IAM Financial, LLC
In the 7th grade I knew that I wanted to work with money, like my dad. In 1997 I received a bachelors in finance from Michigan State University. In 2001 I became a Certified Financial Planner because CFPs are the standard for giving financial advice.
The longer I worked in the industry, the more I heard about a group that had an even higher standard - NAPFA. NAPFA, or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, has the most stringent membership requirements of any association in my profession. They offer truly comprehensive, fee-only Fiduciary advice with no commissions, surrender fees, or hidden fees. That's why out of the more than 800,000 individuals in the country who claim to be financial advisors/planners, less than 2500 qualify for NAPFA. Because of my love for organizing, and desire to be a part of an even more prestigious group, in 2004 I became a NAPFA Registered Financial Advisor.
To further enhance my specialty of working with retirees, in 2011 I added a tax service and became an Enrolled Agent with the Internal Revenue Service. Only Enrolled Agents, attorneys and CPAs may represent taxpayers before the IRS. This added service makes it easy for my seniors to have their planning, investment and taxes done in one location.
I currently serve as the membership director for the Midwest Board of NAPFA and on the Strategic Communications Committee for the Small Business Association of Michigan.
In my free time, I enjoy playing golf, teaching Yoshokai Aikido to kids and adults, and working on a personal finance blog, called Thinking Beyond Numbers, that’s changing the way the world thinks about money.
BS, Finance, Michigan State University
Vanguard ETFs are a great way to get exposure to US markets at a low cost. They will also give exposure to currency here in the US. Because they don't offer commissions or other fees, many advisors don't suggest them unless they charge a fee to manage, like I do.
As for dividend versus growth, if it's in a taxable account, I usually prefer growth to avoid extra taxes on dividends each year. Of course, check with your accountant to determine if this strategy fly's in Canada too!
Your answer depends largely on the product you are asking about. Many of these equity index annuities have high internal fees and limited returns specific to the product you are buying making it virtually impossible to answer your questions.
The key words in this non-answer include "high internal fees" and "limited returns". If you do a little research you'll find that they are one of those "it sounds to good to be true" ideas that seldom pan out in my experience. "All the return and none of the risk" is often how they are sold. BTW, they are almost always sold and very seldom invested in. By that I mean, nobody wakes up and says, "hey, I have some money, I think I'll find the best equity indexed annuity I can find." But some people go to large institutions and are "suggested" that they buy these products. The high fees go towards covering large commissions. If you're really interested, ask someone to do an independent analysis for a small fee. Someone that cannot sell you one at the same time so you know the advice you're getting is objective. Good luck.
Paying off the loan is usually the way to go. You'll no longer be paying interest and you'll not have the worry of a loan hanging over your head. If there's any left over, I'd save it towards the emergency fund.
Your answer depends largely on what you can afford. If you can buy a home with cash that meets your family needs, that might be the best alternative. If you have to finance and you can have the home paid off in 15 years or less and there are relatively low property taxes, it might be worth financing. If renting is inexpensive in your area, you might be better off renting just to keep things simple so you can focus your efforts on caring for your son.
Congratulations on starting so young. If I were investing $5,000 at age 24, and it was for retirement, I'd probably invest in index funds. There are a million to choose from, but something like the Vanguard Total Stock Market ticker VTI (prospectus) is a good place to start. There are 50 or so S&P 500 funds that would work as well. I like Total Stock Market funds because they give you access to large, medium, and small cap at the same time. Some even have international. As you add more funds, you can diversify into international developed and emerging markets.
If, however, you need the funds sooner than retirement, for buying a house, or something, I would not invest in all equities. Any funds needed in 1 to 3 years should be invested in money markets, CDs, or cash. Funds needed in 3 to 7 years can be invested in short and intermediate term bonds index funds. Beyond 7 to 10 years and your equities usually work. It all depends on your investing time horizon, investment plan, and risk tolerance.
To put together an investment plan, or financial plan, I'd suggest going to the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, or the Garrett Planning Network. They offer good, fee-only, objective advice. Good luck.