Do you feel like you have zoned out or are on autopilot at least until the pandemic is over, especially when it comes to your financial house? Perhaps you are starting to peak your head out and wanting to decide your next steps, but how do you do that?

Zoned Out or Stagnant?

Let’s first explore how this happened – feeling zoned out or stagnant. Recognizing how we got here might help us avoid this consequence in the future. Keep in mind I am a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™, not a Behavioral Health Professional so this article is offered as a thought-provoking essay resulting with action items.

I think it is important first to realize that the zoned out feeling or feeling of stagnation probably started way before COVID-19. In fact, one variable could actually be that of a learned response or way of thinking. And it may have started as early as your childhood. A simple example is are you the person who sees it as “the glass is half full” or the person who sees it as “the glass is half empty”. What’s great about anything we learn, we can unlearn it or at least improve our awareness to our responses and take actions that will ensure a more productive effect.

But even if one variable is our own learned response to information, could it also be the result from institutional messaging? When I say ‘institutional messaging’ I mean messaging like commercials, news programs or professional social media posts. Another factor working against us is that the human brain has a negative bias which is actually our link to survival. But, because we are inundated with negative messaging, unless there is an immediate threat, we ignore it or feel helpless and become numb to it.

Consumers have been the target of a constant stream of negative and fear-based messaging as a result of increased competition. And this barrage of this type of information has turned off many consumers. More contemporary marketers believe positive marketing messages are the way forward. Today’s consumers are very clear about their values and the level of social/environmental awareness they want from the companies they invest in, whether that be by time, money or emotion.

Take Control

The good news is you have control over your feelings and can take forward moving action to shake the zoned out feeling while strengthening your financial house. The following is a brief list of tasks to help you start this process – some easy and some more difficult.

  • Review your financial goals/strategies and measure your progress
  • Check your credit for any errors or possible fraud
  • Ensure your emergency fund is properly funded
  • Pay down your debt
  • Create or review your estate planning documents – Trust, Will, Durable Financial Power of Attorney (POA), Medical POA, Living Will
  • Create asset/debt lists – Real property, Personal property, Investments/Banks, Insurance
  • Consolidate accounts – 401(k)s, IRAs, ROTHs

It may also be helpful to meet with your financial adviser as they can help with most of these tasks and provide you a quarterly/year-end financial plan review.

Need help? I would love to speak with you about your personal financial plan. Please request a consultation!

The CARES Act – What Does It Mean for the Individual or Small Business Owner

I know, I know not another article on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The 880-page stimulus package was just signed into law on March 27, 2020 and already there have been numerous summaries written. My goal for this blog is to provide you an easy to read summary of the provisions that may impact you as an individual or small-business owner.

Before I get into the academics of the CARES Act, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the uncertainty the coronavirus has caused. This uncertainty may include that with the health and safety of you and your family, your employment situation, your financial/retirement situation, and many other areas of your life. Bottom line, right now you may find yourself in a place of uncertainty. If this is the case, please feel free to reach out to me. Taking action allows you to take back control and this action could simply be educating yourself on your personal situation.

In response to the Coronavirus global pandemic, aka COVID-19, the U.S. Congress passed the CARES Act. This $2 trillion package was passed to help ease the economic blow experienced by families and businesses.

The following is a brief review of the provisions I feel to be most noteworthy to individuals and small-businesses. This is not a complete review, but it is a gathering from four different reliable sources1.

Individual Provisions:

Individual Recovery Rebates

The CARES Act provides up to $1,200 stimulus check to eligible adults earning up to $75,000. Married couples filing a joint return and earning up to $150,000 will receive up to $2,400. This is based on 2019 adjusted gross income (or 2018 AGI if you haven’t yet filed your 2019 tax return).2 Eligible families (individual and joint filers) receive an additional $500 for each child under the age of 17. As with typical refundable tax credits, this potential stimulus payment begins to phase out when a taxpayer’s income exceeds their applicable threshold. For those taxpayers who’s 2018/2019 AGI exceeds the threshold, but then in 2020 meets the criteria based on loss of income, the Act directs the payment. Yes, this means you will get the stimulus check, but much later. Interestingly, there won’t be a “clawback” for those who end up making more in 2020 than they did in 2018/2019.

