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Lauren’s blog covers topics that impact your finances, your family, and your future. Is there a topic you’d like Lauren to tackle? We’d love your suggestions and feedback.

It’s Open Enrollment time! Act now to be sure you’re covered in 2018

It’s Open Enrollment time! Act now to be sure you’re covered in 2018

If Open Enrollment has you perplexed, you’re not alone. Medicare is a messy can of worms, the menu of corporate benefits seems to get bigger every year, and the Affordable Care Act—also known as Obamacare—seems to be changing by the minute. But picking appropriate coverage is one of the most important things you can do to protect your physical and financial health. Here’s what you need to know to get started:


Medicare

Whether you are already enrolled in Medicare or you’re turning 65 this year and are new to the maze of options, the enrollment process can feel overwhelming. Almost everyone is eligible and must enroll in Medicare Part A, which covers hospitalization. There are many Medicare Part B options, and the choice is not simple. Then there is Part C—Medicare Advantage Plans that often sound too good to be true (think free gym memberships, cheaper drug plans, and more) but come with some limitations and costs. Medicare Advantage plans replace Medicare Part B, and not all Part B options may be available if you change your mind—even during Open Enrollment. Making the best possible decision from the start is vital. There are also multiple drug plans, and your best choice depends on your current prescription needs, which means an annual reassessment of your drug plan is a must.

The good news is that help is available. HICAP (the Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program) provides objective information and counseling about Medicare. The service is very good—and it’s free. Of course, we’re always here to help as well. Open Enrollment for Medicare closes on December 7, so be sure to explore your options now rather than rush your decision as the deadline looms.


Corporate Benefits

If you’re fortunate enough to have a corporate benefit plan, take advantage of Open Enrollment (which is likely happening right now) to review and update your benefit elections and make the most of your options.

  • Health Insurance. Most companies offer a variety of options, including PPO, HMO, and HealthSave plans. The costs for these plans vary widely, so it’s important to explore the options carefully to choose the plan that balances premium fees with out-of-pocket expenses based on your family’s expected health needs. If you have access to dental and vision insurance, take what’s available to be sure you and your family are covered.
     
  • Life Insurance. Life insurance is not for you, per se, but to replace your income to support your dependents. Group life insurance offered through your employer is often priced well, so do take advantage of it. However, corporate coverage does not protect your insurability when you leave the company due to a job change or retirement. Plus, because the premiums for group life insurance go up every year, private, level-term insurance is sometimes a better option. Work with your advisor to determine if supplemental private life insurance makes sense in your situation. And while many plans offer coverage for your children, this typically makes sense only if you don’t have funds for funeral expenses.
     
  • Disability Insurance (DI) and Long-term Disability Insurance (LTD). Knowing that the chance of becoming disabled in some way is much greater than the chance of dying early, this is likely the most important insurance you can buy. It’s expensive, but considering that it covers 60-70% of your salary should you become unable to work, it’s well worth the price tag. Note that because you pay for group DI with pre-tax dollars, the benefits are taxable income. Private DI is paid with after-tax dollars, so the benefits are tax-free, which can make it even more valuable. Talk to your advisor to determine your best option.
     
  • Health Saving Accounts (HSAs). If you have access to an HSA and can afford to pay the high deductible required, these plans can be a great retirement savings tool. HSAs allow you to contribute using pre-tax money, invest that money in mutual or other funds to maximize growth potential, and then withdraw assets for qualified medical expenses tax-free.
     
  • Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs). Unlike HSA contributions that can be used at any time, contributions to an FSA accounts must be used in the same calendar year. FSA contributions can be used for health care and dependent care, and they can help reduce your taxable income. The key with FSAs is to plan well to be sure every penny is spent before December 31.
     
  • Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D). This is one benefit that I rarely recommend. Yes, it’s cheap, and yes, it offers an extra boost to your life insurance benefits in certain cases, but this is one lottery you don’t want to win. Your dollars are probably better spent elsewhere.
     
