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Need More Hours in the Day ?

Just think what you could do with an extra hour or two each day: you could do all of those things that you've always wanted to do. I can't magically make all your days 25 hours long. But I can help you find more hours in your day for the things that really matter.

  1. Get Out of Bed Earlier
    If you normally get up at 7.30am, try getting up at 7am. That half-hour might not sound like much -- but it could be time that you use to meditate, to exercise, to read that book you've been meaning to finish, or simply to get your day off to a calm and organized start.

    The first hour or half-hour of the day is often a great chance to work on something important, before other demands crowd in on you. And if you need your beauty sleep? Just get to bed half an hour earlier.

  2. Use Your Commute Productively
    How much time do you spend commuting every week? Unless you work from home, you've probably got at least a couple of hours each week when you're traveling between your home and your workplace.

    Use your commuting time for something useful. If you drive, you could listen to audio books. If you take the bus or train, you could read a book rather than grabbing a free newspaper. And if your workplace is quite close by, you could try walking or cycling to work -- this builds exercise into the natural rhythm of your day.

  3. Tackle the Important Tasks First
    Once you get to work, take a few minutes to prioritize your tasks. Get the important ones done first (not the easy ones, or even the urgent ones). You can afford to spend at least an hour working on big, important tasks rather than on all those little urgent ones.

    If you work like this, you'll usually save time: the urgent tasks will still get done, and you won't spend hours procrastinating over the important ones.

  4. Don't Check Email So Often
    Your colleagues and clients can wait for a few hours -- or even a day or two -- for you to reply to their emails. If there's something truly urgent, they'll pick up the phone.

    Keep your inbox closed when you're working, and only open it when you're ready to spend 30 minutes or so dealing with emails. It's much more efficient to batch-process your emails than to keep popping in and out of your inbox to deal with individual ones.

  5. Reduce Interruptions
    If colleagues have a habit of hanging around your desk to chat, or if the phone is constantly ringing, you might find that it takes you half the day to finish a simple task like writing a letter. Constant interruptions don't just eat up time -- they also break your concentration.

    When you've got a big task to focus on, let your calls go to voicemail. If you have an office door, close it. If you work in a cubicle, wear headphones: having them on makes it less likely that people will try to strike up a conversation (you don't have to listen to anything through them).

  6. Stay Focused on Your Work
    You might have heard the saying "procrastination is the thief of time." When you want more hours in the day, procrastination can be a real problem. A few minutes chatting, browsing the web, updating your Facebook status, and so on, can easily turn into hours of wasted time over the course of a day.

    When you're working, work. If your concentration is slipping, take a proper break: go and get a glass of water, or stretch your legs a bit. And if you're facing a difficult task, try breaking it into small steps or stages so that it's easier to tackle.

  7. Go Home on Time
    If you're supposed to finish work at 4pm, but you never make it out of the office door until 6pm at the earlier, then it's no wonder you don't have enough hours in the day.

    In some jobs, it is difficult to get away on time (if all your colleagues work late, you might feel obliged to do the same). But if you're staying because you only ever seem to get any work done in a mad dash at the end of the day, then your working habits need to change.

  8. Delegate Some Chores
    Perhaps you seem to be the only person in your household who's capable of unstacking the dishwasher or ironing the clothes. If your evenings get taken up with a long list of chores, see whether you can delegate some of those.

    Your partner, housemates, or kids can pitch in and help out. Even if you just free up 20 or 30 minutes every evening, you'll have a bit of extra time to spend on something important to you.

  9. Eat Dinner at Home
    Although going out for dinner might seem like it saves time (after all, you don't have to cook) -- you've got the time cost of traveling to the restaurant, ordering the food, waiting for it to arrive, paying the bill ... and it might well be faster just to cook and eat at home.

    If you don't have much time to cook during the week, try making extra portions at the weekend so that you can freeze some. That way, you've got an almost-instant meal (and one that's probably healthier and cheaper than a restaurant meal, too).

  10. Limit Your TV Watching
    If you put the TV on as soon as you get in from work, it's easy to end up spending hours slumped on the sofa. Instead of watching whatever happens to be showing, try watching just one or two programs each night.

    You might also want to have at least a couple of TV-free evenings; a great chance to read a good book, or to work on a project around the house.

Written on 3/20/2012 by Ali Luke. Ali is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a writing coach. She blogs about writing on her site, Aliventures.com, and has a free ebook "How to Find Time For Your Writing" available when you join her writing newsletter here.

