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PERSONAL FINANCE

What is Evidence Based Investing?

Evidence based investing is a recent movement in the financial industry focused on what we see as real market behavior. By discerning what is real and narrowing down the evidence surrounding modern investing, we can then determine the best strategies to deploy to reduce volatility and maximize returns. While no one strategy is the best all the time, the strategies that perform consistently over long time periods have been clearly identified. JarredBunch’s Factor VI strategies consolidate and apply this knowledge to offer clients options which best meet their unique investing needs.

Active vs. Passive

The best investment strategy for you is the one you can stick with over a long period of time. Passive buy-and-hold strategies do work, but there are fundamental issues which need to be addressed:

  • Can you maintain a buy-and-hold strategy for at least 20 years? How long are you willing to hold?
  • Do you have the stomach to not make any changes during market drops of 20-50%?
  • Do I ever sell or make changes to my allocation? Why and when?
  • Do you have alternatives if the market is down when you are ready to draw on your account?
  • How do you know which assets to choose from and when to stick with them?
  • What if you need to take money out during a bear market?

Several studies, including Dalbar, show that the majority of investors may say “yes” to all of the above even when their actions say “no.” These investors routinely under-perform against the market and many end up woefully under-prepared for retirement.

You have one shot at this, so let’s get it right!

When it comes to active investing, most people think of hedge funds, stock picking, and other forms of speculation and gambling. This is NOT what we’re talking about. There is plenty of evidence showing one of the most effective forms of active investing is trend following. We use trend following in almost all of our investment strategies. We’ve compiled our evidence from studies completed during the last 100 years which have shown trend following as performing well in all markets.

What do we like best about trend following strategies?

  • Invest in what is trending up, ride the trend upward
  • Downside risk management to limit drawdowns by exiting downward trending positions
  • Take small short term losses for larger long term gains (ride the winners, sell the losers)
  • Get more consistent returns versus the market to take advantage of the power of compounding
  • Creates a smoother investment ride, a strategy you can stick with over the long-term
  • Removes emotion from the investment decisions by using a rules based strategy that is systematic

We can’t predict the future, we don’t know what the market is going to do, and performance in the past has nothing to do with performance in the future. However, we have the evidence explaining what works and what doesn’t – what people can stick with and what makes them panic.

Our goal is to provide simple, rules based strategies to provide downside risk protection, consistent returns, and peace of mind.

Rules Based Solutions

Factor VI strategies are rules-based, meaning they use specific and quantitative trend following rules. One of the most researched areas of investing, trending following (momentum) has shown time and time again to be worthwhile strategy. As long as investor behavior exists (and there is no reason to believe it will ever go away) there will be market trends and inefficiencies for trend-followers to capitalize upon. The goal is downside risk management and a smoother investment ride. Momentum allows investors to stick with a strategy rather than emotional decision making to compound their wealth.

One of the principles of trend following strategies is letting your winners ride, selling losers early and taking small losses while riding winners to larger returns. Getting out of losers early avoids large dips and big drawdowns.

Traditional investment theory says you have to capture the best days of the market to get returns of the market. What they don’t tell you is you have to capture the worst days to get those best days. The best days occur during large downturns, so you have to “just ride it out” to capture both. Trend followers work to capture up trends, avoid worst days and best days, and often end up with better returns.

The choice is yours – trust Wall Street, trust the government, trust buy and hold strategies of yesteryear. Or choose an evidence-based strategy to reach your full financial potential.

How a Healthy Lifestyle Affects Your Financial Future

As financial consultants, we spend a lot of time focused on the health of your financial accounts. We take deep looks at your rates of return, cash flow, investment mix, and more to determine the ideal financial model for building your life. But we don’t often talk about your physical health, something that can have a huge impact on your financial future.

As the US has found itself in the midst of an obesity epidemic, skyrocketing health care costs, and uncertainty surrounding how to solve these issues, it is more important than ever that you take care of your physical health. Not only will this help you live longer, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can mean a huge difference in your net worth and financial legacy.

Poor Health Can Cost You More Than $150K+ Over a Lifetime

Read that heading again. We aren’t referring solely to the costs of healthcare here. A National Bureau of Economic Research paper published in 2017 found that the average difference in net worth between a healthy 65-year-old man and an unhealthy 65-year-old man to be over $150,000. They also found that workers who led unhealthy lifestyles for more than 16 years lost approximately $4,000 in annual wages.

