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FEFP: An Inside Look at Strategic Planning Season (EP64)

Wondering what goes on during strategic planning meeting season at Mason & Associates? Join Tommy, Ben, and John as they break down what to expect during this crucial time. From adjusting plans to accommodate changing goals to demanding excellence from your financial planner, this episode covers it all. 

Listen in to learn why this structured approach is essential for providing consistent advice to clients and how it helps adapt plans to fit evolving needs. Whether you're a current client or considering working with a financial planner, this episode offers insights into what to expect and what questions to ask to ensure your financial goals are on track.

Listen to the full episode here:

What you will learn:

  • What strategic meeting season is. (4:15)
  • When strategic meeting season is held. (7:05)
  • How holding these meetings allows us to be more focused and consistent. (13:00)
  • Why this structure is so important to us. (16:00)
  • The benefit of structuring these meetings this way. (20:15)
  • Why you may want to set up an LLC. (26:55)
  • What is going on with I bonds right now. (31:00)
  • How strategic planning meeting season helps adjust plans for clients. (34:00)

Ideas worth sharing:

  • “During strategic planning meeting season, we do not have any other meetings unless they’re emergencies. Meaning no new clients and no one-off meetings.” - Mason & Associates
  • “Tasks will take as long as the amount of time we allot to them.” - Mason & Associates
  • “Your lives have changed and your goals have changed, and every year, during strategic planning meeting season, we are thrilled to hear about that and see how we can help you plan for those changes.” - Mason & Associates

Resources from this episode:


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Read the Transcript Below:

Congratulations for taking ownership of your financial plan by tuning into the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, hosted by Mason & Associates, financial advisors with over three decades of experience serving you.

John Mason: Welcome to the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast. I'm John Mason, President and Certified Financial Planner at Mason and Associates. And on this episode, you've only got three of us: Tommy Blackburn and Ben Raikes, also certified financial planners and tax experts as well. This episode is going to be really cool and it's going to kind of like tag on to this forward-looking strategic planning meeting season that we've been mentioning.

But this episode in particular is going to talk about strategic planning meeting season: what it is, what you should expect from it as a client of Mason and Associates, how we think about planning going forward. And if you're working with another financial planner, our goal of this episode is not to bash them or show you that they're not doing what they're supposed to do.

But again, it's like, we want you to demand excellence. And this is the type of stuff that we believe you should expect from a financial planning team. So in this episode - strategic planning meeting season, what it is, what that means to you, what we're discussing during these meetings with clients - and as we get this episode kicked off, if you're wondering where Mike is, Mike's my dad and we're recording via Riverside today, it's our new podcast platform that produces this video.

And unfortunately, his technology is broken. Apparently, he couldn't figure out how to reconnect his mouse. So I got a text message from him before this episode that said, “Can't get my mouse to connect. Going golfing!” And I was like, well, that's pretty cool. And an awesome opportunity for a founder of the firm.

Ben Raikes:It's fantastic. And, I mean, everything that we talk about can kind of relate to the podcast topic, but now more than ever is such a good time to be able to do that because we're not in that April and May season of having back-to-back-to-back meetings. So it really allows us to have a little bit more flexibility with our schedule.

And I think everyone here on the podcast today is just thrilled that Mike, as you said, a founder of the company is able to take some time off and go play some golf. It makes us super happy that he's able to do that.

John Mason: One hundred percent. It's the plan coming to fruition - but let's also be honest guys, we like to take time off too.

And that's to your point, Ben, kind of the beauty of the cadence of things around here is that we have a predictable schedule that's flexible with clients, but it also allows us to work on the business and take some time off ourselves as well. So before a strategic planning meeting, I think across the firm, you're going to see people taking time off before we go into that busiest stretch of year for us.

Ben Raikes:If my new out-of-office is just going to say, “Not here today, couldn't reconnect mouse.”

Tommy Blackburn: See Ben. That's what Mike's message says.

John Mason: It's funny because Mike's my dad and Ken's my uncle and something about you guys taking off makes me really like excited. Like, I'm like, oh, Tommy's going to Europe or wherever you're going.

But like, my dad goes golfing and it makes me mad. I'm like, dude, you should be working - and I mean that a little tongue in cheek, but for whatever reason, it's like, well if I'm here, my dad should be here, you know? So I'm a little jealous of him that he's golfing today and we're doing the podcast.