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New York Life is Hiring!

I found this article which I thought was kind of humorous because ALL Insurance companies are hiring. Everywhere you look, Insurance companies are bombarding the job search boards with Insurance positions. But, in case your wondering......New York Life is hiring too.

" New York Life Insurance Company will again be making a recruiting push in 2012 in the hope of expanding its force of financial professionals. They hired 3,600 new agents in 2011 and they are aiming to hire 3,700 this year.

New York Life feels that while most companies, in most industries, are hiring incrementally as they test the tepid economic waters, they have a strong motivator to flesh-out their force; 14% of Americans report that they plan to seek help in managing their finances in 2012 according to an Ipsos survey and New York Life wants to be prepared.

The company is seeking employees coming from non-traditional career paths. A recruitment focus for the coming year will be men and women transitioning to the workforce from careers in the military. New York Life is also seeking to hire women (57% of the company's hires in 2011 were women or individuals who represent cultural markets).

New York Life hopes to attract these individuals by touting aspects that it feels will make the company alluring to prospective employees. A recent survey it conducted exposed that 43% of Americans feel that they will not experience career advancement in 2012. The lack of advancement opportunities in many industries enhances New York Life's clear-cut requirements and defined goals that employees know will propel them forward.

"New York Life is pleased to offer a career that allows an individual to grow and advance-whether that means expanding their practice or moving into a management position," said Rich Simonetti, vice president in charge of field recruiting at New York Life."

Taken from: http://www.lifehealthpro.com/2012/02/14/new-york-life-plans-recruitment-push?utm_source=LifeHealthProDaily&utm_medium=eNL&utm_campaign=LifeHealthPro_eNLs

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Do You Drag Your Feet?

Last week my wife and I enjoyed a trip to a resort in Mexico. One afternoon, we were sitting near the pool people watching. Dozens of people walked past us, and we couldn't help but notice the vast majority dragged their feet or shuffled as they walked. This got me thinking about situations in which salespeople drag their feet and how this affects their sales.

  • Prospecting. As my friend says, "No one ever defaults to prospecting." Many salespeople drag their feet and procrastinate when it comes to engaging in this activity. However, it is the one sales activity that can influence your final results more than anything else.
  • Lead follow-up. It never ceases to amaze me how many people drag their feet when new prospects contact them. I can think of several situations where I contacted a company to inquire about a particular product or service only to have my email or voice mail ignored, forgotten or misplaced.
  • Sales follow-through. Very few sales happen in the first conversation, which means salespeople need to follow through if they want a sale to move forward. However, many salespeople drop the ball and fail to follow up after that initial sales call.
  • Information. In today's lightening-paced world, people have a very low "wait" tolerance when they request information about your products, services or offerings. I recently read that companies (and salespeople) who get information to a prospect faster than their competition significantly increase their likelihood of capturing that sale.
  • Self-development. Many salespeople and their managers believe that their existing skill set is sufficient and that they don't need to update or improve their selling skills. Sales training expert Colleen Francis reports that three-plus hours of sales coaching a month will ensure a salesperson hits 107 percent of his or her quota, while less than two hours of coaching per month sees that rep hitting 90 percent of quota. Yet many salespeople resist coaching and even more sales managers drag their feet and fail to provide effective sales coaching.
  • Adapt and change. If there is one thing I have learned in business and in sales, it's that change is inevitable, which means we need to constantly adapt and modify our approach if we want to generate better results. Salespeople, however, are notoriously reluctant to change their approach, particularly seasoned veterans.

In today's competitive sales world, dragging your feet can cost you money in lost sales opportunities-especially if your competitors are light and quick on their feet.

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Millions Manage Aging Parents from Afar!

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Kristy Bryner worries her 80-year-old mom might slip and fall when she picks up the newspaper, or that she'll get in an accident when she drives to the grocery store. What if she has a medical emergency and no one's there to help? What if, like her father, her mother slips into a fog of dementia?

Those questions would be hard enough if Bryner's aging parent lived across town in Portland, Ore., but she is in Kent, Ohio. The stress of caregiving seems magnified by each of the more than 2,000 miles that separate them.

"I feel like I'm being split in half between coasts," said Bryner, 54. "I wish I knew what to do, but I don't."

