The Best Cities for Artists in America

No starving artists here: These cities are the best places for artists to live well and practice their craft.

Having access to art and culture is one of the best parts of living in a city. While it’s true that art is found and created anywhere — in cities, there are some definite benefits. Cities act as cultural hubs that draw both new and existing artistic talent. There is a feedback loop of inspiration that cities foster.

With people from many different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life living in close quarters, there is vibrant multiculturalism. Urban density makes it easy to try and experience many different things from theater to food. Artists feed off that creative energy. And when you also live surrounded by other creative individuals, you are constantly being inspired to create new work

But it takes more than that to make a city a great place for artists. It’s widely known that both historically and in modern times, artists are often underpaid for their work. That “starving artist” trope didn’t come from nowhere — artists still need to pay for things like rent and food. They still need to make a living in this world the same as everyone else.

That’s why, on top of a thriving cultural scene, artists need to live in a place that supports their passion and livelihood. That ranges from affordable housing for work and creation, walkability to get around to gigs and much more.

So if you’re an artist with a dream, these are the best cities for artists to create and live.

Finding the best cities for artists

Art is for everyone because there are so many different ways to create. You have visual mediums like painting, drawing or photography. There are performance arts like dancing or theater. And there are musicians across an incredible breadth of genres and instructions, from voice to electronic DJ.

Having a thriving artistic community makes a city a better place to live. There are shows and performances to go to, which improves the quality of life for residents and encourages tourism. But to have such a community, artists need to make a viable living in that city. Quality of life and cost of living for essentials like food and housing, plus affordable rent remain important for those looking to dive into their artist endeavors.

To determine the best cities for artists, we looked for cities with a good walk score and t the average price for studio apartments. Many artists need or want separate spaces to create and work in, same as with offices for other industries, so having affordable studios for rent is key.

We also looked for how many museums there are per density and how many artistic organizations were in the city by density. That included theaters, artistic collectives, performing arts centers and more. All cities also had a population of over 50,000.

The following 10 places emerged as the best cities for artists to live and work in.

10. Baltimore, MD

baltimore md

In recent years, Baltimore has risen the charts as one of the best cities for creatives. This is especially true for the visual arts.

There are more than 60 diverse museums within the area, and it’s the home of renowned museums like the Baltimore Art Museum and the Walters Art Museum. Their substantial collections feature historic art from around the world, as well as exciting contemporary work. The city also supports modern, experimental art in outdoor public spaces like the Glenstone museum and sculpture garden and Downtown Frederick Public Art Trail, making art accessible to all.

There are also ample opportunities in the performing arts. The city is home to seven different performing arts companies and numerous dance and music groups.

Living here, artists can enjoy an abundance of creative outlets and good, affordable quality of life. With an average city median income of $51,000, the average cost for a studio apartment is $1,346. This was down 8.3 percent from last year. That gives artists lots of choices for space, as well as affordable rates.

Baltimore also has good public transportation, and a high Walk Score of 72.

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9. St. Louis, MO

st louis mo

This city that was once the gateway to the West is now a gateway for artists to comfortably live and create in an up-and-coming art city. While it is not the most walkable city, there are many other benefits. The average rent for a studio apartment is $1,328 — with plenty of availability.

St. Louis has an especially good reputation for performing arts, with 14 performing art companies and ten dance companies. Performance venues like The Fabulous Fox, housed in a grand old movie theater, and the Center of Creative Arts give the community hubs to experience art. And the contemporary visual arts scene is also on the rise.

The public can appreciate art in outdoor spaces like Citygarden, and museums like the Grand Center and the St. Louis Art Museum boasts exceptional modern art collections. So there are plenty of places for artists to congregate and work together.

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8. Chicago, IL

chicago il

Chicago has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the United States’ best cities for art, alongside staples like Los Angeles and New York City. But of those two, Chicago is the only one to make it into the top 10 best cities for artists. This means it’s much more affordable than the other two, but still gives artists the creative stimulation they crave. It’s also the place where many greats get their start.

Chicago has many benefits — the downtown area is a dense urban grid, with a very high WalkScore of 84. For outlying areas, there’s excellent public transit. However, most art and culture institutions are downtown — from theaters to museums — so it’s a very centralized area. There are outdoor spaces like Millennium Park for fresh air, access to nature and art installations (hello, The Bean). Museums like the Art Institute of Chicago enjoy tremendous renown for their collections.

Plus, there are top-ranked performing arts opportunities, from theater to music to improv at Second City, one of the nation’s best comedy and improv schools. While average studio rent is $1,784, making it the second most expensive city for studios in the top 10, you’ll have access to world-renowned art institutions for learning and displaying your art.

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7. Berkeley, CA

berkeley ca

Although Berkeley is largely known as a center for engineering, science and tech due to UC Berkeley, art and culture are equally strong here. This city of over 121,000 has an incredibly diverse population. And the presence of the university invites fresh, young minds from around the world, feeding innovation and creativity.

Berkeley also feeds off of the cultural thrum of the surrounding Bay Area and nearby San Francisco.

But being in the tech-heavy Bay Area, life is expensive. A Berkeley studio costs an average of $2,250. This makes it the most expensive of the top ten cities. But on the upside, Berkeley is extremely walkable, making it easy to get to the many artistic opportunities that exist. Berkeley is especially known for its performing arts. It’s home to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, a Tony-winning regional playhouse and other top theater and performance companies.

For visual artists, collectives like the ACCI Gallery and museums like Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive exist. West Berkeley and the North Shattuck areas are especially popular artist neighborhoods.

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6. Philadelphia, PA

philadelphia pa

Aspiring and working artists priced out of New York have been turning to Philadelphia. This has made it one of the most exciting artistic hubs on the East Coast. Steeped in history, the city also buzzes with vibrant young minds and modern energy.

Rent and cost of living are significantly lower than in NYC. A studio costs, on average, $1,745. Two top art schools call Philly home: the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.

And there is art everywhere, from museums to public spaces. The Philadelphia Art Museum is the third-largest in the U.S., and the Rodin Museum has one of the largest collections of his work outside Paris. Performing arts-wise, there is a great live music scene, especially for classical music thanks to the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Avenue of the Arts acts as a hub, with performance spaces for everything from dance to experimental work. Dancers will also find a welcoming community here, as there are multiple esteemed dance companies.

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5. Seattle, WA

seattle wa

Seattle’s reputation for incredible live music needs no introduction. Grunge originated here, thanks to influential bands like Nirvana. And music and performance are still part of the lifeblood of the city. But there’s more to Seattle’s art scene than that.

There are over 80 theater companies and great dance companies like the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Galleries and small venues provide space for experimental, undercover art movements. But “mainstream” art also has a place here at museums and places like the Seattle Art Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Olympic Sculpture Park.

In Seattle, studio apartments run an average of $1,481. And this is down almost 14.2 percent from last year, so there is plenty of space available and demand.

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4. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C.

The U.S. capital is a hotbed for history and art, which go hand in hand here. There are abundant museums and inspiring architecture everywhere you turn. But it’s not just about the past. There is also a thriving contemporary art community.

Check out spots like the Culture House DC, a 19th-century church painted in bold colors and now houses an artist collective. And there are frequent art festivals and performances of music, dance and theater.

If you’re an artist looking for a city with a lot of options for studios, D.C. is the place for you. The average rent is $1,686, plus it’s also a very pedestrian-friendly city that’s easy to navigate on foot.

All in all, D.C. offers a great emerging art scene in a city that’s affordable and safe, with plenty of history to inspire you.

