Build Your Financial Know-How With Carebridge Financial Planner Lou Leyes

Earlier this year, a new financial wellness workshop series, Build Your Financial Know-How, was introduced to faculty and staff. The workshops were provided through Carebridge, the University’s faculty and staff assistance program.

Three separate workshops were offered virtually and conducted by Lou Leyes, a financial planner with nearly 19 years of experience helping people reach their financial goals. He offered practical guidance for faculty and staff in the areas of managing personal finances, gaining control of debt and developing a savings strategy.

In this Q&A, Leyes discusses how to commit to and automate your savings, the importance of credit scores and where to turn for help to ensure you’re saving enough for retirement. If you missed the live Build Your Financial Know-How offerings, recorded webinars are available on the HR website.

1. What should a person look at to start saving money—or saving more money? What are the best ways to make saving money a habit?

Successfully starting or increasing your savings comes down to two basic things: commitment and automation.

Commitment is your personal promise to yourself that you will add more money to the savings component of your financial plan. It helps to have a goal in mind—and a means to celebrate milestones along the way. Commitment also comes from doing the work to build your savings plan. Understanding where your money goes is the first step to taking control of your personal finances.

Automation sets you up for success by putting money into savings without your direct action. Use your direct deposits to send money to a separate account—maybe even at a separate bank, if that helps you keep it there!

Once you have built your savings plan, review your progress monthly. See what adjustments are necessary, or what items may have been omitted from the plan. Adjust the plan and keep going!

If you have a partner or spouse, be sure to talk with them about these plans. Get their help with accountability (or enlist the help of a “budget buddy!”)

2. Why should a person be concerned about their credit score?

Your credit score impacts a number of things beyond just getting a new credit card and/or a lower mortgage rate (which are important in and of themselves). Right or wrong, insurance companies use credit scores as a measure of risk. The challenge with credit is that when you need it most, you may not be able to get it. Having a strong credit score makes that easier.

Rebuilding your credit score, if needed, starts with a spending plan. You must know how much you’ll need to dedicate to your outstanding debts to make them go away—permanently. The best first step is to make sure you’re paying at least the minimum due every month. Missed payments are the biggest contributor to a decreasing credit score.

3. How does someone begin to make a plan for retirement? How much should I be saving?

There are “rules of thumb” that may help you define your financial goals for retirement. For example, many calculators use the assumption that your retirement income “should” be about 80% of the income earned during your working years. However, I believe it is best to figure out your desired budget … how much do you want to spend? What will life be like for you? How will you spend your time? What costs will you no longer have? What will you add to your budget?

As far as how much to save for retirement, that depends on where you are now. The short answer is usually “more.” If you are just starting your career, consider contributing 10 to 15% of your income toward your retirement plan, not including any employer contribution. If you’ve been working a while but haven’t had the opportunity to begin saving, you may need to contribute more. Start wherever you can now, though. No more procrastinating!

Financial wellness resources are available to you, including individual financial counseling through TIAA and Carebridge that can help you answer these questions and take steps to develop a savings plan.

4. Where can one turn to for assistance with managing money and saving for the future?

As an employee of Syracuse University, you can find financial counseling resources posted on the University’s Financial Wellness webpage, including counseling services provided by TIAA and Carebridge.

Outside of the resources provided by the University, you can work with an independent financial advisor. There are many different types of advisors out there—from insurance-based agents to fiduciary financial planners. The Certified Financial Planner Board has a short list of 10 questions to consider asking an investment or retirement professional.