  • Pre-paid Legal Plans. It’s easy to overlook a legal plan, but it can be one of the more valuable benefits, primarily because these plans offer low-cost access to legal assistance that could otherwise come with a hefty price tag. While I don’t recommend using this type of service for complex legal needs, from updating your Will and Powers of Attorney to reviewing rental and other agreements, a pre-paid plan may be the key to taking care of these important tasks sooner rather than later.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

Thanks to the current administration’s push to derail Obamacare, there is more confusion than ever about choosing ACA health plans. In California, the Open Enrollment period for 2018 opens November 1 and closes January 31, 2018. This is for all plans selected through Covered California and in the open market. Despite all of the news in Washington, the plan still offers tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies to help those who qualify afford premiums and reduce out-of-pocket costs. That doesn’t mean nothing has changed. Rates for all plans are being raised by about 12% due to the annual rate hike, and silver-level plans are increasing by an additional 12.4%. Actual premiums depend on factors such as where you live, your income, what level of coverage you choose, and which insurer you pick.

Just like with Medicare, it’s wise to get help when choosing your options. The Covered California website offers online videos and information on where to get in-person help from a certified insurance agent.


Choosing your benefits may not be the most exciting item on your to-do list, but Open Enrollment is only open for a limited time, so be sure to make the time to explore your options and make smart choices for you and your family. If you need more guidance, please reach out. We’re always here to help!

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Saving the vacuum cleaner: a lesson in disaster preparation

Saving the vacuum cleaner: a lesson in disaster preparation

Years ago, I was told a story by a woman who had been a child in England during World War II. She and her sister had gotten so used to the bombings that the spectacle seemed more exciting than frightening, and the two girls would climb to their attic and peer out of tiny windows as the bombs dropped in the distance. One day, as the planes flew over her neighborhood, for the first time she was afraid. In that wave of fear, she did the only thing that seemed to make sense; she grabbed a vacuum cleaner and frantically dragged it away from the window, high onto a dusty table—for safety. And she cried.

That story has stayed with me because it seems like the little girl’s reaction was improbable, illogical, incomprehensible, and even a little funny. Why the vacuum cleaner? Why was that the one thing that seemed like it needed saving as the bombs fell? I expect it’s a typical reaction… to grab what we can, no matter what it is. The inner child takes over because we haven’t planned ahead.

For months we’ve watched from afar as natural disasters wreaked devastation across the country. This month, it was our turn. More than 9,217 acres were burned, 25 structures were destroyed, and 55 more were damaged in the Canyon 2 fires in Anaheim Hills that was finally fully contained on Tuesday. And while “our” fire was mild in comparison to the wine country wildfires that burned at the same time, it certainly made the reality of such a disaster much more concrete. It brought home the need for each of us to take the necessary steps to prepare for a swift and well-planned evacuation in the event of any emergency.

As the fire worsened last week and our skies turned orange, I found myself in conversations I never thought I’d have. Friends and clients watched in fear as the fire swept closer to their homes. Most who faced evacuation were scrambling to figure out their next steps. “I have no idea what to take!,” Sara told me as she sat in my office last Thursday. “My son put together an earthquake kit last year, so I felt prepared for that kind of thing. But leaving everything behind feels even worse somehow.” Sara wasn’t alone. So many people I spoke to felt unprepared and vulnerable at the thought of having to evacuate their homes.

