Callie is a new member of the Heller Wealth Advisors family.  She joins the firm as a Financial Planning Associate and will support Don Hertling in the development and implementation of financial plans for our clients. She is enthusiastic about the opportunity to help clients achieve their goals and reach their full potential at HWA.

Previously, Callie was an Economic Research Analyst at a well-known registered investment advisory firm in Northern New Jersey, where she provided macroeconomic research to clients and traded in investment portfolios.  Callie holds her Series 7 and Series 66 registrations from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which have enhanced her knowledge of investment strategies and vehicles.  She is pursuing coursework towards the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (CFP®) designation.

Callie earned a B.A. in Economics and a minor in Global Business from Mount Holyoke College, where she graduated with honors.  Callie currently resides in Summit, NJ and has a dog named Franklin.

How to Protect Your Identity After the Equifax Data Breach

In early September, we posted our “How to Avoid Identity Theft” blog. Due to the recent Equifax data breach, we are providing a follow up post with additional steps you can take to protect yourself against identity theft.

The Equifax data breach lasted from mid-May through July of this year. Hackers were able to access names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birthdates, and driver’s license numbers. To protect your identity, we recommend that you consider the following actions.

1. Keep an eye on your finances.
• You can check your credit report from each credit reporting agency once a year free of charge on www.AnnualCreditReport.com. This site is the only site that is federally authorized to provide you with your free credit reports. You can check all three reports at once, or check your report from one bureau at a time every few months. Keep an eye out for unfamiliar credit inquiries, accounts, or derogatory marks.
• You can monitor your credit score from two of the credit reporting agencies for free on www.CreditKarma.com. If you would like Credit Karma to monitor your report and notify you of changes, you can do so by following the steps below:
      o Profile & Settings > Communications & Monitoring > Check the “Credit Monitoring” box.
• Keep an eye on your bank account and credit card statements for any unfamiliar transactions. One way to monitor these accounts is to set alerts through your credit card providers and banks to notify you of transactions over a specified amount in your accounts.

2. Consider setting a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert notifies lenders to take extra precautions to verify your identity if someone attempts to open an account in your name. Fraud alerts typically last for 90 days, but you have the option to place an extended fraud alert on your report that lasts for 7 years. If you would like to place a fraud alert on your report, you must contact each credit reporting agency separately. You can place the fraud alert for free online or by telephone.
• Equifax: Telephone 1-(888) 766-0008 Online www.alerts.equifax.com/AutoFraud_Online/jsp/fraudAlert.jsp
• Experian: Telephone 1-(888) 397-3742 Online www.experian.com/fraud/center.html
• Transunion: Telephone 1-(800) 680-7289 Online http://fraud.transunion.com/fa/fraudAlert/landingPage.jsp

3. Consider freezing your credit. A credit freeze prevents lenders from accessing your credit report. This makes it impossible for anyone (including you) to open new lines of credit while the freeze is in place. Credit freezes offer a higher level of protection than fraud alerts but are not a good option if you plan to apply for credit in the near future. It is important to note that your current credit and bank accounts will still be vulnerable to identity theft. In most states, the freeze remains in place until you remove it. In a few states, the freeze is removed automatically after 7 years. To put the freeze into place, there is a fee of between $5 to $10 required by each credit reporting agency (unless you are already a victim of identity theft, in which case, the fee is waived). You must also pay between $5 to $10 if you would like to lift the freeze from your report. You might consider placing a freeze on your credit if you are a victim of identity theft.  You can place the freeze online or by telephone. When you request the freeze, you will be given a PIN. Be sure to save the PIN in a secure location, as you will need it to remove the freeze from your credit.
• Equifax: Telephone 1-(800) 685-1111 Online www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
• Experian: Telephone 1-(888) 397-3742 Online www.experian.com/ncaconline/freeze
• Transunion: Telephone 1-(888) 909-8872 Online http://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp

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How to Avoid Identity Theft

There are a variety of ways in which thieves can use stolen personal information to commit fraud. The most common types of identity theft are the following:

1. Account Takeover Fraud: The thief uses personal information to access your financial accounts and reroute your account communications. They may use this information to wipe out your funds or pose as you to apply for credit.

2. Card Not Present Fraud: With this method, the thief uses stolen credit card information to buy items online or over the phone. 

