Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Not Time To Panic



It's time to be calm, but you know that already.  The market has had a crazy week, filled with ups and downs flowing at a quick enough pace to ensure - if you were going into a meeting to discuss market forecasts - you really couldn't write up an actionable plan.  You could have just as easily relied on an iPhone and a Magic 8 Ball.

Analysts don't like that kind of uncertainty, so if you feel like the advice you're getting on TV is aimed at making you panic, you're probably right. However, don't let other people's panic make you panic.  In fact, when everyone else is panicking, it's the calm person who can actually get something done.  

But the markets will open tomorrow and something could happen. Who knows? And if that something does happen, how do you keep from entering into a panic mode?  How can you resist the urge to pull all your money out of savings or rethink your entire retirement?  We're going to explain why staying calm is the most important thing you can do, but let's first play a game.  It's really quick and it simulates the market using actual history.  

The rules: Start with $10,000.  You can sell once, you can buy once, and then it tells you how much you made or lost.  Open this link in a new tab by either copying and pasting or right clicking on the link (options will vary depending upon your web browser):
How did you do?  Did you play it a few times?  Did it go better when you sold your investments when the price dipped?  That game is based on market trends for the last 35 years or so, and the only real way to win is to just not sell.  Your money will go up and up and up.  The market rewards calm. Here's why you should relax:

The Fed knows what it's doing.  The new administration at the Fed has kept interest rates low, and many analysts have been expecting a rate hike throughout 2015, with some of them even predicting two increases.  A rate hike would be bad news for Wall Street, and the same market prognosticators who claim the sky is falling are pointing to an impending rate hike as "Exhibit A" that your retirement is doomed.  First of all, there's no guarantee that a rate hike is coming. Even if the Fed raises the prime interest rate, it may be good for your stocks, because uncertainty over interest rates is part of the reason the market has taken a hit.  A rate hike, particularly a modest one, could calm fears about the uncertainty of interest rates in the future.

A rate hike also helps your savings.  Every dollar in your savings accounts - from money markets to IRAs - will get stronger when there is a higher prime interest rate.  So, if you're convinced interest rates are going to take a bite out of your investments, your best move is to simply decrease the portion of your portfolio in stocks and put more of it into various savings products at Destinations Credit Union.
  We've always had very competitive dividend rates on our savings accounts.  If the Fed raises interest rates, that usually means good news for savers.

China's problems won't hurt us.  While their currency is in crisis, and that has spilled over into other market sectors, it's premature to panic over market instability at the world's largest manufacturer.  The economic interconnection between the US and China, the world's two largest economies, is not the kind that allowed the 2008 financial crisis to spread so quickly. In fact, it's the kind that prevents that type of spillover.  In general, they manufacture goods and we market/buy them.  The stronger our currency is relative to other countries, the cheaper we can find consumer products.

For example, if Walmart were an independent nation, it would be China's fourth largest trading partner.  Our largest brick-and-mortar retailer stands to profit, as do their customers.  In other words, if you leave your retirement funds in your savings and trust your credit union to take care of you, you can probably find everything you were going to buy for less, so you don't need as much cash to live on while you wait for the market to recover.  You can spend less without making sacrifices.

The other benefit to the US economy stemming from China's hiccup is that it likely means durable goods will sell well. Families that have "made do" with a lukewarm refrigerator or the world's slowest dishwasher can find replacement appliances at more affordable prices. To put it in simpler terms:  You're finally going to replace that stove you hate, and so will your neighbors.  You'll save money on it, and the American businesses that design and sell that stove are going to enjoy the profits.  Those companies will turn the profits into increased manufacturing, which will help stabilize the Chinese economy.  The durable goods sector is going to help buoy the stock market, which will help the overall economy in the process.

If you want to take advantage of this temporary window, talk to us about a home improvement loan.
Remember, if you want to make these kinds of household investments or take advantage of cheaper prices on the parts and supplies that go into other home improvement projects like patios and even driveways, lock in a fixed-rate loan now, before the Fed hikes interest rates.

In the end, market forces are driven by consumer confidence, and your household economy is no different.  Think back to that game you just played. Waiting out temporary market downturns or moving your money to safe savings programs are the only way to consistently grow your money in the long-term. Put your money with someone you trust, take a deep breath, and stay calm.

If you need a calming mantra, try this:  "New washer.  New dryer.  New washer.  New dryer."

