Women and Money

Clean Energy Tax Credits: What to Know Before You Buy

Inflation Reduction Act & Clean Energy Tax Credits

The Inflation Reduction Act introduces several clean energy tax credits and rebates that may benefit environmentally conscious taxpayers.

As a California-based financial advisor who works primarily with women, I frequently have conversations with clients about socially and environmentally responsible investment strategies. But with the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, many environmentally conscious investors are seeking new ways to put their values into action while potentially benefiting financially in the process.

If you’re considering making climate friendly upgrades to your home or vehicles, you may be eligible to claim thousands of dollars in potential tax credits and rebates. However, before purchasing a rooftop solar panel or electric vehicle, it’s important to understand the various clean energy incentives available—and how to use them to your advantage.

Clean Vehicle Credits

The Inflation Reduction Act extends the Clean Vehicle Credit through 2032. It also introduces new credits for purchasing used electric vehicles.

Specifically, if you buy a new electric vehicle (EV), you may be eligible for a tax credit worth up to $7,500. For a used EV, your tax credit may be worth 30% of the purchase price or $4,000, whichever is less. You may also qualify for additional incentives from state and local governments, depending on where you live.  The caveat is that the new credits don’t go into effect until 2023. So, if you’re planning to purchase a used electric vehicle, you’ll likely want to wait until after the new year to maximize your potential tax benefit. 

For new EV purchases, it’s a little more complicated. If you purchase a new EV in 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act stipulates that the final assembly of the vehicle must take place in North America. However, purchases of General Motors and Tesla car models aren’t eligible for a tax credit until 2023.

Car manufacturers must also meet two battery-related requirements for consumers to receive the full credit in 2023 and beyond. That means some EVs won’t immediately qualify for a tax break as manufacturers work to meet these rules.

Lastly, beginning in 2024, car buyers can transfer their tax credit to dealers at the point of sale. That way it directly reduces the purchase price. This can be particularly valuable for two reasons:

  • First, you won’t have to wait until you file your tax return to benefit financially.
  • In addition, transferring the credit to the dealer at the point of sale ensures you’ll receive the full benefit since the credit amount can’t exceed your tax liability. Meaning, if you owe $6,000 in taxes for the 2023 tax year and take the Clean Vehicle Credit worth $7,500, you lose the remaining $1,500.

Keep in mind there are new adjusted gross income (AGI) thresholds to be eligible for a new EV tax credit. In 2023, the AGI limit is $150,000 for single taxpayers and $300,000 for married couples filing jointly.  

Residential Clean Energy Credit

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit was previously set to expire at the end of 2023. Now the Residential Clean Energy Credit, the Inflation Reduction Act extends it through 2034 and increases the credit amount, with a percentage phaseout in the final two years.

The Residential Clean Energy Credit is a 30% tax credit that applies to installation of solar panels and other equipment that makes use of renewable energy through 2032. The percentage falls to 26% in 2033 and 22% in 2034.

In addition, the credit is retroactive to the beginning of 2022. That means if you install a solar panel or similar equipment this year, you can qualify for the 30% tax credit on your 2022 tax return.

Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit

The Inflation Reduction Act also extends the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit and renames it the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit.

This is a 30% tax credit on the cost of eligible home improvements, worth up to $1,200 per year (as opposed to the previous $500 lifetime limit). The annual cap jumps to $2,000 for heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and biomass stoves and boilers. In addition, roofing will no longer qualify for a tax credit.

Specifically, the annual tax credit limits for qualifying improvements are as follows:

  • $150 for home energy audits
  • $250 for any exterior door (up to $500 total) that meet applicable Energy Star requirements
  • $600 for exterior windows and skylights that meet applicable Energy Star requirements
  • $600 for other energy property, including electric panels and certain related equipment

The enhanced credit is available for projects you complete between January 1, 2023 and December 31, 2033, with some exceptions. Any projects you finish in 2022 aren’t eligible for new incentives. However, if you incur costs in 2022 for a project that you complete in 2023, these costs can count towards your tax break.

Additional Financial Incentives for Investing in Clean Energy  

Finally, the Inflation Reduction Act creates two rebate programs to incentivize clean energy and efficiency projects. Unlike many clean energy tax credits, these rebates are offered at the point of sale. Thus, consumers can reap the financial benefit immediately.

The HOMES rebate is worth up to $8,000 for consumers who make energy efficient upgrades to their homes—for example, HVAC installations. Ultimately, the rebate amount depends on the amount of energy you save and household income.

Meanwhile, the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program offers taxpayers up to $14,000 for buying energy efficient electrical appliances. This rebate is only available to lower income households, and the rebate amount varies by appliance.

The timeline for these rebates to go into effect is less clear than the three tax credits mentioned above. Many experts believe they won’t be broadly available to taxpayers until the second half of 2023 as the Energy Department issues rules governing the programs.

How to Invest in Clean Energy Strategically

The Inflation Reduction Act creates a variety of financial incentives for taxpayers to invest in clean energy and energy-efficient projects. Those who take advantage of these clean energy tax credits and rebates can potentially save thousands on their taxes while doing their part to fight climate change.

However, to maximize these incentives, it’s important to time them correctly and use their constraints to your advantage. A trusted financial advisor like Curtis Financial Planning can help you incorporate these purchases and investments into your financial plan, so you can reap the greatest benefit. We invite you to connect with us to find out more.

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S4E5: The Insurance Lady Ruth Stroup Answers Your Biggest Questions About Insurance

The Insurance Lady Answers Your Biggest Questions About Insurance

Your Biggest Questions About Insurance Answered

My guest on today’s episode is Ruth Stroup. Ruth, AKA “The Insurance Lady,” is a Farmer’s agent in Oakland, California. Voted Best of Oakland seven times, The Ruth Stroup Insurance Agency is a community-oriented agency offering customized insurance solutions to businesses and families.

In this episode, Ruth and I discuss all things insurance, from what it covers and doesn’t cover to choosing the right policies and the obstacles that can get in the way of that. Specifically, we talk about wildfire risk in Northern California and how it may cause you to lose your homeowner’s insurance or your premiums to skyrocket. We also discuss what Ruth can and can’t do as an agent to help her clients navigate claims.

Later in the episode, Ruth provides a helpful overview of umbrella insurance, including common misconceptions about what it covers and how to determine if you need additional coverage. She also shares a little-known strategy she uses with her high-earning clients to protect their personal assets.

And be sure to listen to the end, when we talk briefly about earthquake insurance, another potential risk factor for California residents, and many of the common misconceptions surrounding it. Ruth also shares her tips for how she believes people should approach earthquake insurance and how to decide if it’s worth the high premiums.

And lastly, Ruth offers her response to people who believe insurance is just a racket. I learned so much during this conversation and Ruth shared so many great gems that I believe will benefit a lot of you listeners. I hope you enjoy the episode as much as I did.

Episode Highlights

  • [04:02] Ruth Stroup explains what homeowner’s insurance covers and doesn’t cover if someone burglarizes your home.

  • [07:03] How to insure different types of jewelry, whether it’s costume, gems and metals, or fine jewelry.

  • [12:31] What people can do to mitigate the damage if they get burgled or their home is destroyed by fire.

  • [16:22] What to do if your policy goes into non-renewal because you live in a high-risk zone for wildfires.

  • [19:51] How reinsurance companies impact the insurance industry.

  • [22:29] Ruth Stroup shares the reasons besides wildfire danger that a policy may be non-renewed.

  • [26:45] What Ruth can and can’t do as an agent when helping her clients navigate claims.

  • [33:11] Cathy asks Ruth Stroup to give a mini tutorial on liability and umbrella insurance.

  • [38:54] Ruth Stroup shares what she believes is the best kept secret in the insurance business.

  • [42:02] Cathy and Ruth talk earthquake coverage.

Links Relevant to this Episode

Ruth Stroup Insurance Agency’s website

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S4E5 Transcript: The Insurance Lady Answers Your Biggest Questions About Insurance

[00:02:50] Cathy Curtis: Ruth Stroup, thank you so much for being on my podcast, Financial Finesse. I can’t wait to talk to you about all things insurance.

[00:02:56] Ruth Stroup: I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me, Cathy.

[00:03:00] Cathy Curtis: So, Ruth, as you being an insurance person, and I know being a financial planner, that many times we prepare for one thing and then something different happens. And so we are gonna talk about things like that and what could go wrong.

[00:03:16] Cathy Curtis: And I’m gonna tell a short, personal story that we could start with. So I live up in the Oakland Hills, which is a beautiful woodsy neighborhood. Very quiet, peaceful. And, but the homes are separate from each other, lots of foliage around the homes, et cetera. And what we worry about most up here is fire.

[00:03:40] Cathy Curtis: And, but unfortunately, I was away on vacation recently and our home got burglarized. So of course we had to make a claim. And even though I am a financial advisor and I know a lot about insurance, when it happens to you, you realize that you don’t know everything. And one of those things is what is covered and what isn’t.

Ruth Stroup explains what’s covered and what isn’t covered by homeowner’s insurance if your home is burglarized.

[00:04:02] Cathy Curtis: So I thought maybe you could talk to that a little bit. I know you have a ton of experience in this area. And give our listeners an idea of what they can expect if this happened to them.

[00:04:14] Ruth Stroup: Great, Cathy, that’s such a great question. I find all the time that people think insurance, when we, when it comes to having a claim, we think insurance covers everything.

[00:04:24] Ruth Stroup: And when it comes to purchasing insurance, we’re trying to find all the ways to save money on our insurance. And those two things can be at odds. So when I work with clients, one of the things that’s the most important to me is to find out what matters to them. For example, if someone has a lot of jewelry or fine art or firearms for that matter, if they have things that they collect, they need special insurance for that.

[00:04:52] Ruth Stroup: And nobody really thinks about it because we don’t go out and buy the full collection at one time. We buy once, this birthdays, anniversaries, a special treat, a celebration of some sort. And so collections don’t come to us fully formed. They’re created over time, and we don’t think about how much they’re growing in value because we’re spending our cash flow on them.

[00:05:18] Ruth Stroup: Years ago, I had a client. This was back when I worked as an investment advisor over at Charles Schwab. He was in Castro Valley, he lived on a cul-de-sac. He was the survivor of three or four brothers, sisters, extended family members had passed away. And in his basement he had multiple sets of silver tea service, silver flatware, golf clubs, hobby things, tools. And somebody broke into his house, filled up the car.

[00:05:51] Ruth Stroup: He had parked in the garage with all the items that were in the basement. Drove away with them to sell them for 10 cents on the dollar, whatever else they were gonna do. He lived on a cul-de-sac. The neighbors saw his car come and go multiple times. But because it was his car, they never questioned it.

[00:06:12] Ruth Stroup: And I think, and he was talking about filing for the insurance claim. But in his case, in the world of what can go wrong around theft, which we’re seeing more and more of here in the east bay and in California, in general, all the items he had were sort of family inheritance. And it’s not like they got to be in the centerpiece of the dining room table.

[00:06:34] Ruth Stroup: They were in the basement. So if he had asked me as an insurance agent today, what I would think about insuring those items, I would ask him, did it have sentimental value? Which means I’ll be sad when it’s gone, but I won’t replace it. Or does it have financial value? Which means I’m gonna wanna replace this.

[00:06:56] Ruth Stroup: And when we have a fire, we have much more of a, of our things that we definitely want to replace.

How to insure different types of jewelry, whether it’s costume, gems and metals, or fine jewelry.

[00:07:03] Cathy Curtis: Yeah. Ruth, let me step back a minute. I wanna share my personal story on a collectible, a collection I had before we go into fire. So in my case, and a lot of women do this. I’ve been collecting jewelry for years and I’m not talking fine gold and gem jewelry.

[00:07:20] Cathy Curtis: I’m talking artisanal. Unique pieces that I find when I’m in Europe or on a weekend getaway in Sonoma or Napa or whatever. And I could tell you every piece I had, where I got it, and the story behind it. So I didn’t insure it because each piece was not a lot of value. And I didn’t worry as much about it as my fine jewelry.

[00:07:46] Cathy Curtis: Again, each piece was, every single piece of that collection was stolen. The thieves dumped out my jewelry chest and stole every single earring, bracelet, necklace that I had been collecting over the years. And that hurts. It really does. And I’m not gonna be able to replace it. It was probably worth about $15,000 in total.

[00:08:07] Cathy Curtis: And insurance doesn’t cover that. Cause I didn’t have any of it appraised. It, it wasn’t worth appraising any of it. So that’s a really good example of something you’re talking about. Now, if I had, if you were, if I had come to you and said, can I insure that? I really wanna insure that collection. Could that have been done?

[00:08:24] Ruth Stroup: It can. People don’t really, I, there’s a way I always ask the difference between is it costume jewelry, which is in the under $100. Is it fine jewelry? So $500 to $2,500. Or is it gems and metals? And I know people who insure none of it. I know people who insure all of it. There’s a way to insure them a little bit differently.

[00:08:49] Ruth Stroup: So a collective amount for smaller items and a, an itemized amount for larger amounts. But the jewelry company we work with. If it’s special enough to add it, it’s inexpensive to have, you can either have your most important pieces insured. Or if you collect stuff, you can insure it all. And then, and then you have to, the thing is to get replacement cost and insurance, you have to replace things.

[00:09:18] Ruth Stroup: And the items you have are more of a what’s the market value than what’s the replacement value. Because there are, they are all artisanal. But I see lots of ladies, I say, do you sparkle? And they do. Then I ask if they have special insurance for that. And most don’t, and then nobody knows what it costs.

[00:09:39] Ruth Stroup: So they don’t know what they’re saying. Yes or no to the men and their watches are exactly the same. Got a bonus, buy myself a $10,000 watch. My stocks vest, got myself a $10,000 watch. Had a baby, got myself a $10,000 watch. And over a decade, somebody might have 3, 4, 5 watches because they had occasions to, to mark with the watch.

[00:10:04] Ruth Stroup: Maybe one watch is not such a big deal, but $50,000, a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of watches. Many men have that much in their closet.

[00:10:11] Cathy Curtis: And it, and insurance does not cover watches. Is that correct?

[00:10:15] Ruth Stroup: It treats them as jewelry.

[00:10:17] Cathy Curtis: Yeah. Okay. What about silver sets of silverware? That’s not covered either, unless you have a rider.

[00:10:24] Ruth Stroup: Silver’s different because silver has limits on the policy.

[00:10:30] Ruth Stroup: But in the old days back when the flea market was the thieves market, what people went to buy back was their family silver. There was definitely a market for it. Today, grandma’s silver, every, every millennial’s, worst nightmare to have grandma’s silver delivered to them. To be the caretaker of dusted tarnished silver.

[00:10:58] Cathy Curtis: Oh man. Yeah, my aunt’s, my favorite relative in the whole world. I cannot believe that they took it because I know what you’re saying. You could find it in any consignment store, flea market.

[00:11:15] Ruth Stroup: And you can insure silver collectively without an appraisal.

[00:11:19] Ruth Stroup: It, it just the issue with the theft of silver, silver tableware, where it’s so much less. Your people either, they were either, they know, like when they get that personal on what they take. They’re looking for something or something bigger. That’s very malicious. And I’m so sorry that happened to you.

[00:11:39] Cathy Curtis: Yeah. I know it was strange to think some of the things that they took for.

[00:11:43] Ruth Stroup: Usually what they do is they go through all your drawers and all your closet and all the known, hiding places that people think that thieves don’t know about. And they look for cash, especially cultures that keep cash at home.

[00:11:59] Ruth Stroup: Yeah. They look for things that they can sell easily. So they like shoes and they like, they love handbags. They also like handbags because the handbags can hold stuff as they’re taking things away. Uh, I got broken in two years ago. They used my luggage to steal my stuff. Yeah.

[00:12:18] Cathy Curtis: Yeah, they, I got several bags stolen that were obviously used to carry, cart things.

[00:12:24] Cathy Curtis: But they knew to take my nicest bags though.

[00:12:27] Ruth Stroup: Yeah. These were designer shoppers. Oh my gosh.

What people can do to mitigate the damage if they get burgled or their home is destroyed by fire.

[00:12:31] Cathy Curtis: Oh, given that, let’s, what is some good? You can’t prevent everything, but what, what are a few things people can do to try and mitigate the damage if they do get burgled?

[00:12:44] Ruth Stroup: So in any kind of claim you wanna do almost like a fire drill for your claim.

[00:12:52] Ruth Stroup: And the first question is, would I replace that? So believe it or not, most people have more money in clothes than anything else and most of us could pair our closets down by half. The first thing to say is if the insurance company did not pay me for this, would my life be the same? Like I might be sad.

[00:13:16] Ruth Stroup: but would my, would I change? Would it, would I be able to pay my housing or rent? Would I be able to pay my taxes? Or would I be able to eat the same way I ate? Will I have enough cash reserve for the long term? And I get very existential about things because if your quality of life wouldn’t change, if you don’t have the item and if you would not replace.

[00:13:42] Ruth Stroup: It’s terrible that someone took it, but it doesn’t have any financial value. It only has very high sentimental value, like your silver set from your aunt. And so I tell people that I really focus my insurance dollars on things that I want to replace. Okay, because then it has real financial value.

[00:14:06] Ruth Stroup: So for example, most people’s wedding rings, they would really want to replace. But an inherited wedding ring, hard to know. A wedding ring that has value after a divorce, hard to know.

[00:14:18] Cathy Curtis: Let’s take example, eBikes, which mine was going by the way. So Rob and I love eBikes. And it does enhance the quality of our life in a big way.

[00:14:32] Cathy Curtis: We take road trips with them, et cetera. So those were stolen. We definitely wanna replace those. So that’s a good example. Whereas my leather coat collection, am I gonna miss it? Yes, but am I, do I have to have all those? No, it’s a really good distinction because a lot of the stuff is just material stuff that you’ve collected that is not gonna change your life in any way.

