Whether you’re drowning in debt or cruising toward retirement, there’s always room for a little financial tuneup. And Saturday, there’s an opportunity to get it – for free.
Now in its third year, the Greater Sacramento Financial Planning Day offers up about 40 local financial experts who will answer your questions one-on-one.
“It really depends on what stage of life you’re in,” said event co-chair Steven Raymond, a certified financial planner with Navion Financial Advisors in Davis. “If you’re just starting out, it’s a way to learn some investment basics or debt management. Later on in life, you’re probably more interested in estate planning or hard-core tax and retirement planning.”
The event coincides with recent studies that show Americans are still feeling a little uneasy when it comes to their financial know-how. About 32 percent of U.S. adults feel their lack of knowledge led them to make poor financial decisions, according to a Bank of America telephone survey conducted in September.
Part of the problem? More than one in five adults – 22 percent – say they avoid seeking financial education because they feel intimidated by the terminology.
That’s the point of the nationwide Financial Planning Day, offered in 20 cities this month and November, which aims to spread financial literacy and get people feeling they’re on firmer financial footing.
Last year, Vikki Kruger attended the West Sacramento event to get a firsthand assessment of how she and her husband were faring on the road to retirement. The Folsom couple, both in their early 50s and working full time, were a year away from sending their youngest off to college.
“It just seemed like a perfect way to get information,” said Kruger. “We had a lot of different brokerage accounts and some were sort of languishing, without earning much interest. Should we consolidate them? How should we pay for our daughter’s college … should we liquidate some holdings?
Her biggest question: “Are we on track to retire comfortably?”
Those are exactly the kinds of questions that planners are ready to help with, say the event’s coordinators. The topics are wide-ranging: retirement planning, 401(k) and IRA accounts, foreclosure assistance, investing and tax planning, wills/trusts/estate plans, inheritances and charitable giving, life insurance and long-term care coverage, college savings and home buying.
At last year’s event, which doubled in attendance from 2011, the 400-some attendees ranged from low-income workers to high-earning independents, said co-chair Debbie Grose, a financial planner in Folsom. “The gamut has been everything from people with unbearable, hard-luck credit problems to do-it-yourselfers who are just looking for a second opinion on their investment portfolio. Some just (want) reassurance.”
Sitting down with a financial planner can also be a reminder to prepare for the “heaven forbids,” the life-changing events such as job loss, divorce or even the death of a spouse.
Grose recalls recently meeting a young married couple in their 20s who didn’t realize they needed to change the beneficiary on the husband’s life insurance policy. The policy, provided by his employer years earlier when he was single, still listed his mother as his beneficiary.
In the event he died, his young wife would not have been legally entitled to receive the financial support necessary to cover their mortgage and other expenses. “His retirement benefits would go to his mother, not his wife. Same with his life insurance,” said Grose. “It’s a common mistake when people get married – or when they get divorced. They forget to change their beneficiaries to align with their new life.”
Planners are from throughout the region, including Davis, Folsom, Sacramento and Yuba City.
In addition to the one-on-one sessions, there are hourly workshops on varied topics, such as the “Financial Planning Starter Kit,” which covers basics on insurance, 401(k)s and general budgeting. “It’s a good one for people who are younger or haven’t done much planning yet,” said Raymond.
This year, the organizers added two new presentations on the federal Affordable Care Act “because everybody’s talking about it,” said Raymond. The sessions, at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., will offer details on costs, subsidies and enrollment options in the Covered California health care exchange.
(For Financial Planning Day details and a workshop schedule, see box.)
But the annual event is decidedly not about financial planners trolling for prospective clients, said Raymond. Not only are the volunteer CFPs banned from passing out their business cards, but they also cannot collect personal contact information from attendees.
“There is absolutely no selling allowed and no prospecting, either,” he said. “A very few attendees actually become financial planning clients, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the event is designed to be a free event with no strings attached.”
But because the lines can be long, he recommends going to one of the workshops in the morning, then getting in line for a one-on-one session in the afternoon.
After Kruger attended last year, she and her husband decided to make an appointment for more in-depth advice from a certified financial planner. Vikki, a brand manager for a video production company, and Pete, who travels internationally for the horticulture industry, both love their jobs and don’t feel any urgency to retire for at least another decade. But even with that long-term horizon, they wondered: Will we be able to retire comfortably when we’re ready?
“Turns out we weren’t. For what we wanted to do – buy a small vacation house, do a lot of traveling, (the planners) said it’s doable, but you have to make some changes.”
Since last year, the Krugers refinanced their home to bring down their mortgage payments, consolidated some investment accounts and looked at the best ways to cover their daughter’s four years at UC Davis. “I’d recommend this to anyone.”
Likewise, the financial planning event can be a springboard to making changes on your own. And, as Grose notes, because it’s free, “you don’t have anything to lose other than a little time on a Saturday afternoon.”