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How to Talk with Your Parents About Their Finances

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Talking to your parents about their finances probably seems like one of the most awkward you conversations you could ever have. I’ll bet it ranks right up there with the sex talk your parents gave you when you were a kid — or that you’ve had with your own children.

I grew up in the South, where we don’t talk about money or sex. So when I asked my mom where babies came from, she told me a man and woman “make love”. That’s it. That was the extent of the conversation.

I have three kids, so clearly I figured out where babies come from. When my oldest was 10, she asked me where babies came from. I didn’t say something vague like, “A man and woman make love.” I simply told her the basics. She then looked at me – and remember, I have three kids – and said, “Ooh, you did that three times.”

I decided to be upfront with my kids because I wanted them to know they could feel comfortable talking to me about a topic that many people consider taboo. Like the money talk with parents, it’s only as awkward as you make it.

However, unlike the birds and the bees talk, you cannot figure out your parents’ finances unless you actually get the details.

I learned this the hard way.

Why You Need to Talk to Your Parents About Money

Years ago, I suggested to my mom that she look into getting long-term care insurance. She was sixty years old and living on her own because she and my dad had divorced. As a personal-finance journalist, I knew it would be good for her to have an insurance policy to pay for long-term care if she ever needed it.

She took my advice and met with an insurance agent. But, unfortunately, she had a pre-existing health condition – a benign tumor behind her left ear — that made her too much of a risk to insure. If I’d been smart, I would’ve used that opportunity to start talking to her about her finances to figure out how she would pay for long-term care if she ever needed it.

But I wasn’t smart.

I didn’t realize how important it was to have a conversation with my mom about her finances at the time.

A few years after my mom found out that she couldn’t get long-term care coverage, she started having trouble remembering things. I knew I needed to act quickly to get her to meet with an attorney to update her legal documents. She agreed, and the attorney drafted a will, living will, and power of attorney for her.

It was especially important to get those latter two documents drafted. Her living will named my sister and me as her health care surrogates and gave us authority to make health care decisions for her. And we both were named her power of attorney, which gave us the right to make financial decisions for her.

Here’s the thing. You must be mentally competent to sign those documents. If I had waited any longer to get my mom to meet with an attorney, the attorney might not have allowed her to sign her power of attorney and living will documents. I wouldn’t have been able to step in and start making financial decisions for her without going through a lengthy and expensive court process to become her conservator and guardian.

If something were to happen to your parents – say a stroke – and you needed to access their bank account to pay their hospital bills or talk to any of their financial institutions, you couldn’t unless your parents had already named you their power of attorney and you had the document. And you can’t make health care decisions for them unless they’ve named you their health care proxy.

If you wait until a health emergency to talk to your parents about their finances, it could be too late. They might not have the legal documents in place to allow you to step in and help. You won’t have a plan for dealing with the emergency. And emotions will be running high. You and your parents won’t be thinking rationally, and the last thing any of you will want to discuss are finances.

It might not be a health issue that forces you to get involved with your parents’ finances. They might not have saved enough for retirement and will need support from you. They might die without a will, and you’ll have to deal with what’s left behind while family members fight over who gets what.

As scary as having a conversation with your parents about their finances might seem, the consequences of not talking to them can be much worse.

How to Talk to Your Parents About Their Finances

So now that I’ve sufficiently scared you, you’re probably thinking: “Okay, I get that I need to have this conversation. But I don’t know how.”

First, realize that the scenario you’re playing out in your head about your parents flying off the handle because you tell them you want to talk about their finances probably won’t happen. In fact, they might even be grateful that you’re looking out for their well-being – that is, if you approach the conversation out of respect and concern for their best interests.

What you don’t want to do is be condescending. The fastest way to shut down a conversation with your parents is to talk down to them.

You’ll also scare them away if you appear to have selfish motives. These conversations are not about you and what you might hope to inherit someday. These conversations are about letting your parents know that you want to know what their wishes are so you can follow them.

And don’t issue ultimatums. Telling your parents you won’t help them as they age if they don’t talk to you about their finances won’t work. They’ll just resist your efforts even more.