Think of the lost opportunity to make smarter investments! Imagine how you could grow your nest egg with the savings from fewer visits to the doctor’s office. Being more active contributes to the confidence necessary to compete for and win business opportunities that can increase your cash flow and your lifestyle. Taking time to maintain and improve your physical health can transform your present as well as your financial future. Some steps you can take to begin that transformation include.

  • Eliminate Vices for Better Cash Flow – We all fall prey to vices sometimes. If your weakness is for smoking, alcohol, fast food, or sweets, reducing or eliminating that habit can have a twofold effect on the trajectory of your life. Not only will you have cost savings from going without, but your body’s health will improve as well. That discipline can go a long way in saving you the costs of medical treatment and expensive habits.
  • Investing in Healthy Food OptionsEating healthily can be intimidating – not only is there the initial cash outlay of buying better produce and ingredients, but also the labor of shopping, preparing, and cooking the meals. However, eating healthier foods keeps you fuller longer due to better, more plentiful nutrients. There are numerous free recipe websites and how-to videos online to help you make healthy choices easier to make as well. And while it will take some time to get used to, once you’ve detoxed from processed junk foods you will feel better eating these healthy options.
  • Alternative Transport OptionsCommuting is a necessary evil in life. If you live close to your workplace, have you considered walking, jogging, or cycling to work? These options all save you money by reducing fuel and maintenance costs on your personal vehicle while pulling double-duty to help you get a little hidden exercise in your day. Sometimes this can help reduce insurance costs for your personal vehicle too, if your policy is based on an average annual mileage.

It’s not always easy to make these disciplined, healthy choices, but it’s worth it. Take some time to figure out how you can fit some healthier decisions into your daily life to help put a little juice behind your financial model.

While we aren’t certified personal trainers, we are qualified to take a look at your financial path for the future. Interested in improving your current financial situation and living the live you want today? Complete this questionnaire to get started!

The Biggest Threats To Your Financial Wellness: Fear and Hesitation

You’ve made it to the end of our three-part series about the biggest threats to your financial wellness. (Wanna catch up? Check our Part One and Part Two, then come back.) If you’ve noticed a theme, it’s because the biggest threats to your finances come from within.

In this post we’ll discuss two of the most common failings people experience: fear and hesitation. If you let these internal feelings dictate how you live your life and use your finances, you’ll struggle to achieve your goals.

Financial Fears

Money is a tool. Any good tool is designed to make a person’s work easier. You have to let your money work for you to make your life and future easier and better. But uncertainty in the market and fears powered by “what if?” thinking can threaten the power of your financial strategies. Decision making based on fear is nearly as dangerous as impulsive behaviors. Fear clouds your mind and removes objectivity, turning everything into a dire situation when you need calm and collected observation skills.

Allowing fear to dictate how you utilize your personal finance is a surefire way to reduce its potential. Panicked selling during market downturns, jumping on investment fads, and other fear-motivated behaviors can result in short-term gains but long-term lessons. It’s all about time in the market, not timing the market. Combat your fear by building a strong financial strategy and standing firm in it. Your future will thank you.

Hesitation and Personal Finance

Fear and self-doubt can do more than motivate poor decisions: they can cause paralysis by analysis. If you are facing a large problem and feel overwhelmed, useful data can make it worse. The decision becomes larger than it actually is and you end up missing out on a valuable window for your decision, leading to lost opportunity cost. When it’s time to act, you won’t have time to hesitate. Do your research, consult with a trusted advisor, and act decisively. Commit to a plan and then measure the result. Even if it doesn’t go as well as you hoped, you gain useful insight for future initiatives. It can also teach you a lot about yourself, which is always valuable for your future.

Overcoming Yourself

Unfortunately, fear and doubt will always be present in your financial life in some way. You have to accept them as part of yourself and learn to use that energy when making decisions. Any time a decision has risks associated, you will have some sense of fear or doubt. If you allow your feelings to dictate your financial life you will be stuck for a longer time than you need to be. You are master of your own destiny. If that’s not empowering, we don’t know what is.

Want to figure out a bold financial strategy that works for you? Need to determine your risk tolerance? Complete this questionnaire to determine how we can help you guide your financial future.

The Biggest Threats To Your Financial Wellness: Ignorance and Impulse

As we continue our series exploring threats to your financial wellness, we need to discuss two of the biggest issues for American personal finance: Ignorance and Impulse.

