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The Equifax Data Breach

On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting agencies, announced a massive data security breach that exposed vital personal identification data — including names, addresses, birth dates, and Social Security numbers — on as many as 143 million consumers, roughly 55% of Americans age 18 and older.1

This data breach was especially egregious because the company reportedly first learned of the breach on July 29 and waited roughly six weeks before making it public (hackers first gained access between mid-May and July) and three senior Equifax executives reportedly sold shares of the company worth nearly $2 million before the breach was announced. Moreover, consumers don't choose to do business or share their data with Equifax; rather, Equifax — along with TransUnion and Experian, the other two major credit reporting agencies — unilaterally monitors the financial health of consumers and supplies that data to potential lenders without a consumer's approval or consent.2

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The Retirement Income Gender Gap: Dealing with a Shortfall

When you determine your retirement income needs, you make your projections based on the type of lifestyle you plan to have and the desired timing of your retirement. However, you may find that reality is not in sync with your projections, and it looks like your retirement income will be insufficient to meet your estimated expenses during retirement. This is called a projected income shortfall.

There are many reasons why women, on average, are more likely than men to face a retirement income shortfall. Because women's careers are often interrupted to care for children or elderly parents, they may spend less time in the workforce. When they're working, women tend to earn less than men in similar jobs, and they're more likely to work part-time. As a result, their retirement plan balances and Social Security benefits are often smaller. Compounding the problem is the fact that women often start saving later, save less, and invest more conservatively than men, which decreases their chances of having enough income in retirement.1 And because women tend to live longer than men, retirement assets may need to last longer.

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Planning Concerns of Divorcing Couples

Why is it important for you to understand the basics of divorce law?

While divorce is certainly a time of emotional turmoil, it's a time of financial upheaval as well. The financial change brought about by divorce can be particularly devastating to families with children and to older couples who have assigned the career duties to one spouse and the homemaking duties to the other.

When seeking a divorce, you should become familiar with the major topics: legal fees, marital property versus separate property, alimony, debt, retirement plans, property settlement, taxation, budgeting, and, if you have children, child custody and child support. You should also consider risk management, and, if you're older, Social Security.

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Caring for Your Aging Parents

What is it?

Caring for your aging parents is something you hope you can handle when the time comes, but something you probably hope you never have to do. Caring for your aging parents means helping them plan for the future, and this can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. When the time comes for you to take care of your parents, you may be certain of only two things: Your parents need you, and you need help.

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Five Questions about Long-Term Care

1. What is long-term care?

Long-term care refers to the ongoing services and support needed by people who have chronic health conditions or disabilities. There are three levels of long-term care.

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Can You Avoid a Layoff?

You may be a dedicated employee who has worked for the same employer for many years, yet you still may be susceptible to getting laid off. Sometimes getting laid off is inevitable, but rarely does a company lay off all of its workers. Usually, it retains those who are most valuable and offer the greatest benefit, sometimes at the least cost. Fortunately, there may be some things you can do to make the decision to lay you off a little harder.

Signs of impending layoff

It may not be obvious, but often there are signs that layoffs are looming. Try looking at your employer from the outside. Often, larger companies must file financial reports with the state and federal government securities offices. You may be able to glean some information on the financial health of your employer from these reports. For example, if the company has publicly traded stock, see if its price has dropped recently, especially compared to stock of similar companies that have not experienced the same downward trend. Are there rumors in the press or within the industry that your employer is involved in a sale or merger?

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Evaluating an Early Retirement Offer

In today's corporate environment, cost cutting, restructuring, and downsizing are the norm, and many employers are offering their employees early retirement packages. But how do you know if the seemingly attractive offer you've received is a good one? By evaluating it carefully to make sure that the offer fits your needs.

What's the severance package?

Most early retirement offers include a severance package that is based on your annual salary and years of service at the company. For example, your employer might offer you one or two weeks' salary (or even a month's salary) for each year of service. Make sure that the severance package will be enough for you to make the transition to the next phase of your life. Also, make sure that you understand the payout options available to you. You may be able to take a lump-sum severance payment and then invest the money to provi

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2016 Trustees Reports Project Social Security COLA, Medicare Premiums, and Long-Term Outlook

Every year, the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds release reports to Congress on the current financial condition and projected financial outlook of these programs. The 2016 reports, released on June 22, 2016, project a small Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and Medicare premium increases for 2017, and discuss ongoing financial challenges.

What are the Social Security and Medicare trust funds?