Instead, choose a time when your parents are relaxed and there aren’t other people around who don’t need to be part of the conversation. (Hint: A holiday meal isn’t the ideal time for this talk.) Then try one of these tactics to get the conversation started:

  • Share your own financial planning experience. For example, if you recently drafted a will, tell your parents that you want them to know where it is in case of an emergency. Then you could ask what sort of estate planning documents they have and where they are. The goal isn’t to find out whether they’ve included you in their will or how much money you’re getting, but to know if they even have their financial wishes in writing.
  • Use current events. You could let your parents know that you’re concerned about their well-being during the current coronavirus pandemic and want to know whether they’ve taken any steps to plan for a health-care emergency. For example, you could ask whether they have an advance directive or living will that names a health care proxy for them – someone to make medical decisions for them if they can’t.
  • Offer to lighten their load. You can get a glimpse into your parents’ finances by offering to take over a money task for them – such as setting up automatic bill payments – so they have more time to do things they enjoy.
  • There are plenty of other ways to start the conversation, from sharing a story about someone you know who had to get involved with a parent’s financial life to sending them an actual invitation to talk. If one approach doesn’t work, try another.

    What to Do If Your Parents Are Reluctant to Talk About Money

    It might take time for your parents to get comfortable with the idea of sharing information about their finances with you. If you’ve made several attempts to start the conversation and haven’t had luck, you might benefit from getting a third party involved.

    Reach out to a family friend, a member of the clergy or your parents’ attorney or accountant for help. That person might be more successful in persuading your parents to start talking to you because parents can be reluctant to take the advice of their own children.

    Another option to get your parents to share information with you is to ask them to write it down rather than tell you. Ask them to make a list of their financial accounts, store that list someplace safe, and tell you how and when you would be able to access it.

    This can be a tricky situation, but it’s important not to give up. If those approaches don’t work, here are a few other strategies for speaking with reluctant parents.

    What Information to Gather

    If your parents are willing to talk, start with the basics.

    You don’t need to know how much they have in the bank, but you need to know where they bank. Also find out how they pay their bills – by automatic bill pay or by check. If it’s the latter, suggest that they set up automatic payments to ensure their bills get paid if, say, they are injured and have to be in the hospital for a while.

    Find out whether they have a power of attorney who can make financial decisions for them if they can’t — and a health care proxy to make medical decisions for them if they can’t. Also, ask if they have a will that spells out who gets what when they die. An attorney can draft all of these documents. Without them, state law will determine who gets your parents assets, and a judge will likely decide who can make financial or health care decisions for them if they become incompetent.

    Over several conversations (that’s right, you don’t need to do this all at once), dig deeper to find out what sources of income your parents have and where they stand financially.

  • Do they have debt?
  • What sort of insurance policies do they have?
  • Do they have enough saved for a comfortable retirement?
  • Do they have a plan for paying for long-term care if they need it?

Gather as many details as you can about the financial accounts they have, the bills they regularly pay, the investments they have, the professionals they work with and their financial wishes. Again, you could ask them to write down this information – including usernames and passwords – so you’ll have it in case of an emergency.

I can’t promise that if you use any or all of these strategies that the conversation will go so well that you and your parents will pop open the champagne and celebrate when you’re done talking. It might take several attempts and several conversations.

But if you don’t try at all, you won’t get the information you need, and you won’t be prepared to help your parents as they age. Really, that’s what this is all about – being there for your parents when they need you most.

J.D.’s note: Cam and I are in similar situations, and we’ve chatted about our shared frustrations before. Both of our mothers are aging and have memory issues. As a result, we’ve both taken charge of their finances.

One thing that I’ve learned is that some of this stuff is really very easy. Many institutions will work with you as long as you have the proper documentation. In some cases — as with my mother’s bank — the organization will work with you, but there are hoops to jump through.

Believe it or not, the greatest difficulty I’ve had in managing my mom’s money is with the Vanguard Group, and it’s not because they’re being jerks. They’re very serious about security — as they should be — but as a result, it’s a total pain in the ass to take care of my mom’s retirement accounts — including required minimum distributions.