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3. Pittsburgh, PA

pittsburgh

In 2018, Pittsburgh ranked as one of the top cities in America for artistic vibrancy. It’s no small wonder. Similar to Philadelphia, artists love the affordable cost of living — $1,194 for a studio.

In Pittsburgh, they’re finding world-class museums, outdoor festivals, creative collectives and performing arts companies that are pushing boundaries and generating buzz. Some must-visit spots include the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum and The Mattress Factory.

Outside of town, you’ll also find Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater.

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2. Minneapolis, MN

minneapolis mn

Coming in at No. 2 in the top 10 best cities for artists is one half of the Twin Cities itself: Minneapolis. Of course, this Midwest hub is well-known for its friendly residents, parks, lakes and outdoor access. But it also has fantastic opportunities for art.

Minneapolis has 55 different museums to visit, among them the eye-catching Weisman Art Museum. As a city that loves nature, lots of art is outdoors and open for everyone. Minneapolis is especially well-known for its vibrant murals, easily found all over the city. Oh, and of course, there’s a great music scene. What else would you expect from the home of Prince?

Add in low rent on studios, $1,236 on average, and you’ll discover why it’s no wonder so many artists find inspiration here.

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hartford ct

Topping the list of the best cities for artists is the Connecticut capital of Hartford. This scenic city celebrates both contemporary and historic art through its many institutions, from museums to collectives.

World-class touring performances come through at venues like the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. And local companies like TheaterWorks showcase contemporary work. The city is also committed to promoting diverse artists and voices. For example, the unique Artists Collective highlights the work of the African Diaspora. And the Real Art Ways organization supports experimental and new work in a variety of mediums.

Beyond the artistic community, Hartford is also very affordable for working artists. It boasts the cheapest prices for studio apartments — the average being $1,121.

Good quality and cost of living go a long way toward supporting an artist’s lifestyle. And if the urban scene isn’t sufficiently inspiring, Connecticut’s natural beauty is also sure to spark the imagination.

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The 50 best cities for artists

Now that you’ve seen the top 10, let’s branch out to discover even more cities that have created an atmosphere where artists can thrive and create. Please note, our methodology allows for ties.

Methodology

To find the best cities for artists, we used the following data points:

  • Performing arts businesses and establishments per density
  • Museums per density
  • Walk score
  • Average rent of a studio apartment

We looked at cities with at least 50,000 people according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 population estimates and ranked each city in each of these four categories. Then, we added up the rankings for each of the four categories to determine a final score for each city. Ties were allowed in our rankings. The cities with the lowest overall score were determined to be the best cities for artists.

We excluded cities from this study that had insufficient rental inventory or other data.

Business and establishment data comes from commercially sourced business listings. This may not account for recent business openings or closures.

Rent prices are based on a one-year rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory as of April 2021. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.

The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.

Source: rent.com

Investing during a recession – Lexington Law

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

When things get lean, it’s natural to want to tighten your belt and save money wherever possible. But should you stop investing completely? It’s an entirely personal decision. Get some facts and insights about investing during a recession below to help you determine what will work for you.

Is It a Good Idea to Invest During a Recession?

It depends on a few factors, including what you’re referring to when you say “investing.” If you’re talking about funding a 401(k), you probably want to continue doing so unless you would be unable to pay your necessary bills and living expenses.

But if investing means the stock market or other similar options, you should seriously consider your financial situation. If you already have emergency savings and have disposable income to risk, investing can be an option. This is especially true if you won’t be touching your portfolio for a while, so you have time to weather the ups and downs associated with a recession economy.

But you do want to be aware of the bear market trap so you don’t fall into it. Bear traps occur when a lot of investors have bought into certain stock. This increases the selling pressure, which just means that there are buyers for the stock but not a lot of stock to be had.

Institutions that want the stock to move higher may push prices lower via short sales or other strategies, making it appear as if the prices are falling. That can scare people into selling the stock. In the long run, however, the stock maintains its price or increases in value, so selling early can mean losing out on future gains. This is just one reason you might want to work with a professional advisor when investing.

7 Tips for Investing During a Recession

1. Be Patient and Think Long-Term

Buying and selling stocks rapidly to turn huge profits is mostly an event seen in movies and television. And while it’s not impossible for pros to luck into a big win, this is not typically how individuals should look at investing. It may take time for your investments to pay off, especially if the economy as a whole is struggling, so it’s important to avoid being guided by emotions and rely on logic and sound financial advice.

2. Commit to a Personal Investment Plan

A personal investment plan is a written document that includes your financial goals and what types of limitations you might have, such as what you can afford to spend on investing. Creating such a document ensures you have a logical, well-thought-out guide to turn to when things do get tricky. If you feel tempted by a seemingly perfect investment, for example, your plan can remind you what you can realistically put into this new investment.

3. Use the Dollar-Cost Averaging Strategy

Dollar-cost averaging is a strategy used by many investors, including some professionals. Its goal is to potentially reduce the volatile nature of a single purchase. The DCA strategy works like this:

  • You decide how much you’re going to invest in certain assets within a set period
  • You divide that budget over that time and make periodic purchases of the asset
  • You do this despite the price of the asset at any given time

The goal is to build up the investment for a long-term gain strategy. This is actually how most 401(k) investments are managed.

4. Focus on Quality Over Quantity

But don’t think that you have to buy tons of assets to be investing for the future. If you have limited funds to invest with, it can be tempting to buy up stock that is cheap just to get some quantity. But cheap stock isn’t always a great investment, and it might be better to buy a smaller number of shares in a well-trusted company with a history of strong stock performance.

5. Consider Funds Instead of Individual Stocks

Another option is to consider funds, which spread your investment over numerous stocks. You’ve probably heard that you have to diversify your portfolio. That just means investing in numerous types of assets so that if one doesn’t perform well, you have other gains to make up for the loss.

A mutual fund is an investment option that’s already diversified, for example. Plus, it’s a convenient way to add numerous assets to your equity portfolio without buying and managing numerous stocks yourself.

6. Rebalance When Necessary

While investing is a long-term strategy, active investing can’t be a set-and-forget strategy. You have to make efforts to rebalance your portfolio—or ensure someone is doing that for you—from time to time.

Rebalancing just means aligning your assets with your target goals. For example, you might have a goal of 60% in stocks and 40% in other assets. But if your stocks gain rapidly during a few years, outpacing the gains of your other assets, you could have a 70/30 split. If your goal is still 60/40, you would rebalance by selling stock, purchasing other assets or both.

7. Invest in Recession-Resistant Industries

Recession-resistant industries are those that don’t tend to succumb to downturns in the economy, often because they’re necessary. Examples of industries that have historically weathered recessions well include healthcare, technology, beauty, retail, construction and pet products.

Note that because a company is in a recession-resistant industry doesn’t mean that company itself is necessarily resistant. It’s always important to be discerning about which stocks you invest in. For example, if the company doesn’t have strong financial leadership or has known money problems, it may not matter what industry it’s in.

Review Your Finances and Decide What’s Best for You

Ultimately, only you can decide whether investing during a recession is right for you. Start by reviewing your own finances. Some things you might want to look at include:

  • What kind of savings you have. Having emergency savings is important, especially in a recession. Before you start investing, you may want to build yours.
  • Your income and expenses. You need disposable income before you can invest. That means that your income should be more than your expenses.
  • Your credit history. Buying stocks and investing typically doesn’t rely on you having good credit. But before you start building wealth, get a good look at your credit reports to ensure there’s nothing lurking that you might need to attend to. If you find any surprises, consider reaching out to Lexington Law for help disputing inaccurate items and working to make a positive impact on your credit.