But, truth be told, we enjoy doing this together as well. We'll go have a lunch break together and maybe, after doing three episodes of the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, I'll go sit in the sauna and work on my health space. So whoever wants to take this, why don't we go ahead and define what is strategic planning meeting season? What is that? What do we do it? When do we do it? How do we do it?

Ben Raikes:Tommy, take it away, brother.

Tommy Blackburn: Ben, I was hoping you were going to lead on this one. Strategic planning meeting season - the easiest point to begin there is when, kind of the end of your question. And for us currently, we reserve the right to change things if we think there's a better way.

But currently what we've been doing for three or four years now and works is mid-April through the end of May. We came up with that timing. because it's still towards the beginning of the year and tax season is behind us. A lot of the heavy beginning-of-year tax planning is behind us. We have a fresh tax return launch into that strategic planning meeting.

Notice as you've heard in other episodes, we don't call it annual reviews - while a review is certainly part of this and allows us to do our analysis, it's really a planning meeting, and we want to do it from both a strategic high level as well as a tactical what do we need to get done this year level?

So very forward-looking using data that's happened already. And why do we do it? We do it because we want to get together - I mean, this is an ongoing relationship. We are on retainer, so to speak, for our clients. We want to make sure we get together at least once per year, just to see what has changed.

What pivots do we need to make? Is it time to implement some actions right now? I will say sometimes - rarely, but sometimes - we will actually have some clients that say like I'm traveling the world this year, I trust you guys. We're in good shape, I'll do the strategic planning meeting next year.

We'll allow for that. We're not going to be so rigid that if you skip one once a decade, we're okay with that. But hopefully, everybody's so engaged, everyone wants to do these. And we see that it was actually pretty fun about our process when we sent out the scheduling, which we sent out the first wave electronically, meetings are booked almost instantly.

So clients are excited to meet with us too during this time. It makes it predictable for clients. They know now that, unless we change something, this is that time of year when I can expect to have that meeting. I know before that they've probably been in touch about reviewing my tax return, doing any tax planning there in the beginning.

A lot of people seem to be retiring - personally, what I'm seeing with clients right now, I don't know what it is by the beginning of the year. Usually, it's either in December or for some reason seem to have a quite a few that are happening right now. So that all that work outside is happening.

John Mason: So strategic planning meetings, Tommy, as you said, are April and May. We primarily do them via Zoom. They typically last about one hour. And the process for success has really evolved over time because we used to do - I don't know how you did it at your prior firms, but our cadence for annual reviews with clients was we would call the male during his birth month, and we would set an appointment. So we would call in June for July birthdays and then July for August birthdays, and in 2024, you have a relationship with a couple, two spouses, not one.

So arbitrarily picking one's birthday to be more important than the other just didn't really - for maybe it worked then, but I don't think it would work now. So I'm really glad we've done this evolution. And the cadence of being able to get together with all of your clients in April and May has allowed us to deliver similar advice at a similar time Whereas a January meeting - truthfully - is so much different than an October, November, December meeting. One's planning for the year and the other is wrapping up the year. So by flipping this to meeting with all of our clients at the same time where I think we're giving a better performance, I think we're giving better value. And as I reflect back on how I used to do these meetings before you guys joined the firm, I'd have a marketing meeting, an intro meeting, a plan delivery, and then an annual review all on the same day. And the one that probably lacked or the one that got the least amount of preparation was probably the annual reviewer old strategic planning meeting because I had to work really, really hard to onboard a new client. I had to get all the data into a financial plan. There was a big lift. Not that I was completely unprepared for the ongoing meetings, but they didn't require the same lift that those other meetings did.

Now that we've flipped this, we've completely changed it to where during strategic planning meeting season, we do not have any other meetings unless there are emergencies. Meaning no new clients, meaning no one-off meetings. Like we're very rigid and we're very protective because we want these meetings to be all about clients and we want them to have our full undivided attention. And oh, by the way, because we're not toggling between seven different types of meetings, the performance gets better and better throughout the season.

Tommy Blackburn: And another part of that, John is the message is consistent. It's consistent because it's all happening at the same time of year. I think about our strategic planning meeting two years ago.

