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Personal finance is the financial management which an individual or a family unit performs to budget, save, and spend monetary resources over time, taking into account various financial risks and future life events. When planning personal finances, the individual would consider the suitability to his or her needs of a range of banking products (checking, savings accounts, credit cards and consumer loans) or investment private equity, (stock market, bonds, mutual funds) and insurance (life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance) products or participation and monitoring of individual- or employer-sponsored retirement plans, social security benefits, and income tax management.
Before a specialty in personal finance was developed, various disciplines which are closely related to it, such as family economics, and consumer economics were taught in various colleges as part of home economics for over 100 years. The earliest known research in personal finance was done in 1920 by Hazel Kyrk. Her dissertation at University of Chicago laid the foundation of consumer economics and family economics. Margaret Reid, a professor of Home Economics at the same university, is recognized as one of the pioneers in the study of Consumer behavior and Household behavior.
In 1947, Herbert A. Simon, a nobel laureate, suggested that a decision maker did not always make the best financial decision because of limited educational resources and personal inclinations. In 2009, Dan Ariely suggested the 2008 financial crisis showed that human beings do not always make rational financial decisions, and the market is not necessarily self-regulating and corrective of any imbalances in the economy.
Therefore, personal finance education is needed to help an individual or a family make rational financial decisions throughout their life. Before 1990, mainstream economists and business faculty paid little attention to personal finance. However, several American universities such as Brigham Young University, Iowa State University, and San Francisco State University have started to offer financial educational programmes in both undergraduate and graduate programmes in the last 30 years. These institutions have published several works in journals such as “The Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning” and “Journal of Personal Finance”. Research into personal finance is based on several theories such as social exchange theory and Andragogy (adult learning theory). Professional bodies such as American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and American Council on Consumer Interests started to play an important role in the development of this field from the 1950s to 1970s. The establishment of the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE) in 1984 at Iowa State University and the Academy of Financial Services (AFS) in 1985 marked an important milestone in personal finance history. Attendances of the two societies mainly come from faculty and graduates from business and home economics colleges. AFCPE has since offered several certifications for professionals in this field such as Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) and Certified Housing Counselors (CHC). Meanwhile, AFS cooperates with Certified Financial Planner (CFP Board).
As the concerns about consumers’ financial capability have increased in recent years, a variety of education programmes has emerged, catering to a broad audience or to a specific group of people such as youth and women. The educational programmes are frequently known as “Financial literacy“. However, there was no standardised curriculum for personal finance education until post 2008 financial crisis. United States President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability was set up in 2008 in order to encourage financial literacy among American people. It also stressed the importance of developing a standard in the field of financial education.
Personal financial planning process
- Assessment: A person’s financial situation is assessed by compiling simplified versions of financial statements including balance sheets and income statements. A personal balance sheet lists the values of personal assets (e.g., car, house, clothes, stocks, bank account), along with personal liabilities (e.g., credit card debt, bank loan, mortgage). A personal income statement lists personal income and expenses.
- Goal setting: Having multiple goals is common, including a mix of short- and long-term goals. For example, a long-term goal would be to “retire at age 65 with a personal net worth of $1,000,000,” while a short-term goal would be to “save up for a new computer in the next month.” Setting financial goals helps to direct financial planning. Goal setting is done with an objective to meet specific financial requirements.
- Plan creation: The financial plan details how to accomplish the goals. It could include, for example, reducing unnecessary expenses, increasing the employment income, or investing in the stock market.
- Execution: Execution of a financial plan often requires discipline and perseverance. Many people obtain assistance from professionals such as accountants, financial planners, investment advisers, and lawyers.
- Monitoring and reassessment: As time passes, the financial plan is monitored for possible adjustments or reassessments.
Typical goals that most adults and young adults have are paying off credit card/student loan/housing/car loan debt, investing for retirement, investing for college costs for children, paying medical expenses.
Areas of focus
The six key areas of personal financial planning, as suggested by the Financial Planning Standards Board, are:
- Financial position: is concerned with understanding the personal resources available by examining net worth and household cash flow. Net worth is a person’s balance sheet, calculated by adding up all assets under that person’s control, minus all liabilities of the household, at one point in time. Household cash flow totals up all the expected sources of income within a year, minus all expected expenses within the same year. From this analysis, the financial planner can determine to what degree and in what time the personal goals can be accomplished.