It is a good time to mention that prior to the signing of the CARES Act, the 2019 filing deadline was extended to July 15, 2020. If your 2019 AGI meets the applicable threshold and your 2018 exceeds it, you may want to ensure you file your 2019 taxes as soon as possible to try to get it to the IRS before they calculate the stimulus payment. Also, it’s important to mention, 2019 IRA/ROTH/Health Savings Accounts (HSA)/Medical Savings Accounts (MSA)/Coverdell Education Savings Account contributions are all extended along with the filing extension.

That being said, per the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin payments should go out within three weeks (as of March 27, 2020)3. In an interview on CNBC on March 29, 2020 the Secretary said payments will go out by April 16, 2020.

COVID-19 Related Retirement Distributions

Another relief provided which actually is similar to Federally declared disasters, is the waiver of the 10% early distribution penalty up to $100,000 of 2020 distributions from IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans for those impacted by COVID-19 (qualified individuals). The income tax is due, but it can be spread out evenly over 3 years. And the day after receipt of said distribution, one has up to three years to “roll back” all or any portion of the distribution back into a retirement account; thereby, eliminating the tax paid for the distribution. This may require an amended tax return. For employer-sponsored retirement plans, loans can be taken by “qualified individuals”. The maximum amount of the plan loan is increased to the lesser of $100,000 or 100% of the account balance and it applies to loans taken 180 days from the Act’s date of enactment.

As defined in H.R. 748-CARES Act (a)(4)(A)(ii), a “qualified individual” is one:

  • who is diagnosed with COVID–19 by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
  • whose spouse or dependent (as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986) is diagnosed with such virus or disease by such a test, or
  • who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, being furloughed or laid off or having work hours reduced due to such virus or disease, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to such virus or disease, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to such virus or disease, or other factors as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury (or the Secretary’s delegate).
Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) Waived

For those not in need of income the CARES Act suspends RMDs during 2020. This applies to retirement account owners and beneficiaries taking stretch distributions. This is a big help because RMDs are based on the account value at the end of the previous year (December 31, 2019). Without this specific relief, retirement account owners would be forced to withdraw and pay tax on a higher percentage of their current IRA balance.

This subject warrants a more detailed discussion with your personal financial advisor given your specific situation. Please reach out to me if you’d like to discuss your situation.

Student Loan Deferral

There are several provisions geared to provide relief to student loan borrowers, the main one I want to address is the temporary relief for Federal Student Loan Borrowers. In general student loan payments on Federal student loans are suspended through September 30, 2020. During this time, no interest will accrue. By default, payments will continue unless individuals take proactive steps to contact their loan provider and request a pause in payments.

Again, if you want to discuss this area more in depth and specifically to your situation, contact me directly.

Health Care Provisions

The definition for “qualified medical expenses” for HSAs, MSAs, and Healthcare Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) is expanded to include over-the-counter medications.

Additional personal healthcare provisions include:

  • Medicare beneficiaries will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine (when available) at no cost
  • During the COVID-19 emergency period, Medicare Part D recipients must be given the ability to have up to a 90-day supply of prescribed medication (must request)
  • Telehealth services may be temporarily covered/relaxed (contact me if you’d like to discuss)

Small Business Provisions:

Paycheck Protection Program/Forgivable Loans

This program is a partially forgivable loan program provided by the Small Business Administration (SBA). One must apply for this loan by June 30, 2020 and have a maximum maturity of 10 years. To qualify the business (to include sole proprietorships) have fewer than 500 employees (with a few exceptions)4. Eligible borrowers are required to certify by good-faith that the loan is necessary due to the “uncertainty of the current economic conditions” caused by COVID-19.

