5 steps toward improving financial well-being in the new year

(BPT) – With the start of a new year comes New Year’s resolutions. Many will focus on physical wellness, some on organization. Now is a perfect time to take stock of your financial house and work on financial wellness, which will take off a level of stress that can immediately have an effect on your physical well-being.

In fact, seven out of 10 American workers say financial concerns are their most common cause of stress; nearly half say they find dealing with their financial situation stressful.

MassMutual suggests taking five steps toward improving financial well-being which, in turn, will support your physical well-being in the new year:

1. Make a will. A MassMutual survey of Americans between ages 45 and 60 revealed three out of five respondents do not have a will. If you are one of those people, make it a priority in the new year to create a will to ensure your loved ones are protected. It is also important to update beneficiary information and review it annually.

2. Improve your credit score. Boosting your credit score is a lot like going to the gym — it can be painful at first, but is ultimately worth the (financial) effort. Late payments — one of the top “credit busters” — can impact your credit score, so make sure you pay your bills on time each month and pay off balances as quickly as possible (especially on ones with high interest rates).

3. Save more than you spend. Saving money is a time-tested way to improve your financial situation over time. A good rule-of-thumb is to save at least 10 percent of your net income each year.

4. Don’t leave your 401(k) behind. The growing use of automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans and shorter job tenures are contributing to an increasing number of inactive 401(k) accounts, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report. If the new year brings you a new job, or retirement, be sure to rollover your 401(k) to your new employer-sponsored account or an individual retirement account if you are leaving the workforce. And, if you’re not yet contributing to a retirement plan, do so and ensure you save at least enough to enjoy your employer’s match if there is one. Don’t leave any free money on the table.

5. Establish an emergency fund. Whether it is a job loss, health emergency, or car or home repair, an emergency fund provides a cushion to help you cover unexpected costs without interfering with your financial goals. Include backstops like disability income insurance to protect your income stream should you become seriously ill or injured, and consider life insurance with options that give you access to cash for life’s priorities, such as whole life insurance.

For more tips to help your financial well-being, visit massmutual.com.

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Where there is a will – and more – there’s peace of mind

(BPT) – What’s the state of your estate? Robert Fishbein, a vice president and corporate counsel in Prudential Financial’s Tax Department, says now’s a good time to find out.

Changes in federal estate tax law have significantly increased the amount at which federal estate tax is triggered, says Fishbein. The individual exemption is $5.49 million (2017 amount, indexed for inflation) so a couple can accumulate almost $11 million dollars of assets without federal estate tax depleting the value.

The $5.49 million will increase over time. As a result, most individuals no longer need an estate plan to minimize federal estate tax.

That said, Fishbein adds, there are compelling reasons for having an estate plan, and three core documents you’ll need to create one: a power of attorney, a living will or health care proxy, and a will. In this article, Fishbein describes these core documents and how you can use them.

Power of attorney

A power of attorney is the document designating someone to make financial decisions for you, whether you’re out of the country for a long period, have a physical injury preventing you from conducting business in person, or are mentally incapacitated.

A power of attorney can be “springing” — going into effect upon your incapacity — or “durable,” meaning it goes into effect immediately. The challenge with a springing power of attorney is it can be subject to disagreement and dispute between the holder of the power and another family member. One solution is to require the incapacity be certified by a physician, although even those findings can be disputed.

With the durable power of attorney, there’s no basis for contesting whether the holder of the power can act. The risk is the holder has the immediate right and ability to access and take action with respect to the financial assets subject to the power. One possible strategy? Limit the power to specific assets. This won’t help if the grantor if the power is totally incapacitated and the holder may need access to all of the grantor’s assets.

A durable power of attorney is arguably less problematic, provided you are comfortable with the person you’re choosing. The holder of the power has a legal obligation, as a fiduciary of the grantor, to act in the best interests of the grantor and not in his or her interests.

It makes sense to have a power of attorney so you know your financial affairs will be attended to. The alternative could be a costly judicial process and court appointment of someone to manage your assets while you are living and unable to do so yourself.

Living will and health care proxy

A “living will” ensures your health care wishes are acted upon if you are unable to make such decisions. It lets you describe the types of treatment you do or don’t want under specific circumstances. For example, if you have a terminal illness, you may not want extraordinary measures taken to save your life. The challenge is it’s almost impossible to anticipate all possible scenarios to indicate what health care treatment you’ll want.

