'Fiscal cliff' fears don't change financial-planning basics

Monday - 12/17/2012, 3:08pm EST

Joseph Sullender, Certified Financial Planner, Wells Fargo Advisors

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By Andrew Mitchell
Federal News Radio

A certified financial planner who advises many federal employees and retirees says he feels confident that any deal between Congress and the president to avoid the "fiscal cliff" will not substantially change the tax and retirement advice he gives his clients.

Wells Fargo Advisors' vice president for investments Joseph Sullender appeared on this week's edition of For Your Benefit, which airs Mondays at 10 a.m. on Federal News Radio.

"The rhetoric and the way this is being used politically in the media — my goodness! — is creating this scene that all of a sudden next year, you know, we're all going to double our taxes," Sullender said, "and it just isn't true."

Sullender gave an example of a federal dual-income couple who make $250,000 a year. If President Obama and the Democrats prevail, this couple will indeed pay more in taxes next year. However, Sullender said, in sitting down with the couple and going over their finances, he calculated that their income tax would rise by about $900. "You could just see the exhale," Sullender said, as the couple found out that their tax burden would not go up nearly as much as they had feared.

Sullender added that most federal employees make less than $250,000 and "those brackets will likely stay as they are," given that both Republicans and Democrats agree on not raising tax rates on the middle class.

The more things change...

Sullender told co-hosts Bob Leins and Tammy Flanagan that the basics of financial planning remain the same: live within your means.

"If you're spending more than you are bringing home, you have a five-alarm fire to put out," Sullender said.

"The only way I've found to do it is you've got to have a budget," Sullender said. "You have to have some sort of way on a monthly basis to not only monitor what you spend, but to control it."