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Introducing Coverage Critic: Time to Kill the $80 Mobile Phone Bill Forever

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A Quick Foreword: Although the world is still in Pandemic mode, we are shifting gears back to personal finance mode here at MMM. Partly because we could all use a distraction right now, and even more important because forced time off like this is the ideal time to re-invest in optimizing parts of your life such as your fitness, food and finances.

Canadian Readers – we have also collected some recommendations for you at a new Canadian Mobile Phone recommendations page.

Every now and then, I learn to my horror that some people are still paying preposterous amounts for mobile phone service, so I write another article about it.

If we are lucky, a solid number of people make the switch and enjoy increased prosperity, but everyone who didn’t happen to read that article goes on paying and paying, and I see it in the case studies that people email me when looking for advice. Lines like this in their budget:

  • mobile phone service (2 people): $160

“NO!!!!”
is all I can say, when I see such unnecessary expenditure. These days, a great nationwide phone service plan costs between and $10-40 per month, depending on how many frills you need.

Why is this a big deal? Just because of this simple fact:

  • Cutting $100 per month from your budget becomes a $17,000 boost to your wealth every ten years.

And today’s $10-40 phone plans are just great. Anything more than that is just a plain old ripoff, end of story. Just as any phone more expensive than $200* (yes, that includes all new iPhones), is probably a waste of money too.

So today, we are going to take the next step: assigning a permanent inner-circle Mustachian expert to monitor the ever-improving cell phone market, and dispense the latest advice as appropriate. And I happen to know just the guy:

Christian Smith, along with colleagues at GiveWell in San Francisco, circa 2016

My first contact with Chris was in 2016 when he was working with GiveWell, a super-efficient charitable organization that often tops the list for people looking to maximize the impact of their giving.

But much to my surprise, he showed up in my own HQ coworking space in 2018, and I noticed he was a bit of a mobile phone research addict. He had started an intriguing website called Coverage Critic, and started methodically reviewing every phone plan (and even many handsets) he could get his hands on, and I liked the thorough and open way in which he did it.

This was ideal for me, because frankly I don’t have time to keep pace with ongoing changes in the marketplace. I may be an expert on construction and energy consumption, but I defer to my friend Ben when I have questions about fixing cars, Brandon when I need advice on credit cards, HQ member Dr. D for insider perspectives on the life of a doctor and the medical industry, and now Chris can take on the mobile phone world.

So we decided to team up: Chris will maintain his own list of the best cheap mobile phone plans on a new Coverage Critic page here on MMM. He gets the benefit of more people enjoying his work, and I get the benefit of more useful information on my site. And if it goes well, it will generate savings for you and eventual referral income for us (more on that at the bottom of this article).

So to complete this introduction, I will hand the keyboard over to the man himself.

Meet The Coverage Critic

Chris, engaged in some recent Coverage Criticicism at MMM-HQ

I started my professional life working on cost-effectiveness models for the charity evaluator GiveWell. (The organization is awesome; see MMM’s earlier post.) When I was ready for a career change, I figured I’d like to combine my analytical nature with my knack for cutting through bullshit. That quickly led me to the cell phone industry.

So about a year ago, I created a site called Coverage Critic in the hopes of meeting a need that was being overlooked: detailed mobile phone service reviews, without the common problem of bias due to undisclosed financial arrangements between the phone company and the reviewer.

What’s the Problem with the Cell Phone Industry?

Somehow, every mobile phone network in the U.S. claims to offer the best service. And each network can back up its claims by referencing third-party evaluations. 

How is that possible? Bad financial incentives.

Each network wants to claim it is great. Network operators are willing to pay to license reviewers’ “awards”. Consequently, money-hungry reviewers give awards to undeserving, mediocre networks.

On top of this, many phone companies have whipped up combinations of confusing plans, convoluted prices, and misleading claims. Just a few examples:

  • Coverage maps continue to be wildly inaccurate.
  • Many carriers offer “unlimited” plans that have limits.
  • All of the major U.S. network operators are overhyping next-generation, 5G technologies. AT&T has even started tricking its subscribers by renaming some of its 4G service “5GE.”

