Brown bag lunch discussion covers financial advice for women

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The latest installment of the Women’s Wednesdays Brown Bag Lunch Series offered practical financial advice for women in all walks of life with tips regarding the financial life cycle on Wednesday. The discussion covered everything from how to build credit, the challenges of marriage and money, saving for your child’s college education, to retirement plans and life insurance.

Jodi Kaus, director of Powercat Financial Counseling, started the afternoon by giving all those present the simple assignment of checking all three sources for their credit reports; Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. These reports should contain information about accounts in default, credit inquiries and history about the holders employment and income. It is important to look for any inaccuracies, discrepancies between reports and signs that may indicate identity theft. The government allows anyone to check all three of these reports through annualcreditreport.com free once a year.

“You can check your own credit as many times as you want without consequences,” Kaus said. “The only time your score can be negatively effected is when others are checking it.”

Women attending the lecture had many questions regarding the logistics of their credit scores. Kaus said the best way to build credit is to use your credit cards often for small fees. The two things that impact your score the most are paying on time and the debt to credit ratio.

Kaus said to be cautious about closing a credit card if you have used it for a long period of time because it can hurt your credit. Closing it impacts the amount of credit available to you and part of your score is based on that information. If you do choose to close it, make sure to ask the credit card company for a hard close, she said.

Next, Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services spoke about how couples can better establish and meet their financial goals as a team.

“I work with couples who don’t communicate well about money because they have different goals, and often times one spouse takes total control,” Britt said.

She emphasized how important it is for both parties to be aware of their financial situation, talk in detail about money when things are calm by addressing one small thing at a time and seek third-party help when necessary. One specific topic of interest was saving for a child’s college education. Britt discussed the Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Plan.

“I have found that the 529 plan is one of the best because money will be tax deferred and the beneficiaries can be changed if necessary,” Britt said.

According to Britt, every state has their own specific plan and you can use any that you wish. To choose the plan that is best for you be sure to look closely at investment performance and the expenses involved. She recommended comparing Kansas’s plan to other 529s on savingforcollege.com.

The program came full circle by ending with discussions on retirement planning led by Kristy Archuleta, assistant professor of family studies and human services. First and foremost, she said, there is no reason for anyone to save for retirement if they have credit card debt, so that has to be taken care of first. This may seem obvious, but often times people are so focused on saving for their kids that they forget to put money away for their own futures.

“The average retirement age today is 67 and you should plan on living for another 25 to 35 years, so a good rule of thumb is to have about $1 million saved by the time you retire,” Archuleta said.

Although the 401k is the most popular way to save for retirement, the most important thing when deciding which plan is best is to consider the expense ratios of different plans. The lower the expense ratio, the better the fund will be. Also, be aware that your employer will ask you what you want to invest in, otherwise they will decide for you, Archuleta said. She added that now is a great time to invest in stocks and buy securities at a low rate. Although it can be scary because the stock market is down, but if history repeats itself, the stock market will rebound, she said.

With ending remarks made, those who attended were encouraged to continue to seek out financial knowledge.

“We often have a lack of self-confidence in what we already know as women, however we have the ability to put ourselves in position of financial freedom,” Britt said.

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