Under this program, the loan may be used to pay for a variety of expenses to include:

  • Payroll
  • Group health insurance premiums/other healthcare costs
  • Salaries/Commissions
  • Rent (business)
  • Mortgage interest (does NOT include pre-paid)
  • Utilities
  • Other business interest incurred prior to February 15, 2020

The most significant potential benefit of a loan provided from this powerful program is the possibility of having all or a portion of it forgiven. The amount eligible is the amount actually spent (during the first 8 weeks after the loan is made) on:

  • Payroll (excludes prorated amounts for individuals with compensation over $100,000)
  • Rent (lease in force before February 15, 2020
  • Utilities
  • Group health insurance premiums/other healthcare costs

Now there is a particular requirement to for the above to be forgiven. The business MUST maintain the same number of employees from February 15, 2020 through June 30. 2020 as it did in the same period in 2019 or from January 1, 2020 until February 15, 2020. If this requirement is not met, the amount eligible for forgiveness is reduced (additional reductions may also apply).

This is definitely a good time to discuss your personal situation with me or your personal financial advisor as there are additional benefits to this program and it can get confusing.

Employee Retention Credit

If a small business is not receiving a covered loan as defined in the SBA Section 7(a)(36), the CARES Act provides a new payroll tax credit. A thorough review of the CARES Act is recommended to see if your company is eligible for this credit.

Deferral of Payment of Payroll Taxes

Another payroll-related tax break is the ability to defer payroll taxes from the date of enactment of the CARES Act through the end of the year, and until the end of 2021 and 2022. Again, employers are NOT eligible if they have debt forgiven by the CARES Act for certain SBA loans.

As I stated in the beginning, the CARES Act is an 880-page document and there are a number of other provisions I opted not to address. There is assistance provided for unemployment insurance expansion, aid for states and municipalities and aid for large companies.

Given the number of benefits/programs provided in the CARES Act that may impact you or someone you know, I highly recommend taking this time to check in with your financial advisor and discuss your personal situation.

 To learn more about how we can help you, contact us today!

Blog Sources




4 H.R. 748-CARES Act Sec. 1102. (a)(2)(D)(i)/(ii)/(iii)/(iv)

To Buy or Lease; That is the Question

Not to sound too Shakespearean or morbid for that matter (look up the original quote), but many of my clients have asked this exact question. Should I buy or lease a car? If you google it…you will get Suze’s advice, Dave will tell you what to do and even Jay Leno has an opinion. But as with all financial decisions, this is very personal and the right answer has more to do with you and your personal financial situation.


Given there are so many articles/blogs on this subject, I thought it would be most helpful to summarize the major differences between buying and leasing a car in the easy to ready chart below:

Another helpful tool is to utilize a calculator to compare the costs of financing a car versus leasing a car over the same timeframe. Below is a link to a calculator:


But ultimately, as I always recommend, get a good financial advisor who can help you navigate through your personal financial decisions. Of course, there is a lot of information available via the internet, but there can be a lot of value in having an advisor you trust.

If you need a financial advisor or know someone who would benefit from one, please send them my contact information along with this blog.

14 Ways to Get on Track with Your 2018 Financial Goals

School is back in session; football season is in full swing and while most of Arizona does not experience leaves falling we know we are nearing the end of the year and entering the fall season. What a great time to review that you are on track with your financial goals. This can seem like a daunting task, but I believe that with a checklist anything is achievable.

To simplify this task, I am providing a detailed financial planning checklist. The below guidelines provide additional details on the checklist items.

1.  Maximize Retirement Plan Contributions:

If you have a 401(k) or other retirement plan at work, remember to make your allowable 2018 contributions before year-end. In 2018, you can elect to defer up to $18,500 of your compensation to a 401(k). Those aged 50-plus can defer an extra $6,000 for a total of $24,500. Additionally, some plans allow you to make after tax contributions, up to the IRS limit of $55,000.

