The holiday season can be hectic: travel plans, family events and shopping for gifts. If you’re concerned about how your end-of-year activities are going to affect your budget, now is a great time to check in with a trusted advisor at Berkshire Bank to focus on your financial goals and keep things on the right track.
No matter one’s job or stage of life, Berkshire employees like Rebecca Sorrentino are prepared to meet clients where they are. Sorrentino, a MyBanker who has worked at Berkshire for 26 years, visits clients at home, a work location, or elsewhere. MyBankers also provide free one-on-one financial advisory services.
Sorrentino is passionate about sitting down with clients to undergo “financial checkups.” Just like taking an annual trip to the doctor’s office, the team at Berkshire aims to meet with their clients at least once a year to make sure they’re in good financial health. Doing so is the best way to anticipate any future challenges coming down the pipeline and address them proactively.
Some aspects of financial strain are bound to come at least once a year; that’s why Jim Kane believes that the end of the year is the perfect time for customers to come in and chat with their Berkshire bankers. “This is the time where people start to push everything off to the new year.” said Kane, Regional Financial Center Manager in the Berkshires. “But I would say being more proactive about your finances, especially heading into the holidays, is really important. This is a time where people spend more money than ever. Rates are very high as far as savings accounts and other investment tools go, and a lot of people could benefit from the unique opportunities going on right now.”
The holiday season is also, of course, a time of giving. Anthony Segala, an Investment Advisor with Berkshire Bank Wealth Management, recommends that those looking to open their hearts and wallets make a plan before making charitable contributions. In particular, it’s key to make sure you’re giving to reputable and certified nonprofits.
“Solicitations come in quite frequently, and you want to make sure that you’re giving to legitimate organizations,” he said. “It’s really about staying organized and utilizing your resources in the form of financial professionals and community leaders that know the space.”
“We work with clients to help advise them on tax-effective strategies in alignment with philanthropic pursuits. One local resource is the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, which is led by professionals that know the community and what organizations are in need,” Segala said. Similar resources exist in other communities to help guide effective and responsible charitable giving.
Before one can give back, it is important to undergo the necessary task of taking a comprehensive look at your budget. Berkshire Bank has financial wellness programs that give clients the tools to educate and empower themselves to monitor their spending and strategize ways to pay off debt, as well as invest in their future.
The simplest way to begin investing is toward one’s retirement. For those with a workplace retirement plan, Segala recommends allocating the maximum amount out of one’s paycheck possible, while still leaving enough to comfortably pay the bills, “because the beauty of a retirement plan that’s sponsored by your workplace is that it happens automatically. Then, it isn’t at risk for being used to spend at your discretion, and it can accumulate over time.” It’s never too early to consider the future, even if the investment is minimal.
Sorrentino often works with college students to help them figure out a budget and evaluate how much they can realistically begin investing towards their future. Like any other client, she helps them look at their bank statements and evaluate how they’re spending their money, and whether or not they’re meeting their individual financial goals. On a broad and basic level, she recommends strategizing to save 20 percent of one’s paycheck for a rainy-day fund. That way, there will be funds available to put into certificates of deposit (CDs) or other investment tools later down the line — or take the stress out of a future unexpected crisis.
Kane knows how important it is to have systems in place in case of an emergency. Strategies like a home equity line of credit are excellent safety nets for homeowners, and Kane notes that “your best chance of getting one is when you least need it.”
He continued, “If rates go down again, you can always refinance and get a better rate. But usually, when people desperately need the money for a big, unexpected expense, that’s when it might be a little bit more difficult to go through the process. So now would be a great time to get in there, while housing values are still really high, and get financing in place. Then it’s there if you need it.”
Berkshire understands this kind of planning can often feel overwhelming, and that some clients may feel discouraged by their financial situation, or even feel that they’re beginning to worry about their budget too late. For Sorrentino, it’s never too late. “No matter where you are in your life, you can still figure it out,” she said. She builds trust with clients based on their knowledge that she’s not there to judge, but rather to guide them through strategies to pay off debt and improve credit, even if these things don’t happen overnight.
Kane recommends doing a check-in any time there’s a big life event: marriage, divorce, births, deaths, college plans for you or a child, or even beginning a new job. Berkshire wants to be with you every step of the way to make sure your future is secure, and they take pride in getting to know clients over the long term.
“People will come in and tell us so much about what’s happening in their life, and it all funnels back to the financial side of things,” Segala said. “The ability to have a conversation with clients about their financial goals is powerful. Everybody has a different story and they’re all at a different point in life. To be able to have those discussions is very rewarding because they’re leaning on you to provide a sense of guidance and direction, and that’s a big responsibility that our group takes seriously.”
Starting the journey is as simple as booking an appointment online or walking into a Berkshire financial center with a question. Segala knows that taking the first steps on the journey to financial wellness can sometimes be overwhelming. “Life is busy,” he said. “But when you set that appointment up and you go, you tend to walk out of there feeling a lot better about things.” The team at Berkshire looks forward to getting to know you and providing personalized service and tailored solutions to help you live your best financial life.