Ask the Expert: Bob Gavlak on personal finance

It’s tax season, which means many people are scrambling to get their financial documents in order. Managing personal finances can be a daunting task, even after the filing deadline has passed. That’s why we invited certified financial planner Bob Gavlak to join our Ask the Expert webchat last week and answer our users’ money-related questions. Bob is a Wealth Advisor at Strategic Wealth Partners and a well-known financial educator, putting on regular seminars for pre-retirees and retirees to help sort through the many issues that arise during this time. Through these educational forums, he helps to empower people with the skills to design a successful financial plan. Bob’s goal is for these classes to provide a fresh outlook on a topic that is an integral piece to everyone’s financial success.

Here are the highlights from our webchat with Bob. For our French users, we ran a similar webchat with financial planner Jean-François Rousseau, which you can access here. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous and confidential.

Paying off debt strategically

QUESTION — “What is the best order in which to pay off common debts (credit card, mortgage, student loans, etc)?”

Bob Gavlak — “That’s a great question! Debt is always a tricky subject because it depends on so many different factors, but in general you should try and pay down debt like this:

  1. Unsecured debt (credit cards) – these tend to have the highest interest rates and impact your credit the most
  2. Student loan debt – these also tend to have higher interest rates than mortgage or auto debt
  3. Auto debt – since this is secured by a car, you tend to get good rates on this debt
  4. Mortgage debt – this is often the longest term debt, and while the interest may be high on a dollar amount, the long-term nature is beneficial

But the big thing is understanding the amount of interest you’re paying on a monthly basis and backing in to what is best to start on, then work down from there.

TIP: Once you pay off a credit card, keep that payment rolling into the next level and “snowball” your debt payments!”

Saving for retirement

QUESTION — “Hi, Bob. Any suggestions on “how much is enough” for retirement? Are the experts still recommending 70% of pre-retirement income (more or less, dependent upon chosen lifestyle)? How do you figure this all out?”

Bob Gavlak — “Oh boy, that’s a big one! Thank you for that! “Rules of Thumb” are tough because everything depends so much on an individual level, need, lifestyle choice, legacy goals, etc. Having “enough” depends on so many factors. I’ve seen clients with millions who can’t accomplish their goals, and others with 1/8 of that who live care-free. But the best way to figure it out is to understand what your lifestyle budget is, and then see how long your assets (and other income streams: pensions, government income, etc) will sustain that amount of expense. You might be surprised how little (or how much) you need based on that.”

Crypto- and virtual currencies

QUESTION — “What are your thoughts on investing in virtual currency, like Bitcoin?”

Bob Gavlak — “Investing in Bitcoin, or any crytpocurrency, is a tough situation right now. It is a trendy investment that is not well understood by the general public (or even professionals for that matter), and that’s what scares me. When I make investment decisions for myself or my clients, I want to fully understand what is going on and how potential changes in the market may impact my investment. There are still so many questions surrounding this specific topic that it makes it hard to trust. But if it is something you want to be involved in, I recommend only utilizing a small portion of your portfolio. If you bet too much on this (or any other trendy investment) you risk losing it and could set yourself back from all your other planning and saving you’ve done over time.”

Multiple credit cards

QUESTION — “Is it wise to transfer debt from one credit card to another to get a better interest rate?”

Bob Gavlak — “In general, yes! If you can save some money on interest that’s always going to be a good choice. Here’s what to look out for though:

  1. Opening a new card can be a hit to your credit, so be careful.
  2. Once you transfer the balance, be careful of going out and spending more on that now zeroed-out credit card.
  3. Credit cards can often offer great incentive deals to get you to switch, but if you don’t pay it off soon enough, you could get a higher interest rate than you started with.

So be smart and do your homework before making a change like that. But in general, YES, do your best to lower your interest payments!”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Bob Gavlak, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in May 10 at noon EST to chat with Michael Boivin, who will discuss diabetes prevention and treatment. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a demo.


Also published on Medium.