Chartered Special Needs Consultant®, ChSNC® Designation

Authored by Stephen LaFrance, CFP®, MBA

When I embarked on my career change in 2007 to become a financial planner, I did so to help make a real difference in the lives of people who worked with me.  I’ve learned along the way that financial planning can be deeply personal, emotional, and complex when you consider variables such as investments, retirement plans, family dynamics, estate planning, college goals, career path, budgeting, debts, taxes, healthcare, insurance, and so forth.  This requires a dedicated commitment to lifelong professional learning which led me to complete the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification in 2013.  The curriculum for the CFP® has proven to be invaluable in my pursuit to provide comprehensive planning for most clients, except for some uniquely challenging situations; families caring for a person with special needs.

According to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. have some type of disability and 7% of children have a developmental disability.  This includes several of my clients and personal friends, so I became determined to learn how to help these families thrive by completing the Chartered Special Needs Consultant® (ChSNC®) designation in 2019.  This provided me the strategies and knowledge necessary to elevate my understanding of what it means to live with special needs so I can fully address their concerns, hopes, and goals.  Fewer than 250 advisors have attained this certification and here are some of the critical topics emphasized in the course:

  • Disability law
  • Life insurance
  • Healthcare issues
  • Special needs trusts
  • The ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014)
  • Government benefits
  • Social Security
  • Medicaid complexities
  • Special education
  • Estate planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Tax deductions

Planning for families with special needs requires detailed attention yet, from my experience, many have a hard time “thinking past Friday”.  They need a trusted advisor to help provide a road map for how to work with attorneys who specialize in this field, navigate government benefits, set up ALBE accounts, consider special needs trusts, and plan for the long-term care and financial support of their children who may never be capable of living an autonomous life.  It is my objective to be this advisor and help lift some of the weight of worry and anxiety off their shoulders.

There is no product which accomplishes this; it is a process and one that my team and I can help navigate with clarity, insight and guidance.

Engage with the entire Blakely Financial team at WWW.BLAKELYFINANCIAL.COM to see what other expert advice we can provide towards your financial well-being.

STEPHEN LAFRANCE, CFP®,MBA is a financial advisor with BLAKELY FINANCIAL, INC. located at 1022 Hutton Ln., Suite 109, High Point, NC 27262.

Blakely Financial, Inc. is an independent financial planning and investment management firm that provides clarity, insight, and guidance to help our clients attain their financial goals.

Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser.

Required Minimum Distribution Rule Changes for 2020

Presented by Will Armfield AAMS®, AIF®, CRPC®

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, includes multiple provisions of economic relief for individuals and businesses alike which are well covered by the media at large.  We’re happy to discuss any questions you may have about these payments, unemployment benefits, changes to retirement fund rules, etc., however we would like to call special attention to the time-sensitive changes towards Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs).

The bill states that defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)’s, 403(b)’s, 457(b)’s and IRAs, including inherited IRAs, may suspend RMDs in 2020.  These qualified retirement plans and accounts are typically funded with tax-deferred dollars which are taxed upon distribution.  Owners have always been required to begin these taxable distributions by age 70 ½, recently changed to age 72 once the SECURE Act passed in late-2019, even if the income was not needed.  The CARES Act suspends this requirement for the 2020 tax year.

Depending on your personal circumstances, you may choose to consider this option to both save the corresponding taxes and allow your portfolio an opportunity to remain invested an extra year to recover from recent volatility.  There are also numerous reasons to maintain your required distributions such as the need for income, long-term tax strategy, or charitable giving.

If you have already taken your 2020 RMD, you can either include it in your gross income for 2020 and pay the ordinary taxes as usual or, if it was withdrawn within the last 60 days, return the full distribution including taxes withheld and effectively undo the transaction.

The CARES Act was designed to provide some relief for those struggling, emotionally, physically and economically due to the coronavirus.  By suspending RMDs, people are given more control over their investments and the strategic timing of taxable distributions during this stressful period.