2.  Fund Non-Deductible IRAs & Convert to Roth:

Although your income may be too high to make a direct contribution to a Roth IRA, you can fund a Roth IRA by making a non-deductible IRA contribution and immediately converting it to a Roth IRA.

3.  Take Required Minimum Distributions:

If you are 70 ½ you must take your Required Minimum Distribution for 2017. If you have several IRA accounts, you may take the distribution from just one, but the distribution must be calculated on the aggregate of your IRA balances. Please note once an RMD is taken, it is irrevocably distributed (and taxable).

4.  Make Deferred Comp Elections:

If applicable you will need to determine ahead of year-end whether to defer a portion of your 2018 compensation. Benefits of deferring include possible tax savings and the opportunity to grow assets at a potentially higher rate of return. As with any investment decision, it is important to weigh out the benefits of deferring with your liquidity needs, time horizon and lifestyle choices. Additionally, you will be required to decide on a distribution election at the time of selection.

5.  Use up Flexible Saving Account (FSA) Money:

Time is running out to spend down the balance in you FSA plan. The IRS allows you to carry over $500 into next year. Anything above and beyond this amount will be lost. You have until December 31st to submit all claims.

6.  Make Charitable Contributions:

All charitable contributions must be made prior to December 31st to be taken as a deduction on this year’s tax return. If you do intend to make gifts, this should be considered along with a review of your portfolio as you may have highly appreciated stock that can be used for additional leverage on your gift. If you do intend to make a gift for 2018, we encourage you to do so by December 1st.

7.  Complete Annual Exclusion Gifts:

In 2018, you can gift $15,000 person ($30,000 per couple, if the election is made to split gifts) to any individual. You should continue to use this annual exemption to help transfer assets and reduce your taxable estate. Please keep in mind contributions to 529 plans are considered gifts as are premiums paid on life insurance policies owned in an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust. The current lifetime gift exemption is $11,200,000 in 2018 (double from that in 2017).

8.  Fund 529 Plans:

If you plan to contribute to a 529 account this year, be sure to do so by December 31st to take advantage of annual gift exclusions and to qualify for any state tax deductions on your 2018 taxes. If you pay for college directly to the institution, your payment is not considered a gift and there is no limitation on your contributions. (Please remember contributions to 529 plans are considered gifts)

9.  Review Estate Planning Documents:

Maybe you don’t have an estate plan, then now is a good time to get one in place. Without an estate plan, you and your property may end up in a court-supervised guardianship if you become incapacitated, as well as possibly end up in probate court once you die. Perhaps more concerning, if you don’t have a will, the state where you live at the time of your death could essentially create one for you regardless of your desires. If you do have an estate plan in place, it is a good time to review with your attorney in case anything has changed.

10. Review Beneficiary Designations/Communicate with Beneficiaries:

Year-end is a good time to review and update all of your beneficiary designations for your retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

11. Analyze Taxable Accounts for Tax-Loss Harvesting Opportunities:

There may be opportunities in your portfolio to sell out of a down position to book the tax loss. These losses can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income each year as well as an unlimited amount of capital gains. These losses can also be carried forward to future tax years. When using this strategy, make sure you do not violate the “wash sale” tax rules.

12. Consider Roth IRA Conversion:

Anyone, regardless of income, is now eligible to convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The Roth IRA carries significant income tax advantages for both you and your beneficiaries, especially if the conversion is done with reduced asset levels. Please consult with your accountant to discuss potential taxes that could be owed in the same year as the Roth conversion.

13. Review Income Tax Projections:

Year-end is a good time to meet with your accountant to review projections for the year and determine your expected tax status. Consider the following reasons why you may want to review your tax plan now: your living situation may have changed, you want to start saving money now, you still have time to qualify for 2018 tax deductions and credits. Please be sure to consult with your accountant on this.