Sources:
http://www.thestreet.com/story/13264176/1/what-me-worry-why-you-shouldnt-panic-amid-market-crash.html

Thursday, August 27, 2015

New School Year's Resolutions



Ah, autumn.  That wonderful time of year when the leaves change color, football takes over the television for five uninterrupted months and students head back to school. Alright, it's not actually autumn, it's August. It's still summer outside, and more of the country is watching grass turn brown than observing the leaves transitioning to orange. School is starting, though, and you've probably already gone through a lot of the rituals that accompany a new school year, so you may be in a back-to-school mood. 

Here's a tradition you might not have tried: Have you made a new school year's resolution?

We're not talking about those promises you make to yourself every year about doing homework on Friday nights or not wearing sweatpants to class.  Have you made a resolution for this year that you actually intend to keep?  Now is the perfect time to make a change, while you've got a new planner just waiting to have milestones and goals written into it.  We've got some tips to aid you in keeping your resolution this school year.
 
First, set a clear goal.  Goals are only as useful as they are attainable, and goals are only attainable if they're clearly articulated.  For example, "I want to eat better" is an admirable goal, but it's difficult to figure out if you've actually done it or how that affects your decisions. Eating two cookies is better than three, for example, but would you have eaten three cookies before?

That's why it's important to be specific. Instead of saying, "I want to be better with money so I won't need to eat toast sandwiches at the end of the month," try making a resolution like "I won't date freshmen" or "I will set a budget every month."  You can tell if you've set a budget even if you don't always do a good job of following it.  Having a tangible goal gives you freedom as well.  Are you being good with your money if you buy a latte every once in a while?  Who can tell?  But if you have a budget, you can clearly see when you can afford a latte, and what else you might have to give up to get it. 

You also need to keep the goal simple enough so it is achievable.  "I'm going to work out for two hours every day" sounds great ... for about a week.  Then it sounds like a hassle.  What do you do for two hours every day that you're willing to give up?  Sleep? Homework? Xbox?  An easy to achieve resolution might be something like "I will spend Monday afternoons cleaning," or "I'll save $1,000 to put a down payment on a car within a year."  Saving $1,000 might sound harder than working out, but it's really not.  Put $85 per month away for a year or $43 per month for two years.  Even if you make minimum wage, $43 is only about one day's salary each month.

It's easy to fool yourself into believing you're living up to your resolutions, which is why you need someone to keep you accountable and help you out when you need it.  That's a place where Destinations Credit Union can really help.  We've got internal experts in budgeting and financial counseling partners who'd love to talk to you, and we offer great rates on Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking, Savings Certificates, Holiday Club accounts, and all sorts of savings plans to make saving for that down payment even easier.  We also have tools, such as MoneyDesktop and simple budgeting software.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Shoulds Of Retirement


When it comes to retirement, the variety of ways to save money can be so confusing that even the most diligent investors might wonder if they are looking at the right information, doing the right thing or if they're even on the right track. Would you know if you should be using a fancy savings plan?  Should you put more in? Less?  Should you panic?  While we'll get to the rest of the questions, the answer to the last one is no, you should not panic.  There is no retirement plan anywhere that does better when you panic.


For anyone confused about retirement, there are lots of sources that explain who, what, how, when and why, but very few places to turn for one of the most important questions - should.  This guide is meant as a quick reference to that really tricky word, with some of the most common "should" questions answered. Like any other guide, though, it can't be as specific as you'd like, so if you have more questions, get in touch with us at 410-663-2500, or ask questions our Facebook pageAsk us your shoulds or see what shoulds other people are asking.  If you've got a question, it's a safe bet you're not alone. 

Question:  How much money should I have when I retire?

Answer:  This is the most common "should" question in America right now, probably because of its importance.  The answer that most experts give, "as much as you'll need" isn't particularly helpful.  A better, although still maddeningly incomplete answer involves some simple math you can do on the back of a napkin: take your annual income the year before you plan to retire and subtract your annual retirement income (Social Security, pension, trust, etc.) from it. Whatever that difference is, multiply it by the number of years you expect to live after retirement, probably 15-20.  That's how much you need, give or take a bit.

For example, if your Social Security and pension pays you around $50,000 per year and you're making around $150,000 before you retire, the difference is $100,000.  Multiply that by 20, and you'll probably need around $2 million.  If that sounds like a whole lot of money, that's because it is a whole lot of money.

Question:  How much should I be saving now?