As always, we at Blakely Financial recommend always speaking to your financial advisor and your tax professional when navigating the waters of your financial life.

Engage with the entire Blakely Financial team at WWW.BLAKELYFINANCIAL.COM to see what other expert advice we can provide towards your financial well-being.

WILL ARMFIELD is a financial advisor with BLAKELY FINANCIAL, INC. located at 1022 Hutton Ln., Suite 109, High Point, NC 27262 and can be reached at (336) 885-2530.

Blakely Financial, Inc. is an independent financial planning and investment management firm that provides clarity, insight, and guidance to help our clients attain their financial goals.

Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser.

 

Sources:

Commonwealth Financial Network®
CARES Act Drastically Changes Required Minimum Distribution Rules for 2020 – Forbes
CARES Act Waives Required Minimum Distributions from Retirement Accounts for 2020, AARP.org

Staying Calm & Managing Stress

Presented by Donna Blakely AAMS®, MBA

For those of you that know me well, you know that when I am not in control of situations, I tend to be a little hyper, stressed and anxious. I can hear my real good friends asking, “a little?” Seriously, as I have gotten older, I have tried to focus on things that I can control and things that help me deal with that unexpected stress.

During a public crisis, such as the health pandemic we’re currently experiencing, heightened feelings of stress and anxiety are normal. But, if left unchecked, stress and anxiety can lead to many health problems. That’s why, in times like these, we need to place a priority on reducing our stress. Fortunately, there are small things we can do every day that can relieve anxiety and bring us greater peace of mind.

To help you cope with the current challenges and uncertainties, I would like to share some tips for managing stress that I have tried. By focusing on these few small changes, you could be helping yourself stay healthy—in mind and body.

Stay Social Through Technology

To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, we are all adhering to the social distancing guidelines set by the federal government and the Centers for Disease Control. But, with the amazing technology available today, we don’t have to be face to face to connect with our family, friends, and work colleagues. Make a point of reaching out to them regularly via phone, videoconference, or social media. They’re probably feeling isolated and stressed, too, so they will likely be delighted to hear from you. As appropriate, it’s a good idea to share how you are coping with your emotions. It is not healthy to hold everything inside.

Mind Your Media Usage and Look for Positive Distractions

Staying social through technology does not mean scrolling through social media for hours or glued to hours of the news. There is no doubt you will be inundated with stories of gloom and doom. Some media outlets tend to sensationalize stories to attract a larger audience. This can cause unnecessary alarm. If you feel you must check the headlines, try visiting the websites of more trusted sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization. They will have the most up-to-date news on the coronavirus, along with tips to protect yourself.

It’s also good to find positive distractions, like watching an upbeat movie or listening to your favorite music. Online shopping can be fun but remember to stay within your budget!

Enjoy the Benefits of Exercise

When a crisis disrupts your routine, it is a good time to try something new. During a health pandemic, social distancing guidelines recommend limiting your contact with others. So, if going to a gym or mall walking (or any other indoor activity) is your regular workout, you may wish to change things up. Why not take advantage of the great outdoors with its wonderful fresh air and sunlight? A good way to get started is simply to take a 15- to 20-minute walk a few times a week. Look around at the beauty as mother nature begins to wake up from a long winter. Taking a walk at lunch or some other time during the workday gives you a healthy break from stressful responsibilities or news alerts. Even if your job or family responsibilities are demanding, you won’t be doing anyone (least of all yourself) any favors by skipping exercise. If you don’t have a regular exercise routine, however, it’s wise to start slow and easy with something your doctor would approve of.

Stick to Regular Mealtimes and Healthy Snacks

Nutritionists recommend we eat a variety of foods, especially whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. If you normally have good dietary habits, don’t fall victim to skipping meals or breaking your own snacking rules now. If you tend to eat less healthfully, it may be difficult to make a major change at this time. Try focusing on one or two steps you can take to improve your diet and encourage friends and loved ones to do the same.

