Michelle's Blog

A resource for the thoughts and writings of Michelle Brennan Hall

Michelle Brennan Hall is a veteran wealth advisor with more than 25 years of experience advising clients to anticipate risk while accumulating financial capital for all stages of life. Beginning her career in retirement planning in Dallas, she is now responsible for guiding the financial future of hundreds of families. She is credited with creating the Financial Life Map Strategy™ to address varying financial objectives in a seamless, comprehensive plan.

Experienced in retirement and legacy planning, Michelle’s strategies are designed to connect family objectives to a plan that is intended for multiple generations. With a mission to inspire investor confidence, she and her dedicated team of professionals help clients map out the road ahead to financial well-being.

Michelle has a BBA in Finance from the University of North Texas and holds securities registrations 6, 7, 24, 53, 63, 65 and the Life & Health insurance registration through FSC Securities Corporation. Michelle also earned a Certified Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP) degree that allows her to apply her financial knowledge to assist high net worth investors with legacy and philanthropic planning efforts.

Giving to others through local community involvement is another of Michelle’s passions. Serving alongside her sons at local charities and supporting many national causes with her husband is an annual family commitment. She is also involved in multiple professional organizations including the Financial Planning Association, Financial Services Institute and the Dallas chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).

As a noted financial advisor in Dallas, Michelle frequently shares her expertise in the media. She has contributed to local ABC affiliate WFAA-TV, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, New York Newsday, The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Business Journal, Huffingtonpost.com, Next Avenue and Forbes.com.

Don't Retire

I am often asked, “When should I retire?” Without fail my answer is the same, “Not for a long time.” Retirement has drastically changed over the 26 years I’ve been a wealth advisor. As longevity trends and industry norms change, so too must retirees’ expectations of the golden years. While the jury is still out on whether early retirement can be correlated to a short life, I recommend a long working life for a variety of reasons. Not only can working longer be good for your money, it can also be good for your health, long-term outlook and family relationships. Here are my top three recommendations for retirees: 1)    Wait as long as you can to retire. Remember it is time IN the market that is a cornerstone of accumulating wealth and higher pension and social security payments. 2)    When planning for retirement income, consider preparing for 100% of your working income....
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Smart Women Avoid These Financial Blunders

Today’s female is in charge of, well, EVERYTHING. Earning a living, navigating corporate promotions, raising a family, being charitable, staying healthy and financially fit are all a priority. Below is a list of mistakes that if you can avoid, should put you on a course of owning and improving your net worth. Top 10 financial mistakes: 10: No investments in your name. 9: Allowing your husband to make all financial decisions. 8: Blindly signing your tax return without knowing your taxes. 7: Not knowing how much it costs for you to live. 6: Waiting for a raise instead of asking for one. 5: You have money at the bank but no retirement funds. 4: Not investing until you get married, your kids to go to school or you get a promotion. 3: You don’t believe in your ability to make financial decisions. 2: You selected your job because it’s your passion; not for salary, benefits or what...
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Be the Boss: Avoid these Executive Retirement Hazards

Running a company and being an excellent operator does not always translate to being smart about personal wealth. Here are the most costly retirement hazards of executives and business owners and smart ways to combat them. Under-funding retirement is most dangerous to your long-term goals. Executives are usually capped at lower contribution amounts for retirement plans due to “highly compensated” IRS rules. Business owners tend to focus on building the business and neglect investing personally. Smart Idea: Commit to investing personally 20% of your gross income annually for retirement. In a combination of retirement plans at work and non-retirement investments personally; committing to build wealth outside of business strengthens your financial stability. Over concentration in company stock or business interest is another risk to building retirement wealth. I see this often when executives have stock option plans, stock purchase plans and/or employer matching in company stock. The question is how...
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Michelle's Money Manifesto for Women

Today's female has a bright future and given life expectancy projections, it is a future that females must begin financially preparing for earlier and earlier in life. As a gender, women still lack traction in wealth accumulation, financial independence and money confidence. Read my Money Manifesto for Women and see how many boxes you can check and which one will be your new idea to advance your financial independence. Michelle's Money Manifesto for Women: Stop waiting. There is no better time than now. Waiting to be married, for kids to go to school, for a promotion, for things to settle down, for the divorce to be final before you start investing just puts off investing. It also puts off your chances of becoming financially independent. If you wait until tomorrow, today will just be another day gone by without a plan for your money. Start young. Time IN the market...
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Don’t Be A Lemming: When the Street gets it wrong