And what was the one thing that we made sure we told everyone about?

Ben Raikes:Probably I Bonds.

Tommy Blackburn: Series I Bonds. Exactly, Tommy. Series I Bonds, because they were yielding something close to 10%. And so we had those meetings in April and May and we got to tell every single client that would listen about I Bonds.

Let's flip that on its head and say we go back to the old way of having meetings and we're just meeting people somewhat arbitrarily on their birthdays. Well, half of our clients are happy because they heard about I Bond's in January, and then half of them missed that awesome rate because they were born July, August, September, October, November, December.

That's not a good way to give and deliver client advice. It's also state of the world, right? So you think about, I'm sure you could say lots of different things happen throughout the world and we can't always predict exactly what's going to happen, but narrowing it down to two months rather than spreading it out over twelve months. Normally we have kind of the same quarterly reports that have come out and things haven't gotten shaken up that much.

So it really does help us deliver a consistent message and consistent recommendations as well.

Ben Raikes:I think consistency is key there. Just even thinking about, as John said, we've kind of cleared our plate of everything else. So just mentally every day during that period we've prepared for it. But we're waking up thinking like it's five or six strategic planning meetings today My mind is 100% sharpened and focused on that type of meeting and running it as the best client experience as possible, so it ensures clients not only get a consistent one, but they're getting the best one because that's all we're focused on at that point in time.

And then the other fun part is that consistent message - as you both have hit on - is anything that's coming out of those meetings, it's going to spread like wildfire among the advisors and through the rest of the client base. So it's just again, everything is very customized and individualized, but it's applied on a consistent basis.

John Mason: Strategic planning meeting season is probably one of my favorite times of the year because one, we have this running joke in the office that 2024 is the year of no changes at Mason and Associates, and we're debating what is a change versus an enhancement. You probably heard that in a prior episode. But the beautiful part for me and for the entire Mason and Associates team is for twelve weeks, I don't have the ability to even consider changing anything at Mason and Associates.

So everybody can breathe a little bit better. and then my tendencies as a human, as a blank schedule, is not very helpful for me. So when I know I have fifty, sixty, seventy, a hundred meetings over a six- to eight-week period, A: I'm more prepared. B, I don't have time to like dive into technology or go down rabbit holes that are unproductive.

Like I'm very, very good with a full calendar. And the end result is clients are getting a better financial planning experience than if I had one meeting every day throughout the year, which you would think, well, John, if you have four hours to prepare every single day for that one meeting, isn't that better? And the answer is no, it's not. It's really not better.

Tommy Blackburn: It reminds me of everyone here has an iPhone, I think, and you have a do not disturb button that you can put on your iPhone and you can actually program it for when you go to sleep. You can program it for your work hours so that you don't get texts and notifications and alerts, et cetera.

When we're in strategic planning meeting season, I feel like that's our do not disturb button. That's our focus button that says, Hey, during this time we're focusing only on our clients and the meetings that we have at hand.

John Mason: Well, I will say, we do a couple of things - with the do not disturb Ben that I think is good to share with our audience as well as clients - is that we tend to put on an away message while we're in strategic planning meeting season that basically reminds clients or potential clients like, Hey, for the next X amount of weeks, we're taking care of existing folks. Which means instead of responding within 24 to 48 hours, maybe we're responding to emails on Friday afternoon as we go into the weekend, or we're auto-forwarding those to the team and our support team is able to handle those requests. And fifty percent or more of the emails that come in can typically be handled by our support team. It's not that we don't want to see what's going on, but it is nice to know that the team is here, Mason support is here to help.

So we do like to put on that away message. If you're listening to this podcast and you're thinking, wow, I really like the idea of strategic planning meetings. I like the way Mason and Associates is talking about this. I want to become a new client. Well, if it's April, May, or June and you want to become a client now, there is one type of appointment that we still have during this season that's not a strategic plan. And that's what's called an introductory phone call.

Those are typically 15 to 30 minutes and we do those on Mondays. So if you're interested in becoming a new client, you'll notice our calendar does constrict - or get really confined - for April and May for new intro phone calls, but we do hold those on Mondays, and they are available. So that is the one meeting guys that will kind of like still have during that 8 to 12-week period.

