Interview With Frances Harkins, Certified Financial Planner

While you’re pondering your gym schedule as the new year starts, remember to take time to become fiscally fit as well.

The new year is a great time to assess what you own, what you owe, how your investments are performing and whether you are on track with saving for your retirement.

Frances Harkins, a certified financial planner with Grossman Financial Management in town, sat down with Benicia Magazine in late November to discuss basic financial goals for different stages of life. Throughout the conversation, several themes were repeated:

Don’t spend all that you earn.
Know how your funds are invested and why.
Make sure you have adequate life insurance for your stage of life.
Make sure your will or trust is up to date.
Women must be as informed as men about financial matters.
If you have a financial adviser, understand how that person is paid.
Ask questions.

“When you work with someone, you should know how they are compensated. If they recommend a particular product, ask why and understand how they are being paid,” she says.

Frances, 55, and her husband, Brian, moved to Benicia in 1994 and raised their two children here. She worked for the U.S. Department of Treasury and Prudential Securities before joining Grossman Financial 11 years ago

She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business economics at UC Santa Barbara. She planned to become an international banker, but an early job with Bank of America’s wealth management department set her on a different path.

“We had a lot of doctors who were clients, and some of them couldn’t seem to get ahead even though they made lots of money. I realized that it’s not how much you make but how you handle your money that makes a difference,” she says.

What financial suggestions do you make for a college grad who just got a first job?

I recommend they read the book The Wealthy Barber (by David Chilton). It gives them an overview of financial planning in a fictionalized setting. It’s about a student whose dad dies when he’s in high school so he has to go to work. He becomes a barber, but he’s very smart and so he learns what to do, why you should save, how you should save, how you should make a budget. … It’s not real sexy but each chapter is about a life experience and tells how financial planning applies to that situation.

Also, they should make sure they at least meet the match on their 401(k). Don’t turn disability insurance down because that’s the biggest risk at that age. Accidental death insurance is not important, but they should have life insurance if they have dependents.

They should be doing a budget and getting used to spending less than they make so they don’t become a slave to working the rest of their lives. Also, reviewing the budget helps them prioritize: Do they want to be spending that money on going out vs. saving for a house?  Reducing expenses now gives you freedom down the road. Oh—and they should have an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. It’s best to sign up for automatic savings for your emergency fund and retirement.

And when someone has young children?

They should put their retirement and kids first.

They should make sure they have adequate life insurance for the family, the higher the better. Keep the disability insurance, and make sure they understand their employee benefits.

They should be saving for retirement and now is the time to start saving for their children’s education. But retirement should come first. I hate to say it, but you can borrow for education costs but not for retirement.

It’s also important to put together a simple will or, if more money is involved, an estate plan. They should make sure they have directives in place for health and financial matters. Whether it’s a spouse or parents who will make those decisions if needed, make sure they know your wishes. If you have a question, see an attorney. It’s rare that you’re going to save any money in the end by doing it yourself.

How about when college is looming for their children? That’s the time to revisit the college plans, and ramp up how much you’re saving if you can.  …

They should be monitoring their investments to make sure they are allocated properly and well diversified. Evaluate your risk, probably with a professional rather than relying on the age-related charts available online.

You should know your net worth because it’s indicative of how you are doing with reaching your financial goals.

If they haven’t done it before, they should put together a plan to see what is needed for retirement. People think they will spend less when they retire, but they aren’t going to be sitting behind a desk. They’ll be on the golf course or taking trips, so they will be spending money. You should maximize your retirement match, and put in up to the IRS limit if you can. Make sure the assets are allocated properly, not all in one place.

They should look at long-term care costs because it might be an appropriate time to buy long-term care insurance if they can afford it. Make sure they have enough disability insurance and life insurance so the kids won’t have to drop out of college if something happens.

They should have a comprehensive financial projection at this time. Look at the assets, liabilities and projected income. And make sure Social Security is properly reporting your income.

And when someone reaches their 60s and retirement is near? Get a financial checkup before retirement because another year or two of work can make a big difference, a big difference.

You may not have a need for life insurance at this point, so evaluate if there’s an appropriate need to continue that. If you want to buy your retirement home, make sure you can afford it.

How can parents teach their children to be financially independent? We’re always taught not to talk about money, but that’s not good advice when it comes to your kids. It’s good for them to start developing skills and having these discussions. They live in a consumer culture, and we need to help them make good decisions.

You can start with explaining to them when they are younger that they have choices when they have money: They can use it for themselves now, they can save it for themselves for later, or they can give it to charity. Kids are always watching what we do. Tell them why you are using a credit card for a particular purchase, whether it’s for the miles or because you pay it off every month. Take advantage of opportunities to tell them why you’re doing what you’re doing and explaining the choices are between saving, spending and donating.

Don’t always answer “Because we can’t afford it” because that makes a child feel insecure. Instead, say we are choosing not to do that.

Celebrate them when they do well, when they save money or give to charity.

Categories: Miscellaneous
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