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By Jessica Lanning, JD, CFP®


This blog post is about putting your financial worries into perspective.

My family taught me last week that if you fear triangles, you can convince yourself that anything is a triangle.

I was back visiting the gene pool in rural eastern North Carolina out on my daily walk, when I came upon a snake slithering across the road.

I live mostly in urban environments these days, so this snake encounter was both exciting and terrifying.  Was I in danger?

I remember as a kid being taught to stay away from snakes in general, but in particular to stay away from snakes with triangular heads.  Those belong to rattlesnakes, copperheads, and the dreaded cottonmouth (or water moccasin).

Parents warned that a bite from one of those was certain death.  Stay away from snakes with triangular heads!

Triangular head?!?!  Did this snake have a triangular head?  How can I tell?  What does a triangular head look like?  I had no idea and no access to the internet.

I must’ve stared at the thing for 10 minutes while walking next to it, probably terrifying the poor thing and conceivably running the risk of getting bitten.  (Let’s question the wisdom of that for a minute.)

I figured my body would keep the hawks away as the snake made its way across the road, and I would have adequate time to evaluate the shape of its skull.  By the time it was safely to the other side, I was convinced it had a triangular head.


Encountering Financial Snakes with Triangular Heads

My clients, friends, and family members will do this, too, with their financial issues.

They’ll come across something, let’s say, a 680 credit score on their credit report.

They’ve been told anything below 800 is bad, they’ve been aspiring to a 900 credit score, and then they discover they have the 680 credit score.

Google this enough, read enough articles, talk to enough friends, and anyone can be down a rabbit hole of credit nightmares attributed to a 680 score.

A 680 credit score is not a triangular head and not fatal.  If you’re not applying for credit to buy something (car, house, credit card, etc.) anytime soon, this is actually a non-issue.

Is improving a credit score worthwhile?  If you think you’re going to apply for credit in the future, yes.  But making sure you’re dying 91-year-old mother’s bills are paid on time while she’s in hospice so she keeps a good credit score?  No!  And, yes, I’ve actually had to have that conversation.

Until the 680 credit score holder gets expert advice that applies to their particular situation, they’re in danger of taking a pretty innocuous discovery and turned it into certain death.  So unnecessary.


Sorting Financial Triangles from Not-Triangles

What happens more often than not is clients, friends, and family lack context and education for the financial triangles they think they see.

They’ve heard a story or read an article.  They’re smart people and care a lot about their well-being.  Something vaguely familiar is now in their field of vision, and the danger signals go off.  They get on the internet, social media, and call their friends and family.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that course of action, but it perhaps shouldn’t be the last.  Getting solid advice based on your situation is worth a phone call to an expert.  Fix what needs to get fixed and take the rest of your plate.

Rest assured also that there are far fewer triangular heads than you think, and if you do come across one, it’s unlikely to cause certain death and there’s much to do to bring safety to the situation.

I do see financial triangular heads from time to time.  Things like:

  • Assets improperly titled.
  • Revocable living trusts unfunded.
  • Gaps in insurance coverage.
  • Lack of proper estate planning or asset protection.
  • And others….

Even these can be rectified before they bite in many cases.  Recognize you need help and get it.


It Was a King Snake

Once I could look up the snake I saw, I learned that it was a pretty harmless (and helpful) king snake.  They don’t have triangular heads.  To my untrained and fearful eye, though, I had no way of knowing that.

I did the safest thing:  I kept my distance, and I didn’t pick it up.  No, I have no idea why it crossed the road, but it was fun to watch it wander to the other side.

If you want to talk about the financial triangular heads you’re wondering about and fearing, please reach out.


Lanning Financial Inc. is a registered investment adviser. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

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