Today, unlike previous generations, there is an extensive array of financial information that steadily flows from the news media and the Internet. Almost instantaneously, you can review your own finances, ascertain your progress, and make necessary adjustments. However, do all these signs of progress really make managing your finances any easier? The fact remains that regular reviews of your entire financial landscape will help put you on a long-term track for success.
For many of us, the New Year is a time for personal reflection, a time to consider commitments and resolutions for the coming year. This year, why not add “improve my financial situation” to your existing list of New Year’s resolutions? With proper planning and appropriate guidance, you can begin to build/ improve your financial stability and prepare for the uncertainties of tomorrow.
Here’s a brief description of the most common steps toward achieving your financial goals:
Meet with your Financial Advisor/Planner. In today’s complex financial world, everyone needs help in making knowledgeable, objective decisions. A qualified Financial Advisor/Planner can help ensure that your current affairs are consistent with your changing goals and objectives. Your advisor will help you set goals and will guide you through the complexities of creating and implementing a financial plan. Allow your advisor to serve as your financial coach as your tackle your 2017 financial resolutions.
Get Organized. Gather all your important financial documents – mortgage, credit card, student loan and other debt-related statements, investment and retirement account statements, most recent income tax return, insurance policies, wills, trusts and other pertinent financial records – and organize them so you can access them quickly and easily. Consider using a safe that can withstand fire, flood and mischievous children for your vital documents.
Cash Flow Analysis. Does your income equal or exceed the amount you put into savings and expenses? If it exceeds, by how much? This is your positive cash flow. If your expenses are grater than your income, you have negative cash flow. If you have negative cash flow, it is time to reorganize and minimize any unnecessary expenses. Consider spending at least two hours each with your monthly bank and credit card statements to review your spending habits. Your spending patterns will emerge and you will likely self-correct overspending sooner rather than later.
Keep Debt in Check. Pay off high interest debt first, especially if the interest is not tax deductible. Do your best to avoid the minimum payment trap. By making only the minimum monthly payment, the interest that accumulates over time can make even “bargain” purchases costly in the long run.
Apply for Scholarships. If your children plan to attend college in 2017 and require financial aid, remember that financial aid forms are due early in the year. The earlier you apply, the better your chances may be for obtaining aid.
Enrich Your Retirement. Are your going to have enough money when you retire? Social Security is intended to supplement income during your retirement years. Additionally, Pensions are not commonplace in today’s world. In order to have income during your retirement years to maintain your existing lifestyle, you need to project your future needs and implement a disciplined savings program for your retirement.
Special Goals. For every financial goal you establish, you need to address the projected cost, the amount of time until your goal is to be realized (time horizon), and your funding method (a scheduled savings plan, liquidating assets, or taking a loan). Plan your goals on three tiers. Most important is to have an emergency fund in savings that is equal to at least three months of your income. The second tier of goals would include saving for your children’s education or future expenses. Finally, on the third tier would be more flexible goals such as: automobiles, home renovations and vacations.
Minimize Income Taxes. Begin to gather your tax information and arrange a time to meet with your accountant, if necessary. It is important to file your income taxes on time and to be aware of any tax changes that may affect your return. Many taxpayers reduce their taxes by taking advantage of tax deductions. While many people are familiar with deductions (e.g., mortgage interest, contributions to retirement plans and donations to charities), there may also be other ways to reduce your income tax bite. A qualified tax professional can help you implement a tax strategy that is consistent with your needs. Also, if you were married, divorced or widowed in 2016, your tax filing status will likely be different in 2017. Be sure to notify your employer of this change so they can amend your payroll withholding accordingly.
Review Insurance Coverage. You are probably well aware that life sometimes throws us unexpected “curve balls”—that is, risks we haven’t foreseen. Suddenly and unexpectedly, your potential risk my become a financial loss (e.g., you become disabled without income or an untimely death causes financial hardship for your family). Reviewing your homeowners, auto, health/dental, disability, long-term care and life insurance policies to ensure that your coverage meets your needs is a great way to be proactive in managing unexpected risks. You should also review your life insurance policies to ensure your beneficiary designations are correct
Make Sure Your Estate Planning Documents are Current. Estate planning documents are for everyone, not just the very wealthy. The ones to focus on are your will, power of attorney and health care directives. It is important that you attend to these now rather than during a time of crisis. If you already have these documents in place, a meeting with your attorney to review your estate planning documents may be in order. Prior to meeting with an estate planning attorney, discuss with your spouse or other loved ones how to handle property dispositions and guardian appointments for minor children.
These steps will help you focus on your entire financial picture. Remember, financial review and planning is an ongoing process. During subsequent reviews, you may need to make alterations due to changing goals and circumstances. However, if you faithfully keep track of your progress, you may be better able to afford your future lifestyle and finance your dreams.
The New Year offers us a fresh beginning. This year, resolve to make your finances a priority. With proper planning and appropriate guidance, you can begin to work toward financial independence and prepare for life’s uncertainties.
By Wendy Ann Payne CSA, CEP®
Wealth Management Advisor and Founding Partner of Centurion Wealth Management, LLC
This content is for educational purposes only.
Investment Advisor Representative of Spire Wealth Management, LLC. Advisory Services offered through Spire Wealth Management, LLC, a Federally Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through an affiliate, Spire Securities, LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC.
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