women and business

Women and Money: Women Have Unique Financial Planning Needs

Carol Moretti (seated) and Lisa Deane
Carol Moretti (seated) and Lisa Deane
Carol Moretti (seated) and Lisa Deane

In my living room sat an architect, a CPA, a healthcare executive, a innovation consultant, a marketing and branding expert, a retired attorney, a writer for the Huffington Post, a clutter coach, an interior designer, a home staging specialist, a jewelry designer, a technical writer, and a newspaper columnist. We were joined by an IT manager, a freelance interactive producer, an owner of a cooking-party company, an owner of a company specializing in culinary health education for kids, a development director, a yoga instructor, a marketing consultant, a personal fashion stylist, a trade marketing manager and a business student. All women. All interesting and accomplished.

Women are as diverse as any other group of people in their career choices and in their lifestyles. But women also share distinct attributes: They are great communicators, relationship builders and nurturers. They also share unique financial planning needs. For example, many women are concerned that they will be old and poor and alone. Look at these facts:

  • Eighty percent of American women will find themselves the sole keepers of their personal finances at some point during their lives, However, most of those women feel financially insecure, despite controlling more wealth, having more education and being more involved in financial decisions.
  • Women still make less than men make in similar occupations.
  • Women’s careers are often interrupted by family needs, such as childcare and eldercare, which limits their opportunity for income and retirement savings growth.
  • Many women fear losing everything and becoming bag ladies (and it doesn’t seem to matter how much money they have or make).
  • Two-thirds of women over age 65 rely on Social Security as their primary source of income. Consequently, women are twice as likely as men to live out their golden years at or below poverty levels.

In my living room, we nibbled bites of grilled salmon covered in sesame seeds, ginger chicken, and artichoke frittata while sipping champagne cocktails. Everyone listened attentively to presentations on serious topics such as the 2010 tax relief act and the new healthcare law, but also to fun topics such as the top ten wardrobe essentials and how to save money on your wardrobe. In between speakers, we women did what we are great at: connected, made new friends and perhaps got a business lead or two.

About Cathy Curtis
Cathy Curtis, the writer of this blog and owner of Curtis Financial Planning, specializes in the finances of women, their families and their businesses. You can find out more about her on her website
www.curtisfinancialplanning.com and follow her on Twitter @cathycurtis, on Facebook Women and Money and on LinkedIn Women and Money.

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“Making Home Affordable”

The Irrepressible Trudy -
The Irrepressible Trudy

Lots of women know their hair stylist almost as well as they know their closest friends. That’s why we don’t dread haircuts the way men do – we actually look forward to the 1-2 hours when a friendly person will make us beautiful with the added bonus of a good  heart-to-heart. No staring glumly at the mirror until it’s done for us! Topics of conversation in a hair salon run from love life to clothes, movies to food, and of course, my personal favorite, money.

Meet Trudy
So without further ado, please meet my hair stylist, Trudy. She’s 40-ish,  a single-mom (of a 13 year old daughter), a homeowner, a fashionista, and, as you can tell from this photo, irrepressibly vivacious.

On my last visit, we got into a chat about money because Trudy had just completed a loan modification and was more than happy to share the details with me. I was very interested because I knew banks were considering loan modifications, but hadn’t heard of anyone actually getting one.

Trudy’s story is typical of many American homeowners who were enticed by loans that “magically” made debts disappear and lowered mortgage payments.

Here’s what happened. Trudy bought a condominium in Hercules, California in 2003. She paid $248,000. She put $50,000 down and took out a 30 year fixed rate loan for $202,000.

She was thrilled to become a homeowner and excited by the prospect of home price appreciation.

When a Refi is a No-No
Fast forward a couple of years later. Her condo had appreciated but so had her credit card debt. Enticed by all the refinance offers that came in the mail daily, she decided to investigate. Not fully understanding what she was getting into, Trudy refinanced her loan to one that offered a myriad of payment choices, better known as an “option-ARM.” The lowest payment option caused the loan to negatively amortize – which means the deferred interest is added to the outstanding loan balance – the exact opposite of a fixed amortizing loan where part of every single loan payment reduces the mortgage balance.

Like many other homeowners before and after her, Trudy chose this option in order to improve her cash flow and at the same time pay off her $30,000 in credit card debt. It’s understandable why this would seem like a good idea, but unless you truly understand what you’re getting into, the ramifications can be devastating.

By the time she applied for the loan modification in December of 2008, her deferred interest had grown to $22,000, her loan was now $260,000 and the interest rate was 7.11%.

All hell broke loose in September 2008.  Trudy received child support from her ex, which helped make ends meet. But he was a mortgage salesperson and with the fall-out from the credit crisis his income was slashed by $80,000 a year.  He was able to get the court to reduce his child support from $1200.00 a month to $180.00 a month. Ouch!

House Underwater
Trudy notified her mortgage company in October that she wasn’t able to make her payment. She had few options. Her loan balance was larger than her home value (also known as being “under-water”) so selling wasn’t an option.  She knew foreclosure was next and starting thinking about moving in with friends or family to regroup.