And then I talked to my friend Linda. Unlike most of us (myself included), Linda seems prepared for anything. She told me that when she’d worked at the fire department, they gave every employee a laminated list of what to grab in an emergency. As she named all of the items on her “grab and go” list, I saw how different this was from a typical earthquake kit (at least any list I’ve ever seen). Here are just a few things that stood out to me:

  • A waterproof bag with one full change of clothes, including underwear and outerwear, and comfortable walking shoes
  • Electronics (mobile phones, laptops, iPads) and chargers—including a portable back-up charger
  • Plastic sheeting, duct tape, and dust masks in case you need to seal your home or shelter from airborne contaminants such as smoke
  • Medications for you and your pets
  • A ziplock bag with copies of essential papers such as your driver’s license, proof of insurance, passports, social security cards, and printed list of personal contacts
  • Cash, ideally at least $500 in small bills in case a disruption in banking services renders your ATM and credit cards useless

I began to think about what my laminated list should include. Sara and so many others seemed overwhelmed with choices. I could suddenly see how, in the midst of the chaos, a little girl might choose to save a vacuum cleaner. I decided it was time to stop thinking about planning for an emergency and start doing.

I started with Linda’s list, which also included the usual supplies. Enough water and non-perishable food to care for every family member, including pets, for at least one week. A well-stocked first-aid kit. Flashlights and batteries. Even a whistle to call for help. (For a complete list of what to include in emergency kits for your home and car, see the Build a Kit guide at ready.gov.)

But what about the emotional things? Would I remember to grab my grandmother’s pearl necklace in a panic? What about baby pictures of my children that I haven’t stored anywhere else? If, like Sara, I faced the possibility of losing everything I left behind, what would I want to take with me? After some careful thought, I have the answers. They are written down in the Notes app on my iPhone, ready to “grab and go.”

I hope you too will take our local fires as an urgent call to action. Build your emergency kit. Be sure you’ve uploaded your important papers to a secure online vault like eMoney (which we offer at no cost to every client) or our online Sharefile tool. Include your birth and marriage certificates, wills, insurance policies, military documents, retirement account statements, loan statements, and deeds. Create your laminated or electronic list of what to grab if you have to leave your home urgently.

Hopefully,none of us will be forced to evacuate our homes or cope with a disaster, but by putting your plan in place ahead of time, you’ll have what you need if and when you need it. Plus, you’ll be much more prepared to preserve those items that matter most in your heart—whether or not your list includes a vacuum cleaner.

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In Your Best Interest: Our Fall 2017 Newsletter

Click here to view the full newsletter, including recent news, important dates, financial tips & tools, and more.


MARKET HIGHLIGHTS: Q3 2017

Thinking back over the quarter— and the entire year to date—I feel… breathless. Amid the whirlwind of global events, at least the economic and market news remains a bright spot, so let’s start the quarter review with some good news: 

In Q3, equity markets experienced gains, fueled by a late-August rally that pushed security prices upward. As the quarter came to an end, the benchmark indexes continued to rise. The Nasdaq and the Russell 2000 posted gains of more than 5.0%, followed closely by the Global Dow and the Dow. The S&P 500 trailed the other indexes listed here, yet still managed to increase by almost 4.0% since the end of Q2.

In September, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decided to hold the benchmark interest rate between 1 and 1.25% while setting expectations for an increase next quarter. The Fed noted that the labor market is continuing to strengthen, economic activity has been rising, job gains have remained solid, and unemployment rates are low. At the same time, household spending has expanded moderately, growth in business fixed investment has picked up, and inflation is running below 2%. 

In the rest of the news, the world is a mess. Donald Trump remains in the White House amid an accelerating Russia investigation, a frightening standoff with North Korea, and another failed attempt by Republicans to repeal the ACA. The Equifax data breach and the company’s inadequate response had everyone scrambling to secure their personal information. Protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Colin Kaepernick triggered a national debate, terrorist attacks escalated across Europe, and the US witnessed another mass shooting. Nature, too, was ill-tempered, with hurricanes devastating the Southern US, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other regions; earthquakes in Mexico killing hundreds, and flooding causing record deaths around the globe. It’s been a year for the record books, and not in a good way. 

As we enter the final three months of 2017, it’s important to stay focused on what truly matters: love, health, and happiness. Know that our team will be doing our part by continuing to monitor your plan and your portfolio closely. For your part, do what you can to focus on what you can control… and to finally, hopefully, catch your breath.