Tommy Blackburn: And I think just one other point on all those very good points, John, is when we are going through this - obviously we're talking about it on a podcast right now. We don't hide from the fact that this is what we do in April and May of every year. We have the away message that we said, everyone knows that we're going through this.

We talk about it on our podcast. We talk about it on our YouTube channel. And it's been so great, at least for me personally, to see some clients reply back to that away message that says, Hey guys, that's right. Don't worry about getting back to this. We can chat in September, or we can chat in August, or I'll make sure I talk to your ops team about it.

I mean, our clients have treated us so well throughout this process and have been so understanding. And I think a part of that is us, Hey, we're not afraid to hide that this is how we have our meetings. And I think because of that transparency, we've gotten a ton of buy-in.

John Mason: Well, it's a rigid structure. It's a rigid structure. So it's maybe Tommy, you can share with the audience. Yeah, it's predictable. And why are we so passionate about, like maybe our audience is thinking, really guys? Like you do your strategic planning meetings in April and May only? Like I really want to meet with you in June, July or August. Why is our structure so important to us?

Tommy Blackburn: Well one, just because we're having the strategic planning meeting in April and May does not mean we don't meet with you throughout the rest of the year. There's usually action points that are going to come out of that. Life is going to happen. We're available. We're not going to force meetings throughout the rest of the year, but we're certainly available and meet with clients all throughout the year.

This is when we want to have that one minimum touch point with you to lay plans going forward. John, it was - well, one is interesting. We said, we're not going to do any changes here, but we're talking about it. We're only eleven days into 2024 and we're struggling with not doing any changes in 2024. Now that part of me is wondering, it's like, maybe we should like have some ideas during a surge this year so that Ben can get the full experience of “Here's some changes we should have.”

That's a joke. You mentioned as I'm kind of going back to some things that were said. I thought, actually, maybe a good point to drive home is the four hours of prep for the one meeting and why that's not good. And there's something about when you have that amount, your mind is going to wonder and you don't have the right amount of focus, I feel.

I think we've all experienced that where it's like, all right, I've got this system coming. I've got to deliver this value and here are the times I have to get it done. It really forces your mind to focus on what's important and prioritize those things versus if you have four hours leading up to a meeting all day, it's your mind almost never focuses.

So that's what I think, that's a benefit to doing \things this way. And I think we've laid out already as well many of the different reasons as to why we're kind of passionate about this predictable process, that we're flexible, that we're available to meet throughout the year. If you're out of the country, if you're taking that trip of a lifetime, yes, we will meet, we'll do the strategic planning meeting at a different time of year.

But ideally, we think it's in everybody's best interest that we have a predictable and consistent cadence, with plenty of flexibility and individuality, customization in this process.

John Mason: Right. We review taxes in Q1, we execute strategic planning meetings in Q2, we implement in Q3, and then we wrap up the end of year with end-of-year tax planning.

And sticking to that productive calendar, that rigid structure makes it a lot easier for us to add value to clients throughout the year, being available. And this is evolving. Like I met with a client yesterday who's retiring on April 30th. So we had a meeting yesterday to prepare for that.

And at the end of the meeting, I said, we probably don't need to get together in April or May. Like we just did that. Why don't we table our next meeting until July when your retirement's fully adjudicated, it's been three months? And that's the experience for our audience, like three to four months is a typical adjudication process that we're seeing now.

So why don't we just like skip strategic planning meeting, get together in July after you've been adjudicated? We can't set state taxes on your pension until it's been adjudicated. So let's just table everything until then. So we're also not like rigid stupid.

Tommy Blackburn: It’s like that flexible, customizable nature to us, right? Like this is the situation you get outside of the normal system this year.

John Mason: So a couple of things, Tommy: if you have four hours to prep and you put it on your calendar for four hours, I don't know if it's Murphy's law or whoever's law, but it's like tasks will take as long as the amount of time that you allot to them.

And we know that to be true as advisors. And, I was watching, I'm on a health kick for the audience, Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, Thor. He goes through these challenges. and one of them was a four-day fast. And at the end of the four-day fast, they were monitoring his blood levels. And these ketones, I think is what they called it.