Much of the American public is uneducated about personal finance and how best to navigate the space. There’s too little training in how to teach yourself and train against your base impulses to succeed, especially as young people go through high school courses focused on STEAM skills. We’re preparing our youth to be successful professionals but we are failing to groom them for financial wellness. This can be a painful topic, as our lack of teaching the next generation can often reflect our own blind spots.

Financial Ignorance

If you’re like most Americans, your financial education primarily consisted of two lessons: how to balance a checkbook and supply/demand economics. But checkbooks are outmoded and don’t fit today’s digital landscape and supply and demand can’t be the sole guiding principles for your financial life. This unawareness is taken advantage of by predatory institutions who use confusing language to obscure the uneven nature of their business relationships. From payday loans to confusing jargon surrounding different account types, most financial vehicles work in favor of the institution rather than the individual.

So how can a person improve themselves to push back against these practices? Through education. Whether through community college courses, Udemy.com courses, retaining a personal advisor, or spending some time reading on Investopedia.com, a wealth of resources are available online.

When determining what content deserves your attention and, potentially, money, ask yourself “who benefits?” Many thought leaders in the industry can push out books, workshops, and other media as a means to augment their sales funnel. Avoid paying for these sorts of things when possible – your local public library likely has a wide selection of useful texts. If not, you can always request they purchase what you want to read.

Impulsive Behaviors

How many Amazon purchases did you make in 2008? Compare that number to last year, and we’ll bet it increased by a factor of ten. Impulse buying fueled by credit cards, saved billing data, and intricate marketing mechanisms targeting your impulses make this sort of purchasing a pervasive and sneaky way for companies to increase their revenue while decreasing your net worth.

Credit cards.  Lunches out.

Small behaviors can become big, problematic habits. If the average lunch out costs $10, and you’re going out for lunch 5 days a week, that can add up to $2,500 annually! (Compiling your small purchases and habits into large chunks can be an eye-opening experience – do you really want to pay $4,800 over 10 years for a gym membership you never use?)

If your spending is out of hand the best thing you can do is track everything. Keep a spending journal or spreadsheet. Use an online service to track where your money is going. Whatever you have to do, identify the problematic habits that are costing future you thousands of dollars. Once you’ve found them, you can change the problematic behaviors.

Master Your Future

You are the master of your financial future. Market upswings and downswings are going to occur and you have to be ready. Before making a big decision or impulse purchase, pause for a moment and explain why you are doing what you are doing – if saying it out loud doesn’t make sense, reassess your choice. However, you are only human – you will fail to control your impulses and you will make poor judgement calls. The trick is in recognizing when you slip and correcting for it ahead of time.

Build some discretionary spending into your budget. Give yourself an allowance. Make yourself save for big purchases the way you had to as a child. It’s not enough to just arm yourself with good behaviors, though. They have to be backed up by a sound financial logic and strategy that will carry you through the good times as well as the bad. Whether this means online courses, extensive reading, or engaging with a financial advisor, you have to figure out what works best for you and then stick to it.Ready to master your financial future? Learn more about our private client services and how we can help you build your wealth.

The Biggest Threats To Your Financial Wellness: Debt and Undisciplined Behavior

If you’ve overcome the challenges to building wealth and have put a plan in place to systematize your finances, you’re off to a great start. In addition to continuing these behaviors over time, you must guard your burgeoning wealth against threats from within and without. Undisciplined behavior can keep your financial wellness plan from taking hold while accruing too many debts of the wrong sort can slow down your momentum for years to come.

High-Interest Debts

Credit card balances.

Cash advance.

High-interest debts are the sort you want to avoid. They can act like an anchor, weighing down your financial game plan and holding back your life from improving and advancing. Some ways to avoid building up these problematic balances are:

  • Don’t spend what you don’t have. Sticking to your existing budget can be difficult, but it’s better than crushing debts.
  • Pay off credit card balances at the end of every month. If you have to use a credit card, you should pay off the balance in full every month.
  • Start an emergency fund at a separate institution from your regular accounts. This will let you build your fund and keep it separate from your regular pool of finances.
  • Set up automatic savings deposits. Take advantage of the systematized processes available to build your finances without having to think about it.  
  • Run your home’s finances on the cash envelope system. This process involves planning and setting your budget based on cash banked in envelopes. Once the envelope is emptied, your budget is depleted for the month and you have to wait to re-up your cash.