 
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Now more than ever, focus on your Circle of Influence

Now more than ever, focus on your Circle of Influence

When I walked into my early morning Pilates class on Monday, I couldn’t decipher the expression on my instructor’s face. Was it compassion? Pain? Despair? “What’s wrong?” I asked. Her answer: “Las Vegas.”

I was fortunate that I’d had a more peaceful Monday morning than is typical for me. My iPad had gone missing, so I hadn’t checked my news feed or social media at all. Blissfully unaware of the tragic events of Sunday night, I spent my pre-workout hour reading an old standby: Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I sipped my coffee, Covey had been introducing the idea that being proactive means focusing on the things we can control—even in what seem to be dire circumstances. It’s amazing how things seem to come along at just the right time, even when you least expect it.

I was rereading the book to help manage my own “Post-Election Stress Disorder,” but Covey’s words hold some wisdom for all of us when the headlines are filled with news of one catastrophe after another. In just the past few weeks we’ve seen nine million children lose health insurance when Congress let the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expire, protesters clash in Charlottesville, hurricanes and floods devastate communities in the southern US, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, and earthquakes kill scores of people in Mexico. Then Las Vegas happened, and we seem to drown in the negative…again.

But there is an alternative.

If you haven’t already discovered Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, let me introduce you to the first of the seven habits. It is an important one, especially after this “September to Remember.”

Habit #1: Be Proactive

According to Covey, being proactive means taking action, but it also means taking responsibility for your own life by actively choosing where to focus your attention. He stresses that our ability to be self-aware—to consciously stand apart from ourselves to observe what we’re doing and why, and to examine the way we see ourselves—is uniquely human. Unlike animals that simply react to stimulus in the world around them, we have a choice.

What a wonderful realization.

He also talks about “reactive people” who are driven by feelings, circumstances, conditions, and environment; and “proactive people” who are driven by carefully considered, selected and internalized values. To become more proactive, look where you focus your time and energy. All the things you care about—Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, the flag, politics, your children, money, health, and more—lie within what he calls your Circle of Concern. Next, look at each of those things and identify the ones that you can actively affect, or what Covey calls your Circle of Influence.

Stephen Covey quotes Viktor Frankl who said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” On Monday morning, many people were paralyzed by the tragic events in the news. Others chose to be proactive and act within their Circle of Influence. They got in line to donate blood for the victims. They offered transportation and housing to anyone and everyone affected by the shooting. Even during the shooting, people risked their own lives to save others. What an inspiration to us all.

There will always be tragedies in our world, but I wonder how things would change if every one of us could be more proactive—if, as Covey suggests, we each took responsibility for how we reacted to the world around us and focused on driving change within our Circles of Influence. I expect we’d all be more effective. And the world would be a better place.

This concept is also true when it comes to effectively managing your finances. While many events lie within your Circle of Concern—market corrections, inflation, gas prices, black swan events—you cannot influence their outcome. Know what you can control and strive to focus on your Circle of Influence: keep your fixed costs low, maintain sufficient emergency funds, select an appropriate risk profile, and have a solid financial plan in place.

By focusing our positive energy in the right place and acting wisely, each one of us has the power to be more proactive, more effective, and drive positive change in our own lives and in the world around us. Now is the time.

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Ready to shift your relationship with money? It’s time for some BRAVING

Ready to shift your relationship with money? It’s time for some BRAVING

I joke that I discovered Brené Brown in much the same way Columbus discovered America: I simply stumbled into the right place at the right time. And boy, am I glad I did. In just one Ted Talk and as much of her newest book as I’ve had the time to read (I’m not quite through, but I’m cherishing every word), this researcher and storyteller has me thinking deeply about vulnerability and bravery and how to build the courage to be “enough” for myself and others in order to live the fullest life possible.