Looking back is easy to do. It’s looking ahead that is difficult. Yogi Berra said it best, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  This year capital markets started with a jolt of news to digest in January, which sent the stock market into a tailspin and traders predicting Armageddon. Analysts brought down earnings expectations for the 1st quarter as talks of recession loomed.  Interestingly, the people closest to news and markets (traders and analysts) missed the elephant in the room….strong economic fundamentals. In their unfounded panic, they missed critical data points like jobs growth, wage growth, strength in housing and auto sales, corporate buybacks increasing and job openings on the rise.  With so much positive data and forward looking statistics for 2016, why did traders get the jitters in January and sell? Plain and simple, they just got it wrong and the herd effect took over.  Looking forward,...
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The Chapters of Retirement

The five phases of life after 50 & the considerations that accompany them. The journey to and through retirement occurs gradually, like successive chapters in a book. Each chapter has its own things to consider.  Chapter 1 (the fifties). At this stage of life, retirement becomes less like a far-off dream and more like a forthcoming reality. You begin to think about when you can retire, and about taking the right steps to retire comfortably.    By one measure, men have their peak earning years in their mid-fifties. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows the median male worker earning 127% of his initial salary at that time. The peak earning years for women are harder to statistically gauge, as some women leave the paid workforce for years-long intervals. In inflation-adjusted terms, earnings actually peak earlier in life. PayScale estimates that on average, pay growth for women flattens...
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How Women Can Narrow the Retirement Saving Gender Gap

Steps toward saving more & revitalizing your retirement strategy.   When it comes to retirement saving, many women lag behind many men. Historically, that has been the case. The 2015 edition of Financial Finesse’s annual survey, The Gender Gap in Financial Literacy, offers more evidence of the problem – along with a few encouraging signs that women may be catching up. (Financial Finesse is a financial education provider for more than 600 large U.S. companies sponsoring retirement plans.)1    Deep in the report, some disturbing statistics emerge. They concern the pace of retirement saving in mid-career. Using data from Vanguard and the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Financial Finesse found that the median IRA and workplace retirement plan savings balance for a 45-year-old woman was $43,446. For a 45-year-old man, it was $63,875.1   Obviously, you cannot retire on that. So Financial Finesse then gauged the additional amount of savings that...
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2016 Retirement Plan Contribution Limits

Tame yearly inflation means very little change.   Over the past 12 months, consumer prices have increased very little. The latest Consumer Price Index (September) shows 0.0% yearly inflation and only 1.9% core yearly inflation. That means no cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security, and very few IRS adjustments to retirement plan contribution limits.1    Roth IRA & traditional IRA contribution limits stay the same for 2016. Those 49 and younger in 2016 can contribute up to $5,500 to their IRAs, while those 50 and older will be able to contribute $6,500.2  401(k), 403(b), 457 & TSP annual contribution limits are also unchanged. Savers will be able to defer up to $18,000 into these plans in 2016 with an additional catch-up contribution of up to $6,000 permitted for those 50 or older.3      SIMPLE IRAs? No COLA for those accounts either. The base contribution limit for a SIMPLE IRA stays at...
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Reining in Your Debt

Americans are spending freely again. That has a downside. As the Great Recession faded, American household debt gradually decreased. In fact, it declined by $1 trillion between mid-2008 and mid-2014, according to the Federal Reserve.1  Now household debt is increasing once more. The Fed found it climbing by $78 billion (0.7%) during Q3 2014.1  On the macroeconomic level, that can be interpreted as a positive: it hints at greater consumer spending, easier credit, and more lending taking place to accommodate consumer borrowers. On a microeconomic level, it is more troublesome. It may mean a change in perception, with debt not seeming as onerous as it once did.  If households really are looking at debt through rosier-colored glasses, they might do well to remember an inescapable fact. When they use a credit card or take out a consumer loan, they are borrowing money they do not have for things they do...
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When a Minor is a Beneficiary