In addition to these avoidance behaviors, you should never utilize payday loans. These predatory lending vehicles are structured in a way to accelerate your debt load and keep you paying forever. They contribute to a vicious cycle of poverty in the US that affects far too many people. Negotiate with your bills due, explore a refinancing loan, or take on a second job to handle difficult financial issues rather than this high-risk move that does nothing to benefit you.

Healthy Debts

Not all debts are created equal. While high-interest debts are a threat to your well-being, some debts present opportunities to improve your life down the line. Examples of good debts are:

  • A mortgage – the opportunity to build equity and potentially create a second income stream by renting your property is a huge investment in your future.
  • Credit consolidation loan – using this option to eliminate your high-interest debts can keep some people out of bankruptcy. They do come with restrictions that should be considered very carefully, but consolidation loans can represent a step towards greater financial awareness and freedom.
  • Personal business loan – taking a smart loan to help finance a personal business venture can lead to greater financial prosperity. We suggest you begin personal business ventures as an alternative venture to establish your business before exploring financing.

As opposed to unhealthy debt, good debt offers a benefit to you that is equal to the financial risk involved. These debt options have more stable loan rates and are less exploitative, serving as a launching pad for you to invest in your future. Unhealthy debt only solves a temporary problem which stems from poor financial discipline.  

Lack of Financial Discipline

Much misery can be tracked to undisciplined financial behaviors. Unhealthy debts arise when people act out of desperation or on impulse. Anyone can come up with a financial game plan to improve their life, but it takes real guts and determination to stick to it.

That sort of hard work pays off in the end, but it requires a dedicated patience that has fallen out of style in a society that puts a premium on instant gratification. The trick is to build a healthy financial mindset and cultivate a relationship with your finances in which you realize that your money is a tool for wellness, not a delivery system for your happiness.

Building Your Financial Game Plan

If you’ve successfully avoided those problematic debts, pat yourself on the back. If debt is an issue for you, you deserve recognition too – learning more about personal finance is the first step in finding your way out. Exploring what solution works best for your case, or whether to employ the debt snowball or debt avalanche method can be eye-opening.

Set and track a budget and stick to it, and you will see those problems begin to melt away. The trick to sticking to your new, financially healthy lifestyle? A mindset of abundance and gratitude. Know that the future holds promises of opportunity to make your life better, and keep rising up to be financially ready to take advantage of those opportunities.

Want to learn more about building wealth and staying out of problematic debts? Change your world by joining us at JBWealthfit and start working on the future you want to live.

The Four Challenges to Building Wealth: Financial Organization and Coordination

You’ve made it to our final segment of our series concerning the four challenges to building wealth. We’ve explored hurdles like financial institutions and ways to adopt their strategies, lost opportunity cost, and the velocity of money. Your biggest challenge to building wealth though?

It’s you.

No matter how savvy and dedicated you may be to growing your wealth, it won’t work if you are not approaching it in an organized and coordinated way.

You Can’t Grow What You Don’t Know

The biggest reason financial organization and coordination matters is because if you can’t track your financial life you can’t determine its performance. So many people let their accounts, bills, mortgage, and more stay separate and unassociated in their minds that it’s a miracle they can pay their taxes every year, let alone handle their bills every month. Without a centralized hub for your finances that makes it simple to check your financial health, it can be almost impossible to grow your wealth effectively.

Determine What Works for You

There are plenty of ways to build that hub. Some people opt for spreadsheets that track net worth and monthly bills. These can be powerful, since they’re self-driven and require you to interact with your money in an active manner. Other people opt for web-based applications that aggregate your financial data in one place. Some utilize desktop-based software to great effect. The secret is in determining what system best meets your needs and helps you along your path to financial wellness.

Consistency is Key

Once you’ve figured out your system of financial tracking, you have to build that into your life. Set calendar reminders. Create appointments with yourself. If your tracking and managing does not remain consistent, your progress will suffer for it. Being able to observe trends such as ballooning restaurant spending or growing interest on credit card debts can help alert you to issues before they get out of hand. You should do whatever it takes to make your financial health check part of your regular routine.

Coordinate Your Financial Goals and Strategies

Once you’ve found a method that works for you and made it part of your routine, you need to use it to track your net worth as well as your additional financial goals. By tracking goals such as paying off student loans, building home equity, or eliminating high interest debts, you can begin to coordinate your finances to support those goals.

