax Refund Yet? Stop! How To Do it Right This Year

From where we sit, getting a tax refund is a sin. But we all sin a little, right? And most don’t know that paying the U.S. Government more than you should in taxes is on the wrong side of the moral compass. “Wait,” you say, “I thought giving was good.”

In this case, “overgiving” is not good. You’re essentially spotting Uncle Sam an interest-free loan. But that’s why we’re here to help!

If you’ve already overcommitted this past year, we’ve got at least 5 solid tips for what to do with that extra cheddar.

But, first the public service announcement …

1. More than $500 on your tax refund? Take a look at your W-4

Your W-4 is a form your HR department handed you when you were hired. You might recall it being this weird questionnaire that computes how much money should be withheld in your payroll taxes. I’ve known people who just phone a friend to get the number of allowances: “Johnny does 7, so that sounds good to me.”

Bad idea.

There are many online calculators available that make more sense than the actual form:

Use them. Get your number and then call your HR department to compare what they have on file. If it’s different, change the allowances you’re claiming.

One of our founders, Kevin Conard, likes to use this opportunity to encourage people to increase the amount they’re saving into their 401k. If you’re increasing the allowances you may not notice a difference in your paycheck. Solid plan.

2. Build Your Safety Net

A lot of the other tax refund tip lists have pay off debt listed first. Not going to argue exactly (I’d be contradicting some of my previous tips). But I will pitch an alternative point of view by focusing on your emergency fund with this particular “windfall.”

In my experience, psychologically, building an emergency fund can be a hard tip to grasp. Bad things happen to other people, right? Thus, no emergency fund. Then where do they go – their credit cards. See the vicious circle?

Take your tax refund and either 1.) contribute to your existing emergency fund (Go you!), or 2.) open a savings account to establish that safety net. I typically recommend an online savings account because of the likely preferential interest rates and convenience.

3. Get Rid of the Bad Mojo, i.e. DEBT

Already have a relatively robust emergency fund? Awesome. Then go after the parasite of the financial world – bad debts.

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