John Hulburt teaches a personal finance class at UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and when it comes to money, his philosophy is straightforward. “People need to treat financial health just like physical health,” says Hulburt. “Don’t just think someone else is going to take care of it, you’ve got to plan your financial future.”
Having worked in the financial world for more than 30 years, Hulburt has a broad perspective. He admits that the current situation is pretty tumultuous. “Certainly the trading markets are very different from in the past,” he says. “It makes it difficult for individuals to protect themselves.”
One thing Hulburt recommends is to consider retaining a professional to help you navigate the wilderness of investments. Be sure, however, to stick with a fee-based financial planner, instead of one who works on commission. “Commissioned plannerswill be selling their products,” he says. “They get commissioned and that’s how they make their money.”
Hulburt offers a few tips for being proactive about your financial health on your own.
Plan for Inflation
With the government flooding the country with money to stimulate the economy, inflation and higher taxes are going to be a way of life for some years to come, according to Hulburt. One way to protect yourself is to buy Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities. These can be a “nice hedge,” says Hulburt, because they’re adjusted for inflation. You can buy them through mutual funds or from the U.S. Treasury’s Treasury Direct website.
Watch the News
It’s important to understand how actions in Congress can affect your finances. “It’s fairly likely,” says Hulburt, “that, particularly for high-income people, tax rates are going to be higher in coming years,” because the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire, in which case, it would be advantageous to secure that bonus this year instead of next year, for example. Another thing to consider—deductions. If you’re having a medical procedure that can wait, consider getting it next year, when the deduction may be more valuable.
Protect Your Identity
Hulburt recommends requesting a free credit report at least once a year. “The free credit report gives you a history of what’s going on in your account,” he says, “and you can make sure nothing fishy is going on.” Hulburt also notes that lately banks have been pushing debit cards, which have much less liability protection than credit cards. “Banks don’t monitor debit cards for bad charges,” he says. Also, you can overdraw very easily with a debit card because the money comes straight out of your account, which might result in overdraft fees.
Take a class
What about people who are just starting out and don’t have much money? Hulburt recommends taking a course in personal finance. “Find one at your community college,” he says. You can learn about what you should be doing to keep your finances in order. “They tend to be very beneficial in terms of today’s environment.”