Haleh Moddasser Interviewed by AARP

Later in Life Money Fights – A Harris Interactive poll revealed that fights about money are in fact more prevalent among older couples: More than one-third of couples ages 55 to 64 admitted that finances led to dustups with their spouses, compared with only 15 percent of married 18- to 34-year-olds. Part of the problem, financial advisers say, is that people don’t plan for what will happen after the “accumulation” phase of life, and they can’t agree on how to actually spend their money as retirement approaches. Or one spouse may be unprepared for the swell of emotion surrounding something such as selling the family home. Read on to learn how to resolve your toughest dough dilemmas … together.  Full article at AARP.org.


Sherry McKinney interviewed in MarketWatch

After a deadly house fire, an adviser helps her family — and clients — get through.
Read the article from MarketWatch.


4 super trends and 5 key questions for financial planners

Dennis Stearns’ article on super trends was recently featured in the “NAPFA Advisor” magazine. NAPFA Advisor Article - August 2017


The Journal of Financial Planning interviews SFG President Dennis Stearns

Dennis was recently interviewed by the Journal of Financial Planning on Super Trends, Predicting Change and Scenario Planning.

JFPInterview


Our Thoughts on the Equifax Hack

We’ve received several inquiries from clients who are asking basically the same set of questions: 

  • Am I at risk following the Equifax hack?
  • What can I do to protect my finances following the breach?

What Happened?

In short, hackers broke into Equifax’s credit database sometime in May. The hack was discovered in July, but wasn’t made public until early September. It’s estimated that 143 million records have been accessed by the hackers, or roughly 44% of the population of the United States (Canada and some other countries are included, too). 

Although unimaginable, this breach is far more serious than when retailers like Target or Home Depot are hacked. In those cases, thieves might get a credit card number, name and address, but likely little else. With the Equifax hack they have likely stolen Social Security numbers, past address information, account histories, etc. 

What Can You Do About It?

  1. Equifax has created a dedicated website that provides more information about the breach and a tool to determine if a consumer has potentially been affected (equifaxsecurity2017.com). Equifax is offering one year of free credit monitoring for those who’ve been affected by the breach (www.trustedidpremier.com/consumer-registration/html/personal-info.html) and we suggest taking advantage of this (note it is a two step process, once you submit information you will receive an email that you need to follow to complete the process). While there were initial concerns that by participating in this offer you would be giving up rights to participate in likely class action lawsuits against Equifax, that provision has been set aside. If you don’t want to take the offer from Equifax you can pay for a similar monitoring service.
  2. Check your credit report for free at annualcreditreport.com. Each of the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Transunion and Experian) are all required to provide you with one free look at your report every year. You can thus pull a report from each every four months to keep on top of the financial accounts linked to your Social Security number. 
  3. Strongly consider placing a freeze on your credit (ncdoj.gov/freefreeze ). This makes it very difficult for others to access your credit report without your express authorization. This can make applying for new credit like auto loans or new credit cards somewhat cumbersome. But it is also the strongest protection for your financial information available today (see links below).
  4. If a freeze is a bit too drastic, you can place a fraud alert on your credit record with each of the credit companies. This will remain in effect for 90 days, and is often free. This will trigger a notice to you any time someone tries to open new credit in your name, though it can be somewhat involved to remove the alert. Each of the companies has instructions for how to do this on their websites (see below). 
  5. Always monitor your credit card and bank statements, but now be especially vigilant for charges that you don’t recognize. 
  6. Actively work to replace and update your passwords and security questions. If you had an account with Equifax (beyond your credit file), change the password on that account, and any other website where you used the same password. The best practice for a complex password these days is a long phrase that you can remember easily but is not widely known, which combines numbers and letters (knowledgebase.uchicago.edu/16276 ). If you want to take this a step further, consider a password generator / manager such as Lastpass, Dashlane or Roboform; these are subscription services which maintain your logins to meet website login requirements across computer and mobile platforms. 
  7. Consider putting a security freeze on your Chex Systems consumer report. Banks and credit unions use Chex Systems to identify accounts closed due to bank fraud, ATM abuse, substantial NSF transactions, overdrafts or similar, negative information. By placing a security freeze with Chex Systems, you can help prevent credit, loans, and services from being approved in your name without your consent. Once protection is in place, new account activity such as opening a bank account will be prohibited until you lift or remove the freeze, though normal banking activity should remain uninterrupted.