As lifespans lengthen and the number of seniors rapidly grows, more Americans find themselves in Bryner's precarious position, struggling to care for an ailing loved one from hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The National Institute on Aging estimates around 7 million Americans are long-distance caregivers. Aside from economic factors that often drive people far from their hometowns, shifting demographics in the country could exacerbate the issue: Over the next four decades, the share of people 65 and older is expected to rapidly expand while the number of people under 20 will roughly hold steady. That means there will be a far smaller share of people between 20 and 64, the age group that most often is faced with caregiving.

"You just want to be in two places at once," said Kay Branch, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, but helps coordinate care for her parents in Lakeland, Fla., about 3,800 miles away.

There are no easy answers.

Bryner first became a long-distance caregiver when, more than a decade ago, her father began suffering from dementia, which consumed him until he died in 2010. She used to be able to count on help from her brother, who lived close to their parents, but he died of cancer a few years back. Her mother doesn't want to leave the house she's lived in for so long.

So Bryner talks daily with her mother via Skype, a video telephone service. She's lucky to have a job that's flexible enough that she's able to visit for a couple of weeks every few months. But she fears what may happen when her mother is not as healthy as she is now.

"Someone needs to check on her, someone needs to look out for her," she said. "And the only someone is me, and I don't live there."

Many long-distance caregivers say they insist on daily phone calls or video chats to hear or see how their loved one is doing. Oftentimes, they find another relative or a paid caregiver they can trust who is closer and able to help with some tasks.

Yet there always is the unexpected: Medical emergencies, problems with insurance coverage, urgent financial issues. Problems become far tougher to resolve when you need to hop on a plane or make a daylong drive.

"There are lots of things that you have to do that become these real exercises in futility," said Ed Rose, 49, who lives in Boston but, like his sister, travels frequently to Chicago to help care for his 106-year-old grandmother, Blanche Seelmann.

Rose has rushed to his grandmother's side for hospitalizations, and made unexpected trips to solve bureaucratic issues like retrieving a document from a safe-deposit box in order to open a bank account.

But he said he has also managed to get most of the logistics down to a routine.

He uses Skype to speak with his grandmother every day and tries to be there whenever she has a doctor's appointment. Aides handle many daily tasks and have access to a credit card for household expenses. They send him receipts so he can monitor spending. He has an apartment near his grandmother to make sure he's comfortable on his frequent visits.

Even for those who live near those they care for, travel for work can frequently make it a long-distance affair. Evelyn Castillo-Bach lives in Pembroke Pines, Fla., the same town as her 84-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. But she is on the road roughly half the year, sometimes for months at a time, both for work with her own Web company and accompanying her husband, a consultant for the United Nations.

Once, she was en route from Kosovo to Denmark when she received a call alerting her that her mother was having kidney failure and appeared as if she would die. She needed to communicate her mother's wishes from afar as her panicked sister tried to search their mother's home for her living will. Castillo-Bach didn't think she could make it in time to see her mother alive once more.

"I won't get to touch my mother again," she thought.

She was wrong. Her mother pulled through. But she says it illustrates what long-distance caregivers so frequently go through.

"This is one of the things that happens when you're thousands of miles away," Castillo-Bach said.

Lynn Feinberg, a caregiving expert at AARP, said the number of long-distance caregivers is likely to grow, particularly as a sagging economy has people taking whatever job they can get, wherever it is. Though caregiving is a major stress on anyone, distance can often magnify it, Feinberg said, and presents particular difficulty when it must be balanced with an inflexible job.

"It's a huge stress," she said. "It can have enormous implications not only for someone's quality of life, but also for someone's job."

It can also carry a huge financial burden. A November 2007 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare, a division of United Health Group, found annual expenses incurred by long-distance caregivers averaged about $8,728, far more than caregivers who lived close to their loved one. Some also had to cut back on work hours, take on debt of their own and slash their personal spending.

Even with that in mind, though, many long-distance caregivers say they don't regret their decision. Rita Morrow, who works in accounting and lives in Louisville, Ky., about a six-hour drive from her 90-year-old mother in Memphis, Tenn., does all the juggling too.

She has to remind her mother to take her medicine, make sure rides are lined up for doctor's appointments, rush to her aid if there's a problem. She knows her mom wants to stay in her home, to keep going to the church she's gone to the past 60 years, to be near her friends.

"We do what we have to do for our parents," she said. "My mother did all kinds of things for me."

By Matt Sedensky

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The good news-despite what the Mayan calendar may say-is that the world probably won't be coming to an end in 2012. But like 2011, this coming year may bring some significant challenges here in the US and around the world. Read on to learn more about what could be ahead for home loan rates.

