Happy New Year! Now that 2021 is a wrap, one of the best presents you can bestow on yourself and your loved ones is the gift of proper preparation for the rest of the year.
Want to get a jump-start on it? Here are 10 financial best practices to energize your wealth management efforts.
- Save 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 the recent log4j vulnerability.
- Get a bead on your budget. How much did you spend in 2021? 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 rainy day fund to cover the inevitable emergencies? These days, there are apps available to help you answer these important questions.
- Get ready for tax time. While income tax reform is always looming in the U.S, there are still 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.
- Give your investments a good inspection. 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? If you experienced strong growth in 2021, is it time to lock in some of those gains by rebalancing your portfolio to its original mix? While investment management is a marathon of patient perspective rather than a short-sighted sprint of mad dashes, a new year makes this as good a time as any to review the terrain.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. But 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.