However, with enough research and shoveling, I believe it becomes clear which phone companies and plans offer the best bang for the buck.  So going forward, MMM and I will be collaborating to share recommended phone plans right here on his website, and adding an automated plan finder tool soon afterwards. I think you’ll find that there are a lot of great, budget-friendly options on the market.

A Few Quick Examples:

Mint Mobile: unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data for as low as $20 per month (runs over T-Mobile’s network).

T-Mobile Connect: unlimited minutes and texts with 2GB of data for $15 per month.

Xfinity Mobile: 5 lines with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data over Verizon’s network for about $12 per line each month (heads up: only Xfinity Internet customers are eligible, and the bring-your-own-device program is somewhat restrictive).

Cricket Wireless: 4 lines in a combined family plan with unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and unlimited data for as low as $100 per month (runs on AT&T’s network).

Ting: Limited use family plans for under $15 per line each month.

[MMM note – even as a frequent traveler, serious techie and a “professional blogger”, I rarely use more than 1GB each month on my own Google Fi plan ($20 base cost plus data, then $15 for each additional family member). So some of these are indeed generous plans]

Okay, What About Phones?

With the above carriers, you may be able to bring your existing phone. But if you need a new one, there are some damn good, low-cost options these days. The Moto G7 Play is only $130 and offers outstanding performance despite the low price point. I use it as my personal phone and love it.

If you really want something fancy, consider the Google Pixel 3a or the recently released, second-generation iPhone SE. Both of these are amazing phones and about half as expensive as an iPhone 11.

——————————————-

Mobile Phone Service 101

If you’re looking to save on cell phone service, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the industry. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over a lot of nuances in the rest of this post. If you’re a nerd like me and want more technical details, check out my longer, drier article that goes into more depth.

The Wireless Market

There are only four nationwide networks in the U.S. (soon to be three thanks to a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint). They vary in the extent of their coverage:

  • Verizon (most coverage)
  • AT&T (2nd best coverage)
  • T-Mobile (3rd best coverage)
  • Sprint (worst coverage)

Not everyone needs the most coverage. All four nationwide networks typically offer solid coverage in densely populated areas. Coverage should be a bigger concern for people who regularly find themselves deep in the mountains or cornfields.

While there are only four nationwide networks, there are dozens of carriers offering cell phone service to consumers – offering vastly different pricing and customer service experiences.

Expensive services running over a given network will tend to offer better customer service, more roaming coverage, and better priority during periods of congestion than low-cost carriers using the same network. That said, many people won’t even notice a difference between low-cost and high-cost carriers using the same network.

For most people, the easiest way to figure out whether a low-cost carrier will provide a good experience is to just try one. You can typically sign up for these services without a long-term commitment. If you have a good initial experience with a budget-friendly carrier, you can stick with it and save substantially month after month.

With a good carrier, a budget-friendly phone, and a bit of effort to limit data use, most people can have a great cellular experience while saving a bunch of money.

MMM’s Conclusion

From now on, you can check in on the Coverage Critic’s recommendations at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic, and he will also be issuing occasional clever or wry commentary on Twitter at @Coverage_Critic.

Thanks for joining the team, Chris!

*okay, special exception if you use it for work in video or photography. I paid $299 a year ago for my stupendously fancy Google Pixel 3a phone.. but only because I run this blog and the extra spending is justified by the better camera.

The Full Disclosure: whenever possible, we have signed this blog up for referral programs with any recommended companies that offer them, so we may receive a commission if you sign up for a plan using our research. We aim to avoid letting income (or lack thereof) affect our recommendations, but we still want to be upfront about everything so you can judge for yourself. Specific details about these referral programs is shared on the CC transparency page. MMM explains more about how he handles affiliate arrangements here.



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Four career benefits of training to become a CFA, and how you can start now

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This article was created by StackCommerce. While Postmedia may collect a commission on sales through the links on this page, we are not being paid by the brands mentioned.

Most of us may only think about CFAs when tax season rolls around. Chartered financial analysts are finance experts who can help you land that perfect tax refund, but they’re also a lot more than that. Becoming a CFA can be a major career boost to those already employed in the financial sector. For those who aren’t, learning what it takes to be a CFA is a good way to dip your toes into the world of finance. Ultimately, learning the skills and know-how of a CFA is good knowledge for any person who cares about their money.

