Joleen Post, a marketing manager at a real-estate company who moonlights at a fitness facility, is fiscally fit. She owns a home in Southwest Seattle, drives a car that’s paid off, has a little over $10,000 saved, and has whittled her mix of student-loan and credit-card debt below $3,000.
Her idea of a splurge? Shopping for sports gear at REI, trips to visit friends and family and the occasional dinner out.
Post’s only problem, financially speaking, is she doesn’t know where to start a retirement account. Since she works for a small company that doesn’t offer a 401(k) plan or pension, she knows she needs to set up her own retirement account and choose investments for it independently.
“I’ve saved well, but the return on savings is poor,” she says. “As I hit the benchmark age of 30, not having a retirement account going is worrisome.”
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Now single, she plans to one day marry and have children.
“I’d like to have a plan set up before I start that part of my life,” she says.
In addition to seeking guidance on creating and funding a retirement account, Post wanted counsel before moving forward with two major purchases: She wants to replace her 7-year-old Honda Civic by year-end and she’s considering buying an investment property — a type familiar to her, since she works in the real-estate industry and her parents are longtime landlords.
Post completed an online survey to participate in a free financial makeover from a member of the Puget Sound Chapter of the Financial Planning Association. She was paired with Kim Miller, a registered investment adviser with Redmond-based Sweetwater Investments.
“Joleen can dream big,” Miller says. “At 30, she can afford to take some chances. She’s done a good job so far. She keeps a budget and she actually sticks to it.”
Miller noted that Post’s tax returns and refunds indicate she over-withholds from her paychecks. By adjusting her withholding level, Post could free up an additional $60 per month to put toward whacking debt ASAP.
Because of Post’s income level, Miller notes her best retirement option for now is a Roth IRA, which allows her to invest up to $5,500 per year for future tax-free distribution in retirement.
While Post’s self-described risk profile suggests she should invest 80 percent in stocks and 20 percent in cash and bonds, Miller advises she invest 100 percent in stocks within the Roth IRA.
He recommends she do this by investing in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) rather than mutual funds, as ETF fees are lower.
And he suggests she consider low-fee ETFs from iShares or Vanguard.
Miller estimates that Post can trade in her vehicle and finance a new car — she wants an SUV or car suitable for winter mountain travel — and could finance up to $15,000 on a new purchase.
As for the investment property, Miller cautions Post to avoid “confirmation bias” — exclusively polling people sold on an idea — and wait until she has more saved in retirement and an emergency account. Right now she has money only for a low down payment and would need leverage for the purchase, he said.
Post said she isn’t totally surprised by Miller’s recommendations — except maybe his suggestion to rethink her insurance policies and begin basic estate planning. Miller says Post should consider augmenting her existing property/auto insurance with an umbrella liability-insurance policy.
Also, since she is young, she doesn’t yet need to think about long-term health care, he advises. But since her ability to work is an asset, she needs disability insurance that would pay her in the event she has an issue that prevents her from working.
In the weeks since meeting with Miller, she has paid off her student loan (which had a 5 percent interest) and expects to pay off her credit-card debt in the coming weeks. She’s also changed the withholding on her paychecks.
Used to thinking in terms of her monthly budget, Post is less concerned with the sticker price on a newer vehicle and more concerned with having a car payment of $300 per month or less. She said she needs to get trade-in estimates on her current car before she can calculate what she can afford to buy.
Because she wants to maintain her $10,000 in savings, she’s going to wait until September and begin investing $500 per month toward a new Roth IRA, then in 2014 will fund $5,500 per year.
As for becoming a landlord — she’s waiting.
“I’m going to hold off on an investment property for at least a year,” she says. “It’s less about an issue with ‘confirmation bias’ and more about getting used to having a car loan and putting money into retirement rather than landlording.”