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What is Financial Planning?

Financial planning is essentially creating a blue print of how to manage your money. Establishing a plan for your money will help you in the following ways:

  • It helps you understand the implications of each financial decision you make
  • A financial plan will help you to create goals for your life
  • Takes out the guess work in managing your money
  • It will help you stay on track

How can a Financial Advisor Help?

For many of us, we have goals for ourselves and for your family – to buy a home, purchase a car, to send our children to university. These goals can be achieved by managing your finances – however, sometimes, this process might be challenging for some of us. Don’t be disheartened, the team at Advisory Services are here to help you – you don’t have to do it alone.

A Financial Advisor can provide assistance in:
  • Setting realistic financial goals for yourself and your family
  • Assessing your financial health by closely considering your assets and liabilities
  • Creating a practical and comprehensive plan that will meet your financial goals
  • Monitor your progress
  • Adjusting your financial plan when life circumstances changes

What is a Budget?

The creation of a budget is the core of every financial plan and is critical in achieving your financial objective, regardless of your income. A budget will help you to improve your relationship with money as it allows you to understand how much money you have (income) and where it goes (expenses) with the objective of allocating your funds in the best possible way. (See our Budget Calculator).


Paying Down Your University Debt

While the cost of tuition for tertiary level education is subsided in Trinidad, there are still other costs that students incur such as transportation, room and board and purchasing the relevant texts for the various courses. A lot of us may not have the money to meet such costs and may source a student loan from a financial institution. If you have the opportunity to attend university overseas, your student debt will be significantly higher.

Whether you choose to attend university at home or abroad, for most of us, after three (3) or four (4) years, we leave the educational facility with not only a certificate or degree, but with a debt burden. It is highly recommended that you try and pay off your student loan as quickly as possible and as such, once you are successful at securing your first job, you should immediately create a budget.

Creating a budget is simple :
  1. Record your income – your job letter will include this information. Please remember to minus 25% from your income to accommodate taxes.
  2. Record your expenses – list all your monthly expenses including groceries, utilities and rent. Include in this list savings for each month and your monthly repayment for your student loan. It is highly recommended that you break down your expenses into Fixed and Variable expenses. Fixed expenses cannot be altered as you do not have control over the payment such as rent and loans, however, variable expenses can be reduced as you can cut back on the amount of money you spend. Variable expenses includes your grocery bill, cell phone charges, gas for your car and entertainment expenses.
  3. Compare your Income with your Expenses – if your income exceeds your expenses, then you are at a good place to start. This excess income can be channeled into additional savings such as retirement or be used to pay more on our student loan in order to eliminate the debt faster. If on the other hand, your expenses are higher than your income, you need to make some changes. It is easier to reduce your variable expenses by cutting back in those categories and it should help to bring your closer to your income. If reducing your variable expenses is still not allowing your income to at least meet your expenses, you may need to examine your fixed expenses and make some tough decisions.
  4. Once you have created a budget, it is highly recommended that you track your expenses to ensure that you do not overspend. Life is full of surprises hence some months you may encounter an unexpected cost – such as car repairs or you may fall ill and need to go to the doctor. To cover this cost you can shift around money from your variable expenses.
  5. A budget is not static – you must evaluate it periodically. A great tip is to save your receipts over a couple months – this will give you a realistic view on the amount of money you actually spend on average. As your life changes, so is the need to change your budget, hence you should tweak it until it works for you.

You can use our Monthly Budget Planner to assist you in creating and maintaining your budget.


Newlyweds

Marriage ushers in many changes to one’s life – one of the biggest change is the financial aspect as it affects every other aspect of the new couple’s lives. Instead of dealing with one set of financial goals and debt, there are now two sets of goals and debt burdens to consider, yours and your future spouses’. While this change may prove challenging, planning ahead is critical to ensure a sound financial foundation for your family. The following is a list of areas that you and your spouse must address:

Bank Accounts

One of the immediate challenges surrounds bank accounts – should you maintain separate bank accounts, merge all financial resources into a joint account or have a combination of both joint and separate accounts? You should have a discussion with your future spouse prior to getting married and decide what route both of you would prefer. It is highly recommended that the latter be considered – you and your partner should maintain your individual bank accounts and create a joint account for family expenses such as mortgage payments, rent, groceries and utilities.

A Couple’s budget

It is critical to create a family budget as the inclusion of additional persons will significantly alter your inflows and expense levels(See our Budget Calculator). The combined sources of income and debt burdens must be considered with the objective of creating a budget that will suit both yourself and your spouse’s needs. Be mindful that in a marriage, you assume each other’s debt and assets – hence there will be a need to shift away from viewing assets and debt as yours to ours.

