New Year's opportunity for financial planning

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Planning for your financial future can include giving back to the community, and Thrivent helps out by granting each of its members two $250 action team cards each year. The local Quilts of Valor organization used an action team card to purchase supplies to make handmade quilts for veterans. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

The beginning of a new year inspires a fresh start for many endeavors, and creating a strategic plan for a financially stable future is one way to get 2016 off on the right foot. Kevin and Rabecca Hennessey of Thrivent Financial in Guttenberg believe their role is to connect faith and finances for the greater good, giving sound financial advice while encouraging their customers to make their community a better place.  

Chances are good that readers have noticed Thrivent’s grey, red and white “Live Generously” t-shirts on the backs of friends and neighbors. It’s likely you may even have one in your own closet. That’s because Thrivent is affecting Guttenberg in a big way – its Guttenberg area members held 67 action teams in 2015, generating $17,000 in fund-raising dollars back to Guttenberg and surrounding communities. 

Action teams are just one way Thrivent encourages members to model generosity with both resources and time. Each Thrivent member is given the opportunity to access up to $500 a year in seed money to bring together a team and start a project (or leverage the money to make a bigger impact) benefiting community causes and promoting a giving spirit.

“You can turn an everyday event into a fundraiser,” explained Kevin Hennessey, who was a defensive back on the Wayne State College football team during his college years and now helps  coach fifth and sixth grade football in Guttenberg.  “There is always an end of season football party, and my thought was to use my action team card, as a member of Thrivent, to turn that party into a fundraiser for the Family Resource Center.” He used $250 to purchase pizza for players and their families, and asked each of the 90 people in attendance to bring a food item for the Resource Center. “That way the kids will understand that they received something, and they gave something.” There have been action teams used for benefits, church activities, educational projects, and much more. 

“What I love about it is that it empowers people. Those who normally wouldn’t have the funds for a cause now have something to contribute,” said Rabecca. “Our Northeast Iowa region totaled 852 action teams and generated $213,000 back to our local communities!” Those dollar amounts do not reflect items donated, such as food pantry items, clothing, quilts, etc.

Each of the last four years, Thrivent has been selected as one of the world’s most ethical companies by the Ethisphere Institute. “Of all the accolades that Thrivent has, that’s probably where I hang my hat. Ethics, being competent and of good character, having integrity; all that means more to me than all of the accolades, which can fall away if you don’t have this foundation of integrity and character,” said Kevin.

“Richard and I chose Thrivent brokerage services for financial planning on the recommendation of several Lutheran pastors and lay people whose opinions and experience with Thrivent we trusted,” said Gail Larson of rural Guttenberg. “Thrivent is well known as an ethical business and our broker is wonderful about making sure we are invested only in companies which align with our ideals of ethical behavior and products.  We have never been disappointed by their care for our interests.”

The Larsons and many other Thrivent members can also access Thrivent Choice Dollars, which Thrivent provides to members, who can direct it to charitable organizations of their choosing. “We generally alternate between two favorite charities when they notify us that we have a few dollars to distribute,” said Larson.

Statistics show that people spend more time planning vacations than they do planning for retirement. “A lot of us know we need to put money into a savings account or a 401K but there’s no strategy, no real goal other than this vague retirement,” Hennessey said. “If you can define what you want your retirement to look like, then working with your strategy is easier to do.”

So what kind of financial New Year’s resolution should you make? Should you devote your hard-earned cash to life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, a final expense policy, annuities, investment funds, or uniform gift trust accounts for children? The Hennessey’s have planned several free, public classes in the near future to help answer some of those questions.

Women and Finance, Tuesday, Jan. 19 from 9-10:30 (with coffee and coffee cake) or Thursday, Jan. 21 from 6-7:30 (with wine and appetizers) at Guttenberg Gallery and Creativity Center: More and more women are becoming responsible for their family’s financial well being. They also face unique financial challenges - like longer lifespans and caregiving responsibilities - that can affect their long-term financial security.  This complimentary presentation illustrates how important it is for women to develop a financial strategy, no matter what age you are.

Long Term Care, Tuesday, Jan. 26 and Thursday, Jan. 28 at the Guttenberg Care Center: In an instant, a disability or diagnosis can change your life...and your family’s.  By attending the free workshop, you’ll learn how you and your family can prepare for long-term care - emotionally, physically and financially.

In general, parents should consider starting their New Year’s babies off on the right financial path with a cash value life insurance policy that can later be used as an asset to borrow against, as for a college education or a down payment on a home. “When insuring a newborn child,” Kevin says, “you’re ensuring their insurability when they’re at their healthiest.”

As a young adult, Hennessey recommends taking a close look at debt ratios and savings. “You want to have at least three to six months of expenses in your savings account in the event that your income stream changes, to begin building your financial foundation. Then consider what you need to protect: your life, your home, your income; as you build the next layer of financial security. “  Once those bases are covered, Hennessey suggests learning more about savings, investing, 401(k)s and IRAs. 

In the middle stages of life, Thrivent encourages people to begin envisioning their retirement and having a financial strategy to help achieve that.  “Prepare for retirement, and to live well in retirement – as well as you want,” Hennessey advises. “Whether you want to travel or live simply, everyone can benefit from a financial plan. It’s a road map for where you want to go and how you want things to look for you.”

As retirement approaches, that road map should lead to a three-legged stool of income: Social Security, pension, and investments. U.S. citizens who have worked at least 40 quarters, or 10 years, can access Social Security benefits. “That is one guaranteed income stream, but it will only cover maybe 30-37% of expenses. How are you going to create an income to cover the rest, plus still have an emergency fund?” Hennessey inquires, encouraging strategic, tax efficient planning. 

Each of us will leave a legacy and should carefully consider what that legacy will be. Proper and consistent financial  planning can put you in a position to leave a legacy for those you love or for things that matter most to you. “If you’ve positioned yourself well and made good decisions in your planning along the way, you may have surplus money in retirement that provides you options on how you want your money to work for you, becoming more tax efficient in transferring your assets from one generation to the next,” said Hennessey. “Rockefeller, Eisenhower, Kennedy – we all know these names, and those three men positioned their kids and grandkids with assets passed tax efficiently. 

What if, on the other hand, you’re closing in on retirement age with no end to your work life in sight? “The earlier you can start with a financial strategy, the better,” Hennessey explained. “If you’re five years from retirement, I would sit down and identify what it is you have – income streams versus expenses; goals for your retirement years – to estimate what you are going need in retirement. Can you pare down your expenses to begin to live like you are retired, then start saving that money for your retirement?”

At the end of the day, the best financial decision you can make is to simply plan ahead. “What do you want your money to do for you?” asks Hennessey. “If you can identify that at a very high level, then a strategy can be created to meet that end, and then your dream is more of a reality – from just living well in retirement to leaving a legacy for your grandkids. Investing with a Thrivent Associate is a smart way to be a good steward of your own resources, allowing you to be both careful for the future and generous in the present. It’s a different company, and we’re glad to be a part of it.”

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