[00:14:58] Cathy Curtis: So I, I think that’s a really excellent way to think about what to insure and to use your dollars wisely when you’re buying insurance. Yeah.

[00:15:06] Ruth Stroup: And I segue then, Cathy, too, people who are having a hard time getting insurance because they live in a location that’s now difficult to insure due to the wildfires we’ve seen over the last five years, since 2017. And with those policies, what should I, my first question to the people is would you rebuild?

[00:15:26] Ruth Stroup: I’ve worked with lots of seniors who are 70+ years old. They don’t wanna build another house. I talked to other people, they’re like, we love where we live. We would absolutely wanna rebuild. And so we set up the insurance based on what they expect the outcome to be. So sometimes I ask people what’s your next house and how soon in the future is it?

[00:15:51] Ruth Stroup: And for somebody who lives, let’s say in a house with a couple of stories worth of stairs and their next house is something with no stairs, potentially in an area with much less fire risk or closer to family or closer to medical, then a fire might only accelerate that move. What you want in a fire insurance policy is replacement cost, but that means you replaced your home.

[00:16:20] Ruth Stroup: You’re not required to rebuild it.

What to do if your insurance policy goes into non-renewal because you live in a high-risk zone for wildfires.

[00:16:22] Cathy Curtis: Okay. Now the insurance world in California has changed a lot because of the fires. So what in, especially in areas like Napa or here in Oakland and other areas, and some people’s insurance policies have been canceled due to that. What do you, what do you do in that case?

[00:16:45] Ruth Stroup: In the insurance business, we call it non-renewal. Canceled is like when I don’t make a payment and then they cancel me midterm.

[00:16:53] Cathy Curtis: Okay. Thank you for correcting me. Non-renewal.

[00:16:55] Ruth Stroup: Super important distinction because of the timeframe. If the insurance company is going, the insurance cycle if a policy is issued.

[00:17:04] Ruth Stroup: The insurance company does an inspection in the first 60 days. And if they find deficits in the property condition, they give you 30 days to remediate that. And at the end of that 30 days, if you don’t show proof of the updates, then the policy will cancel at any time until the next renewal. The only reason the insurance company could cancel coverage is if there is a, is if there’s non-payment. So assuming the payments have been made, then when it comes up to renewal, that’s the only time the insurance company can evaluate the risk and decide if it fits their current profile or not.

[00:17:47] Ruth Stroup: And this will change year by year, carrier by carrier. And it’s con, it creates a lot of confusion and a lot of bad feelings.

[00:18:04] Cathy Curtis: But I brought this up because that is definitely a distinction. So policies cannot be canceled just one day. They say, sorry, we can’t insure you anymore.

[00:18:19] Ruth Stroup: Nope. Insurance companies have to wait till the renewal date, and they must give you 90 days to shop for your new coverage. So if they miss the win, so if this is not taken lightly, insurance companies are, they wanna grow just like any other business. And they have lots of masters. They have to have a certain amount of reserve to be able to issue a new policy.

[00:18:42] Ruth Stroup: And the regulators really watch the insurance company’s capacity to pay claims. And some of the way we get that capacity is we buy insurance on our book of business in the industry. We call this reinsurance, right, that’s a big business. The reinsurance companies for years, they would collect money every year.

[00:19:05] Ruth Stroup: And then once in about 20 years, something really terrible would happen and they’d have a big payout. They’ve had record payouts in four of the last five years, they have changed their criteria. And if an insurance company needs the reinsurance in order to have capacity to pay, we don’t just have to pay by the regulator’s rules.

[00:19:27] Ruth Stroup: Now we don’t have to just pay by trying to run a good business rules, our own internal things. We also have to pay by the rules of the reinsurance. And it’s that number of constituencies that get involved in things that make insurance complex and that make insurance companies sometimes have to change their guidelines more quickly than you might expect.

How reinsurance companies impact the insurance industry.

[00:19:51] Cathy Curtis: So the reinsurance companies are really dictating a lot of what’s going on.

[00:19:56] Ruth Stroup: They have a pretty big impact. But you have to understand that it’s not just, they don’t just pull a lever and say, hey, insurance company, make a change. It’s, we go to them to get capacity. We have to have capacity to pay in order to maintain a certain book of clients.

[00:20:15] Ruth Stroup: The regulators look at the reinsurance companies for years, it was a very profitable business on the idea that you’d pay out big every once in a while. But every once in a while has become every year. And so they’re looking for their, the comp, their clients, the insurance companies to qualify for reinsurance.

[00:20:34] Ruth Stroup: We have to do, we have to do things a little bit differently in terms of our, the big data. And what’s in our book of businesses and we have to pay more for it too.

[00:20:44] Cathy Curtis: Okay. So let’s, let me just give an example. Let’s say in your book of business, whoever does this, I identify five homes in your book of business that are fire, big fire risk.

[00:20:56] Cathy Curtis: And so you notify at the renewal date, you notify the homeowner. These are the things they need to do to mitigate fire danger?

[00:21:09] Ruth Stroup: No, sometimes it’s this location no longer qualifies, hard and fast.

[00:21:13] Cathy Curtis: Ah, okay.

[00:21:14] Ruth Stroup: So in, and it could be a client that just signed up last year. It could be a client who’s been with you for 40 years.

[00:21:21] Ruth Stroup: We don’t get to pick his agents.

[00:21:22] Cathy Curtis: Okay. So then that homeowner by law has 90 days to shop for new coverage.

[00:21:32] Ruth Stroup: Correct. And the marketplace is everchanging and every insurance company has their own data modeling for risk. So you might be with an insurance company that can’t shop for other policies for you.

[00:21:48] Ruth Stroup: So you need to find both a new agent or broker. And a new carrier. And then as well as a new policy, other people you might be with the agent or broker may be able to place you somewhere else within their suite of carriers that they offer. So the shopping experience is different for everybody.

[00:22:07] Cathy Curtis: I’ve had clients experience both of those ways that you’re describing. Okay, so that, and then what is the average rate increase in that case? Is it quite large?

[00:22:19] Ruth Stroup: It, when people are non-renewed due to wildfire risk, the new policy can cost between two, two times to five times more than the current policy.

Ruth Stroup shares the reasons besides wildfire danger that an insurance policy may be non-renewed.

[00:22:29] Cathy Curtis: Okay. Okay. Are there any other reasons besides fire danger that a policy would not be.

[00:22:37] Ruth Stroup: Absolutely. Okay. And unfortunately, and claims is a major reason that insurance companies will non-renew clients. So yeah, some clients like whenever somebody has a potential claim, I’m like, let’s look at this and make sure it’s worth it to file this claim.

[00:22:59] Ruth Stroup: And worth it means things like how much will impact my. And will it impact whether or not I can get insurance with you? And if I’m going to sell my house in the next five years, will it impact the new buyer’s ability to get insurance?

[00:23:16] Cathy Curtis: Oh, that’s really critical. So let’s dig into these a little bit. So do you know, you can tell how much more it will cost on the next renewal date. If they make a claim of so much dollars?

[00:23:32] Ruth Stroup: I have an idea. So every carrier has its formula for rate surcharges. And I get Farmers. We have a surcharge for a claim as well as we have a discount, if your claim’s free. So I tell, my formula for whether or not to consider filing a claim is your current deductible plus your current premium. And if it’s less than that, you shouldn’t file a claim.

[00:24:02] Cathy Curtis: Okay. All right. But that doesn’t sound like it could be, like let’s say your deductible’s $2,500 and your current premium’s $3,000.

[00:24:12] Ruth Stroup: You wouldn’t even consider reporting it until it’s $5,500 or higher there.

[00:24:19] Cathy Curtis: Okay. All right.

[00:24:20] Ruth Stroup: Now, a lot of people, the number one, you know, we’ve talked about theft. We’ve talked a little bit about fire. But the real, most common claim we see in the home insurance industry is water damage. And water damage is one of those things, like what was the source of the water?

[00:24:38] Ruth Stroup: How long was the water damage? How long, was it a slow leak or a burst pipe? There are so many variables in water damage that I invite all my clients to call me if there’s anything going on with water in their house. Because just like that example where I said, even a former owner can impact the insurability of the house.

[00:24:58] Ruth Stroup: It’s those water damage claims. And what happens is someone calls to say, oh, we need to get the house ready for the market. So let’s send it to Oz and get, give it a good fluff and, and a contractor. Will we need to replace his pipes or here’s this old leak? And they tell the owner, who’s usually a retired person downsizing.

[00:25:20] Ruth Stroup: Oh, let’s see if your insurance company will pay for some of this. But oh, it’s wear and tear, old routine maintenance. So the homeowner calls the insurance company. And the insurance company declines the claim, but it’s water. So it’s given a red flag to the next insurance company that there’s a water, a potential water loss at this property because somebody called in and had a concern about water damage.

[00:25:47] Ruth Stroup: And since water damage is the number one cause of loss, some insurance companies won’t even touch a $0 claim.

[00:25:56] Cathy Curtis: Whoa. So I’ve often I know this, that you have to be really thoughtful and careful about when and why you call your insurance company. This is a perfect example.

[00:26:06] Ruth Stroup: And you also have to understand who you’re speaking to at the insurance company.

[00:26:12] Ruth Stroup: So I’m an agent. If somebody calls me and says, hypothetically, how will the policy respond? We can run through all the hypotheticals, but if you have insurance with a company where you call directly into an 800 number all in, they say, let’s have you talk to claims. Every claims call is recorded.

[00:26:32] Cathy Curtis: Okay. So am I right on this, that you as an agent and not just you, even though I know you’re great are an advocate for the client.

What Ruth can and can’t do as an insurance agent when helping her clients navigate claims.

[00:26:45] Ruth Stroup: I’m a navigator. So I can’t tell claims to pay or not to pay. I can’t tell them how much to pay. I can’t do any of that, but. And every carrier has its rules. In my carrier, Farmers, I’m allowed to review hypotheticals with anybody, any time. Will it make, how will the insurance company respond to this set of circumstances?

[00:27:09] Ruth Stroup: And I cannot tell them not to file. Like I sometimes I’m like, I personally think that the insurance company is likely to decline this claim. But the only way you’ll know if it will be declined is if you, it’s up to you. People are regularly asking me in the name of optimizing their insurance. What’s that little magic dollar limit where yes, I absolutely should file a claim.

[00:27:34] Ruth Stroup: What I find is many people think that they won’t file a claim until it’s say, over $50,000. And it might be in their best interest to file a claim for $20,000. And so in this market where insurance rates have become so high, the folks sometimes just give me the highest deductible. But the price difference between the highest deductible and something that’s a little more user friendly may not be very much. So in the sales process, when reviewing the coverage and getting ready to purchase or to renew, I use this formula I call bank the difference.

[00:28:08] Ruth Stroup: And so if there’s a difference in deductible, let’s say between I’m gonna use numbers so I can do the easy math. Between $5,000 and $10,000, right? That’s a $5,000 difference. Now let’s say I save $500 for taking additional $5,000 of risk. It would take me 10 years, $5,000 divided by 500, to bank the difference if I took the savings.

[00:28:39] Ruth Stroup: In the difference of the cost of the insurance policy and put it in the bank every year. It doesn’t in my world. My, I tell people in home insurance, the average claim is about once a decade. So if you can bank the difference in five to, and under five years, absolutely take the higher deductible.

[00:29:00] Ruth Stroup: Five to seven years, maybe seven years or more, consider the lower deductible. Ten years, absolutely. The lower deductible is giving better value. And in car I have a little shorter timeframe, three years for absolutely take the higher, three years where you absolutely take the savings. In about five years where you probably are be, get better value with the lower deductible.

[00:29:28] Cathy Curtis: I love it. That you have all these formulas you use. I’m sure you’ve developed those over the years of being.

[00:29:35] Ruth Stroup: I’m terrible at math. It’s what I call chunky math. It helps me. Describe a concept without getting too technical.

[00:29:44] Cathy Curtis: Yeah. Ruth let’s, I wanna just segue just a tiny bit and just ask you, you’ve been doing this for a long time.

[00:29:50] Cathy Curtis: Just talk a little bit about yourself for a minute.

[00:29:53] Ruth Stroup: Sure. I am 16 years in the business now. My agency is with Farmer’s Insurance. We do Farmer’s Insurance, and then we broker things that Farmer’s doesn’t offer. So that’s one of the reasons why we’ve become such experts in the high fire risk. Because farmers doesn’t offer that.

[00:30:12] Ruth Stroup: So I’m not in a compete situation. This is my third career. I was a cook for a decade. I worked for Charles Schwab for a decade. And now I’ve been doing insurance for longer than anything else. I love it because the insurance is pretty much the same day in and day out. You could think it was boring, but the people are all special and unique and different.

[00:30:36] Ruth Stroup: And I just love all the different people I get to meet when I was at Schwab. We slowly but surely, we’re only serving the more and more affluent. It’s a great American dream to own a home and more people participate in that than might use services like yours, Cathy, like a financial advisor. Because it’s just a more ordinary thing people do.

[00:30:57] Ruth Stroup: So I serve a much broader clientele than I had exposure to at Schwab. Which means that I get to work with a much more diverse clientele and I get to be Oakland-based and really serve this community. We serve the entire state of California, but the lion’s share of our clients are here in Oakland.

[00:31:16] Cathy Curtis: Okay. Well, I wanna make one comment about the insurance thing as far as I’m concerned as a financial advisor. I am an investment advisor, but I’m also a financial planner, and insurance is absolutely the bedrock of any good financial plan. And yes. People, I think people make a mistake thinking it’s boring. When I talk to you about it, it certainly doesn’t seem boring.

[00:31:37] Cathy Curtis: And it is so important to know all the different layers of your insurance policy. And I think people, when they’re talking to their agent, like you, they’re getting the information they need and their questions answered. But then they get the policy, they file it away. They never read it. And they’re not really aware of their coverages until they have to make a claim.

[00:31:57] Cathy Curtis: And maybe not, all of them have good insurance. You called it navigator. So I’ll call it navigator. I like to think of it as an advocate too, but they may not have that.

[00:32:08] Ruth Stroup: So most people, their first insurance, they buy on the internet or an 800 number where they don’t have anybody that advises them.

[00:32:17] Ruth Stroup: And then from watching your own clients that most people, especially if they’re planning and they have goals, their life expands and they have more money and more at stake. And sometimes they also have more in terms of debt because they use debt in order to build their assets, especially if they’re investing in real estate.

[00:32:37] Ruth Stroup: So. We, I regularly see people who have just the bare minimum limits for liability on their car insurance, because they bought it when they had nothing, and they just renew it. And nobody says, hey, what is your job today? What do you earn today? Do you have savings and money in the bank? Do you own real estate?

[00:33:00] Ruth Stroup: And so people will have just the bare minimum limits and not think twice about it because it’s a bill they pay. It’s not a policy they count on.

Cathy asks Ruth Stroup to give a mini tutorial on liability and umbrella insurance.

[00:33:11] Cathy Curtis: Let’s talk liability now that you’ve brought it up. In particular, buying an umbrella policy. Can you do like a mini tutorial on that? Because I have to explain umbrella quite often.

[00:33:22] Ruth Stroup: Sure. So with umbrella we see that the most common misunderstanding about umbrella is that people think it covers gaps in their coverage for their own personal property. And that’s the one thing it doesn’t cover is your personal property. What umbrella does is it provides money for a legal settlement.

[00:33:46] Ruth Stroup: And the attorney that comes with it in the event that you’re sued usually for an injury to a third party, the most common use of the umbrella policy is a car accident. For a business, the most common use for any kind of liability coverage is just a simple slip. And there are, what people don’t realize is that they can host a social gathering in their home or in a restaurant or a rented facility, like a country club or a social hall and their guests.

[00:34:24] Ruth Stroup: Any one guest could have a terrible accident on the way home. And if they had alcohol at your event, you can be added to the number of people who are named in a lawsuit for the person who was injured. That’s big. So the four categories I look at for where your money is to see, do you need more protection for your money?

[00:34:48] Ruth Stroup: So the umbrella insurance impacts, it protects your assets. So the first is anything not in a retirement account. So if you’ve got somebody at a company that’s getting company stock, if you’ve got somebody that’s always saved and has a couple of CDs that, no matter what it is, the non-retirement. Stocks bonds, mutual funds, CDs, bank accounts.

[00:35:12] Ruth Stroup: That’s the first layer of things we wanna make sure we protect.

[00:35:15] Cathy Curtis: That’s all the non-retirement things that I call them. Taxable accounts. They beat people’s brokerage accounts, things like that. Okay.

[00:35:24] Ruth Stroup: And then the next thing that people have no idea about is that their wages could be garnished.

[00:35:29] Ruth Stroup: So you can be fresh outta school, have a big student loan, have a big career in front of you. And maybe you’re making $150,000 a year, but you’re still driving on minimum car limits, like $15,000 per person injured. And if you had an accident that you couldn’t pay for, they could garnish your wages even for as much as a decade.

[00:35:53] Ruth Stroup: And that would change your quality of life forever. So even people who don’t have stuff, if they have wages, they need better coverage. And I really like the umbrella policy for them.

[00:36:04] Cathy Curtis: Okay. Let me clarify something. Are IRAs at risk to judgment, to creditors in California?

[00:36:11] Ruth Stroup: They are not technically, nothing in the retirement suite is technically at risk of creditors.

[00:36:18] Ruth Stroup: How I always look at the OJ Simpson case, civil case. OJ’s money was primarily in the NFL pension, every pension payment could be garnished. Every, like it’s not technically at risk. But if that’s where your money is and you have to pay a settlement, you may end up taking the money out plus taxes, potentially plus a penalty in order to do that.

