Attorneys Rebecca Y. Zung-Clough and Robert L. Lancaster explain how to take stock and take control of your finances.

What percentage of women do you think end up managing their own finances at some point in their lives? Twenty-five percent? Maybe 50 percent? Because of life circumstances such as divorce or the death of a spouse, the answer is a staggering 80 to 90 percent.


Most women have never learned how to manage finances. They often rely on their husbands to take care of money matters, or think they don’t have the time or even the confidence to tackle such a seemingly overwhelming task. This means today’s smart woman doesn’/t marry for money! Today’s empowered woman knows she will likely be managing her own finances at some point in her life.

So the time has come to learn some basics. In this brave new world, there are three areas to become familiar with: Household Finances, Investment and Retirement Planning and Estate Planning.

HOUSEHOLD FINANCES

Get Acquainted! Learn where you are financially. List all of your monthly expenses and income so you’ll know whether you have a net surplus or deficit each month. Then list all your assets and liabilities, and their current values to determine your total net worth. Include the balance of any debt you owe with your liabilities, and make sure you know the interest rate on each, so you can determine which ones to pay off first.

Create Your Own Credit. Be sure to establish and maintain credit in your own name. Credit applications are often denied when applicants haven’t had credit, or haven’t had it long enough.

INVESTMENT AND RETIREMENT PLANNING

Determine Your Goals. Once you’ve figured out your monthly expenses, you can determine how much you’ll need to retire. With people living longer, it’s important to consider that if you retire at 65, you may need to continue your standard of living for another 30 years. You should also think about other goals you have, whether it’s putting children (or grandchildren) through college or going on vacations.

Now determine what types of investments are appropriate for you and your appetite for risk. In today’s market, many people are reticent to be in the stock market. In reality, there are some equities that are good deals right now. Depending on how many years you have to retirement, a combination of stocks and bonds might be appropriate. Safer investments include U.S. Treasuries, certificates of deposit or money market funds. A financial advisor whom you trust can help you determine which investment option is the most beneficial for you.
Plan for Retirement Now. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, be sure you’re paying into it. It’s an opportunity to save for the future and reduce your current income tax burden. Many employers still offer a matching contribution up to a certain percentage, so try to contribute at least enough to take full advantage of that.

There are also several types of IRAs from which you can choose. Again, discuss these options with your trusted advisor to determine which one is best for you.

Diversify, diversify, diversify! One thing is certain – the stock market rises and falls over time. History has proven that portfolios that are fully diversified perform the best and with the least amount of risk.

ESTATE PLANNING

It’s For Everyone. No financial plan can be considered complete without proper estate planning. Having a structured plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones when you die. And there’s the added benefit of reducing your taxes. Estate planning allows you to take direct control of what happens to your assets. If you don’t make these decisions, the state in which you live will make them for you.
Title Properly. To make sure your intentions are fulfilled when you pass on, talk with your attorney about coordinating the titling of your assets with your estate plan. Assets owned jointly with rights of survivorship will pass by “operation of law.” Other assets will be given to your beneficiaries through a probate proceeding or through your revocable trust.

Taking the steps above, along with forming a trusted relationship with an attorney and financial advisor will empower you to take control of you own financial destimy. Remember, “a man is not a financial plan!”


Rebecca Y. Zung-Clough, Esq. is a wealth strategist with Northern Trust.

Robert L. Lancaster, Esq. is a partner with Cummings & Lockwood Law Firm