First, let's take a minute to recap 2011. While home loan rates finished the year at historically low levels, the housing market did not see a major improvement in the second half of the year as some experts expected. The labor market did make some modest improvements, but it is still persistently weak and this is one area of the economy in particular that we need to see consistent improvement in to help our long-term economic outlook.

Also weighing on consumer confidence and thus the economy in 2011 was the first downgrade of US Debt in history, thanks in part to our very divisive government body. Finally, the worsening and spreading debt crisis in Europe capped a year filled with financial and political uncertainty. The situation in Europe is the perfect place to begin a 2012 outlook.

Eurozone Debt Crisis
What may happen with the US economy and home loan rates in 2012-not to mention with inflation, the housing market, the job market, and even the Presidential election-may be dramatically influenced by how the Eurozone handles their debt crisis. In the simplest of terms, the issue is that like much of the developed economies around the world, Europe has way too much debt. And a lot of this debt sits on the books of the banking sector throughout the Eurozone.

In good economic times, banks could potentially "grow" their way out of their recapitalization problem by doing a lot of business and writing a bunch of loans. But that is not likely to happen with the Eurozone slipping into a recession in the first half of 2012.

Ultimately, Europe needs to provide a large financial backstop for their banks and sovereign debt in order to fix their problems longer-term. And this is something that Germany, who holds the cards in this negotiation, strongly opposes. Germany prefers to have each country shore up their own individual finances, act responsibly, and pay down their debt. Yet, Greece, Italy and other highly indebted countries have struggled to invoke tough austerity measures that would help them do so.

The situation in Europe is definitely a wild card headed into 2012. The bottom line is that as long as the uncertainty continues, the US Dollar and US Bonds should benefit, as investors will see our Bonds (including Mortgage Bonds, upon which home loan rates are based) as a safe haven for their money. This could help keep our home loan rates relatively low in 2012.

Inflation
One factor that we can't ignore when it comes to home loan rates is inflation. Why? Inflation is the arch enemy of Bonds and home loan rates, because if inflation rises, investors in Bonds demand a higher yield to offset the lost buying power inflation imposes on a fixed payment. And as home loan rates are tied to Mortgage Bonds, this would mean home loan rates move higher. That's why sometimes even hints or whispers that inflation is on the rise causes Bonds and home loan rates to worsen.

So what's ahead for inflation in 2012? In the Fed's Policy Statement from the December 13, 2011 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Fed stated that inflation is moderating...which would be good news for home loan rates. However, it's important to note that core consumer level inflation actually inched higher in 2011.

Last year, consumer inflation and the expectation of inflation rose as the Fed embarked on a second round of Quantitative Easing (QE2) in the fall of 2010, whereby they bought Mortgage Bonds to help boost the economy and the housing market. If inflation remains at current levels or pulls back a little, the Fed may just do another round of QE3 in the spring. Also paving the way for another round of QE is the change of guard at the Fed. Several hawkish (i.e., tough on inflation) voting members are being replaced by more dovish (i.e., softer on inflation) voting members in 2012.

The bottom line is that if the Fed does another round of QE, this could cause inflation to rise. And if inflation does rise in 2012, it could have a negative impact on home loan rates. However, if the uncertainty out of Europe continues to lead to a safe haven trade in our Bond markets-and remember, this helps Mortgage Bonds and therefore home loan rates-this could essentially balance out the negative impact inflation usually has on Bonds and home loan rates. Only time will tell whether inflation or the events in Europe have a bigger impact on the markets and home loan rates.

The Big Picture
In many ways, 2012 may feel a lot like 2011. Inflation and events in Europe will continue to play a big part in the direction home loan rates move in 2012. What's more, history has shown that Bonds move higher (which means home loan rates move lower) in anticipation of QE, but then selloff once the official announcement is made…think "buy on the rumor and sell on the news."

If that does happen, the first half of 2012 could be an especially great time to purchase or refinance a home. But even if the Fed does not move forward with QE3, we begin 2012 with home loan rates near historic lows, which already makes this year a great time to purchase or refinance a home.

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By Andrew Frye - Jan 10, 2012

MetLife Inc. (MET), the insurer seeking to limit federal oversight, will exit the business of originating residential mortgages.

The insurer will have $90 million to $100 million in costs tied to the departure in the next year, New York-based MetLife said today in a statement.