[00:36:48] Ruth Stroup: So I always round up. And if a person has significant retirement assets, I wanna at least think about them. And then I feel the same way about home.

[00:36:59] Cathy Curtis: It’s up to the judge in some cases, right?

[00:37:01] Ruth Stroup: If they, or they might say the judgment is half a million dollars and you have a hundred thousand in coverage.

[00:37:08] Ruth Stroup: So now you have to figure out where to get the other 400, and you make an arrangement with the, I will liquidate assets and pay a hundred thousand. I will accept wage garnishment for this period of time. I will this or that. And the insurance company wants so much to settle within your policy limits, but you have to give them some tools to be able to do that.

[00:37:33] Cathy Curtis: Is this a really common claim? What percent?

[00:37:37] Ruth Stroup: It’s not a, so this is one of those funny insurance things where it’s, you don’t wanna play the odds. You don’t wanna gamble with it. If you have the assets at risk, you want to have coverage. Because here’s what happens. An attorney in the bay area costs about $500 an hour.

[00:37:57] Ruth Stroup: A $1 million liability policy with the attorney coverage that comes with it costs, depending on what you have to cover, plus or minus $500. So it’s like having an attorney on retainer, right? It’s some of the best, and it’s inexpensive because it’s rarely used. But do you wanna be the poor soul who needs it and doesn’t have it?

[00:38:22] Cathy Curtis: I sure don’t. Now let me ask you this. There are some technical things like you have to have so much in your liability limits on your auto and home before you can add umbrella. Is that correct?

[00:38:35] Ruth Stroup: That’s correct. So one of the reasons umbrella is expensive is because the small things are handled by the underlying policy. The cars, the motorcycles, the boats, the houses, the income, the rental property, the vacation house. All of it needs to have a certain level of coverage.

Ruth Stroup shares what she believes is the best kept secret in the insurance business.

[00:38:54] Ruth Stroup: And it’s normal to, to like to have those coverages. It’s not high coverage. And then for my high earners, I like to add an, I have the opportunity to add an additional $1 million, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to their policy. And this is the best kept secret in the insurance business.

[00:39:22] Ruth Stroup: Most of my clients who are going to be in a terrible accident. It’s not going to be their fault. They’re not going to be the one paying. They’re gonna be the party that’s injured. And the person who injures them is likely to have terrible insurance because they’re expensive to insure. They’re a new driver, bad driving record, possibly a DUI record, maybe even uninsured, maybe stolen car they didn’t have a right to drive.

[00:39:53] Ruth Stroup: And your policy can, the uninsured motorist pays when your loss is above the amount of coverage available in that other party’s policy. So if that other policy is only paying $15,000 per person, or maybe the boiler plate policy is paying a hundred thousand per person, but your combination of medical loss wages and lingering effects is more than a million dollars.

[00:40:27] Ruth Stroup: It makes a big difference to have uninsured motorist on your umbrella policy. And it’s very inexpensive and it’s a really good protection for people who have a high income, because it’s that wages piece.

[00:40:43] Cathy Curtis: Yeah. That’s so important. Now, why is this such a secret?

[00:40:44] Ruth Stroup: Because it’s inexpensive. I regularly see policies where the insurance companies sold the client, less uninsured motorists from the regular liability.

[00:40:56] Ruth Stroup: Maybe a lease required 100, 300 limits of liability, the person was trying to control costs or cut a corner. The agent sold them $30,000, $60,000 and the insurance company only has to pay out if your coverage is greater than that, of the party that injured you. So it’s a very inexpensive coverage.

[00:41:19] Ruth Stroup: It’s misunderstood if you’re in a car accident and you’re a pedestrian. A bicyclist. A passenger of any vehicle or a driver of any vehicle. And it’s another driver’s fault. You can use this coverage if their insurance is inadequate for what your needs are.

[00:41:38] Cathy Curtis: Do all carriers offer this option? Do you know?

[00:41:41] Ruth Stroup: It’s required by law to, it’s required by law to offer it. And we have to make, you have you sign a disclosure if you take less than what we give, the way people DocuSign these days that do it blind. They don’t even know they’re being offered less.

[00:41:55] Cathy Curtis: No, it’s true. Thank you. That is an awesome tip, Ruth. Thank you so much for that one.

Cathy and Ruth talk earthquake insurance.

[00:42:02] Cathy Curtis: Let’s talk earthquake insurance. Now, most of the people I think that listen to this podcast are in California. They may not, but everyone knows the risk of earthquake in California. So what could go wrong there?

[00:42:15] Ruth Stroup: Most people don’t buy earthquake insurance. And they don’t realize what their responsibilities might be to their lender.

[00:42:25] Ruth Stroup: And in order to, if their house has severe damage from earthquake coverage, most people also don’t realize that they can shop around for earthquake coverage. That there’s more carriers than the earthquake authority. And lastly, most people think the earthquake authority is part of the California state government and receive funding from the state.

[00:42:46] Ruth Stroup: And they do not. They receive funding from policy holders and insurance companies. And then lastly, many people have the belief that FEMA or some other federal organization will help them after an earthquake loss. And they do not realize how limited those funds are and that they shouldn’t be relying on them.

[00:43:09] Cathy Curtis: Okay. So, what do you advise your clients to do in California?

[00:43:15] Ruth Stroup: There are several profiles of clients who I feel really need to buy earthquake insurance. What we learned during the mortgage crisis back in 2008 to 2010 is many people walked away from a mortgage, took a break and restarted their lives.

[00:43:34] Ruth Stroup: And they did not. If anything, they, they didn’t experience a big financial loss. They may have hurt their credit for a while, but it wasn’t impossible in our agency. The people we see who really care about having an earthquake policy are people who have over a quarter million dollars in home equity. For a lot of people, that’s a down payment the bank would not let them walk away from.

[00:44:06] Ruth Stroup: Their loan, even if the house was severely damaged and uninhabitable, that’s. People, if your income is so high there, you’re not gonna be able to do, to just walk away the way people walked away in the mortgage crisis. Because the people who walked away in the mortgage crisis didn’t have that much skin in the game.

[00:44:24] Ruth Stroup: They like, they may not have had the high paying jobs.

[00:44:29] Cathy Curtis: Well, yeah, they may not have had income. You didn’t have to document income on a lot of those loans that were done in those days.

[00:44:36] Ruth Stroup: But today’s buyers go in and buy a house over a million dollars very often and with 20% down or more. So they start with quite a bit of skin in the game.

[00:44:47] Ruth Stroup: Many of those people to afford their mortgage have a very high income. Too high to be able to justify a quick claim on a property that still owes hundreds of thousands of dollars. The third is a category that has more to do with you and me, Cathy. There are some professions where you could pick up and move and go live somewhere else.

[00:45:11] Ruth Stroup: But if you don’t have good credit, you can’t get a job. So we both work in financial services, and if I hurt my credit rating, because a bankruptcy or a quick claim on a house after an earthquake, I might not be able to be employed. Some people in the federal government have the same issue. So people who need to keep clean and good whose employment requires good credit.

[00:45:37] Ruth Stroup: They absolutely wanna make sure with an earthquake policy that they won’t lose their credit because they had to walk away from a house that was badly damaged in an earthquake. And so those are the three money reasons. And then there’s site specific issues. There’s some houses that the type of construction they are, they’re top.

[00:45:58] Ruth Stroup: And the more top-heavy your house is, the more you need really good retrofitting so your house doesn’t come separate from your foundation. And the more potential you have for damage. So the earthquake carriers set the rates based on the site specific risk, proximity to fault lines, and then the, the configuration of the house and the age of the home.

[00:46:23] Ruth Stroup: If the policy is expensive, the bad news is you probably need it because you’re a higher risk client. Or your property, your location is higher risk. And I have clients who do one of the three following things, they retrofit and skip the insurance. They feel like they’ve done enough site improvement to feel safe and secure.

[00:46:47] Ruth Stroup: And that’s what they, how they wanna spend their money by mitigating risk. Some people buy the insurance and don’t do the retrofit because they have insurance. Some people do both. The majority of people by and large don’t buy earthquake insurance. And the challenge we’re gonna have in the bay area is if we have a serious earthquake, we will have very local, highly localized changes to our economy.

[00:47:16] Ruth Stroup: The bay is one of the largest economies, not just in the country, but in the world. Being prepared for an earthquake is really important.

[00:47:25] Cathy Curtis: Yes. One of the arguments I hear about buying earthquake or not is, oh, the deductible’s so high. It just doesn’t make sense to buy it. What is your response to that?

[00:47:33] Ruth Stroup: I always, whenever anybody says something’s expensive, I always say compared to what? Right?

[00:47:37] Ruth Stroup: And then you could even plan for a high deductible, and people will take money from places they might not ordinarily take money from if they need to pay its deductible. So for example, you won’t be able to get a home equity line. If your home is badly damaged from an earthquake, but you would be able to borrow from cash value, life insurance, maybe take an unexpected 401k loan. Maybe take an actual withdrawal from your, from an IRA account.

[00:48:10] Cathy Curtis: Or a margin loan on your investment portfolio.

[00:48:12] Ruth Stroup: A margin loan on the investments. People will have money from places they didn’t expect. You might get a family loan.

[00:48:18] Ruth Stroup: So the question I have for people who have, let’s say a hundred thousand dollars deductible, is what they still will have up to $700,000 of insurance. After they exceed the deductible, what’s their plan to access a hundred thousand dollars? And the people have money in their house.

[00:48:40] Ruth Stroup: Have good incomes who need to keep good credit. Those people have more access to money than they might realize if they sat down and thought about it. And people like you, Cathy, will be super important to those folks when it’s okay. If I had to come up, if you’re like, what could go wrong? Let’s find out like, where do we have a hundred thousand dollars squirreled away for an emergency?

[00:49:05] Ruth Stroup: Is it a margin loan? Is it a loan against cash value life insurance? Is it a family member? Let’s just assume it’s a not a traditional source.

[00:49:14] Cathy Curtis: Yes. So I, what you’re saying about earthquake, and I agree with you a hundred percent is again, like a lot of things. You look at each person’s situation, financial details, and you determine whether financially it makes sense.

[00:49:30] Cathy Curtis: The risk/reward to buy earthquake or not, basically.

[00:49:34] Ruth Stroup: Well insurance doesn’t have a risk reward, Cathy. It never gets you a reward. It only gets you back to where you were at the time of loss. So we don’t think about it this way. I think about it very simply in terms of what would your life look like if this asset wasn’t contributing to your long-term financial goals?

[00:49:54] Ruth Stroup: And if you’re comfortable not having that, then insurance is less of an issue for you than the next person.

[00:50:03] Cathy Curtis: Yeah. When you’re putting it that way, in the case of a total loss of a house in an earthquake, it’s pretty clear the decision you should make.

[00:50:13] Ruth Stroup: And what people wanna do is they wanna negotiate with the possibility of the risk or the potential loss.

[00:50:22] Ruth Stroup: I have a friend who lives up in Napa and he said his neighbor just bought earthquake insurance the month before the earthquake. Didn’t that guy get lucky. He only had to pay for a month of insurance before you actually got a payout.

[00:50:39] Ruth Stroup: The day people buy the earthquake insurance or any insurance is the day when the thought of loss of the entire asset is a, puts a bigger pit in their stomach than the guaranteed loss of writing a check to the insurance company and maybe never getting that money back.

[00:50:51] Cathy Curtis: Okay. Gosh, Ruth, great info on earthquake. What other, is there anything else that you’d like to add to this podcast thus far?

[00:51:01] Cathy Curtis: Important things that could go wrong? Any gems that you like? You’ve already shared with us a few real gems on insurance. I’ll give you the floor.

[00:51:12] Ruth Stroup: Sure. My, the thing I know the most about insurance is that you have to have a policy in force to be able to make a claim. That’s car insurance, home insurance, life insurance, business insurance.

[00:51:26] Ruth Stroup: So you want to test drive that insurance. And say, how will this benefit me at the time of loss? You’d never base this on return on investment. I think about it a little bit like the way I think about when I go to a casino. Will the money I put in that I spend in this casino provide me enough fun that I won’t be sad that I don’t have that money at the end of the night?

[00:51:55] Ruth Stroup: And so the money I spend on insurance needs to me, give me the confidence that if something happens, I have financial support to solve problems. And so I would say most people underinsure. Most people see insurance at, we hear all the time. People think insurance is just a racket. And I’ve lived a life where I’ve seen large claims fade out and where insurance made a meaningful difference to somebody.

[00:52:26] Ruth Stroup: And that’s been, insurance does its best work when it’s able to make a meaningful difference in your life or the life of your family.

[00:52:39] Cathy Curtis: Okay, Ruth. That’s great. And like I said earlier in the podcast. I really believe that having the right insurance is the bedrock of any good financial plan. And Ruth, you’ve offered an amazing amount of great information.

[00:52:55] Cathy Curtis: Can you share with the listeners where you can be reached and whether you write a blog or any information about you that we could share? And I’ll put it in the show notes.

[00:53:06] Ruth Stroup: Fantastic. So I serve the state of California. Most people reach me with a simple phone call at 510-874-5700. If you Google Ruth and the word Oakland, you will find me.

[00:53:25] Ruth Stroup: I am not hard to find. And on purpose, we are working on a soon-to-be-released newsletter that will be called Tuesday Tidbits. It will be 100 to 250 words of a sort of insurance focused life hack, really focusing on people who are looking to, who are in a growth mindset and wanna make sure that they have the matching protection to their assets as they grow.

[00:53:52] Ruth Stroup: It will answer those simple questions. Do I have to take the insurance with the rental car or is it a waste of money? And then it will also talk about things like creating legacy with life insurance, thinking about, you know, how philanthropic you want to be. What does your, I’m 60 years old. So I think about, I think a lot more about legacy and meaning. But I still think a ton about growth.

[00:54:12] Ruth Stroup: So we’ll have that. And I have a team here that works with me. I spend the majority of my day training my team. And so if you can’t reach me for any reason, I have great people who work with me, and any one of them would be happy to help.

[00:54:29] Cathy Curtis: Okay, Ruth. Thank you again for taking the time to talk with me on my podcast.

[00:54:34] Cathy Curtis: It’s been an invaluable discussion.

[00:54:37] Ruth Stroup: Thanks, Cathy. It was really fun.

[00:54:38] Cathy Curtis: It was fun. I’d love to do it again.

[00:54:42] Ruth Stroup: Okay. Thank you so much. We’ll talk to you.

[00:54:43] Cathy Curtis: All right. Okay. Bye bye.

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9 Things You May Not Know About Social Security Retirement Benefits

Social Security Benefits

On the face of it, Social Security benefits seem straightforward. You simply fill out some paperwork when you retire and start receiving your monthly amount.

Unfortunately, many people do just that. They may glance at their Social Security statement now and then but don’t put much thought into it beyond that. Meanwhile, others may assume they’re not entitled to benefits and leave money on the table.

The truth is many people don’t maximize their Social Security benefits, either because they don’t understand how the system works or they need the money before reaching their full retirement age. Once you’re aware of Social Security’s many nuances, you can use the system to your advantage.

Here are 9 things you probably didn’t know about Social Security benefits (but should):

#1: Reaching age 62 is significant when it comes to Social Security.

When it comes to claiming Social Security benefits, a variety of important things take place when you turn 62.

First, the Social Security Administration officially calculates your benefit amount when you reach age 62. That’s because 62 is the age you can begin claiming benefits if you choose. Up until this point, the benefit information on your Social Security statements is merely an estimate.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s always wise to start your benefits at age 62. In fact, by claiming your benefits at age 62 instead of when you reach full retirement age (currently, between age 66 and 67 depending what year you were born), you may decrease your monthly benefit amount by as much as 30%.

You’re also eligible for cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) beginning at age 62—even if you don’t claim your benefits right away. Since the Consumer Price Index determines COLA, eligibility can pay off in high-inflation years. For instance, some groups are estimating the increase will be as high as 10.8% in 2023 to account for rising price levels.  

#2: Your Social Security statement now shows you how much your benefits will increase each year by waiting to claim them.

Indeed, the Social Security Administration recently redesigned their statements to clearly show the differences in your benefit amount based on the year you start taking them. And you don’t have to wait until you’re eligible for Social Security to see what this means for you.

Check it out! Go to ssa.gov and set up an account, so you can view your Social Security benefits at any time.

#3: You must work at least 10 years (40 credits) to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

Once you’re eligible for Social Security benefits, your highest 35 years of indexed earnings determine your benefit amount. Index means that the SSA adjusts your actual earnings to account for changes in average wages over time. However, if you keep working after claiming your benefits and report higher wages, they will replace one or more lower-wage years with your higher earnings.

For example, many women leave the workforce or cut back their working hours to raise children and restart their careers later. Those later years of earnings will replace the zero or low-wage years, thus increasing the ultimate benefit amount. This can also apply to people who change jobs to start their own business or work for a start-up and take a temporary pay cut as a result.

#4: Your Full Retirement Age (FRA) is an important milestone.

Your full retirement age (FRA) is the age you’re eligible to receive your full Social Security retirement benefits. It’s important to note that full doesn’t necessarily mean maximum, however.

If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your FRA is 66. For those born between 1955 and 1960, FRA then gradually increases until it reaches 67. Anyone born in 1960 or later reaches their FRA at age 67.

Reaching your FRA is significant for several reasons:

  • Reaching your FRA does not mean you have to start taking benefits. You can delay your benefits until age 70.
  • Each month you delay taking benefits after reaching your FRA, your benefit increases. This is true until age 70. For example, if your FRA is 66, you can increase your benefit amount by as much as 32% if you wait until age 70 to claim your benefits. Your benefit amount at age 70 would also be roughly 77% higher than if you began claiming Social Security benefits at age 62.
  • If you claim your benefits before reaching your FRA and continue to work, you may be subject to the SSA’s Retirement Earnings Test. This may reduce or even eliminate your benefit temporarily. For example, the Social Security earnings limit is $1,630 per month or $19,560 per year in 2022 for anyone receiving benefits prior to reaching FRA. If you exceed these thresholds, you can expect the SSA to withhold $1 from your benefits check for every $2 you earn above the limit.

