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Sowing seeds for financial freedom: our experts helped financial fitness contest winners grow their assets.

Diligently tending to your finances can yield big rewards even in a abort period of time. That's a lesson that BLACK ENTERPRISE'S 2005 and 2006 Financial Fitness Contest winners quickly discovered. Even though a few of our contest winners may not have implemented every shred of advice offered by the financial planners, most have realized lasting benefits from the changes they've made. By planting the right seeds today, these winners are sure to reap financial rewards for years to come.

Here'a a look at what happened W three recent contest winners.

MARVIN AND RHONDA VINSON ARE further ahead in reaching their financial goals for a sunny retirement--and joining the millionaires club. "We're making better spending and investing decisions and it's paying off," says 39-year-old Marvin, "We've been blessed," adds 40-year-old Rhonda.

The Lilburn, Georgia, couple already had a solid financial foundation with substantial assets and minimal liabilities. In a little over a year, the Vinsons have seen their net worth grow from about $700,000 to $900,000. That growth has come without a change in Marvin's $200,000-a-year job as a solutions architect at Oracle or Rhonda's status as a stay-at-home mom. By reducing debt and investing on a regular basis, the couple has been able to increase their wealth.

The couple is still engaging in comprehensive estate planning by developing strategies to protect their assets and safeguard their children's inheritance. Another of the couple's biggest concerns: preparing for their children's college education. The Vinsons have made some headway in establishing college funds. Since their children--7-year-old twins Kyle and Kamyrn and 10-year-old Sydni--are still in grade school, time is on their side.

VERONICA STEWART HASN'T DEFERRED her dream of becoming financially self-sufficient through real estate. However, she has delayed buying new properties until now. By year-end she plans to purchase two single-family homes, one as her primary residence and the other as a rental property.

She still calls the four-unit apartment building she owns in Calumet City, just outside of Chicago, home. She rents three of the apartments, adding to her monthly supplemental income. However, she suffered a financial setback last year when one of the units sat empty for six months, significantly cutting into her cash flow.

The past year has been a learning experience for the 32-year-old customer account specialist with telephone carrier SBC Communications Inc. Though she has taken small steps, she has overcome some huge hurdles. "What has improved most is my relationship with money, how I view it," she says.

Bringing some order to her life has become a top priority. Says Stewart, "the way the financial planner broke it down is that when your finances are out of order, things in your life are out of order." Stewart says CFP Gwendolyn Kirkland helped her gain a more holistic approach to life and money management that encompassed mind, body, and spirit. "I didn't get it at first. But now I do."

August 2005 Winner

The Vinsons

THE ADVICE: Pay off remaining debt; invest in a bond fund, which can be liquidated to pay off the mortgage.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: The Vinsons are paying off the car loan but not accelerating payments. They didn't open a bond fund but invested in several mutual funds, including large-cap, technology, international, and mid-cap funds.

THE ADVICE: Open three college savings accounts.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: The Vinsons opened 529 plans for all three children, placing the $2,000 contest winnings into these college funds. They have invested a total of $8,000 in the Georgia College Savings Plan, making monthly contributions of $500 for the oldest child and $250 for each twin.

THE ADVICE: Consider setting up a bypass trust. The Vinsons need to give some thought as to how to distribute their estate. Their children could see their inheritance shrink by 30% or more because of estate taxes, which could be reduced through a bypass trust. In addition, any capital appreciation on their assets inside the trust will pass on without estate taxes.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: While the Vinsons have wills, living wills, a durable power of attorney for healthcare, and a durable power of attorney for property, the bypass trust is still on their to-do list.

THE ADVICE: Reallocate some funds.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Previously the Vinsons had about $50,000 in individual securities, primarily Marvin's company stock. At THE ADVICE: of the planner, the couple has invested much of what was sitting in cash-about $145,000-in 10 stocks, including Bank of America, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, and Lowe's. While the couple still has about $60,000 in cash assets, they plan to invest about $20,000 or that money in the next couple of months.

THE ADVICE: Reposition assets in 401(k).

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Marvin has been rebalancing his portfolio-and his strategy is working. His 401(k) balance has ballooned from $260,000 to $350,000. He adjusted his overall portfolio allocation to reduce his international exposure from 21% to 15%, and he reconstructed his portfolio to an asset allocation that is 75% equities, 18% fixed income, and 7% cash.

THE ADVICE: Track monthly expenses.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Stewart follows a budget. By keeping up with her expenses, she was able to make some spending adjustments. "Before I didn't know where extra money was going," she says.

THE ADVICE: Use a structured approach to reduce debt.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Stewart has been systematically eliminating revolving debts. She paid off the smallest balances, including the Dell account. She still has $32,000 in student loans, but payments have been deferred since she is taking classes. She even got to travel to China to take a business course on her company's tab.