MetLife said in October it was seeking a buyer for its mortgage unit after announcing plans to sell deposit-gathering operations. The company reached a deal last month to sell about $7.5 billion of its bank's deposits to General Electric Co. The Federal Reserve, which oversees MetLife because of its size and banking operations, rejected the company's proposal last year to raise its dividend and resume share buybacks.

"We continue to move forward with our plans to cease being a bank holding company," Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian said last month. "This is essential to ensure that MetLife operates on a level playing field with other insurance companies."

MetLife, the largest U.S. life insurer, will continue to service current home-loan clients and to offer reverse mortgages, the company said today.

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15 Insurance Policies you DON'T Need!

Fear of the future sells insurance. Because we can't predict the future, we want to be ready to cover our financial needs if, or when, something bad happens. Insurance companies understand this fear and offer a variety of insurance policies designed to protect us from a host of calamities that range from disability to disease and everything in between. While none of us wants anything bad to happen, many of the potential catastrophes that happen in our lives are not worth insuring against. In this article, we'll take you through 15 policies that you're probably better off without.

Got a question ? Email us: robertjrussellcompanies@gmail.com

1. Private Mortgage Insurance

The infamous private mortgage insurance (PMI) is well known to homeowners because it increases the amount of their monthly mortgage payments. PMI is an insurance policy that protects the lender against loss when lending to a higher-risk borrower. The borrower pays for this insurance but derives no benefit. Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid paying for this unnecessary policy. PMI is required if you purchase a home with a down payment of less than 20% of the home's value. The small down payment is viewed as putting you at risk of defaulting on the loan. Put down at least 20% and the PMI requirement goes away. Alternatively, you can put down 10% and take out two loans, one for 80% of the sale price of the property and one for 10%, although interests rates can prevent the economics of this maneuver from working out in the homeowner's favor.

More from Robert J Russell Companies:

• Insurance quotes online - coverage in 15 minutes

• List of Foreclosures in Texas

• Looking for a Speaker at your next event ?

Visit the Robert J Russell Companies Website

2. Extended Warranties

Extended warranties are available on a host of appliances and electronics. From a consumer's perspective, they are rarely used, particularly on small items such as DVD players and radios. If you purchase a reputable, brand-name product, you can be fairly certain it will work as advertised and that the extended warranty is statistically likely to be unnecessary. If you spend $5,000 on a giant, flat-screen television, the policy is still unlikely to pay off, but might make you feel better. For everything else, forget it.

3. Automobile Collision

Collision insurance is designed to cover the cost of repairs to your vehicle if you are involved in an accident. If you have a loan out on the car, the loan issuer is likely to require that you have collision insurance. If your car is paid off, collision is optional; therefore, if you have enough money in the bank to cover the cost of a new car, collision insurance may be an unnecessary expense. This is particularly true if you are driving an old car, because cars depreciate so quickly that many vehicles are worth only a fraction of their purchase price by the time the loan is paid in full.

4. Rental Car Insurance

Most auto insurance policies offer additional coverage for the cost of car rentals, touting it as a useful feature if your car is ever involved in an accident and needs to spend some time in the repair shop. This may sound like a good idea, but in reality, most people rarely rent a car, and when they do, the cost is relatively low and hardly worth insuring against. Although rental car insurance is relatively inexpensive, amortized over the course of a lifetime you are still likely to spend far more than you will benefit.

5. Car Rental Damage Insurance

Many auto insurance policies already cover rentals, so there's no need to pay for this twice. Check your policy before you pay. Depending on where you rent the vehicle, you may also be able to pay a small fee for insurance on your rental when you pick it up at the rental center. If this fee is less than what you'd pay for a year in your old policy, choose the fee over the policy.

6. Flight Insurance

Flight insurance coverage is completely unnecessary. Despite media portrayal, airline accidents are relatively rare, and your life insurance policy should already provide coverage in the event of a catastrophe.

7. Water Line Coverage

Water companies have made an aggressive push to sell policies that cover the repair of the water line that runs from the street to your house. The odds are in your favor that you will never use this coverage, particularly if you live in a newer home. If you live an average suburban neighborhood and you do need to repair the water line, the distance to the street is short, the likelihood of a problem is low and repair costs are a few thousand dollars or less. The same goes for policies offered by other utility companies.

8. Life Insurance for Children

Life insurance is designed to provide a safety net for your heirs/dependents. Because children don't have heirs to worry about and, statistically speaking, most kids will grow up safe and healthy, most parents should not purchase life insurance for their kids. Instead, use the money that you would have spent on life insurance to fund an education plan or an individual retirement account (IRA).