She found out about loan modifications and applied with her lender. She was turned down in January – the lender cited “information contained in her credit report.”

With a Little Help From Her Lender, Trudy Pulls Through
Then, as fortune would have it, President Obama’s mortgage relief program “Making Home Affordable” was launched in March. Trudy re-applied and this time she was successful. She received a letter of agreement on April 10 from her lender. Here are the new terms:  1. The lender agreed to reduce her loan balance by $53,442.4 to $208,402.44.  2. A new payment and interest schedule starts with a 2% interest rate and gradually increases (.75) per year to 6.5%. 3. Interest only payments are valid, but the borrower can choose to make a fully amortizing payment.

After hearing Trudy’s story, I did a little sleuthing to get some updates on the Obama administration’s $50 Billion mortgage relief program.  Turns out that Trudy was lucky. So far, the results have been disappointing, as lenders were not cooperating. But there are signs that this is changing.

Lenders have sent out offers to reduce monthly payments to around 19% of 3 million eligible borrowers’ –  – this is up from 15% at the end of July. Here’s the story>> (Sorry, the story has been removed by Yahoo.)

In the end, Trudy’s persistent and irrepressible self saved the day. She’s learned a lot of lessons from this…one of which is to always read the fine print and to better manage her use of credit cards.

You can find Trudy at the beauty salon at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, 510-843-3000 or at Altogether Different in Corte Madera, 510-334-5401.

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Women and Money – Women in the Food Biz Talk Business Plans

Women and chocolate photo

Can street smarts, charisma and passion stand in for a business plan?  It all depends on who you ask.

Women and chocolate photo
Women in the Food Business at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club – From left to right: Kathy Wiley, Christine Doerr, Malena Lopez-Maggi and Mindy Fong

I recently hosted two panel discussions that focused on women entrepreneurs in the food business. Participating were eight vibrant businesswomen in their 20’s and 30’s.  Each had the entrepreneurial bug from an early age, each has bootstrapped their business and most had no written business plan before they launched.

Of Passion and Practicality

Molly Fuller of Hands On Gourmet and Kathy Wiley of Poco Dolce are self-described pragmatists. “I wanted to make money,” said Molly. “My father always told me to do it myself, that was the way to make money.” Kathy Wiley said her decision “came down to the stable shelf life and high price point” of high-quality artisanal chocolate. Other participants cited their love of good food, and their lifelong desire to start a food business.

Fire, Ready, Aim

Kika Besher of Kika’s Treats and Christine Doerr of Neo Cocoa are graduates of La Cocina, a food business incubator in San Francisco where eligibility requires a business plan. Kika’s current business profile no longer resembles her first plan and she wishes she had a new one. “So many things change,” she said. Christine Doerr said her plan has changed and there’s a lot of “fire, ready, aim” in her business.  Kathy Wiley (Poco Dolce) started a number of business plans, only one of which she came close to finishing. Malena Lopez-Magg of The Xocolate Bar said, “I did write a long business plan but it was obsolete as soon as it left the printer.”

Recurring Themes

–    Understand the numbers, but don’t get hung-up on producing a document.
–    If you make a plan, be aware that things change and the plan may need updating.
–    Pay attention as you go and you’ll learn.
–    If you are self-funded, the decision to create a business plan is in your hands.

A Different Take

I have no doubt that these amazing women will succeed. Street smarts and passion can take a business a long way. However, as a financial planner I see what bootstrapping can do to a business owner’s personal finances and I am duty bound to counsel caution. Here are  my three reasons why you should consider developing a business plan.

Writing a business plan compels you write down the numbers and
decide which are most important to your particular business – then it’s
up to you to watch them like a hawk.

Taking shortcuts doesn’t work when it comes to growing a business.
Writing a plan helps you to think strategically and decide what’s best for the company in the long term. This can even include an exit strategy.

Assumptions change and circumstances change, but don’t make that an excuse to avoid having a plan.  Even if you launched on sheer gut instinct, step back and create a plan now. You’ll be rewarded with clarity and peace of mind.

What do you think?  Is a business plan an integral first step to launching a business? As always, your comments are welcome. If you have any topics you’d like to see here, feel free to let me know.

Women Entrepreneurs in the Food Business Panel
Molly Fuller, Hands On Gourmet http://handsongourmet.com
Nona Lim, Cook! S.F.  https://www.facebook.com/CookSF
Gabrielle Fuersinger, Cake Coquette https://www.cakecoquette.com/
Kika Besher, Kika’s Treats http://www.kikastreats.com

Women and Chocolate – A Natural Combination Panel
Malena Lopez-Maggi, The Xocolate Bar https://www.thexocolatebar.com
Kathy Wiley, Poco Dolce https://pocodolce.com/
Christine Doerr, Neo Cocoa http://www.neococoa.com
Mindy Fong, Jade Chocolates http://www.jadechocolates.com
Dayna Macy, Author  http://daynamacy.com

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