What’s fascinating to me as a financial advisor is how much all of these ideas play into what I see every day with my clients—and how vulnerability, bravery, and courage impact each person’s sense of financial “success.”

If you’ve never heard of Brené Brown, I highly recommend taking some time out of your day to check her out. A social science researcher, she is a stickler for data and a mid-life convert to the power of vulnerability (listen to her Ted Talk for more on her journey). Through her research, Brown has studied people—mostly women—who experience love and belonging in their lives and those who don’t. What’s the difference? It’s shockingly simple. People who have love and belonging believe they are worthy of it. Those who don’t, don’t. Even more, it seems that what empowers people to achieve that state of worthiness—of believing they can be and deserve to be loved—is the courage to be vulnerable.

Courage and vulnerability resonate with me. In my life, I’ve observed that many of us seem to have lost our ability to be vulnerable. Perhaps it’s because we spend too much time in our bubbles. Alone and watching other people’s lives on social media or television. Alone commuting in our cars. Alone walking in a crowd with headphones in our ears, shutting out the world around us. Being alone has become our safe place where we are not judged or confronted or questioned. And it’s where we can choose specifically not to feel.

I think Brown hits the crux of it when she speculates that the reason we’re the most in debt, obese, and medicated adult population in history is because we’ve become completely uncomfortable with our vulnerability. When we feel exposed or conflicted or anxious, we choose to numb our feelings through food, alcohol or Facebook. Further, her research shows that there’s another way we numb our vulnerability, and that is to make everything in our lives certain. We no longer leave room in our public and private lives for reflection or uncertainty about our faith, our politics, and our preferences. It’s created an unsavory divisiveness in which everything is black or white. We’re labeled, and we label others in all-too-certain terms. We blame others as a way of discharging our fears. We use certainty as just one more tool to numb our vulnerability. As a result, we feel more judged, and, indeed, more vulnerable.

Perhaps the most important idea Brown presents is that numbing our feelings of vulnerability has an unintended consequence. Because we’re not capable of being selective about which feelings we numb, when we numb our vulnerability, we also numb joy, happiness, love—all of the feelings that make us happy and content as human beings. If there’s ever been a reason to nurture our vulnerability, this is certainly it!

As these ideas are all swimming around in my head, I keep coming back to how important it is to invite vulnerability into the financial planning process. If vulnerability is the key to more fulfilling relationships, it follows that it can have a dramatic impact on our relationships with money which, just like every other relationship, can come with a whole lot of baggage. Love. Fear. Anxiety. Shame. Obsession. The list goes on.

In Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, she uses the word “BRAVING” as an acronym for the seven rules for building more connected relationships rooted in trust and vulnerability. It’s amazing to me how each of these statements can relate directly to every relationship—including our relationship with money:

  • Boundaries: I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them, and I am clear about my boundaries, and you respect them.
     
  • Reliability: I trust you if you do what you say you are going to do. Not once, but over and over again.
     
  • Accountability: I trust you if, when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologize for it, and make amends. And when I make a mistake I am allowed to do the same.
     
  • VaultWhat I share with you, you will hold in confidence, and what you share with me, I will hold in confidence.
     
  • Integrity: Choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, and easy. And practicing your morals, not just preaching them.
     
  • Non-judgement: You can fall apart and ask for help and not be judged by me.
     
  • Generosity: If I mess up, say something, or forget something, you will make the most generous assumption and check in with me.

I have strived to foster and live up to each of these values when I work with clients, but Brown has brought some valuable clarity to my thinking. I wonder if BRAVING may just be the key to help shift not just how we interact with each other, but also how we look at and feel about money. Brown says that when we are vulnerable, “We feel the deepest connection to our true self and to what matters most.” What a wonderful foundation on which to create a Brave New Financial Plan.

 

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Disclosure

All written content on this site is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Lauren S. Klein, President, Klein Financial Advisors, Inc. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and we make no representations as to its accuracy or completeness. Read More >