In this issue:
We keep a treasure trove of meaningful data in our heads: our height, age, computer passwords, debit card PIN, salary. But there are some numbers we don’t often think about that, if left ignored, could significantly impact your fiscal and physical health.
Take the case of Adam Schuda, a 36-year-old surgical tech. He told Consumer Reports that while filing his taxes in early 2019, he obtained his credit score and found a surprise: new accounts that he hadn’t opened, the work of an identity thief. “My credit score dropped about 60 points or more, taking me from good to poor credit,” he said, impacting his borrowing power. Of the 200 million Americans with FICO credit scores, a little less than 3 million, or about 1.4%, have a perfect 850 credit score according to Fair Isaac Corp.
Then there’s your cholesterol levels. Having less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood is generally desirable, and anything higher becomes a serious risk factor for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. In most cases, there aren’t symptoms that would give you a clue of high cholesterol and the plaque it can cause in your arteries, so it’s important to get periodic blood tests and an annual physical. It’s also important to know that genetics play a large role, so a healthy lifestyle alone may not be enough of a safeguard.
Like canaries in a coal mine, these kinds of numbers can act as sentinels of our physical and financial well-being. We’ve rounded up 10 of these data points that are key indicators of how you’re doing.
Robocalls – the spammy, scam-ridden kind – have become a constant nuisance for most Americans who own a phone. By some estimates, billions of robocalls are placed in the U.S. every day. That’s in part because they are lucrative for scheming criminals. Consumers lost $10.5 billion to phone scams in 2018, according to blocking and tracking firm Truecaller.
Thankfully, the government is taking action to cut the lines on con artists. In June, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that phone companies can take aggressive action to block unwanted calls for their customers by default. And in July, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act won approval in the House, building on the TRACED Act passed by the Senate in May. The national legislation would strengthen regulators’ enforcement tools and require phone carriers to implement call identification technology. In the meantime, here are some apps and blocking tips that can help you keep robocalls from blowing up your phone.
Major wireless and landline providers offer tools that either label or block suspicious robocalls, and some are free. Now that the FCC has given carriers free rein to block calls, these services may soon become an automatic, built-in feature. But until then, you can use tools available through your carrier to silence the spam.
If you only want calls from people you know to ring through on your cellphone, the Do Not Disturb feature is your friend. On either an iPhone or an Android, turn on Do Not Disturb in Settings and then select the option that only allows calls from your contacts. (Note that when a stranger you want to talk to calls, it will show up as a “missed call” and will not ring through.)
If you go this route, be sure to download the app from the official Google Play or iOS App Store. Two of the most reputable are RoboKiller ($1 a month) and Nomorobo ($2 a month), which can help restore normalcy to your cellphone. Note that Nomorobo is free for customers of VoIP carriers, including AT&T U-verse, Verizon Fios, Comcast Xfinity and Cox. If you have an old landline on copper wire, there isn’t a lot you can do except screen your calls.
Consumers lost $10.5 billion to phone scams in 2018
When it comes to financial matters, it’s common for family members to have different visions, ideas and values, which can sometimes lead to breakdowns in trust and communication. As you gather with family for the holidays, consider having a frank, open discussion – a family huddle – about family financial matters and your plans and wishes. These open dialogues can help prevent problems long before they start. Here are some guidelines on how to lead a family huddle.
As soon as possible, in fact. By holding these meetings years before they’re critically needed, you can control the conversation and approach more sensitive topics in a positive way. The holidays can be a good time for these discussions, since everyone is already gathered together and typically in a positive frame of mind.
For some families, this might mean immediate family members only; for others, it’s extended relatives, too. You’ll have to decide what’s right for your family, but at the very least, you and your spouse or partner should be on the same page. Having one-on-one conversations with certain members before the family gathering may also help you create a constructive agenda and avoid surprises.
Topics of discussion will vary, but consider discussing matters that impact the smooth transition of wealth. These might include the location of estate documents, succession plans for a business, intentions behind distribution guidelines, and even funeral and burial preferences. Also be mindful of life changes among family members (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc.) that can affect legacy planning. As you discuss these topics, allow family members to express their thoughts, feelings and questions.
After the huddle, review what was discussed and how new information may impact your financial and estate plans. Consider introducing those family members who are or will be closely involved in your affairs to your professional advisors (accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, etc.) if you feel it’s appropriate. And most importantly, plan to huddle up again to keep the conversation going.
Material prepared by Raymond James for use by its advisors. Raymond James is not affiliated with any companies mentioned in this material.