Social Security: The Social Security program consists of two parts. Retired workers, their families, and survivors of workers receive monthly benefits under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) program; disabled workers and their families receive monthly benefits under the Disability Insurance (DI) program. The combined programs are referred to as OASDI. Each program has a financial account (a trust fund) that holds the Social Security payroll taxes that are collected to pay Social Security benefits. Other income (reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury and income tax revenue from benefit taxation) is also deposited in these accounts. Money that is not needed in the current year to pay benefits and administrative costs is invested (by law) in special Treasury bonds that are guaranteed by the U.S. government and earn interest. As a result, the Social Security trust funds have built up reserves that can be used to cover benefit obligations if payroll tax income is insufficient to pay full benefits.

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Considering an Offer to Retire Early: Should You Take It?

What is it?

In today's corporate environment, where cost cutting, restructuring, and downsizing are the norm, many employers are offering their employees early retirement packages. As you near retirement age, you may find yourself confronted with an offer from your employer for early retirement. Your employer may refer to the offer as a golden handshake or a golden parachute. While many early retirement offers seem attractive at first, it is important for you to review an offer carefully before accepting it to ensure that it is indeed a golden" opportunity.

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Loss of a Spouse/Family Member

What is it?

When your spouse or a family member dies, you'll need to handle numerous financial and legal matters. Even if you've always handled your family's finances, you may be overwhelmed by the number of matters you have to settle in the weeks and months following your loved one's death. While you can put off some of these tasks, others require immediate attention. After planning the funeral, you'll need to get organized, determine what procedures to follow to settle the estate and claim survivor's and death benefits, and find competent advice to help you through this difficult time.

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Why Women Need Life Insurance

Today, women have more financial responsibilities than ever before. How will your family or loved ones manage financially if you die? Whether you are single, married, employed, or a stay-at-home mom, you probably need life insurance. At the very least, life insurance can help pay for the costs of funeral and burial services, estate administration, outstanding debts, estate taxes, and the uninsured expenses of a final illness.

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How Women Are Different from Men, Financially Speaking

We all know men and women are different in some fundamental ways. But is this true when it comes to financial planning? In a word, yes. In the financial world, women often find themselves in very different circumstances than their male counterparts.

Everyone wants financial security. Yet women often face financial headwinds that can affect their ability to achieve it. The good news is that women today have never been in a better position to achieve financial security for themselves and their families.

More women than ever are successful professionals, business owners, entrepreneurs, and knowledgeable investors. Their economic clout is growing, and women's impact on the traditional workplace is still unfolding positively as women earn college and graduate degrees in record numbers and seek to successfully integrate their work and home lives to provide for their families. So what financial course will you chart?

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Protecting Your Loved Ones with Life Insurance

How much life insurance do you need?

Your life insurance needs will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your family, the nature of your financial obligations, your career stage, and your goals. For example, when you're young, you may not have a great need for life insurance. However, as you take on more responsibilities and your family grows, your need for life insurance increases.

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Financial Planning: Helping You See the Big Picture

Do you picture yourself owning a new home, starting a business, or retiring comfortably? These are a few of the financial goals that may be important to you, and each comes with a price tag attached.

That's where financial planning comes in. Financial planning is a process that can help you target your goals by evaluating your whole financial picture, then outlining strategies that are tailored to your individual needs and available resources.

Why is financial planning important?

A comprehensive financial plan serves as a framework for organizing the pieces of your financial picture. With a financial plan in place, you'll be better able to focus on your goals and understand what it will take to reach them.

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Retirement Plans for Small Businesses

If you're self-employed or own a small business and you haven't established a retirement savings plan, what are you waiting for? A retirement plan can help you and your employees save for the future.

Tax advantages

A retirement plan can have significant tax advantages:

  • Your contributions are deductible when made
  • Your contributions aren't taxed to an employee until distributed from the plan
  • Money in the retirement program grows tax deferred (or, in the case of Roth accounts, potentially tax free)

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Do You Owe Estimated Taxes?

If you are self-employed or have additional sources of income outside of your regular job, you may fall into the category of Americans who are required to file their federal taxes not just once a year in April, but four times annually. While no one likes having to pay estimated taxes to the IRS, you can make the process easier by setting aside money regularly and keeping detailed records.

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Disability Income Insurance: Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset

Have you ever wondered how you would manage financially if you were to sustain an injury or illness that left you unable to work? How long could you maintain your standard of living, pay your bills, and cover your daily expenses? The likelihood of such an event may be greater than you think. According to the Council for Disability Awareness (2013), Americans underestimate their chances of experiencing a long-term disability: 64% of working Americans believe they have a 2% or less chance of being disabled for 3 months or more during their working years; however, the reality is that the odds of experiencing a long-term disability are about 25%.

