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Thanksgiving and Gratefulness

November 23, 2016

We Americans are culturally hardwired to work hard and drive toward new goals and accomplishments. As a financial planner, I spend most of my days focused on planning for the future. Especially in this season of the year, however, I cherish the opportunity to focus on being thankful for the blessings we have here and now.

Many psychologists and spiritual leaders point to the benefits of living every day in a spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude. It is in that spirit that I want to express our sincere appreciation for each of you. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to share a part of your lives and help you accomplish your dreams and goals.

I wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving and hope that you can embark on the New Year with a daily focus on thankfulness and gratefulness.

Warmest Regards,

Marcus Winbush

CFP® — CEO, True North Capital Alliance

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Planning Ahead: Making Basic Health Care and Estate Decisions Now

November 21, 2016

By Marcus Winbush, CFP® — CEO, True North Capital Alliance

According to a 2016 survey of consumers conducted by the Harris poll1)“Rocket Lawyers’ Annual Make-a-Will Month Survey Reveals Strong Need to Educate Consumers on Estate Planning,” August 2, 2016, www.marketwired.comcom/press-release/, 64 percent of Americans do not have a will; 55 percent of those surveyed said they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Similar studies reveal that a substantial number of people don’t consider having a will to be an urgent need, and others don’t think they need a will at all. Behind this survey data is the uncomfortable truth that most of us simply do not like to talk about issues related to our mortality.

Unfortunately, this attitude can leave individuals and families ill-prepared to cope in the face of a sudden major illness or an accident or the death of a loved one. Without the proper legal documents, your family could be left to guess about your healthcare wishes, and they may lack authority to make decisions on your behalf. In most cases, if a person dies without a will, the state’s inheritance laws will control how assets are distributed and how quickly. And there can be profound effects if young children are involved.

Basic estate planning can help you and your loved ones avoid the pitfalls and ensure that your wishes are honored.

Start with a Will

A will gives instructions about how you want your assets distributed to your heirs upon your death. Start the process by taking stock of your financial situation and thinking through your wishes.

  • List all your assets and liabilities. Consider working with a trusted financial advisor to create a comprehensive financial statement and weigh any tax planning issues. Some assets, such as life insurance and IRAs are handled outside the will and are transferred directly to your beneficiaries.
  • Consider your options: Who do you trust to be the guardian for your minor children? Is that person willing to serve in this way? Who do you trust to be your personal representative to execute your will? The executor will be responsible for managing your estate, including paying final expenses and bills as wells as distributing your assets. Be sure the person you designate is willing to serve and understands his or her role.

A trusted attorney can provide valuable assistance in drafting your will so that it addresses your specific needs. Your will must be signed and witnessed by at least two people. A will remains in effect until you change, revoke, or cancel it. Be sure to review your will from time to time to be sure it continues to reflect your wishes.

Your will should be kept in a safe place where it is readily accessible. Make sure your executor knows where the will is stored and can access it when needed.

Create a Health Care Directive

A Health Care Directive is a written document used to guide health care decisions when a person is unable to do so. Under Minnesota law, the Health Care Directive combines the general function of what was previously called a “Living Will” or a “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.”

In a Health Care Directive, you name the person (i.e., agent) you want to make health care decisions for you. Optionally, you can also include written instructions about your care. To create a Health Care Directive, you may use the Minnesota Health Care Directive Form, or you can write your own directive as long it conforms to requirements established by State law.

You are not required to have an attorney draft your health care directive; however, you should consult with a trusted attorney if you think your circumstances warrant a consultation. Share copies of your health care directive with people who need to know: family, your physician to include in your medical record, and the person you named as your agent.

Your Health Care Directive should be on file with your primary health care provider and a copy should be kept in a safe place where your agent can locate it.

Consider Creating a Durable Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is used to authorize another person (i.e., an agent) to act on your behalf. You can establish a general power of attorney, authorizing your agent to conduct all your financial affairs, or you can authorize limited power of attorney. You want to choose someone you trust and who also has the necessary money management skills.

A durable power of attorney can be set up to take effect immediately or only if you are incapacitated. You can give your agent as much or as little power as you want. In the document, you outline the specific financial and business responsibilities you are authorizing.