Remember: Everything about Social Security supports work. So, your benefit will continue to grow as you continue working and your earnings increase.

#5: Age 70 is another significant age when it comes to Social Security benefits.

You must start taking Social Security benefits by age 70. Delaying past age 70 will not increase your benefits. However, any cost-of-living adjustments will apply.  

If you work past age 70 and your earnings are higher than any of the previous 35 years used to calculate your benefit, your benefit will increase. Those higher earnings will replace a year where you didn’t earn as much.

#6: If you’re married, divorced, or widowed, it pays to understand your spousal benefits.

As with many government benefits, there are many rules when it comes to Social Security spousal benefits. The following flow charts may come in handy to determine your eligibility.

In the meantime, here are a few basics that are good to know:

  • A lower-earning spouse can collect a spousal benefit up to 50% of the higher earner’s FRA. Meanwhile, a widow or widower can collect up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit.
  • Because a widow or widower can collect up to 100% of a deceased spouse benefit, it makes sense for the higher earner to max out their benefit by waiting until age 70 to claim.
  • It may pay to keep tabs on your ex-spouse if you were married for at least 10 years. A divorced spouse can file for a spousal benefit even if the ex-spouse has not yet claimed if both parties are at least 62 years old and have been divorced for more than two years.
  • If your ex-spouse dies, the picture changes. As the surviving ex-spouse, you can claim a survivor benefit as early as 60. You can also allow your own retirement benefit to grow until age 70. Alternatively, you can claim a reduced retirement benefit early. Then, you can switch to a higher survivor benefit at full retirement age.
  • If you’re married, you must wait until the higher earner files for benefits to claim benefits on their record.

#7: Benefits are taxable at the federal level and potentially at the state level.

In 2022, you must pay taxes on your Social Security benefits if you file a federal tax return as an individual and your taxable income exceeds $25,000 ($32,000 for married couples filing jointly). If your taxable income is between $25,000 and $34,000 ($32,000 and $44,000 if filing jointly), you’ll pay taxes on 50% of your benefit amount. For income levels above those thresholds, you’ll pay taxes on 85% of your benefit amount.

In addition, most states don’t tax Social Security benefits. However, some do, so be sure to check your state tax requirements.

#8: Beware of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)

If you also receive pension benefits based on earnings from jobs that Social Security doesn’t cover (and therefore aren’t subject to the Social Security payroll tax), the windfall elimination provision (WEP) may reduce your benefit amount. WEP reductions don’t appear on your Social Security statement. So, they can come as a surprise if you’re not aware of it.

#9: The Government Pension Offset (GPO) may affect your spousal benefits.

The Government Pension Offset (GPO) affects spouses, widows, and widowers with pensions from a federal, state, or local government job. It may reduce your Social Security benefits in some cases. Specifically, if you receive a pension from your government job and didn’t pay Social Security taxes while you had that job, the SSA will reduce your spousal benefits by two-thirds of the amount of your pension. There are exemptions, however.

To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits, Consider Working with a Financial Professional

Social Security is a complex topic that many people don’t fully understand. While the above list certainly isn’t exhaustive, hopefully it gives you a better understanding of how the system works. It may also give you a starting point to do your own research.

In addition, consider working with a trusted financial advisor, who can help you maximize your Social Security benefits. A financial advisor can also help you develop a comprehensive financial plan for your future, so you can retire on your terms.

To learn more about how Curtis Financial Planning helps self-made women and female-led households secure their financial future, please start here.

If you found this information interesting, please share it with a friend!

S4E3 Transcript: Simple Strategies for Improving Your Grief Literacy with Kathi Balasek

In this episode, Cathy interviews Kathi Balasek, an empathy and grief communications coach.

Cathy Curtis: Hi Kathi, welcome to Financial Finesse. I’m really happy you could do this podcast with me.

Kathi Balasek: Well, hello Cathy. It’s a privilege to be here. I’m honored that you asked.

Cathy Curtis: Great. I thought we’d start by you telling us your story about widowhood, just to get started.

Kathi Balasek: Absolutely. So my life, I had it all, once upon a time. A wonderful husband, beautiful children, a career and until I didn’t. And in my 30s, I became a widow faced with raising five children on my own. My husband died of a long battle of brain cancer. And so, I basically went from soccer mom, to caregiver, to widow and really facing a whole lot of years ahead of me.

Cathy Curtis: So let me step back, so you were married very young?

Kathi Balasek: I was married, and three of my children were my step children.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Kathi Balasek: From my late husband. And the icing on the cake is that after he died, I was so afraid that I was going to lose those children, and I actually gained those children. So I raised five kids. I’m happy to know that they all graduated from college. Now I’m an empty nester.

Cathy Curtis: Congratulations.

Kathi Balasek: Life is good, but it wasn’t always good.

Cathy Curtis: Gosh, first off, so sorry that happened to you, that sounds absolutely devastating. But obviously, you’ve thrived.

Kathi Balasek: I did, because I did the work. I think anybody listening to your podcast who’s gone through grief, number one you have to do the work. You have to get into group support, grief support, counseling whatever you can do and whatever you can afford, because that process was one, two or three years.

Cathy Curtis: Did you know that you needed that back then? I mean, you were young. So did you right away join a group?

Kathi Balasek: No. Right away, I probably spent a year just getting my kids off to school and going back and going to bed, and then setting an alarm to go pick them up. That first year is just really difficult to even face, and the reality and things still need to get done, so it’s exhausting.

Kathi Balasek: But there came a point, I had a wonderful support system, I have just the rock star parents that gave me some tough love. And they said he’s not coming back, and you have to show up for these five kids. And we will help you, but you got to get some help, you’ve got to get counseling and it was what I needed to hear.

Kathi Balasek: Because when you’re grieving, the memories, you kind of wear this little grief cloak around and it’s comfortable. And the memories are comfortable, and the pictures are comfortable, and then pretty soon, it’s not comfortable, it’s debilitating. And so there comes a time where I had to face that the grief, it was okay to move forward, I wasn’t losing the relationship with my husband, that will never end. I just had to release the pain.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. And I’m sure having those children, maybe forced you a little bit more to face reality. Because you can’t be grieving, prolonged grieving around young children either?

Kathi Balasek: No, and they’re not your grief buddy. They’re dealing with their own grief. And we did a ton of counseling with my children, because they were all different ages.

Kathi Balasek: And I’m telling you, grief psychologists and counselors, especially ones who work with children, they know what they’re doing. And the one thing that I always remember from them, and I still think about now, is children will only ask what they’re ready to hear. And so, so many adults say I bet you miss your dad or I bet you do this, that’s not helpful.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. You’re talking grief language now.

Kathi Balasek: Yes.

Cathy Curtis: Which is so difficult for people.

Kathi Balasek: It’s very difficult.

Cathy Curtis: Do you miss your dad? Yes, that would be.

Kathi Balasek: Yes, like no kidding, thanks Einstein for the question.

[08:16] What people don’t always know about grieving families, and how they can talk about death better—especially with children.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. What would be the appropriate question to ask a child in that case?

Kathi Balasek: What’s really important for people to know in grieving families is to keep their dad’s name alive, talk about I loved your dad. I remember a story about your dad, I remember when you were born. Because it’s been 15 years since my husband passed away, and my adult children still love to hear people tell them about their father, and tell a memory and that never goes away. We learn to walk alongside grief, it never goes away.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. So really, what you’re saying is don’t ask questions?

Kathi Balasek: Well, don’t ask questions unless you know what to ask. I mean, you’re not allowed to ask my child an emotional question about the death of their father.

Cathy Curtis: But people don’t know that, so that’s where okay, so this is where what you do comes in. You’re a grief communications specialist or what other term would you call?

[09:36] Kathi Balasek describes her work as a grief communications coach.

Kathi Balasek: You could call it coach, consultant. I work with companies and professionals, specifically in the financial realm, who really help widows and I help them learn to communicate correctly with grieving people, what to say, what not to say. How to prepare your practice up front, before the catastrophe happens.

Kathi Balasek: All of those things, I work with companies because grief literacy is normalizing conversations surrounding grief and loss, because we live in this death denying culture where we don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to ignore it. It makes people uncomfortable, because we don’t want to put ourselves in my shoes, because that’s somewhere that nobody ever would want to go.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. So they’re so much a part of life, it so strange that our culture has that aversion to facing up to it, it’s facing up that it’s part of life.

Kathi Balasek: Yes. I mean, I don’t remember the exact quote that Margaret Mead said something about when somebody is born, it’s like this elation. When they’re married, it’s jubilation, when they die, we ignore it. And it’s true. It’s what happens. And when somebody’s grieving, it can be very isolating, okay.

Kathi Balasek: Because their whole life changed, especially if it’s the surviving spouse, their whole life changed, their income changed, housing decisions, all of those things. Social, their routine changes, all of these secondary losses. And what happens is that becomes very isolating. And so when people don’t acknowledge someone’s pain, grief or loss, it’s even more isolating.

Cathy Curtis: Yes, and that’s where joining the groups, finding groups that are of people going through the same thing, it’s valuable, because then you won’t feel as isolated.

Kathi Balasek: Right. And being in groups, that’s like side-by-side understanding. But where grief literacy is, the overall population learning where to connect with the griever, and that’s in the language of knowing what to say.

Cathy Curtis: Is grief literacy your term?

Kathi Balasek: No, it came from Kenneth Daca, who is a famous researcher writer on grief.

[12:37] What is grief literacy?

Cathy Curtis: Tell us a little bit more about grief literacy, explain the premise and some of the terminology.

Kathi Balasek: Okay. So grief literacy, it’s. How I help professionals with grief literacy, is I kind of give them like a grief 101 course. When you don’t acknowledge people’s pain, that’s disenfranchised grief. It wasn’t acknowledged by you, by your company, in our conversations, it was just dismissed.

Kathi Balasek: We also talk about anticipatory grief. So many financial advisors that I work with have clients that are experiencing a health diagnosis, putting somebody in long-term care, being the caregiver. Well, even though the death hasn’t happened, they’re experiencing grief, and it’s called anticipatory grief.

Kathi Balasek: So a lot of things we go over is just learning about what types of grief your clients may be experiencing, and what you can do to help them.

Cathy Curtis: So valuable. I’m a financial advisor, and I work with individuals primarily. And I have many clients that have gone through these various grief stages either through death, or like you said, severe illness of a spouse, going into long-term care and it is very hard, it’s a very hard time for them.

Cathy Curtis: And I think that I’m very empathetic and I have great communication skills and all that, but this is a specialized area, it really is. So I welcome that I found you, that you offer this kind of training.

Kathi Balasek: Well, I think it’s very specific, and I think it’s very needed. And as career professionals, you’ve been doing this forever, I’ve been a teacher and educator forever. We start to see the gaps, and we start to see the needs, and when over 70% of widows leave the financial advisor within the first year, and the number one trait that widows want is communication skills, our communication skills.

Kathi Balasek: So you start to see okay, how can we help advisors become grief literate? So that they can retain clients, attract new ones, build a reputation of that great bedside manner so to speak with people, and really get prepared for what we know is coming.

Cathy Curtis: I have to say, I’ve heard that stat many times. That 70% of widows leave their advisor. And I have to say, I think it starts way before. The communication starts way before the death of a spouse, where they need to be more inclusive of the spouse in the conversation, so that they don’t want to leave after the death, right?

[16:00] Kathi Balasek explains why it’s so important for women to take an active role in their financial lives, even if their partner takes the lead.

Kathi Balasek: Absolutely. I was in that type of marriage where I didn’t really show up to the meetings with the financial advisor. I was in that, a traditional sense where I completely trusted my husband to do that. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, so I didn’t. And then, once he died, I felt such guilt that I hadn’t taken a role. I was ashamed that I didn’t understand financial terms, which made it really difficult to show up to my advisor.

Cathy Curtis: This is not an untypical situation.

Kathi Balasek: No. Especially in the like boomer age women, that had this traditional approach, and there’s so many things that advisors can do to start having these conversations up front. Several ways to invite both parties to the party, basically. Both parties to the meetings, the events, there really should be equal representation.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. And this isn’t just for heterosexual couples, any couples, both parties.

Kathi Balasek: No, any couple.

Cathy Curtis: It is so important that they participate in the finances, and know where the money is. I can see where one person may be stronger financially than the other, maybe takes on a little bit more of a role.

Cathy Curtis: But I don’t think that’s an excuse for the other person to completely ignore everything. And I mean, that’s good while you’re living, but it can be completely devastating if you’re not prepared when one person dies. There is no doubt about it.

Kathi Balasek: Exactly. And I get a lot of questions from advisors like how do I make that happen? I’ve invited them to the meeting. Well, you have to continue inviting in a variety of different ways. Maybe it’s a phone call, maybe it’s talking to the one client one-on-one that I really want the other partner here. Maybe it’s an email, maybe it’s a women’s event. It’s not a one and done hey, I took the shot, I missed, didn’t happen.

Kathi Balasek: You have to really look at how women relate, and they’re very rapport driven, very conversational and they’re not driven by numbers, goals, data. They’re driven by how can my long-term planning affect my life and my experiences and what I want to do with this money.

Kathi Balasek: And so, it’s a different conversation, and you have to really develop those conversational topics with women, because the reality is, and the statistics say eighty percent of men die married. So the longest advisor, relationship you’re going to have is going to be with a woman and most likely they’ll be a widow.

[19:15] The current state of widowhood in the United States.

Cathy Curtis: Interesting. So give us the statistics on widowhood right now in America.

Kathi Balasek: So over a million widows per year in America, and the average age is 59.

Cathy Curtis: That’s unbelievable.

Kathi Balasek: So you’re really looking at a lot of years ahead. So you think if their average is 59, they’re probably still working, they probably have children in the home. So we have to modernize the face of widowhood, it’s not our grandmother who’s 95 knitting in a rocking chair.

Kathi Balasek: So the sooner professionals can start really thinking about this is a way I can help, but this is a huge opportunity. Huge opportunity because of this huge wealth transfer that’s coming, and widows are going to be first in mind, for that intergenerational wealth transfer, and they’re going to be dual inheritors.

Kathi Balasek: They inherited from a parent and then they’re also inheriting from a spouse. And people are like oh, that’s kind of like the Fox in the hen house, no, it isn’t. It’s being honest, looking at the numbers and you’re in the best opportunity as an advisor to champion widows.

Cathy Curtis: I agree, you can be of huge help to a woman that is, knows that they need help and does have a financial advisor. Not all people have financial advisors, not all widows do. So I mean, do you ever counsel women individually or do you do more of the professional training?

Kathi Balasek: I do two things. I work with financial or insurance professionals, somewhere in that realm and I do group trainings of both men and women. Like these are the financial advisors, I’m going to teach you how to be grief literate. And I also train with webinars and companies where we train your team.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Kathi Balasek: So I love opportunities where I can work one-on-one. I currently have a group course going with eight students, because I like the small group, and they’re independent financial advisors and they’re just killing it. They’re getting more clients; they’re becoming known for working with bereaved clients and they’re just building a confidence and competence of knowing what to say.

Cathy Curtis: So let us know about one of your lessons. So you’re training an advisor to become more grief literate, or maybe to prepare their women clients for the possibility that could happen, right?

Kathi Balasek: Okay.

[22:33] Kathi Balasek shares an example of how she’d train a financial advisor to prepare their women clients for widowhood.

Cathy Curtis: So give us an example of what you would tell a financial advisor to do to prepare their women clients.

Kathi Balasek: Okay, excellent. So I think I believe in preparation in everything, okay. That’s the controllable piece, right? So one thing I work with a lot with advisors of really getting a system and organizational process for all of the tasks and paperwork that you know your client is going to need to do that first year, okay. That can be set up.

Kathi Balasek: What’s in the first column, what’s in the later, what’s in the middle. And having those processes all set up, what does the surviving spouse do? And their family, which tasks do they do? Which ones need a professional help?

Kathi Balasek: And so it’s a checks and balance so we have that set up. I have them set up protocols for exactly what you would say on the phone, because you’re going to be the one of the first calls, right? So what do you say if they don’t answer the phone? What do you leave on the message? Do you go to the service? Do you not go?

Cathy Curtis: Interesting. What do you say to that? What is your advice?

Kathi Balasek: Go. So if they were your client, you go. And you can find out through either an obituary or a funeral or service home, if it’s a certain specific religion, or if they’re only taking friends and family. You can do some homework to figure out if they don’t want you there.

Kathi Balasek: But much if they were your client, you’ve reached out to them, they’ve reached out to you, go, and know exactly what to say. You say three things, you mentioned the person’s name, I’m so sorry for your loss, I loved and appreciated your husband, James. He was such a light when we would come to our meetings, and I remember a story of and then you’re just going on.

Kathi Balasek: Nothing to do with finances, right? But you you’re preparing that. Because this is very awkward, it’s like Bambi standing up for the first time, a baby deer, it’s awkward. So we have to practice and script it. So a lot of my work is practicing, scripting what you would say so it sounds authentic.

Cathy Curtis: And you know there’s nothing wrong with scripting. If it’s helpful to the client and the person, I believe in that too, I really do.

Kathi Balasek: It’s fundamental to communication, like any fundamental. I mean, Steph Curry who’s one of the best basketball players as you know because we’re in the Bay Area, he still works on fundamentals, he’s no different.

Cathy Curtis: How many free throws does he do a day.

