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We Have to Mention It

January 18, 2012 — Leave a comment

Weekly Update – January 16, 2012


We know you’re probably tired of hearing about Europe’s debt crisis, and frankly, we don’t blame you. At risk of sounding insensitive to the struggles of our European neighbors, we’re tired of it too. While there are benefits to globalization, there are also drawbacks as evidenced by the unprecedented level of negative influence Europe’s financial issues have had on us in recent years.


As we look at last week’s activity, we can see the affect Europe is having yet again. While all three indexes ended the week in positive territory, recent gains came at lower-than-normal trading volumes as wary investors dipped their toes in the water, but were afraid to dive in.[i] Stocks finished in the red Friday on expectations that nine Eurozone nations would be downgraded by S&P (and they were shortly after trading hours), including AAA-rated France and Austria. Italy was lowered two notches to BBB+, dangerously close to junk bond levels that could make it even more difficult for the government to raise money.[ii] Here’s the report card[iii]:


France – AAA to AA+

Austria – AAA to AA+

Slovenia – AA- to A+

Slovakia – A+ to A

Spain – AA- to A

Malta – A to A-

Italy – A to BBB+

Cyprus – BBB to BB+

Portugal – BBB- to BB


While investors have been expecting this downgrade since S&P issued a warning last month, the news is still a harsh reminder that Europe is not out of the woods. It is not yet clear how hard the downgrades will hit markets, but it is likely that we will continue to feel Europe’s influence until this situation is resolved. On the bright side, leaders from Germany, Italy, and France have been sounding upbeat about proposed solutions.[iv] We hope their optimism will promptly translate into concrete actions.


When any set of circumstances has the potential to affect your financial situation, we are committed to monitoring it closely and to keeping you informed. Please rest assured that the European debt crisis is no exception.


Monday –

U.S. Holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Tuesday –

Empire State Manufacturing Survey

Wednesday – Producer Price Index, Industrial Production, Treasury International Capital, Industrial Production, Housing Market Index

Thursday –Consumer Price Index, Housing Starts, Jobless Claims, Philadelphia Fed Survey

Friday – Existing Home Sales


Forsyth County News (Cumming, GA)

Personal Finance Fiscal Shape-Up
Winter time to re-evaluate money matters
Crystal Ledford
Published: January 12, 2012


As a follow up to the News Years Resolutions article from Crystal Ledford on January 1, 2012, Crystal has taken a closer look at Financial Planning in the new year. Read this Forsth News article that appeared in print on January 12, 2012.


Everyone knows the start of a new year is a time to think about health. According to local financial advisers, it’s also a time when many people do want to get themselves in better fiscal shape.


“Our advice would be the same regardless of the time of year,” said Todd Burkhalter, a managing partner with Catalyst Wealth Management in south Forsyth. “But this time of year is a natural break for people. It’s time for a fresh start.”


Burkhalter’s partner, David Pierce, said December and January are often some of the busiest times of the year for financial advisers.


“People have a little time off and they just got forms from their [human resources] department, so they start thinking about questions they might have or planning considerations,” Pierce said.


David Leathers, a financial adviser with LPL Financial in downtown Cumming, agreed.


“Typically, now is the time to reach out to clients and schedule time for an annual review,” Leathers said. “Typically, right after the start of a new year, you want to look at all the information from the previous year and see where you can make adjustments for the following year.”


All the financial advisers agreed that when starting to focus more on finances, people should get some advice.


Burkhalter and Pierce said financial advisers can help guide people toward better fiscal decisions.


“We can help them identify their wealth objectives and get them to better narrow things down to reach whatever they’re trying to accomplish,” Burkhalter said.


Added Pierce: “It’s like a lens or a filter. We can run many experiments on paper to find what the best scenarios are for their individual needs.”




While he had a good handle on his financial life, customer Jack Lyons said he found greater insight when he started using a financial adviser.


“These folks help break things down and find the gaps in your plan,” Lyons said. “They helped me find places where I could be saving more and planning better for my retirement.”


But that advice doesn’t always have to come from professionals. 


Burkhalter said sometimes a family member or friend can also help.


“A lot of times, it’s just getting another set of eyes on what you’re doing,” he said.


Pierce said one situation that often bothers him is older generations not sharing their wisdom with descendants.


“It’s important for different generations to speak to each other about money,” he said, noting that same goes for married couples.


“When you’re a married couple, you’re a team and you’re against things that take away your wealth together, so don’t point fingers,” he said. “Get on the same team.”


Pierce said often one partner will manage all the finances, but that’s a bad idea.


“It’s important for both to be aware of all the finances.”


When getting started, Leathers said the first step is learning to live on a budget.


“You have to learn how to create and live within a budget, and that can be the hardest part,” he said.


An important part of the budget should be setting aside funds for paying down debt.


Leathers said while some debt makes sense, high interest loans, such as credit cards, should be paid off as quickly as possible.


“Certain debts make sense, like mortgages,” Leathers said. “You can borrow a 30-year loan for 3.9 percent and that’s a manageable debt.”