3. New Account Fraud: New account fraud is when a credit account is fraudulently opened in your name and all account information is sent to the thief. 

4. W2 Fraud: This type of theft occurs when the thief sends an official-looking email that says it’s from the IRS requesting W2 or payroll data. These emails are designed to get information that can be used for crimes like filing fraudulent tax returns for refunds.

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Exercise Can Also Improve Financial Health

Everyone knows that regular exercise can improve your physical well-being, but a recent study shows that staying active can also improve your financial well-being. The study, carried out by the American Heart Association, indicates that regular exercise can help keep medical costs down. Medical costs are a major expense for many, especially those in retirement. According to an analysis by HealthView Services, a 65-year old couple retiring in 2017 will need an estimated $400,000 to cover their total health care costs in retirement. To add insult to injury, these costs have been rising at a faster rate than overall inflation and are expected to continue on this trend.

Participants in the study who exercised at recommended levels ­­had significantly lower health care related costs on average than those who did not exercise. Recommended exercise is defined as at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 5 days a week (for example, speed-walking), or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 3 days a week (for example, running or swimming). Participants with heart disease who exercised at recommended levels saved $2,500 per year on average on medical costs while participants who were already healthy saved $500 per year on average.

If you have trouble sticking to an exercise regimen, keep in mind that exercising can improve your financial health and help you achieve your retirement goals.  

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How to Maximize College Financial Aid Eligibility

It is a common misconception that students from high-income families are not eligible for financial aid. In fact, anyone can be eligible for financial aid if the estimated cost of college is higher than their expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC calculation takes into account family income, family assets, family size, and the number of children in college. There are a variety of techniques that can be used to reduce EFC, and therefore boost eligibility for financial aid.

1. Hold assets in parent’s names. The EFC formula factors in the assets and income of the parents and the student. Students are expected to use up to 20% of their assets to pay for college, while their parents are only expected to use up to 5.6% of their assets. Therefore, to minimize EFC, assets should be held under the parent’s names.

2. Reduce assets by paying down debt or maximizing retirement contributions. Most liquid assets, aside from retirement accounts, are factored into the EFC calculation. You can reduce your includable assets by paying down debt or maximizing contributions to retirement accounts before filing the FAFSA.

3. Defer income. Up to 50% of a student’s income and 47% of parent’s incomes are expected to be used for college. One method of reducing reportable income is deferring it when possible. The FAFSA uses the tax return from two years prior to determine income, so any income reduction strategies must be implemented two years before the student starts attending college.

4. Apply early. Aid is provided on a first-come, first-served basis by some schools. Therefore, the FAFSA should be completed as early as possible. The FAFSA can be submitted from October 1st in the year prior to attendance through June 30th of the year of attendance.

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The Strengthening Case for a December Rate Hike

Over the past year the economy has improved moderately, which has strengthened the case for a rate hike by the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve’s dual mandate is to foster maximum employment and price stability. This year, we have seen progress made on both fronts with the unemployment rate hovering at 4.9% (close to the Fed’s long-term projection of 4.8%) and core consumer prices up 2.3% versus a year ago.

The details of the Fed’s September meeting point to a growing probability of a December rate hike. In the meeting, three of the ten officials voted in favor of a rate hike in September. In July’s meeting, only one official voted to increase rates.  The September statement asserts that near-term risks to the economic outlook are “roughly balanced.” This is the first time the Committee has used this language since before raising rates last December, which possibly indicates a future rate hike. In the “dot-plot” projections released after the September meeting, fourteen of the seventeen FOMC members predicted that the federal funds target rate will rise by at least 25 basis points this year. There are two more meetings left this year: one in November and one in December.  Since the presidential election falls just six days after the Fed’s November meeting, and the meeting is not accompanied by a press conference, it is unlikely the Fed will take action then. This leaves the December meeting as the sole remaining viable option for a rate hike this year.

In addition, the Fed risks losing credibility if they postpone the next rate hike much longer. At the beginning of the year, Fed leaders projected they would raise rates four times in 2016. In the September meeting, that number was reduced to one. If they fail to increase rates at all, the Committee would risk further diminishing public confidence.

Barring any unforeseen developments, we believe the Fed is poised to raise rates in their December meeting.

 

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