“Why we should plan.” With Jason Hartman & Mark Willis

I would caution anyone who wants to jump into these choppy waters of the stock market just because they smell a little blood. Yes, we are coming off our market highs, but there is certainly still a good case for continued lower valuations especially as we enter into uncharted waters with such high unemployment, lower […]

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I would caution anyone who wants to jump into these choppy waters of the stock market just because they smell a little blood. Yes, we are coming off our market highs, but there is certainly still a good case for continued lower valuations especially as we enter into uncharted waters with such high unemployment, lower earnings, and more and ten thousand boomers retiring every day

As a part of my series about “Investing During The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Willis, CFP®

Mark is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, a three-time Amazon #1 Best Selling Author and the owner of Lake Growth Financial Services, a financial firm in Chicago, Illinois. As co-host of the Not Your Average Financial Podcast™, he shares some of his strategies for investing in real estate, paying for college without going broke, and creating an income in retirement you won’t outlive. Mark works with people who want to grow their wealth in ways that are safe and predictable, to become their own source of financing, and create tax-free income in retirement.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, 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?

My wife and I graduated from college in 2008, right at the start of the last financial crisis. We had six figures of student loan debt between us, no significant income, and no plan to pay off the debt. That will get you focused on your own personal finances in a hurry! At the time, I worked for a nationally recognized accountant, and during that first year, I heard her make phone calls to her pre-retirement clients letting them know that their retirement plans were scuttled. Joining the financial industry in 2008 like I did is like being dropped into the front lines of a war!

Seeing the 2008 crisis unfold got me very interested in finding financial solutions outside of traditional financial planning. My wife and I desperately needed to pay off our debt and we needed to be preparing for our future in a world that was very uncertain. It seems like we’re in that world all over again now with the Coronavirus. Thankfully, we’re prepared this time around! And so are our clients.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?

I learned two lessons in the midst of the last crisis that I think are relevant here. The first lesson is that we cannot trust the stock market to be our knight in shining armor to save us or to help us achieve our financial goals. It can be a nice part of the overall equation, but it should not matter whether your brokerage account is up today or down the next.

The second lesson I learned is that aggressively paying off debt in the midst of a financial crisis may not make sense. Of course, student loan companies were not exactly ready to hand us more cash during a tight month. We would send them thousands of dollars every month, trying to pay off our debt aggressively, and then we’d have an irregular odd month where we needed cash and we were only left with a bunch of thank you letters from the student loan company. Thank you for your payment. “Thank you for your payment?” “Thanks from your lender don’t help when you need to pay rent.”

So, while I would certainly recommend that you keep current on all your debts, it might make sense to pack more money into safe, predictable, and liquid cash accounts to help you through times of volatility like we’re experiencing right now.

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

One particular financial strategy we’re excited about during this season is working with our clients to become their own source of financing. This has been tremendously helpful for 1) those who are losing their jobs due to this crisis and to whom banks won’t lend a dime, and 2) those sophisticated investors who have enough cash ready and see a buying opportunity in the midst of the financial crisis. By bringing the function of banking in-house, you’re able to take control of your financial environment and “antivirus your money.” If the virus in our financial lives is anything like the global coronavirus, we can antivirus our money by firing our banker and becoming our own source of financing.

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?

I will be forever grateful to Pamela Yellen (another contributor to Authority Magazine), who helped introduce the concept of Bank On Yourself ® to me and to hundreds of our clients around the country. Because of her work and mentorship, my own personal finances and the lives of our clients will never be the same. We are prepared for this financial crisis and for every recession that that may come for the rest of our life. That’s a good feeling!