If your equity growth isn’t outpacing growing interest, you should shift your focus and capital to eliminate those debts. Need to grow an emergency fund more quickly? Consider shifting funds away from your investment accounts and toward liquid savings funds.

By putting your financial health in one accessible, trackable space and tying overall performance to your goal progress, you put yourself firmly in the driver’s seat. It can be eye-opening, intimidating, and uncomfortable, but growth comes from discomfort. The difficulties you experience now can either teach you important lessons for your future well-being or you can ignore them, as so many people choose to.

Ready to tackle those financial goals and build a future to be excited about? Contact us to get started.

The Four Challenges to Building Wealth: Velocity of Money

As we continue our series exploring challenges to building wealth, we need to introduce the concept of velocity of money. In personal finance, the velocity of money refers to using your funds to build wealth more quickly by getting your money to do more than one thing at a time.

This is a well-kept secret of the financial industry and one that can transform your relationship to your personal finance.

How Can I Use My Money Now?

Accepting the status quo is not going to help grow your money and efficiently organize your personal finances. You’ve got to ask yourself “how can I use my money now to make things better down the line?”

Much of our culture and advertising is devoted to making you chase the “next great thing,” the next bit of instant-gratification, and that next hit of dopamine. While pervasive, it’s not a sustainable model for your life.

Choosing to embrace the following behaviors now while delaying those small bits of gratification will make your future life much more enjoyable:

  • Pay down debts
  • Build an emergency fund
  • Invest in your future
  • Invest in yourself
  • Save for retirement

Those choices may not offer the immediate reward promised by so much of our flawed, impulsive human nature and the marketing campaigns designed to take advantage of it. But in the long run, those small changes now will have a big impact on your life.

The Magic of Compounding

The reason why your choices today have a magnified impact on the future is because of two things: Lost Opportunity Cost and Compounding.

A dollar invested today has the opportunity to compound over and over through the years, building its overall value. You shouldn’t underestimate the awesome power of compound interest; If you’ve ever struggled with high interest credit card debt, you know how the momentum of compounding can build.

Turning this principle into a positive is why we stress the idea of “time in the market” rather than “timing the market.” Building your wealth is a process, and compounding can work for you if you consistently make intelligent choices over time.

When to Refinance Loans

If you’ve taken out loans, you’ve likely received countless direct mail advertisements for refinancing programs. While these seem like a great way to lower your payments, you must be cautious when evaluating them. Many come with early repayment penalties and fine print rules that heavily favor the program and lender rather than you.

If you have a loan you’re looking to refinance- such as your mortgage- look first for ways to remove your private mortgage insurance (PMI) after you’ve built 20% equity or more in the home. You can also look into ways to change your repayment term so that you can pay loans off sooner and save yourself thousands of dollars in interest. Any time a loan term can be updated in your favor it’s worth exploring new options. Just be sure to evaluate the entirety of your new solution and not just the face value of the monthly payment.

Make Your Money Work Harder

The real way to build wealth and increase the velocity of your money?

You have to be as demanding of your money as you are of yourself.

Are your investment and savings strategies underperforming? Update them. Is accelerating interest of outstanding debts hurting your overall quality of life? Rebalance your strategy to pay off debts sooner or explore refinancing options to ease some of the burden. Personal finance is complex, but solving issues can be as simple as acknowledging a problem exists and then finding a workable solution to that problem. We’ll discuss visibility and organization in our final post in this series, but know this: accepting lackluster performance will lead to a stressful and lackluster financial life.

Ready to learn how we can help you increase your money’s velocity to build wealth quicker and more effectively? Complete this questionnaire to see which Jarred Bunch Consulting service is right for you.

Four Challenges to Building Wealth: Rules of Financial Institutions

In continuing our exploration of the four challenges to building wealth, we’re looking into the rules of financial institutions today. We’ve written at length before about how financial institutions operate to get and keep more of your money. Take the time to educate yourself on these behaviors and how they get hold of your money and keep your finances operating in their ecosystem. These are definite hurdles for your wealth, but these principles can be adapted so you can grow your own personal finance.

Treat Your Finance Like a Bank

One way you can apply the rules of financial institutions to your own wealth growth is to remove some of the “personal” from your thinking about personal finance. Think of your funds as though you are a bank:

You want your money

  • Banks want you in their ecosystem. They want you to keep your funds with them, as much as possible. Work to hold onto your money with the same dogged determination. Eliminate high-interest debts and reduce what bills you can.