But credit cards, which typically carry interest rates from 16 to 20 percent, don’t make sense, Leathers said.


While paying down high-interest debt should be a priority, savings shouldn’t be overlooked.


“It needs to be some combination of saving and paying off debt,” Burkhalter said. “If you get all you’re debt paid off, but have no savings and then have some emergency, you’re going to be right back in debt because you’re going to have to go to a credit card or some other loan.”


Burkhalter said a long-term goal is to be able to save at least 15 percent of one’s income.


“But the main thing is to just get started,” he said. “You’re probably not going to be able to go from saving nothing to saving 15 percent of your income, but maybe you can save 1 percent.”


Leathers added that it’s important to set realistic goals.


“If you have a handful of credit cards, make an effort to get one paid off and make it go away, things like that,” he said.


“You want to make goals that can be accomplished. Take baby steps.”


Copyright, 2012, Forsyth County News. All Rights Reserved.

I was recently quoted in a Forsyth News article about New Years Resolutions. I have included a copy of the article by Crystal Ledford below. Crystal sites several local experts from various fields about what they are seeing people set out to do in 2012.


Experts Say: Take smaller steps for realistic goals



From shedding holiday pounds to saving more money, New Year’s Resolutions remain popular.

While many may fall by the wayside soon after being declared, the holiday tradition of trying to better ourselves seems to persevere.

“It’s human nature to set goals for ourselves,” said Michele Melton, Forsyth County Extension Agent. “And this is a popular time of year for it.”

The lull following the hectic holiday period is a good time for reflection, said Todd Burkhalter, a financial adviser.


“You’ve made it through the holidays, and you’re not yet being pulled in a million directions like you will be later in the spring,” he said.

Some religious leaders believe Christmas can be a reminder of transformation, leading to resolutions.

“The entire Christian faith, as opposed to other religions, is all about transformation,” said David Coombs, pastor of North Forsyth United Methodist Church. “We accept Christ into our lives and we are completely transformed.


“When you take on a New Year’s resolution, you want to be changed in some way. The difference is when you become a Christian, your entire life is changed, not just one small part such as with resolutions.”

Some of the most common resolutions seem to be those that involve losing weight or in other ways improving overall health.

“After the New Year there’s always a huge rush of people thinking about losing weight and getting healthy,” said Paul Grimm, head personal trainer at Anytime Fitness on Freedom Parkway.

Most gyms see their highest numbers of new members for the year in January, due largely to people’s resolutions.


Aman Kakkar, a cardiologist at Northside Hospital-Forsyth, said while losing weight historically has been the primary health-centered resolution, this year he’s seeing more people who want to drop their cigarette habit.


“I just saw a patient who said he’s not picking up another cigarette starting Jan. 1,” Kakkar said. “This year, I’m definitely seeing more of a trend toward smoking cessation.” 

Melton, who offers several classes throughout the year to help people learn about nutrition, said the New Year holiday and the beginning of a new school year are typically the times when people think more about healthy eating.

“There’s a mental aspect of needing a starting line, and both of those times of year are times of new beginnings,” she said. 

But Melton said the Forsyth County Extension Office can provide help year round.


“If folks are interested in learning more about good nutrition, I’m happy to help with information anytime,” she said. “We have a lot of resources here.” 

Similarly, Alicia Glassford, a registered dietitian at Northside-Forsyth, spends much of her time helping diabetics learn about making good decisions.

“After the holidays, our business always goes up a lot,” she said.

Some of Glassford’s tips to clients include incorporating more movement in their daily lives, preparing more meals at home, dropping calorie-filled beverages, and keeping a food journal.

“Research shows that those who write down everything they eat lose about 7 percent more weight than those who don’t,” Glassford said.

Besides health, Burkhalter said many people think about improving their financial lives at this time of year.

“Not only are people making resolutions, but now is also a good time to take advantage of open enrollments for different financial programs,” he said.

Burkhalter said many people want to learn how to save more of their money.

“We always encourage people to set up programs that are automatic so they don’t have to think about it,” he said. “For example, using an employee’s retirement plan that automatically deducts money from their check, or an automatic deduction from their checking account to their savings account.”

It seems a big part of keeping New Year’s resolutions rests in being realistic when setting them.

“You’re probably not going to go from being someone who doesn’t save anything to saving half your income in one year,” Burkhalter said.


Added Melton: “It’s important to have goals that are measurable and attainable. The resolution should just be the starting line to kick things into gear, and you don’t want to set yourself up for failure.”

Kakkar, the physician, and Glassford, the dietitian, both recommend small steps when it comes to resolutions that involve health.

“Don’t aim too high,” Kakkar said. “We all want to be overachievers all the time, but our aims should be modest so we don’t give up.” 

For example, Glassford said losing just 5 to 10 percent of one’s body weight can create big health benefits.

“So if someone weighs 200 pounds, just losing 10 to 20 pounds can lowered their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels,” she said.

And achieving even small goals can be mentally satisfying, Kakkar said.

“Don’t go for the gold, just settle for the bronze.”


Original article in print 1/1/2012