9. Flood Insurance

Unless you live in a flood plain or an area with a history of water problems, don't even bother buying flood insurance. If none of the homes in the area has ever been flooded, yours is unlikely to be the first.

10. Credit Card Insurance

Purchasing coverage to pay your credit card bill in the event you cannot pay it is a waste of money. A far better idea is to avoid running up your credit cards in the first place, so you won't need to worry about the bills. Not only do you not save on the insurance premiums, you'll also save the interest on your debt.

11. Credit Card Loss Insurance

Federal law limits your liability if your credit card is stolen. Your out-of-pocket costs are limited to $50 per card and not a penny more. In fact, many credit card companies don't even try to collect the $50.

12. Mortgage Life Insurance

Mortgage life insurance pays off your house in the event of your death. Rather than add another policy - and another bill - to your list of insurance plans, it makes more sense to get a term-life policy instead. A good life insurance policy will provide enough money to pay off the mortgage and to cover other expenses as well. After all, the mortgage isn't the only bill your survivors will need to pay.

13. Unemployment Insurance

This coverage makes minimum payments on your bills if you are out of work, which sounds like an attractive proposition. A better plan is to save your money and build up an emergency fund instead. You won't have to cover the cost of the insurance policy and, if you are never out of work, you won't spend any money at all.

14. Disease Insurance

Policies are available to cover cancer, heart disease and other maladies. Instead of trying to identify every possible disease that you may encounter, get a good medical coverage policy instead. This way, your medical bills will be covered regardless of the problem you face.

15. Accidental-Death Insurance

Unless you are extraordinarily accident prone, an accident is unlikely. Major catastrophes such as car wrecks and fires are covered under other policies, as is any harm that comes to you while at work. Accidental-death policies are often fraught with stipulations that make them difficult to collect on, so skip the hassles and get life insurance instead.

When Choosing Insurance

There are so many policies to chose from, and they all cost money. While a certain amount of insurance coverage is necessary and prudent, you need to choose carefully. In general, broad policies that offer coverage for a multitude of potential events are a better choice than limited-scope policies that focus on specific diseases or potential incidents. Before you buy any policy, read it carefully to make sure that you understand the terms, coverage and costs. Don't sign on the dotted line until you are comfortable with the coverage and are sure that you need it.

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Social Security Planning

This summer we hired a market research firm to survey 532 married couples age 60-66 in an effort to gauge their knowledge of Social Security election strategies and their expectations when it comes to SS advice. Here are a few highlights:

  • 77 percent of people would expect to receive claiming advice from a Social Security representative (which is interesting because they are precluded from providing advice, particularly when it comes to maximizing family benefits)
  • 84 percent of people would expect claiming advice to be free and 92 percent would expect to pay less than $100
  • 73 percent of people were unaware of creative claiming options such as the file and suspend and the restricted application
  • 57 percent would expect their financial advisor to be able to analyze these options
  • And, 57 percent would look to an outside advisor if their current one couldn't perform a Social Security analysis.

We feel that the retirement market is ripe for advisors to begin offering Social Security planning as a core service. But first, a little background.

Why is Social Security So Important?

The Social Security election decision, especially for married couples, is one of the most important decisions your clients will make in retirement. The stakes are high, with the difference between the best and worst election decision usually falling the range of $20,000, $40,000 or even $100,000 (today's dollars).

When you consider that Social Security makes up, on average, 64.8 percent of total income for recipient households with someone aged 65 or older, according to the Social Security Administration, it's easy to see that this is a decision you want to make sure your clients get right.

Furthermore, Social Security is completely unique in that it is the only asset that insures against all three main retirement risks: inflation, market (sequence risk) and longevity. It's adjusted annually for inflation, it's tax-advantaged, it will pay as long as you live and it's backed by a government promise. Further, According to Larry Kotlikoff of Boston University, it's approximately 40 percent cheaper to "buy more" Social Security than to buy a commercial annuity. Simply put, Social Security is the best annuity money can buy. The fact of the matter is that for most people, even when maximized, Social Security is not enough. There is a need for additional guaranteed retirement income.

The Social Security Planning Opportunity

Yet, despite its importance, today's retirees and pre-retirees know surprisingly little about the mechanics of Social Security and how they can maximize their benefit. Even more troubling, retirees are unsure of whom to turn to for advice when making this complex decision.