You want your money systematically

  • Sure, automatic deposits are convenient and secure, but that systematic deposit is more fuel for the bank to use while they hold your funds. Use these systems to your advantage, but keep track of your automatic payments and deposits. Cancel those you don’t use and keep your money systematically storing away for the future.

You want to hold your cash for a long time

  • Your balance year-over-year should be a gradual march upwards. Holding onto your funds and committing to the security of that growth will provide your life the security and abundance you deserve.

You want to give as little away as possible.

  • You never know when you’re going to need your emergency fund. You never know when the opportunity to invest in your dreams will arrive. Keep your funds around for when lighting strikes- good or bad.

Know All of the Details

Do you know your accounts’ rate of return? What about the annual percentage rate? Do you know if your mortgage or other loans have a prepayment penalty? Banks and other financial institutions don’t enter into a financial agreement or partnership without knowing every detail, and neither should you.

The details you don’t know can be what leads to financial disaster. Take the time to read, know, and clarify the details that the banks love to hide in the small print – it can be eye-opening.

Make Your Money Do Multiple Things at a Time

Sticking all of your savings in one account doesn’t make sense. In today’s uncertain world, you need to use a diversified strategy to make your money work harder for you. Other methods of saving your money include:

  • An Emergency Fund: This should be kept separate from your main checking and savings account. Keep the funds hard to access to prevent impulsive use and take advantage of automatic transfers to keep it juiced up. Most experts recommend that you have 3-6 minimum of living expenses in your emergency fund.
  • Investment Accounts: Exchange traded funds and mutual funds are ways to invest your money in shares of companies’ stock. You’re buying a piece of their business, in the hopes that the performance improves and more value is generated for your account over time.  
  • Retirement Accounts: 401Ks, the now-rare pension, and IRAs are types of deferred-income retirement accounts. Different types have different tax-incentives, and each offer crucial ways to build your nest egg for eventual retirement.

If you can find ways to accomplish more than one thing with a dollar, you’re hitting the big leagues alongside those institutions that are too big to fail. Spreading your investments out amongst these different accounts helps shield you from market volatility that can eat your returns, as well as providing vehicles to achieve different goals with your money.

Don’t Accept the Status Quo

The real secret to making your personal finance work as hard for you as the banks’ treasury does? Arm yourself with ambition and an abundance mindset. Know that there is always another option to explore that can benefit you in different ways. Don’t accept the current situation or enter into lopsided agreements that offer no benefit to you. If you are not growing or improving in your current financial situation, or career, or hobby, or workout routine why stay there? The world is full of alternatives worth exploring until you find something that works best for you.  

Ready to conquer the traditionally lopsided relationships between individuals and institutions? Learn more about personal finance with us at JB Wealthfit.

How to Find Out if You Were Affected by the Equifax Hack

Even if you’ve never used Equifax, the credit reporting agency could still have a significant amount of your personal information.

Last Thursday, Equifax said they had suffered a data breach, and as many as 143 million people could be affected. That’s almost half the country. The cybercriminals stole names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and some driver’s license numbers. Basically, everything needed for the perfect identity theft cocktail.

In addition, credit card numbers for about 209,000 people were exposed, as was “personal identifying information” on roughly 182,000 customers involved in credit report disputes.

Equifax will not be contacting everyone who was affected by the breach, but will send direct mail notices to those whose credit card numbers or dispute records were accessed.

So, how would Equifax (one of three nationwide credit-reporting companies) have your information if you’ve never used their services? They get information from credit card companies, banks, retailers, and lenders, without you even knowing it.

The company is encouraging you to check if you were affected by the hack, and to sign up for credit monitoring and identity theft protection. They’re providing free service for one year through TrustedID Premier. You can access this service whether or not you’ve been affected by the breach.

To do this, go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the Check Potential Impact tab. You will then be given a date when you can return to the site and sign up for the free service.

If you believe you’ve been affected by the Equifax hack, one option would be to place fraud alerts on your credit reports.  This would force a lender to contact you to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. You can place an alert on your report for free by contacting one of the credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion), which is then required to notify the other two. A fraud alert lasts for 90 days, and can be renewed.

A more iron-clad option would be placing a freeze on your credit. This would prevent a lender from being able to pull your credit report, and therefore wouldn’t be able to extend the credit. A credit freeze doesn’t affect any current credit you may have open. It just prevents new credit from being established in your name. Of course, you can temporarily unfreeze your credit, should you need to access it.

