Credit Counseling Companies Tackle Consumer Debt, and Enable Sound Financial Planning

These are turbulent economic times in which we live. The cost of a college education continues to soar. New grads face greater amounts of student loan debt than ever before. Mortgages are expensive, and in the wake of the mortgage crisis, loan companies are tightening eligibility requirements. In many industries, salaries fail to keep pace with inflation. Health insurance premiums continue to soar, as well. No wonder so many Americans are in debt, with average debt at $8,000 or more per household, according to a 2004 MSN Money report! And, many more people are concerned about money management.

The failure to plan for a solid financial future can trample lifestyles and hobble dreams. Fortunately, each person can be in control of his or her own finances. But how?

Credit counseling and financial advising companies are now teaming with legal networks to enable consumers to make good financial decisions. These counseling companies help consumers secure protection against credit theft and credit fraud — two ways people can get into debt without even realizing it. Skilled money coaches then work with clients facing money troubles. They help clients to develop the best course of financial planning to suit their lifestyles. Money coaches can also direct clients to a skilled financial advisor who can best assist them with setting up and maintaining 401Ks, IRAs, Roth IRAs, trusts, and other accounts, enabling them to build healthy financial futures.

Credit theft and credit fraud are major financial security concerns in the Internet era. People are concerned – and with good reason – that their identities may be stolen, and their financial information may be readily accessible to fraudulent criminals. Money coaches can help customers develop crucial plans of action against credit theft or credit fraud. Through techniques such as fraud alerts and credit checks, customers are able to keep control of their finances by maintaining good credit scores. Often, money coaches assist clients in going over their credit scores clients line by line, looking for evidence of fraud or tampering. If errors are found, money coaches advise clients on how to promptly notify credit bureaus. These financial gurus also offer advice for restoring good credit.

In this age of economic turbulence, paying down debts and securing financial futures are of great concern to Americans. A financial advisor or coach at a credit counseling company can help clients plan short-term and long-term money management goals. More importantly, these professionals advise clients on how to actually reach those goals. Clients typically will develop sound economic plans, taking their net incomes and monthly debts and expenditures into account. The coaches can then recommend that clients consult with financial planners and accountants in their area who can help them implement saving, investing, and debt-reduction strategies.

Many clients find the unbiased money coach advice to be an asset; when clients are able to develop the best money-management strategies for their personal situations, they can work towards long-term financial goals more easily. With cursory backgrounds in financial planning and debt reduction information, clients are armed to tackle money and debt issues long after they’ve finished consulting their money coaches. Clients can then formulate a comprehensive financial well-being plan to save money and pay down debts.

Credit counseling companies often offer clients access to a legal team, consisting of attorneys skilled in many areas of money management, debt, and fraud. These lawyers are helpful because they can offer targeted money strategies and advice. Attorneys in the legal network might give clients free consultations, and can often work for them with significant fee reductions.

Many credit counseling companies now offer services online, so clients can fit money management into their busy schedules. Clients, after signing up, can log on to these sites with a user name and password. From that point, they will receive access to financial resources and tools, and might even be able to access and manage short-term and long-term financial plans online. Whether a potential client is a college student, a parent, a newly widowed person, or a mid-career professional, credit counseling companies can assist them with all areas of strategic money management.

Financial Planning – The True Definition

Financial planning is a good idea for anyone with an income. Some people think of it as a synonym for retirement planning. However, financial planners are professionals who assist people in developing plans for many kinds of investments and expenses. Essentially, they help people earn, save and spend their money more wisely than they would if left to their own resources.

What Is Financial Planning?

The work of a financial planner can be broken down into several categories. Some of these categories of planning focus on the future, when a client plans to retire or hand over a business or estate to an heir. Others are focused on issues in the present or the near future, such as tax planning or simple cash flow management. However, all forms of financial planning follow certain elementary steps.

Varieties of Financial Planning

• Investment planning goes beyond simply purchasing financial instruments and other assets. An investment planner helps his or her clients think strategically about an investment portfolio. While an untrained client might let investments sit unprofitably for too long or trade too frequently to properly take advantage of profit margins, a financial planner can guide this client to earn more money from investments.

• A retirement planner assesses a client’s present economic status and prognosticates how much money that the client needs to earn from investments and savings in order to achieve financial independence by a specific age.

• Cash flow management is a type of financial planning which helps a client control income and expenses in order to save money. The goal of this management might simply be improvement in the quality of life for an individual. Financial planners can also help large businesses to improve their efficiency and their balance sheets.

• Estate planning anticipates death or incapacitation of a client and the distribution of his or her assets and belongings. A central part of this sort of work is writing wills and designating executors and heir.

The Financial Planning Process

• In the first step, the financial planner and the client set goals.

• Then the planner gathers financial information and other pertinent data about the client.

• Now the planner analyzes the information and determines what changes must be made to achieve the goals set during step one.