Freeze your Chex Systems report here

For either a Freeze or a Fraud Alert, contact:

What About Your Investments?

After something like this, it’s natural to worry about your investments. Bank accounts are guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), but what about brokerage accounts? The short answer is that the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) offers some protection against fraudulent removal of investments, but it is limited and designed to protect against loss of cash and securities in the event of a brokerage firm liquidation. Most institutions (including Schwab and TDAmeritrade) offer additional insurance as well. Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade both offer security/asset protection guarantee programs that will reimburse you for cash or shares of securities lost due to fraudulent activity by an unauthorized third party. These custodians just request that you take proper safeguards, such as keeping your account access information secure and private, maintaining up to date personal contact information, and reporting any suspicious activity or unauthorized transactions immediately.

Still, clients who are concerned about unauthorized access to their accounts can contact their custodian (call Schwab’s security desk at 800-433-9196 or TDAmeritrade at 800-431-3500) to place additional security measures on their accounts. These include:

  • Voice recognition for phone calls and/or verbal passwords. Beyond a simple numerical PIN or passcode, voice recognition systems can verify the identity of those attempting to access accounts by phone. This is far more secure than asking questions like “what street did you grow up on” or “Mother’s maiden name”. 
  • Some custodians are now offering a Two Factor Authentication (security token) system that adds an additional layer of security to clients’ online login password. Whether you choose a key fob (like a remote car key) or a smart phone application which sends a text message to your phone, this will significantly enhance the security of your brokerage accounts since you can’t access your accounts without the special number generator. See this link for more information: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/cyber-tip-protect-yourself-with-two-factor-authentication

The suggestions above are intended to help you to understand that you have options available to you to thwart the efforts of these hackers, to protect your assets and to provide you some peace of mind. As always, if you’d like to discuss the security of your finances and your investments, we’re available to help you pick and choose the response that will work best for you. Please give us a call if you have any questions. 

On behalf of the SFG team, we encourage you to stay safe out there!


Pam Stearns Receives Golden Note Award

From the Greensboro Symphony Guild May/June 2017 Newsletter

Established in 1979, the Golden Note Award is presented to those Guild members who have made an outstanding service contribution to the Guild and to the community. Our 2017 recipient qualifies on both counts. She joined the Guild in 2007 and jumped in with both feet, chairing the Golf Tournament. She has served on the Executive Board and supported numerous fundraisers, deb activities, Classics events and Musicale Sundays. She can read a spreadsheet, explain budgets and track down expenses with such skill that our President Elect has deemed her a masterful forensic accountant. The Guild has been most fortunate to benefit from the financial expertise of our current Treasurer, Pam Stearns. The Guild has shared in her life journey, witnessing her marriage to Dennis and the birth of their two daughters. The Stearns family has opened their home and hearts to our organization. Pam is the Director of Financial Focus for Women, Chief Financial Officer and a Financial Advisor at Stearns Financial Group. She feels that guiding women to make better financial and life decisions is her professional calling. She holds a BA in economics from UCLA and an MBA with emphasis in Finance and Accounting from the University of California, Irvine. There is an alphabet of credentials behind her name, including CPA, RFG, CDFA, AICPA and FPA. Pam is also involved with many non-profit boards, including Greensboro’s Women to Women’s Endowment Fund, Hospice, Junior League, Bennett College and Peninsula Center for the Blind. She loves traveling and outdoor sports and was featured in a series of articles by the American Sailing Association. She also appeared on a nationwide PBS TV Series with Susan Bradley, “Women in Transition.” Ms. Bradley states, “Pam has the gift of helping people understand complex and often confusing financial issues while making it fun and exciting at the same time. She brings out the best in people and genuinely cares about making a difference in people’s lives.”

Thank you, Pam, for making a difference in our lives and sharing your many gifts so generously. We honor you today with the Golden Note Award.