It is also important to set financial goals together, some common goals include saving for a down payment for a house and saving for a college education for your future kids or current kids (See our Savings calculator).

Once the budget is created, you and your spouse should have monthly meetings in order to keep abreast of each other’sfinancial activities and to ensure that both of you stay on track. Marriage also brings new expenses into one’s life such as life insurance. Most single persons don’t see the need to have life insurance since there is no one to depend on their income, however, when you get married, your spouse and future children become your dependents.

Starting a family

As a couple, there is a need to have a budget, however, once you have a child everything changes, including your expenses and financial priorities. It is wise to create a new budget with your spouse as soon as you realize that you are going to have a child. While your revenue stream may remain the same, your expense levels will rise exponentially and you will see the changes nearly immediately. Prenatal care is expensive so doctor bills will rise, then depending on where you seek medical attention, there will be a need to have funds to cover the costs for delivery. When the baby is born, you will have additional bills - pampers, formula, clothes, visits to the pediatrician and daycare services.
There will also be a need to acquire health insurance or increase your coverage when having children. Your medical cost will rise – pre-delivery due to prenatal care as it is normally costly and for the delivery (if you decide to seek private medical care) and post-delivery as insurance coverage will be needed for the child.

You can use our Savings Calculator to assist you in creating and maintaining your budget with our spouse.


Financing Your Children's Tertiary Education

Ideally, the best time to begin planning for your children's education is the day you learn you're going to be a parent, any other time is too late. The longer you wait to save, the less time you will have to accumulate the assets needed to pay for your child’s university education (See our College Education Planner Calculator).

Historically, tuition costs outpaces the rate of inflation and this is largely due to:
  • Attractive remuneration packages in order to attract and retain qualified professors and to keep tenured ones from leaving
  • Maintenance cost of the campus can be expensive
  • Given the rapid change in technology, universities must continuously invest in technological infrastructure to remain competitive

Equities are a great inflation hedge as they have great potential to appreciate in value. As such, with a long investment horizon of roughly 18 years (assuming you start to save at the time of your child’s birth), equities can represent a large percentage of your investments. Since you may not need the funds in the near to medium term, you can withstand the occasional dips in the stock market and have sufficient time to recover any losses that may have been incurred. For prudence, it is recommended that you invest a small percentage of your investments in safer investments such as bonds.

As your child grows, it is wise to shift your asset allocation and reduce your exposure to equities as there is now less time to recover from any declines in the stock market and into more bonds and income orientated assets.

The teenage years will warrant a further shift in asset allocation as you will soon need to access your investments. With the majority of university degrees spanning three (3) to four (4) years, there will be a need to move a fraction of your funds into short term instruments for easy liquidity. The majority of your investment portfolio should remain in fixed income securities while maintaining a small percentage in stocks to hedge the portfolio against inflation.

You can use our College Education Planner Calculator to assist you in determining how much money you will need to fund your children’s education.


Acquiring a Home

Another important expense will be mortgage payments as you and your spouse acquire a home to start your family. Buying a home is one of the largest and most important transactions you can make and it is also the largest asset an individual can acquire during their lifetime.

The first step in the home acquisition process is determining how much you and your spouse can afford, which is largely influenced by your current income and debt burden. By rule of thumb, many financial institutions will only allow customers to borrow up to 35% of their gross income – this ratio is called a Debt Service Ratio (see our Debt Service Calculator).Essentially, your total monthly debt payments (including the mortgage) should not exceed about 35% of your gross income. It is strongly recommended that if you cannot afford the home you want, you may consider renting a bit longer or looking for a more affordable home (See our Mortgage Qualifier Calculator).

To increase your chances of qualifying for a mortgage, you can:
  • Eliminate unnecessary debt, with the biggest debt “monster” being credit card debt. One way to reduce your debt burden is to systematically pay down your debt, starting with the debt with the highest interest rate. Try to work down your list until all debt is cleared. As you get rid of one or two debts at a time, the money that went towards paying the debts off can be channeled into your saving for your down payment for your home. Remember, the lower your debt burden, the greater the amount that you will qualify for as lenders take into account the amount of outstanding debt you have, and the monthly payments you make, when assessing whether you can afford the mortgage.
  • It is helpful if you can accumulate more than the minimum down payment. The bigger the down payment, the less you and your spouse will have to borrow and the lower the mortgage payment.
  • Your chances of qualifying for a mortgage will also improve by maintaining a stable employment. If you and your spouse are considering buying a home soon, it is not wise to be switching jobs frequently as lenders value a consistent work history, preferably with the same employer.

