12-28-2017 Columns

New Year’s – Time for New Year’s financial resolutions

 We’ve reached the end of another year – which means it’s just about time for some New Year’s resolutions. Would you like to study a new language, take up a musical instrument or visit the gym more often? All these are worthy goals, of course, but why not also add some financial resolutions?

Here are some ideas to think about:

Increase contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement plan. For 2018, you can contribute up to $18,500 (or $24,500 if you’re 50 or older) to your 401(k) or similar plan, such as a 403(b), for employees of public schools and some nonprofit groups, or a 457(b) plan, for employees of local governments. It’s usually a good idea to contribute as much as you can afford to your employer’s plan, as your contributions may lower your taxable income, while your earnings can grow tax-deferred. At a minimum, put in enough to earn your employer’s matching contribution, if one is offered.

Try to “max out” on your IRA. Even if you have a 401(k) or similar plan, you can probably still invest in an IRA. For 2018, you can contribute up to $5,500 to a traditional or Roth IRA, or $6,500 if you’re 50 or older. (Income restrictions apply to Roth IRAs.) Contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax-deductible, depending on your income, and your earnings can grow tax-deferred. Roth IRA contributions are not deductible, but earnings can grow tax-free, provided you don’t start taking withdrawals until you are 59-1/2 and you’ve have had your account at least five years. You can put virtually any investment in an IRA, so it can expand your options beyond those offered in your 401(k) or similar plan.

Build an emergency fund. Try to build an emergency fund containing three to six months’ worth of living expenses, with the money held in a low-risk, liquid account. This fund can help you avoid dipping into your long-term investments to pay for unexpected costs, such as a new furnace or a major car repair.

Control your debts. It’s never easy, but do what you can to keep your debts under control. The less you have to spend on debt payments, the more you can invest for your future.

Don’t overreact to changes in the financial markets. We’ve had a long run of rising stock prices – but it won’t last forever. If we experience a sharp market downturn in 2018, don’t overreact by taking a “time out” from investing. Market drops are a normal feature of the investment landscape, and you may ultimately gain an advantage by buying new shares when their prices are down.

Review your goals and risk tolerance. At least once in 2018, take some time to review your short- and long-term financial goals and try to determine, possibly with the help of a financial professional, if your investment portfolio is still appropriate for these goals. At the same time, you’ll want to re-evaluate your risk tolerance to ensure you’re not taking too much risk – or possibly too little risk – with your investments.

Do your best to stick with these resolutions throughout the coming year. At a minimum, they can help you improve your investment habits – and they may improve your financial picture far beyond 2018.

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Make 2018 the year you quit smoking

 Many people may be making New Year’s resolutions to make 2018 the year they finally quit smoking. The Berrien County Health Department wants to help Berrien County residents who are ready to quit smoking through the “Freedom from Smoking” program developed by the American Lung Association.

The Berrien County Health Department will host the “Freedom from Smoking” program on Tuesdays from 3:00-4:30 p.m. starting on Tuesday, Jan. 2 through Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. This seven-week program, held at the Berrien County Health Department office at 2149 E. Napier Ave. in Benton Harbor, only costs $10 to attend.

“Quitting smoking is one of the best things anyone can do for their health, and although those first steps can be hard, finding your path to a smoke-free life is easier with the right help,” said Kerri Teachout, Substance Abuse Prevention Supervisor at the Berrien County Health Department. “The only thing you need to bring with you to this class is a desire to quit smoking and improve your quality of life.”

Led by a certified facilitator, the program features a step-by-step plan for quitting smoking and transitioning to a smoke-free lifestyle. Each session is designed to help smokers gain control over their behavior, and because no single quit smoking plan is effective for all smokers, the program has a variety of evidence-based techniques for individuals to combine into their own plan to quit smoking. The clinic format also encourages participants to work on the process and problems of quitting, individually and as part of a group.

Those wishing to enroll in the program can contact Kerri Teachout at (269) 927-5668.

A year in review

 It has truly been an honor to serve you this year. As 2017 draws to a close, I wanted to share some highlights from my work on your behalf this year. Being accessible and accountable is a top priority for me. Throughout 2017, I hosted over 50 opportunities for people to meet with me to share their thoughts and concerns. Hearing directly from people has helped make me a better legislator and I look forward to continuing these meetings in 2018. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on issues that are important to the people of Southwest Michigan. Some of this year’s highlights include:

Maintaining a perfect voting record. My job is to represent you and being there to vote on every issue ensures that you are heard in Lansing.

Continuing Michigan’s streak of passing a balanced budget ahead of schedule and including record funding for our state’s K-12 schools, more money to fix our roads and bridges, and additional Michigan State Police troopers.

Improving access to skilled trades and career technical education opportunities by prioritizing funding and increasing flexibility in high school graduation requirements.

Supporting open and accountable government by joining a bipartisan group of my colleagues in supporting legislation to increase transparency in the Legislature and Governor’s office.

Working to lower auto insurance rates. I was proud to vote in favor of a bipartisan solution to give Michigan drivers more option, rein in medical costs, and fight fraud.

In 2018 I will continue to fight for efficient, effective, and accountable state government for the hardworking people of Southwest Michigan.

I hope you and your family have a safe and happy holiday season. If I may be of any assistance in the future, please contact me toll-free at (800) 577- 6212, or by email at BethGriffin@house.mi.gov.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

 This week, folks will once again brave the crowded roads and airports to reunite with loved ones across the country in celebration of the Christmas holiday season. Let us give a moment’s pause to reflect upon the countless blessings in our lives and offer a prayer of gratitude.

The holidays are a special time of year when folks are able to gather with friends, family members, and loved ones to celebrate and reflect. While it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind, the holiday season offers us fresh perspective and reminds us of all that we have to be grateful.

We also must keep in mind the brave men and women of our armed forces who are not able to be home with us this year. We owe our courageous services members, and their loved ones, a tremendous debt of gratitude for the countless sacrifices they have made for our country and for our freedoms. Our thoughts and prayers are indeed with them daily, but particularly around the holiday season. We look forward to their safe return home.

From my wife Amey and me, may you have a safe and joyful holiday season in the comfort of family and friends. Merry Christmas, happy New Year, and God bless.

To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

Protecting yourself from holiday scams

 Although Christmas has passed, the season for holiday scammers to target residents continues.

I encourage all Southwest Michigan families to be mindful of scams and to take steps to protect their personal information.

While the internet has increased convenience for shoppers, it has also made it easier for scam artists to commit financial or identification crimes. Residents should keep browser and security software up-to-date, only use legitimate and secure websites, and be wary of clicking on links on social media or in emails.

A few simple rules to follow to avoid most scams are to never give out your credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers and to never click on unfamiliar links or open email from unknown senders.

Scammers often try to misrepresent themselves as charities or legitimate businesses — sending out malicious emails designed to convince you to give them your personal financial information or click on links that download malware and steal your identity and passwords.

The attorney general’s office offers Consumer Alerts under “Services” at www.michigan.gov/ag. In the category “Shopping for Products & Services” is the “’Tis the Season for Protecting Yourself When Making Purchases” alert, which includes several tips about online shopping and having a happy return, if necessary.

The Better Business Bureau offers information on scams and how to report them at www.bbb.org/scamtips.

With the help of a few tips and a little common sense, residents can help ensure that this Christmas is full of joy.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback on the important issues facing Michigan. You can contact me at 517-373-6960.