Be Sure to Get Enough Sleep

Have you ever noticed how things seem nowhere near as bad the next morning as they do if you dwell on them at night when you can’t sleep? Lack of sleep affects our health, mood, and ability to focus—all factors we need to keep in the best possible condition right now. Make a serious effort to get a good night’s rest—which means no jumping out of bed at 2:00 a.m. to check your email. If you aren’t getting the deep sleep you are used to, do what you can to at least make some time to relax and completely disconnect.

Remember to Take Deep Breaths

The internet is a treasure trove of instructions on how to improve your breathing—especially when you’re stressed. Lotus position, diaphragm awareness, pranayamas, counting while inhaling and exhaling . . . who knew breathing was so complex? While all these instructions can be useful, you likely are not in a position to learn deep-breathing techniques right away. For now, simply being aware that stress tends to make us breathe more shallowly may help us to reverse the tendency. Taking just a few deep breaths three or four times during the day may be the best thing you can do right now. And you’re likely to feel better immediately.

Make Small Changes, Enjoy the Benefits!

With all of the advice above, remember to use good judgment. If you have doubts about making any changes or have any health concerns, contact your doctor or another health professional. But the tips for stress management discussed above touch on factors within your control. By making small changes, you may find that your mind and body thanks you. I found these tips help me deal with my stress and by trying some of these, you may be better prepared to cope with the challenges of this, or another disruption in your normal day-to-day.

Engage with the entire Blakely Financial team at WWW.BLAKELYFINANCIAL.COM to see what other expert advice we can provide towards your financial well-being.

DONNA BLAKELY is the Director of Operations at BLAKELY FINANCIAL, INC. located at 1022 Hutton Ln., Suite 109, High Point, NC 27262 and can be reached at (336) 885-2530.

Blakely Financial, Inc. is an independent financial planning and investment management firm that provides clarity, insight, and guidance to help our clients attain their financial goals.

Securities offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser.

*Prepared by Commonwealth Financial Network

Resources For You

Many of you may be trying to practice social distancing and find yourself spending more time at home and with your families. We have put together a list of resources that you may find useful during this time. We have included tips for working from home and some for helping with the educational process of your children while they are home. Others will help you get that take-out delivered straight to your door as we try to support our local restaurants. We have included grocery store chains that will deliver or offer curb-side pick-up.

No matter what your situation is at this time, we are hopeful that you are doing well and these resources will be of benefit to you.

We appreciate your trust and confidence and continue to be here if you need us.

Take care, stay healthy and be safe.

 

Grocery Delivery Services:

 

Food Delivery Services:

 

Tips for Working at Home:

 

Ideas and Free Educational Materials for Kids at Home:

 

Exercise:

 

CDC’s Official Website for COVID-19 Updates:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

State of Arkansas’ Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://humanservices.arkansas.gov/resources/response-covid-19

State of California’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/ncov2019.aspx

State of Colorado’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://covid19.colorado.gov/

State of Delaware’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://coronavirus.delaware.gov/

State of Florida’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/

State of Georgia’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus

State of Illinois’ Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=123118

State of Iowa’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://dhs.iowa.gov/COVID19

State of Maryland’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/

State of Michigan’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus

State of Mississippi’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/14,0,420.html

State of Nevada’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://nvhealthresponse.nv.gov/

State of New Hampshire’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.nh.gov/covid19/

State of New Jersey’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://nj.gov/humanservices/coronavirus.html

State of New York’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home

State of North Carolina’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-response-north-carolina

State of Ohio’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/covid-19/

State of Oklahoma’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.ourokdhs.org/s/dhs-feed

State of Pennsylvania’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.dhs.pa.gov/providers/Providers/Pages/Coronavirus-2020.aspx