You can use our Debt Service Calculator to calculate how much additional money you can borrow. There is also the Mortgage Qualifier Calculator that can help you determine how much money you can qualify for, and indirectly, the value of a home that you are able to purchase.

Hidden Cost

It is strongly recommended that you undertake some detailed research before entering into a mortgage as often, there are hidden fees. Hidden or additional costs and fees are considered to be expenses relating to the purchase process. If buyers are not fully aware of what this process entails, they’ll run the risk of confronting a shortfall in savings required to fund the up-front costs of purchase. Please see below some of the hidden fees that you may encounter (See our Additional Fees Calculator):

  • Credit Check Report Fee: The lender will submit information about the buyer to a credit checking institution for a history of credit facilities granted in order to determine credit worthiness.
  • Valuation Report Fee: The valuation report is a document outlining the property value in the current real estate market and is based on factors including but not limited to price, size and location. Most lenders have an approved list of valuators whose fees will vary accordingly. Typically, the report may cost up to 0.25% or 0.33% of the value of the property under assessment for purchase. For example, a mortgage loan of $600,000 may incur a valuation fee of $1,500 or $1,980 depending on the rate applied by the valuator.
  • Loan Processing Fee: This is calculated as a percentage of the loan amount and is usually 1% to 1.5% of the amount loaned. This tends to vary among lenders and in some instances a flat fee is applied. With a $600,000 mortgage loan, the processing fee may range between $6,000 and $9,000.
  • Insurance: the cost of insuring the home against loss or damage should also be considered. Some insurers may insist that coverage should be equal to the home’s full replacement value.
  • Legal Fees: A key element of purchase includes the legal aspect of the process. Legal fees will be required for preparing the following documents and meeting the cost of the respective stamp duties:
    • Attorney’s fees for preparation of the Deed of Conveyance
    • Attorney’s fees for preparation of the Deed of Mortgage
    • Stamp Duties for both of the above. The stamp duty is a mandatory payment to the Revenue Authorities for the registration of deeds.
  • Attorney’s fees are based on the value of the property or the amount of the loan. These fees tend to account for a significant portion of the hidden costs and potential homeowners are often unaware of them.

You can use our Additional Fees Calculator to ascertain a rough estimate of the legal fees and stamp duties that you will be liable to pay.

Managing Your Finances

Mortgage payments are normally one of the largest monthly debt payments for an individual. Hence, in an effort to ease this burden, please see the following tips:

TIP 1 : If possible, try and pay extra on your monthly payments. By prepaying your mortgage, the additional payments goes towards the principal, effectively reducing your overall interest expenses and reducing the repayment period (See our Mortgage Prepayment and Prepayment Comparison Calculators). Note, some financial institutions require advance notice from the borrower to accommodate the additional payment and charges a fee if there is no notification.

TIP 2 : You can also ease the debt burden by reducing the repayment period. A shorter number of years will significantly reduce the interest cost on the amount borrowed (See our Mortgage Terms Calculator).

TIP 3 : Before you commit to any particular financial institution, it is wise to shop around. Different financial institutions offers different interest rates – thus, the objective is to obtain the best rate possible (See our Mortgage Terms Calculator).


Retirement

Why plan for Retirement?

We cannot work forever, thus, retirement is inevitable. Since retirement is inescapable, it is highly recommended that you start to save as early as possible – the sooner you start saving and investing for retirement, the less aggressive you will have to be when you are older to save. Assuming you retire at the age of 65, you have roughly 47 years to save when you get your first job out of university.

For most of us, we would like to enjoy the same standard of living in retirement as in our peak career days. To accurately determine how much you need to retire comfortably on you can use our Retirement calculators.

In Trinidad & Tobago’s 2014/2015 fiscal budget, it was proposed that the maximum allowance for contributions to Approved Annuities / Pension Plans be increased from $30,000 to $50,000, effective January 1 2015. Many of us will have pension plans with our employer and depending on the monthly contributions, may have not fully benefitted from the existing $30,000. The proposed increase in this deduction should encourage you to save more fervently for your retirement.

In many organizations, employers usually have a matching program – contributing the same amount that the employee contributes to their retirement savings. This program is very useful as it allows the employee to save more at a faster rate at no cost to them.

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