A power of attorney does not require that a licensed attorney prepare the document; however, you may consult with a trusted attorney if you think your circumstances warrant a consultation. The Office of the Minnesota Attorney General provides more in-depth discussion of various aspects of a power of attorney and the standard form that satisfies the Minnesota statutes.

Conclusion

Planning ahead and creating a will, a health care directive, and a power of attorney ensures that you have at least a basic estate plan in place. Depending on the complexity of your estate, you may need to consider using additional estate planning instruments. If you have questions about estate planning, please feel free to contact me (marcus@truenorthcap.com).


True North Capital Alliance is registered as an investment advisor with the states of Minnesota and Texas. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered, or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. Registration as an investment advisor does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by securities regulators nor does it indicate that the advisor has attained a particular level of skill or ability.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This content is intended for informational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services.

References   [ + ]

1. “Rocket Lawyers’ Annual Make-a-Will Month Survey Reveals Strong Need to Educate Consumers on Estate Planning,” August 2, 2016, www.marketwired.comcom/press-release/
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5 Ways to Guard Your Identity

November 11, 2016

By Marcus Winbush, CFP® — CEO, True North Capital Alliance

Identity theft and fraud continue to be significant concerns for U.S. consumers. In its 2016 Identity Fraud Study released early this year, Javelin Strategy & Research, estimates that 13.1 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2015. Since 2000, thieves have used identity theft and fraud to steal a whopping $112 billion.

How can you protect your identity? Vigilance and early detection can give you peace of mind and may limit the damage should fraud occur. Although no one can guarantee that you won’t be a victim of identity fraud, you would do well to take some simple, commonsense safeguards.

Review your credit report annually to check for any unauthorized loans or credit accounts.

By law, you are entitled to one free credit report each year from the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Initially, you may want to review all three reports to be sure your credit history is accurate and complete. To request free credit reports, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.

After your initial review, consider staggering your reviews each year thereafter. For example, you might set up a rotation so that you review Equifax in January, Experian in April, and TransUnion in September. By the next January, you would qualify for another free report from Equifax, and you could continue your rotation. The advantage of this approach is that it increases your odds of spotting errors or signs of fraud early. Our recent post, Your Credit Report: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You, gives valuable tips about what to look for in your credit report and what to do if you find errors.

Safeguard all your personal information.

Change passwords on your financial accounts and mobile devices regularly; avoid using the same password for multiple accounts or websites. And, by all means, consider backing up critical data including photos offline.

Exercise care when using public Wi-Fi connections to transact personal and financial business. To better safeguard your personal data, consider enabling two-factor authentication (also known as 2-step verification) on the services that support it, such as Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook. This extra layer of security prevents a person from signing on to your device/account even if they manage to steal your password.

As a precaution, shred documents such as bank, loan, and credit card statements that contain personal identification information. If you receive mailers for pre-approved credit card or loan offers, it’s a good idea to shred those mailers when you want to dispose of them. Criminals are resourceful and, if they can get enough of your identifying information, they can use it to make fraudulent transactions in your name. The extra protection you gain will be worth the cost of a good shredder!

Review all personal account statements monthly.

If you find any irregularities or suspicious transactions, contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately, and report the specific problem. Likewise, scrutinize the specific transactions on your credit card statements to be sure they list only charges you recognize.

With the recent roll-out of smart chip credit cards in the U.S., we are seeing a reduction in counterfeit credit card fraud. However, as online retail continues to expand, we are seeing an increase in “card-not-present” credit card fraud. Some credit card issuers are stepping up their fraud prevention by asking cardholders to confirm any card-not-present transactions. To fight fraud, card issuers have implemented important preventive measures such as contacting cardholders when purchases show marked deviation from their usual patterns.

After a data breach, take advantage of free credit monitoring.

Headlines announcing massive data breaches have become all too commonplace. These data breaches can put consumers at additional risk for financial fraud or identity theft. Companies are required to notify consumers about a data breach, and they usually offer consumers the opportunity to sign up for free credit monitoring. You would do well to continue monitoring your credit report as explained in our recent post, Your Credit Report: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You.

Be on guard for scams that ask you to divulge personal information to people you do not know.