Consider these statistics, gathered from a survey of 532 married people age 60-66 conducted by Senior Market Sales and MarketTools:

  • Only 27 percent of people are aware of unusual election strategies like file and suspend and restricted application. A Boston College study estimated that Americans leave $10 billion in Social Security benefits on the table by not taking advantage of these strategies.
  • 77 percent of people think they can go to the Social Security office for advice, when in fact SSA personnel are not trained or equipped to dispense anything more than monthly benefit amounts at different election ages, and the SSA actually prohibits its representatives from dispensing advice.

In short, the vast majority of your clients don't even know that Social Security planning strategies exist and don't know where to turn for the complex analysis that is required to make the right decision.

This is where the opportunity for advisors begins to emerge. In the same survey, when told about unusual claiming options, 57 percent of respondents said they would expect their financial planner to help them analyze their options and make the right decision. The same percentage of people said they would actually look for a new advisor if their current one couldn't help them with Social Security.

How Long will the Opportunity Last?

That is why it is key to jump into an emerging market like this early. Late adopters run the risk of falling behind their competition and potentially losing business because they don't offer a service that is so fundamentally important to their clients' overall financial picture. With battered portfolios and fears of outliving their money, your clients are hungry for advice on how to maximize their Social Security. They're unsure of where to turn, but they're beginning to look to the financial industry for help.

written by: Joe Elsasser, CFP, RHU, REBC is a certified financial planner in Omaha, Neb

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What is your Opinion ?

A few days ago ABC national news asked the infamous Suze Orman, if a home owner who owes more than 20 percent over what their home is currently worth should they just pack their stuff and walk away (basically telling the bank to shove it). What do you guess Madam Orman answered? Suze said take a hike. Walk away from your underwater mortgage.

Suze doesn't hold any insurance licenses nor is she a licensed investment advisor; but you do and possibly you are. Is it appropriate advice to tell your clients to walk on their debt, and is that ethical or morally correct advice?

At a time when the world and especially Europe are seemingly coming apart at the seams is this a new era and philosophy in personal budgeting and financial advice? Apparently (and according to an ABC News study), almost 12 million Americans are upside-down or underwater on their mortgages. And while billions of dollars were earmarked for assistance for mortgage modifications and mortgage renegotiations, only a small fraction of those funds have been allocated or lent out by the banks.

The process of home mortgage refinancing or loan modification is daunting, cumbersome, confusing, and overall broken. The number of homeowners who barely hanging on but are still paying their mortgage payments along with those home owners that have not made payments but the bank hasn't yet posted for foreclosure are the "shadow inventory" that is becoming a huge concern for law makers and bankers alike. When there is an oversupply of anything, common sense dictates that the price will decline to get rid of excess inventory.

What will happen when homeowners begin learning that some of their neighbors aren't paying and in many cases, haven't paid their mortgage payments for months and in some places, years? The banking, real estate and mortgage industry's house of cards may just come crashing down. You can't fault Peter for not paying on his upside-down underwater home mortgage if his neighbor Paul isn't paying.

Over the past five years, home prices have fallen between 25 percent to 50 percent all across the country, and one in four homes is worth less than the mortgage on them. Plus, getting a loan or mortgage to buy a home is reportedly tricky and difficult for all except the Kardashians these days. So what does taking a hike from their mortgage mean to your client and their credit rating? Certainly it's not a good thing for them credit wise but it gets frustrating for them to watch the big fish get federally funded financial "do over's" while the tiny minnow consumer home owner personally suffers the humiliation and the financial Armageddon like set back.

Fact is that it's much cheaper to rent than own a home these days than to own your home and pay a mortgage. Property taxes and cost of repairs and replacement materials are at all time highs. If some of your clients in the "undecided but need to figure it out" group, maybe you should tell them to at least go through the motions of working out a deal with their mortgage bank. And if you your client still can't see how they can make ends meet without a "bail out" or loan modification, here's the first steps of advice to offer:

1. Call your bank or mortgage company and tell them your plight and ask for their loan modification package. Also, tell them that you will not be able to make any more payments on your loan until something can be worked out with them. (Note: unfortunately lenders seldom if ever begin to negotiate until you are way past due on your payments. So be prepare your clients to not make payments to their mortgage company but as a safety net, make payments instead to an escrow type account to indicate "good faith" on their part later in case the bank plays hardball)

2. Send a certified letter to your bank stating what was said in item No. 1, and reference the time and date of your phone call made to them previously. (Keep those saved payments in your quasi escrow account as your cash reserve to use for rent deposit and possibly needing to pay for several months rent up front if you do vacate your home)

3. Contact a realtor in your area and ask them if they would list your home pending a short sale scenario. There are lots of realtors that actually specialize in this process and will work directly with your bank. (This is important too, even if the current market value is thousands below what you owe on your mortgage, it shows good faith on your part to work out of this bad situation.