And it was amazing that like, as he was starving and his body started to need food and he had to go spearfishing, his body started producing more ketones and all of a sudden he was more focused and all of a sudden he could hear things, see things, do things differently as his body was learning to go on this alternative fuel.

Where am I going here? Kind of the same thing happens when you're preparing for four or five, six, seven meetings a day. You get very efficient, you get this adrenaline, whatever's going on in our bodies is making us better for clients because we're not just at the buffet all day, eating all we want, getting lazy, right?

Like we're kind of having to go spearfishing. Like it's an endurance activity, strategic planning meeting season. And I think because of that, again, it's a better product.

Ben Raikes:I think that's a great comparison. I think I might've said this on a podcast before - what I compare it to is I sold a house last year, and part of selling the house I needed to replace all of the doorknobs in the house.

Don't ask me why I had to do it, but I just had to do it. And so the first one I replaced on my bedroom. I'm tearing it out of the little clamshell thing and I'm clumsily taking the other one off. And it honestly probably took 75 minutes for me to do it. But then the next one, I knew how to open the clamshell a little bit better.

I had already taken the other doorknob off. So I knew that. Maybe that took 60 minutes. And by the time of it, I was replacing doorknobs in 15 minutes - not to say that I'm the doorknob expert, or I want to come to your home and do this for you, but we get in that consistent flow. We get in a state where, man, we are really able to do these things efficiently and point out “Here's how I can do this prep for a meeting better than I did the last time.”

Tommy Blackburn: I think John was writing down notes of like, Ben, replace doorknobs in my house.

John Mason: I was writing, I sure hope Ben can review a tax return faster than he can replace a doorknob.

Ben Raikes:Oh, I assure you. I assure you I could do that much quicker, but to your point, John - flow state getting better with each successive one again, it not only helps us to be efficient, but it helps our clients as well.

When we condense all of these meetings so tight together, we're able to look for things that we had seen in previous plans and implement that in new ones and vice versa. So it's a really productive time for us and for our clients, I believe.

John Mason: So much comes from these strategic planning meetings. So this is the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, and we don't always talk about FERS or FEGLI or what have you. But during strategic planning meetings, we're all in the office together.

So five advisors and fourteen members. So we're motivated. We're excited. We're sharing ideas. But we also make sure we're all together six days a month at the office in Newport News, Virginia. And what ends up happening is we all go through evolutions in our own personal life. And because we're friends and business partners and financial planners, the evolution that we go through in our personal life tends to find its way into strategic planning meetings just through our life experience.

And what I can share, and I'm sure y'all feel the same way, at 22 out of Virginia Tech, I didn't own a house. I didn't have any children. I lived in an apartment and I lived in theory land. Well, now at 36 years old, I am a much more relatable human to my clients. The age difference may be similar or less, but I'm a human. I've been through things that I hadn't been through yet before. So as we continue to live and breathe on this planet and go through evolutions in our own financial plan, we're bringing some pretty neat stuff to financial planning meetings as well.

Ben Raikes:Absolutely. Absolutely. I think, staying on topic, one of the things that have recently happened to me, which I think we all plan to share with all of our clients in some capacity for these upcoming strategic planning meetings is: I got married last year and we bought a new house at the end of last year as well. And part of buying that new house was, Hey, we've got some assets that we want to make sure we protect now. Let's increase the coverage limits on the house, on the condo. Let's make sure everything is squared away on the car and let's make sure we get the umbrella policy.

We've probably all talked to our clients about umbrella policies and why they're important. And now it was time for me to practice what I preach and get one. I was shocked that I increased coverage on everything and added an umbrella policy, and saved about $800 a year. And so this is something that, it's personally relatable to me, but why not share this information with our clients?

If you haven't looked at your own policies in maybe three to five years, give your agent a ring. Apply. It might be with a different company. It might be with the same company, but we want to share our experiences and what's worked for us with our clients. To your point, John, even if it's not, “Hey, we need to reexamine your FEHB selection.”

John Mason: That's awesome, Ben. And it's almost fortuitous in the sense that we've got some new technology - kind of beta available to us now - to help us more efficiently analyze these property and casualty liability policies for clients going forward. So I think that's going to be a takeaway from this strategic planning meeting season is beginning to demo that new technology to help us be a little bit more efficient in helping clients with it.