Phone calls from someone who claims to represent your bank or a government agency are obviously suspicious—especially if the caller asks for account, social security, or password information. If someone you do not know calls to say you have won a prize or some special promotion but asks for personal information, the call is almost certainly a scam. The safest practice is to refuse to share personal information with people you do not know.

Conclusion

Should you find that you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, take steps immediately to resolve the problem. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the issue. The FTC is responsible for responding to consumer complaints of fraud and identity theft and for referring complaints to the appropriate agencies for follow-up.


True North Capital Alliance is registered as an investment advisor with the states of Minnesota and Texas. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered, or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. Registration as an investment advisor does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by securities regulators nor does it indicate that the advisor has attained a particular level of skill or ability.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This content is intended for informational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services.

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Your Credit Report: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You

November 5, 2016

By Marcus Winbush, CFP® — CEO, True North Capital Alliance

Do you know what’s in your credit report? Is all the information about your credit history accurate? Does your credit report suggest that someone may have opened fraudulent credit accounts in your name? The best way to answer these questions is to review your credit report. Inaccurate credit information can negatively affect your credit score and make it difficult to get credit when you need it.

What’s in your credit report?

credit history

Your credit report is a compilation of all your credit transactions; it functions as a report card on your credit worthiness. As you make payments on credit cards or loans, the lenders report your payment history to one or more of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

For each account, the lender reports details such as your credit limit, account balance, payment amounts, notations about the timeliness of payments (i.e., on-time, late, or missed), and bad debts if any. Your credit report also includes personal information such as your name, current and previous addresses, and employers.

When you apply for new credit, the lender accesses your credit report to see what your credit history says about the likelihood that you will pay future debts.

What does your credit score mean?

Credit reporting agencies use all the credit history data to calculate a 3-digit score that reflects a person’s credit worthiness. 29132289382_a22dedd9c7_nThe exact mathematical formula for calculating credit scores varies from one agency to another; therefore, the agencies may show slightly different scores for you. Typically, the formula factors in payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, types of credit, and the amount of new credit or the number of recent credit inquiries.

Credit scores help lenders assess the likelihood that a borrower will repay debt based on their credit history. The higher the credit score, the more likely the borrower will pay for services and loans in the future. Thus, the credit score directly correlates to the amount of risk—interest rates—assigned to credit purchases. Usually, a better score equals greater access to credit at lower interest rates.

How can you access your credit report?

By Federal law, you are entitled to at least one free credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion every 12 months. You can go to www.annualcreditreport.com/ to request your free copies, which you can download or print as you prefer. This site is the “only official site explicitly directed by Federal law to provide” free credit reports. Be aware that other sites advertising free credit reports may be selling product and services.

Although the free credit reports contain all your credit history collected to-date, they do not include credit scores. Federal law does not require agencies to give free credit scores. If you wish, you can pay a nominal fee to have credit scores included.

Of course, you may also request your credit report directly from the credit reporting agencies at any time for a fee.

What should you look for in Your credit report?

Review the report carefully to verify its accuracy:

  • Are all the loans and accounts listed yours? If someone has been using your identity, the report may contain credit accounts that are unfamiliar to you.
  • Is all your personal information such as name, addresses, and employers accurate? If there are errors, this may be an indication of suspicious activity.
  • Is your payment history (i.e., account limits, payment amounts, and balances) accurate?
  • If judgments, collections, and liens are listed on your report, are these accurate and current? You may want to investigate whether these are still required on your credit report.

What should you do if you find errors?

Because inaccurate credit information can lower your credit score or indicate fraudulent activity, it’s a good idea to dispute any errors as soon you find them. The credit reporting agencies are obligated to investigate your dispute and either confirm that the data in your report is accurate or make changes in your report.

Each agency outlines its own process for handling disputes either online, via phone, or by mail. Use these links to find each agency’s process for reporting a dispute: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Be prepared to furnish documentation to support your dispute. You may also want to contact the business that supplied the information to the credit reporting agency. It’s reasonable to expect the agency to complete its investigation within 30 to 45 days.

If you have difficulty getting a satisfactory resolution, you may also contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency designed to protect consumers.

Conclusion

Regular monitoring of your credit reports helps you stay in control of your finances by spotting and reporting any irregularities sooner rather than later.


