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How to create better financial habits — no matter what’s going on in the world

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This has been a year of unprecedented changes. Postponed vacations, remote work, and virtual happy hours are now the new norm. These unique times are prompting people to rethink and reinvent their lives, their spending and savings habits being no exception.

What if I’m in my 40s and don’t have a retirement fund?

Recent savings trends revealed in our new CIT survey are worth noting. Over half of consumers are saving more, in particular Generation Z and millennials, who reported an uptick in saving between the months of March and June.

Overall, three-quarters of consumers say they are somewhat likely or very likely to stash away more cash in the future than they usually do each month.

These results are encouraging. But no matter what you’re doing, there’s always room to improve. Consider these useful tips to refocus your savings strategy and reinforce your objectives.

Re-evaluate your goals. Think about how your lifestyle has changed since you’ve been social distancing and spending more time at home and focus on what you’d like to accomplish. Do you want to invest in a new remote workspace? Have a home improvement project to save for? Or do your kids need new computers for remote learning? Set a goal that aligns with your needs, say, $100 a month for a new savings fund, and commit. You can always take on an additional goal or increase the dollar amount once you’ve mastered the basics.

Adopt new healthy habits. Our survey reveals that 4 in 10 of consumers are making fewer impulse purchases. That’s certainly a great start. To be even more deliberate about managing expenses, layer in a handful of small but effective changes. Set spending limits on your debit or credit cards, meal prep at least one day a week, or cancel a subscription service that you don’t use frequently. Soon enough these choices will become innate habits that require little thought and no sacrifice.

Automate your savings. To save more effectively, automate your savings. Establishing a repeatable process that doesn’t require a large time commitment will make the process more manageable. The good news is 49% of consumers are somewhat or very likely to automate contributions to a savings account in the future according to our survey. Join them! Make your $100 a month goal effortless by setting up an automatic transfer. You likely won’t miss it or notice it’s gone.

Choose an account that simplifies saving. Mobile and online banking has surged in the last few months and banks are investing in account features that maximize your convenience. Seamless money transfer tools, 24-7 account access, and robust security measures can make the task of setting aside money more straightforward. Choose an account that is digitally convenient and allows you to save more effectively.

Each of us can create healthier and more rewarding financial habits that help us reach important goals. Whether you’re looking to invest in your home, save for an upcoming purchase or simply prepare more for the future, it’s important to be realistic about how to achieve your financial goals through tangible, measurable milestones.

Ravi Kumar is head of CIT’s direct bank.



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My parents made my sister executor of their $4 million estate, and joint owner of their bank accounts. Should I be worried?

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Dear Quentin,

I just found out that my parents (who are in their mid 80s) have named my sister as their successor trustee, and executor of their estate and wills. They have also put her name on all their financial accounts “in case something happens to us.”

I have no reason to suspect my sister of any nefarious motives, but having her name as joint owner on their accounts seems potentially problematic to me in case of their passing. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

Their estate is probably worth about $4 million. We have five other siblings who are currently unaware of this arrangement. Can you provide any resources or articles I could show my parents regarding better ways to accomplish their goal of having someone in charge of their finances?

Concerned Son

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

Dear Son,

People often don’t do anything nefarious, until they have the opportunity to do so and/or run into financial difficulty of their own. That may not be the case with your sister, of course, but your parents should absolutely know the meaning of making one of their children a co-owner on their bank accounts, if their intention is to merely have your sister assist with bills.

Is she a co-owner of this account, or is she a co-signer? If it’s the former, your sister is a joint owner and can spend the money as she wishes. She would likely be liable for debts on that account after your parents’ death. If it’s the latter, your sister has the right to sign checks on your parents’ behalf. To complicate matters, not all banks have the same definitions for “co-owner” and “co-signer.”

Many people don’t understand the difference between being a co-signer and a co-owner. There are many cases of children listed as co-owners (rather than authorized signers) on those accounts who have emptied their parents’ bank account before and after they died. Sometimes, they did not keep enough (or any) receipts, and have been wrongly accused of emptying a parent’s account.


