Recent data from a Money Magazine financial survey of American households sheds light on a shocking reality: 60 percent of respondents expressed anxiety about their family’s long-term financial stability. There are myriad experiences and likely a few horror stories behind these figures, with which most of us can identify — the housing market collapse, 401(k) balances, job layoffs, rising healthcare costs, etc. But with the economic rebound and 2014’s all-time stock market highs, you would think American households would have a brighter outlook on the future.
To that point, one especially interesting section of the survey indicated short-term optimism is exceptionally high for these very same folks. Ninety percent of respondents felt their financial circumstances would be the same or better in 2015. Yet their long-term sentiments were sharply different.
This survey is just a small window into the lives of everyday Americans ranging from recent college graduates and young professionals to high net worth business owners and retirees. Let’s examine the root cause for household financial anxieties and focus on eight of the most frequent financial concerns. Along the way, we’ll highlight one very simple, frequently overlooked answer, to calm each and every worry.
1. What happens if my income disappears?
Whether you’re working for an unstable company or in an altogether shaky industry, everyone loses some measure of sleep worrying about income loss. The question is: what have you done about it? Many fortunate employees have disability insurance as part of their company benefits. At the end of 2013, there were almost nine million Americans receiving Social Security Disability checks every month, with the average monthly payout being just over $1,100 each month.
While this serves a very important function, most could not survive such a sharp drop in income. The solution: disability and life insurance protection. A few dollars each month will provide exponential benefit in the event of temporary or permanent loss of wages.
2. How will I ever erase my debts?
We all take on debt in some form or fashion throughout life — a mortgage on our first home, a loan for a new car, student loans for higher education, or credit card debt out of necessity. Plenty of financial pundits will tell you to erase all debt, but as I’ve mentioned before, not all debt is bad. Uncontrolled debt, however, can ruin your life and the lives of those around you.
A 2012 study of middle-income American households found that those age 50 and older carry an average of nearly 33 percent more credit card debt than those below age 50. Economic hardships, declining real estate values and a host of other problems are to blame, but the data raises an important question. Assuming those over age 50 aren’t working forever and assuming their savings aren’t rebounding, what happens to that debt when they die?
The short answer is their estate typically inherits the debt and offsets any assets. Translation: the debt comes out of the heirs’ inheritance. Plan for this in your younger years and secure enough life insurance to cover any business or personal debts you might leave to your heirs in the event of your untimely death.
3. Can I afford to raise children?
For couples planning for families in the near future or those who are “in the thick of it” already, the expenses of child rearing are nothing short of staggering. There are plenty savings vehicles and investment options for parents or grandparents looking to give Little Junior a boost. Some options offer more features than others but one especially flexible option involves life insurance.
The concept is simple: stash away savings, extra earnings, bonuses, inheritance, etc. into a life insurance policy that has tax-advantaged growth potential. In addition to growing your cash value for school tuition, room and board, or unexpected medical expenses, you also have life insurance attached to provide a lasting benefit at death. Best of all, if Little Junior lands a full-ride scholarship, the cash value is not required for education expenses as with a number of other savings options. The money is yours to do whatever you want.
4. How do I plan for a tax-favored retirement?
Take a poll of your five closest pals and ask them who looks forward to paying taxes in April. Chances are you won’t get a very warm response. Ever since the Revenue Act of 1978 laid the foundation for the 401(k) plan as we now know it, the burden of a successful retirement has shifted to you and me. Thankfully, we have investment advisors to help guide us along the way, but my point is your parents’ and grandparents’ company pensions are largely a thing of the past.
So how can we take control of our own retirement and help ensure we not only diversify our mix of investments but also diversify the tax treatment of our retirement assets? 401(k) balances were nearly $4.3 trillion at the end of March, 2014, which represents almost 20 percent of the total retirement savings for American households. Each and every dollar of retirement income taken from traditional 401(k) accounts is generally taxable. What if you could supplement these core retirement investments with an account that builds cash value and allows you to turn on a tax-free income stream? You guessed it — a cash value life insurance policy may be a good fit.
5. What will happen to my business and employees?
Most business owners, especially small business owners, are laser focused on growing their companies, building a loyal customer base and ultimately increasing net income. As a small business owner myself, I can tell you my focus is often tested by worries — especially financial worries. If I can’t continue working, who will take care of my client base? My employees? My family? Business owners who have partners have another set of concerns unto themselves: What if something happens to my partner? How will that affect the business and the rest of the partners?
A 2011 survey of more than 900 small business owners found that, while more than 40 percent of respondents said dealing with the death or disability of an owner or key employee was a major concern, fewer than 25 percent had formalized any planning to address the concerns. Disability and life insurance are critical components of any business plan, large or small. The coverage provides the cash flow and capital infusion to continue business operations, hire replacement leadership or buy out partnership interests from a deceased’s family.
6. I’m only getting older. What happens if I get sick?
You’ll never be younger or healthier than you are today. From a financial perspective, it’s imperative to take advantage of opportunities to capitalize on this gift. Start saving as early as possible and save in different ways. Cash in a bank account is good, but so are properly allocated investment accounts, quality real estate or even a life insurance policy that builds cash value.
Many life insurance policies can be tapped before death in the event of chronic or terminal illness and some carriers even offer a long-term care insurance rider to help cover the cost of care for skilled nursing and home care among other qualifying expenses. Utilizing multiple avenues of savings, including a portion in life insurance, will put you in a stronger position to manage the rising costs of medical care due to illness.
7. Will I be able to continue charitable giving?
Giving to charity may have fallen along with the stock market a few years back, but as account balances have rebounded, so too has charitable giving. In 2013, Americans gave more than $335 billion to a mix of charities, just shy of the 2007 high of $349 billion. Giving has grown each of the past four years and the trend is expected to continue — as was evident with this summer’s wildly successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which topped $100 million in donations from more than three million unique donors.
However, what happens if you die prematurely and your donations are lost? Chances are, the good works, community impact and critical services these charities provide will suffer greatly. Many donors choose to name their favorite charities as beneficiaries of life insurance policies to ensure their funding commitment continues. There may also be favorable tax benefits available to you as donor — a bonus over and above the lasting impact your gift is sure to have.
8. What will my financial legacy be?
Nobody sets out with a plan to leave survivors with a financial mess, but through life’s twists and turns some unfortunately end up with utter chaos. With simple planning in advance, you can chart the best course for your own financial legacy to carry on your values, give a boost to your heirs or simply safeguard treasured family heirlooms.
The term ‘estate planning’ may connote images of blue blood aristocrats with many millions in trust funds, but while few are fortunate to experience that level of success, each and every one of us needs some measure of estate planning. In it’s simplest form, estate planning is merely a directive for your heirs on how you’d like things handled when you’re no longer able to make the decisions and how you’d like things divvied up when you die.
Studies show that more than 50 percent of American households don’t even have wills, let alone more detailed estate planning documents. Similar reports indicate more than 90 percent of millennials age 35 or under have no planning whatsoever. A simple, cost-effective way to provide a strong financial legacy is to incorporate life insurance into your estate plan. Ensure your wishes are carried out while protecting the assets and providing for the people you value most.
Winston Churchill famously declared,
“Let our advanced worrying become advanced thinking and planning.”
Worry, especially financial worry, is frequent, so it’s important to expect it, anticipate it and plan for it. While life insurance is not particularly sexy, it remains a versatile financial tool worth a closer look as you plan and prepare for the ups and downs of life.
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