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

We believe that the incredible problems arising from the coronavirus present us with incredible opportunities. It is no doubt an anxious time to be alive. Average financial media is selling fear and adding fuel to the fire. At our financial firm we do not want to be average, we want to be awesome. Our focus has been building strategies to help inoculate your money against the coronavirus and its financial side effects. When you’re sick, you need lots of fluids, you need liquid. That helps keep your body stable and helps you fight back. In a time of financial sickness, your money needs to be liquid too. Too many people have their money tied up in 401(k) plans, IRAs, brokerage accounts, and locked up in their home equity. They have almost nothing in cash savings. According to a recent January 2019 Bankrate survey shows that over one third of all Americans would have to sell something or go into debt to cover a $500–1000 emergency. This is why the government had to print money and send us all a stimulus check. What would it be like if you had two years’ worth of living expenses socked away in a liquid, accessible account that you could use for any purpose? What if that same account was earning interest many times greater than a savings account? If it gave you a decent predictable return, and you had access to that money within a week, would that lower your anxiety levels? You bet!

In addition to liquids fluids, we also need to be quarantined in the midst of this pandemic for the sake of our health. For your money, this might mean moving your money out of risky, infected assets like the stock market, and into something that you can keep safe and can control. If you knew your money would be growing safely and predictably and you had immediate access to it in a tax-advantaged way, how much of your net worth would you want to reposition into something like that?

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, the stock market and the economy in general have become extremely volatile and uncertain. Many people “dollar cost average” and put aside a monthly sum into a long-term savings plan for retirement, college, or a home purchase. If a loved one or a client came to you and said, “I have been saving and investing $500 every month in an S&P 500 index fund. Over the next few months until the dust settles, should I be doing something else with my money?”, what would you say to them?

Parkinson’s Law says “a luxury once enjoyed becomes a necessity,” and “expenses will always rise to meet income.” If you’re able to set aside some money every month, that means you beat Parkinson’s law! And good for you for setting up a forced saving strategy. Putting aside some of your money each and every month is a good idea. Studies from the likes of Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler seem to suggest that a regular, consistent set-it-and-forget-it saving of your money always beats having to remember to save it over and over again.

But wait — is your monthly savings quarantined from the infections of the market? A recent study done by Reformed Broker blogger Josh Brown and wealth manager Nick Maggiulli shows that dollar cost averaging into a stock bond portfolio underperforms the overall market. Dollar cost averaging even underperforms a lump sum investment. On average, dollar cost averaging over 24 months underperforms lump sums by 7.6%. [SOURCE: DFA, 1960–2018 (].

Think about it, when you blindly buy and hold month in and month out, you’re breaking both rules of investing, which are 1) never lose money and 2) don’t forget rule number one. Dollar cost averaging in the market vaporizes your return.

This is confirmed with the Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior study done by the third-party research firm DALBAR. According to a new study, the typical investor in equity mutual funds has gotten only a 3.88% annual return… over the last twenty years! While the market itself has done much better than that (even factoring in our recent bear market in 2020), do we really want to put our money at risk through more financial turbulence for a paltry 3.88%? That’s not even factoring in inflation! After inflation the returns are only 1.7%!

I’m not downplaying the importance of putting money away each month. I’m just questioning where we’re putting it, and I’m questioning where we get the advice to put our money in the market by default. Where do we get the advice? We get it from brokers, who are incentivized and conditioned to give us that advice. Why would they say anything different? If you ask a barber if you need a haircut, you can bet what his or her answer will be.

Where you keep your money makes it do different things. There are over 450 financial products out there available for Americans, but Wall Street would make you believe that the only one you should ever choose month in and month out is the stock market, i.e., what they have to sell. “Keep buying when it’s low, and keep buying when it’s high.”

What if there was a better way?

The data do not seem to support dollar cost averaging in the stock market. But the monthly saving of your cash is absolutely a good idea. Let’s make a distinction between monthly saving strategies and monthly investing strategies.

“Savings strategies” should have built-in guarantees that your money will be there when you need it, that it will have predictable returns that keep up with inflation, and that the gains you receive will be locked in (meaning you won’t lose the money you earned last year). “Investing strategies” by contrast have no guarantees your money will be there, and your gains are not locked in (you can lose next year what you earned this year) — that’s called “paper wealth.” Yes, you might have a great yearly return this year, and then a terrible yearly return next year. With such unpredictable results, how can we possibly use investing strategies to create the foundation of a financial plan?