THE ADVICE: Apply for a lower interest rate on credit cards.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Previously Stewart had credit cards with interest rates around 19% and 21%. "Because of my good payment history, I got those reduced to around 9% and 12%," she says. "All it took was a phone call."

THE ADVICE: Exercise discipline.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Stewart ended up using the $2,000 contest winnings for emergency expenses, including putting money back into her property and getting a new motor for her car. However, she has been putting $100 each month into a savings account, which has $1,800 compared to $200 a year ago.

THE ADVICE: Enroll in her company's short-term and long-term disability program.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Stewart's weight and other health issues have been roadblocks in her ability to obtain disability insurance. But she is striving to change that situation through an exercise and diet regimen, including working with a personal trainer. She is also looking into other insurance options.

THE ADVICE: Draft and execute a will, revocable living trust, and durable power of attorney for healthcare.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Stewart hasn't made progress in this area but plans to do so early next year.

THE ADVICE: Postpone investing in any new areas.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Stewart still gets I Bonds on a regular basis. She has continued to invest in and increase contributions to her 401(k) plan, now valued around $20,000 versus a little more than $7,000.

THE ADVICE: Find a part-time job in real estate.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Stewart has gained a lot of firsthand knowledge and experience about being a landlord but found that she didn't have the time to engage in real estate. She has opted instead to pursue art consulting, an endeavor in which she has prior experience.

January 2006 Winner

Tyrone Springs

A YOUNG REAL ESTATE MOGUL IN THE making, Tyrone Springs is making the most of his rental properties. He still owns seven: three in Tulsa and four in Philadelphia. Financial adviser Kathy Williams recommended he sell at least one of the Philadelphia properties to increase his emergency cache. But Springs is determined not to unload any of his properties for another five years. Since winning the contest, he has worked with an accountant to improve his recordkeeping and gain more tax benefits. He has mapped out a financial plan for when he turns 30.

The 24-year-old professional has experienced a major life change since January. He recently relocated from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Baltimore for a better job opportunity. Previously, he worked as a document specialist with Bank of America, earning $34,000 a year with an additional $17,340 annually in rental income. He now works for a major insurance carrier, making a better salary and bringing in more than $19,000 in real estate income.

Even though he has received a boost in income, Springs must contend with an increase in his monthly expenses, including car insurance, gas, heat, and electricity. He also no longer owns his primary residence, paying about $1,000 a month in rent. "I went from having a four-bedroom house to living in a two-bedroom apartment. My standard of living has definitely changed, but I think for the better," he says.

THE ADVICE: Take action. Springs either has to raise rents or decrease operating expenses. His management fees are costly. He should consider working with management companies that offer lowers rates. Raising rents 2% to 2.5% per year would help increase net operating income and cash flow.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: Springs is no longer dealing with five different mortgage companies and property management firms. He has narrowed them down to two so that now he is working with one person per state. He also renegotiated property management fees and raised the rents in a couple of units by more than 2.5%.

THE ADVICE Explore interest-only mortgages.

THE FOLLOW-THROUGH: "I spoke to mortgage brokers about getting interest-only loans for the seven properties. But it would have been more costly to refinance," Springs says. "1 decided it made more sense to pay down more on the principal by making either biweekly or bimonthly mortgage payments." Springs used the $2,000 winnings toward the loan he borrowed from his 401(k) plan. He also took out a $50,000 home equity line of credit, per Williams' advice, to pay off his credit cards, car note, and a personal loan. Springs is still paying off student loans, roughly $80,000 in total. He refinanced the loans, consolidating to get a better rate of 5.25%.

THE ADVICE Hold off buying more property. Before he purchases another piece of property, he should save four to six months worth of mortgage payments ($14,000 to $16,000) as an emergency cushion

THE FOLLOW THROUGH: With the salary increase, he was able to save more money. Springs anticipates buying rental property in Baltimore in the future. However, since he believes home prices are currently overvalued, he's in no rush.

THE ADVICE: Adopt new strategies. Since cash flow is an issue, Springs should purchase $500,000 in term life insurance to replace the $150,000 fixed universal life insurance policy. At his age, he can also temporarily cut back on contributing to his 401(k).

THE FOLLOW THROUGH: Springs became a convert. "Getting term insurance was cheap," he says. He was originally contributing 25% of his salary to his 401(k) at work but has since decreased that to 10% given Baltimore's high cost of living.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:BLACK WEALTH INITIATIVE
Author:Nash, Sheryl Nance
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Words:1851
Previous Article:No fast cash class.
Next Article:Wake up! To sleepers stocks: they may not be grabbing headlines, but these well-kept secrets could lead to lively returns in 2007 and beyond.


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