14. Request Annual Credit Report:

We recommend that you review a full credit report annually to make sure there are no surprises. You are allowed one free copy of your credit report each year. To request, go to For those of you who have not done so already, you may want to consider signing up for a Credit Monitoring service.

This checklist is just one step in ensuring you on track with your financial goals. It is also important to take this time to meet with your financial adviser for a quarterly/year-end financial plan review.

Need help? I would love to speak with you about your personal financial plan. Please request a consultation!

Financial Spring Cleaning – Shred, Go Paperless, Credit Report, Budget, Insurance, and Beneficiaries

The other day a friend of mine posted that she was doing some “spring cleaning” in the dead-heat of the summer. Here in Arizona, and many places around the country these days, the best time to do some cleaning is when you are forced to “hibernate” due to the unbearable heat.

This got me thinking. What a great time to invest some time into Financial Spring Cleaning. The following is a list of tasks you can easily do during the dead-heat of the summer and help you prepare for a more clutter-free fall.

1.Shred Old Financial Paperwork

It’s important to know what to purge and how long to keep the other stuff

  • Copies of tax returns – it is actually recommended to keep these forever. Perhaps you can scan them or store electronically
  • Supporting tax documents/receipts – IRS says to keep as long as you are subject for audit – 6 years a good rule of thumb
  • Documents to support an insurance claim – inquire with your insurance agent for timeframe

2.Go paperless and back it up

It is my recommendation to ensure all your account statements are accessible online before throwing anything away (i.e. bank statements). Any electronic records you do maintain, ensure you back them up on a separate hard drive or cloud storage. It’s also good to have backups to your backups. You can subscribe to a back-up service that will automatically copy the contents on our computer to a secure cloud storage.

3.Review your credit report

Go to – It has been reported that as much as 70% of your report contains errors. These errors could be negatively impacting your ability to get a low interest rate.

4.Financial Budget

Review your budget and set up automatic bill pay – make sure you include paying yourself first. This is a great time to meet with your financial advisor. A review of your budget and credit report can be a good exercise to ensure you are still on track with meeting your retirement goals.


Inventory all your insurance policies – home, auto, life, long-term care, and disability. Perhaps your home value has increased and your current policy doesn’t support the current value. You should also create a photographic inventory of the items in your house. This is necessary and helpful if you should ever need to file a claim.


Review the beneficiaries on all your accounts and estate planning documents (will, trust). It’s important to review these items to ensure they are consistent, i.e. IRA beneficiary and your will. Make sure your ex-spouse isn’t on your IRA, but your current spouse is identified in your will. Unfortunately, these oversights are seen a lot and can really create unnecessary hardships.


These items may not seem urgent and so it can be easy to procrastinate. However, just as with house spring cleaning the impact of delaying can create a house of chaos and can have significant results. Don’t let that happen to you. Take the dead-heat of summer and organize your financial house.

Need help? I would love to speak with you about your financial spring cleaning. Please request a consultation!

5 Areas to Measure and Check Your Financial Progress

Spring Cleaning? Good Time for a Financial Progress Check

Financial progress and how one measures it can vary between people. And nothing is wrong with that; however, it is important to establish your financial goals and objectives and periodically measure your progress preferably with the assistance of your personal financial advisor. Here are five areas to measure and periodically check:

  1. Net Worth

Keeping track of the growth of your net worth can be a valuable metric as you progress to your goal. Net worth is the total value of your assets minus your liabilities (Assets – Liabilities = Net Worth). Tracking the progress of your net worth shows you the results of reducing your liabilities while you increase your assets.

  1. Savings

It is important to start saving and get in the habit as soon as possible. Maybe you’ve calculated how much you need to save monthly using an online calculator and maybe that number seems too big right now. Not to worry, the point is to start with what you can afford and shoot for the recommended amount to meet your goal. Each year when you do a progress check you can now check to see if it is where it needs to be. Then, see how a 1%, 3% or 5% savings increase could get you closer to your goal.