And if you do decide to invest—during a recession or otherwise—consider working with a financial advisor to help you navigate the complexities of managing your portfolio.


Reviewed by John Heath, Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

What’s Your Strategy for Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits?

Deciding when to take social security is a bit like playing chess. You’ll need to strategize and think a few moves ahead to maximize your benefit because age and timing matter. Applying at the youngest age possible, 62, reduces a monthly benefit 25% to 30% for the rest of your life than if you had waited until full retirement age. Delay until the latest age possible, 70, and that monthly benefit increases 8% each year you wait past your full retirement age, a bonus of 24% to 32% depending on your birth year.

Your birth year matters because the full retirement age is rising — from 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954, to 67 for those born in 1960 or later. If your birth year falls between 1955 and 1959, the full retirement age rises two months every year.

The retirement age isn’t the only thing that’s changing. The rules for claiming Social Security are different for those born after Jan. 1, 1954. This includes the majority of people filing for benefits today, and the changes especially affect married, two-earner couples.

First, the basics: Individuals pay into Social Security their entire working life in order to receive a steady stream of income in the form of a monthly benefit once they retire. The benefits are based on the person’s 35 highest years of earnings. If you don’t have 35 years of earnings, then zeroes are entered for the remaining years, reducing the monthly benefit.

As pensions disappear and life expectancies rise, a guaranteed lifelong income that isn’t tied to the stock market has tremendous value. “Social Security is the best deal out there,” says Diane M. Wilson, a claiming strategist and founding partner of My Social Security Analyst in Shawnee, Kan. “It’s an annuity that lasts a lifetime, and it’s indexed to inflation.”

Maximizing that benefit has produced a cottage industry of claiming strategists to help retirees determine the best time to start taking benefits, but it’s not a simple calculus. “In the end, it’s a longevity decision,” says Kurt Czarnowski, who counsels clients about Social Security at Czarnowski Consulting in Norfolk, Mass. “If you knew when you were going to die, all this would be a snap.” Instead, people should understand their choices and make an informed decision, he says.

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The Differences Between Restricted Filing and Deemed Filing

A stack of Social Security cardsA stack of Social Security cards

For married couples, that decision involves accounting for two people’s earnings and benefits, as well as the likelihood of one spouse outliving the other. Spouses are not only entitled to the benefit based on their own work history, but they also may be eligible for additional money when the spousal benefit is factored in, what Wilson calls “add-ons.” The spousal benefit equals 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s benefit if the lower-earning spouse takes it at full retirement age. The amount is reduced when taken early, and you can’t claim the spousal benefit until your spouse begins taking Social Security. To be clear, you do not get to take two benefits, but rather Social Security increases your benefit to equal half of your spouse’s if the one based on your own work history is smaller.

People born on or before Jan 1, 1954, can maximize benefits while still receiving some Social Security. By taking whichever benefit is lower — their own or a spouse’s — when they first apply, they let the larger benefit grow before switching to it at a later age. That option, known as “restricted filing,” isn’t available for people born after Jan. 1, 1954. For them, there’s no choice. Social Security simply bestows their own benefit and any add-ons the person is eligible for when they file for benefits, a practice known as “deemed filing.”

Let’s say the higher-earning spouse is the husband and the lower-earning spouse is the wife. Under deemed filing, when the wife applies for Social Security at her full retirement age, she is given the highest amount she is eligible for, which in this instance is 50% of her husband’s benefit, assuming he started taking it. If he hasn’t, she will be given only the benefit based on her own work history. Once her husband applies for his benefits, Social Security will increase hers so that it equals half of his. If the wife was the higher earner and her benefit was more than 50% of his, she won’t get any additional money when he starts claiming Social Security. She will simply continue collecting her own higher work benefit.

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Maximizing Social Security Benefits for Married Couples

A couple looks at a laptop. A couple looks at a laptop.

Deemed filers may have fewer options, but there are other strategies to consider, such as when to start claiming and which spouse should file for Social Security first. Those decisions can change cumulative lifetime benefits substantially, sometimes by as much as six figures, says Wilson. When she advises couples affected by the new rules, she generally recommends the higher earner to delay as long as possible, ideally until age 70, while the lower earner can file, giving the retired couple some income.

The couple’s age difference matters, particularly if the younger spouse is also the lower earner, says Jim Blair, co-owner of Premier Social Security Consulting in Cincinnati. In that case, “if they’re five years or more apart in age, you want the younger person filing as early as possible, at 62, and the older person delaying as long as possible,” he says. “Odds are the younger person is going to receive a survivor benefit before they reach their breakeven point, which is about 12 years past retirement age.” The breakeven point is the age when the total value of cumulative benefits, whether taken early or later, is roughly the same.

If the situation is reversed and the younger spouse is the higher earner, “we’ll look at what the younger individual will need in retirement,” Blair says. “If taking that benefit early at age 62 means a 25% reduction, they’re going to have to live with that for the rest of their life.” There will need to be other income to compensate for the reduction, he adds.

Couples who straddle the 1954 birth year, with one spouse falling under the old rules and the other under the new, have more ways to move the pieces on the Social Security chess board. For instance, if the wife is the younger, lower earner, she may want to apply early, taking her own reduced benefit. That would allow the husband, who was born before the 1954 cutoff date, to use a restricted application and request only a spousal benefit. Meanwhile, his benefit based on his own work history continues to grow 8% per year from his full retirement age until he turns 70. He can switch to his own higher benefit later, whether at 70 or sooner.

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Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits

A man sits alone on a swing. A man sits alone on a swing.

Couples should try to postpone taking whichever spouse’s benefit is higher to ensure a larger survivor benefit. This is particularly important when the lower earning spouse is younger and likely to outlive the higher earner by many years. “You want that higher benefit to take care of the survivor,” says Wilson, who warns clients of expenses, like home health aides, that someone living alone will almost certainly have.

A spousal benefit turns into a survivor benefit when a spouse dies, but the benefits are not the same. A surviving spouse who is at least full retirement age can receive 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit, as opposed to 50% for a spousal benefit. The amount is reduced if the surviving spouse claims the benefit before full retirement age. You can claim a survivor benefit as early as age 60 (50 if you are disabled). But you don’t have to take it early, and you may not want to if you’re still working.

Social Security imposes an annual earnings limit for anyone younger than full retirement age who collects benefits, a rule that also applies to surviving spouses. For every $2 earned above the limit, which is currently $18,960, Social Security will deduct $1 in benefits, with the money restored later in the form of a higher benefit when you reach full retirement age. The earnings rule is more generous the year you reach full retirement age with Social Security deducting $1 for every $3 in earnings above $50,520. There’s no limit on earnings once you are full retirement age.

A widow who is, say, 60 when her husband passes away could hold off and take the survivor benefit when she reaches her full retirement age and stops working. There’s no reason to wait beyond that age because the survivor benefit won’t increase.

A survivor benefit is also not subject to the deemed filing rule. Someone born after the 1954 cutoff date can choose to take either their own or the survivor benefit when applying for Social Security. That opens a whole new avenue of claiming strategies. A widower, for example, could take the survivor benefit first if he needs the income and let his own larger benefit continue accruing delayed retirement credits before switching to it at age 70. If his own benefit is smaller, he could take that early and switch to the larger survivor benefit when he reaches full retirement age. The survivor benefit won’t be reduced because he took his own benefit early. The survivor benefit is only reduced if he takes it before his full retirement age.

