Steven Knudson quoted in article regarding “6 Ways to Test Your Financial Literacy Today”

Written by: Stephanie Taylor Christensen

Improving your personal finance know-how is a goal worth aspiring to, but with so much to learn, how do you know where you stand when it comes to financial literacy?

Here are six aspects of money management to test your own financial literacy:

Budget basics

While there are plenty of online and mobile app tools that ease the burden of budgeting, your dedication to managing spending, eliminating debt, and saving as much as you can is key. The longer and more consistently you budget, you’ll begin to identify and plan for those red flag financial events like car repairs, vacation expenses, gifts, and medical bills so you don’t have to turn to using high-interest credit cards.

If you have debts, your budgeting plan should also include eliminating them, systemically, based on the interest rate on each loan. (Hint: Pay down the one that costs you the most, first).

Pre “financial crisis,” budgeting was about not overspending. In light of renewed focus on the risks of living paycheck to paycheck, the advice has shifted not to living within your means, but well under them.

In her book “Money Rules,” finance expert Jean Chatzky  says anyone under the age of 35 should aim to save 10% of what they earn. Anyone older who hasn’t saved yet should strive to save 15%. If those numbers aren’t feasible, identify what you can save — even if it’s $10 a month, and start doing it automatically.

doing it automatically.

Saving strategically

Building savings is the hallmark of financial security and is important in financial literacy, and it’s important no matter how much money you make.

Though saving can be as simple as putting money in a savings account, true financial literacy is about saving strategically, and staying current on what savings tools pay you for your business, while costing you nothing.

Search current deposit interest rates on checking, savings, money market accounts and certificates of deposit using a comparative tool like Bankrate.com, and consider only accounts that don’t require an account minimum, or charge fees to access or transfer your money.

If you’re comfortable with online banking, you’ll typically find higher rates than brick and mortar institutions offer.

Although  deposit interest rates have been paltry over the past few years, the idea is to make savings systemic, and consistent. Take advantage of automatic savings plans (also called ASPs), or automatic deduction options that an employer might offer so that a portion of each paycheck goes directly into savings, without giving you the opportunity to miss it.

Understanding fees

Banks got hit hard with regulatory legislation following the 2007 financial crisis, and they’ve got to make up for lost revenue in the form of fees.

It’s estimated that banks need to recoup, on average, between $15 and $20 a month from each depositor just to earn what they did in the past, according to an analysis on checking accounts by Oliver Wyman, a financial consulting firm.

If you’re unsure whether you’re paying fees to bank or use a credit or debit card, educate yourself by examining statements and the latest terms of your accounts online. If you’re in a product that doesn’t fit your needs, be proactive and seek one that is a better fit — before you dish out hundreds of dollars on a year on pointless fees. If you can’t find one at your current institution, a credit union may be a less expensive alternative.

You may never see an actual “bill” from a financial planner and wealth adviser, but rest assured, they don’t work for nothing. However, different advisory firms have different policies. Some get commissions from trades made on your behalf, others work on a flat- fee, and others take a percentage of the value of your portfolio, in a “ “you don’t win if I don’t win” approach.

The fee you are paying will be reflected in some shape or form on statements you receive, but it may be clear as mud. If you have no idea what you’re paying a financial adviser, ask. If you feel the value of their services is worth what you’ve paid, you’ve developed a good relationship. If you don’t, move on. The beauty of being financially literate is the power to make informed decisions.

The importance of expecting the worst

You probably know you need auto, renters, and homeowners insurance, but long-term financial planning and wealth building is highly correlated to an understanding of insurance as a risk-management tool that can protect you, your family, and your wealth for the long-term.

Familiarize yourself with the major benefits and drawbacks of different kinds of insurance, like term-life, disability, and long-term care, even if it seems like they don’t impact your life today.

Steven Knudson, financial adviser at Intermountain Financial Group, says that not having adequate life insurance is a disaster waiting to happen, and that anyone in their 50s and beyond should “obtain some level of long-term care insurance to avoid the catastrophic loss of a chronic illness in later years.”

Though employers may offer some level of insurance coverage, including for death and disability, it may not be enough to cover your survivors, and/or your assets. “Even if you have a group long term disability plan at work, pick up a personal fixed income protection in a non-cancellable disability insurance plan,” Knudson says.

Savings is largely based on preparing for the unexpected, and undesirable, aspects of life, too. Henk Pieters, certified financial planner and president of Newport Beach, Calif. based Investus Financial Planning, says that regardless of income, all clients should have at least 3-6 months worth of living expenses covered in an FDIC insured savings account — provided they have a very stable career.

Business owners and those in industries or salary tiers that present higher degrees of professional uncertainty need to save an entire year’s worth of living expenses.

Impact of tax laws

You know that taxes take a chunk out of your paycheck but the more you understand about them, the more you can leverage taxes to your advantage and increase your financial literacy.

There are many expenses that the government allows as deductions for tax reasons, including business-related travel, entertainment, and mileage. Education costs, child-care credits, mortgage fees, and expenses related to job-hunting, relocation, or a home-based business can mean paying fewer taxes, too.

Some charitable gifts and donations, including items made to qualifying non-profits, and funds that you “gift” to relatives or loved ones, whittle your tax burden too.

If you sell assets that appreciate in value, like stocks or bonds, you’ll need to pay capital gains taxes on them, but a qualified financial adviser can help dentify the best strategies to keep the most amount of money you legally can.

Use credit for good

Credit is often blamed as a reason people struggle financially, but when used as it was originally intended, it’s one of the greatest means of financial empowerment you can access and a key to financial literacy.

Building and maintaining healthy credit habits opens opportunities to borrow from lenders who can help you to build wealth, whether you choose to start a business, buy property, or invest in your future.

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About Intermountain Financial Group, LLC
Our company is built on a solid foundation of excellent client service and in-depth industry knowledge. Our focus is helping you improve your quality of life through financial peace of mind. We offer a wide variety of products and services to help you solve today’s personal and business financial problems and to prepare for the future. For more than a century, the Intermountain Financial Group/MassMutual (IFG) www.intermountainfinancialgroup.com has provided a comprehensive offering of a diverse array of products, including life insurance, annuities, disability income insurance, long term care insurance, retirement planning products, mutual funds, and access to money management to individuals and businesses in Utah and most of United States. IFG currently has offices in Salt Lake City, Provo, and St. George, Utah. IFG has also been recognized as one of the best places to work in Utah by the Work/Life Awards Committee for 2011, 2010, 2008, and 2007 and the national Sloan When Work Works award in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008.

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