Monthly saving strategies are good, but monthly investing strategies underperform and are not good. One difference between saving and investing is that you should only invest money you can afford to lose, whereas you should save money you cannot afford to lose. What are some examples of money you cannot afford to lose? For me, I cannot afford to lose my children’s college fund or my retirement. And as for the money I currently have in the stock market? If it all went to zero tomorrow it wouldn’t change my goals or my life at all. I’m on track no matter what.

Eventually the economy will recover and rebound. Certain sectors, like travel and hospitality, might be hurting for a while. But other sectors, like technology and healthcare, might do very well. If someone wanted to prepare today to take advantage of the future recovery, what would you suggest they do?

I would caution anyone who wants to jump into the choppy waters of the stock market just because they smell a little blood. Yes, we are coming off our market highs, but there is certainly still a good case for continued lower valuations especially as we enter into uncharted waters with such high unemployment, lower earnings, and ten thousand boomers retiring every day.

The markets are experiencing violent whiplash. We’ve had more than thousand-point swings and larger percentage swings in the last two months than we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Two days in March recorded back-to-back ten-percent drops and ten-percent gains. That hasn’t happened since October 1929. On March 25th we had the largest gain since October 1987, which was right after the infamous “Black Monday.”

Let me ask you a few questions. Did you see the coronavirus epidemic coming? Did you anticipate the hoarding of toilet paper, schools closing, March Madness and sport cancelations, quarantines, cities and states declaring states of emergency, and employees being laid off in the tens of millions? Did you expect that the Saudis and Russians would start an oil price war — precisely as panic over COVID-19 was reaching a fever pitch — causing crude oil prices to collapse in the biggest one-day move in 30 years? Did you foresee in January multiple days in March when investors would start selling with so much fear that their panic selling in the market would cause a “circuit breaker” to trip and halt trading for 15 minutes just to bring a little relief?

I certainly didn’t! No one anticipated any of these things happening. They are all “black swans” — events that seem to come out of the blue and that you could not foresee or guard against. And yet, as of April, we are already talking about investing opportunities and getting back into the market that just burned us. We did the same after the spring of 2008, when there was a “slope of hope” that took us into the summer of 2008, right before the meltdown in the fall of 2008.

As I reflect on how we talk of the stock market and retail investments (such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs), it seems to me that we relate to the stock market like we might relate to an abusive relationship. We say things like, “this time it’s different,” or “it will always come back” or “don’t look at it when it’s hurting you” or “it’s your fault you’re in this position. The truth is, when we lose money, even temporarily lose paper wealth in the markets, we have to spend time and get MORE return in getting it back. If our accounts go down temporarily by 30%…we’d need 43% return just to break even — and how long will it take for the market to accomplish that return?

Since 1929, we’ve had three market crashes where the Dow took between 16 and 25 years to recover. What if history repeats itself?

Are there sectors that provide exciting and lucrative investment opportunities today, specifically because of the volatility and uncertainty?

I am going to say something that’s not conventional and is actually pretty controversial — the more I look out over our landscape, the more exciting and lucrative this strategy will be over the coming years. The financial sector that I’m most excited about for opportunities is cash. That’s right, plain old boring cash. Here’s why: How many people have no liquidity because all their money was tied up in investments in their 401(k) plan or tied up in the equity in their house when this crisis began? Why else would the government need so quickly to send cash to hundreds of millions of Americans to goose the economy? As mentioned above, 37% of Americans would have to sell something or go into debt to cover a $1000 emergency. As we started out the year 2020, we as Americans not able to handle a financial sniffle, and our money just got a virus, a global health crisis, and a financial pandemic. To be clear, my prayers and concerns go out to all who have been impacted by the virus and crisis. In fact, this crisis is why I am excited about cash going forward — because this crisis might serve as a clarion call to see the value of liquid, accessible cash for both emergencies and opportunities.