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How Death, Divorce and Remarriage Affect Social Security Benefits

picture of wedding photo cut in halfpicture of wedding photo cut in half

A divorced spouse is also eligible for benefits based on a former spouse’s earnings history. If your ex is still alive and both of you are at least age 62, you can collect a spousal benefit even if your ex hasn’t started collecting, provided that the marriage lasted at least 10 continuous years, the divorce was two or more years ago, and you haven’t remarried. Your ex won’t know you’re taking the benefit. A divorced spouse who is full retirement age can get 50% of the former spouse’s benefit; it’s reduced if taken early. Deemed filing rules still apply if you were born after New Year’s Day 1954, with only the highest benefit amount given to you.

If your ex has passed away, you can collect a survivor benefit as early as age 60, but the other requirements — a marriage that lasted at least 10 years and a divorce that was finalized two years ago — remain. You also can’t have remarried before age 60.

If you remarry after age 60, you are allowed to keep the survivor benefit from a former spouse whether you were divorced or not, but timing is everything. Wilson had a client, a widower, who was two months away from turning 60 and collecting a survivor benefit. He was also about to remarry. “I told him about the rule, and he said, ‘I can’t reschedule this now.'” He went ahead with the wedding as planned, sacrificing the survivor benefit at the altar. Wilson points out that her client could collect a survivor benefit from his first marriage if the second one ends for any reason.

As with any survivor benefit, there’s no deemed filing. A divorced spouse has the option of choosing which benefit to take first — their own or the survivor benefit — and let whichever is larger continue to grow before switching to it later on.

Remarriage brings other claiming strategies, such as applying for a spousal benefit based on the new spouse’s work record, but there is a waiting period. To collect a spousal benefit, you generally need to be married one year, Czarnowski says. An exception is made for someone who is already collecting a Social Security benefit and remarries. Then the waiting period is waived, he says. For example, a widow over age 60 who is collecting a survivor benefit and remarries is “immediately eligible to collect 50% of the new husband’s benefit, assuming he is collecting his benefit,” Czarnowski says. You will need to choose which benefit you want — the survivor benefit from an earlier marriage or the new spousal benefit.

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When Singles Should File for Social Security Benefits

A man works on a computer. A man works on a computer.

For single people who never married, there’s no survivor to consider so the decision of when to claim is based on the need for income and how much they’ll get at any given age between 62 and 70. “It’s really which point along this continuum makes sense,” Czarnowski says. You can get an idea of how much your benefit will be at different ages based on your current earnings by using Social Security’s quick calculator. You can also enter your earnings history for a more precise figure.

Most of Wilson’s single clients start claiming at full retirement age so that their benefits aren’t reduced. Should they wait until age 70 to get the highest possible benefit? “They may want to if they’re still working and they don’t need Social Security,” Blair says. “The flip side is when they pass away, the benefits end. If they pass away at 72, they didn’t collect very long.”

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You Can Pause Your Social Security Benefits

Someone pushes a red button that is labeled "No!"Someone pushes a red button that is labeled "No!"

Social Security also gives people who regret taking a benefit early the chance to reverse that decision. If you change your mind within the first 12 months of claiming your benefit, you can withdraw the application. All the benefits you received will need to be repaid, including any spousal benefits based on your work record, but you’ll get a higher monthly benefit when you restart later on.

The second way is to suspend your benefit, which you can only do once you reach full retirement age. You won’t need to repay the benefits you’ve received, and you earn delayed retirement credits of 8% per year until age 70, enabling you to reverse some of the damage from claiming early. Keep in mind, however, that when you suspend a benefit, you also suspend any other benefits based on your work record, such as a spousal benefit. If your spouse was getting $1,500 per month and $500 was based on your work record, she’ll only get her own $1,000 benefit when you suspend.

Source: kiplinger.com

7 Things to Do After College Besides Work

Numerous college students have a trajectory in mind for navigating life after college. For some, getting a job is their top goal. But, are there other things to do after college besides work?

Beyond looking for a traditional entry-level job, there are alternative choices for new grads—including internships, volunteering, grad school, spending time abroad, or serving in Americorps.

Naturally, the options available will differ depending on each person’s situation, as not all alternatives to work come with a paycheck attached.

Here’s a look at these seven things to do after college besides work.

1. Pursuing Internships

One popular alternative to working right after college is finding an internship. Generally, internships are temporary work opportunities, which are sometimes, but not always, paid.

Internships may give recent grads a chance to build up hands-on experience in a field or industry they believe they’re interested in working in full time. For some people, it could help determine whether the reality of working in a given sector meets their expectations.

Whatever grads learn during an internship, having on-the-job experience (even for those who opt to pursue a different career path) could make a job seeker stand out afterwards. Internships can help beef up a resume, especially for recent grads who don’t have much formal job experience.

A potential perk of internships is the chance to further grow your professional network—building relationships with more experienced workers in a particular department or job. Some interns may even be able to turn their short-term internship roles into a full-time position at the same company.

Starting out in an internship can be a great way for graduates to enter the workforce, “road testing” a specific job role or company.

2. Serving with AmeriCorps

Some graduates want to spend their time after college contributing to the greater good of American society. One possible option here is the Americorps program—supported by the US Federal Government.

So, what exactly is Americorps? Americorps is a national service program dedicated to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. There are three main programs that graduates can join in AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State and National, and AmeriCorps Vista.

There’s a wide variety of options in AmeriCorps, when it comes to how you can serve. Graduates can work in emergency management, help fight poverty, or work in a classroom.

However graduates decide to serve through AmeriCorps, it may provide them with a rewarding professional experience and insights into a potential career.

Practically, Americorps members may also qualify for benefits such as student loan deferment, a living allowance, education awards (upon finishing their service), and skills training.

It may sound a bit dramatic, but AmeriCorps’ slogan is “Be the greater good.” Giving back to society could be a powerful way to spend some time after graduating—supporting organizations in need, while also establishing new professional connections.

3. Attending Grad School

When entering the workforce, graduates may encounter job postings with detailed employment requirements.

Some jobs require just a Bachelor’s degree, while others require a Master’s–think, for instance, of being a lawyer or medical doctor. Depending on their field of study and career goals, some students may opt to go right to graduate school after receiving their undergraduate degrees.

The number of jobs that expect graduate degrees is increasing in the US. Graduates might want to research their desired career fields and see if it’s common for people in these roles to need a master’s or terminal degree.

Some students may wish to take a break in between undergrad and grad school, while others find it easier to go straight through. This choice will vary from student to student, depending on the energy they have to continue school as well as their financial ability to attend graduate school.

Graduate school will be a commitment of time, energy and money. So, it’s advisable that students feel confident that a graduate degree is necessary for the line of work they’d like to end up in before they apply or enroll.

4. Volunteering for a Cause

Volunteering could be a great way for graduates to gain some extra skills before applying for a full-time job. Doing volunteer work may help graduates polish some essential soft skills, like interpersonal communication, interacting with clients or service recipients, and time management.

Another potential benefit to volunteering is the ability to network and forge new connections outside of college. The people-to-people connections made while volunteering could lead to mentorship and job offers.

Volunteering is something graduates can do after college besides work, while still fleshing out their resume or skills.

New grads may want to volunteer at an institution or organization that syncs with their values or, perhaps, pursue opportunities in sectors of the economy where they’d like to work later on (i.e., at a hospital).

On top of all these potential plus sides, volunteering just feels good. It makes people feel happier. And, after all of the stress that accompanies finishing up college, volunteering afterward could be the perfect way to recharge.

5. Serving Abroad

Similar to the last option, volunteering abroad can be attractive to some graduates. It may help grads gain similar skills they’d learn volunteering here at home, while also giving them the opportunity to learn how to interact with people from different cultures, try to learn a new language, and see new perspectives on solving problems.