Kathi Balasek: Exactly. So if you want to sound authentic, you have to write it in words that you would say. You have to practice it in the mirror, or try it with the family member, and really watch about your eye contact, your body language, because when you meet with a bereaved client, they’re going to remember 10% of what you say, 90% of how you made them feel.

Kathi Balasek: And when you can show up authentically, and you’re saying the right things, and you’re listening to learn not listening to solve, you’re going to get that safe space created initially with your client, and that’s really what you want.

Cathy Curtis: That’s a beautiful thing, so well said.

Kathi Balasek: Thank you. Trying to think other things, we set up some protocols for the first office visit, that’s another thing you can prepare up front, is not all people want to come to your office, okay. Give them some choices.

Kathi Balasek: We could meet at your home, we could meet at a neutral space, all of those things. Set up a protocol of this is what you could expect, send them out an email of really how that first meeting will look, you follow it up with an email of the next steps.

Cathy Curtis: Because that’s going to be the first meeting you have alone, right? With this person?

Kathi Balasek: Yes.

Cathy Curtis: Who may or may not know the details of the family finances?

Kathi Balasek: Absolutely. So it’s important to build trust, to build a safe space. Simple things that we don’t think about, when I’m meeting somebody for the first time, just eye contact and me writing notes builds trust. It’s the little things that ounce by ounce by ounce pretty soon you have a client that trusts you.

Cathy Curtis: What do you think the advent of Zoom meetings is doing to this process? Do you still think you can convey your feelings and thoughts and emotions across the screen to a grieving person?

Kathi Balasek: I think, number one, if it’s the mode of communication that your client desires, then that’s where you start. And ideally, I mean, I don’t love Zoom, I’m a college professor, I like to be with students out and I’m animated. However, I have to go where my clients need me. And so, I think that message needs to be first. The mode of communication is based on what your client needs.

Cathy Curtis: Right. Well, and also a lot of advisors now have clients all over the place, because of the pandemic, and people seem, it’s easier for clients to hire advisors anywhere.

Cathy Curtis: So they find an advisor that specializes in what they want, they hire them, it could be across the country. So you’ll have to communicate in that way. So I guess it’s learning the skills to work with the bereaving person over an electronic media.

Kathi Balasek: Well, and to be real Cathy, is like you and I just met.

Cathy Curtis: Yes.

Kathi Balasek: And yet, we spent four or five minutes getting to know one another, we already found connections, similarities, shared purposes. We care about what each other are doing, and that was done on Zoom.

Cathy Curtis: Yes, women are really good at this, what you just described though.

[29:54] The differences in how women and men communicate and why they matter for grief literacy.

Kathi Balasek: Right. Men communicate differently. There are different communication styles. One is not better or the other. I mean, I think it as the Ying and the Yang, we need both, okay. And communication styles, women are more conversational, they add more personal information, they’re very rapport relationship driven.

Kathi Balasek: Where men are very report driven, data, facts, processes, goals, vary in order. And this is not all men or women, but this is general communication style. So it’s really recognizing in an advisor scenario where your client resonates, and really talking to them in their language.

Kathi Balasek: Because I think back of your question about grief literacy, and grief is like a universal experience, but it’s not a universal language, it’s a foreign language to many of us. And so when we say things that divide, like we try to justify somebody’s death or we say oh, at least they lived a long life, or it’s it was God’s plan or all of these things that just.

Cathy Curtis: What about the, I’m so sorry for your loss.

Kathi Balasek: Okay, that’s been done, right? I mean, if you are going to be, I’m just going to put it in terms that makes sense to me. It’s I don’t take offense to what people say, people don’t know any better yet, because they haven’t met me yet.

Kathi Balasek: My charge is I’m going to make everybody grief literate. When they say I’m sorry for your loss, that is not going to encourage a conversation, and what we want is we want to say things that build connection, and further the conversation.

Kathi Balasek: And so, saying I’m sorry, that’s a sentence starter, okay. It’s not an envy, I’m sorry for your loss, it’s been said. And if you want to stand out from the crowd in your life and in your industry, you got to do more.

[32:36] Alternative phrases to “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Cathy Curtis: Tell us an alternative phrase or phrases.

Kathi Balasek: Okay. Saying things like I was sorry to hear about your mother’s death. I didn’t know her well, but I can imagine knowing you, that you had a lot of qualities that she possessed. What’s one thing that you really loved about your mother? You see I’m pulling you in, I’m showing that I care. I’m acknowledging that I didn’t know your mother. Or you say something like if you want to start, I’m sorry for your loss, because that’s a sentence starter.

Kathi Balasek: I’m so sorry for your loss. I read about your husband’s passing, and I knew him on a couple occasions. And what I really appreciated about John, was that he always put what I wanted to say first. He always made the conversation about me, even though I was there for him, and that selflessness I will never forget. You see how I am actually saying their name, I’m acknowledging the person’s loss, and I’m telling a memory. What will be remembered, that is what is supportive and it’s soothing.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. Just taking it out of the realm of the client advisor thing for a minute, even people use social media now to announce the death of somebody, Facebook, for example. And you’ll see all the responses, and a lot of them are I’m so sorry for your loss.

[34:22] How to respond when you learn about someone’s death indirectly, like through a Facebook post.

Cathy Curtis: What would be a better way to respond when somebody, because obviously they’re posting it on social media, so they want people to know and they know people are going to respond in some way, right? What would be a better way to respond in that instance?

Kathi Balasek: So when somebody dies, not everybody knows. I mean 20, 30 years ago if you didn’t read it in the obituary, you didn’t know. But now somebody dies, and that evening it’s on Facebook. So when you see something on social media, you have some options.

Kathi Balasek: The best option is if you knew that person, write them a card. Call them, private message them, okay. Grief and sending these condolence messages out in the world, it’s not a true representation of truly how you feel. So why don’t you take that opportunity of I just read that information I have this news, how about I make a phone call? How about I write a letter? How would I drop something off?

Kathi Balasek: How would I send something? It comes back to we have the information; the receiver wants to know that you actually spent some time really thinking about their loss and really doing something that was meaningful.

Kathi Balasek: We think we can just go to the sympathy card aisle, grab a card, sign our name. Well, it’s so much richer if you write from a blank note card, and you write three heartfelt sentences, sign your name. I have a whole box of my cards that I got, the ones I re-read were the personal messages.

Cathy Curtis: I so agree with you. I’ve had death in my family, and I saved the cards that someone wrote something that really touched me, and they really do help.

Kathi Balasek: They help. I mean, as fundamental as that sounds, that’s something I teach my students in my class. My advisors they don’t know what to write or if a client lost a child, or if a client got a cancer diagnosis, they don’t know what to write.

Kathi Balasek: That’s the piece of my curriculum. It’s the simple fundamental human processes that are missing that is leaving this gap in between a griever and somebody who truly wants to help them but doesn’t know how.

Cathy Curtis: Right. And it’s not, I mean, it’s not to say sending a card that already has a grief message in it is okay, but you’re losing such an opportunity to make somebody feel better and really let them know that you care.

Kathi Balasek: Yes.

Cathy Curtis: The time to do that in a deeper way, and your message is loud and clear, and I so agree with you.

Kathi Balasek: Well, when you think about it, when advisors are working with really this family’s whole life savings, can’t you spend about 15 minutes to write a heartfelt card? Because a sympathy card, nothing really nails it, okay. Nothing really does.

Cathy Curtis: It’s because we don’t know what to say, we don’t know what to say. So the sympathy card makes it easy to check that box off. But it’s uncomfortable, because we’re uncomfortable with death, it’s true.

Kathi Balasek: And completely normal, right? That is completely normal to feel awkward, uncomfortable, don’t know what to say.

Cathy Curtis: Even procrastinate on sending something. Beyond the point that you’re embarrassed to even send it.

Kathi Balasek: Yes. And so our hearts are wired for compassion, but our head gets in the way and we’re like oh, I shouldn’t say this or I shouldn’t do that or that might be helpful then pretty soon we talked ourselves out of it.

Cathy Curtis: Exactly.

Kathi Balasek: If you think they need something, like I bet they would love a case of beer. I bet they would love some juice boxes, because they have kids, just go buy it and drop it off at their house.

Cathy Curtis: I just had a client who lost his wife, and I know the casserole thing, but people need food, they don’t want to cook for themselves after somebody dies.

Kathi Balasek: No. It is kind of a running joke in our household, but it’s so helpful and practical. And I can remember one of my teenagers, this was way after John died and somebody else had had a death in the neighborhood. And my teenager said yes, wait till the casserole starts showing up, it’s true.

Cathy Curtis: Do people still do that?

Kathi Balasek: Yes.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Kathi Balasek: There’s a ton of like apps and websites where you can do meal trade, and you can plan on who’s giving what and all of that.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

[40:24] Why food and practical gifts are better than flowers when someone dies.

Kathi Balasek: Food is very helpful, it’s comforting. It’s a gift card to order out, stamps and blank note cards, just practical things that people don’t think about. I recently pulled a group of widows, and I’m in several widows group, but I’m also on the advisory board for modern widow’s club. And the number one thing that widows did not want were flowers, what did we all send them?

Cathy Curtis: Flowers.

Kathi Balasek: Not only did I just see my husband die, but now you said your flowers, they’re going to die, now I got to throw them away.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. And you have to take care of flowers.

Kathi Balasek: Exactly.

Cathy Curtis: At a time when you probably don’t want to take care of anything else but yourself. You have to change the water and make sure it’s not stinky, and all that stuff you have to do with flowers.

Kathi Balasek: I think people they genuinely mean well. There are so many caring individuals, there are so many people that do things in the death and grief area that they know what they’re talking about. And I’ve learned so much from people I’ve met, research I’ve done, that that’s truly supportive to a family. And it’s basic things that you don’t really think about.

Kathi Balasek: As an advisor, you should be the best resource on the planet for your bereaved client. Who am I going to call if I have a broken pipe in the middle of the night? When you are solo suddenly, alone, female, you don’t want a stranger coming to your house.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. Your door all of a sudden won’t open, which just happened to me this morning. My husband’s away.

Kathi Balasek: Exactly. I didn’t know how to buy a car, okay. I want to come to my advisor and say who could you send me to. Who could I give your name to that would not take me at the car place?

Cathy Curtis: No. I know with my own experience that being a resource, having vetted resources for your client, as vetted as you can, is so important to clients in so many areas of their life and not just financial.

[43:07] Kathi Balasek shares her tips when it comes to recommending other professionals to their widowed clients.

Kathi Balasek: It is. So that’s a piece of my program that we really work on is that curated list, of vetted professionals that you could recommend to your bereaved clients, because it’s an overlooked thing but it’s something you could do right now in the preparation phase.

Cathy Curtis: Yes. And carry that through to all other aspects of your financial planning too, vetting professionals for your clients, but particularly in this area it would be so welcome and needed.

Kathi Balasek: Yes. I think of caregiving, okay. So how many people come to you and they need caregivers, or they need advice or professional. This is an opportunity for you to find the best caregiving professionals in your community.

Cathy Curtis: Best practices in vetting professionals?

Kathi Balasek: For me, I don’t have that a piece of my program. But my recommendation is whoever you recommend, you should have called or known first.

Kathi Balasek: And so that when you say to your client, I would like you to use my name when you call, because I know this person, and I’m referring you to this person that I trust. That’s the biggest recommendation. I mean, I have people I know, but I have people I wouldn’t recommend. And we know people in our community and we know who would be a better fit for somebody else.

Cathy Curtis: Right. What I do typically is if I don’t know the professional personally, or they haven’t worked with the client, I will refer them, because usually they’re referred to me by somebody I trust, and I’ll make sure my client knows that. I have not worked with this person before, but they were referred to me by somebody I really trust, and let them know, so they’re aware that I don’t specifically know their work.

Kathi Balasek: Right. I just think honesty, and I think women are very much a word-of-mouth type of community. I’m reminded when my kids were young, I didn’t have to go see which teachers I wanted for my children or which hairdresser to go to, I just asked around and it gets around, okay.

Kathi Balasek: If you want to go to this restaurant, this is what they’re known for, this teacher is what they’re known for and it gets around. I didn’t have to go google it or research it, we talk. And when you are an advisor, if you can get dialed in to your community of who’s the best, I mean, why wouldn’t you recommend that.

[46:05] The biggest mistake Kathi sees her clients make and the one thing she wishes people understood about grief.

Cathy Curtis: Yes, exactly. So it sounds like you’ve worked with quite a few financial professionals, what would you say is the biggest mistake that they make with a grieving client?

Kathi Balasek: I think the biggest mistake they make is they don’t invest the personal side up front. They think about all the things that have to be done, and the financial things that have to be done. And those first couple meetings really need to be just about building a safe space, listening to your client, learning about your client, helping them get organized.

Kathi Balasek: And I think they rush in with too many like we’ve got to get this done, we’ve got to get that done, what do you think about, what will you do next year. It’s like widowhood is like a thousand-piece puzzle, putting back the pieces where you don’t even know the picture on the box, okay. You can’t even picture that, okay.

Kathi Balasek: And going in with too much information, financial information up front, because grief fog is that cognitive impairment that grievers feel and it can show up in forgetfulness, confusion, overwhelm so they’re not going to remember it anyway.

Kathi Balasek: And so really invest in the trust, the communication, knowing the players. Who’s at home taking care of all of these things? Who in the family is communicating with what? And really helping them so that nothing falls through the cracks.

Cathy Curtis: Kathi, what would you say is the one thing that you wish more financial professionals or even people in general understood about grief?

Kathi Balasek: That’s a tough question, but I love that you asked it. I think the number one thing that every human needs to understand is that grief has no timeline. It’s not linear, and in all these stages, it is all over. And one person’s grief, some of the signs and symptoms might be several years, some might be shorter.

Kathi Balasek: And I think as people, we tend to go into a little bit of disillusioned expectation like hey it’s been three years, aren’t you over it yet? And it really tends to disenfranchise somebody’s grief and work, and grief never leaves us. It’s not a hurdle we get over. It was the end of a life, not an end of a relationship and grievers learn to walk alongside.

Cathy Curtis: That’s a good perspective, thank you for that. So I’m sure listeners would, I mean you have so much knowledge in this area, it’s obvious. And you’ve done a lot of research, and I’m sure you’ve got some resources that widows or advisors of widows could use. Do you mind sharing a few?

Kathi Balasek: I would love to. So again, there’s just so many people doing great things out there, it’s unbelievable. I feel privileged to be a part of the puzzle. And so number one, if you have widow clients, the best resource you can give them is send them to modern widows club.

Kathi Balasek: It is an international, non-profit, I’m actually on the advisory board, which that was a whole honor. And it’s the only widow group that is actually doing research on this demographic. And so they have research supported evidence of what helps widows move forward, helps them thrive, and they have community outreach groups all across the world, and so that you can get connected with other widows.

Kathi Balasek: You get all different types for financial, emotional, social all these things that will help you move forward as a widow. So it’s awesome, I highly recommend that. And the person who created it, Carolyn Moore is a widow herself and she and I actually shared a stage speaking at a financial advisory convention, and she’s just remarkable what she’s done.

Cathy Curtis: Thank you for that. You yourself have a resource I believe?

Kathi Balasek: Yes, I have a couple. Like if you’re a financial advisor too is anything by Cathy Sikorski on caregiving, and she talks a lot about how to talk about these difficult conversations, she’s great. Grief literacy, Megan DeVine, it’s okay that you’re not okay. These are excellent books.

Kathi Balasek: And I believe that if you get to know me and work with me, I’m going to help you grow your business. I have programs, I have coaching programs, I have an online course. I can do a webinar for your team and we can train your team of really getting grief literate, so that you can connect and engage with bereaved clients.

Kathi Balasek: I really enjoy seeing the advisors and the companies that I’ve worked with because they’re seeing success. They’re truly knowing how to show up with their bereaved clients, because it’s happening all around us. This is what we will never avoid. And we have to not practice it during the fire drill, we have to do it up front. And it’s just been a ton of fun getting great resources out to my clients that can truly support them in becoming the best advisor they can for their clients.

Cathy Curtis: So I’m going to add this to my show notes, but in case people don’t read the show notes, how do they reach you?

Kathi Balasek: So my website is KathiBalasek.com, and if you just want to email me, it’s Kathi@KathiBalasek.com.

Cathy Curtis: And that’s Kathi?

Kathi Balasek: Yes.

Cathy Curtis: Okay.

Kathi Balasek: And if they have widow clients, I also run a podcast called One Well Widow, where I help widows moving forward.

Cathy Curtis: I’ve listened to it, some of the stories are so sad, but really great podcast.

Kathi Balasek: Thank you. So that’s my kind of advocacy of helping widows.

Cathy Curtis: Okay, excellent. Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you, Kathi. And I look forward to re-listening to this podcast myself because I learned many things. So thank you for your time and what you do.

Kathi Balasek: Well, you’re welcome. It’s a privilege. I’m just so excited to meet women like you who are forging ahead and leading us all. So, thank you.

Cathy Curtis: Okay Kathi, take care.

Kathi Balasek: You too. Cheers.

Cathy Curtis: Cheers.

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3 Tips for Successfully Navigating Gray Divorce as a Woman

3 Tips for Successfully Navigating Gray Divorce as a Woman

Women tend to face a variety of unique financial challenges when separating from a partner. When it comes to successfully navigating gray divorce, preparation and the right team of advisors are key.

Divorce over age 50—commonly referred to as “gray divorce”—is becoming increasingly common in the United States. Although the overall divorce rate has been declining since the 1990s, there’s been an upward trend in gray divorces over the same period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

No one gets married with the intention of divorcing. Yet the reality is that divorce happens—and it happens more often than we’d like to admit. And while divorce can be devastating at any age, the financial consequences for those who divorce later in life tend to be far worse for women than for men.