I've demoed it for myself personally and was happy with it that three to five years, you say, is an industry kind of recommendation. It is something that needs to be revisited. I can tell you personally we revisited it a year or two ago - saved some money by switching insurers. And we've been monitoring it this year. I'm not seeing it.

So if your agent, if you got a good one who can craft us some more savings, I surely would like to talk to them. But my understanding too is if you shop this too frequently, it's almost like all these companies are aware of each other. So there's an art to all of this. We've got some new technology we're excited to share with clients.

It's like everything, right? It needs to be revisited periodically. We need to revisit beneficiary designations. We need to revisit our open-season benefit elections. What health plan are we in? What life insurance do we have? All of these things need to periodically be reexamined.

Tommy Blackburn: So as we think about some of the life events that we've all been through. So the rental, that's what I remember too. Ben was saying that he added an umbrella policy - and kudos to him, good advisor of making sure he has a landlord policy to realize that that's a different type of property now that he's insuring.

It's making me think about the FinCEN, CTA, beneficial ownership. And so many folks, you have an LLC out there, it's solid planning advice. Have an LLC if you're an independent contractor, potentially if you have a rental, if the mortgage, or if you don't have one, if it all makes sense to do that.

Well, recent laws have come out, the Financial Crime Enforcement Network, FinCEN, where now anybody - almost anybody, there's a few carve-outs - but just about anyone who has a state registered entity. This can be an LLC, a partnership, a corporation. They want you to now report this ownership. And if it was in existence in 2023, we've got all year in 2024 to do this.

If you just did it, you've got like 90 days. There's some pretty steep penalties, I think like $500 a day if you don't do this, and they somehow enforce it and come after you. Essentially government wants to know who owns these entities so that we're not money laundering, supporting terrorism.

They just want to be able to see behind the veil a little bit. So that's a little bit down the rabbit hole, but this is, I know, will be an item in our strategic planning meeting because we have many clients with LLCs. And so, we've stayed on top of it and we'll be advising that this is a task that needs to be taken care of.

Ben Raikes:And Tommy, just to drive it home - and you explained all that perfectly. This is not just someone who's a partnership, or a partner of an LLC. This is for those that just have a single-member LLC. So a lot of our former government clients, they go out and they work on their own and they say, should I set up an LLC?

And normally the advice is, Yes. It can't harm you. So if you're someone who's listening to this now and you fall under that category and you have a single-member LLC, this is something that you need to be paying attention to.

John Mason: And you could have a - it could be dormant. It could have been useful 15, 20 years ago, but no longer a viable solution and it’s causing you harm.

And because we're business owners and LLC owners and things of that nature like we're very in tune to what's going on with this rule. We have a compliance attorney who's going to help us understand how to comply with this rule and whatnot. So yeah, life changes. This is the type of stuff that we're bringing up during strategic planning meetings and other things guys is, maybe I move in the future.

I don't know if I find a house this year, next year, whenever we find a house, but I have a home equity line of credit. Sorry, Dave Ramsey, I think it's helpful to have one. And if a house pops up that Sarah and I really want to move to, I have equity. We have equity in this home that it's now much easier for me to make a down payment.

Is it risky to use a HELOC in that situation? It's more risky than not, but in today's world, I feel comfortable that we could sell our current home. We recently bought a car, new vehicle. Well, Costco, I don't know how many people know this, but we got a thousand dollars off because we used Costco Auto, through a dealership and saved a thousand dollars off MSRP just using some of these tips and tricks.

So we never know what we're going to be able to do to be able to provide value, but because we're kind of finance nerds and trying to maximize this stuff, if a client says, “Hey, John, I want to buy a Chevy 3500”, I'm going to be like, well, let me tell you everything I know about that because I just did that.

Tommy Blackburn: And hopefully not only did you just do it, but you've probably got a handful of clients or maybe more than a handful between all of us who have done it. So you get the benefit of John's experience. And you get the benefit of all the other clients that we help and what they've learned.

John Mason: I love it. So what are we thinking? We mentioned the beneficial ownership. We mentioned homeowner's insurance policies. What are some other things that we think we will be talking about during strategic planning meeting season 2024?

Ben Raikes:We didn't necessarily discuss this, but I think an aspect we want to look at, I mentioned this earlier is I bonds.