Though it can be beneficial to the volunteers, volunteering abroad isn’t always as ethical as it seems. And, not all volunteering opportunities always benefit the local community.

It could take research to find organizations that are doing ethically responsible work abroad. One key thing to look for is organizations that put the locals first and have them directly involved in the work.

6. Taking a Gap Year

According to the Gap Year Association , a gap year is “a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”

While a gap year is generally taken after high school or after college, one common purpose of the gap year is to take the time to learn more about oneself and the world at large—which can be beneficial after graduating from college and trying to figure out what to do next.

Not only might a gap year help grads build insights into what they’d like to do with their later careers, it may also help them home in on a greater purpose in life or build connections that could lead to future job opportunities.

Graduates might want to spend a gap year doing a variety of activities—including:

•   trying out seasonal jobs
•   volunteering
•   interning
•   teaching or tutoring
•   traveling

A gap year can be whatever the graduate thinks will be most beneficial for them.

7. Traveling Before Working

Going on a trip after graduation is a popular choice for graduates that can afford to travel after college. Traveling can be expensive, so graduates may want to budget in advance (if they want to have this experience post-graduation.

On top of just being really fun, travel can have beneficial impacts for an individual’s stress levels and mental health. Research from Cornell University published in 2014 suggests that the anticipation of planning a trip might have the potential to increase happiness.

Traveling after graduation is a convenient time to start ticking locations off that bucket list, because graduates won’t be held back by a limited vacation time. Going abroad before working can give students more time and flexibility to travel as much as they’d like (and can afford to!).

With proper research, graduates can find more affordable ways to travel—such as a multi-country rail pass, etc. It doesn’t have to be all luxury all the time. Budget travel is possible especially when making conscious decisions, like staying in hostels and using public transportation.

If graduates are determined to travel before working, they can accomplish this by saving money and budgeting well.

Navigating Post Graduation Decisions

Whether a recent grad opt to start their careers off right away or to pursue one of the above-mentioned things to do after college besides work, student loans are something that millions of university students have taken out.

After graduating (or if you’ve dropped below half-time enrollment or left school), the reality of paying back student loans sets in. The exact moment that grads will have to begin paying off their student loans will vary by the type of loan.

For federal loans, there are a couple of different times that repayment begins. Students who took out a Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, or Federal Family Education Loan, will all have a six month grace period before they’re required to make payments. Students who took out a Perkins loan will have a nine month grace period.

When it comes to the PLUS loan, it depends on the type of student that’s taken one out. Undergraduates will be required to start repayment as soon as the loan is paid out. Graduate and professional students with PLUS loans will be on automatic deferment while they’re in school and up to six months after graduating.

Some graduates opt to refinance their student loans. What does that mean? Well, refinancing student loans is when a lender pays off the existing loan with another loan that has a new interest rate. Refinancing can potentially lower monthly loan repayments or reduce the amount spent on interest over the life of the loan.

Both US federal and private student loans can be refinanced, but when federal student loans are refinanced by a private lender, the borrower forfeits guaranteed federal benefits—including loan forgiveness, deferment and forbearance, and income-driven repayment options.

Refinancing student loans may reduce money paid to interest. For graduates who have secured well-paying jobs and have improved their credit score since taking out their student loan, refinancing could come with a competitive interest rate and different repayment terms.

Graduating from college means officially entering the realm of adulthood, but that transition can take many forms. There are various financial tips that recent graduates may opt to look into.

Thinking about refinancing your student loans? With SoFi, you could get prequalified in just two minutes.



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Source: sofi.com

What Is a Bond Mutual Fund – Risks & Different Types of This Investment

Investing is an important part of saving for the future, but many people are wary of putting their money into the stock market. Stocks can be volatile, with prices that change every day. If you can’t handle the volatility and risk of stocks or want to diversify your portfolio into a less risky investment, bonds are a good way to do so.

As with many types of investments, you can invest in bonds through a mutual fund, which gives you easy diversification and professional portfolio management — for a fee.

Are bond mutual funds a good addition to your portfolio? Here are the basics of these investment vehicles.

What Is a Bond?

A bond is a type of debt security. When organizations such as national and local governments, government agencies, or companies want to borrow money, one of the ways they can get the loan they need is by issuing a bond.

Investors purchase bonds from the organizations issuing them. Typically, bonds come with an interest rate and a maturity. For example, a company might sell bonds with an interest rate of 5% and a maturity of 20 years.

The investor would pay the company $1,000 for a $1,000 bond. Each year, that investor receives an interest payment of $50 (5% of $1,000). After 20 years, the investor receives a final interest payment plus the $1,000 they paid to buy the bond.


What Is a Mutual Fund?

A mutual fund is a way for investors to invest in a diverse portfolio while only having to purchase a single security.

Mutual funds pool money from many investors and use that money to buy bonds, stocks, and other securities. Each investor in the fund effectively owns a portion of the fund’s portfolio, so an investor can buy shares in one mutual fund to get exposure to hundreds of stocks or bonds.

This makes it easy for investors to diversify their portfolios.

Mutual fund managers make sure the fund’s portfolio follows their stated strategy and work towards the fund’s stated goal. Mutual funds charge a fee, called an expense ratio, for their services, which is important for investors to keep in mind when comparing funds.

Pro tip: Most mutual funds can be purchased through the individual fund family or through an online broker like Robinhood or Public.


Types of Bond Mutual Funds

There are many types of bond mutual funds that people can invest in.

1. Government

Government bond funds invest most of their money into bonds issued by different governments. Most American government bond funds invest primarily in bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury.

U.S. government debt is seen as some of the safest debt available. There is very little chance that the United States will default on its payments. That security can be appealing for investors, but also translates to lower interest rates than other bonds.

2. Corporate

Corporate bond funds invest most of their assets into bonds issued by companies.

Just like individuals, businesses receive credit ratings that affect how much interest they have to pay to lenders — in this case, investors looking to buy their bonds. Most corporate bond funds buy “investment-grade” bonds, which include the highest-rated bonds from the most creditworthy companies.

The lower a bond’s credit rating, the higher the interest rate it will pay. However, lower credit ratings also translate to a higher risk of default, so corporate bond funds will hold a mixture of bonds from a variety of companies to help diversify their risks.

3. Municipal

Municipal bonds are bonds issued by state and local governments, as well as government agencies.

Like businesses, different municipalities can have different credit ratings, which impacts the interest they must pay to sell their bonds. Municipal bond funds own a mixture of different bonds to help reduce the risk of any one issuer defaulting on its payments.

One unique perk of municipal bonds is that some or all of the interest that investors earn can be tax-free. The tax treatment of the returns depends on the precise holdings of the fund and where the investor lives.

Some mutual fund companies design special municipal bond funds for different states, giving investors from those states an option that provides completely tax-free yields.

The tax advantages municipal bond funds offer can make their effective yields higher than other bond funds that don’t offer tax-free yields. For example, someone in the 24% tax bracket would need to earn just under 4% on a taxable bond fund to get the equivalent return of a tax-free municipal bond fund offering 3%.

4. High-Yield

High-yield bond funds invest in bonds that offer higher interest rates than other bonds, like municipal bonds and government bonds.

Typically, this means buying bonds from issuers with lower credit ratings than investment-grade bonds. These bonds are sometimes called junk bonds. Their name comes from the fact that they are significantly riskier than other types of bonds, so there’s a higher chance that the issuer defaults and stops making interest payments.