Some factors for parents & grandparents to consider. Naming a minor as a beneficiary brings up a major concern. If parents or grandparents make a child a primary or contingent beneficiary of an insurance policy, IRA or investment account, they should be aware that most policies and investments will not directly transfer to a minor. They need to be received by a court-approved property guardian, a trustee of a children’s trust, or a revocable living trust beforehand.1  State laws prevent children from receiving large lump sums. They commonly prohibit minors from owning real property worth more than $2,500-5,000 (the limit varies per state) or receiving cash inheritances greater than that. It is incredibly rare for insurers to distribute life insurance proceeds to minors.1,3  As for POD checking and savings accounts and CDs, banks will usually allow the child or the child's parent(s) to receive sums less than the aforementioned limits....
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Why Life Insurance Matters

Besides the death benefit, it may also help you financially during your life.  As a recent Bankrate.com article noted, 43% of Americans have no life insurance. Some view it as optional; some have simply procrastinated when it comes to buying a policy. Others believe that they can’t afford it.1   In reality, life insurance is cheap today. If you just want term life coverage – essentially life insurance that you “rent” for X number of years – you may find it quite affordable wherever you live. A little comparison shopping online reveals that a 40-year-old non-smoking woman in good health in Milwaukee would pay premiums of just $385-400 a year for a 20-year level term policy with a $500,000 death benefit. (She would have more than a dozen providers to choose from.)2   If you choose permanent life insurance rather than term life, new possibilities emerge. In addition to a benefit for...
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Determining Your Risk Tolerance

Perhaps the most important factor in formulating your investment plan is your risk tolerance; that is, the amount of risk you’re willing to assume in order to achieve your most important objectives. More precisely, your risk tolerance is based on the your financial and emotional ability to withstand negative returns on your investment portfolio.  Before embarking on any investment strategy it is important to know your risk tolerance to ensure that you select the right kind of investments and you are able to set clear objectives. More importantly, you can feel more confident about your investment portfolio when your investments are aligned with the proper risk-reward continuum.  So, how do you go about determining your risk tolerance? Look at Your Time Horizon The most important determinant is time; that is, how much time you have before you will need to access the money being invested. Younger people, those with more...
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Dealing With Sudden Retirement

How ready are you? What if you are laid off or forced into retirement before 65, or even before 60? If that happens to you, what do you do in response now that the next phase of your life is starting sooner than you planned?   As a first step, gauge where you stand financially. It could be that the full-time job you just left will be your last. It could be that you have been thinking seriously about retirement. Depending on your outlook, you may see your glass as half-empty or half-full – but no matter your outlook, you need to assess your financial position.  With no income from work, your household will be more reliant on your spouse’s income or savings (assuming you are married at the time). So how big is your emergency fund? Is your cash position strong enough so that you can lean on it for...
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Why DIY Investment Management Is Such a Risk

Paying attention to the wrong things becomes all too easy. If you ever have the inkling to manage your investments on your own, that inkling is worth reconsidering. Do-it-yourself investment management may be a bad idea for the retail investor for myriad reasons. Getting caught up in the moment. When you are watching your investments day to day, you can lose a sense of historical perspective – 2011 begins to seem like ancient history, let alone 2008. This is especially true in longstanding bull markets, in which investors are sometimes lulled into assuming that the big indexes will move in only one direction. Historically speaking, things have been so abnormal for so long that many investors – especially younger investors – cannot personally recall a time when things were different. If you are under 30, it is very possible you have invested without ever seeing the Federal Reserve raise interest...
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Teaching Your Heirs to Value Your Wealth

Values can help determine goals & a clear purpose. Some millionaires are reluctant to talk to their kids about family wealth. Perhaps they are afraid what their heirs may do with it.  In a 2015 CNBC Millionaire Survey, 44% of families having at least $1 million in investable assets said that they had not yet told their children about their future inheritance. Another 27% said they had refrained from mentioning it until their children were 30 or older.1   It can be awkward to talk about such matters, but these parents likely postponed discussing this topic for another reason: they wanted their kids to grow up with a strong work ethic instead of a “wealth ethic.”    If a child comes from money and grows up knowing he or she can expect a sizable inheritance, that child may look at family wealth like water from a free-flowing spigot with no drought in...
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Is America Prepared to Retire?

