The Three Question Fact Find (Part One)


Part 1 of 3 (For Families)

I work in two very distinct markets.  The Family market and the Business Owner market.

Both have some similarities and many challenges that are unique to their specific situations.  And because most business owners also have families there can be a significant overlap.  However, I have found that both markets primary concerns can be boiled down to three questions each.  Over the next few weeks I would like to expand upon those questions with a series of posts.  First up, the family market.

Question One – Do you have any debt?

 

I’ve gotten a little bit of flack over the years from other financial advisors for being so up front and in your face about debt.  Some of my colleagues have tried to tell me that it is not a financial planner’s job to worry about our client’s debts and if a someone comes to us laden with debt, they aren’t going to be a good prospect for our services.  I couldn’t disagree more.

Regardless of where you are now, at one time or another throughout our lives, just about all of us have carried debt.  From credit cards, student loans, vehicles and of course mortgages, debt is how the middle class drives the economy.  Without debt most people would never achieve higher education, home ownership or even be able to get to work everyday.  The danger comes when we forget what debt is.  It’s a hedge against our future earning power that if we aren’t careful becomes an anchor holding us back from achieving our goals.  The person in debt is saying that they are willing to sacrifice their freedom in the future, for comfort today.  And that is just bad planning.

In my opinion there are three kinds of debt.  Good Debt, Bad Debt, and Really Bad Debt.

Good debt is debt on anything that is going to increase in value faster than the interest rate charged to carry it.  Mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and some (not all) student loans could be considered good debt.  But no matter how good the debt, there is still no excuse to ignore it and forget that debt is still debt and eventually must be repaid with interest.  Understanding the terms of your mortgage and looking for ways to reduce the amount of interest paid is a great place to start when it comes to financial planning.  So is understanding what happens when a wage earner dies before the debt is repaid.

A reduction in the interest rate of just 0.01% on a $500,000 mortgage could result in a savings of $500 per year.  On a 20-year amortization schedule, that’s $10,000!  Even good debt, can be made better with a little planning.

Bad Debt is debt on anything that loses value or grows more slowly than the interest rate charged.  Car loans, and large purchases made using credit cards tend be bad debt.  If you own your home, or at least have some equity in it, we can usually refinance your mortgage and include some of these bad debts.  If we can exchange a credit card debt of $10,000 at 18% for a home equity line of credit at 4.95% we’ve just traded $1800 in interest for $495 and saved you $1305 per year.  Without equity in your home your options are limited but there are still lots of ways to trade bad debt for better debt, liquidate some unproductive assets or simply make some better lifestyle choices to pay things off faster.  Remember, every dollar paid toward a bad debt means more money later in investable cash.  Cashflow will be the key to the rest of the questions we’ll be looking at later.

Really Bad Debt is debt on anything that is consumed and used up before the statements arrive in the mail.  Financing your lifestyle, or just living day to day on credit cards for things like groceries and gas for your car without the ability to pay it off before interest charges kick in is a recipe for disaster.  Quite frankly, if you can’t afford to pay cash to live your life you need to make some drastic changes.  There is nothing worse than paying interest on a meal you ate two months ago.

When you are in this situation chances are you don’t have much equity in your home, if you own one at all, and you don’t have a lot of other assets to work with.  Your only chance to start living your best life is to perform what we call plastic surgery, cut up the cards and live on cash for a while.  It’s scary, I know but the key here is to stop the hemorrhaging and to do that you need to feel the tangibility of real paper money leaving your possession.  It’s too easy to forget that money is a physical thing when all you see are numbers on a screen linked to a plastic card in your wallet.  Once you start to feel money again it’s easier to equate that $3.00 latte to 6 times the cost of a K-Cup or half the cost of a package of ground beef.

The key, regardless of whether you have Good Debt, Bad Debt, or Really Bad Debt is to do something.  No other action you can take will have a more immediate and lasting impact on your bottom line than debt repayment.

