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SINGLES SHOULD PLAN FINANCIAL FUTURE - BUDGETING IS A MUST

Now that you've graduated from flipping burgers, it's time to start thinking about what to do with your larger-than-minimum-wage paycheck.

Salt Lake area consultants, when sharing the basics of financial planning, say single people shouldn't shy away from that B-word: budgeting.You don't have to be rich to consult a financial planner, but you do have to be serious. "For people who are willing to be a little disciplined and plan for their own futures, a lot can be done," said David Eccles, a certified financial planner and principal in the Center for Financial Planning.

And, contrary to popular belief, you don't have to wear a wedding band or be picking wallpaper for a nursery to start planning for the future.

Steven Knudson, a chartered financial consultant and chartered life underwriter, says 30 percent of his 600 clients are single. He calls himself a financial coach.

Eccles is seeing an increase in the number of single clients. He says nearly 10 percent of his clients aren't married, and the majority of those seeking advice are women.

Many people, regardless of marital or parental status, don't have a budget, Eccles said. "(But) there aren't very many people who have enough excess income that budgeting isn't a concern."

Knudson said there's an obvious first step toward creating a kinder, gentler financial situation for yourself. And you won't need to pay out big bucks for this financial secret. "If the situation isn't complicated, there's no reason to go to a planner. Get out of debt."

The two planners agree that risk management, ensuring coverage in case of a major medical catastrophe or earnings-robbing disability, should be a primary concern for new clients. If employee benefit packages don't extend these benefits, you should be shopping for such coverage.

Obviously, single people without children don't need as much life insurance as single parents or married people. But you should consider as a possibility that an emergency could rob you of your earning power.

"For single people, if they're unable to work, they're unable to provide an income," Eccles said.

"You are responsible for your own financial outlook," Knudson said. "You need to consider yourself as a dependent.

"The fragileness of a single person's income is startling. You insure your car. You insure your TV. You insure your home. As long as you maintain your income, you could replace all of those things within a short period of time. But if you lose your income, you will not only lose all of those other assets, but you will lose your financial dignity."

The next financial step is accumulating a savings account equivalent to at least three months of your salary. That is the watermark that determines if you are serious about financial planning - or just worried. "Before I ever want to talk to you, you should have $6,000 to $8,000 in a savings account," Knudson said. "For many single people, that is where the conversation ends with me. Until that savings is in place, anything else that is designed is going to be a waste of time.

"Until you can show me that you can do it, I'm sorry. The desire is the one thing that I cannot help people with."

To reduce debt and start accumulating that savings stockpile, many earners might have to perform what Knudson terms a "plasticectomy." Symbolic surgery on the charge cards should be performed if people can't pay off the balance of their credit cards every month, he advises. "People who understand interest earn it. People who don't understand interest pay it."

Eccles advises that earners consider short- and long-term goals toward financial security. After accumulating a savings plan, you should start considering retirement and estate planning. When single people start acquiring assets, such as a house, they should consider drawing up a will. "Are there people that you want to financially reward when you die?" Knudson said.

Fees for a financial planner can range from $50 to $125 an hour. Some planners earn commissions after their investment advice is followed. Others charge flat hourly fees. You should ask how you will be billed, and if the planner has potential conflicts of interest - for instance, if he or she stands to gain a commission from the sale of a certain investment vehicle.

Knudson said a client should look for a planner who has earned credentials, such as chartered financial consultant or certified financial planner designations. It takes up to two years of experience to qualify for these titles, and they carry professional clout similar to the CPA label earned by accountants.

You should ask a planner you are considering hiring about his or her investment philosophy. In addition, you can ask to see a planner's own personal portfolio. "Is he giving you investment advice that he's not taking himself? If he is involved in investment programs himself, that should be fully disclosed," Knudson said. Ask the planner for both client and peer recommendations. Ask how the planner earns his or her own money.

Most financial planners will offer that first consultation for free. "You can visit with a lot of planners and get a lot of advice if you're willing to go on a lot of first dates," Knudson said. Besides looking for a knowledgable, trained planner, you should consider a personality match.

Marianne Davis of the Utah chapter of the International Association for Financial Planning said her organization offers a referral directory of local planners. "They (clients) need to be aware because there are people who say they are financial planners when in reality they are not. They could be selling a number of different things."

For referrals, call Davis at 292-5914. Planners are also listed in the telephone book.

Financial planning, regardless of an earner's marital status, can be a smart investment. But single people need to be aware that get-rich-quick schemes usually don't make good on their promises. "If there is an investment program that sounds too good to be true, it is," Knudson said. "There is not a risk-free investment. Period. There is not such an animal."