As 2016 comes to an end, we are reminded of the items that we must get in order and improve upon. The two items we usually prioritize at the top of the list are health and wealth. With that in mind, The Wolf Group would like to share with you a checklist to help with getting your financial house in order in 2017. That list consists of the following:
Review Your Credit Report
- It’s always a good idea to have a more accurate picture of how your financial profile is being reported to others. You can check your credit report for free at annualcreditreport.com.
You can also request a free report on an annual basis from any of the three major credit agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union). Being that each reporting agency has slightly different and unique information, consider alternating between the agencies on an annual basis.
Take a Look at Your Budget
- Income does not define wealth. One of the most interesting aspects of being in the wealth management industry is the many different manners in which individuals accumulate their wealth. Oftentimes, wealth is not amassed in the traditional ways one would imagine. Many of the folks with the highest net worth have nowhere near the largest salaries. One’s lifestyle (i.e., one’s spending habits) has a monumental influence on the amount of wealth that one can create. For instance, we’ve met investment bankers who earn $2,000,000+ per year but whose retirement models show them running out of money in retirement because they will no longer be able to afford their $800,000/year lifestyle. And we’ve met someone who never once earned over $90,000 in a year, but was able to accumulate well over $1,500,000 by his retirement.
- When reviewing your budget, be sure to make the modifications needed to provide a more accurate representation of reality. Most people we work with update the income on their budgets, but not everyone remembers to report their expenses accurately. We typically recommend keeping a 10-20% cushion on one’s budget for those “one-time recurring” expenses that seem to happen more often than we think. Those can include car repairs, home improvements, replacing worn-out appliances, a last-minute weekend getaway, etc.
Take a moment to examine your insurance coverage
- If you were to pass unexpectedly, would your dependents have enough of an asset base to continue living a similar lifestyle? If you are not sure the answer is yes, you are probably in need of a comprehensive insurance review. When it comes to life insurance, should you buy term or whole life? If you were to suddenly find yourself in a situation where you were disabled for the long-term (greater than 6 months), what would your disability coverage look like? Does your umbrella liability policy provide you with adequate coverage in the event of an unfortunate incident? These are just a few of the questions that you should be asking yourself when reviewing your insurance.
Bolster Your Savings Plan
- Now that you’ve gotten your expenses a little more under control, you should have some additional financial flexibility. The American tradition is to treat yourself with that extra savings and go out and spend it. However, we’re challenging you to sock away some of the additional funds you have from either cutting costs or from that bigger-than-expected raise.
- For most folks, retirement should be their number one focus. Always do your best to at least contribute enough to your employer-sponsored retirement plan to get the company match. Saving regularly for retirement shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury. The monthly savings that needs to occur should be handled as judiciously as one handles any other monthly obligation that needs to be met on-time and on a consistent basis.
Renew Your Short-term Goals
- We typically recommend keeping 3-6 months living expenses in a reserve cash fund in case of an emergency. Have you met this goal?
- Do you have a summer vacation fund? Are you saving for a new car? Are you saving for a child or grandchild’s education? Whatever your short-term goals are, you should make sure that you have a plan and that you’re still on track to meet them.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
- While financial matters and money management can be complicated, it isn’t rocket science. Do your best to simplify where possible. For example:
- Consider consolidating your brokerage accounts and IRAs into one place.
- Set up automatic savings deposits into your savings and investment accounts.
- Take advantage of your bank’s online banking tools.
- You can save automatically and you can also pay your bills automatically. Consider setting up automatic payments for recurring bills.
- If you don’t already, set up direct deposit wherever possible.
Stay on top of your calendar
- Do your best to stay aware of important dates on your financial calendar. These can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Due date for real Estate taxes
- Due dates for estimated taxes-both Federal and state
- The various tax filing deadlines
- Making allowable contributions to IRAs
- If over 70.5 years of age, taking your Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) on-time. This one is vital as not taking your RMD on-time can result in steep penalties.
- Lastly, be sure to put year-end reminders in place for potential tax-loss harvesting trades, portfolio rebalancing and charitable contributions.