State of South Carolina’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://msp.scdhhs.gov/covid19/

State of South Dakota’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://doh.sd.gov/news/coronavirus.aspx

State of Texas’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/

State of Virginia’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

State of Washington’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.dshs.wa.gov/alert/covid-19-information

State of West Virginia’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19/Pages/default.aspx

State of Wisconsin’s Official COVID-19 Webpage:

https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/index.htm

Invest Like A Woman

Presented by EMILY PROMISE, AIF®, APMA®, CRPC®

As women, we have financial needs that are unique to our situation in life. Perhaps you would like to purchase your first home. Maybe you need to start saving for your child’s education. You might be contemplating opening your own business. Or you might be concerned about planning your retirement. Whatever your circumstances, it is important to have a clear understanding of your overall financial position.

This means constructing and implementing a plan. With a comprehensive financial plan in place, you will be able to better focus on your financial goals and understand what it will take to reach them.

At Blakely Financial, we believe that there are three main steps in creating and implementing an effective financial plan and they include:

  1. Developing a clear picture of your current financial situation
  2. Setting and prioritizing financial goals and time frames
  3. Implementing appropriate saving and investment strategies

 

  1. DEVELOP A CLEAR PICTURE

To begin, develop a clear picture of your current financial situation. Consider establishing a budget or spending plan. To develop that budget, you will need to identify your current monthly income and expenses. Start by adding all your income including regular salary and wages, dividends, interest and child support.

Next add up all your expenses. You can divide your expenses into fixed and discretionary.

  • Fixed expenses are things that are necessities, such as housing, food, transportation, etc.
  • Discretionary expenses are things like entertainment, vacations and hobbies.

To help stay on track with your budget, get into the habit of saving. Make it part of your daily routine. Build an occasional reward into your budget – we all need that something special, don’t we? Examine your budget and adjust it as needed.

  1. PRIORITIZING FINANCIAL GOALS

The second step in creating your financial plan is to set and prioritize financial goals. Start out by making a list of things you would like to achieve. Divide it into short and long-term goals.

  • Short term goals may include making sure you have a cash reserve if you are paying off a high-interest credit card debt.
  • Long term goals include purchasing a home, retiring early, saving for your child’s education.

Once you establish these goals, you will need to prioritize them.

  1. IMPLEMENT SAVINGS & INVESTMENT STRATEGIES

After you have determined your financial goals, you will want to know how much it will take to fund each goal. Look at your time horizon, your financial tolerance to investment risk, and your liquidity needs.

It is important to manage your debt as well as credit and avoid the financial pitfalls that can go hand in hand with borrowing. Identify exactly how much you owe then develop a short-term plan to manage your payments and avoid late fees. Think about optimizing your repayments by paying off high-interest debt first.

Understand the information contained in your credit report. Review your report regularly. You can access it annually for a free copy at www.annualcreditreport.com.

We are all busy and sometimes it is hard to find the time to do it all on your own. Consider working with a financial advisor to assist you in creating and implementing your financial plan. A financial professional can help you:

  • Determine the state of your current affairs by a full review of your income, assets and liabilities
  • Develop a plan and help identify your financial goals
  • Make recommendations about specific products or services unique to your current situation
  • Monitor your plan
  • Adjust your plan as needed

In my experience, I have seen women that develop a plan, identify their goals and work towards those goals achieve much more success than those who don’t. Take time now to be good to yourself and you will definitely reap the rewards in the future.

Engage with the entire Blakely Financial team at WWW.BLAKELYFINANCIAL.COM to see what other expert advice we can provide towards your financial well-being.

EMILY PROMISE is a financial advisor with BLAKELY FINANCIAL, INC. located at 1022 Hutton Ln., Suite 109, High Point, NC 27262 and can be reached at (336) 885-2530.

Blakely Financial, Inc. is an independent financial planning and investment management firm that provides clarity, insight, and guidance to help our clients attain their financial goals.

Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser.

*Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions

 

Finding Perspective Amid Coronavirus Concerns

Presented by Blakely Financial Advisory Team

We recently saw one of the worst weeks in history for the stock market, followed by the best single-day rally for the Dow Jones Industrial Average in anticipation of a rate cut from the Federal Reserve (Fed). With such volatility all but assured until the coronavirus appears to be under control, it’s understandable to fear that we’re on the road to another financial crisis. What can investors do to protect themselves? To answer this question, we first need to assess what is really happening—and what isn’t.

Focus on the Fundamentals

Let’s start with the fundamentals. What’s driving this pullback is fear—specifically, fear of the coronavirus. The most visceral fear is that this virus will be another Spanish flu, killing millions around the globe. Even for those who don’t expect the damage to be quite that bad, there is worry that the spread of the virus will disrupt economies, slowing growth for several quarters at least or possibly indefinitely and, consequently, taking stock markets down. These fears are what have caused markets to plummet.

Putting the Fear in Context

To understand where we are going, then, we must put that fear into context. If the worst fears are true, we should see virus cases exploding around the world. In fact, we aren’t. In China, where the epidemic is most advanced, new cases have leveled off—the containment measures seem to be working. Elsewhere in the world, new cases are still rising. Even there, however, the rate of increase is nowhere near what was initially seen in China and seems to be leveling off. Further, the number of recoveries is rising. This means that even though there has been an increase in total cases, the number of sick patients is declining.

In other words, the worst fears—of an exploding number of infections around the world leading to millions of deaths—simply are not coming true.

Economic Damage Is Real

The same cannot be said for the economic disruption. The Chinese policy of mass lock-downs and quarantines has hit economic activity quite sharply, and the recovery from that hit has been slower than expected. South Korea has seen the same consequences. As these two countries are major exporters and critical components of many supply chains, that slowdown alone will be disruptive. Even as these countries get the epidemic under control and get back to work, the economic effects will linger for months. This damage is already assured.

We can also potentially expect to see the same economic damage in other countries. Several have shut down their school systems or cancelled public events. Airlines here in the U.S. have waived fees for trips postponed or cancelled due to the virus. In other words, the effects of the virus will cause a similar slowdown in spending and growth around the world, and this slowdown is already happening. The economic damage is real and growing, even as the health risk seems to be moderating.

This is where we are now. The first phase of the epidemic, in China, has peaked and is now declining. Signs are that the second wave, in countries around the world, will follow a similar course. There is currently economic damage, and there will be more. But absent an acceleration in the infection rates, the damage looks likely to be contained to this quarter and perhaps next.

What Are the Markets Telling Us?

Given all of these factors, a market reaction was both reasonable and expected. What was surprising, though, was the speed and magnitude of that reaction. What are markets telling us? On the surface, it seems they are saying that things are considerably worse than what the infection rates and damage so far indicate. Are the markets right?

Based on history, probably not. The decline of about 15 percent from the peak is in line with what happened in 2015–2016 with the Zika virus, when we saw a 12.9 percent decline. The SARS virus, in 2003, took the S&P 500 down 12.8 percent. In both cases, the market reacted with fear to what might happen and did so quickly, just as we are seeing now. In both cases, however, the actual result was not nearly as bad as feared, and markets rebounded, which we’ve also seen.

The economic and market damage is real, but we will see policy responses designed to alleviate the damage. The first of such responses was the 0.50 percent rate cut the Fed instituted on Tuesday, March 3. We will likely see additional moves, if the situation continues to worsen, which should help support markets and dampen volatility going forward.

Certainly, current conditions are worrisome, and they might well get worse. There is no timetable for the end of the epidemic. It might last a while. We will, however, ultimately see an end, and the data suggests it might not be far off. At that point, we will also see a subsequent normalization of the markets, just as we did with Zika and SARS. Any action we consider should take that information into account.

