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Advanced Notice: Cash advances are financial funeral for consumers

Everyone has felt the financial pinch at one time or another.

And in your moment of weakness, you tend to compromise your intelligence and financial acumen in exchange for a quick fix. Granted, you may not have an option when it comes to borrowing money, using credit cards or using those same plastic cards for a cash advance, which comes with it a hefty interest rate that is enough to put you behind the financial eight ball for years to come.

The cash advance often times should be viewed as a last resort given the aforementioned interest rate that comes along with it. Unfortunately, cash advances come with it the circumstances you often can't afford to ignore.

A leaky roof, major car repair or a job loss within the family leaves you short changed and looking for ways to take care of business in the only way you can at the moment. But for some, cash advances have the type of skew you never want to associate it with: found money or the type of cash you use for something that is more want than need.

The old adage of not being able to pay cash or afford something means that you just can't have it should stand pat as it relates to cash advances. If there's a particular item that you can't afford or need to wait a few weeks to buy, then a cash advance often pops into your head quickly but conceivably should pop right back out. The only feasible way to look at a cash advance as acceptable is if you're using it on a credit card that has a zero balance and your end game is a 30 day pay off (or whenever the card bill is due) in full.

Another cash advance misstep is borrowing from the lesser of two evils: a cash advance to pay on a credit card or a bill in general. You're hardly making the kind of headway you want or need to based on this course of action. You're creating another line of debt, while not even paying off the initial one.

Cash advances, like credit cards, are high interest rates that often are needed based on a certain situation. What is totally unacceptable is when consumers create that situation by their own hand and start cashing in on their credit cards for items and purchases that they don't need, when in actuality what they get is more money held against them when it comes to credit checks, reports and a financial future that would turn bleak quickly.

Retirement Planning Holy Grail: Asset Allocation

Ah, retirement; that period in our lives where we can do what we want, when we want. If you pay any attention to many of the financial services commercials that come on TV, we will all own vineyards, or racing our classic sports cars, and playing golf; all in some sunny idyllic place where the birds always sing.

Sounds great right? Unfortunately the vast majority of us will more than likely have a retirement that is something a bit more down to Earth.

After working in the financial industry for five years, one of the things I came away with is that typically the more money a client has the more attention they and their money gets. This is not to say, if you don’t have a lot of money, that you should fire your current financial adviser. The vast majority of financial professionals are very attentive to ALL of their clients; and just because they may not meet with you as much as their higher net worth clients, it doesn’t mean your account is being ignored. What it does mean, is that you may have to do more of your own research, and take a little more control over your account(s). One has to stay informed about what is happening in the markets, and gauge the appropriateness of the investments in your portfolio(s). By staying informed, this enables you to ask appropriate and informed questions about your specific account(s) and the investments in them when talking to your financial adviser, and then listen to their recommendations.

With any long term investment account, asset allocation is key. While there is no perfect allocation that fits everyone, each of us have different needs, goals, and comfort levels, and your age will be a large factor in how your financial adviser recommends allocating your account(s). Here are some basics: There are three main asset classes, equities (stocks), fixed income (bonds), and cash and/or cash equivalents (think money market accounts). These are going to be the ones most of us will invest in.

Regardless of your age, it is often recommended that there be some percentage of stocks in your account(s). The reason for this is historically speaking, stocks have outperformed or increased in value faster than other asset classes, and even out pacing the historical rate of inflation. Obviously, if you are a younger person, thus further from retirement, your allocation towards equities is going to typically be a greater percentage of your account(s) than other asset classes.

In the world of stocks there are subcategories, based on market capitalization (how big the company is), so there is further diversification that can be done within this asset class. These “sub classes” are Small Capitalization (Small Cap) stocks, which as the name implies are smaller companies. These stocks can be pretty volatile, moving up or down quickly, and thus are considered a little risky. Younger investors will tend to invest a larger portion of their accounts in these types of stocks. Then there are Mid-Caps, which not surprisingly are the stocks of companies that lie in the middle of the spectrum of company size. Again these stocks can be more volatile and thus are considered slightly more risky. Third is the Large Caps, these are the big boys, and many of them are what are referred to as “blue chips,” think Coca Cola, and Wal-Mart as a couple of examples. While still prone to large movements, these stocks can tend to be fairly steady and often times pay dividends which can either be reinvested in the stock, or taken as income; as such many older investors may skew their equity weightings towards large caps in order to receive the dividends as a form of supplemental income. It is important that you talk with your financial professional regarding to what weighting you should have in stocks, and what weightings are appropriate for you in small, mid, and large caps; as well as the tax consequences the dividends may have on you and your account(s).

Fixed income, or bonds tend to be a bit enigmatic to the average investor. Bonds are, in the simplest definition, debt that is sold with the promise to pay the buyer interest and then at the bonds maturity pay they buyer the face value of that bond. Bonds are typically sold in varying maturities, and can be bought and sold between entities prior to their maturity. This overly simplistic, and I recommend further research into the subject. Bonds too have different classifications, there are corporate bonds, which not surprisingly are bonds issued by corporations, again like Coca Cola, and Wal-Mart. Then there are municipal bonds, this are bonds issued by municipalities and states, and then there are federal bonds, or treasuries as they are commonly referred to. Younger investors may not own a single bond in their account(s), while older investors’ accounts may own a substantially larger percentage of bonds, wanting the interest payments that they provide to further supplement their income, so they can support themselves better, and maybe afford to race their classic sports car on the weekends. Each class of bonds has different tax consequences, and consulting your financial adviser about these is highly recommended. Bonds also have what is called interest rate risk, which your adviser should be able to explain to you too.

Finally, there is cash or cash equivalents. We all know what cash is, so I will not give an explanation. A cash equivalent however does deserve some explanation. Quite simply cash equivalents is your cash being held in a money market account, which is kind of a liquid (easily bought and sold) mutual fund, that typically has a higher interest rate than your run of the mill savings account. Cash and Cash equivalents is almost always the smallest portion of any account, regardless of a person’s age. This is because growth in this asset class tends to be excruciatingly slow, and interest rates tend to be substantially lower than many bonds and even some stocks. None-the-less you will probably have at least some minute amount of cash in your account(s) due to dividends and or interest received from bonds and the cash/money market account itself.

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough, please speak with your financial adviser about your specific investment needs, they should be able run financial models on various allocations that can give you a better picture as how you may want to allocate your account(s) to better realize the retirement of your dreams, be it owning a vineyard, or simply piddling away in your backyard garden in your golden years.

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