Explore Life & Money
Let’s be honest: financial planning can be confusing, stressful, and just plain boring. But when you focus on the kind of life you want—the goals, needs, and dreams you have for yourself and your family—your decisions about money get a lot easier. We’re here to help you explore the financial topics that matter to your life.
Looking for more in-depth guidance? Talk to your advisor to create a financial plan for your specific needs and goals.
Understanding your credit report & scoreMarch 20, 2017
Many of us know what our credit score is—but how did we get there? Find out how your credit report and score work, and how you can access, review, and improve your credit.
Get your credit report
First thing’s first: It’s important to regularly review your credit report to see where you stand. All credit bureaus are required to provide an annual free copy of your report. Here’s how to request your free copy (it’s the only website authorized by the federal government).
Dig into the numbers
Think of it like a report card for your finances. This video can help you break down the numbers to make sure your credit report is accurate.
Check for errors
While some mistakes won’t hurt your credit, others can have a big impact. Keep an eye out for these three most common credit report errors.
Find an error? The reporting process depends on the type of error, but can be completed online or by mail in most cases. Get tips on how to report an error.
Understand your credit score
Your credit score compares a variety of financial factors, using info from your report. Higher scores typically mean easier loan approvals and lower interest rates.
Improve your score
Good credit scores are usually at or above 700. Not quite there yet? Here are some dos and don’ts for improving your credit score.
Stay on top of it
Check your credit report at least once a year. Knowing your credit situation—and how you can maintain or improve it—can help you head down the right financial path.
Tax time tips: Prepare for this season—and nextFebruary 17, 2017
It’s that time of year again: tax season. But with a little preparation, it can be less stressful. Here are some tips for 2017—and a few that will give you a head start on next year’s taxes.
With every new tax season, it’s a good idea to check out what new laws, requirements, or other changes have gone into effect. Here’s what you should know for 2016 tax filing.
Do you have all of your documents? This IRS checklist can help you figure out what you need to make the filing process go smoothly.
Know your deductions
Sales tax and student loan interest paid by your parents are just two of the 10 most overlooked tax deductions that could put more money back in your pocket.
Track your charitable donations
Monetary donations and physical items are eligible for tax deduction. Try these apps to help you easily track your contributions. Start now so you’ll be all set next tax season.
Documents and receipts—keep or shred?
It depends. In general, the IRS recommends keeping copies of tax returns and supporting documents at least three years. But you may need to keep some documents seven years, like real estate records.
Get ready for next year
Whether you’ve already filed or you’re preparing to, take advantage of this time and get organized. Create a filing system, or use apps to digitally manage your info so you’re ready to enter next tax season with everything you need.
Reflecting on the marketJanuary 24, 2017
Staying on top of your investments and the market doesn’t just make you smart. It also helps you make informed decisions about your plan for retirement. We pulled together 2016 events that helped shape the world of investments. Spend a few minutes looking back, then determine what future you want and the steps you need to take to get there.
Worst start ever: The S&P 500 recorded its worst two-week opening in history after the Fed raised interest rates in December 2015.1 Even with the hike, interest rates around the world remained historically low.
Making a comeback: The Dow reached its lowest point in the middle of the month after falling oil prices, a slowdown in China and losses in stocks.2 But it quickly turned around for the biggest quarterly comeback in 83 years.3
Getting through Brexit: After an uphill climb following a slow start, the S&P 500 took a dip due to Brexit-induced uncertainty. Luckily, the market got back on track, and even reached an all-time high by the end of the year.4
Election of Donald Trump: A whirlwind campaign season ended with the election of billionaire real estate developer and reality T.V. star Donald Trump. We expected market volatility, but the markets surprised us with a positive reaction. It goes to show that a long-term strategy and removing emotion can be important to investing.4
Decade-low unemployment: The 4.6 percent unemployment rate was the lowest we’ve seen in nearly 10 years. But while some rejoiced, others were skeptical due to the ongoing debate over who’s actually included in the labor force. Regardless, the rate is a huge improvement compared to the rate after the financial crisis.5
All-time marketing high: There was evidence of a rapid stock market fall on election night; however, the S&P 500, NASDAQ and Dow Jones reached all-time highs in December. Keep watching to see where markets trend in 2017.
Fed raises key interest rate .25%: On December 14, the Fed announced it had increased the Federal Funds Rate from .5 percent to .75 percent while also indicating that more interest rate increases are expected in 2017.6
Low but rising Treasury yields: With the prospect of an increased fiscal stimulus and the likelihood of rising inflation, U.S. Treasury yields went up during the last two months of the year. However, a 30-year Treasury bond still has a yield about equal to the core inflation rate.7
Like most years, the market had plenty of ups and downs in 2016. But a long-term focus and diversified portfolio may help you ride them out.