Important Reminders for Investors

As investors, we also need to consider two final points. First, even though stock markets are down from the peak, bond markets are up. For a diversified portfolio, the decline is material, but it’s not nearly as bad as the indices themselves. Events like this are the reason we diversified in the first place.

Second, unless you need the money immediately, a drop (even a big one) and then recovery are just part of the normal ebb and flow of markets. We have seen this pattern many times before, most recently at the end of 2018. Of course, market declines are always a surprise and always scary. Over time, however, the fundamentals reassert themselves, and growth resumes.

As we look at the data, we need to think back to the sharp market drop in 2018 and the subsequent recovery. We need to remember the Zika virus pullback and the subsequent recovery. We need to remember that market pullbacks are normal, even ones that are big and fast. And we need to remember that we made it through all of those and many more. We will make it through this.

Engage with the entire Blakely Financial team at WWW.BLAKELYFINANCIAL.COM to see what other expert advice we can provide towards your financial well-being.

BLAKELY FINANCIAL, INC. located at 1022 Hutton Ln., Suite 109, High Point, NC 27262.

Blakely Financial, Inc. is an independent financial planning and investment management firm that provides clarity, insight, and guidance to help our clients attain their financial goals.

Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser.

© 2020 Commonwealth Financial Network®

Money Lessons for Women Millennials

Presented by Emily Promise, AIF®, APMA®, CRPC®

Being a woman who is in her 20s, I personally have been introduced to the realities of adulthood and I am sure you can relate if you are around that 20-30 year old mark. While you’re excited by all the opportunities life has to offer, you are also aware of your emerging financial responsibility. In the financial realm, the millennial generation (young adults born between 1981 and 1997) faces a unique set of challenges, including a competitive job market and significant student loan debt that can make it difficult to obtain financial stability.

At Blakely Financial, we have seen poor money management lead to debt, stress, and dependency on others. Fortunately, good money management skills can make it easier for you to accomplish your personal goals. Become familiar with the basics of planning now, and your future self will thank you for being responsible.

Figure out your financial goals

I have found that setting goals is an important part of life, particularly when it comes to your finances. Over time, your goals will probably change, which will likely require you to make some adjustments. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are my short-term goals (e.g., new car, vacation)?
  • What are my intermediate-term goals (e.g., buying a home)?
  • What are my long-term goals (e.g., saving for your child’s college education, retirement)?
  • How important is it for me to achieve each goal?
  • How much will I need to save for each goal?

Once you have a clear picture of your goals, you can establish a budget that will help you target them.

Build a budget

A budget helps you stay on track with your finances. There are several steps you’ll need to take to establish a budget. Start by identifying your current monthly income and expenses. This is easier than it sounds: Simply add up all of your sources of income. Do the same thing with your expenses, making sure to include discretionary expenses (e.g., entertainment, travel, hobbies) as well as fixed expenses (e.g., housing, food, utilities, transportation).

Compare the totals. Are you spending more than you earn? This means you’ll need to make some adjustments to get back on track. Look at your discretionary expenses to identify where you can scale back your spending. It might take some time and self-discipline to get your budget where it needs to be, but you’ll develop healthy financial habits along the way.

On the other hand, you may discover that you have extra money that you can put toward savings. Pay yourself first by adding to your retirement account or emergency fund. Building up your savings using extra income can help ensure that you accomplish your financial goals over the long term.

Establish an emergency fund

In my work with Blakely Financial, one of the biggest mistakes is not having an emergency fund. It’s an unpleasant thought, but a financial crisis could strike when you least expect it, so you’ll want to be prepared. Protect yourself by setting up a cash reserve so you have funds available in the event you’re confronted with an unexpected expense. Otherwise you may need to use money that you have earmarked for another purpose–such as a down payment on a home–or go into debt.