Bond mutual funds diversify by buying bonds from hundreds of different issuers, which can help reduce this risk, but there’s still a good chance that some of the bonds in the fund’s portfolio will go into default, which can drag down the fund’s performance.

5. International

Foreign governments and companies need to borrow money just like American companies and governments. There’s nothing stopping Americans from investing in foreign bonds, so there are some mutual funds that focus on buying international bonds.

Each country and company has a credit rating that impacts the interest rate it has to pay. Many stable governments are seen as highly safe, much like the United States, but smaller or less economically developed nations sometimes have lower credit ratings, leading them to pay higher interest rates.

Another factor to keep in mind with international bonds is the currency they’re denominated in.

With American bonds, you buy the bond in dollars and get interest payments in dollars. If you buy a British bond, you might have to convert your dollars to pounds to buy the bond and receive your interest payments in pounds. This adds some currency risk to the equation, which can make investing in international bond funds more complex.

6. Mixed

Some bond mutual funds don’t specialize in any single type of bond. Instead, they hold a variety of bonds, foreign and domestic, government and corporate. This lets the fund managers focus on buying high-quality bonds with solid yields instead of restricting themselves to a specific class of bonds.


Why Invest in Bond Mutual Funds?

There are a few reasons for investors to consider investing in bond mutual funds.

Reduce Portfolio Risk and Volatility

One advantage of investing in bonds is that they tend to be much less risky and volatile than stocks.

Investing in stocks or mutual funds that hold stocks is an effective way to grow your investment portfolio. The S&P 500, for example, has averaged returns of almost 10% per year over the past century. However, in some years, the index has moved almost 40% upward or downward.

Over the long term, it’s easier to handle the volatility of stocks, but some people don’t have long-term investing goals. For example, people in retirement are more concerned with producing income and maintaining their spending power.

Putting some of your portfolio into bonds can reduce the impact of volatile stocks on your portfolio. This can be good for more risk-averse investors or those who have shorter time horizons for their investments.

There are some mutual funds, called target-date mutual funds, that hold a mix of stocks and bonds and increase their bond holdings over time, reducing risk as the target date nears.

Income

Bonds make regular interest payments to their holders and the majority of bond funds use some of the money they receive to make payments to their investors. This makes bond mutual funds popular among investors who want to make their investment portfolio a source of passive income.

You can look at different bond mutual funds and their annual yields to get an idea of how much income they’ll provide each year. For example, if a mutual fund offers a yield of 2.5%, investors can expect to receive $250 each year for every $10,000 they invest in the fund.

Pro tip: Have you considered hiring a financial advisor but don’t want to pay the high fees? Enter Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. When you sign up you’ll work closely with an advisor to create a custom investment plan that can help you meet your financial goals. Read our Vanguard Personal Advisor Services review.


Risks of Bond Funds

Before investing in bonds or bond mutual funds, you should consider the risks of investing in bonds.

Interest Rate Risk

One of the primary risks of fixed-income investing — whether you’re investing in bonds or bond funds — is interest rate risk.

Investors can buy and sell most bonds on the open market in addition to buying newly issued bonds directly from the issuing company or government. The market value of a bond will change with market interest rates.

In general, if market rates rise, the value of existing bonds falls. Conversely, if market rates fall, the value of existing bonds rises.

To understand why this happens, consider this example. Say you purchased a BBB-rated corporate bond with an interest rate of 2% for $1,000. Since you bought the bond, market rates have increased, so now BBB-rated companies now have to pay 3% to convince investors to buy their bonds.

If someone can buy a new $1,000 bond paying 3% interest, why would they pay you the same amount for your $1,000 bond paying 2% interest? If you want to sell your bond, you’ll have to sell it at a discount because investors can get a better deal on newly issued bonds.

Of course, the opposite is true if interest rates fall. In the above example, if market rates fell to 1%, you could command a premium for your bond paying 2% because investors can’t find new bonds of the same quality that pay that much anymore.

Interest rate risk applies to bond funds just as it applies to individual bonds. As rates rise, the share price of the fund tends to fall and vice versa.

Generally, the longer the bond’s maturity, the greater the effect a change in market interest rates will have on the bond’s value. Short-term bonds have much less interest rate risk than long-term bonds. Bond funds usually list the average time to maturity of bonds in their portfolio, which can help you assess a fund’s interest rate risk.

Credit Risk

Bonds are debt securities, meaning they’re reliant on the bond issuer being able to pay its debts.

Just like people, companies and governments can go bankrupt or default on their loan payments. If this happens, the people who own those bonds won’t get the money they lent back.

Bond mutual funds hold thousands of bonds, but if one of the issuers defaults, some of the fund’s bonds become worthless, reducing the value of the investors’ shares in the fund.

Bonds issued by organizations with higher credit ratings are generally less risky than those with poor credit ratings. For example, most people would consider U.S. government bonds to have a very low credit risk. A junk bond fund would have much more credit risk.

Foreign Exchange Risk

If you’re buying shares in a bond fund that invests in foreign bonds, you should consider foreign exchange risk.

Currencies constantly fluctuate in value. Over the past five years, $1 could buy anywhere between 0.80 and 0.96 euros.

To maximize returns, investors want to buy foreign bonds when the dollar is strong and receive interest payments and return of principal when the dollar is weak.

However, it’s incredibly hard to predict how currencies’ values will change over time, so investors in foreign bonds should consider how changing currency values will affect their returns.

Some bond funds use different strategies to hedge against this risk, using tools like currency futures or buying dollar-denominated bonds from foreign entities.

Fees

Mutual funds charge fees, which they commonly express as an expense ratio.

A fund’s expense ratio is the percentage of your invested assets that you pay each year. For example, someone who invests $10,000 in a mutual fund with a 1% expense ratio will pay $100 in fees each year.

Expense ratio fees are included when calculating the fund’s share price each day, so you don’t have to worry about having cash on hand to pay the fee. The fees are taken directly out of the fund’s share price, almost imperceptibly. Still, it’s important to understand the impact fees have on your overall returns.

If you invest $10,000 in a fund that produces an annual return of 5% and has a 0.25% expense ratio, after 20 years you’ll have $25,297.68. If that same fund had an expense ratio of 0.50%, you’d finish the 20 years with $24,117.14 instead.

In this example, a difference of 0.25% in fees would cost you more than $1,000.

If you find two bond funds with similar holdings and strategies, the one with the lower fees tends to be the better choice.


Final Word

Bond mutual funds are a popular way for investors to get exposure to bonds in their portfolios. Just as there are many different types of stocks, there are many types of bonds, each with advantages and disadvantages.

If you don’t want to pick and choose bonds to invest in, bond funds offer instant diversification and professional management. If you want an even more hands-off investing experience, working with a financial advisor or robo-advisor that handles your entire portfolio may be worth considering.

Source: moneycrashers.com

5 Mind-Altering Wealth Strategies for Successful Business Owners

I’m an entrepreneur and just so happen to be in the business of providing other entrepreneurs with financial advice. But I don’t typically offer up the usual status quo advice that tells you to do things that aren’t always in alignment with growing your business.

My views originate from my experiences and at times are contrarian to what’s being recommended by the usual tax preparer and other financial advisers, because I am in the trenches running a business just like you. I know what it takes to grow a business, make payroll, deal with IRS notices and manage cash flow.

The truth is that being an entrepreneur can be isolating at times as a result of being wrapped up in the day-to-day of running your business. When you are hyper-focused on your business, it is difficult to also be an expert at managing the profits of the company.  You may be great at making money, but once it’s made, what do you do with it?

Thinking differently about your company and how you will use it to build wealth is the key to true financial success.