Many people don’t understand the difference between being a co-signer and a co-owner.

In the letters I have received on this issue,the damage was often already done, typically caused by a combination of the three “Gs” — grief, gripes and greed — when long-simmering sibling rivalries boil over. People do things that they may not otherwise do if their parents were there to witness it. You are correct to ensure your parents’ action is in accordance with their wishes.

There are other ”what ifs”: What if your sister dies first? The account would likely become part of her estate too, with a share to be distributed to her children, which could then involve paying a state inheritance tax. Your parents’ accounts could also be “paid on death” or “transferred on death,” avoiding the public and often time-consuming probate process. Read more here.

The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

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Video: SEC's Hester Peirce on why the U.S. is behind the curve on crypto

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S.E.C. Commissioner Hester Peirce on the outlook for crypto regulation, and whether this will finally be the year we see a Bitcoin ETF.





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My husband doesn’t get along with my son. I brought most of the wealth into our marriage. How do I split my estate?

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Dear Quentin,

How do couples typically handle their estates in a second marriage? My husband and I have been married for seven years, and it is the second marriage for both of us. I have one adult child from my previous marriage; he has no children.

I brought the majority of our wealth to our marriage, including almost $1 million in my 401(k) and a nice home that is almost paid off; otherwise, we have no debt. My husband and I bought a second home together. We work hard to fund our new 401(k)s, and own a successful business together.

I am turning 65 this year, so estate planning is long overdue. My husband is five years younger than me, and we are both in very good health. We have two issues facing us: I see our retirement as living very comfortably on the monthly income generated by our 401(k)s, pension, Social Security, etc., and leaving whatever may be left to my son.


‘The other issue is that my husband no longer gets along with my dear son at all, and feels no obligation to get along with him.’

I am not interested in scrimping, but I want to be able to have enough money to last us until age 90 (or beyond) by not touching the principal. My husband is more interested in dipping deep into our savings, and living it up in retirement while we are young enough to enjoy it.

The other issue is that my husband no longer gets along with my dear son at all, and feels no obligation to get along with him, to the point that neither one wants anything to do with the other. As far as he is concerned, my son doesn’t meet his expectations, and so deserves nothing from me and certainly nothing from him.

I want my estate planning to be fair to both my new husband and my son. How do people typically handle this type of quandary? I think that I need to create some type of trust to pass on my share of our estate to my son. My pre-marriage assets involved my son as I pursued my graduate degree through night school and worked long hours throughout his childhood.

Second Wife

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

Dear Second Wife,

Don’t allow your husband’s feelings toward your son to influence your estate planning.

Your relationships with your husband and your son and your own plans for retirement are all fair game when making decisions about your estate, but your husband and son’s fractured relationship is their business, not yours. You worked hard for this money, and your son is your legal heir. Any effort by your husband to spend all of your savings and fritter away any inheritance that you intended to leave to your son should be resisted at all costs.

You have worked too hard your entire life to compromise your plans for a comfortable retirement where you have money set aside for long-term medical care insurance, unforeseen emergencies and/or your son. If you jointly own your home, you can leave your half to your son in your will, and specify it can only be sold after your husband passes away.

If you own the home, you can give your husband a life estate. Your son would pay capital-gains tax on the value of your home when he sells it, and not when you bought it. You could also make your son the beneficiary on your life-insurance policy, and/or gift him a certain amount of money per year to see how he manages and spends that money.

Figure out what is fair to yourself first before moving on to what is fair to your husband and your son. It’s OK to put your needs first. I caution against your dipping into savings at a rate that is beyond your own risk tolerance.

Ultimately, you are entitled to leave all other separate property to your son when you die — and, along with a financial adviser, set up a trust with that in mind for you, your husband and your son. Not necessarily in that order.

The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

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By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.



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