It is integral to have a retirement savings as well as an emergency fund, which are totally different buckets of money. The recommended amount for an emergency fund is equal to 3 to 6 months’ worth of expenses, but it really depends on your personal lifestyle.

  1. Debt Reduction

Having a large amount of debt can make one feel trapped and not forward moving. For many, financial progress is measured by debt reduction. Being able to pay it down can lead to confidence and a true feeling of financial freedom and success.

There are a number of methods to reduce debt. I subscribe to the debt-snowball method. Simply put, pay the minimum monthly payment for all your debt (excluding your mortgage) with the exception of the one with the smallest balance. Then pay as much as you can on the smallest debt until it is paid in full. Then attack the next smallest balance. As you pay down your debt you will feel a sense of accomplishment.

This method may not work for you, but do not worry. Your financial advisor is a great resource and can help you find the best method for your situation.

  1. Size of Your Portfolio

Many people have a certain number in their minds as to the ideal size of their retirement portfolio. If you are building toward a certain goal, the size of your retirement account can be a great indicator of where you are financially.

Ongoing contributions and ensuring the right diversification of investments helps to balance risk, while giving your money a chance to grow. Periodic reviews with your financial advisor is a good way to check in on your investments to see how you’re doing, and whether anything needs adjusting.

  1. Comparing Yourself to Others

Behavioral finance confirms that one of the age-old measures of financial progress is how you compare, in terms of possessions, to people you know. While I do not recommend this method– in fact, I caution you as this could be the road to unhappiness and a possible goal shortfall — I do recognize it is difficult not to look at what others have (or appear to have) and use it as a measure of success.


If you haven’t already: meet with your financial advisor, take a few minutes to think about what defines financial progress for you, and establish your financial goals and objectives. Once you have a better idea of what financial progress means to you, you can begin to prioritize what you do with your money, helping you to see progress toward your desired financial future.

Organize, Plan, and Get on a Consistent Schedule with a Family Budget

Are you ruled by the academic school calendar? Do you live by the football calendar? Maybe you begin planning your next year’s budget when the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back on the menu.

Whatever it is that motivates you to organize, plan, and get on a consistent schedule, I want to challenge you to include creating a BUDGET. Understanding where your money is going and where you would like it to go in the future is the beginning of empowering you and your money.

Following a budget helps you proactively save, spend, and grow your money. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of their monthly spending habits and may actually feel they are spending too much. Some are pleasantly surprised to find that they have more money in their budget allowing for increased savings. So, the first task I ask my new clients is to spend the time to create their budget.

Two things happen when clients create a budget:

1.First, most people find areas in which they are overspending and immediately make adjustments resulting in savings.

2.Second, they have more clarity about their financial situation.

Sometimes during this process I see the “deer in the headlights” look and the “stop” statement: “I don’t know how to create a budget.” Your budget does not have to be perfect and it does not have to track every penny. The best plan is the one you will stick to on a consistent basis.

Budget tools

With today’s technology, there are a number of budgeting tools that can help automate the process. Your bank or credit union usually offers a budget tracker and of course I offer a simple Monthly Budget spreadsheet that can easily be adjusted to meet your needs. I even support the old school pen and paper method as long as it works for you. Whatever you use, the important point is that you DO IT.

Yes, creating a budget may require some work and effort, but the benefits can have long-term life-enhancing effects. A few of those benefits are:

  • Control over your money
  • Focus on your financial goals and objectives
  • Awareness of where your money is spent
  • Organization of your spending, saving and investing
  • Proactive investment, spending decisions
  • Plan for unexpected costs

Keep in mind a budget won’t really save you from bad spending habits. But, it will give you a goal and plan to keep you focused. Financial knowledge is not about prevention, but instead about empowerment. The more you understand your personal finances, the more opportunity you have to make smart and effective money decisions.