If you are having trouble paying your debts, it is important to take action sooner rather than later. Doing nothing leads to much larger problems in the future, whether it’s a bad credit record or bankruptcy resulting in the loss of assets and even your home. If you’re in financial trouble here are some steps to take to avoid financial ruin in the future.

If you’ve accumulated a large amount of debt and are having difficulty paying your bills each month, now is the time to take action–before the bill collectors start calling.

1. Review each debt. Make sure that the debt creditors claim you owe is really what you owe and that the amount is correct. If you dispute a debt, first contact the creditor directly to resolve your questions. If you still have questions about the debt, contact your state or local consumer protection office or, in cases of serious creditor abuse, your state Attorney General.

2. Contact your creditors. Let your creditors know you are having difficulty making your payments. Tell them why you are having trouble-perhaps it is because you recently lost your job or have unexpected medical bills. Try to work out an acceptable payment schedule with your creditors. Most are willing to work with you and will appreciate your honesty and forthrightness.

Tip: Most automobile financing agreements permit your creditor to repossess your car any time you are in default, with no advance notice. If your car is repossessed you may have to pay the full balance due on the loan, as well as towing and storage costs, to get it back. Do not wait until you are in default. Try to solve the problem with your creditor when you realize you will not be able to meet your payments. It may be better to sell the car yourself and pay off your debt than to incur the added costs of repossession.

3. Budget your expenses. Create a spending plan that allows you to reduce your debts. Itemize your necessary expenses (such as housing and health care) and optional expenses (such as entertainment and vacation travel). Stick to the plan.

4. Try to reduce your expenses. Cut out any unnecessary spending such as eating out and purchasing expensive entertainment. Consider taking public transportation or using a car sharing service rather than owning a car. Clip coupons, purchase generic products at the supermarket and avoid impulse purchases. Above all, stop incurring new debt. Leave your credit cards at home. Pay for all purchases in cash or use a debit card instead of a credit card.

5. Pay down and consolidate your debts. Withdrawing savings from low-interest accounts to settle high-rate loans or credit card debt usually makes sense. In addition, there are a number of ways to pay off high-interest loans, such as credit cards, by getting a refinancing or consolidation loan, such as a second mortgage.

Tip: Selling off a second car not only provides cash but also reduces insurance and other maintenance expenses.

Caution: Be wary of any loan consolidations or other refinancing that actually increase interest owed, or require payments of points or large fees.

Caution: Second mortgages greatly increase the risk that you may lose your home.

You can regain financial health if you act responsibly. But don’t wait until bankruptcy court is your only option. If you’re having financial troubles, don’t hesitate to call us. We can help you get back on your feet.

Read More


While in the mode of holiday shopping, consider these 3 tax-smart purchases.

Make Charitable Contributions

Consider making charitable contributions before year-end both to obtain the maximum tax deduction and to fulfill any charitable programs or commitments you may have established for the year.

Pay Tax-Deductible Expenses

Consider paying tax-deductible expenses prior to year-end. Some common examples are real estate taxes, quarterly state or local income taxes, investment-related expenses, and dues. These must be paid by December 31 to obtain a deduction this year. Please call us if you’d like to discuss these deductions further.

Buy a New Car

If you need a new car, now is a great time to purchase or lease one. Frequently, dealers are anxious to clear out last year’s inventory prior to year-end. In making your choice, consider the federal tax (and occasional state tax) advantages for buying fuel-efficient vehicles such as plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

Evaluate Your Spending Plan

If you’re one of the rare few who are disciplined enough to create and hold yourself to a budget, December is a great time to evaluate how close your spending went compared to plan for the year. You’ll learn lessons from the areas you overspent that will help you create an even better plan for 2013.

For the rest of us mere mortals, recalculate your net worth. Compare it to the value at the beginning of the year. How did you do?

Read More


The purpose of life insurance is to provide a source of income, in case of death, for your children, dependents, or other beneficiaries. Life insurance can also serve certain estate planning purposes, which we won’t go into here.

Buying life insurance is contingent upon whether anyone is depending on your income after your death. If you have a spouse, child, parent, or some other individual who depends on your income, then you probably need life insurance.

Because life insurance protects your family in the event of a death, it is important to determine the correct amount. Most people do not have the right amount of insurance.

There are two basic types of life insurance: term and permanent. Term insurance is insurance that covers a specified period. If you die within this time frame, your beneficiary receives the insurance benefit. Term policy premiums usually increase with age.

Permanent insurance such as universal life, variable life, and whole life, contains a cash value account or an investment element to the insurance.

Rules of Thumb

The younger your children, the more insurance you need. If both spouses earn income, then both spouses should be insured, with insurance amounts proportionate to salary amounts.

Tip: If the family cannot afford to insure both wage earners, the primary wage earner should be insured first, and the secondary wage earner should be insured later on. A less expensive term policy might be used to fill an insurance gap.

If one spouse does not work outside the home, insurance should be purchased to cover the absence of the services being provided by that spouse (child care, housekeeping, bookkeeping, etc.). However, if funds are limited, insurance on the non-wage earner should be secondary to insurance for the wage earner.