- Adequate protection: or Insurance, the analysis of how to protect a household from unforeseen risks. These risks can be divided into liability, property, death, disability, health and long-term care. Some of these risks may be self-insurable while most will require the purchase of an insurance contract. Determining how much insurance to get, at the most cost effective terms requires knowledge of the market for personal insurance. Business owners, professionals, athletes and entertainers require specialized insurance professionals to adequately protect themselves. Since insurance also enjoys some tax benefits, utilizing insurance investment products may be a critical piece of the overall investment planning.
- Tax planning: typically, the income tax is the single largest expense in a household. Managing taxes is not a question whether or not taxes will be paid, but when and how much. The government gives many incentives in the form of tax deductions and credits, which can be used to reduce the lifetime tax burden. Most modern governments use a progressive tax. Typically, as one’s income grows, a higher marginal rate of tax must be paid. Understanding how to take advantage of the myriad tax breaks when planning one’s personal finances can make a significant impact.
- Investment and accumulation goals: planning how to accumulate enough money for large purchases and life events is what most people consider to be financial planning. Major reasons to accumulate assets include, purchasing a house or car, starting a business, paying for education expenses, and saving for retirement.
- Achieving these goals requires projecting what they will cost, and when one needs to withdraw funds. A major risk to the household in achieving their accumulation goal is the rate of price increases over time, or inflation. Using net present value calculators, the financial planner will suggest a combination of asset earmarking and regular savings to be invested in a variety of investments. In order to overcome the rate of inflation, the investment portfolio has to get a higher rate of return, which typically will subject the portfolio to a number of risks. Managing these portfolio risks is most often accomplished using asset allocation, which seeks to diversify investment risk and opportunity. This asset allocation will prescribe a percentage allocation to be invested in stocks, bonds, cash and alternative investments. The allocation should also take into consideration the personal risk profile of every investor, since risk attitudes vary from person to person.
- Retirement planning is the process of understanding how much it costs to live at retirement, and coming up with a plan to distribute assets to meet any income shortfall. Methods for retirement plan include taking advantage of government allowed structures to manage tax liability including: individual (IRA) structures, or employer sponsored retirement plans.
- Estate planning involves planning for the disposition of one’s assets after death. Typically, there is a tax due to the state or federal government when one dies. Avoiding these taxes means that more of one’s assets will be distributed to their heirs. One can leave their assets to family, friends or charitable groups.
Education and tools
According to a survey done by Harris Interactive, 99% of the adults agreed that personal finance should be taught in schools. Financial authorities and the American federal government had offered free educational materials online to the public. However, according to a Bank of America poll, 42% of adults were discouraged while 28% of adults thought that personal finance is a difficult subject because of vast amount of information available online. As of 2015, 17 out of 50 states in the United States requires high school students to study personal finance before graduation. The effectiveness of financial education on general audience is controversial. For example, a study done by Bell, Gorin and Hogarth (2009) stated that those who undergo financial education were more likely to use a formal spending plan. Financially educated high school students are more likely to have a savings account with regular savings, fewer overdrafts and more likely to pay off their credit card balances. However, another study was done by Cole and Shastry (Harvard Business School, 2009) found that there were no differences in saving behaviours of people in American states with financial literacy mandate enforced and the states without a literacy mandate.
Kiplinger publishes magazines on personal finance. Several notable personal finance software tools include Controle.Finance, CountAbout, Buxfer, Geezeo, GNUCash, Mint.com, Quicken, Wesabe., Moneydance and MoneyWiz.
One thing to consider with personal finance and net worth goals is depreciating assets. A depreciating asset is an asset that loses value over time or with use. A few examples would be the vehicle that a person owns, boats, and capitalized expenses. They add value to a person’s life but unlike assets they do not make money and should be a class of their own. In the business world, for tax and bookkeeping purposes, these are depreciated over time due to the fact that their useful life runs out. This is known as accumulated deprecation and the asset will eventually need to be replaced.
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Most people never realize there were way more competitors than just Wesabe: Geezeo, Buxfer, Yodlee (data-aggregation company used by Mint), Quicken Online, MS Money online and a few others I can’t remember.
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- Opdyke, J.D. (2010). The Wall Street Journal. Complete Personal Finance Guidebook. The Wall Street Journal Guidebooks. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-49887-8. 256 pages.
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