4. Contact a professional debt advice source or consumer credit counseling service. (This is where they may get free help to assist in getting their personal financial ducks in a row; once you default on your mortgage, it is likely that your credit cards will be severely limited or cancelled)

Forewarned, this will crater their credit score and rating by hundreds of points, and they'll likely not be able to get reasonably affordable credit for up to 5 years. But with savvy personal financial planning and use of protected assets such as IRA's, life insurance, retirement plans such as 401k's and annuities you may be able to guide them to come out ahead in the long run.

And this is where YOU come in to quarterback and protect your client's interest and your relationship. Take the leadership role in helping your senior clients and their Boomer children. Even if you aren't able to provide much assistance your clients will love that you are concerned and care about them.

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I know it seems a little early to start thinking about holiday shopping, but several retailers are offering layaway programs to help customers buy items they want without racking up debt. In fact, Walmart announced September 8 that it will start offering layaway October 17 for toys and electronics "to help families deliver a big Christmas." It's been five years since Walmart last offered layaway, says consumer expert Andrea Woroch.

This installment-payment method was popular before the widespread use of credit cards but made a resurgence in 2008 during the recession. However, marketing experts didn't expect layaway to remain a long-term trend because it's an expensive program for stores to administer. It allows customers to select items they want and pay for them over a period of time. Once final payments are made, items may be picked up.

The difference between using a layaway program and a credit card (which can let you stretch payments out over a period of time) is that interest doesn't accrue on layaway items. However, you must pay a nominal service fee and a deposit at the time of purchase. Plus, stores usually charge a cancellation fee if you decide you don't want the item.

Here's a roundup of retailers offering layaway this year:

Walmart
Layaway period: October 17 to December 16
Down payment: 10%
Pay schedule: Pay in full by December 16
Fees: $5 service fee; $10 cancellation fee
Note: Layaway is available in stores only for toys and electronics. Each item must be $15 or more, and the total purchase must be $50 or more. Layaway is not offered Black Friday, November 25.

Kmart
Layaway period: 8 weeks; 12 weeks for purchases of $300 or more
Down payment: $20 or 10% (whichever is greater)
Pay schedule: Biweekly
Fees: $5 service fee ($10 for the 12-week plan); $15 cancellation fee
Note: You can make payments online or in stores. There is a 7-day grace period for payment. Layaway is not available in all stores. Online purchases available for layaway are identified as such.

Sears
Layaway period: 8 weeks; 12 weeks for in-store purchases of $400 or more
Down payment: $20 or 20% (whichever is greater)
Pay schedule: Biweekly
Fees: $5 service fee ($10 for the 12-week plan); $15 cancellation fee
Note: You can make payments online or in stores. There is a 7-day grace period for payment. Layaway is not available in all stores. Online purchases available for layaway are identified as such.

Toys "R" Us/Babies "R" Us
Layaway period: 3 months
Down payment: 20%
Pay schedule: 50% paid within 45 days; paid in full in 3 months
Fees: $10 service fee; $5 cancellation fee
Note: Layaway is offered in stores only and for select items. See a list of items available for layaway.

T.J. Maxx/Marshalls
Layaway period: 30 days
Down payment: 10%
Pay schedule: Layaways must be picked up and paid in full within 30 days
Fees: $5 cancellation fee
Note: Jewelry and clearance items are not eligible for layaway. Other restrictions may apply -- customers should call their local store for details.

Burlington Coat Factory
Layaway period: 60 days (90 days for Baby Depot items)
Down payment: 20%
Pay schedule: 20% additional payment due in 14 days; paid in full in 60 (or 90) days
Fees: $5 service fee; $10 cancellation fee

Web sites such as eLayaway.com and Lay-Away.com also offer layaway programs for a variety of merchants. Another way to avoid racking up credit card debt to make holiday purchases is to make a list of items you want to buy, set a budget and start saving soon. Look for my Kip Tip in the coming weeks on how to save $1,000 by the holidays.

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