The people who can manage this crisis without it affecting their psyche are the ones that have one to two years of cash reserves piled up ready for just such an occasion. They have plenty of liquid emergency money, but not just cash for emergencies. They have a giant war chest of capital accessible and ready to deploy for all the opportunities in which they want to participate. It’s people with liquidity that can help rebuild the economy. For every person selling their stock right now, someone else had to have cash to buy it. Maybe that could be you! How many more recessions might you go through during your lifetime? We’ve had three now since the year 2000 if you count the one that we are very likely in right now. How many more times will we let the market beat us up like this? The solution is cash. Both for emergencies and for exciting opportunities!

Are there alternative investments that you think more people should look more deeply at?

What you can do is protect yourself and even thrive in the midst of this new reality. You have the right to antivirus your money. If you have already chosen to opt out of conventional financial wisdom, congratulations. If you have avoided the “oh-so-average financial advice” and charted a not-your-average financial revolution for your family or your business, great job, pat on the back!

Now the real work begins! This is the time that makes or breaks fortunes. The consequences of what you do now can last for generations.

For our clients, we use a little-known variation of a dividend-paying whole life insurance policy. These policies (known as Bank On Yourself ® type whole life policies) grow at a guaranteed and predictable rate every single year, no matter what’s going on in the stock market or the world economy. These policies are built for cash accumulation, not the death benefit or commissions. Because of that, they supercharged with riders that help you antivirus your money. Here’s what I mean.

1 ) Your money is in quarantine. You need to break it free. Your money’s liquidity and access will rule the future.

A lack of liquidity and access to cash is creating an enormous risk today for investors, companies, and families. However, a Bank On Yourself policy owner may take a loan against their cash value up to 90%, for any time and for any reason no questions asked. The money will typically be in your checking account in less than a week, and it can help you weather the extraordinary challenges you might be facing today. But don’t forget, it’s also a chance for you to take advantage of extraordinary opportunities you discover in the new world!

When you borrow from a policy you set your own repayment schedule and skip payments if needed without fear of collection calls, repossessions or dings on your credit report. You can pay down the loan when you’re back on your feet.

We unfortunately know that many of our clients have or will lose their jobs, and others will have to close their business. But they have their cash value in their life insurance policies to help them make it through this tough time. They’ve antivirused their money. Some of them have many years’ worth of expenses saved up in their policies for just such an emergency. And it’s not just hoarding cash for emergencies. What stocks look like a good deal right now? What real estate might be coming down in value? What opportunities could you take advantage of with your cash in your policy? It’s only possible because you first antivirused your money.

2) The next step in antivirusing your money is to ensure it gets a guaranteed annual growth on your cash. In addition, any gains you got last year, you must be able to keep this year and every year going forward.

The problem with the stock market and other volatile investments is that the gains you made last year could be lost this year. When we see these big swings in the market, what we don’t see is the amount of games we have to achieve just to break even. Have you ever done the math on that? If I lose 50% of my money this year in the market, I need to make 100% of my money next year just to break even with where I was two years ago. That’s a sick financial system. It has the virus.

By contrast, not a single one of our clients have lost a penny in their accounts with us since this market crash began. Their increase in net worth has not skipped a beat, even as the rest of the financial world stumbles in financial sickness. Each of our clients will receive dividends on top of their guaranteed increases this year. Some dividend rates increased since this year began! Imagine that. It’s important to remember that these insurance companies have been here before.

I want to read a quote from a CEO of one of the insurance companies we work with: “While the impact of these conditions may seem unprecedented in the moment, in many ways, [Our Company] has been here before, as we have delivered financial security for our customers for nearly 170 years. The Civil War. Two World Wars. The Spanish Flu pandemic. The Great Depression. The financial crisis of 2008. Throughout these disruptive moments in history, we’ve been there to provide stability and security to our customers, time and again.” Talk about security in financially turbulent times!

3) To antivirus your money, have a trusted advisor working on your side of the table. It’s not just financial tools that get you through a financial crisis. You don’t just want a machete to hack through the jungle, you need a guide. You need a trusted advisor. Someone who you know has your back and can help you weather the storm. We’re not meant to live life alone. It’s ironic in a beautiful way that this health crisis which has pushed many of us into isolation, is also binding us together in a common event like nothing we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes. We all have a shared common experience even as we sit alone in our homes.