An alternative to a pure living will is a “living will and health care proxy,” wherein you designate an individual to make health care choices for you. The living will portion describes in general terms your health care philosophy, and the health care proxy allows you to name an individual to make health care choices for you consistent with that philosophy. The choice of such an individual is important, and you should make sure you are comfortable he or she understands and will act consistent with your wishes.

You should have a living will drawn up as part of your basic estate planning. Again, the alternative is a costly legal process for someone — maybe not of your choice — to get appointed as your proxy to make health care decisions on your behalf.

Last will and testament

A “last will and testament” serves several important purposes, including determining how your assets are distributed, who’ll care for your minor children and who’ll invest and distribute property held in trust for your children, grandchildren or other beneficiaries. The basic function of a last will and testament is to ensure your assets are distributed as you’d want. Absent a will, your assets will be distributed in accordance with applicable state law.

You’ll also designate the legal guardian, and possible successors, for any minor children who survive you and your spouse. This is one of the most important and difficult decisions for parents — so difficult that it sometimes can hold up the entire estate plan. But agreement by the parents is important and avoids the possibility of someone else being court-appointed who may or may not share your child-rearing views.

With the increase of the federal estate tax exemption and an individual’s ability to use the exemption of a deceased spouse, trusts for federal estate tax planning have been made largely irrelevant for most individuals. However, if you have minor children who could take property if both you and your spouse die, or grandchildren who could take property if a child of yours dies and leaves children, you’ll probably need trusts to hold property for those beneficiaries. Such trusts will enable you to determine who’ll invest the trust property, how it’ll be used for the child’s benefit and at what age the beneficiary will receive the remaining property.

Think you don’t have a large enough estate to warrant setting up trusts for your beneficiaries? Consider even the most basic estate when you own a house, have retirement assets and maybe additional investments or property. Given the total value of these assets, you’d probably want to hold them in trust for minor heirs. If there’s life insurance, a trust for younger beneficiaries will almost certainly make sense.

Although federal estate tax is no longer a significant consideration for most individuals, you may want to consider the cost of state estate tax. The state exemption is sometimes less than the federal exemption, and state estate tax can take a meaningful bite out of what you expect to leave to your beneficiaries.

Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and its financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax and legal advisors for advice concerning your particular circumstances.

The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, NJ and its affiliates.

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5 easy tactics for making your New Year’s resolution to save money a reality

(BPT) – It’s almost that time of year again – you prepare for the holidays and start thinking about what you want your New Year’s resolution to be.

According to research from Nielsen, one quarter of Americans want to spend less and save more money in the New Year. If you’re one of these people, follow these five easy tips to stay on track financially in 2017.

Automate payments into your savings account.

When payday rolls around, it can be tempting to pocket every last dollar. But realistically, it’s difficult to save money that’s right in front if you. Instead, automate payments into your savings account before it makes it to your checking account. This way, you won’t miss it from your budget, and you’ll be on the road to staying true to your New Year’s resolution all year.

Dine in.

Everyone knows eating out is more expensive than dining in, but you might not even realize how often you’re doing it. When you’re on the go, buying lunch or ordering take-out, costs quickly add up. Pre-planning and preparing meals for the week ahead will not only save money but help you eat healthier at the same time.

Rethink your wireless plan.

Do you feel like you’re paying too much for your data? In 2017, set yourself free from your overpriced wireless plan. For only $40 a month, Net10 Wireless’ no contract cell service makes this easy. You’ll get nationwide coverage on one of America’s top four networks and the first 3 GB of data at high speeds, then at 2G*. Plus, you can make the switch while keeping your current phone and number with the Net10 Wireless Bring Your Own Phone program. “Ringing” in the New Year is all about making changes for the better, and switching your plan could save you lots in the long run.

Bring the gym home.

Exercising is important, but monthly gym membership fees can make a huge dent in your savings. Instead, try working out at home for a few months by following exercise videos, running outside (weather permitting) or modifying your favorite utilizing home items. If that’s not enough, try pay-per-class offerings coupled with your own exercise outside of the gym.

Cut out your cable bill.

Similar to spending too much on a cell data contract, your monthly cable bills could also be hindering your financial goals. How often do you really watch specialty channels anyway? Opting for monthly streaming services can cost you as low as $7.99 per month while offering the same programs and movies you love. Meanwhile, the average cable bill is $99 per month. Making the switch could save you more than $1,000 per year, which just goes to show how sticking to your New Year’s resolution can pay off.

*At 2G speeds, the functionality of some data applications, such as streaming audio or video may be affected. Please refer always to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at NET10wireless.com.

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