Michele Clark
Clark Hourly Financial Planning - Chesterfield, MO Advisor
1415 Elbridge Payne Road, Suite 255
Chesterfield, MO 63017 USA
Work 636.264.0732
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Missouri Unclaimed Property: Are you due some money?

May 25th, 2012

Did you know that if you don’t stay in contact with your financial institution that you can “lose” your money?  Where does it go?  To the state in which you last lived as far as the financial institution is aware.  That state holds it as Unclaimed Property.  They would really like people to come claim it, and ideally spend it, putting it back into the economy.

How do I find out if I have Unclaimed Property in Missouri?

It is easy and just takes a few seconds, really!  Go to www.showmemoney.com type in your last name leave a space then a few letters of your first name.  Did your name pop up?  Then you have Unclaimed Property!   Be sure to check other names you have had such as maiden names or other married names.

How do I get my Missouri Unclaimed Property? 

If your name popped up then click on the word “Select” next to your name then click on the “File a Claim” button under your name.  Most people can file a paperless claim this way.  If not, you can mail in a request, just follow the instructions online.

How much does it cost?

Do not pay anyone to find or get you your Unclaimed Property.  Just go to the Missouri Treasurer’s website.

What if I have lived in other states too?

Go to www.unclaimed.org to check the websites of other states in which you have lived.  They also have a great page with links to other types of lost money, like undeliverable federal tax refund checks, veterans benenfits you may be due, and lost money in overseas accounts.

What kind of items can become Unclaimed Property?   

The property comes from bank and brokerage accounts, stock dividends from certificated shares, unclaimed insurance proceeds, among other items.

How much money does Missouri have in Unclaimed Property right now?

There is 700 million dollars in Unclaimed Property in Missouri right now in 4.3 million accounts.  Since one in ten residents has unclaimed property be sure to tell your family and friends to look too.

How long does the money sit in Unclaimed Property in Missouri?

The money does not ever go to Missouri, it just sits there waiting to be claimed by you or your heirs.  So go get your money, the state wants you to spend it!  But you know what I would tell you… spend some, share some, invest some.

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Annual Credit Report: Where to go to get your free credit report

May 18th, 2012

If you own a television, you have probably seen one of the many versions of commercials touting the free credit reports.  Or as you have browsed the internet, you surely have seen the banner ads with enticing “click here for your free credit report” messages.

The problem is, with so many companies saying that they offer the free reports; I have found that many people don’t know where they are actually supposed to go to get their free reports.  But they do know that if they go to those places that are advertising, they are going to be offered something to buy.

The website to use is www.annualcreditreport.com  or call 1-877-322-8228.

Equifax, TransUnion, Experion

Well, I hate to break it to you, but when you go to the official website, the three credit bureaus are going to try to sell you something too.  They are going to ask you if you want to buy your scores.  Do not buy them.  They are not the FICO scores that banks use so the score is not very helpful.  Getting the reports; now that is tremendously helpful, so definitely do that once a year.

What to look for on your reports

Make sure that there are no duplicate accounts, errors in information reported, or activity that isn’t yours.  For information about identity theft refer to the FTC identity theft website.

Which one to get first

This is my personal preference; I like the summary that Equifax provides at the beginning of the report.  If you have not printed your free credit reports before, I suggest printing the Equifax report first and looking over the summary, it is educational as well as informational.

How often to get your Free Annual Credit Reports

You can pull all three at once and be done with it until next year.  Or spread it out and get one every four months as a way to monitor your information on an ongoing basis.  Just keep in mind that, surprisingly, information can vary from credit bureau to credit bureau so spreading it out does not guarantee that errors will be caught in a timely manner.   But if you consistently pull them, any errors will be caught once a year.

For further information see the Federal Trade Commission website for the Free Annual Credit Report.

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Annuity Questions Answered

May 11th, 2012

So many new clients come to me already owning an annuity or several annuites, and they do not understand them or know what types of fees are in them.  I went back through my e-mails to clients and looked through the types of questions I get about annuities and thought I would answer some of them here by explaining some of the concepts around annuities.