I’ve had more phone calls and been privileged to work with more of our clients in the last month than any other single month in my company’s history. Our beloved clients are asking questions and making adjustments to their financial plan. Some are asking questions around how to take policy loans to cover their bills while they’re unemployed, and others are increasing lump sums that they’re moving out of risky assets and into safer more secure financial strategies like Bank On Yourself we often recommend through our firm.

If a person in their thirties and forties came to you today and said that they have $10,000 that they want to put away today for a long-term investment what would you advise them to do with it?

The key questions to our friend with the $10,000 are “what do you need that money for, and what characteristics or attributes do you want it to have while we wait?” Do you want safety and guarantees? Do you want a competitive rate of return? Do you want tax-free access to the cash or do you want to be penalized for accessing the money before retirement?

One of the most common questions we received from our Not Your Average Financial Podcast™ listeners is if you can pay a large amount of premium into a Bank On Yourself type policy to help boost and supercharge the growth of the cash value. The answer is yes! And it gives you a big advantage in that allows you any immediate sum of cash value to begin working for you right away and gives you a variety of uses for the money.

Cash value life insurance policies give you control over your investment, allowing access to the cash value for emergencies, retirement, or other opportunities. One way to tap into the cash in the policy is with a loan. You can generally take a loan equal to 90% of the policy’s cash surrender value. This will, of course, reduce the policy’s cash surrender value and death benefit, but you have the option to repay the loan and reestablish the benefit. And with Bank On Yourself type policies, we typically design it with far more cash value than is typical for old fashioned life insurance, and when you borrow money from the policy, the cash value will continue to grow as if you never touched the money!

We typically offer two types of designs for people that have lump sums. If a client comes to us with a lump sum of cash and has NO intention for any ongoing contribution, and they don’t mind forgoing every last tax advantage availed to life insurance in the tax code, then we would typically recommend a single premium whole life policy. What is that? It’s a one-time-only lump sum that goes into a policy and is guaranteed to grow for the rest of the policy owner’s life. Plain and simple! No more Wall Street risk or languishing in a bank savings account.

The other design is typically preferred when a client has a lump sum, but has a regular contribution they’d like to continue to make in the future. The benefit of using this design is the ability to build up even more wealth and compounding growth on your money. By doing it that way, we can attempt to keep the policy from becoming a MEC, thereby keeping some important tax advantages!

There are lots of good reasons to put large lump sums into this kind of policy. Some people have moved lump sums into their policy to do the following kinds of things.

1) Pay off debt. This typically involves repositioning other assets the client has into a Bank On Yourself policy, so they can turn around and pay off debt they owe to outside financial institutions. Many people ask us, why wouldn’t I just pay off my debt directly and then begin to save after that? We call this the Debt SnowBank Method™, and the benefits include:

  • You can swap out high-interest compounded rates for simple, low interest rates.
  • You can recapture interest into your policy that you would otherwise pay and never see again.
  • The money in your plan continues growing as though you never touched a dime of it (if your policy is from one of a handful of life insurance companies that offers this feature).
  • You can pay back your policy loans on your own schedule, which gives you great flexibility. If times get tough, you can reduce or skip some loan repayments without having to worry about black marks on your credit report, collection calls, or a goon squad showing up to repossess your stuff.

2) Have a Better Place for Your “Safe Money”

Some people have a large lump sum in a savings account that they consider their “safe money.” Others view their cash lump sums as rainy-day money in savings or money market accounts or CDs, or even bonds, that are currently paying interest rates so low it’s really rather insulting.

By contrast, moving some of your safe money into a Bank On Yourself policy gives you many advantages, including the following.