A lot of people got I bonds when they were north of 9%, close to 10%. I think they're hovering right around 5% now. They're still tax-deferred. So in some instances they still may be better than going out and buying a CD. But for a lot of folks, it might make sense to start considering surrendering these things, particularly if they've been open for more than a year.

I think that's something that we need to hit on. It was two years ago, everybody buy these - and now we're rolling back to where it's kind of in a gray area where maybe we sell them now.

Tommy Blackburn: It's going to be consistent as an SPM theme, a strategic planning meeting theme there, that I bonds will be on our checklist on our radar, but it's going to be so individualized to your point, Ben, what is your tax situation?

Does it make sense to cash these in now? Or is there enough of a tax hit? Maybe it's a Medicare Irma thing we need to be watching for, Medicare premium.

Ben Raikes:So great point.

Tommy Blackburn: It is a concept and then, let's apply it to your individual situation. It will be thought of and considered. It's not necessarily a Fed thing and I don't know how much I will or won't.

I think it'll be client-by-client if it makes sense. But credit card points are something that's always been intriguing to me, but I feel like I'm learning more about it right now and ways to make it easier to fully utilize those. So I think for some clients, particularly ones that I can identify, that do a lot of international travel.

I think I've got some tools I want to share with them this year that can maybe make it a little bit easier as I just kind of have my own little hobby here recently of learning about them.

John Mason: We're going to come into these meetings, guys, prepared, 110-point checklist, ready to rock and roll.

We're going to come in ready. And one of the things I want our audience to know is that we're going to have an agenda. We're going to be prepared. We're going to have all these items to talk about. But we're still going to say, what's most important to you today? What's hot on your mind? So that we can immediately go and solve the problem at hand.

Like if the client wants to know what color’s the sky and we answer what color’s the grass? Well, that's not helpful, right? So we need to be able to answer the questions or address the concerns that they have. So the takeaway for the audience is yes, we're coming in prepared and ready to add value, but we're also coming in prepared and ready to add value to ask hard questions.

We're also prepared and ready to come in and just listen and figure out what the concerns are and how we address those. So I don't want people to think just because we have our agenda that we're going to dominate the meeting. There's going to be a lot of opportunity for us to say, can you tell me more about that?

Or, John, I'm really concerned about this. Well, can you tell me more about why you're concerned or what's the root of the question? Because I can answer two plus two equals four, but like I want to know why you're asking that. So something out there, other federal stuff that we may talk about this year: federal employee health benefit updates.

Those of you who are Medicare-age came out with this new thing this year, right? There was a part D now attached to your FEHB. And what did that look like? And is it working for you? Should we switch from Blue Cross Blue Shield to GIHA? What about Medicare Advantage plans? Do these things work? So I think that'll be a topic.

I think we constantly address things every so often as they become important. So let's say, Tommy, that somebody was uninsurable, meaning they had maybe type two diabetes or cancer survivor or what have you, and they're carrying Federal Employees Group Life Option B. Well, we know that Federal Employees Group Life Option B is expensive, and gets more expensive every five years.

So we get to review that with our clients and it's not a surprise when those premiums go up.

Tommy Blackburn: Not at all. We've already discussed, this is coming. We revisited. And it may even be, is that health concern even still there anymore? Or is it time to revisit whether option B, maybe that was our best case under the scenario you laid out, but perhaps our health has improved.

Let's not just go out and drop it. Let's talk about it and let's see if we can shop and get a better policy in place, if life insurance is even needed anymore. So there's a number of things that go in to that analysis.

John Mason: “If you can afford to retire, you can typically afford to die” is the saying that we have at Mason and Associates. Now that doesn't mean if we're terminally ill that we're going to be dropping life insurance.

Tommy Blackburn: That wouldn't be a good math decision.

John Mason: Yeah, that would not be good. So yeah, we continue to review this. Maybe you received an inheritance and we don't need that FEGLI option B anymore. So reviewing that, maybe Ben, like your estate plans right now is what it is. But if you had kids three years from now, everything's changed.

Ben Raikes:Everything's changed. I mean, it's not only your financial plan that changes year over year over year. But it's every aspect related to your financial plan and your estate plan is certainly part of that. But we were talking about condos and rentals earlier.