An annuity is a product offered through insurance companies.  It is tax deferred, which means the income and earnings from the investment stay in the account and are not reported on your tax return each year.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that when you take the money out of the account, it is taxed at your income tax rate, which could actually be at a higher rate than the rate you would have paid if you hadn’t had your money invested in an annuity, depending on the type of annuity you have.  However, the tax deferral is a nice benefit.

Fixed Annuity

With a fixed annuity you get a specific interest rate for a specific time period.  Sometimes you will get a higher rate for the first year and then a lower rate for the remaining years, but you know this when you make your initial purchase.

Variable Annuity

A variable annuity offers you the opportunity to invest in mutual funds.  There are annuities that invest in multiple fund families, including index fund families.

Death Benefit

This is an insurance product, so one feature, or “insurance rider” that some of these products have is something called a Death Benefit.  Sometimes the Death Benefit value can be more than the Account Value.  Each product’s Death Benefit works differently.  Sometimes it is as simple as saying the Death Benefit is the greater of current market value or what you invest minus withdrawls.  Or it might have a Step Up feature.  For example each year on the anniversary of the purchase date the value is recorded and the highest annual value or current market value is the Death Benefit if you pass away.

1035 exchange

One nice benefit to this type of product is that you are allowed to move from one insurance company to another without any tax consequences.  Doing this is called a 1035 exchange (that is the IRS name for the procedure of moving the money, it seems like they put code numbers in the names of all of their procedures).  If you cashed the money in you would have to pay taxes on the gains.  If you just move it to another annuity, then you can continue to defer the taxes.

Fees

When looking at annuities be sure to compare fees.  Fees are quoted in percentages.  It is extremely important to convert the percentages to actual dollars based on the amount you are investing because when you do that you can sometimes see thousands of dollars of difference in fees between two annuities that when just looking at percentages seem to be pretty similar in fee structure.  I would always rather see my clients with that money in their account rather than give it to an insurance company unnecessarily.

Surrender charges

A surrender charge is a fee you pay the insurance company if you take your money out in the first few years after you have had the annuity.  A seven year surrender charge schedule is very common, for example the first year surrender charge would be 6%, the second year would be 5%, and so on until the surrender charge went away.  You might be surprised to know that there are annuities that do not have surrender charges!  So if you have an annuity and you are in the position of having to decide what to do with it, you can 1035 exchange it to an annuity that does not have a surrender charge.  Most people are not aware of that.

IRA annuity

If you have an annuity that is an IRA, you can always move it directly to an IRA, and forgo the extra layer of fees that you find in an annuity.  Things to consider before doing that: 1) are there surrender charges? 2) is the death benefit greater than the current value of the account?

Learn more about your annuity by reading the statement and the prospectus.  If you don’t have the prospectus, many of them can be found online by Googleing the product name.  If that does not work, give the customer service department a call, they will be happy to e-mail or mail you a copy of the prospectus which has the fee and investment information.

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Full Social Security Statements Now Available Online

May 6th, 2012

As of Tuesday you can now get your full Social Security Statement online.  It includes your lifetime earnings history and estimates of disability benefits you could receive should you become disabled.  It also lists benefits your family could receive if something were to happen to you.  It provides much more information that was previously available online.

Last year the government stopped mailing the statements, which saved $70 million dollars.  Statements will be mailed again, but only to individuals who are over 60.

Getting the online Social Security Statement is very easy; I got mine in about six minutes.  Go to   https://www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement/  and click on the button that says “Sign In or Create an Account.”

You will need to:

* set up an account by creating a log in id and password

* set up a few questions and answers in case you forget your password

* put in your basic information such as name, address, phone number, date of birth

* answer multiple choice questions to verify your identity, (for example; who is the lender on your mortgage, what is the make and model of your car, etc.)

When your statement pops up you can print it or save it as a PDF.

Keep your login id and password in a secure place, you will want to review your Social Security statement on an annual basis to make sure that the earnings information is correct and use the retirement benefit estimate figures when doing your retirement planning.

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