If you’re a woman navigating gray divorce, protecting yourself financially is critical. Here are a few tips to help you obtain an equitable settlement and maintain your financial independence post-divorce.

When it comes to navigating gray divorce, consider the following tips:

#1: Get Organized

Data shows that the average person spends two years thinking about divorce before taking action. If you’re considering divorce, be sure to familiarize yourself with the household finances. This is especially important if you’ve let your spouse take the lead for most of your adult life.

On the other hand, if your spouse is considering divorce, you may not have ample time to prepare. But if you sense any shift in your marriage, getting financially organized can’t hurt—even if divorce never comes to fruition. Indeed, researchers estimate that 90% of all women will be solely responsible for their household finances at some point in their lives.

Here are a few organizational tips for navigating gray divorce and taking charge of your financial life:

  • Keep a record of all financial accounts, property, and other assets owned by you and your partner. You should also classify all assets as separate or marital property.
  • Be sure to save copies of all corresponding documents so they’re readily available if you need them.
  • Do your best to locate all estate planning documents, prepaid funeral arrangements, and premarital agreements, if applicable.  

Other examples of information you may need during the divorce process may include:

  • Personal balance sheet/financial statements
  • Inventory of joint and separate property
  • Bank and investment account statements
  • Real estate deeds
  • Mortgage/loan documents
  • Credit card statements
  • Wills/trusts
  • Insurance policies

In addition, keep track of your login credentials for online access to all relevant financial accounts and information. Creating an organizational system in advance can help make the process easier for you and your team of advisors if you find yourself navigating gray divorce.

#2: Assemble Your Team of Experts

Once divorce is on the table, you’ll want to begin assembling a team of legal and financial experts. Many people immediately tap their network for help once navigating gray divorce becomes their reality. However, taking your time to carefully select a team of experts can ultimately save you time, money, and unnecessary stress.

As you assemble your team of advisors, consider the following specialists:

  • A divorce attorney or mediator to help you navigate the legal aspects of divorce and advocate on your behalf.
  • A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) who can help you gather and document household financial details, as well as determine a fair division of assets.
  • An estate planning attorney, especially if you have young children. You’ll need to recreate all relevant estate planning documents after you divorce.
  • A divorce coach or therapist to help you navigate the emotional aspects of divorce.

If you don’t have recent appraisals for real estate and other highly valued property, be sure to obtain your own professional appraisals. In addition, consider adding a financial planner or tax professional to your team to help you determine the tax consequences of various settlement scenarios.

Finally, beware of the unpleasant possibility that your partner may try to hide assets from you during the divorce process. Finding hidden assets can be challenging, but it’s not impossible.

If there’s no obvious paper trail, past tax returns can be a helpful place to start. Alternatively, if you suspect your partner may be hiding a substantial amount of money or property from you, you may want to consider hiring a professional who specializes in asset search and investigation. 

#3: Choose Your Divorce Process

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to divorce. The best approach typically depends on your family dynamics, as well as your personal and financial circumstances. Nevertheless, you typically have four options when it comes to navigating gray divorce.

  • Do It Yourself. With this approach, you and your spouse work out the details of your divorce without the assistance of legal advisors and other experts. A DIY approach may save you time and legal fees if you and your spouse are divorcing amicably. However, you may also leave yourself open to an unfair settlement, since you don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Traditional Representation. You can retain an attorney for the length of your divorce or hire a consulting attorney to assist you when necessary. With either option, you’re at the mercy of the law and the court system. This can be time-consuming and expensive. But it can also protect you if the divorce is complicated and/or contentious.
  • Mediation. With this approach, you have a neutral facilitator—typically an attorney who specializes in family law. Their only role is to listen and make sure both parties are heard. That means they can’t advise on financial matters related to navigating gray divorce. This may be problematic if there’s a power imbalance or one party isn’t acting in good faith.
  • Collaboration. Rather than a winner versus loser approach to divorce, collaboration aims to troubleshoot and problem-solve. Importantly, both parties and their attorneys agree not to litigate. Instead, the teams bring in whoever is needed to help make the process run as smoothly as possible. If either party goes back on their agreement, the party who litigates must find new counsel.

A Trusted Advisor Can Help You Take Ownership of Your Finances After Navigating Gray Divorce

Unfortunately, navigating gray divorce doesn’t end once the divorce proceedings conclude. As you adjust to your new life, it’s important to take ownership of your finances so you can thrive independently.

It’s possible that your divorce settlement may be all you need to sustain your lifestyle post-divorce. Nevertheless, you’ll want to develop a personal budget and long-term financial plan that reflect your new circumstances.

Additional post-divorce considerations may include:

  • Social Security benefits. If you’re divorced but your marriage lasted at least 10 years, you can still collect benefits on your ex-spouse’s record. This is true even if they have remarried, but not if you remarry.
  • Insurance needs. The two primary types of insurance that typically come into play during a divorce are health insurance and life insurance. Be sure to revisit your policies and ensure you have proper coverage post-divorce.

Lastly, if you haven’t worked with a financial planner in the past—or your partner took the lead in the family finances—consider engaging a trusted financial advisor. Your advisor can help you take control of your finances, identify your blind spots, and secure your future.

If you’re navigating gray divorce and looking for a financial partner to help you maintain your financial independence and make smart decisions for your future, Curtis Financial Planning may be able to help. To see if we’re a good fit, please start here.

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The Complete Guide to Buying a New Car as a Solo Woman

Buying a New Car As a Solo Woman

The world continues to evolve in many ways. However, when it comes to buying a new car, it often feels like stepping into a time machine—especially if you’re a solo woman.

Data shows that women buy 62% of new cars in the United States and influence 85% of all car purchases. Yet many car dealers are still ripe to take advantage of female shoppers, at least according to the numbers. In fact, one Yale study has repeatedly found that car dealers offer higher list prices to women than men, by about $200 on average.

Indeed, there are likely many reasons for this discrepancy. Still, one way to ensure you get the best deal when buying a new car is to prepare accordingly before signing the papers.

Luckily, my husband Rob handles all car purchases in our household. Because even though I’m financially savvy, I know what I don’t know when it comes to cars. However, I remember many frustrating experiences buying a new car as a solo woman. I hope this article helps the next time you’re in the market for a new vehicle.

Tip #1: Do Your Homework

Kelley Blue Book reports that women are twice as likely as men to be undecided on new vehicle type. Unfortunately, walking into a car dealership with no plan in place leaves you open to potentially unsavory sales tactics.

To avoid making a purchase that you may not be happy with in the long run, be sure to do your research ahead of time. Websites like Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, and Car and Driver provide in-depth information on pricing, safety, and other features. You can also read reviews to understand how certain cars measure up against others.

In addition, visit the dealership’s website ahead of time to familiarize yourself with what they have in stock and the respective sticker prices. That way if the dealer directs you to the most expensive version of a particular vehicle, you know if there are more affordable versions available.

Lastly, once you know which cars you’re interested in, go directly to the corporate website—for example, Acura.com or Ford.com—to see what deals they’re currently offering. Many times, brands will offer incentives that can reduce your final price significantly.

These steps may seem tedious, and it may not excite you to research cars online. However, the more information you have ahead of time, the better deal you’re likely to receive when buying a new car as a solo woman.

Tip #2: Know What You Can and Can’t Negotiate

Depending on the market environment, you may have limited room to negotiate the final price of your vehicle. Even so, it’s helpful to know what you can negotiate when buying a car as a solo woman, as well as what’s set in stone.

First, know that the MSRP—the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price—is just that: a suggestion. As independent franchises, car dealers have the latitude to sell the cars on their lot for any price they choose. In other words, the MSRP should be the starting point for your negotiations.

To better understand your ability to haggle the MSRP, you should also know the dealer’s invoice price and the car’s market value. The invoice price is how much the dealer paid the manufacturer for that vehicle. While you can ask the sales manager for the invoice price, websites like Consumer Reports may provide more straightforward information. In addition, Edmunds.com and KBB.com can show you what other people in your area have paid for similar cars recently to help you determine the fair market value.

So, what can’t you negotiate? Taxes and registration fees are non-negotiable when buying a new car. In addition, dealers won’t negotiate the cost of transporting the vehicle from the factory to the dealership. But beware of dealers attempting to add a second freight charge to the final price of the vehicle. This fee should be negotiated down or eliminated—and may be a sign that you don’t want to do business with that dealership.

Finally, keep in mind that some dealers are moving towards “no-haggle” pricing, especially if you’re looking at a used or certified pre-owned car. If this is the case, typically your only room for negotiation is on your trade-in value, financing terms, and the price of any add-ons.

Tip #3: Know What Your Trade-In Is Worth

If you plan to trade in your current vehicle when buying a new one, doing your research ahead of time is essential. Many dealers will assume you don’t know what your vehicle is worth and intentionally try to low-ball you on price. They may also try to tell you your car is in worse condition than it is.

When buying a car as a solo woman, don’t begin any negotiations until you know what your trade-in is worth. A good place to start is KBB’s “My Car’s Value” tool. Simply enter your VIN or make and model and answer a few questions about features and overall condition. KBB will then quote you a private sale price, trade-in price, and instant cash offer. Typically, the price you can realistically get for your trade-in falls somewhere between the trade-in price and instant cash offer (assuming the information you enter is accurate).

However, in certain cases you can get a better offer for your car than the Kelley Blue Book value. Therefore, it’s also helpful to check online dealers like Carvana and CarMax. Carvana gives you what they call a “real offer” for your car in less than two minutes. CarMax will also give you an instant offer online.

These three resources will give you a pretty good idea of what you can reasonably get for your trade-in. Once you have a quote from each, be sure to take screenshots or print them out so you can show the dealer what others are offering for your vehicle if necessary.

Tip #4: Understand Your Financing Costs

Unless you plan to pay in cash, you’ll likely need to finance the cost of your new vehicle. Unfortunately, the financing discussion can be one of the most confusing aspects of buying a new car as a solo woman if you don’t prepare ahead of time.  

One of the best ways to prepare is to know your current credit score. Most credit bureaus and credit card companies let you check your primary FICO® Score for free. You also have a separate FICO® Auto Score, which dealers use to determine your creditworthiness.

If your overall credit score is strong and you’ve diligently paid your car notes in the past, your Auto Score is probably fine. However, if you’re nervous, you should also check this score before buying a new car.

Once you know your credit score, you’ll have a better idea of the interest rate you can expect on your car loan. If your credit score is strong (typically above 700), you’re likely to qualify for any dealer financing promotions. In many cases, the promotional rate is more attractive than what you’ll pay for a third-party auto loan.

On the other hand, if the dealer isn’t offering any financing incentives, you may want to research your bank or financial institution’s auto loan terms and see if you qualify. Having this information ahead of time will better prepare you to negotiate with the dealer and avoid overpaying for your new car.

Tip #5: Avoid Common Negotiation Pitfalls

When buying a car as a solo woman, the sad truth is that the dealer will try to take advantage of any knowledge gaps. For example, when negotiating price, they’ll likely ask you what you want your monthly payment to be.

Don’t share this number with them! Only negotiate the final price of the vehicle. You can also try to improve your financing terms, but only do this once you’re satisfied with the final price of the car.

It’s fine—and even advisable—to determine what your budget is ahead of time. However, sharing this number with the dealer allows them to manipulate the other terms of the transaction in their favor while still meeting the upper end of your monthly budget. For instance, they may quote you a higher price but stretch your loan term out six or seven years to lower the monthly payment.

Alternatively, they may try to push you into a lease by offering you a lower monthly payment. And while in some cases a lease may make sense for your budget and lifestyle, you should only lease a car if this is your intention. Otherwise, you’re locking yourself into a contract and have no asset to sell if your plans or financial circumstances change.

Secondly, the dealer will likely try to sell you gap insurance and a pre-paid maintenance plan. You don’t need to buy either of these, no matter what they tell you!

Instead, check with your insurance company to see if your auto insurance includes gap coverage. If not, you can likely add it at a very low cost.

Additionally, a pre-paid maintenance plan may make sense in certain cases. But trying to do the math on the spot is nearly impossible. Bottom line: don’t let the dealer pressure you into something you’re not sure about.

Tip #6: Be Ready to Walk Away When Buying a New Car as a Solo Woman

Of course, the first rule of any negotiation is to be ready to walk away. If you’re not completely happy with the terms of the transaction or the vehicle, don’t sign the papers. In many cases, taking a break from the negotiation gives you more leverage to ask for what you really want. It also gives you more time to research your options in the meantime.

Buying a car as a solo woman can be a stressful and frustrating experience. Yet the more information you arm yourself with ahead of time, the more empowered you’ll be to buy it on your terms.

Curtis Financial Planning specializes in helping independent women thrive today and plan for tomorrow. If we can help you take control of your personal finances, please get in touch.

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Women: Take Control of Your Financial Future

Take Control of Your Financial Future

Recently, Business and Tech asked me to participate in a panel of experts for an article called “Taking Control of Your Financial Future.” Below are some of the key points I shared during our discussion, which focus on the specific personal finance issues women often face.

I think all women can benefit from working with a trusted financial advisor if they need help managing their personal finances. A fiduciary financial partner can help you set financial goals, allocate and invest your money, and develop strategies to grow and preserve your wealth. However, there are certain things all women can do to take control of your financial future, whether you choose to work with an advisor or not.

#1: Take Ownership of Your Finances

My first piece of advice for women is to take ownership of your finances. Don’t depend on a relative, significant other, or spouse to make financial decisions on your behalf. 

If you’re married, consider taking a team approach to managing the household finances. Ultimately, being looped into these key financial decisions will give you peace of mind, especially if you lose your spouse.

#2: Seek Feedback from Other Women

Another way to take control of your financial future is to talk to other women about how they handle their money. Find trusted friends or create a money circle to talk about money issues and financial topics. Or there are money coaches that you can hire to work through your money issues.

#3: Be Your Own Advocate

Women need to be our own advocates. Despite the progress we’ve made, we still earn less than men, on average. In addition, we often must choose between being a caretaker and pursuing a career. These factors can significantly impact your ability to retire on your own terms, especially if you’re the primary earner in your household.

To ensure your compensation is fair, ask for more benefits or a pay raise when you feel you’ve earned it. Keep a record of your contributions and any metrics that demonstrate the value of your work.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary and benefits when accepting a new job. In many cases, negotiating your starting salary is your best opportunity to meaningfully increase your income.

#4: Find the Right Balance

If you have a family, juggling your home life and work life can feel like a never-ending challenge. To ensure your financial future doesn’t suffer as a result, you need to find a healthy balance.

First and foremost, seek out employers who have family-friendly employee benefits. Look for organizations that have good gender diversity among management and employees. These types of employers typically offer work-from-home, tele-commuting, family leave benefits, and even daycare. In some cases, they may even offer part-time work to support working parents.

In addition, talk to your spouse or partner about sharing childcare and household duties. Set up systems and schedules so each person knows their role to keep things working smoothly. If possible, ask local family members if they are willing to help.

It’s often helpful to set strict boundaries for your time at work and set expectations accordingly. Let your employers know it’s important for you to attend certain family events, which will keep you from working overtime. And be sure to stick to these boundaries yourself, even if you’d love to work just one more hour on that project.

#5: Invest in Your Future

Lastly, educate yourself about investing and be willing to invest to secure your financial future. Keeping cash in a bank will not beat inflation over the long run but buying stocks will. You don’t have to invest beyond your comfort level. However, it’s critical to find the right mix of investments to stay on track towards your financial goals.

For more personal finance tips, you can read the full Business and Tech article here.

Curtis Financial Planning specializes in the unique financial planning needs of independent women and women who take the lead in their household finances. If we can help you develop a plan to take control of your financial future, please schedule a call.

In the meantime, check out our personal finance resources, including The Happiness Spreadsheet, a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting for women.

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S3 E3: Learning to Think Like a Breadwinner with Jennifer Barrett

Learning to Think Like a Breadwinner with Jennifer Barrett

Jennifer Barrett Will Teach You How to Think Like a Breadwinner

With April being National Financial Literacy Month, my conversation with today’s guest is even more meaningful and relevant. Jennifer Barrett is an award-winning financial journalist and digital strategist with more than 15 years of experience in print and digital media and a passion for personal finance. She’s currently Chief Education Officer at Acorns, a growing financial wellness startup with more than 9 million subscribers. In addition, she’s the author of Think Like a Breadwinner, a wealth-building manifesto for women, which is available for purchase everywhere books are sold on April 6.

In this episode we focus on some of the most important concepts Jennifer writes about in Think Like a Breadwinner, including:

  • The financial literacy gap in this country and its impact on women, specifically.
  • The importance of dispelling the myths that prevent many women from making good decisions with their money.
  • And the one mindset shift that will not only give women a more active role in creating their own future but can also create a positive ripple effect on every aspect of your life.

I think Jennifer’s message is so important, and I encourage all of you to read her book as soon as it’s available. I promise it will change the way you think.

Tweetable Quote

Nichole Proffitt on meditation:

Episode Highlights

  • [05:00] Jennifer and I discuss the financial literacy gap in this country and the long-term implications for women.
  • [09:17] I ask Jennifer to expand on some of the more surprising research from her book that underscores women’s general financial unpreparedness.
  • [11:41] Jennifer shares her personal story and the moment she knew she had to start to think like a breadwinner.
  • [17:47] We discuss how our experiences in childhood and the way our parents talked to us about money affects our relationship with money into adulthood.
  • [21:10] I ask Jennifer to talk about why investing is a must for women and to dispel some of the common myths that keep women out of the market.
  • [30:05] Jennifer describes the activism work she’s involved in to push for policies that better support women and allow them to step into the breadwinner role in their families more easily.
  • [39:32] We wrap up the episode by discussing how a breadwinner mindset among more women is beneficial for everyone.