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Designing an Employee Benefit Plan

When you begin to create an employee benefit plan, you may want to start with a few core benefits, including life insurance, health insurance, and a retirement plan. These benefits form a base from which your company’s benefit plan can grow and evolve in the future. Every year or two, it may be wise to consider the addition of a new benefit to the plan, such as dental insurance or disability income insurance. Rather than bearing the entire burden of cost, you can contribute a portion of the cost, with your employees paying the balance.

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Creating a Long-Term Financial Plan

To help manage your personal finances, you can now purchase computer software that will balance your checkbook, figure out your budget, track your investments, and even help take the sting out of filing your income tax return. Even with the best apps available, you still have to take the initiative to create a strategy that will meet your needs while reducing the stress that goes along with financial planning.

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Estate Planning: A Team Effort

Estate planning often involves a team consisting of an attorney, a financial professional, an insurance professional, and yourself. However, whether you are establishing a new estate plan or revising an existing one, only you can provide the guidance, direction, and information your estate planning team needs to develop an effective plan.

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ESOPs: Rewarding and Motivating Employees

Profit-sharing plans have long been popular with employees because of the opportunity they provide to share in the profitability of a growing firm. Many business owners look beyond shared profitability to shared ownership through employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

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Economic Policy and the Fed

While consumers affect the economy by spending according to their own situation and financial pressures, Federal policy decisions also influence the economy. Fiscal policy, enacted by Congress, uses taxation and legislation to boost employment, stabilize prices, and stimulate economic growth. In contrast, monetary policy, which is controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed), manipulates short-term interest rates in an effort to spur growth or control inflation.

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Get SMART: Tips for Effective Goal Setting

Regardless of which phase of the business life-cycle you’re in, you can get SMART about setting goals to motivate yourself, move forward to grow your business, and track your success.

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Free Tax Preparation

Did you know that a free, Federal income tax preparation and electronic filing program called Free File is available to U. S. taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) of $58,000 or less?

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Financial Recordkeeping for Tax Purpose

Keeping thorough and accurate financial records is one of the less exciting tasks that business owners face, but it is a necessary one. In addition to enabling you to monitor the progress of your business and make informed decisions on a daily basis, keeping good accounting records is essential when it comes time to prepare your tax returns. While the smallest businesses may be able to get by with the “shoebox method,” having in place a reliable and comprehensive financial recordkeeping system is crucial if you want your business to grow.

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Filing the FAFSA for Higher Education Costs

Even if you expect to cover your child’s college costs through sources other than Federal aid, it usually worthwhile to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition to determining your family’s eligibility for Federal assistance, the FAFSA is the primary qualifying form used by many college, state, local, and private financial assistance programs.

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Estimating Future College Costs

For most people, a child’s college education is the second most expensive purchase (after that of a home) they will ever make. For parents and grandparents who wish to estimate the cost of a college education, the following tables can facilitate an educated guess.

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Your Family Business and Estate Planning

If you are like most entrepreneurs, you don’t expect the business you worked so hard to establish to falter when you are no longer here to run it. But sometimes, when business owners die without leaving wills or estate plans, the business must be liquidated to pay the tax liability, or the company collapses because family members have not been sufficiently prepared to take over operations. If you own a family business, you may want to consider taking steps now to help ensure this valuable asset will remain intact for your children, grandchildren, and others.

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Important Steps in Preserving Your Estate

If you are like most people, wills, trusts, life insurance, disability income insurance, and advance directives are topics you would just as soon avoid. Yet, timely planning is necessary to preserve the assets you have worked so hard to accumulate and to protect your loved ones. Here are some important steps you can take now to help ease your family’s emotional and financial burden in the event of your death:

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Assigning Your Life Insurance Policy

Getting approval for a loan can sometimes depend on, for example, a lender asking a borrower, “How will this loan be repaid in the event of your death?” Your answer may be to assign your life insurance policy, a useful feature that can help provide necessary security for a lender.

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Analyzing Investment Styles: Growth vs. Value

Growth or value—what’s your style? Growth investors look for stocks that will grow at a high rate for a relatively short period of time or mutual funds that focus on growth stock. Value investors look for stocks that are currently undervalued and are expected to increase to their true value over a longer time horizon or mutual funds that focus on value stock.

