Happy Holidays! As we wrap up the current year, one of the best presents you can bestow on yourself and your loved ones is the gift of proper preparation. Want to get a jump-start on 2018? Here are ten financial best practices to energize your wealth management efforts.
1. Save like crazy today for a better retirement tomorrow. Are you maxing out pre-tax contributions to your company retirement plan? Taking full advantage of your and your spouse’s company retirement plans is an important, tax-advantaged way to save for retirement, especially if your employer matches some of your contributions with “extra” money. And, by the way, if you are 50 or older, you may be able to make additional “catch-up contributions” to your plan, to further accelerate your retirement-ready investing. Attention high-income earners: don’t assume that maxing out your 401(k) contributions each year is enough – because it is not! Extend your retirement savings plan to include automatic, after-tax savings too.
2. Verify your valuables are still covered. Most households have insurance: home, auto, life … maybe disability and/or umbrella. But when is the last time you’ve checked to see if these policies remain right for you? Over time, it’s easy to end up with gaps or overlaps, like too much or not enough coverage, deductibles that warrant a fresh take, or beneficiaries who need to be added or removed. If you’ve not performed an insurance “audit” recently, there’s no time like the present to cross this one off your list.
3. Get a grip on your debt load. Investment returns will only take you so far if excessive debt is weighing you down. Prioritize paying down high-interest credit cards and similar high-cost debt first, and at least meeting minimums on the rest. You may also want to revisit whether you still hold the best credit cards for your circumstances. Do the interest rates, incentives, protections and other perks still reflect your needs? Ditto on that for your home loan.
4. Check up on your credit reports. Speaking of those credit cards, have you been periodically requesting your free annual credit report from each of the three primary credit reporting agencies? Be sure to use AnnualCreditReport.com for this purpose, as it’s the only federally authorized source for doing so. By staggering your requests – submitting to one agency every fourth months – you can keep an ongoing eye on your credit, which seems especially important in the wake of last summer’s Equifax breach.
5. Get a bead on your budget. How much did you spend in 2017? How much do you intend to spend in the year ahead? After current spending, can you still afford to fund your future plans? Do you have enough set aside in a reserve fund to cover the inevitable emergencies? These days, there are apps available to help you answer these important questions. Mint.com is one such popular app; at The Cogent Advisor, we offer our clients free access to a similar resource.
6. Get ready for tax time … with a twist. While income tax reform looms large in the U.S., the changes won’t apply to 2017 taxes (due by April 17, 2018). Still, there are the usual tax-planning activities to tackle: gathering receipts and reports, making year-end contributions, wrapping up business revenue and expenses if you’re a business owner, funding or drawing down retirement accounts, and more. Plus, there now may be tax planning opportunities or challenges to consider as the new laws take effect in 2018. You may want to fire up those tax-planning engines on the early side this time around.
7. Give your investments a good inspection. You do not know what you do not know. Many people don’t know how to properly manage their investment portfolio on their own. Test yourself: Where do you stand with your personal wealth? Have you got an investment strategy to see you through? Does your portfolio reflect your personal goals and risk tolerances? While investment management is a marathon of patient perspective rather than a short-sighted sprint of mad dashes, do yourself a favor and make sure that a qualified professional is overseeing your investments as you save for retirement or transitions. Seek out an independent, fee-only fiduciary in a registered Investment Advisory firm to assist.
8. Ensure your estate plans are current. Do you have wills and/or trusts in place for you and your loved ones? If so, when is the last time you took a look at them? Your family may have experienced births, deaths, marriages or divorces. Dependents may have matured. You may have acquired or sold business interests, and added new assets or let go of old ones. Your original intentions may have changed, or government regulations may have changed them for you. For all these reasons and more, it’s worth revisiting your estate plans annually.
9. Have a look at your healthcare directives. As healthcare becomes increasingly complex, advance directives (living wills) play an increasingly vital role in ensuring your healthcare wishes are met should you be unable to express them when the need arises. Don’t leave your loved ones unaware of and/or unable to act on your critical-care or end-of-life preferences. If you don’t already have a strong living will in place, Aging with Dignity’s Five Wishes is one helpful place to learn more.
10. Give your newly adult children the gift of continued care. Have any of your children turned 18 recently? You may send them off to college or a career, assuming you can still be there for them should an emergency arise. Be forewarned! If you don’t have the legal paperwork in place, healthcare providers and others may be unable to respond to your requests or even discuss your adult child’s personal information with you. To remain involved in their healthcare interests, you’ll want to have a healthcare power of attorney, durable power of attorney and HIPAA authorization in place. It may also be prudent to establish education record release authorizations while you’re at it.
Next Steps in the New Year
We get it. Life never stops. The holiday season can be a busy time that often spills right into the new year. Don’t despair if you can’t get to all ten of these tidbits at once. Take on one each month, and you’ll still have a couple of months to spare before we’re ringing in 2019.
Better yet, don’t go it alone. People who find themselves in need of advice late in the retirement savings game typically did not plan to fail, they just failed to plan. Let us know if we can help you turn your financial planning jump-start into a mighty wealth management leap. It begins with a Cogent Discovery Conversation.