Links Relevant to this Episode

JenniferBarrett.com

Think Like a Breadwinner by Jennifer Barrett on Amazon

Acorns

The Happiness Spreadsheet by Cathy Curtis

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S3 E3 Transcript: Learning to Think Like a Breadwinner

Welcome to the Financial Finesse podcast, where we’ll be discussing tips on how to handle your money and life with skill and style. Your host, Cathy Curtis CSP has been helping make finance accessible and intriguing for women for almost 20 years. You will get savvy actionable ideas, listening to her conversations with some of the coolest and smartest women on the planet. And now, here’s your host, Cathy Curtis.

00:50 Cathy: Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis, host of the Financial Finesse podcast and founder of Curtis Financial Planning, an independent financial planning firm that specializes in the unique financial needs of women. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I partner with women who take the lead in their household finances, and I help them secure their futures while getting more enjoyment from their money today. So whether you’re single, the primary earner in your family, or simply take an interest in personal financial management, this podcast is for you. 

With April being National Financial Literacy Month, my conversation with today’s guest is even more meaningful and relevant. Jennifer Barrett is an award-winning financial journalist and digital strategist with more than 15 years of experience in print and digital media and a passion for personal finance. She is currently Chief Education Officer at Acorns, a growing financial wellness startup with more than 9 million subscribers. 

But more importantly to today’s podcast, she’s the author of a new book called Think Like a Breadwinner: A Wealth-Building Manifesto for Women Who Want to Earn More (and Worry Less). This book is available starting April 6, anywhere books are sold. 

In this episode, we focus on some of the most important concepts Jennifer writes about in Think Like a Breadwinner, including the financial literacy gap in this country and its impact on women, specifically; the importance of dispelling the myths that prevent many women from making good decisions with their money; and the one mindset shift that will not only give women a more active role in creating their own future, but can also create a positive ripple effect on every aspect of your life. 

I think Jennifer’s message is so important, and I encourage all of you to read her book as soon as it’s available. I promise it will change the way you think. With that, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Jennifer Barrett as much as I did. And be sure to check the show notes at curtisfinancialplanning.com for more personal finance resources.

03:02 Cathy: Jen, it’s so good to see you. I think it’s been, I don’t know, eight years. I’m reading your book. And I think I knew you back when you were in financial journalism at CNBC here. And that would have been six, seven years ago. And then you’ve changed jobs. And about your book, Think Like a Breadwinner, I love that you weaved in your own personal story and that you are so vulnerable about the things that you’ve experienced in your journey to be a breadwinner and feel power around your money. 

Jennifer: Yes. Yeah, it’s definitely been…there was a learning curve there.

03:54 Cathy: Was it hard to do that? Did you think twice about doing it that way? To be that vulnerable? 

04:04 Jennifer: Yeah. A little bit, but I think, I didn’t want it to be a preachy kind of book or the kind of book where it sounds like I’ve got it all figured out, and I’m going to tell you how to do it. It I really wanted it to be more authentic in the sense that I’m not just an expert, I’ve lived it. So, I can speak from both perspectives. And I just thought it was important because so many of us feel so uncomfortable talking about money. And a lot of women feel such a lack of confidence around managing their money, you know this. 

So I just think it’s important for us to admit that we don’t know everything, too. And we’re learning, too. And, you know, we’re all kind of part of the same journey and hopefully the destination. To get control of our finances and feel really good about where we are financially. 

05:00 Cathy: So, yes, I agree with you being relatable. And women don’t want to feel bad when, you know, they don’t want to read a book and go oh, my god, I’m terrible. I’m not doing anything right. 

Because money is so complicated. I mean, when you think about all the little acronyms you need to know, and all the tax laws that have “if yes, then do this, if no, but if that happens, do that.” And learning about all the different retirement plans, it’s a lot. So nobody needs to feel bad because they don’t know it. 

Although I think it could be better in our country, if we had more financial literacy classes, like you hear that a lot. And it never seems to happen. 

Jennifer: Oh, I completely agree. And we still have not made a lot of progress there. And I think there’s so many people who care passionately about that, and really are trying to get that implemented in school curriculums, and I have a feeling the pandemic may have put some of those efforts on hold. 

But I don’t know, either. Everyone seems to be in agreement that this is a life skill that we all need to learn. And yet I think it’s only 17 states that have it as a requirement in their high school curriculum. So yeah, there’s a gap for, you know, there’s a financial literacy gap, period. It’s not just a matter of whether you’re a woman or a man. 

But we do know, I mean, there’s research that shows that parents actually do speak to their sons differently than they do to their daughters about money. And so I think that plays into it, to where they are more apt to talk to their sons about investing and building credit. And they are more apt to talk to their daughters about saving and spending smartly. 

Cathy: And this all goes back to budgeting. 

Jennifer: Yes. And it all kind of goes back to this. You know, this old conventional model where the man was the breadwinner, the woman was the caregiver, took care of the house, you know. So being able to budget and clip coupons and count your pennies was really important if you were in that role. But those skills don’t translate as well anymore, because now women are moving into the breadwinning role. And regardless, we need the skills to build our own wealth. 

And so, there’s a lot of work to be done there, I thin—in terms of the messaging, and not just the financial literacy piece of it. 

Cathy: Yeah, that’s still stuck in the 50s. A woman at home with the apron, but managing the budget, getting an allowance. My mom was right there. She got her little allowance, and she managed it really well. You know, but my dad handled all the finances. 

But why are we still stuck in the 50s? How many years ago was that now? Really?

Jennifer: The conventional breadwinning model rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s. So it’s been like 70 years, and we’re seeing a paradigm shift in the model itself. But our attitudes have not caught up to that. Our culture has not caught up to that. Our corporate policies have not caught up to that. And so, you know, we have some ground to cover, I think, there. And it really just starts with the way that we talk to women and the way that we message them around money. 

And so, I’m not surprised at all that a lot of women actually don’t think that they need to have these skills. They think that, you know, they’re going to get married, and the man will take care of a lot of this stuff. 

08:10 Jennifer: You know this, right, because a lot of women are also really wary of investing, certainly investing in the stock market. And that is probably one of the best places to put your money in order for it to grow. And so if you are already wary of doing that, you think it may be too risky, too complex, whatever the reason is, so you put off doing that. And on top of that, you’re sort of thinking, “alright, I’ll get married, and my husband will probably be the one to manage the finances anyway.” 

Cathy: That could be an unconscious thought, too. So I want to read you a few things about how women are different from men that, as I’m reading your book, I picked them out. And women listening, I don’t mean this to be depressing. But research backs up every single one of these things, and Jennifer, you did a great job pulling in all this research out there. It’s so appreciated. I’m going to use it as a reference guide, I know it. 

09:17 Cathy: Women…

Earn 20% less than men for the same jobs in nearly every single occupation
Have lower levels of financial literacy
Higher credit card debt
Less likely to ask for a raise or promotion
Lower average credit scores
More afraid to say no to projects at work
Concentrated in the lowest paying master’s fields
Career tracks are usually things like human resources
Have less money saved at retirement: one in five women have nothing saved for retirement.
40% more likely to live in poverty in old age
Carry more student loan debt
Not invest, leave money in cash

A lot of women are more likely to tap into retirement accounts early, even though there’s penalties and tax. 

Jennifer: And I did that, like in my 20s. 

Cathy: Are less likely to take any finance classes in school. And I didn’t even write down the stats in the caretaker chapter about how many women take the caretaker role and leave work for children or older parents and therefore get retirement savings interrupted and all that. So I couldn’t help it. I read the book, and I was framing it. And I thought, there’s a lot of not good stats about women and wealth in this country. I don’t know what it’s like everywhere else. 

Jennifer: It’s not all that much better. I think Nordic countries have it a little better. They have more egalitarian policies that have held. 

Cathy: Yes, like childcare and all that. So anyway, as I’m thinking about this—I’ve been a financial advisor for almost 20 years. And I work mainly with women, and I work with a lot of single women. So I see many of these things happening. And I just keep asking my question over and over. When are these statistics going to start turning? 

And yeah, writing a book like you did with, you don’t only have the stats, you’ve got action steps in almost every area. That’s really important. So anyway, I want you to be able to talk. Talk to me more about, I know your personal story inspired you. But let’s talk a little bit more about that. 

11:41 Jennifer: Sure, well, I had my own wake up call. And that was really the genesis of the book. I was in my early 30s, I was an editor at a national news magazine, and I had a great job. You know, from the outside, it looked like I had it all together. 

But I was sharing a one-bedroom apartment with my husband and our toddler at the time. And I remember one night, when he woke up, I was kind of pacing back and forth in our bedroom trying to get him back to sleep. And I just had this moment where I looked around and I thought, we are in a completely unsustainable situation. And I don’t have the means to help us get out of it. 

And it was such a crushing moment. I mean, honestly, when I still think about it, I’m like, because I had thought I’m such an independent woman. I have a 401k, I have a little bit in a savings account. I’m paying half the bills. You know, I had credit card debt, but I was paying it down. And I thought I was sort of doing everything right. And it was in that moment that I realized I had missed a huge piece of the puzzle, which was, I was not investing for the midterm. I did not have the kind of savings that would help us buy our own place. I didn’t even have enough set aside to help us really afford to have a second child, which I badly, badly wanted. We both did. And here we were in a situation where we were about to outgrow our apartment, and I wasn’t even sure we could afford to rent a bigger place. 

Cathy: Let me stop you right there. Because what it sounds to me like, is that you realized that you had these super important goals. Having a second child and having your own place to live, which are pretty important things to me, really were at stake. And somehow those goals became paramount. So your epiphany was, oh my God, I’m not going to ever have this unless something changes. 

13:38 Jennifer: Yes. And to be fair, my husband, when we first met, his income far exceeded mine. He worked at a startup; the startup went under and he went back into journalism. So our incomes were much closer together.

And so, you know, he was contributing as well. But it did occur to me that neither of us were really prepared to buy this house. And there was no way that I could slough that off on him or assume that he would be the one to do this. What I really realized was, I had left myself in an incredibly vulnerable position, where the things that were most important to me, were now at stake because I had not taken a proactive approach to my finances to make sure that they came to pass. And that was just a huge wake up call for me. 

And then the next question was, why in the heck did I make these money choices? Like why would I ever have made money choices that leave me in this position? And as I started to really think about it, the turning point question was, I asked myself if I had been raised to think like a breadwinner. Like so many of the guys that I had dated in my 20s, who were all about, like I need to buy a house, I need to save money so I can get married, and all these things. I thought if I had been raised to think like a breadwinner, how would that change the choices I made with my money and even my career? And that was literally the turning point because I realized I hadn’t been thinking that way at all. 

15:00 Cathy: And also, you mentioned that you realized you were getting resentful towards your husband, that he wasn’t taking on the traditional bread winner role. And you realized that there’s two of you, it’s your goal too, and you decided to take the reins. I couldn’t help but thinking too when I was reading the book, that “think like a breadwinner” could be replaced by “think like a man.” And then I thought, no, that’s not it. It’s: think about how men have been raised in our culture and in our institutions and the things that they have been taught, versus the things that women were raised to think about and prioritize. 

Jennifer: Yeah. 100%. A man sort of grows up thinking, what do I want in my life? And how am I going to get it? And we may think that way about our career, but I think we’re still not brought up to think that way about our life in general. About like, this is what I want my life to look like. How much money am I going to need to make to support this lifestyle? I know that’s a question that I didn’t ask. 

I certainly, I mean, I went into journalism, no idea how badly it paid. There’s lots of men in journalism, but it’s more, there are a lot of women in journalism, and you see more men in management in journalism than you see women. I mean, women tend to be more on the reporter side, the writers, the writer track. That’s shifting, obviously. Now, there are a lot more women in management. But certainly when I first got into journalism, there were definitely more men at the top of the masthead, and those are the jobs that pay well. Or they were on the business side. And those were the jobs that paid really well. I only learned that later, of course. 

16:56 Jennifer: I moved into management shortly after I had that epiphany. And that wasn’t the only reason why, but it was a big reason. I realized, you know, these things are so important to me that I don’t want to put them at risk. And I need to get a job that pays well. And initially, I thought, well, this will be a temporary situation. I’ll move into management, and then maybe I’ll go back to writing. But once I was in that role, and on that track, I found I really enjoyed it. I loved the challenges. I loved how it sort of stretched my idea of what my capabilities were. 

It was very interesting how it actually started to shift my mindset even more in terms of what I thought I was capable of and how I envisioned my career. So in a lot of ways, that was a big step as well. 

17:47 Cathy: I think that happens to a lot of women that step up. I mean, that’s true for me. I think if women could get into more of a wealth mindset mode, breadwinner mode, combined with their personal skills that they already have in spades, right? The good communication skills, the caretaker skills, all those things, they’re gonna be unstoppable.

This is a challenge. And going back to your mindset growing up was not that you were going to be this person to build the wealth. And I’m thinking back to my childhood, because I had a little different trajectory for some reason. Wealth has always been important to me. I can’t figure out why. I’m thinking about it now that I read your book. 

But I do remember one message from my father. He always told me, Cath, you could do anything you want. He always said that. That was one of the key messages from my father, you know, the dominant male figure my life. And I’m not sure how many women are told that when they’re young? So my answer could be that my upbringing created the groundwork for me. But I know that’s not typical. And in the things I just read, the statistics about women are showing that that is not typical. 

Jennifer: That’s true. I interviewed a number of women who did have a breadwinning mindset from the beginning. And I can think of one in particular where she told me her dad actually sat down with her, taught her how to invest. He invested in real estate. So he taught her how to invest in real estate. He told her what capital was, he told her that when you have anything outside of your paycheck, that’s capital, you don’t touch it, you invest it. You leave your investment alone until you need it. 

He taught her how to separate her money into different piles for savings, charity investing, you know. So very early on, she got these lessons from her dad. And she was the oldest of three girls, and part of me thinks that maybe he was imparting the lessons on her that he might have done with a son.

20:00 Jennifer: In other cases, I talked to women whose parents divorced and the mom had been quite reliant on the dad. And after the divorce, they saw the impact on their mom and consciously decided, I am never going to allow myself to be in a vulnerable position like that. It wasn’t that they disrespected their mom, there was nothing like that. It was more like, oh, my poor mom, she ends up in this situation because she stopped working, because she wasn’t involved in the finances. They saw that unfold in front of them and how painful it was for their mom. And so they consciously decided, I am not going to do that. I’m going to take care of myself, I’m going to have my own money. And so they made very different decisions. 

And I would say I mean, my parents, I grew up in a middle-class household. Both my parents were professors of accounting at one point, so yeah, I did great in math. It wasn’t like a lack of skills. I knew about the stock market. But there was a disconnect for me between sort of knowing the stock market existed and realizing what an incredibly powerful tool it was, and building wealth from the get go and how important that was. 

21:10 Cathy: Yeah. Let’s talk about that. Because that’s a really key thing for women to understand. Because I still see women who are really afraid of investing and who keep way too much money in low interest-bearing bank accounts. And you have some stats about that in the book that that’s a true phenomenon. And, so you talk about compounding and all that. I mean, the book is such a great resource. If a woman read that chapter on why investing your money is so important, even if you just simply put it in an S&P 500 fund and let it sit for years, if you just did something as simple as that, it will change everything. 

Jennifer: Yes, because there’s no comparison. We know that, on average, the S&P 500 Index rises about 7% per year, right, on average. Obviously, some years it goes down. But you take an average 7-7.5% return, which is what it is. And then you look at a savings account, which right now is paying .05% for a traditional savings account and only like 0.4 or 0.5% for a high yield savings account. 

So we’re talking about a difference of 6.5 to nearly 7%. There’s no comparison. And when you run the numbers, and you look out five or 10 years, you’re talking about the difference sometimes of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how much money you have. And that accounts for a lot of the difference between what men have saved and what women have saved a lot of times. 

I don’t know where that comes from. But I did interview a lot of women who say that they take comfort in knowing that the money is there and accessible at any time and, so there’s definitely something in there that’s more emotional and more psychological. 

23:02 Cathy: You know that’s a really good point. When I talk to women who have that fear, they don’t understand that investing is very liquid. There’s this myth. And this is a financial literacy piece. Some people think if you put money in an investment account, you can’t get it back easily. When I realized that myth exists, it makes it a lot easier to explain that no, it’s completely liquid. You might sell when the market’s down. But you know, you can get your money out whenever you want. And you write about a lot of the myths of investing in your book, which I think is really helpful, because they’re out there and they persist. 

Jennifer: They do. We still have this idea that it’s complex and risky. And to me, I mean, I tell people this—I think you may agree—is I think it’s more risky to leave your money in savings for too long, because you don’t give it the opportunity to grow. And so if you want, certainly put some in savings. Enough to cover, you know, we usually say three to six months of expenses. 

But if you’re not investing the rest, you are missing out on all this potential growth and putting yourself at a disadvantage. I mean, right now, savings accounts pay less than the rate of inflation. So your money is actually losing value sitting in a savings account. And that’s, it’s really hard to wrap your head around that. And I get it, and I say if you’re nervous about the stock market being down, then invest in bonds or bond funds, but really almost anything has a better return than savings accounts right now. 

Cathy: Well, you know, and maybe the other thing too is, we’re talking about the now and investing now. The reason you invest is for when you can’t earn a paycheck anymore. And in this country, we don’t have as many safety nets anymore, right? The companies don’t have pensions. You know, what’s that old saying? A man is not a retirement plan? 