Two-thirds of us have no financial plan. Only 48% of Americans say they think they are saving enough. And 30% feel that they are not even slightly confident that they are saving enough for retirement. That finding comes from the 2015 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. (The survey collected data from 2,017 U.S. adults.)1 Only 40% of us keep a regular budget. If you are one of those two out of five Americans, you’re on the right track. While this percentage is on par with findings going back to 2007, the study also finds that only 29% of Americans are saving any part of their annual income towards retirement.1 Relatively few seek the help of a financial professional. When asked “Considering what I already know about personal finance, I could still benefit from some advice and answers to everyday financial questions from a...
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Engaging Your Spouse in Money Matters

  How would you feel if you knew that your spouse was not comfortable making all the financial decisions? Or would you do things differently if you knew your spouse wanted to learn more about money and participate in financial planning? However it came to be for one spouse to be the financial decision-maker in your household, that spouse may be stressed and unsure of their role and most times would value a joint effort when it comes to money.   Most of my clients who are the financial decision-maker confess three things to me: ·  They’re not all that savvy when it comes to money ·  They wish their spouse were more engaged ·  It is important to them that my team and I understand that we will have to take care of their spouse when they are gone. No matter who has the bigger paycheck, both spouses’ perspectives should...
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Saving Early & Letting Time Work for You

The earlier you start pursuing financial goals, the better your outcome may be. As a young investor, you have a powerful ally on your side: time. When you start saving and investing for retirement in your twenties or thirties, you can put it to work for you.     The effect of compounding is huge. Most people underestimate it, so it is worth illustrating. We will use reasonable annual return rates to do so – we will assume an investor can earn an average of 6-7% a year on his or her portfolio.     What if you invest $500 a month at age 25 & realize a 6% annual return? Under those hypothetical conditions, you would become a millionaire at age 65. To be precise, you would need to invest $499.64 per month starting at age 25 and keep it up for 40 years.1 At age 25, saving and investing $500 each...
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Why It Might Be Time for the Fed to Raise Rates

In doing so, the central bank would cast a vote of confidence in the economy. Will the Federal Reserve make a move in December? As our central bank has avoided tightening U.S. monetary policy for nine years, an end-of-year interest rate hike might seem more possible than probable. Call it a strong possibility, if nothing else – after the November 18 release of the October Fed policy meeting minutes, trading in Fed funds futures indicated that investors saw a 68% chance of a December rate hike. In late October, they saw only a 38% chance of that happening.1     The October Fed meeting minutes sent a strong signal. They noted that “most” Federal Open Market Committee members thought that conditions for a rate increase “could well be met by the time of the next meeting,” with another passage stating that “it may well become appropriate to initiate the normalization process” at...
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5 Money Moves for Boomer Couples

As a financial adviser for more than two decades, I have found that many boomer couples have not prepared well for something they’re likely to experience: The transfer of assets from the husband to the wife when the husband dies.  According to U. S. life expectancy rates, women live, on average, until age 81 while men live, on average, until age 76.  The Challenge That Many Widows Face The problem is, for many of these couples, throughout the marriage, the husband has been responsible for major financial planning decisions while the wife has managed the household and the checkbook. As a result, many widows find themselves needing to handle financial assets for their livelihood when they have little experience doing so.  Not being engaged in money matters can expose wives to risks such as having less monthly income than they expect; having more debt than they can handle or, worst...
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The Keys to Building Wealth

For many Americans, building true wealth might seem elusive, even illusory considering that many people, who very recently were sitting on six and seven figure 401k plans and home equity values, now feel unprepared for retirement. The lessons learned from the financial crisis is that wealth can be fleeting. However, wealth creation always has been, and still is a process grounded in sound principles and practices that, when applied with discipline and patience, is possible for most people who can understand and embrace the keys to building wealth. Clearly Define Your Wealth Ambition If you give a thousand dollars to a person who has no clear purpose in life, no ambition in how to live a good life today or in the future, what do you suppose he will do with that money? You are correct if you said he is most likely to spend it. For the majority of...
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Fall Financial Reminders

Here are some important things to note as the year comes to a close. As every calendar year ends, the window slowly closes on some notable financial deadlines and opportunities. Here are several to keep in mind before 2016 arrives.    Don’t forget that IRA RMD. If you are older than age 70½ and own one or more traditional IRAs, you have to take your annual IRA required minimum distribution (RMD) by December 31. If you are being asked to take your very first RMD, you actually have until April 1, 2016 to take it – but your 2016 income taxes may be substantially greater as a result. (Note: original owners of Roth IRAs never have to take RMDs from those accounts.)1   Did you recently inherit an IRA? If you have and you weren’t married to the person who started that IRA, you must take the first RMD from that IRA...
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