Answer:  Another question that all-too-often results in a frustrating answer. You should save as much as you can, but not more than you can.  A better answer is that retirement should be your savings priority, ahead of college funds or other long-term savings simply because you can't get a loan to retire, but you can for virtually everything else.  If you feel like your monthly contributions are just drops in the bucket, stop focusing on the bucket.  Instead, take a look at your monthly picture.  Make a pie chart with five big slices:  Bills, debt, spending, short-term savings and long-term savings.  This isn't yet the time to go through and figure out how to trim your bills or refocus your spending, just look at those five. How much of your long-term savings is being used for retirement?  Could that number be higher?  If so, put more into retirement.  If you want to find ways to reduce your costs so you can save more money for retirement, look at those categories again and start making cuts from right to left.  First, cut some spending from other long-term savings.  Then short-term savings, spending, debt and finally bills.

Question:  When should I start saving?

Answer:  If you read the last two questions and have sharp pattern recognition skills, you might expect a frustrating answer, but this one is actually easy.  If you haven't started, start today.  Like, right now. Seriously, either click this link for information on our IRA programs. It only takes a few minutes, and you'll feel so much better.  Remember the motivational cliché: the best day to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best day is today.
 
Question:  What kind of retirement account should I get (or get next)?

Answer:  There are three major considerations when selecting a retirement account.  First, how many years do you have until you retire?  The answer to that question should help determine your risk.  The second question is how much money do you make?  The answer to that question determines whether you'd like to be taxed on the income now or in retirement.  Unfortunately, you'll have to pay taxes on it at least once.  Finally, have you maximized the benefits of another account?  If you're past the point of getting your employer to match your 401k, look at all of your options.  If not, put in as much as you can that your employer will match. You're not going to find a lot of retirement plans that pay more than the 100% rate of return your employer is offering by matching funds, and if you do find one that can consistently outpace your employer's contributions, it's probably illegal.



Once you have the answers to those questions, check the link above or drop us a line at info@destinationscu.org and we'll set you up with the best plan we can.



There are a lot of retirement guides out there, but most of them aren't very good at those "shoulds" that matter so much in our daily lives. Hopefully, this guide has given you enough information to know what questions to ask.  We'd love the opportunity to talk about these shoulds or any others you might have. For now, check out our Facebook Page and join in the conversation!



Sources:

http://www.savingforcollege.com/articles/coverdell-ESA-versus-529-Plan
http://money.cnn.com/retirement/guide/basics_basics.moneymag/index7.htm

http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/12/19/7-retirement-savings-accounts-you-should-consider


Friday, August 21, 2015

What School Doesn't Teach You About Money


With the new school year either here or just around the corner, it's time to fill your shopping carts with #2 pencils, protractors and all the goodies the kids will lose by the second day of school.  If they're headed off to college, it can be even more exciting. But, instead of needing you to replace their pens on day two, your college-aged child will probably be calling to ask for money by then. 

It's such a ritual that, at this point, many of us don't really question it. But how much do our kids actually know about money?  You might want to only include the lessons you taught them, because their school probably didn't teach them much at all.

Common core and other national guidelines don't include requirements for teaching budgeting skills, how to balance a checkbook, or even explanations of basic concepts such as credit, loans, or mortgages. Basically, the last time your children learned about money at school, it probably involved finding out how many apples and oranges they could buy in some middle school math word problem.

We talked to some credit union members about the lessons they want to pass onto their kids, and below you'll find some of our favorite lessons to teach your kids. 
  • Pay yourself first.  No one else is going to make you a financial priority, so don't make them your financial priority.  
  • If you want to know if you can afford something, check your budget. If you have to check your checking account, you can't afford it.  If you reconcile your accounts every month, you'll have a pretty good idea how much is actually in each account.  But having enough money isn't the same thing has having enough money.  Plan ahead. Make a budget. Execute the plan by sticking to that budget.
  • Take risks while you're young.  You can afford to be more aggressive with your retirement and college funds while you have plenty of time to make it back up, so don't be afraid to push those funds a little bit.  That said, not saving for retirement is not a risk. It's just a bad idea.   
  • Make sure the Joneses are keeping up with you.  It's easy to get lost trying to compete with your peers and almost as easy to ignore those consumer pressures entirely.  But what about the third option?  Instead of ignoring their financial situation, check in every now and then to see if they need help.  Our communities are better when we care about each other.

Whether your kids are in diapers or their kids are wearing them, it's never too early or too late to teach financial literacy.  Make sure you're instilling the right lessons, and check back in with Destinations Credit Union, because we've always got plenty of resources for young people to learn the lessons they aren't getting in math class.