If there are no dependents and your spouse could live comfortably without your income, then you will still need life insurance, but you will need less than someone who has dependents.

Tip: At a minimum, you will want to provide for burial expenses and paying off your debts.

If your spouse would undergo financial hardship without your income, or if you do not have adequate savings, you may need to purchase more insurance. The amount of insurance you need depends on your salary level and that of your spouse, the amount of savings you have, and the amount of debt you both have.

If you need help figuring out the correct amount of life insurance you need, then give us a call. We’re happy to help.

Read More


Millions of Americans forfeit critical tax relief each year by failing to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal tax credit for low-to-moderate-income individuals who work. Taxpayers who qualify and claim the credit could owe less federal tax, owe no tax, or even receive a refund.

The EITC is based on the amount of your earned income and whether or not there are qualifying children in your household. If you have children, they must meet the relationship, age, and residency requirements. Additionally, you must be a US citizen, have a valid social security card, and file a tax return to claim the credit.

General requirements: If you were employed for at least part of 2012 and are at least age 25, but under age 65, and are not a dependent of anyone else you may be eligible for the EITC based on these general requirements:

  • You earned less than $13,980 ($19,190 married filing jointly) and did not have any qualifying children.
  • You earned less than $36,920 ($42,130 married filing jointly) and have one qualifying child.
  • You earned less than $41,952 ($47,162 married filing jointly) with two or more qualifying children.
  • You earned less than $45,060 ($50,270 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children.

Tax Year 2012 Maximum Credit

  • $5,891 with three or more qualifying children
  • $5,236 with two or more qualifying children
  • $3,169 with one qualifying child
  • $475 with no qualifying children

Investment income must be $3,200 or less for the year.

If you think you qualify for the EITC but aren’t sure, call our office.

Read More


Being in debt isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Between mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and student loans, most people are in debt. Being debt-free is a worthwhile goal, but most people need to focus on managing their debt first since it’s likely to be there for most of your life.

Handled wisely, that debt won’t be an albatross around your neck. You don’t need to shell out your hard-earned money because of exorbitant interest rates or always feel like you’re on the verge of bankruptcy. You can pay off debt the smart way, while at the same time saving money to pay it off faster.

Assess the Situation

First, assess the depth of your debt. Write it down, using pencil and paper, a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, or a bookkeeping program like Quicken. Include every financial situation where a company has given you something in advance of payment, including your mortgage, car payment(s), credit cards, tax liens, student loans, and payments on electronics or other household items through a store.

Record the day the debt began and when it will end (if possible), the interest rate you’re paying, and what your payments typically are. Add it all up, painful as that might be. Try not to be discouraged! Remember, you’re going to break this down into manageable chunks while finding extra money to help pay it down.

Identify High-Cost Debt

Yes, some debts are more expensive than others. Unless you’re getting payday loans (which you shouldn’t be), the worst offenders are probably your credit cards. Here’s how to deal with them.

  • Don’t use them. Don’t cut them up, but put them in a drawer and only access them in an emergency.
  • Identify the card with the highest interest and pay off as much as you can every month. Pay minimums on the others. When that one’s paid off, work on the card with the next highest rate.
  • Don’t close existing cards or open any new ones. It won’t help your credit rating.
  • Pay on time, absolutely every time. One late payment these days can lower your FICO score.
  • Go over your credit-card statements with a fine-tooth comb. Are you still being charged for that travel club you’ve never used? Look for line items you don’t need.
  • Call your credit card companies and ask them nicely if they would lower your interest rates. It does work sometimes!

Save, Save, Save

Do whatever you can to retire debt. Consider taking a second job and using that income only for higher payments on your financial obligations. Substitute free family activities for high-cost ones. Sell high-value items that you can live without.

Do Away with Unnecessary Items to Reduce Debt Load

Do you really need the 800-channel cable option or that dish on your roof? You’ll be surprised at what you don’t miss. How about magazine subscriptions? They’re not terribly expensive, but every penny counts. It’s nice to have a library of books, but consider visiting the public library or half-price bookstores until your debt is under control.

Never, Ever Miss a Payment

Not only are you retiring debt, but you’re also building a stellar credit rating. If you ever move or buy another car, you’ll want to get the lowest rate possible. A blemish-free payment record will help with that. Besides, credit card companies can be quick to raise interest rates because of one late payment. A completely missed one is even more serious.

Pay With Cash

To avoid increasing debt load, make it a habit to pay with cash. If you don’t have the cash for it, you probably don’t need it. You’ll feel better about what you do have if you know it’s owned free and clear.

Shop Wisely, and Use the Savings to Pay Down Your Debt

If your family is large enough to warrant it, invest $30 or $40 and join a store like Sam’s or Costco. And use it. Shop there first, then at the grocery store. Change brands if you have to and swallow your pride. Use coupons religiously. Calculate the money you’re saving and slap it on your debt.

Each of these steps, taken alone, probably doesn’t seem like much. But if you adopt as many as you can, you’ll watch your debt decrease every month. If you need help managing debt give us a call. We can help.

Read More