  • Guaranteed, predictable growth that is many times higher over the long term than what conventional safe money vehicles pay.
  • Tax-deferred growth. If you stop and think about it, every dollar that’s in your savings account, CD, money market accounts, or savings bonds are all being taxed each and every year that you don’t use them! Not only are you earning a pathetically small interest rate in those financial vehicles, but you’re literally being penalized by the IRS for not spending that cash! That’s because these are taxable accounts. Why not put this money into a tax-deferred vehicle, and stop the IRS from taking a part of your growth each year?
  • Tax-free distributions. If the policy is not a MEC, you can access the money 100% tax free under current law. Even if the life insurance policy is a modified endowment contract, the taxes are pennies to the dollars that you’re growing in your account.
  • No market risk or losses. A major reason people find value in putting lump sums into these policies is that they’re no longer having to be concerned about the volatility of accounts where their money used to live. That money going to grow on a predictable schedule for the rest of the policy owner’s life — they’re back in control.

Ok, thank you! Here is a more general finance question. 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?

Do you ever watch those great epic stories on Netflix or in the theaters? You know the ones I’m talking about. Maybe it’s a Marvel Superhero battle where courage and integrity meet head to head with an equally destructive force, or some other epic, fantastic movie full of creatures and heroes and villains. Maybe it’s the dramatic and romantic Downton Abbey, where lives and hearts find a way back to one another.

I think the problem most of us have with our relationship to money is that most of us feel like we arrived to our own life movie about 45 minutes too late. This is certainly true in our financial lives. Somewhere around our coming of age, the keys of our financial vehicles were just sort of dropped in our hands. We don’t exactly know how to drive, and we don’t know where we’re headed.

Money is a big character in your story. I say this because you interact with money every single day. What kind of character does money play in your story? A crucial part of the story is figuring out who your main characters are and what they stand for. Is money a villain, a former trusted ally that has betrayed you? Are you in an epic battle with your finances? Or is money a trusted friend, like a Samwise to your Frodo?

Another question is this: what part does someone like me have to play in your grand story? Every good story about a hero on a journey involves a guide. A guide is someone who’s been on the path before. It’s your journey, but you want other people who have walked the dangerous road to give you a heads-up about what dangers may lie ahead. You want someone you can trust — Gandalf, Mr. Miyagi, or Yoda.

By the way, I don’t know where you are in your journey. But I’d love to sit down with you and explore your story. This is not about spreadsheets and rates of return. This is about you telling the greatest story of your life! Let’s get that story started. I’ll bring the campfire marshmallows and you bring your challenges and dreams. Give us a call at 1–800–962–9141 or hop on our calendar by going to our website and click “request a meeting!”

​Now the ultimate destination of your financial journey might be more specific than ​this, ​but let’s say ​the big picture destination ​of your journey ​is ​”​​freedom” — freedom for yourself and your ​financial ​life and ​that of ​your family and ​even ​your future generations.

The first stage in the financial journey is to get afloat financially. You have to have your expenses be less than your income. That might mean reducing expenses or increasing income, but the idea is a balanced budget, like a boat able to float.

The second stage in your financial journey is to invest in your greatest investment, your greatest asset. You yourself are your greatest asset. The more you can invest in education, health, family, spirituality, and your capacity to earn an income, the better the rest of your financial journey will be.

The third stage on the financial journey is to pour money into liquid assets that provide you with emergency funds and opportunity funds. This is where Bank On Yourself type cash value life insurance comes in. We will draw on liquid funds for all of the investing that we hope to do in the later stages of the journey. Most people think the financial journey starts here. But like we’ve said already, unless you have figured out how to manage the monster of your budgetary expenses and learned how to invest time, energy, and money into your greatest asset (yourself!), you’ll never be able to crank up your savings!

The fourth stage in the journey is to invest in things that you understand and can control. This will be things like your business, if you have one. We recommend investing in things that you can understand and control, because most of the time Wall Street would prefer that you keep things in their control and in financial products that only they can understand. The result of that approach is where we find ourselves today. Most people are waking up to their story 45 minutes in, and they’re being told to shovel all the money that they can possibly scrimp and save over to an investment manager who will make them pay retail price for his “services” and give them substandard results.

