The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs in 2020, and as a result, many found that their worst financial fears became their reality.
Even though some Americans never lost their jobs and some have found new jobs, many of them have been preoccupied by fears because they are worrying about being able to keep their jobs during America’s worst economic depression since the Great Depression.
For many, pulling money from their savings accounts is the only solution for survival, while others have found themselves wishing that they had saved more money for emergency purposes or they don’t know where to begin to start cutting their expenses.
With many Long Islanders grappling with these financial fears, worries and concerns, Herald Inside LI held an informational free webinar at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 28 on the topic of cutting expenses.
The webinar, which was sponsored by Edward Jones, Emigrant Mortgage, EmPower Solar, Maidenbaum Property Tax Reduction Group, and Geico, featured a panel of guest speakers, who discussed their expertise on what they called simplistic ways for Long islanders to save money.
A variety of topics were discussed, including paying off credit card debt, switching to solar panels, refinancing loans, and grieving property taxes.
“Last year, it was eye opening to see how many people lost their jobs and many people learned the hard way that having emergency funds set aside is so important,” said Marie Taylor, a twenty-year financial advisor at Edward Jones. “People need to know that you’re never too young to start saving because people can go into foreclosure if they can’t make payments.”
As someone who helps people manage their finances on a daily basis, Taylor said that her usual approach when helping a new client is starting a budget worksheet for the purpose of aiding them in making decisions about their savings, investment and income. The budget worksheet, she said, follows a four step questioning procedure. The four questions presented on the worksheet are; “Where am I today?,” “Where do I need to go?” “Can I get there?,” and “what do I need to get to that goal?”
“I tell my clients that it’s important to look at where your money is coming from and to make sure they know the risks, recognize strategies and that they should understand what their goals and aspirations are,” Taylor added. “It’s also important that people make sure that they have a financial advisor that is focused on the people they serve. If a financial advisor is not explaining costs or checking on your investments, and they are telling you what they think you need while failing to find out your background information, you might want to get a different financial advisor.”
Another panelist, Veronica Ferrero, who is the AVP and community lending coordinator at Emigrant Mortgage Company, Inc, said her job involves helping people to create a plan that reviews their credit report to see if it is up to date and without errors. She reviews credit cards to make sure that the interest rate is analyzed.
“Whenever someone closes or opens a savings account, it will affect their credit score,” she said. “A lot of people have credit cards that they don’t use, and they don’t realize that this will affect their credit score and that they should be diligent about paying their credit card payments when they are due.”
Ferrero also said she spends time evaluating her clients’ mortgages to aid them in discovering new ways to save in various areas, such as, in their utility, phone and car insurance bills. She also aids people in looking at their long term goals and deciding if taking out a home equity would be the most sensible decision, based on a case-by-case analysis. With the ongoing pandemic, she also said, interest rates are staying low, and now is a great time to refinance and to renovate homes.
“In the same way that you would plan a super bowl dinner for friends and family, I recommend that people plan if they want to budget and through my job, I want to help people to realize through an analysis process, specifically where their money goes on a monthly basis,” she said. “This is a challenging process, but most people are glad when they do this and they are better able to see where they can better save money.”
Taylor and Ferrero also both added that people should look for interest rates on their student loans to help budget better.
“It’s important to do research on programs and to look for companies to help you to do this,” stressed Ferrero.
“Speak to someone who will sit down and listen to you and be disciplined about this and don’t get distracted,” said Taylor.
Tara McDermott, the director of customer experience and stakeholder relation at EmPower Solar, said her company serves about 3,000 clients. EmPower Solar aims to help consumers save on electric bills by aiding them in the process of installing solar panels—which involve electrical energy being converted through sunlight to give homes electricity power.
“Now, more than ever, people are more conscious of an increase in electric bills because people are spending more time in their homes and therefore they are using up more energy due to the pandemic,” she said. “The average home on Long Island pays $250 a month on their electric bill and our goal is to get homeowners to save money through the installation of solar panels on their roof. About one in every twenty two houses on Long Island have solar panels now.”
The process of having a solar panel consultation with EmPower Solar, McDermott said, is a money-free endeavor. The consultation will take place over Zoom solely for the purpose of discussing how much solar panels will cost on a case-by-case basis and to answer any other questions for those considering solar panel installation.
“We stress to our clients that having solar panels does not increase taxes, but third party studies have shown that it does add about 20 thousand dollars to the value of the home,” she said. “Around 15% of clients have a battery backup system for their solar panels—which will allow them to power their house during a power outage for an unlimited amount of time. This is great because clients can be prepared for an emergency, similar to another super storm sandy.”
Panelist Mark Miller, in-house counsel at Maidenbaum Property Tax Reduction Group, shared his expertise on tax grievances. “All residential home owners should file a grievance and anybody who has a renovation on their house should file and see if they qualify, but they should keep in mind that solar panels don’t count as a renovation in these instances,” he said. “Also, if you double your house size through renovation, you won’t get the home improvement exemption. You might be considered a whole new property at that point.”
The recording of this webinar can be found at liherald.com/recordings
. The next Herald Inside LI webinar is February 4 at 10 a.m. and will discuss the importance of Estate & Medicaid Planning.