We’ll continue to keep an eye on the market in 2017 while you stay focused on your long-term goals.
Create a financial game plan: Working with an advisorDecember 27, 2016
Winning plays aren’t just for sports teams. Everyday investors need strategies for success, too. Consider these five questions as you begin building or reviewing your financial game plan.
1. Do I need a financial advisor?
Typically, yes. Financial advisors do more than just help with your investments. They help you plan for your financial future. A financial advisor can help by assisting with things like estate planning and reducing your debt.
2. How do I choose a financial advisor?
A good place to start is to ask friends and family for recommendations. You can also explore resources online or contact an advisor from your employer’s retirement plan, if you have one. Then, set up a meeting to discuss your financial needs and goals.
3. What should I bring to my meeting?
Whether this is your first meeting with an advisor or a check-in with your existing advisor, maximize your time by preparing ahead. Ask about specific documents you should bring, like bank statements and tax returns.
4. What questions should I ask?
If this is your first time working with an advisor, don’t be afraid to ask them questions. And don’t be shy about asking what their fees are, either. It’s important to know how they expect to be paid for their services.
5. How often should I meet with my advisor?
Once you’ve got a financial game plan in place, take a timeout once a year to review and update your plan. Major life events and changing goals may mean you need to adjust your financial plays.
Make sure you’re always on a winning team
It’s never too early or too late to start working with an advisor. They can help you take the emotion and stress out of financial strategies—so you can plan for your financial future.
It’s resolution time: Financial tips for the new yearDecember 27, 2016
A new year is just around the corner. As you set resolutions and goals for 2017, make sure that a financial plan is on your list. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Take control of your finances
Making financial decisions today can have a positive impact on your life years down the road. Unfortunately, waiting to make these decisions can have the opposite effect.
Stay on the path to a brighter financial future by reviewing these 10 financial choices you’ll regret in 10 years. Then, put together a financial "not-to-do" list to help keep you on track.
And remember, a retirement strategy can be a key part of financial planning. These four quick steps can help you get your retirement savings in order and begin building the future you want.
Set goals—and a budget
Working with a financial advisor can be a big help in this area. If you don’t have an advisor, ask friends and family for recommendations. You can also explore resources online, or contact an advisor from your employer's retirement plan, if you have one. Then, set up a meeting to discuss your financial needs and goals.
If you’d prefer to create—or reevaluate—your budget on your own, apps like Mint give you a complete, real-time look at your money. By syncing all of your accounts, the app automatically tracks and categorizes your spending for you. Plus, you can set a budget limit and receive notifications if you reach your limit.
Save more money—and still have fun
Spending less gives you the opportunity to pay down your debt, build your savings, and improve your overall financial outlook. These 100 money-saving tips can help you start your personal debt-relief program.
But saving more doesn’t mean you have to miss out on life. Here are 22 ways you can reduce your spending and have fun along the way.
You can even find ways to save on splurges (like vacations), too. Check out these hidden vacation locations that offer the same great experience at a lower cost.
Use these tips to help you take on the new year with financial confidence—so you can live the life you want.
Living your fullest life: Ways to give backDecember 27, 2016
Understandably, we spend a lot of our lives focusing on money—how much we have, how we can make more, whether we’re saving enough. But what truly makes us wealthy is time spent with others, both at home and in our communities.
Here are some simple ways you can give your time, energy, and money to make a difference in the lives of others.
Volunteer your time
Maybe you love caring for children or working with animals. Find an organization in your area that matches your passion and lend a helping hand. And while you may be inclined to volunteer during the holidays, keep in mind that there are many opportunities throughout the year where your time may be needed even more.
Donate to a good cause
If your free time is scarce, a gift of money is always appreciated. Even small donations make a difference. Give to your local food bank, homeless shelter, church, hospital, or whatever organization inspires you. Or, consider giving directly to a friend or loved one who’s in need.
Pay it forward
Doing good doesn’t need to take a lot of time or money. Small gestures, like buying coffee for the person behind you in line, can unexpectedly brighten someone’s day—and inspire them to pay your kindness forward to others.
Encourage kids to embrace giving, too
Teach your children that they have the power to make a difference in the world. Bring them with you when you volunteer. Or, on their birthday or during the holidays, gift them money to donate to the cause of their choice, or donate on their behalf.
Remember what matters
While money (and saving for the future) is important, it’s what we share with others that makes us truly rich.