I mean, maybe you had an estate plan that heavily addressed a condo or a rental property that you wanted one of your kids to inherit. And now those kids live halfway across the country and will never want anything to do with that. Guess what? We probably need to talk about and adjust your documents as appropriate.

Or maybe now you have, you did have two kids and maybe now you have five grandkids. Are all of those grandchildren appropriately addressed in all of your documents? What's changed? I mean, none of this is static, which is I think what we three find super interesting about going into these meetings at each and every single time.

It's not only the tax laws and the investment, and some of these really cool strategies that come along that we get to digest and relate to you all. Your lives have changed. Your goals have changed. And we're thrilled to hear about that every year and see how we can help you plan for those things.

John Mason: The ripple effects of how your life changes and how that reverberates throughout a financial plan. One of the simplest analogies is like when, when you're young and you have a family and you have no money, you have a really high insurance need and you have really low money. And then over time, hopefully, what's happening is our assets are increasing to such a point where it's like, this is not important anymore, right?

We don't need that insurance policy. So our income has gotten better, we've paid off debt, we can afford to retire, we've been promoted to GS whatever, we have a gigantic survivor benefit, we took survivor benefits from - like, we didn't have that data before. And acting like the decisions we made 20 years ago are still the decisions we should be making today is just not not where we want to show our life change.

Tommy Blackburn: Sure, life changes.

Ben Raikes:Exactly.

John Mason: So strategic planning meeting is all about reviewing these kind of things beneficiary designations. So maybe you filled out a FIRS beneficiary designation or maybe you filled out a FEGLI, and maybe all of that was perfect. And then you had a kid, and now all of a sudden we have a trust, and now we need to update it to the trust.

Tommy Blackburn: Or maybe you got remarried.

John Mason: Maybe you got remarried, or maybe a child or a spouse has developed a drinking or alcohol problem and we need to now protect money for them.

So it's going into a trust or we don't like the man or woman that your child is getting married to and we want to protect money from that spouse. So maybe all of this is changing. Maybe we're skipping your kids entirely and going right down to the grandkids for beneficiary designations. So much changes over time. So reviewing revisiting those beneficiary designations as part of federal employee financial planning-

Ben Raikes:And John, sorry - one quick note just to wrap all of our points together. The strategic planning meeting season is just the dedicated time to talk about all of those things. If you're saying, “Hey something has completely changed, and I want all of my money to skip my kids and go directly to your grandkids.”

That's one of those meetings where we say well, hey, let's talk about that now. So again, we have dedicated time to do all of these things for our strategic planning meetings. But as those big life changes happen, don't feel like, well, I'd love to talk to, John, Tommy, or Ben, but I've got to wait until April. No, that's an email. That's a call now. And let's get something on the books.

John Mason: And that's also a time where we're going to say, pause. Can you tell me more about what's going on here? Because we typically don't just disinherit an entire level of beneficiary. So can you please tell me more what's going on?

Tommy Blackburn: I think that's a good point.

John Mason: And getting to the root.

Tommy Blackburn: Yeah. I mean, that's a really good scenario, but there are other ones where it's like, “Hey, I need a distribution that's just not characteristic.”

Okay, it's a good thing that I'm here, just like a speed bump, so to speak. I'm not trying to stop you, but let's just talk about this. I just need to know what's happening, and then you can uncover other issues and it's a completely different course of action.

John Mason: Well, guys, I think it's been another awesome episode of Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast. Let's give a big shoutout to our clients. Thank you for trusting us. We can't wait to serve you during strategic planning meeting season. It's right around the corner: April, May of 2024. So thank you for trusting us. We're honored to serve as your financial planners. Thank you to our audience.

For everybody listening, remember: things are what they seem at Mason and Associates. We're here to support, empower, educate, and motivate you to make changes in your financial plan. Do us a favor: if you'd like to become a client. You can find us at or 757-22-9898. If you're not interested in becoming a client, that's great too.

We know there's a lot of DIYers out there. Smash that like button, share this podcast with your friends, your family, your coworkers. Send us an email to masonfp, like ‘financial planning’, at We'd love to hear from you. We'd love to hear what we're doing great, what you would like to hear in future episodes. We’re Mason and Associates! Thank you for being on this journey with us in our third year of the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast.

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