“Some people can be content, playing bingo and paying rent…”
So go the lyrics to the song “Some People” in the musical Gypsy, as sung by lead character Rose — the ultimate “show business mom” who, secretly, has aspirations of her own. Much like Rose, many people aspire to bigger and better things — whether that includes buying a bigger house, forming a family, seeing the world or settling into a comfortable retirement. However, many of those life decisions require significant capital and prudent, reliable advice.
Fear not, though, as Bill Moran, a senior financial advisor with Merrill Lynch, says it’s never too early to start planning and saving to achieve one’s goals, whatever they are.
“What we find is the individuals who start sooner rather than later are usually the ones that end up most prepared to handle these different events in their lives,” Moran says. “It depends on what you’re planning for. For estate planning, there’s a whole checklist of things that one wants to be cognizant of; for retirement planning, there’s a different checklist.”
Moran says part of financial planning is determining and setting long-term goals that you want to achieve, whether it’s a first car, a first home or higher education, to name a few examples. For instance, in the case of buying a home, the potential buyer should consider what type of property they’d like to purchase, how much they can reasonably afford on their salary, and a “time horizon” for when they’d like to make a real estate purchase. Determining these factors will help them figure out how much they’ll need to save to make a down payment.
“The first thing you want to do is take an inventory of everything you’ve got going on right now, which is an inventory of what you own versus what you owe, and understanding each of those vehicles,” Moran advises. “If the debt you owe is educational debt, and it’s at a very favorable rate, then that might not be debt that we’re as concerned with. … If you’re carrying a huge amount of consumer debt, like a large amount of credit card debt, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for you to be saving on a downpayment on a house as much as it might make sense for you to get rid of that debt first.”
Moran also suggests keeping a healthy reserve fund for yourself, with at least six months of living expenses to allow yourself some financial flexibility in case of a major illness or the loss of a job.
Moran notes that LGBT people and couples have specific needs that often require planning, such as whether there is a greater financial benefit in getting married, the cost of raising children, surrogacy or adoption expenses, living wills, medical directives, survivor benefits related to pensions, and estate planning in case of the death of one or both partners. In addition, there are often many legal ramifications and restrictions based upon the municipality or state where a couple lives. To coordinate all these aspects of planning, Moran recommends pulling together various legal, tax and financial advisors and having them communicate with one another and the couple directly, rather than trying to recall and recount separate conversations had with each advisor.
“I call it ‘pitching the sled up to all the horses so everyone’s pulling the sled in the right direction,'” Moran says.
In terms of getting started with financial planning, Moran says that some individuals prefer a “do-it-yourself” method, whether relying on their own financial know-how, books or various money management seminars.
“And that’s fine,” he says. “If you have the time, desire, knowledge and inclination to do so, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
For those who may be unsure of what steps to take, or would just like a second opinion, they can coordinate with an expert. The College for Financial Planning, the institution that gives accreditation for certified financial planners, has a listing of various certified planners in different geographic areas that one can consult. The College also offers an American Domestic Partner Accreditation for advisors who specialize in domestic partnerships, a designation that some LGBT people might want to take into account when selecting a financial planner.
Other times, Moran notes, people find themselves routed to financial advisors through word-of-mouth recommendations by family or friends. Other planners take a multi-generational approach, working with the children and grandchildren of their current clients.
However one finds a financial advisor, it is important to have a close relationship with them to discuss all aspects of financial planning. Moran says there needs to be a high level of comfort, as the advisor and the client will have to discuss highly personal issues and decisions that require open lines of communication.
“If you’re going to be working with another professional, use the same care and due diligence that you hopefully have used to seek out other professionals, whether it be your doctor, your attorney, or your accountant,” Moran says. “It’s got to be somebody who you sit down with, who has an understanding of your needs, your desires, and any special circumstances.”
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