In this article, I’ll outline five ways you can shift your mindset about money to transform how you define and operate your business and approach your financial decisions. It will help you identify what you really want to achieve: A Self-Managing Company®, a term coined by  Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach.  

Mind Shift No. 1: Understand that Retirement Savings Plans Don’t ‘Lower’ Your Tax Bill

As a business owner, you are probably time-starved and used to making fast decisions. And you may be tempted to make fast decisions at tax time, especially when your tax preparer suggests that tax-deferred investments are the answer to lower your tax bill and save some money for retirement.  Easy enough, right?

This is what I like to call a half-truth. It’s true that you’ll get the deduction for that year’s taxes. But the other half of the story uncovers the problem with the use of SEP IRAs, 401(k)s and other tax-deferred options to “lower” your tax bill. The reality is that you are taking money from your business where you have some level of control and redirecting those dollars into the stock market where you have absolutely no control.  The money is tied up until you are 59½ years old and face potentially higher tax liabilities than you previously owed with no access to your cash if it is needed for growing or sustaining your business.

When you own a business, the half-truths you hear from many finance professionals and the mainstream media can at times negatively impact your ability to grow your business and protect your interests.  I have found there are other, more productive ways to build wealth outside of your business, beyond the base-level concepts of investing or putting money in an IRA or 401(k).

Mind Shift No. 2: View Your Company Not as Your Job, but as a Tool for Building Your Wealth

If you run a healthy business, you have a long-term strategy. You know what the end-goal is. You think about the business as a whole, rather than focusing on simply the day-to-day tasks.

We’ve all heard the old adage: Work on your business, not in your business. That’s because if you’re working in your business all the time, you’ve only created a job for yourself.  The goal is to build systems and develop people to slowly work yourself out of the role you have and allow the business to run on its own.  The sooner you shift your mindset to this way of thinking, the sooner you can begin to experience the results.

First, carve out the time in your day to think about your business. Many business owners I talk to don’t do this, because they are buried in the work. Take time to talk to your future self about what you want your life to look like in the future.  What would your future self say to you about the decisions and choices you are making?  It helps to outline your thinking time, keep a journal of your discoveries, meditate to de-stress, and use the time to reflect on what you are trying to accomplish in the business.

Next, think about your business as a piece of your financial plan. How much time and capital are you investing into the business, and what are you getting out of it?  What is your ROI?  I’ve found that a business can offer the biggest opportunity to build wealth, and in many cases — depending on your results — it can offer more than what you might get from investing in the market.

Finally, think with the end in mind. At the end of the day, what are you trying to get out of your company? To build wealth through your business, you must identify what will build its value.

Building value revolves around creating a self-managing company, one that runs without you and has a strategy to sustain itself into the future. This allows you to sell it for maximum value, or even create a passive income stream without actually having to work in the business.

Shifting your mindset is important, because you probably didn’t start your business that way. Many business owners don’t, and that’s OK while you’re getting things up and running. But it’s important to remember that what got you started will not get you to the next level and will not build the wealth needed to successfully exit the business.

Mind Shift No. 3: Master Your Cash Flow

I tend to bust a lot of myths when it comes to financial matters, and one of them has to do with cash flow. This is especially important to understand as an entrepreneur. Your cash flow is not there to simply pay your bills. Yes, you must pay your bills of course, but there is more to it than simply making payroll.

Cash flow is a tool to help you build wealth and the value of your company.  Healthy cash flow allows for you to control your money, and there are strategies you can explore to help you maximize it.

I recently spoke with a partner of a business who was earning a W-2 salary of $400,000 per year. In working with his CPA, we were able to rework his partnership agreement, removing him as an employee and adding him as a consultant of his own LLC.  While this simple strategy reduced his tax liability by $20,000, implementing this strategy was about more than just lowering taxes.  This was about cash flow – everything is always about cash flow.  By making this little tweak, he increased his cash flow by $1,666 per month.

I’m not a CPA and don’t provide tax advice, but I ask a lot of questions and propose many scenarios for the tax professionals to consider – scenarios that can increase cash flow for business owners. Increasing and optimizing your cash flow should be a top priority for your business.

Mind Shift No. 4: Be Your Own Bank

Companies with cash are able to do many things without having to rely on a bank or other source of funding. In essence, they can be their own bank. Think about it. When you have cash, you can use it to work on your wealth-building strategy. You could buy a company, invest in equipment, hire more people (maybe even a replacement for yourself who can run the company while you collect passive income), buy property, or take advantage of any other opportunity that may come your way.

But there is another way you can be your own bank. Maybe you’ve heard of the concept of “BUILD Banking™,” a cash flow strategy using a specially designed life insurance contract. It’s a strategy that I use personally and with many of my clients who want to have greater control of their cash flow. It frees them from dependence on banks for capital infusions and avoids government red tape when they need to access their money.

For more information about BUILD Banking™, visit www.buildbanking.com.

This strategy enables business owners to grow assets tax-free and have access to those funds whenever they’re needed. In essence, you’re accessing cash when it is needed while having uninterrupted compounding growth for your future.

Mind Shift No. 5: Understand Your Legal Exposures and Protect Yourself

You likely have some form, or forms, of insurance in place for your business. And you may believe that these policies have you covered. Well, they may, and they may not. The coverage you need goes far beyond liability, even extending into punitive damages.

It’s important to work with an insurance professional who specializes in business coverage to ensure that you have the right type of policies and the proper level of protection for your specific business.

There are also certain types of insurance policies (including the BUILD Banking strategy I’ve described above) that can serve a strategic purpose for your business. It’s common, and valuable, for business owners to have a life insurance contract as part of their succession plan, acting as a funding mechanism for the beneficiary to purchase the deceased owner’s share of the business.

Again, you will want to have a collaborating team of insurance professionals who have expertise in their vertical and who understand your business, your goals and what you are trying to accomplish. It’s also a good idea to include your CPA, attorney and financial planner in on those discussions.

These five financial planning tips and mindset shifts will help you use your business as a tool to start building wealth (or build greater wealth). They may be things you’ve never thought about, or things you’ve considered but haven’t been able to implement.  Putting these ideas to work can get you on the path to true business success.

Results may vary. Any descriptions involving life insurance policies and their use as an alternative form of financing or risk management techniques are provided for illustration purposes only, will not apply in all situations, may not be fully indicative of any present or future investments, and may be changed at the discretion of the insurance carrier, General Partner and/or Manager and are not intended to reflect guarantees on securities performance. Benefits and guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the insurance company.
The terms BUILD Banking™, private banking alternatives or specially designed life insurance contracts (SDLIC) are not meant to insinuate that the issuer is creating a real bank for its clients or communicating that life insurance companies are the same as traditional banking institutions.
This material is educational in nature and should not be deemed as a solicitation of any specific product or service. BUILD Banking™ is offered by Skrobonja Insurance Services LLC only and is not offered by Kalos Capital Inc. nor Kalos Management.
BUILD Banking™ is a DBA of Skrobonja Insurance Services LLC.  Skrobonja Insurance Services LLC does not provide tax or legal advice. The opinions and views expressed here are for informational purposes only. Please consult with your tax and/or legal adviser for such guidance.

Founder & President, Skrobonja Financial Group LLC

Brian Skrobonja is an author, blogger, podcaster and speaker. He is the founder of St. Louis Missouri-based wealth management firm Skrobonja Financial Group LLC. His goal is to help his audience discover the root of their beliefs about money and challenge them to think differently to reach their goals. Brian is the author of three books, the Common Sense podcast and blog. In 2017 and 2019 Brian received the award for Best Wealth Manager and in 2018 the Future 50 St. Louis Small Business.