The fifth stage in the financial journey is creating multiple streams of passive income. Or other assets like your income-producing real estate, dividend checks, or personal private pension strategies. We teach our clients all of the above and more. We see this as a crucial stage in the journey because all of us will come to a stage in life where income will stop…but the reality is, expenses never stop. This fifth stage

​These are ​the core stages ​in your journey. ​These five steps would certainly get you a long ways away from where you started, ​but they are certainly not the entire journey.

I’d love to help you write your story. It would be my honor to be your guide as you journey through the “greatest adventure.” There is no second draft for your life. This is it! How are you writing your story? What you write down today becomes a page. How many pages have you got left to write? No matter how your story with money has gone so far, we can craft an incredible rest of your story! Reach out to us and schedule a 15-minute appointment to find out just how exciting this story could be! Go to and click “Request a Meeting.”

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

“If you control the financial environment where your money lives, you win. If banks control the financial environment where your money lives, they win.” — Nelson Nash

My story with money is one of waking up halfway through the movie. I had an economics class in high school and I learned some basic financial math in college, but I didn’t take any personal finance classes during my earlier years of formal education. On our wedding day, our friends handed us the Financial Peace CDs by Dave Ramsey. After a year or so of being newlyweds, we started listening to the CDs and finally finished them on a long road trip together. Unfortunately, we had also just graduated from school with six figures in student loan debt and had no plan.

We started the Dave Ramsey baby steps. We put envelopes of cash in our wallets. We lived on less than we made. We looked for ways to live thriftily so we could pay down the debt and move on to the next steps. We worked hard to keep an active budget.

Soon after, we moved to Chicago, a very expensive city. I started working during what turned out to be the Great Recession of 2008. Not long after that, I started working for a CPA firm. All my training had taught me that all the “average” financial advice was the only way to financial freedom. And why not? Dave Ramsey wouldn’t dare say it over and over on the radio unless it were true, right?

We were plowing the majority of our earned money toward student loans, literally eating beans and rice, and making major life decisions based on the debt we carried, following all the common financial advice. It wasn’t until a mentor of mine came to visit me and my wife and shared the Bank On Yourself concept with us that something began to shift.

My former professor and mentor was seeing his students struggle to find stable streams of income after graduation and dealing with huge amounts of student debt. He brought up the truth about how megabanks were basically running the show and that the super wealthy didn’t get to where they are because they did a 401(k) employee match. They became super wealthy because they understand the true nature of game. That banks control the typical American’s financial life. And when banks have the control — they win. But when you have the control, you can win!

He also suggested that Americans were insane. Many American work 70+ hours in the week to support massive debt loads and overextended lifestyles. My mentor had taught us about centering on rhythms of sanity in life, and my wife and I knew that we would be prioritizing sane living in our family life.

Lastly, my mentor questioned the typical financial wisdom I’d heard from financial entertainers like Dave Ramsey. He asked me a pointed question: “Mark, is it possible that Dave Ramsey could be wrong about something?” That cracked open my mind, but it took me the better part of a year to be sure this Bank On Yourself strategy wasn’t some sort of scam. My wife and partner Katrina was really skeptical. I remember researching it so much because I wanted to help my friend and mentor avoid being a victim of a financial scam. Turns out I was wrong. And so was my “average” financial thinking.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

With trillions of dollars in national debt, and the average American facing the pressures of a major worldwide recession (or even a depression) and unemployment upwards of 15% and maybe even up to 35% (according to estimates by Goldman Sachs), we need a new way of thinking about financing. What if 10% of Americans were already fed up and done with banks, and were ready to bring the function of banking and financing in-house? What if they had fired their banker before this major global crisis began, and they had plenty of money to cover their own financial needs and did not have to rely on credit cards, banks, debt, or even worse, government stimulus checks (which is like going into debt to our grandchildren!)? Imagine the difference that would make, the sanity that would bring, the working hours reduced if you didn’t have to work as hard to service all that debt to the bank!

My final word of advice is this: realize that we’re all in the banking business, whether we know it or not. Banking is not the problem; I just think we have the wrong person behind the banker’s desk! It’s time for us to be our own bankers. It’s time for us to bank on ourselves.

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

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