Resolve To Manage Your Money Better In 2016

Take control of your financial future with the help of a professional planner.


Courtesy of QFP

Why not make 2016 the year to take charge of your financial future? Chatting with a professional financial planner can put you on the path to success, whether you need to update your existing plan, make a new plan, or are in a transition period.

Susan Morrison, JD, CFP®, has helped lesbians (and others) manage their money since 1998. In 2010, she started her own financial planning business, Q Financial Planning, in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. QFP offers in depth financial and estate planning for individuals and small businesses, with a focus on women in transition and young adults.

Women undergoing a life transition, such as starting a new relationship, getting married or becoming single, landing a new job, buying or selling a home, or receiving an inheritance, are perfect candidates for a consultation with a certified financial planner (CFP®). A CFP can also help you plan for retirement, advise on insurance options, and help you find an optimal asset allocation including stocks, bonds and other asset classes. Most CFPs offer initial consultations at no charge, so there’s little to lose in taking that first step.

Susan is also a licensed attorney which allows her to draft legal documents as part of clients’ financial plans, as well as advise on issues such as employment contracts or legal disputes. When she’s not crunching numbers to help clients make and save money, Susan can be found playing disc golf or competing locally and nationally with a women’s basketball team. recently chatted with Susan about the advantages of working with a professional to create a personal financial plan and some considerations specific to lesbians.

How can working with a financial planner benefit someone who hasn’t used one before?

QFP: Even if you’re a financially savvy do-it-yourselfer, professional analysis by a financial planner can help with things you might not have considered. For example, you might not have your will or Power of Attorney (POA) or beneficiary designation documents updated. A CFP can provide detailed retirement projections to make sure you’re saving enough for your future, and can evaluate your life insurance needs in detail to make sure your survivors are covered.

What would you recommend for those of us with financial debt?

The most important thing for people wanting to get out of debt is to have the attitude that you really do want to get out of debt. Make it your goal to be debt-free, develop a strategy, and to stick to it.

A simple strategy I recommend to clients is to pay off the smallest balance first and then apply the payment from that debt (you no longer have) to the next smallest balance. One by one you pay off the debts while continuing to pay the same amount you were applying all along. For example, you have four different debt payments you’re paying $100 on each every month. Focus on the smallest bill until it’s gone, then pay $200 monthly toward the next one. But again, the key is your attitude and your desire to change your habits to avoid more debt.

Bonus advice: Live below your means; you’ll save money and eventually be able to invest the difference.

How does being gay married affect financial planning?

QFP: It’s about time that opportunity is available to us in the United States with its myriad of built in advantages! Being married doesn’t eliminate the need for planning, but it does automatically take care of many legal and financial issues and puts us on a level playing field with straight married couples.

Some of the advantages now available to married lesbians include access to government and veterans benefits for spouses like social security. There are certain assumptions about beneficiary designations on life insurance, for example, and for pensions and 401(k) and IRA accounts your spouse has to be specifically named as beneficiary or sign a document acknowledging a different beneficiary. There are certain medical benefits such as visitation rights in hospitals. There are employment benefits such as eligibility for health insurance and life insurance through your spouse’s employer, and the list goes on.

We now have all the protections that a married heterosexual couple has with no exceptions or limitations like there were with domestic partnership.

What are some key financial considerations for single lesbians?

QFP: Single lesbians have similar financial planning issues as couples, but it’s a little simpler. You might want to consider long term care insurance if you have no partner or children to take care of you in your senior years. If you’re single and have no children, then you might not need life insurance. If you do have children, single or not, you might consider life insurance to leave a legacy for your children.

What should partnered-but-not-married lesbians pay attention to when planning?

QFP: Partnered-and-not-married is the throwback to before we were permitted to marry and we had to do more extensive planning to make sure we were covered.

I would encourage this demographic to look at estate planning first, and make sure you have a current will or trust, Power of Attorney documents, and correct beneficiary designations to make sure your assets will go to your partner at death. You should consider joint tenancies to protect jointly owned property from other relatives at death. Certainly life insurance would be an issue for any couple, particularly if one partner makes significantly more money than the other or if there’s a disabled partner. Life insurance could be an option as income replacement to cover the higher earner in the relationship.

If you’re partnered and not married and have children, you might to consider an adoption, and be sure to set up a trust and consider naming the non-adoptive parent as a guardian to protect the relationship with child.

How should we start planning for retirement?

QFP: For an older or a younger person, it’s the same process: Start by analyzing your spending versus your income. If you’re spending more than you’re making, focus on spending less. If you have any excess, then think about contributing to some investments.

In a nutshell: Do a budget analysis, contribute to a 401(k)—especially if you work in a company with a matching contribution, and for many of us, investing in a Roth IRA is a great starting point.

Then talk to a CFP—most offer a free consultation—to make sure you’re on track with other planning aspects unique to your situation.

What are the most important yet overlooked financial concerns you see?

QFP: A lot of people know they’re not saving enough, so that’s not necessarily overlooked, but many of us could focus on saving more.

Asset allocation is important. Some clients come in with one hundred percent of their savings in stocks or everything in cash, so that’s either too risky or too conservative. Having a balance of stocks, bonds, and cash is important.

Also comprehensive estate planning—making a will, designating beneficiaries and POAs, buying insurance, and saving for retirement—is often overlooked.

Susan serves U.S. clients from Maine to California and welcomes calls or emails from readers regarding any financial or legal questions, large or small.

Susan Morrison, JD, CFP

Q Financial Planning

(505) 433-2255

Cristina is a graphic designer and writer who lives in the home of the atomic bomb, Los Alamos, New Mexico, with her wife and two dogs.

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