Source: kiplinger.com

The Ultimate College Senior Checklist

Earning a college degree is no easy feat. Think countless late-night cram sessions, tedious loan applications, heavy textbooks to haul around. For some college seniors, June cannot come fast enough, and it’s understandable why senioritis kicks in. That said, there’s still a lot of important work to do before crossing that graduation stage.

From jumping through the logistical hoops of making it to graduation day to launching a job search and addressing student loan payments, there are a lot of important pre-graduation to-do’s that may require prompt attention.

Here’s a comprehensive checklist that will help college seniors be prepared to graduate and enter the working world.

Dotting I’s and Crossing T’s

Ideally, before senior year begins (or sooner for those planning to graduate early), students should meet with their guidance counselor to make sure they have all of their ducks in a row in order to graduate. Switching majors, studying abroad, or misunderstanding degree requirements can lead to confusion about which classes must be taken to graduate.

Before setting a class schedule for the year, it can’t hurt to double-check with a college counselor that all requirements are being met. Some schools even have a certain amount of community service or chapel hours required in order to graduate, so again, it’s smart to confirm that everything is moving along as it should be.

Preparing for the graduation ceremony needs to be done in advance. Colleges and universities often require students to apply to graduate and register their planned attendance at the ceremony well ahead of the actual day.

To streamline the process, many schools have grad fairs where students can pick up their commencement tickets; buy a cap and gown, class rings and commencement announcements; and ask questions about the logistics of graduation day.

Transcripts can come in handy when applying for jobs and graduate school programs, so picking up a few copies while still on campus can save time down the road. And don’t forget to turn in those library books! No one will want to trek back to campus after graduation to pay late fees.

Getting a Jumpstart on a Job Search

It’s no secret that college graduates flood the job market each June, so getting ahead of the pack can make job searching a little easier. Applying for jobs earlier in the spring can lessen the competition and give seniors confidence that they have a job lined up when they graduate.

If launching a full-blown job search during school isn’t possible, college seniors can at least take steps toward preparing for the job search.

Stop by the career center and see what resources it can provide. Schools have a career center for a reason! Most are ready to help students prepare their resumes and perfect their cover letters, and they typically have job postings from companies looking to hire recent graduates.

Some career centers may offer mock interviews so students can hone those skills, or they may provide support when issues arise during a job search. Popping by between classes to see what services are offered will only take a few minutes.

At the very least, college seniors can poke around online job boards and research local companies to see what opportunities are out there.

Making Connections

As a student, it may feel like having a professional network is unattainable, but many build one while in school without realizing it. One easy way to get a head start on a job search, without doing too much work during a hectic final year of school, is to focus on building relationships and requesting references.

Professors, employers, and intern supervisors can all provide references that can strengthen a job search. Finding that first job out of college can be tricky, when resumes are on the shorter side, so a handful of strong references can make all the difference.

While requesting references, college seniors should tell their connections what career path they’re hoping to pursue. One never knows where the next opportunity might come from.

Paying Back Student Loans

Preparing to navigate life after college can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to finances. No one wants to think about student loan payments, but it can be helpful to start making repayment plans before graduation day.

Try beginning the planning process by simply looking up the current balance for each student loan held, including both federal and private loans. Then note when the grace period ends for each loan and when the lender expects payment. It’s important to plan to make loan payments on time each month, as that can boost a credit score.

Lenders usually provide repayment information during the grace period, including repayment options. Many federal student loans qualify for a minimum of one income-driven or income-based repayment plan.

Federal student loans may qualify for a variety of repayment plans, such as the Standard Repayment Plan, Graduated Repayment Plan, Extended Repayment Plans, Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan, Income-Based Repayment Plan, Income-Contingent Repayment Plan, and Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan. It is important to carefully research each payment plan before choosing one.

For private student loan repayment, it is best to speak directly with the loan originator about repayment options. Many private student loans require payments while the borrower is still in school, but some offer deferred repayment. After the grace period, the borrower will have to make principal and interest payments. Some lenders offer repayment programs with budget flexibility.

Whether students or their parents chose to take out federal or private student loans (or both), reviewing all possible repayment plan options can provide choices. And who doesn’t like choices?

One Loan, One Monthly Payment

Some graduates may want to consider refinancing or consolidating their student debt.

Borrowers who have federal student loans may qualify for a Direct Consolidation Loan after they graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment.

Consolidating multiple federal loans into one allows borrowers to make just one loan payment each month. In some cases, the repayment schedule may be extended, resulting in lower payments, after consolidating (but increasing the period of time to repay loans usually means making more payments and paying more total interest).

Refinancing allows the borrower to convert multiple loans—federal and/or private—into one new private loan with a new interest rate, repayment term, and monthly payment. The goal is a lower interest rate. (It’s worth noting that refinancing a federal loan into a private loan can lead to losing benefits only available through federal lenders, such as public service forgiveness and economic hardship programs.)

Refinancing can be a good solution for working graduates who have high-interest, unsubsidized Direct Loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and/or private loans.

If that sounds like a good fit, SoFi offers student loan refinancing with zero origination fees or prepayment penalties. Getting prequalified online is quick and easy.

Learn more about SoFi Student Loan Refinancing options and benefits.



SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF SEPTEMBER DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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Source: sofi.com

Hidden Costs to Watch Out For

Getting a loan? Whether it’s for a new home, car, or something else, don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on the monthly fee. There are many hidden costs out there that can trip you up and make you spend more than you intended over the long run. Here are three of the most common ones to watch out for.

Discount Points on Home Mortgages

When getting home mortgage, you’ll likely be offered the option to pay “discount points.” This is the option to pay a certain fee up front to lower the interest rate throughout the loan’s lifetime. In a sense, it’s “pre-paid interest,” and on average every 1% of the total loan amount you pay up front will lower the interest rate by about 0.125%.

Here’s the thing about discount points: They’re only beneficial if you break even on the up front payment eventually. That only happens when you hold on to the house long enough. Otherwise, you end up paying more than if you simply kept the interest rate where it was.

The key to getting the most out of home mortgage discount points is to decide ahead of time how long you’ll keep the house. If you’re planning to keep it for 10 years or more, then paying for discount points is a smart move. Otherwise, skip them.

Admin/Underwriting Fees

These fees are only supposed to apply when you get your loan from a bank or other lending agency. You don’t need to pay admin/underwriting fees when you get your loan from a broker – simply because they don’t do any underwriting. The lender does.

It pays to know this little bit of trivia, because a fair number of unscrupulous brokers use this technique to pad their bottom line. Don’t be fooled!

Cost of Ownership

Cost of ownership is not a “hidden cost” per se, but it’s definitely unexpected for many individuals. But more importantly, not factoring it in may cost you thousands of dollars in the long run.

Cost of ownership is basically those other costs that come with owning a new asset. For instance, if you’re getting a new home, cost of ownership will include paying property taxes, insurance, furniture, landscaping, etc. If you’re getting a new car, you’ll have to fork over some cash for insurance and the sales tax.

Our advice: If you’re getting a loan that’s right at your financial limit, you’re likely heading for trouble. You may need to dial back a bit, or postpone taking that loan until you’re better prepared for the costs of ownership.

One Final Tip

Even if you’re not planning to take out a loan anytime soon, work on your credit score as early as now. Bring it up to 760 or more, so that any loan you take out in the future will be met with the lowest interest rates. And, perhaps more importantly, working on your credit score trains you to handle your finances better, so you’ll make smarter decisions on money matters moving forward.

Source: creditabsolute.com