• The fourth step may require resetting goals in light of obstacles discovered during the analysis. Otherwise, client and planner devise a plan for meeting the goals.

• The planning team implements the plan.

• The sixth step is the longest phase of financial planning. The planner monitors progress toward the goals, often over a period of years or decades. Adjustments will probably have to be made as time passes.

10 Steps for Simplifying Business Plan Financial Statements

For most business owners and entrepreneurs, preparing, and communicating the financial statement section of a business plan is like trying to give driving directions to someone who doesn’t speak the same language.

“Numbers” is the language most investors speak. But, it is also the language that many business owners and entrepreneurs don’t speak or understand.

So how do you bridge this gap?

1) Understand there is a difference between “crunching” or preparing the financial statements and presenting them.

Preparing business plan financial statements often requires expert knowledge of double-entry accounting, taxes, merger and acquisition accounting, and finance. Skills most business owners or entrepreneurs don’t have, except for perhaps the most seasoned or those with accounting backgrounds. Presenting the numbers, however, only requires that you understand how what you plan to do translates into cash; and, what the potential financial risks for the business are, and how you’ll minimize them. If you cannot demonstrate that you understand these, then why would an investor ever give you money?

2) Get help early on.

Okay so you don’t have any money to hire a CPA or an accountant, and they just won’t do it for nothing. Reach out to your local college. Find the head of the accounting department or an accounting professor. Then, see how your project might be used to help the class learn about accounting, starting a business, or building financial models. The point is; you need someone who understands how to build projected financial statements based on your specific plans for the business. It is also important to find someone who can help you understand your financial statements.

3) Know the kind of investor you are seeking.

This is the same as a writer taking the time to know the audience before writing a book. For example, a banker puts more weight on the business’ liquidity, collateral, and ability to convert assets into cash quickly if the business runs into trouble and a loan is called. The emphasis on these financial measures is different for a venture capitalist whose interest is more on how quickly your business can grow, the potential future cash flow it can generate, and the potential for cashing out at an amount much higher than the initial investment.

4) Present only the numbers and measures most important to your type or types of investors in the body of your business plan.

Save the more detailed financial statements for the appendix and due diligence stage. Of course you need detailed financial statements and projections to support your business plan, but don’t think you need to share them with potential investors upfront. Investors are more interested in seeing if a few key numbers and financial measures make sense and that they support your strategies before they waste time digging through your supporting data. If they are interested in moving forward with you, believe me, they will dig into your financial statements.

5) Use graphs and tables wisely to present financial information.

Graphs are great for presenting trends and comparisons. Keep them simple and uncluttered. Be sure headings, labels, axis tabs, and so on are clear and legible. Nothing is better than a great graph or table to convey a message clearly and quickly. But remember, a bad graph or table can create much damage and confusion too.

6) Check you numbers.

Like typos, a wrong number can shatter your credibility instantly. It can cause your potential investors to lose confidence in your ability, or to question your understanding of the business. Be sure the numbers in your plan agree to the correct model or version of your financial plan. Verify the numbers in your business plan agree to all supporting documents.

7) Always include a statement of the sources and uses of cash.

If you have teenagers, I’m sure you always ask them where they’re going to spend the money you’re about to give them, before you hand the money over to them. The Statement of Sources and Uses does the same for investors. It tells potential investors how you plan to use their money. The statement accounts for all the money coming into the deal, whether it is bank debt, seller notes, personal cash, cash proceeds from the sale of stock, and so on. It then explains how you intend to use this money, whether it is to buy an existing business, buy certain assets, payoff existing debt, or payoff certain start-up liabilities, fees, and expenses.

8) Include all three fundamental financial statements: income statement, balance sheet and cash flow.

Don’t just provide potential investors with an income statement, it doesn’t give them the complete story. Also, be sure that all financial statements conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principals or GAAP. Include at least three years of actual historical financial information, if available, and five years of projected financial statements. Although no one expects you to be able to predict the future with absolute certainty, projections do provide insight into your thought process, assumptions, and understanding of the business and its markets.

9) Maintain a good financial model capable of running sensitivity analyses to show how your projected results will change as your assumptions change.

This allows you and your investors to identify which assumptions are most critical to your future performance. Each critical assumption needs evidence to support it. Also, include in your model benchmark comparisons to other companies in your industry. Compare things like revenues per employee, gross margin per employee, gross margin as a percentage of revenues, and various expense and balance sheet ratios.

10) Use footnotes and descriptions to explain how key numbers were derived or the specific assumptions behind them.

As much as possible, keep these short and to the point. Don’t get carried away footnoting every number. Footnote only key numbers or unusual items.

At the end of the day, more business deals are not consummated because investors don’t feel like they can trust the numbers for one reason or another. Spend the time, effort and money to communicate your financial statements clearly and convincingly. It can be the key to making your deal a reality.