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An Introduction to Split-Dollar Life Insurance

Contrary to what you may think, split-dollar life insurance is not an insurance policy, at least not in the classic sense. It is a type of arrangement that allows two parties, typically an employer and an employee, to split life insurance protection costs and benefits. The premium payments, rights of ownership, and proceeds payable on the death of the insured are often split between the company and a key employee. In many situations, however, the employer pays all or a greater part of the premiums in exchange for an interest in the policy’s cash value and death benefit. Cash values accumulate, providing repayment security for the employer, who is paying the majority of the premium. In this scenario, business owners have the opportunity to provide an executive with life insurance benefits at a low cost. Another option for companies to consider is to use split-dollar policies in place of insurance-funded nonqualified deferred compensation plans.

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A Financial Review Can Pay Off at Year End

Today, many people find themselves bombarded by a constant stream of financial news from television, radio, and the Internet. Yet, does all this “information age” data really help you manage your finances any better now than in the past? Often, what are considered old-fashioned practices, such as performing periodic financial reviews, can lead to greater success in the long run. Why not spend a few hours reviewing your finances? The changes you make today could result in increased savings. Consider the following seven important items:

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A Budget May Help Boost Your Savings

Whether you have substantial resources or live close to your means, a budget may be an effective foundation for a savings program. It can help you monitor your personal and household expenditures, potentially freeing up income that can be redirected toward savings. Consider the following:

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Budget Basics for College Students

One extracurricular activity that every student can master while in college is personal money management. Typically, a student’s daily spending is done on an improvised basis, meaning that overspending is often the norm rather than the exception.

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Countdown to Retirement: Strategies for Saving in Your 50s

The Baby Boom generation is about to enter another era: retirement. Never known for accepting the status quo, Baby Boomers are ready to redefine the “golden years.” Forget about endless days of leisure. This generation seeks adventure, travel, and new business pursuits. While these changes may redefine retirement, will Boomers be able to finance their plans? Today, many people age 50 and older have not begun to save for retirement or have yet to accumulate sufficient funds.

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Control Your Runaway Expenses

For many of us, the cost of living has risen faster than our income has. In some cases, consumption has increased, as well. If you are looking for ways to control both rising expenses and increasing consumption, here are some timely suggestions.

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Choosing the Right Retirement Plan for Your Business

You’re an entrepreneur and you’re not looking back. You’ve opened your own business, whether alone or with partners, and you’ve achieved success. Now you’re thinking about retirement, not just for you, but also for your employees. Offering a retirement plan can help your business attract and retain employees, while making it easier for you to save for your own retirement. Here are some of the options available to business owners:

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Charitable Giving: Good for the Heart and Your 1040!

It may be better to give than to receive, but it may be even better to give and see your generosity rewarded. Charitable giving can play a valuable role in your financial and tax strategies. A well-planned gift to charity could provide an income tax deduction and a reduction of estate taxes. Your donation could also help you maintain financial security, exercise control over assets both during your lifetime and after death, as well as provide for your heirs in the manner you choose.

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Think Twice About Your 401(k)

Does your 401(k) account include shares of your employer’s stock that have grown a lot since you acquired them? If so, you may be able to make use of a “net unrealized appreciation” (NUA) strategy when you retire or otherwise leave your employer.

To better understand it, NUA is the difference between the market value of your company’s shares on the date they are distributed to you and the date they were originally added to your plan account. In general, to use the NUA strategy, you have to: Leave your company, receive a lump-sum distribution of your account’s entire balance in a single year, and choose to take all or some of your company stock “in kind.” That means you take the actual shares instead of a distribution check for their value, rolling them into another employee plan, or rolling them over into an individual retirement account (IRA). This requires a transfer of shares received to a taxable brokerage account and not a roll over into an individual retirement account or qualified plan.

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Top College Funding Mistakes Parents Make

Paying for your children's college educations should actually be placed quite low on the totem pole of financial priorities. Why? There are several reasons for this, such as the availability of tools to pay for college, such as financial aid in the forms of student loans, grants and other programs where loans are forgiven in exchange for public service in low-income communities. But ultimately, it's also because focusing too much on college savings can jeopardize a family's overall financial planning strategy.

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Working with a Financial Advisor: Six Steps to Help You Get the Most Out of the Relationship

Would you trust your medical diagnosis to a casual acquaintance? Do you cut your own hair or dry clean your own clothes? For some services, it makes more sense to pay a professional who has the expertise to deliver the appropriate results. A professional financial advisor can help you build a sound estate plan, designed to help you toward your long-term financial planning goals. These six steps can help you locate and get the most out of this important relationship.

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Transferring Wealth the Right Way

One of the most rewarding benefits of wealth is the ability to make a lasting impact long after you're gone. To this end, you could set up trusts that provide a financial cushion, pay educational costs or provide business seed capital for multiple generations of family members. Maybe you want to have your name on a library or to fund scholarships at your alma mater. Perhaps there is medical research or another cause that you strongly support.

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