Josh Bitel of Center for Financial Planning: “Set goals”

Set goals — Perhaps the most important aspect of investing. What are your goals? Whether it is saving for retirement, a new home, building wealth, or anything else, your goals dictate your time horizon, risk capacity and tolerance, and ultimately your investment strategy. Getting a good handle on the purpose of your investments is key for smart […]

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Set goals — Perhaps the most important aspect of investing. What are your goals? Whether it is saving for retirement, a new home, building wealth, or anything else, your goals dictate your time horizon, risk capacity and tolerance, and ultimately your investment strategy. Getting a good handle on the purpose of your investments is key for smart investors.

As a part of my series about the The 5 Essentials of Smart Investing, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Bitel, CFP® who is an Associate Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® He conducts financial planning analysis for clients and has a special interest in retirement income analysis. He is also a frequent contributor to The Center’s “Money Centered” blog.

Thank you for doing this with us! Our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?

Of course! I enjoy telling this story. When I was in high school and college I always found purpose in helping people and just being relied on in general. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with that, but math and numbers seemed to come easy to me as well, so I decided to pursue a degree in finance. While working on my degree I had an internship at Scottrade, which has since been acquired by TD Ameritrade. This started my love for the financial services industry, but I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I bounced around at some other places and ultimately found myself at The Center for Financial Planning, thanks to a referral from a friend. At The Center I got to see what true financial planning was, and I knew right away it was my calling. The ability to make a difference in someone’s life is an irreplaceable feeling, and being able to quantify that can be all the more satisfying!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

2020 has been a challenging year for so many people, it has brought upon numerous unique changes to our financial landscape as well. When the CARES Act was signed into law back in March, there were numerous opportunities opened for some clients. One change included in the Act was that Required Minimum Distributions are waived for the year. While this change may not impact many people, for those who are fortunate enough to not rely on these required distributions to pay for their lifestyle, this can mean a significant tax savings for the year. So given this special ruling, I pulled a list of clients who chose not to take their RMD for the year, and am in the process of analyzing whether or not it still makes sense to distribute a portion of their required distribution. Whether this gets sent out and spent or converted to a Roth IRA, in some cases we can get some money out at lower tax rates than would’ve ever been possible for these clients. The potential savings can be 4 or even 5 figures over time.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers?

I’ve seen these facts mentioned in various different ways and it pains me every time. I think it starts in the schools, and unfortunately traditional education doesn’t do a great job in teaching financial literacy. Taxes, budgeting, investments, and things of that nature — I didn’t learn these things until college or even until I pursued my Certified Financial Planner credentials. These topics are so crucial to everyday life, and building that foundation at a young age could make all the difference in the world. As we currently stand, it’s on the parents to educate their kids and build that foundation, but if 2/3 of Americans aren’t educated on the basics of financial literacy, how can we expect them to teach their kids?

If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

As I mentioned, I would start in the schools. Making basic financial literacy part of the normal curriculum in elementary, junior high, and high school. I think that could go a long way in changing the landscape of financial literacy. Another thing I would change is how we view money. It is a tender topic for so many people. We need to normalize this type of conversation so people aren’t afraid to ask for help or advice. Finally, I would encourage everyone to meet with a financial advisor. No problem is too big or small, whether you believe you have no money at all or you believe you are wealthy, there is value in meeting with an advisor to set you on the right path.

Ok, thank you! Now to the main question of our interview: You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

  1. Set goals — Perhaps the most important aspect of investing. What are your goals? Whether it is saving for retirement, a new home, building wealth, or anything else, your goals dictate your time horizon, risk capacity and tolerance, and ultimately your investment strategy. Getting a good handle on the purpose of your investments is key for smart investors.
  2. Understand risk — Once you know your goals, you must understand the risk needed to achieve those goals. This, along with other factors such as time horizon and emotions, are great starting points for smart investing.
  3. Consider Utilizing index or mutual funds over individual stocks — choose index funds and mutual funds in order to better improve your chances of success. Individual stocks can be a gamble that pays off big, but also can completely derail your progress toward investment goals. By choosing an index fund, you are potentially maximizing your chance of at least owning a portion of those big winners in order to compound your money without placing all your eggs in one basket and carrying the risk of losing it all.
  4. Be patient — Smart investors know that, generally speaking, the stock market is one of continuous advancements with temporary setbacks. This means it may take a bit of time to see your investments grow. But if you’ve done your research and know your goals, patience has historically paid off.
  5. Monitor your portfolio — While checking your balance every day is not typically advisable and can lead to emotional decisions, reassessing your game plan once or twice a year is a smart idea. Life events (such as marriage, children, retirement, and deaths in the family), market conditions, and your goals are all things to consider when taking the pulse of your portfolio.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people I could choose from. I currently work with dozens of people who I could name honestly, but I’ll have to go with my first boss in my first job while I was in college just trying to make some money. His name is Ryan and we are still close to this day. Ryan was my supervisor at a job that really didn’t have any relation to finance. Ryan instilled confidence in me as a person long before I knew how to do so myself. He promoted me to manager in my role after only few short months, something I felt very unqualified for. But the continued guidance he gave me, and the reassurance that I was equipped for the job even when I felt I wasn’t, is something that has stuck with me throughout many years. It has been somewhat of a constant theme in my life, taking on things that I may not feel I am ready for, but Ryan taught me that many people feel this way when taking on new challenges. Success lies in your attitude and courage. This is something I’ve drawn back on many times in my life. Ryan and I shared many hours together at this job, and I am someone who learns best by observing. I had the pleasure of learning countless life lessons from him, and watching how he treats people who work ‘under’ him, how he values his loved ones, and how he makes sure that people know that. I am happy to say we’ve kept in touch over the years as both of our lives have changed drastically.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite ‘life lesson quote’ is compliments of Mr. Zig Ziglar. “your attitude, not your aptitude, determines your latitude” I will never claim to be the smartest guy in the room, which is why I enjoy being surrounded by so many brilliant people in my workplace. But I always try to maintain a positive attitude. This has opened up so many opportunities for me in my life that would be terrifying if I only relied on my experience or knowledge. I have found that learning how to be comfortable with things that are uncomfortable is crucial to my growth as a person and professional, but none of this is possible without first starting with a positive attitude.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I read a book one time that talked about normalizing failure. I think we live in a society where we ‘see’ what people want us to see. We see what other people post, and more than likely its flattering pictures, or vacations, expensive cars, things that most people would rightfully associate with success. But this sort of social media saturation gives people the wrong idea. That success comes easy, that failure is a bad thing. I think if we normalize failure, let people tell their stories of failure, let children know that it is okay to fail, it is okay if you are struggling with something. No one in the history of the world has gone through life without struggles. Mental health has become a bigger topic as of late too, and I think we could make significant strides in improving mental health awareness with things like normalizing failure. This happens to be something I am pretty passionate about.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you continued success!

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