Thursday, February 4, 2021

More Interesting Insights and Timely Tips

 As I noted last week, I attend many webinars (and podcasts) these days, to learn new information and stay connected to others while staying safe at home. I love to learn and online access to free content has provided many useful educational opportunities. During January, I attended over a dozen programs from a variety of sponsors.

Below is an eclectic summary of ten more key take-aways that I wrote down in my personal learning journal:

¨      COVID-19 Silver Lining- The pandemic “leveled the playing field” with respect to working remotely. Companies hired people who would not have applied (or been hired) before because they needed to be physically present in a “brick and mortar” location. This has been great for military spouses and for me, also. I recently started a financial education project for a New Jersey client for delivery on Zoom from Florida.

¨      The Importance of Showing Up- To succeed in life or a career, people need to show up, be brave, and “put yourself out there.” Sometimes, winning occurs just by showing up and trying. I keep this in mind every time I attempt to book an online COVID-19 vaccine appointment. Showing up and accepting a challenge is way better than not making an attempt to succeed and wondering what would have happened if you had tried.

¨      Financial Education is Life-Changing- Concepts taught in personal finance classes (e.g., saving money, inflation, compound interest, and managing risk) can change the trajectory of a student’s life. Students have one big resource that older adults lack: more time for their savings/investments to grow. The best financial education teachers are those who have engaged with their own personal finances (i.e., they “walk their talk”).

¨      “Femenomics” is Real- I heard this term for the first time on a webinar sponsored by the Center for Financial Social Work. It encompasses a myriad of financial challenges that women face, including lower earnings and longer life expectancies, on average, than men and primary care-giving responsibilities. “Equal Pay Day” is how much longer women must work into another year to equal the average white man’s pay on December 31.

¨      Several Future Predictions- U.S. savings rates grew meaningfully in 2020, which has led to forecasts of a spending boom on discretionary items (e.g., travel) by those who were financially unscathed by COVID-19. Much of this “excess savings” is sitting in checking accounts. There are also expectations of future tax policy changes, but taxpayers can only develop financial plans based on what we know about tax laws today.

¨      Charitable Gifting Incentives- Many financial advisors are recommending outright gifts or charitable trusts to clients. Two reasons are 1. the highest U.S. estate tax exemption ever ($11.7 million in 2021) is only slated to last through 2025 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and 2. the lifting of the 60% of adjusted gross income (AGI) cap on charitable contributions by taxpayers who itemize deductions in 2021 for coronavirus relief.

¨      Estate Planning is Critical- With about 450,000 deaths reported due COVID-19, there is urgency to prepare three key legal documents: will, living will, and durable power of attorney. Once documents are prepared, review them every 3-5 years or sooner as a result of life events. Planning for “what ifs” in life is so important because nobody knows what the future holds. Without estate plans, your state has a “one size-fits all” plan.

¨      “Financial Numbness” is Common- In 2020, “everything stopped, but nothing stopped.” Many people moved into “survival mode” and stopped planning ahead due to fear and/or stress. It seemed “safer” to just postpone things. In 2021, we need to move forward. Recommended strategies to address stress include breathing, shortening task lists, adjusting expectations, exercise (especially outdoors), reframing events, and gratitude.

¨       Shame Prevents Positive Action- With the possible exception of unemployment, nothing stops people from making financial progress more than shame. The key to addressing negative financial patterns is awareness. Many counselors have clients create a “money biography,” which is their story of money use from early childhood to current time. Biographies can help people trace their behaviors back to underlying emotions.

¨      College Application Trends- There was a decrease in college applications from first-generation students and a decrease in FAFSA form applications (for student financial aid) in 2020. Missed deadlines were also reported frequently. A national organization (and its state affiliates) called Education Finance Council (EFC) can help students and their families file a FAFSA form. For more information, visit https://www.efc.org/.

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