While a credit freeze may seem extreme, it’s something worth considering in this instance.

If you’re going to freeze your credit, you should do so at all three agencies. That way, no matter what agency the lending institution uses, your credit cannot be pulled.

Here are the contact numbers for each company, and links to their dedicated freeze landing pages. All of the numbers listed here are for automated freeze services, so that you can easily freeze your credit over the phone in just a few minutes:

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111

Experian: 1-888-397-3742

TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872

The Federal Trade Commission’s website also offers information about how to protect yourself against fraud.

If you have further questions regarding the data breach, Equifax has set up a designated call center at 1-866-447-7559.

We are encouraging all of our clients to take this data breach seriously, and to take the steps necessary to protect yourself against any threat of identity theft.

This article first appeared on CNN Money. To read the full article, click here

10 Tips That Will Help You Get (and Stay) Financially Fit

While swimsuit season may be ending, financial fitness stays trending year-round. According to a recent study, “save more and spend less” was the top New Year’s resolution for 2017. In fact, financial resolutions have cracked the top five year over year, and hold steady behind losing weight.

So, why aren’t we all walking around with smaller waist lines and larger wallets?

Well, because maintaining financial health requires a lifestyle change – just like maintaining your physical health. The changes you make to get yourself on the right path need to become positive lifetime habits that are part of your daily routine.

10 Tips That Will Help You Get (and Stay) Financially Fit

Here are 10 tips to help you get started living the life you want:

1. Know your “why” behind money. Your specific reasons for working, investing, spending, and saving. If you don’t have that figured out, you don’t have anything to fight for. You can’t live intentionally with your money, because there’s nothing guiding your behavior.

2. Set goals and assess them regularly. Three years from now, what has to have happened for you to feel successful, both personally and professionally? From your answers, pull out your top five goals – and write them down! Categorize them into short, medium and long-term goals. You can also use the SMART method to help you define your goals further:

  • Specific – Don’t set broad goals.
  • Measurable – Track your progress.
  • Assignable – Take personal accountability.
  • Realistic – Only do what you know you can do.
  • Timeline – Give yourself a deadline.

Related: 5 Goal Hacks to Help You Achieve More

3. Know your expenses. Between lifestyle creep and fixed expenses, most people don’t fully grasp how much they’re spending. Every year, you should sit down and reevaluate your expenses versus your income – no matter how much money you make. That way, you can gauge your spending habits, and see where your money is being allocated. This can help keep your net worth out of the red.

Related: Why High-Income Earners Are Living Paycheck to Paycheck

4. Know your current financial position. To be able to get where you want to go, you have to understand where you are today. You then have to be able to optimize your current financial position as your information changes. Without being able to see your entire financial life in one place, and evaluating how everything is working together, you may not end up living the life you want.

5. Avoid drastic changes. Crash diets aren’t solutions for long-term success. Rather, slow and steady wins the race. Identify all the changes you’ll need to make to reach your goals, and work through them gradually. This way, your focus is on creating lifetime good habits – not clicking the instant button.

LIFE HACK: Saving 1% more of your income each year is a small change that can produce big results down the road.

6. Tune out the noise. There is more financial noise than ever in our media today. That’s why you need to adhere to a disciplined, rules-based approach to your financial life, based on your most important values. Like Warren Buffett said, “Market forecasters will fill your ear, but never your wallet.”

Related: Investment Noise: Know It and Forget It

7. Make sure your financial strategies align with your most important values. The only constant in life is change. As your life changes, your strategies should then be updated based on what matters to you most at this moment in time.

Related: Do Your Financial Actions Support Your Most Important Values?

8. Know the difference between risk and volatility. Risk simply means the probability that your investment will lose money. It has no direct effect on your returns. Volatility is the amount of fluctuation a portfolio can experience. The higher the volatility, the more erratic your compound returns can be. Volatility is one of the biggest wealth eroding factors you’ll encounter. That’s why you have to mitigate it.

Related: Volatility Gremlins Are Killing Your Bottom Line

9. Practice cost and tax management. Investing costs and taxes matter – they can erode your returns just as much as volatility. Your strategy should work to lower the cost of expense ratios and be tax efficient. Remember that a good advisor can be worth a reasonable fee. Just be sure they’re providing you with value-based solutions, not selling you products.