Stay tuned for question two – Do You Have a Plan to Sustainably Grow Your Assets?

For more information or help with your financial plan contact:  lauren.sheil@f55f.com or simply leave a comment below.

Three Key Questions Every Financial Planner Should Be Asking


I’ve been working on a new question key for customer interviews.  In my work as a Financial Advisor I am committed to speaking to all my clients at least twice per year.  I call everyone on their birthday because, well, who doesn’t like to be remembered on their birthday?  But I also call everyone on their policy anniversary.

This anniversary call is the perfect opportunity to review the client’s needs and the structure of their relationship with me.  It’s also the time when I probe for a bit more information and look for additional opportunities for us to work together.

After we’ve gone through their account and verified that all the information we have is correct I will generally pause and then ask if I can ask them a few more questions.  There are three key questions that I will ask and depending on their answers it will direct me to certain products and service offerings that we can further explore.

1 – Do you have any outstanding debts or a mortgage?

If no, then I congratulate them on being in the minority.  The average Canadian is carrying $22,000 in personal debt, not including mortgages, and over 60% are set to entire retirement while still making long term debt payments.  After I’ve patted them on the back in this made and manner them feel good about themselves I move on to the next question.

If yes, I ask them if they like paying interest and if there was a way that I could help them pay less interest and be debt free years sooner would that worth a more detailed conversation.  I offer a unique approach to cashflow management which helps people identify areas of improvement and find extra money for debt repayment and savings.  Once I have them signed up for my Behavioral CashFlow Management program we can move on until then I stay on this point.  The fastest way to build wealth is to get control of your debts so until you get serious about your debts there isn’t much else I can do for you.

2 – Do you have a plan for building wealth?

If yes, then I congratulate them again on being proactive and taking steps toward financial freedom.  At this point I might ask them if they have a projected retirement date and if they know how much money they will be able to take out of their savings in retirement.  If not there is an opportunity to review their current plan through the Behavioral CashFlow Management program and help answer that question.  Often times through that process they discover they have less than they think and with a few minor adjustments they can end up with significantly more.

If no, then we talk about why not.  Usually the answer is that they don’t think they have any extra money to set aside right now so there’s no point.  This is the perfect opportunity to help people see the value of a Behavioural CashFlow Management plan.  A properly executed plan helps people see exactly how much money they have and where it’s going on a weekly basis.  With a few minor changes it’s shocking how much money we can find to help fund savings and other financial goals.

3 – Do you expect to die with money?

This is the silver bullet.  No matter what the answer is, there is a reason for us to continue talking.

If no, we go back to question two and fix the plan.  If yes, then I ask one last killer question; do you like paying tax?

There is no inheritance tax in Canada but all assets regardless of their type and source are subject to what the lawyers and accountants refer to as a deemed disposition upon death.  What that means is that all your assets are deemed to have been disposed of for cash one minute before you die.  The resulting income must then be declared on your final tax return for the year.  There are some exceptions, like your primary residence, but for the most part if you have $1 million in investments that cost you $200,000 to purchase back when you were working your estate must declare $800,000 in income for the year in which you die.  Depending on the province in which you live the potential income tax bill on your estate could exceed 55%.

With just a few tweaks while you are still living you can move assets into tax sheltered vehicles such as Cash Valued Life Insurance or Segregated Funds and significantly reduce the taxes payable on your final estate.  In fact, if you do it early enough and are in good health you may be able to reduce the effective income tax all the way to $0.00 and increase the value of your estate well beyond what it would be worth otherwise.

By asking those three key questions, along with a bit of clarification along the way, I can almost always find a reason to continue talking to a client.  Everyone wants to increase their wealth, and nobody likes paying interest or tax.  By answering these three questions we can almost always find a way to save significant money and increase your savings.

So, tell me – should we continue talking?  Reach out in the comments or directly via email on my contact page.