If you’re interested in receiving a CFA certification,

The All-In-One CFA Level 1 Exam Certification Prep Bundle

is the perfect training material to prepare you for the first level of the exam. After this bundle—which is only $39.99 USD—you can decide whether to pursue a CFA further. Here are four reasons you should consider becoming a certified CFA.

It opens networking opportunities

Around the world, there are more than

156,000

CFA charter holders, many of them employed by some of the top investment firms. You’ll be able to find another CFA anywhere, which can help you propel your career forward in the field through networking. There’s nothing better than a global opportunity, and a CFA offers you that. The prep bundle even has a course on Ethical and Professional Standards, which may prepare you for mingling with your peers.

CFAs enjoy higher salaries

Who doesn’t like more money? Because so many CFAs work for global institutions, they often have higher salaries, too. If you’d rather work for a smaller firm, the pay is also exemplary because CFAs receive better-paying projects due to their skill level. A CFA charter holder can expect, on

average

, to earn $104,000. Financial professionals hoping to push their career forward would really benefit from

The All-In-One CFA Level 1 Exam Certification Prep Bundle

as it can open the door to this salary increase should you decide to take the exam. The bundle includes courses on corporate investments and equity investments to help refine those skills to succeed.

Don’t get hit with that FOMO

You can face some disadvantages if you don’t have that CFA title. While it was a rarity back in 2003, many professionals in the field now have it, giving them a distinct edge over those who don’t. You don’t want to look like you’re less than what you are because of a simple certification. More than 227,000 candidates are working on securing that certification, and you can be among them by taking these essential lessons. For some, this certification is about status. You don’t want to feel left behind.

It’s a better investment than an MBA

MBAs can be a substantial investment. Not only can they take a year or two, but they often come with thousands of dollars in debt. Taking the exams to secure your CFA won’t only cost less money, it’ll take you less time. Let’s face it: Sometimes, time is worth more than money. A CFA can cost you anywhere between $3,000 to $9,000. An MBA, on the other hand, can cost you a

whopping $50,000

. You don’t need an MBA to prove your financial knowledge. With a CFA, you can show your boss what you’re about and move forward in the industry.

The

All-In-One CFA Level 1 Exam Certification Prep Bundle

has got 62 lessons on everything you need to ace that first level exam. And if you wind up not liking it, at least you spent only $39.99 USD instead of the thousands you’d spend on the exam itself.



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5 Legal Documents You Need During a Pandemic

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As Americans grapple with how to stay physically and financially healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to make sure you and your family have the right emergency documents. It’s much easier to prepare for a potential disaster than to recover from one that blind-sides you. After a tragedy occurs, it may be too late to make critical decisions.

Let’s talk about the different emergency documents and why you may need to create or update existing paperwork. If you get COVID-19 or have another unexpected illness or accident, these documents will help you manage your finances and make essential decisions with more clarity and less stress.   

5 emergency and legal documents to have during a pandemic

Instead of being caught off guard during a difficult time, consider if you should have these five legal documents.

1. Last will and testament

The purpose of a will is to communicate your final wishes after you die. Too many people don’t have one of these incredibly important documents because they mistakenly believe it’s something just for old rich people.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

And once you have a will, don’t forget to update it periodically to make sure it addresses all your wishes, assets, and beneficiaries. Critical life events—such as getting married, divorced, having a child, or losing a spouse or partner—should trigger you to update your will.

If you’re starting from scratch, make an inventory of your assets—like bank accounts, investments, real estate, vehicles, expensive belongings, and sentimental possessions—and decide what you want to happen to them. You can list beneficiaries for specific items, like who gets a piece of heirloom jewelry or an artwork collection. You can also create distribution percentages, such as 50 percent of the value of your assets go to your partner and 50 percent to your only child.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children. And don’t forget to leave instructions for what you want to happen to your pets, digital assets, intellectual property, and business assets. You can create a plan for your funeral, such as where you want to be buried and whether you want your organs donated.

Someone must carry out…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips



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