About the author: Lamar Watson, CFP®, is a Fee-Only Financial Advisor in the Washington, D.C. area that works with clients virtually across the country. Lamar's work with his clients focuses on budgeting, employee benefits, paying down debt, buying their first home, and investing. Lamar is the Founder of Dream Financial Planning, a virtual Fiduciary Financial Planning firm specifically designed to help young professionals and minorities take control of their finances and fulfill their dreams. Feel free to schedule a complimentary consultation to learn how we use the DREAM Financial Planning Process ™ to help our clients achieve their goals.
Working with a trusted financial professional is important when it comes to strategizing and preparing to meet your financial goals. But as most of us handle money on a daily basis, it’s important to have an in-depth understanding of the fundamentals of financial literacy. Below we’ve identified five financial basics everyone should know. Understanding these important concepts can serve as a basis for your financial standings.
Basics #1: Debt & Credit Scores
Understanding the ways in which credit or debt can work with or against you should serve as the foundation of your financial knowledge. First and foremost, it's not wise to avoid credit or debt altogether out of fear or intimidation. Instead, it’s important to have a firm grasp on your financial standings and a plan for tackling debt responsibly.
When used correctly, debt can be useful. But when misused, it can spiral out of control fast. Missed payments can accrue interest or penalties and may impact your credit score in a negative way. Debt that is managed responsibly can help you reach important goals like buying a car, purchasing a home, going to college, starting a business, and more.
Your credit score is one of the factors lenders use to judge your trustworthiness and qualification for mortgages, auto loans, and other lending opportunities. Landlords and employers may also check your credit before renting to you or offering you a job. Your credit score is dependent on a number of factors including previous credit history, current debts, history of payments, and more.
Basics #2: Interest
There are two sides to interest that can make it a tricky concept to grasp - interest accrued on debt and interest accrued on savings.
When you take on debt (like credit card debt, an auto loan, or mortgage), you’ll be responsible for paying back both the principal amount and the interest accrued on the loan. The interest is how a lender makes money on the loan and provides the borrower with an incentive to pay the loan back in full and on time.
When you have a savings account that accrues interest, the interest earned gets added to the principal. Then, interest is earned on the new, larger principal, and the cycle repeats. This is called compounding interest, and it can be an integral part in growing your retirement savings - as the longer the interest has to compound, the greater the savings will grow.
Basics #3: The Value of Time
As a general rule of thumb, it’s never too early to start saving - for retirement, homebuying, a child’s education, or whatever could be coming down the line. The earlier you start saving, the more you’ll be able to tuck away over time - especially with the power of compounding interest. This leverages the value of time to your advantage.
Basics #4: Inflation
Inflation has the potential to eat away the purchasing power of your money. That means, with inflation, the dollar you earn today may not be worth a dollar in the future. Below are two important concepts to remember regarding inflation.
Cash in a Mattress
Keeping all your cash under a mattress is not only unsafe, it literally costs you money. Assuming the annual rate of inflation is a hypothetical two percent, every dollar you keep under your mattress and not earning interest would shrink in value to $.98 next year.
Rate of Return
Because inflation erodes the purchasing power of your money, any returns you earn on your accounts may not be the “real” rate of return. If your account earned a hypothetical six percent rate of return over the last year, but inflation was 1.5 percent, your real rate of return was 4.5 percent.
Basics #5: Identity Theft & Safety
Especially as the world shifts to doing everything virtually, identity theft remains one of the biggest threats to financial and personal security. A cracked password or misplaced Social Security number can have big consequences on your current and future finances.
The common wisdom is to use a unique password for each site or service you use. A password manager can make this easier by generating and storing strong passwords automatically. If you don’t have any protection currently in place, now would be a good time to consider identity theft insurance. I've included a helpful PDF below.
This checklist covers:
- Ways to minimize cyber threats
- Tips to identify common scams
- Steps to take if a client suspects unlawful activity
While this is a brief overview of some important financial basics, it’s important to work with your trusted financial professional to explore these topics further. Remember to reach out if you have questions about any financial basics, and take this month to reevaluate your current financial knowledge as you identify potential areas for improvement.
Dream Financial Planning Process ™
Whether you're managing student loan debt, starting a family, or considering buying your first home, the DREAM Financial Planning Process™ is tailored to the unique needs of busy professionals in their 30s and 40s. This process focuses more on short-term goals while you grow and evolve in your personal and professional life. If you're looking for guidance on Financial Planning, optimizing employee benefits, budgeting, student loans, and managing your 401k or investments, we can help.
With uncertainty surrounding the economic stability of our country, it's okay to have fears and anxieties surrounding your own savings and investments. The most productive course of action from here is to reach out to Dream Financial Planning (or whoever your trusted advisor might be) and discuss your options. It's easy to have knee-jerk reactions when it feels like the bottom is falling out, but it is imperative to make decisions using research-backed data and a level head. If you'd like a Complimentary Review and risk assessment of your investment portfolio, feel free to send me an e-mail.
If you're looking to buy your first home, you'll want to read this month's Newsletter. In my February Newsletter, I discuss how student loans could affect your ability to buy a home with Megan Leonhardt of CNBC. There are also blog posts that discuss 7 Tax Deductions For The Self Employed and 4 Common Mistakes Made by First Time Homebuyers.