25:06 Cathy: Your dad is not gonna be around anymore. And so you have to think about it. And then for some women, younger women, that may seem way, way far in the future. But it takes years of compounding to get quite a chunk of money that you need to live out that—who knows how long it’s going to be, because we’re all living longer—30, 40, 50 years where you may be earning nothing or a fraction of what you’re earning in your prime working years. And so that’s that stuff that, unfortunately, women end up living in poverty. The bag lady syndrome is real still. I don’t know how many years it’s gonna take for all those trends to like, start reversing.

26:07 Jennifer: I’m determined in our lifetime. I mean, that’s my goal. I want to do everything in my power. I’m sure you do, too. I mean, to your point too, time is one of the most important factors in investing. So even if you’re investing $25 a month, if you’re 22, I mean, that money compounds. So it’s like, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or you perceive that you are and you think you can’t afford it, I would challenge anyone who says that to just put aside 5, 10, 15, $20 in investments. 

And the psychological, you know, just the benefit psychologically of seeing that money grow is so incredible. And then it serves as such an incentive to continue to do that. And you can actually see how people shift their habits. And we see this at Acorns where people sign up for roundups, and they’re usually at about 30 to $35 a month that they invest. So they sign up for just roundups, nothing else. And then they see that money start to grow. And we see after 3, 6, 9 months, they start putting more and more money in because they understand, you know, the power of compounding and the power of putting your money in. 

And also, they realize, you know, I don’t miss that. I don’t miss that spare change. I don’t miss that $35. So what’s another $5 here, or $10 there? And that is so beneficial to you to learn that lesson early on and then just start piling more money in as you can. It’s just huge to start early and have the advantage of time and compounding. And I know you know this too, but it’s like one of those things that drives me nuts when people feel like oh, no, no, I have to have a lot of money to invest. And I’m like, no, no, no, you won’t have a lot of money unless you invest. You’ve got it backwards.

27:43 Cathy: Okay, I have a story to tell you about Acorns. So I teach a personal finance class in the summer at a woman’s college here. And these are all college age and graduate level. And I’m teaching really basic personal finance, and they’re learning all new things. And one of the women told me, we were talking about savings apps and Acorns came up in the conversation—that she really likes using that app to save. 

And the other tool that I like talking about with women is Roth IRAs. You know, they fit the fear mentality perfectly for women because it’s a way to start getting invested because it’s a retirement account. So theoretically, you don’t touch it till retirement. But you can withdraw what you put in any time, without penalty and without tax, and you can invest it. And so I think it’s important to pick out things that are really easy to understand and explain the concepts and speak to those fears about not having access, or I’m going to lose it, or I’m never going to get it again. 

And the other financial literacy thing that drives me nuts is some people think an IRA is the investment. If you have an IRA, you have an investment. 

29:13 Jennifer: Yeah, you have to invest the money you put in. I actually had a conversation with someone not that long ago, where I had told her about the Roth and I was like, you should do this, you qualify. You know, like we checked her income because there is that income threshold. But then she said, oh, I had put all this money in my Roth. And I said, great, how did you invest it? And she said, I didn’t know I was supposed to invest it. It was just sitting in a money market fund. 

Because no one ever explains the second part of that. You’re like, I want to open a Roth IRA, and Fidelity or whoever says—or, you know, Acorns, we do it but we invest it for you, so we’re a little different—but in most brokerages, you open it up and they’re like okay, we’ve opened your account. And they send you on your way. And they don’t tell you, you have to invest it yourself. 

30:05 Cathy: Like the 401k. Now, there’s a default, it has to be invested. Right? It’s almost like that should happen with Roths. 

Well, let me let me ask you something. So your message is so strong in this book and so helpful. What is your plan to get the word out and the book out to as many people as possible? Are you gonna, you can’t be on the road right now, right? 

Jennifer: Okay, this my little studio, my makeshift studio. We actually just did the audio book, and I had to create a studio in our closet, which was funny.

30:42 Cathy: So you read the whole book? How was that? I’ve always been curious about that. Was it fun? Was it a drag?

Jennifer: It was fun. I mean, I’m an editor at heart. So there were parts where I thought, oh, I could have streamlined that. Or, you know, it’s hard to turn that part of you off. But it was a much more intimate, you have a much more intimate relationship with the book, when you’re reading it. And it’s like you’re talking to someone, you know, as you’re reading it. So that was a really incredible experience, because I was on with a producer and with an audio engineer, and they kept saying, you know, just imagine you’re talking to someone, you know, you’re telling them this. And so then you really kind of get into it, and you’re absorbed in the material. 

Cathy: Oh, that’s fascinating. I think this would be a great book to listen to on Audible. But I also think it’d be a great workbook where you actually write. You know, somebody that’s learning about finance actually buys a book and writes notes in it. I mean, I’m gonna buy it for me, because I want to use it as a reference guide. 

Jennifer: Yes, write in it. I encourage you to. 

31:58 Cathy: Your point about reading and editing—that’s why it’s so important. Anything you write, you read it out loud, right? 

Jennifer: So yeah, also, there were a number of things that I actually didn’t know how to pronounce. So many names. But no, it was a great experience. And so I’m doing that, I’m doing podcasts. And I mean, I’m trying to get the word out as much as I can. 

And I’ve joined some initiatives with some other women primarily, and some men who are in the space of really trying to advocate for paid leave and some of these policies that will help women better. So that’s a part of it, too. And I’m going in and speaking to companies about this, speaking to women’s employee resource groups, about this kind of stuff. 

You know, I was passionate about this before I wrote the book, but I hope that this book gives me the opportunity or the excuse to talk about it even more, though.

Cathy: It will. You have a platform now, which I’m so grateful to you for taking the time to write this because really, it’s like a manual to start growing wealth. It replaces like, I remember, there was this really thick book written. Now I’m not gonna remember the name. But I mean, it was, you know, a bomb of a book. And your book is still quite a long book. But it’s organized in such a way. And the storytelling in it about your life, and about other women and their money journeys, makes it an interesting read, which is not easy to say for a lot of finance books.

33:38 Jennifer: Thank you, I appreciate that. I did try to weave in as many stories as I could. And also the mindset piece, I think makes it more interesting, because it’s a message that a lot of people haven’t heard before. 

And just to go back to what you’d mentioned at the beginning about people being kind of embarrassed about money or not comfortable talking about it, I think we do a lot of money shaming. And so one of the things I really wanted to do with the book was to not make anyone feel ashamed of the money choices they’ve made. And help women understand that so much of it comes from the cultural conditioning that we’ve gotten, and the messaging that we got as kids. And so even if we know what we’re supposed to do, those, you know, this kind of conditioning can get in the way of that, and in a really subconscious way. 

It’s really hard to see that sometimes, you know, to understand like, why am I making these money choices, and not those money choices? A lot of us don’t stop and question that. And if we did, you know, it might take some digging to realize, oh, I put my money in savings because I’m terrified I’m going to lose it. Because maybe their parents had, you know, maybe their parents lost money or they had some experience, they were exposed to something, and so that has lodged in their brain. And so they’re afraid of investing themselves. 

So many of us carry around these stories, whether you’re a man or a woman, and it’s so important to examine those, especially if they kind of get in the way of your wealth building efforts. And it’s hard to do that on your own. 

35:00 Jennifer: I think you probably have tons of stories of people you’ve talked to because that’s part of what you do, right, is unpacking that. 

Cathy: You know, I really read your chapter on values and goals with great interest because I actually have an e-book called The Happiness Spreadsheet. And I have an exercise almost exactly like yours, where I list the 100 values. And I’m trying to get people to really think about what they want in their life. So I can so much relate to that. 

I laughed, though, because I was thinking about my book. It kind of is a budgeting book. That made me think it’s not an investing book. But one of the values is growing wealth. And I do interweave that in there a little bit. But I laughed at myself when I read that. But so I think that’s the core work for women. It’s worth figuring out where you got your money mindset from, and then doing the work to let go of that stuff. And realize who you are now. 

So many of our values could be from our parents. I mean, I even think about why I went into business, because I did the exercises in my own book. So I think I went into business because I love, my dad was on a pedestal, he was a businessman. And I turned it into a success. But as I was doing my exercises, I thought, would I have chosen a business career if it wasn’t for my dad? 

Because I love creativity. And you can make this work creative in certain ways. And that’s what you do. You compensate, once you get somewhere, because your point in the book, too, was choosing a career that can make you a living. 

36:56 Jennifer: Yes. Right. Yes, that piece is often missing in the advice that we give to women. And I love the idea of you can be anything you want. But a lot of times, and there is actual data around this, is that girls are less likely to have conversations about how they’ll be compensated in the careers that they’re interested in than boys are. 

So I mean, it all comes back to the same thing. We are still not thinking of women as breadwinners. We are still not setting up women to succeed in that role. Even though more women are moving into that role than ever before. More than 40% of moms in the country right now are the main or sole breadwinners for their families. 

So it’s happening. Whether or not they’re prepared, women are moving into those roles for a variety of reasons. We are still not preparing them for that role. And we’re not thinking about women being in that role or about their income being so critical with the policies that we have and the perceptions and biases that get carried into the workplace. And so you see that sort of play out in all these ways. 

38:00 Cathy: In your opinion, do you think that, given there’s a new administration, that there’ll be more focus on family policies that help women breadwinners? 

Jennifer: That’s the hope. Yes. We’re advocating pretty hard for that. And I do think, I mean, Biden did push for paid leave in the stimulus bill, and it didn’t end up in the bill in the form that he had proposed, which was kind of a mandatory leave. Now it’s an incentivized leave around with tax credits. And it’s really tied to the Coronavirus, not the kind of blanket paid leave that that we’re really advocating for. But I think he’s open to it. He said he’s open to it. You’ve got a lot of senior lawmakers right now talking about it. So I’m hopeful. 

Cathy: We’re the only country in the world that doesn’t have it—the only industrialized country in the world. 

Jennifer: Yeah, the only industrialized one. It’s so fascinating to me, because I studied Norway, and we’re where Norway was in the 1970s. So they implemented these policies in the 70s and men didn’t take paternity leave. So 20 years later, they completely revamped those policies and made it mandatory for men to take a certain amount of paternity leave. Or it was sort of a use it all or lose it policy. 

And they started this whole public awareness campaign to try and shift the perception of men as caregivers. And now they have one of the highest participation rates in the world for fathers and mothers. I mean, it has completely changed the game. And we would be smart to learn from their experience. But we’re still having the conversations they were having in the 1970s.

39:32 Cathy: Because we have a patriarchal society. It needs to shift.

Jennifer: It really needs to shift. And it’s good for men too. I mean, there’s so much research around the importance of men having that time to bond with their kids. Being able to be caregivers without feeling stigma or anything like that. It’s really, this is not just about women. 

40:00 Cathy: No, I know a lot of my peers in the financial world are men with young children. And one of the things I hear the most is how happy they were during COVID. Because they had to be at home, they got to see their kids and bond with their kids more. You know that must be so awful, to feel like you have to leave the house every day early in the morning, and you don’t get home till late. And you miss out on so many things that happen with your children. Good family policies are good for everybody, not just women.

40:37 Jennifer: I’ve seen it play out with my husband, because as I moved into the breadwinning role, I took jobs that had me traveling and were a little more demanding. He started working from home, and he was able to spend more time with them. And I saw how he bonded with our two sons. And I just thought, I don’t know. I was so grateful that he has that relationship with them. 

And I had this moment, this one phone call where I called my dad, I mentioned in the book where I was really stressed out, I was working really long hours in this one job. And I felt like I wasn’t getting a lot of time with the kids. And I was describing it to him. And he said to me, now you know how I felt. And I just burst into tears. It was the first time I really realized what a sacrifice he had made, certainly in his own mind that he thought would benefit us, and that we’d appreciate down the road. But he really was not around very much when we were kids. 

And you think like, I’m so close to him now. But I didn’t really get a chance to build that relationship until I was already in college and then spending like long amounts of time with him. And I just think, gosh, what he missed out on, you know, as a younger dad. 

Cathy: And what the kids miss out on not being able to get close to their dad. You cannot do that in two quick days, you know, a weekend. It takes more time than, you know, a week vacation in the summer. So all of the things we’re talking about are really good for everybody. The whole family system. So I love that. I mean, I could cry thinking about how little time I got to spend with my dad. And that creates its own set of issues where you miss somebody all the time. It’s just not, it’s not a good thing. 

42:32 Jennifer: No, and I think about, we have the opportunity now to change. That is really what it comes down to. I see how my kids are with my husband. And we’ll flip flop. I mean, I will not always be the main earner. Probably, who knows. I mean, it’s fine if I am. But I mean, just because you move into the main earner role doesn’t mean you’re there for life. 

And certainly, during the pandemic, we’ve shifted back to almost a 50/50 caregiving model, which has been wonderful. So I know what your colleagues are talking about. But I had plenty of time with them too. I feel like each of us are really getting the opportunity to bond with our kids and spend a lot of time with them. And that they really know each of us well and know that we’re accessible to them. And that’s so important. 

And watching that in contrast to how it was when I was growing up. Or even my husband and his dad. His dad was a pilot. He was never around. So I feel like we just have a tremendous opportunity here to ship that for the next generation. 

Cathy: I do too. You know, it could be so great if it was a partnership, not this, you know, the woman is the breadwinner in a marriage but also has to do all the housework. 

Jennifer: Yes. Which is what’s happening now if you look at the stats. It was happening throughout the pandemic too. And even when women earn more, as you said, they’re still doing more of the housework, the childcare. 

And it’s not all the men. I will say I will say this, that part of it is yes, the partner needs to step up as well. But I can speak from my own experience that letting go of the caregiving piece of it, even like letting go of the idea of yourself being you know, being the main caregiver. For me, my identity was so intertwined with that as a mother. I felt so deeply like that was my responsibility, that actually letting go of being the primary caregiver there for a few years was tremendously hard. 

Cathy: Really hard. And I get it in a lot of women to feel that way. I know that they want that role. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with being a caregiver. 

Jennifer: No, I mean, I think the whole problem is we aren’t valuing caregiving enough in this country. Right? And we and we pin it all on one gender, which doesn’t, you know, it’s a disservice to everybody. 

44:53 Cathy: I think it is too. You know, in my own experience, I switched careers and started from scratch. My husband was a breadwinner in those years. I built up my career, he wanted to retire because he’s older than me. I said, fine. Now I’m the breadwinner. It works so well, it’s great. Everybody gets what they want, and it creates a more loving relationship, more trusting, and it sounds like you navigated your own situation really well. And I’m sure it wasn’t easy at times. And you’re very open about it too. Because I know your husband’s read your book. So he’s fine with having a more equal paradigm in the marriage?

45:32 Jennifer: Yeah, I had him read the book proposal before I ever submitted it, because I wanted to make sure he was okay with it. And my whole point for him, too, is that this was not in any way meant to make him feel bad about not earning more. That’s not even what the book is about, at all. 

Cathy: No, it’s really about portraying a marriage that was working towards more equality so that you can both reach your goals. And give up on the princess mindset.

46:07 Jennifer: I didn’t even think of it as that. But it’s true, deep down. I don’t think I would have admitted it. But deep down, I think I was just assuming that. And he learned to embrace a childcare role, which I love. 

Cathy: I love this, what we’re talking about right now. This, it really came out in the book. So I don’t want to make this too long, or we’re gonna lose our listeners. I could talk to you all day about these things. So let me ask you this. So tell me about your role at Acorns. And also give info on how people can access your book. And any other, if you have a blog, or those kinds of things. 

Jennifer: You can go to jenniferbarrett.com. There’s a lot of information on the book there. There’s a form you can fill out if you have questions. I do coaching too. I’m just getting my performance and leadership coaching certification. So I started coaching primarily female startup founders and senior leaders. So I do some of that as well.

Cathy: I want to hear more about that. Let’s just talk about that for a couple of minutes.

Jennifer: Sure. I mean, I’ve always been interested in coaching, and I took an intensive last year. And then as I pulled back on my hours to work on the book, of course, I have to immediately fill them with something else. So I signed up, I applied for this. It’s Brown and ACT. It’s a joint program. And it’s really focused on performance and leadership coaching, grounded in neuroscience. I thought it was a really fantastic program. And I’ve just finished all the requirements for that. 

I actually thought even if I didn’t end up coaching, it was really fascinating to do that work as I was going back and kind of looking at the book, because so much of what I talked about was mindset. So I was really fascinated to see, how do you really help to shift somebody’s mindset? You know, first you have to make them aware that they even are holding this mindset that may not be benefiting them. But then how do you actually shift it? So that work was fascinating. And I figured there’s no downside to having that. 

Cathy: I love that, how much work is being done in brain science right now. That’s fascinating. 

Jennifer: Well, so often it comes down to that, right? Because we sort of know what to do. But then why aren’t we doing it? I mean, with our health, with our money. So it’s not necessarily a lack of information. Sometimes it’s the lack of knowing where to go for the right information. But so often, it’s a behavioral issue. It’s there’s some blocker, some mental blocker that is keeping us from taking the steps we know we need to take. And so I thought it was really important for me to dig into that. 

Cathy: You’re gonna write another book. I know that. You’re gonna solve the problem of how to get the breadwinner mindset.

48:59 Jennifer: I sure hope so. I don’t know that it’ll be fixed that quickly. It may be years in the making. But yeah, I would love to see that if more women start thinking that way. 

Cathy: Okay, great. And then your book is on all the platforms, I saw. It’s not available quite yet, right? 

Jennifer: April 6, but you can preorder it on Amazon. And I mean, on any bookseller, really. Barnes and Noble, my publishers Penguin Random House, there’s a page there too you can preorder from. So if you want it, you can preorder it now. 

Cathy: Excellent. Well, I can’t wait to delve into the book even more. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book. And thank you so much for writing it and for being on my podcast. 

Jennifer: I’m thrilled to be here. 

Cathy: So great to see you. 

Jennifer: So great to see you too. Cathy.

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