Financial Checklist for the New Year
Have you resolved to better manage your finances this year? Here is a list of action items you should consider to start the new year off right. As your trusted advisor, I can play a valuable role as well.
- Start or refresh your financial plan - One of the most important and valuable areas I can help you is to create a financial plan. Together, we will identify and prioritize your goals, create and analyze your budget, help you maximize your social security benefits, review your current investment allocation, create a suggested investment allocation, create a plan to save for your children's college expenses, determine if you are on track for meeting all your financial goals, consider different financial and estate planning strategies, and review insurance and debts. For many of my clients that I am providing ongoing consulting or management services, there is no cost for this service. It is included in your annual fees. Reviewing and refreshing your plan once every year or two is advised. Assembling the documents and meeting with me to create, review, and implement your finished plan will take about four hours of your time.
- Review your credit report - Monitoring your credit reports regularly is an important part of being in control of your finances. You should review your credit report annually. There are three major credit reporting agencies in the US: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Your credit report may differ at each agency so I recommend pulling a report from all three agencies and you can do this once a year for free. Here is a link to pull your credit report. https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action It generally takes less than five minutes to pull your credit but you'll want to create a PDF report and review the report carefully which will take a little more time, perhaps up to an hour. Consider involving me as your financial advisor for help improving your debt strategy.
- Review your benefits at work - usually you cannot change your benefits at work until open enrollment which is often in the autumn time frame. However, being prepared ahead of time is advised. Be especially mindful of health insurance, life insurance, and disability insurance. What is the best option for your family? Do you have enough coverage or will you need to pursue a private policy to supplement your coverage? Are you taking advantage of tax savings opportunities such as a Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts? Review your available benefits with your financial advisor and consider changes so you are prepared for open enrollment. Total time spent will be one to two hours.
- Create or update your will - If you don't have a will, you may need one. If you do have a will, you may need to update it. Below is a link to my recent blog post which offers more details on whether you need a will or whether it is time for an update. blog/do-you-need-a-will-do-you-need-to-update-your-will. If you already have a will and it is up to date, communicating with your heirs about your wishes and intentions is an important part of the estate planning process. Make sure your executor has a list of all your accounts, the location of important documents, recipes, and photos. Make sure you have a plan for how your executor will access the accounts and documents when the time comes. Here is a link to a service that can help you store and share critical documents for a fee: https://www.everplans.com/ Creating a will and properly signing it in front of a notary or witnesses will take at least four hours. Please let me know if you need a referral to an attorney.
- Track your spending and create a budget – many clients that I talk to have never created a budget. This may be OK if you're saving enough to meet your goals and not going into debt, but having a firm grasp on where your hard earned money is being spent is another aspect of being in control of your finances. I recommend using mint.com to track your finances for free. Mint.com allows you to link your checking, savings, and credit card accounts to automatically track how your money is being spent. Expenditures can be categorized and Mint can automatically create a budget. It also tracks loans, investments, and property values. Here is a link to set up an account: https://www.mint.com/
- Check your Social Security earnings record - each year the Social Security Administration (SSA) records your earnings for the prior year. Earnings are used to calculate your Social Security benefits. It is a good idea to check and make sure your wages were correctly recorded and your estimated benefits have been factored into your retirement plan. Since the SSA no longer sends an annual statement in the mail, you must create an online account with the SSA. Here is a link to set up your account with the SSA, check your benefit estimates, and check to make sure your income from the prior year was recorded correctly: https://www.ssa.gov/. If you find an error, contact the SSA to get it corrected. Maximizing your Social Security benefits is an important part of your financial plan, there are several claiming strategies that can be used. Checking your Social Security benefits usually takes just a few minutes to complete and we will fold the results into your financial plan.
- Shop your auto/home/umbrella insurance - there are two priorities with your property and casualty insurance. By far, the most important of these two priorities is adequate insurance coverage from a reputable company. This means the right coverage amounts from a company with fair claims paying history. Part of your financial plan should specify proper limits for your personal coverage. Areas where I see clients trip include having limits that are too low, such as liability limits or uninsured/underinsured motorist, personal injury protection which includes lost wages, or inadequate limits on valuable property such as jewelry and art. The second priority behind having good coverage is saving money, if you can reduce your premium without sacrificing quality of coverage, shopping around can make sense. Shopping your insurance can be somewhat time consuming. Plan to spend at least 4 hours on this project.
- Change your financial account passwords - to say we all have to keep track of a lot of passwords is a bit of an understatement. Passwords can be compromised and should be changed periodically, especially those relating to your financial accounts. I recommend changing the password to your bank and brokerage accounts every 6 months. You might consider a free password storage vault such as Norton Identity Safe. Here is a link: https://identitysafe.norton.com/
- Review/update your tax withholding - Americans get billions in annual tax refunds at the end of each tax year. Using your refund to save for financial goals such as making an IRA contribution is a solid strategy. But you might also consider updating your tax withholding so that you come out about even when you file your return. This prevents the government from using your extra tax dollars each year before you get your return. Changing your tax withholding is done using IRS Form W-4. Each year I help a few clients pinpoint their withholding and I can help you with this as well. This generally takes less than one hour. You can also use the IRS withholding calculator for free at https://www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-withholding-calculator
- Maximize your retirement account contribution - if you work for a company that has a 401k or 403b retirement plan, you can make elective deferrals up to $18,500 per year in 2018. If you are over age 50, you can make an additional catch up contribution of $6,000 for a total of $24,500 per year. If your employer matches your contribution, you should contribute at least enough to capture the maximum match. If you can, try to maximize your contribution up to the IRS limit. Changing your contribution amount should take a few minutes. I can help you calculate how much you need to contribute to meet your retirement goal.
- If you have earned income and are under the age of 70 1/2, you can make a Tradtional IRA contribution of up to $5,500 in 2018. If you are over age 50, you can make an additional catch up contribution of $1,000 for a total of $6,500 per person. The ability to deduct a traditional IRA contribution on your taxes is limited based on income and participation in a company sponsored retirement plan. You have until April 15th, 2018 to make a contribution for 2017 and you have until April 15th, 2019 to make a contribution for 2018. I can help you determine how much you are eligible to contibute and deduct based on your own specific circumstances.
- If you have earned income you can make a Roth IRA contribution of up to $5,500 in 2018. If you are over age 50, you can make an additional catch up contribution of $1,000 for a total of $6,500 per person. However, the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is limited for those with incomes over $120,000 (single filers) or for those with incomes over $189,000 (joint filers) in 2018. You have until April 15th, 2018 to make a contribution for 2017 and you have until April 15th, 2019 to make a contribution for 2018. I can help you determine how much you are eligible to contibute based on your own specific circumstances.
I look forward to serving as your trusted financial advisor for many years to come. Please don't keep me a secret. I would be truly honored to help your friends, family, and colleagues as well.
All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. There is no assurance that any investment strategy will be successful. Past performance is not an indication or guarantee of future results