10. Create an Investment Policy Statement. Even the best investors can get nervous when the market moves. But when the market moves, you need something that reminds you why you’re invested a certain way – that reminds you of your most important values, and stops you from making poor decisions. That’s when you pull out your IPS. If an investment decision doesn’t meet this criterion, you shouldn’t invest in it.

Related: The Best Way to Guide Your Investment Decisions

Why Does It Matter to You?

Being able to live the life you want is the ultimate goal. But, let’s take that one step further – being able to life the life you want, at every stage of life, is the ultimate goal. That’s why maintaining your financial health is so critical. Not only will it ensure that you remain optimally positioned for success today, but it can increase your chances of success in the future.

Why High-Income Earners Are Living Paycheck to Paycheck

A six-figure income can go a long way in easing financial stress. But unfortunately, it doesn’t eliminate the risk of living paycheck to paycheck.

It’s easy to associate those who make a modest salary or work in a low-paying job with a “paycheck to paycheck” lifestyle. But, a study from Nielsen Global Consumer Insights is changing the game. The study found that one in four families making $150,000 or more are living a similar lifestyle.

Lifestyle Inflation: The Rich Man’s Kryptonite

There’s a concept that even some wealthy people have trouble understanding – it’s not how much you make that matters, but how much you spend that matters.

If you make $500,000 a year, but your annual expenses total $450,000, you’re completely maxing out your lifestyle. Doing this means that you will never reach your full financial potential. That’s because you’re eroding 90% of your money just as fast as you’re making it.

High-income earners routinely suffer from lifestyle inflation. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count – people start earning more money, and in turn, slowly start upgrading their lifestyle. Before they know it, lifestyle “creep” has sprinted out of control and has them completely handcuffed.

Lifestyle inflation generally goes toward things that don’t bring much value to your family’s financial life, either. This means things like expensive homes, cars, traveling, and just plain old foolish spending. It’s great to have and do all these things, but what’s not great is winding up house poor and car poor.

A better use for that excess money would be to invest in yourself, or in your most important financial goals.

Related: The 12 Boring Secrets to Getting – and Staying – Rich That Millionaires Won’t Tell You

Wealth Erosion Overload

Buying “things” are only the start of lifestyle inflation. They’re the roots that sprout all the other eroding factors.

For example, say you buy a home worth $1.2 million. Pile on top of just that the mortgage, property taxes, utilities, and general upkeep, and you could easily add another $50,000 to your annual expenses. Expensive items aren’t only expensive to buy, they’re expensive to own.

Owning expensive things is an easy way to erode your income. Then, consider all the other eroding factors on top of this that you’ll encounter – economic inflation, taxes, lost opportunity cost, planned obsolescence, and more.

Related: 3 Dangers of Ignoring Your True Cost of Living

Be Reasonable, Not Lavish

So, how can you avoid finding yourself in this very situation?

Simple – live reasonably, not lavishly.

This is something that I try to instill in all my clients, even the wealthy entrepreneurs that I work with. Actually, this mantra is probably more important for them than anyone, because they have the most to lose.

Now, I’m not saying that I expect you to live in a tiny home, drive an old, beat-up car, never take a vacation, and never purchase something that you want. There’s absolutely no shame in indulging – I’m all about working hard, playing hard, and being able to enjoy the finer things in life.

After all, the goal is to be able to live the life you want.

But to do that, you have to abide by some simple rules to ensure that happens. These include spending less than you make, paying for things in cash rather than financing everything you own to make a purchase, not racking up high-interest debt, saving at least 15% of your income, protecting yourself and your assets, and remembering that slow and steady wins the race.

Related: 15 Common Sense Money Principles That Will Change Your Life

There’s something very important that I’ve learned from coaching clients over the last 14 years – the ones who understand that it’s the simple, boring disciplines that hold the secrets for getting and staying wealthy, are the ones who reach their full financial potential.

Why Does It Matter to You?

Living paycheck to paycheck is a possibility for anyone – whether you make $50,000 or $5 million. That’s why, as your income grows, you have to control lifestyle inflation before it controls you.

Living the life you want requires a balancing act between growing your wealth and smart wealth management. You should always be thinking with an abundance mindset, but in the right way. It’s not about how you can use your money to buy lots of things. It’s about how you can use your money to create opportunities that allow you to grow, to help you live intentionally with your money, and that put your resources to work for you. That’s how you reach your full financial potential.