True North Capital Alliance is registered as an investment advisor with the states of Minnesota and Texas. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered, or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. Registration as an investment advisor does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by securities regulators nor does it indicate that the advisor has attained a particular level of skill or ability.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This content is intended for informational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services.

Continue Reading No Comments

Your Credit Report: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You

November 3, 2016

By Marcus Winbush, CFP® — CEO, True North Capital Alliance

Do you know what’s in your credit report? Is all the information about your credit history accurate? Does your credit report suggest that someone may have opened fraudulent credit accounts in your name? The best way to answer these questions is to review your credit report. Inaccurate credit information can negatively affect your credit score and make it difficult to get credit when you need it.

What’s in your credit report?

Your credit report is a compilation of all your credit transactions; it functions as a report card on your credit worthiness. As you make payments on credit cards or loans, the lenders report your payment history to one or more of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

For each account, the lender reports details such as your credit limit, account balance, payment amounts, notations about the timeliness of payments (i.e., on-time, late, or missed), and bad debts if any. Your credit report also includes personal information such as your name, current and previous addresses, and employers.

When you apply for new credit, the lender accesses your credit report to see what your credit history says about the likelihood that you will pay future debts.

What does your credit score mean?

Credit reporting agencies use all the credit history data to calculate a 3-digit score that reflects a person’s credit worthiness. The exact mathematical formula for calculating credit scores varies from one agency to another; therefore, the agencies may show slightly different scores for you. Typically, the formula factors in payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, types of credit, and the amount of new credit or the number of recent credit inquiries.

Credit scores help lenders assess the likelihood that a borrower will repay debt based on their credit history. The higher the credit score, the more likely the borrower will pay for services and loans in the future. Thus, the credit score directly correlates to the amount of risk—interest rates—assigned to credit purchases. Usually, a better score equals greater access to credit at lower interest rates.

How can you access your credit report?

By Federal law, you are entitled to at least one free credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion every 12 months. You can go to www.annualcreditreport.com/ to request your free copies, which you can download or print as you prefer. This site is the “only official site explicitly directed by Federal law to provide” free credit reports. Be aware that other sites advertising free credit reports may be selling product and services.

Although the free credit reports contain all your credit history collected to-date, they do not include credit scores. Federal law does not require agencies to give free credit scores. If you wish, you can pay a nominal fee to have credit scores included.

Of course, you may also request your credit report directly from the credit reporting agencies at any time for a fee.

What should you look for in Your credit report?

Review the report carefully to verify its accuracy:

  • Are all the loans and accounts listed yours? If someone has been using your identity, the report may contain credit accounts that are unfamiliar to you.
  • Is all your personal information such as name, addresses, and employers accurate? If there are errors, this may be an indication of suspicious activity.
  • Is your payment history (i.e., account limits, payment amounts, and balances) accurate?
  • If judgments, collections, and liens are listed on your report, are these accurate and current? You may want to investigate whether these are still required on your credit report.

What should you do if you find errors?

Because inaccurate credit information can lower your credit score or indicate fraudulent activity, it’s a good idea to dispute any errors as soon you find them. The credit reporting agencies are obligated to investigate your dispute and either confirm that the data in your report is accurate or make changes in your report.

Each agency outlines its own process for handling disputes either online, via phone, or by mail. Use these links to find each agency’s process for reporting a dispute: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Be prepared to furnish documentation to support your dispute. You may also want to contact the business that supplied the information to the credit reporting agency. It’s reasonable to expect the agency to complete its investigation within 30 to 45 days.

If you have difficulty getting a satisfactory resolution, you may also contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency designed to protect consumers.

Conclusion

Regular monitoring of your credit reports helps you stay in control of your finances by spotting and reporting any irregularities sooner rather than later.


True North Capital Alliance is registered as an investment advisor with the states of Minnesota and Texas. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered, or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. Registration as an investment advisor does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by securities regulators nor does it indicate that the advisor has attained a particular level of skill or ability.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change. This content is intended for informational purposes, and it is not to be construed as an offer, solicitation, recommendation, or endorsement of any particular security, products, or services.

Continue Reading No Comments

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