You may be familiar with advice that you should have three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your cash reserve. In reality, though, the amount you should save depends on your particular circumstances. Consider factors like job security, health, income, and debts owed when deciding how much money should be in your cash reserve.

A good way to accumulate emergency funds is to earmark a percentage of your paycheck each pay period. When you reach your goal, don’t stop adding money–the more you have saved, the better off you’ll be.

Review your cash reserve either annually or when your financial situation changes. Major milestones like a new baby or homeownership will likely require some adjustments.

Be careful with credit cards

Getting my first credit card was so exciting! Credit cards can be useful in helping you monitor how much you spend, but they can also lead you to spend more than you can afford. Before accepting a credit card offer, evaluate it carefully by doing the following:

  • Read the terms and conditions closely
  • Know what the interest rate is and how it is calculated
  • Understand hidden fees such as late-payment charges and over-limit fees
  • Look for rewards and/or incentive programs that will be most beneficial to you

Contact the credit card issuer if you have questions about the language used in an offer. And if you are trying to decide between two or more credit card offers, be sure to evaluate them to determine which will work best for you.

Bear in mind that your credit card use affects your credit score. Avoid overspending by setting a balance that you’re able to pay off fully each month. That way, you can safely build credit while being financially responsible. Take into account that missed payments of any sort can cause your credit score to suffer. In turn, this could make it more difficult and expensive to borrow money later.

Deal with your existing debt

At this stage in your life, you might be dealing with student loan debt and wondering how you can pay it off. Fortunately, there are many repayment plans that make it easier to pay off student loans. Check to see whether you qualify for income-sensitive repayment options or Income-Based Repayment. Even if you’re not eligible, you may be able to refinance or consolidate your loans to make the repayment schedule easier on your budget. Explore all your options to find out what works best for you.

Beware of new borrowing

You’re doing your best to pay off your existing debt, but you might find that you need to borrow more (for example, for graduate school or a car). Think carefully before you borrow.

Ask yourself the following questions before you do:

  • Is this purchase necessary?
  • Have you comparison-shopped to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal?
  • How much will this loan or line of credit cost over time?
  • Can you afford to add another monthly payment to your budget?
  • Will the interest rate change if you miss a payment?
  • Are your personal finances in good shape at this time, or should you wait to borrow until you’ve paid off pre-existing debt?

Weigh your pre-existing debt against your need to borrow more and determine whether this is a wise decision at this particular point in your life.

Take advantage of technology

If you are in your 20s or 30s like me, you have had access to technology at a young age and this is one major advantage that benefits millennials, compared with our parents and grandparents when they were starting out. These days, there’s virtually an app or a program for everything, and that includes financial basics. Do your homework and find out which ones could be the most helpful to you. Do you need alerts to remind you to pay bills on time? Do you need help organizing your finances? Are you looking for a program that allows you to examine your bank, credit card, investment, and loan account activities all at once?

Researching different programs can also help with number crunching. Many financial apps offer built-in calculators that simplify tasks that may seem overwhelming, such as breaking down a monthly budget or figuring out a loan repayment plan. Experiment with what you find, and you’ll most likely develop skills and insight that you can use as a starting point for future planning.

Although apps are one way to get started, consider working with a financial professional for a more personalized strategy that can help you analyze your current situation and plan for the future. Be honest with yourself about your goals and your ability to make smart decisions and revisit those goals frequently and continue to increase investments in yourself. You will be so happy you did!

Engage with the entire Blakely Financial team at WWW.BLAKELYFINANCIAL.COM to see what other expert advice we can provide towards your financial well-being.

EMILY PROMISE is a financial advisor with BLAKELY FINANCIAL, INC. located at 1022 Hutton Ln., Suite 109, High Point, NC 27262 and can be reached at (336) 885-2530.

Blakely Financial, Inc. is an independent financial planning and investment management firm that provides clarity, insight, and guidance to help our clients attain their financial goals.

Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser.

*Prepared by Broadridge Advisor Solutions