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Team Building with StrengthsFinder

Team Building with StrengthsFinder
Like me, you have been a part of a team at some point. Early on you may have played on a sports team, been assigned a group project at school, or joined a group of community volunteers.  As adults we trade our backpacks and Little League uniforms for laptops and dress slacks.  Whether you’re collaborating on an annual report or organizing your favorite charity’s annual fundraiser, the team’s success depends on how well you work together.  Good teamwork isn’t happenstance – the team’s chemistry can and should be built intentionally. The ideal team environment combines a healthy balance of individual strengths along with collaborative relationships.  This isn’t always easy to achieve, but the result is efficiency and effectiveness.  At Hilltop, this means a smooth day-to-day process for our team members and a positive experience for our clients.  Poorly performing teams, on the other hand, can lose productivity so the whole is actuall ...

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Equifax data breach – how you can protect yourself

Equifax data breach – how you can protect yourself
As you have probably heard by now, the Equifax credit bureau reported last week that their database was infiltrated by criminals between May and July of this year.  According to Equifax, the criminals gathered information on 143 million people, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and some driver’s license numbers. What makes this worse is that there was never a realistic way to prevent yourself from being in Equifax’s database.  The three credit bureaus (Experian and TransUnion are the other two) get their information from lenders and public records, so almost every adult in this country has a file, like it or not.  These reports are used by lenders, landlords, potential employers, insurance companies and more to decide whether to extend credit to you, how much to charge for various services, etc. As far as cybersecurity incidents go, this has the potential to be the most damaging to individuals of all time.  The number of people affected is ...

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Don't Sleep on International Stocks

Don't Sleep on International Stocks
We take it for granted now that the world is becoming more globalized every year.  This can be seen in the production of goods – NPR’s Planet Money  produced a series in 2013 following the production of a simple T-shirt, showing how cotton makes its way from the US to Asia or South America for production and back again to the US for sale.  Globalization is also plainly visible in sports marketing – if you watch European football (or soccer, if you will), you can see Chinese ads on the sidelines and American corporate logos on the jerseys. Clearly, money flows between nations more freely than it used to.  As a result, investments in foreign companies have become more mainstream.  Plus, they offer diversification benefits in a portfolio that is heavy in US investments. And yet, as Hilltop believes, many investors may fail to allocate enough of their portfolios to international investments.  Termed a “domestic bias” or “home country bias&rdq ...

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Estate Planning for the Children Leaving the Nest

Estate Planning for the Children Leaving the Nest
For many families, summer marks the time for transition as the children prepare for (or continue) their college education.  This usually coincides with the children reaching the age of majority, which in North Carolina is 18 years old.  This is an interesting period as even though your child is emancipated, often he or she is still very much reliant upon your support for room, board and schooling.  Yet, despite this reliance, you are unable to do the things you were able to do for your child prior to turning 18. An important example of this is in the health care realm.  In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which created substantial privacy rights regarding patients’ medical records.  When your child reaches the age of 18, HIPAA protects his or her medical records from being accessed by anyone else.  While the law does provide some discretion for health care providers to release information if it is in ...

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Options in Senior Living - Part Two

Should I Stay or Should I Go?  Options in Senior Living - Part Two
In this post, we’ll explore costs, advantages and disadvantages of some the options in senior living, as discussed by the panel of specialists hosted by Hilltop in May.  If you don’t know some of the terms we’re referencing, check out last week’s post. It seems like a lot of folks are talking about Continuing Care Retirement Communities.  What’s the advantage of these types of facilities? The great advantage of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) is that they roll all levels of care into one, says Julie Kopetsky, senior relocation specialist and president of Your Next Move.  In a CCRC, you can live independently, receive some level of assistance or receive skilled nursing.  Those sound great!  Are there any down sides? It is complicated and expensive to build retirement communities, so there may not be many of them near you.  There may also be a long waitlist and a fee to join the waitlist.  Further, being on the waitlist ...

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Options for Senior Living – Part One

Should I Stay or Should I Go?  Options for Senior Living – Part One
You probably hate uncertainty, and you probably don’t like to think about becoming physically dependent, dying, or aging in a nursing home.  Put all of this together, and it can be hard to even think about where you’ll live as you age, who will take care of you, or how you’ll pay for it all.  Yet, if you don’t make plans in these areas, you are giving up control over some of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.  We’ve seen concern about this among our clients, and studies have shown that Americans at large are underprepared for the costs and legal implications of late-life disability and dependence.  Independent living, continuing care retirement communities, advance healthcare directives, etc – just understanding the terms can be overwhelming!  But enough of the bad news.  There are many good senior living options these days.  If you know the terminology and who to ask for help, planning to age may be easier than you ...

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What Can an Escape Room Teach You About Financial Planning?

What Can an Escape Room Teach You About Financial Planning?
When you truly trust the people you work with, you aren’t afraid to be locked up with them, at least for a little while.  At Hilltop, we recently put our mutual trust to the test and went to an escape room for a little bit of team building.  If you don’t know what an escape room is, I should explain: the host locks you in a room, and you escape by finding clues, solving puzzles, and answering riddles.  (Of course, there’s a panic button that lets you out in a hurry – as our host explained, the fire marshall frowns on locking people in.)  This was an exciting and fun-filled experience, and after we finished, I couldn’t help but see some parallels with financial planning:   Work together and use everybody’s skill set During our escape room experience, Brittany, the team’s math major, deciphered one particular clue pretty quickly.  But she had to explain it to the rest of us a couple times before we understood what she had done. ...

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Do right, even when things get muddy

Do right, even when things get muddy
In my spare time, I enjoy training for and running obstacle course races.  These involve such challenges as crawling through mud, climbing over walls, and experiencing mild electric shocks.  Fun, right?  No, I’m serious, it is tremendous fun.  But to you, this may sound crazy, so you’ll choose not to participate.  That’s fine, it’s not for everyone.  This is a voluntary challenge, and I have chosen to subject myself to it. Similarly, we at Hilltop have accepted a challenge that many financial advisors eschew.  When we became a Registered Investment Advisor one year ago, we took on a burden known as the fiduciary legal standard.  This means that we must act in our clients’ best interests at all times, which is the rule for RIAs.  We strive for the fiduciary standard not because it’s fun, but because it’s the right thing to do.  However, the Department of Labor is on the verge of enacting a rule that would cha ...

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