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Dollars and Sense: Money Advice from Ryan C. Mack

We can all use great financial management advice. So we asked Ryan C. Mack, president of Optimum Capital Management and author of Living in the Village, to offer expert money advice.

Q: I still have unpaid student loans, but I’m currently unemployed. What should I do? —Tanika P. Meeks
A: I wish I could make all your worries disappear, but sadly I can’t. First, you need to contact your lender and explain your situation.  Borrowers who try to hide could lose out on valuable benefits and repayment options.  In almost all cases, the lender will work with you because they want their money back.  After you have described your situation, you want to ask the lender questions such as the following:

·         Do you have any alternative repayment programs to lower my monthly payments?
·         Do you have any loan forgiveness and/or discharge programs that can cancel loan obligations?
·         Am I eligible for any deferment and forbearances that can temporarily suspend monthly loan payments?

Work your budget to minimize all your unnecessary expenditures. Continue to tap your immediate and social network to search for other job opportunities and continue to remain in contact with the loan company.  One great resource for those struggling with student loan debt is the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at studentloanborrowerassistance.org. Good luck!

 

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

Q: I’ve read about a marriage penalty when filing taxes. Is it best to file together or separately? —Christina Carrega-Woodby
A: For those who don’t know, the marriage tax is the unofficial term for a slight discrepancy that exists between single individuals and those who are married. Married couples only have two options available to file taxes: filing jointly and filing separately (filing single is no longer an option).  In most cases, the IRS has made it more beneficial to file jointly. But you have a choice, especially if one of you is more of a financial risk than the other. A good tax adviser can help you do the math. Go prepared to answer the following:
·         If you want to keep the income of one individual private and the other is a public official.
·         If you are seeking to claim a deduction on medical expenses which can’t be deducted unless they are over 7.5 percent of your income.
·         If one person likes to take more risk in filing taxes than the other.
·         If you have some marital strife between the two of you and you prefer to keep things private (it happens).

As newlyweds I hope the last one doesn’t apply to you! Congrats on your new marriage, Christina … I wish you all the best.

Q: As a small business owner, I’m clueless about how to keep my books. I let my accountant do it all. How can I begin to take control of my finances? —Natascha Saunders
A:  It’s good to want to know more, but keep in mind that delegation is a strong key to success in a business. Many business owners learn the hard way to embrace assistance on these issues and in doing so they may not have the time to focus on pursuing their vision. That being said, any good accountant should also be a good teacher so talk to the person you’re currently using. Ask questions and be prepared to take over certain aspects. Start a little each week by using a business software like Quicken.  Here are a few tips:

·         Spend a little time each week to give an overview of your books using business software.  I use Quicken Software for my business.
·         If you haven’t already, open a business account that must be kept separate from your private account.
·         Ask your accountant if you are up to date with all of your tax and compliance obligations.
·         Keep your receipts and enter them into your software on a weekly basis. You will thank me come tax time.

 

Courtesy of Thinkstock

Courtesy of Thinkstock

Q: Any helpful money tips for single parents?—Keisha Hall
A: I strongly suggest single parents especially have their estate planning documents up to date and a guardian selected in case something, God forbid, happens.  This also includes getting adequate life insurance. It’s never too early to think about college. Invest in a 529 account, which gives excellent tax advantages. Some other factors to keep in mind include:
·         Write out your financial goals and put a dollar value on each one.  Set up a budget to discern just how long it will take you to reach the goals making sure you include retirement as one of your goals.
·         Begin to set up an emergency fund account that equals 9-12 months of living expenses.
·         If you aren’t covered at your job make sure that you visit healthcare.gov to get health insurance for you and your child. Be sure to consider disability and long-term care insurance as a disability can hinder your earning potential and purchasing a long term care policy while younger will definitely pay off in your older years.
·         Talk with your child about money as this knowledge should start when the child is young.

Q: Should I take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to pay for my kids’ college expenses?—Lynette Johnson
A: Using a HELOC is a common plan B for financing a college education, but take caution. A HELOC is not an ATM. These loans will add to your overall mortgage balance. And if you can’t pay it back at the end of the term, you could lose your home.  Here are some things to remember: The structure of the loan allows one to pay off only the interest while floating the balance from month to month.  If one only pays interest they will never pay down the principal.  Also, consider that many of these loans have a variable interest rate. As interest rates are already near record lows it is likely one will face higher interest rates.

Q: When I get a prospectus in the mail from my investment firms, what part(s) should I focus on and what should I skip? —Rachel Walden
A: A prospectus can seem intimidating, but here are a few questions that you should be able to answer at the conclusion of reading the information:

·         What is the investment strategy?
·         How does the fund get paid?
·         What are the returns of the fund for one, three and five years?
·         What is the fund’s portfolio turnover?
·         Are there any restrictions being imposed on the fund?

These questions should help you navigate a little more effectively, but congratulations on even being willing to read over the prospectus as few people even get that far.

About Ryan C. Mack

Financial adviser Ryan C. Mack

Financial adviser Ryan C. Mack

Ryan C. Mack is a financial adviser and social entrepreneur who educated people of all income levels about fiscal responsibility. Mack has been a featured financial expert and commentator on CNBC, CNN, FOX, BET, GMTV, and The Wendy Williams Show. You can follow him on Twitter at @ryancmack.