As lingering chilly days or rainy days occur during early spring, take some time to consider reviewing your current finances. The top three financial spring-cleaning tasks are:
- Review your credit report from a free service such as annualcreditreport.com.
- Review your emergency fund status and create a plan to add to savings if it is insufficient.
- Review the “B” word… BUDGET
Happy Tax Day Folks! Today marks the end of a tax season for some and a chaotic scramble for others. Fortunately for most, taxes can now be in the rearview mirror and more “fun” tasks can be considered… such as… Financial Spring Cleaning!! This activity is fun for all ages and can even be a family event. So, grab a bowl of popcorn and keep reading…
In all seriousness, below are several items that we always recommend to clients during this time of year. They may not be as exciting as dinner and a movie or going to see your favorite band, but taking some time to do them will pay you dividends in the future.
#1 – Check Credit Report. I am not surprised to say that I am receiving more and more questions about online hacking, credit monitoring, phishing emails, and the robo dialers saying your identity has been compromised. Unfortunately, it is the word we live in. We recommend annual visits to www.annualcreditreport.com to receive a free credit report of all of your open financial accounts (banking, investment, credit cards, mortgages, etc.). This is a truly free service and it will allow you to determine if 1) a new account has been opened in your name 2) you have forgotten about an account or 3) you have an account open that you no longer need.
#2 – Emergency Fund. We believe an emergency fund should hold 3-6 months worth of expenses. This is one of the highest priorities for everyone, no matter their age or financial status.
#3 – Review the B word…. BUDGET. One of my favorite budget stories is from a family friend who uses the Mint.com app. She said they have never gone over budget… and I was quite impressed. She said, “it’s easy, just increase your budget for any category on the last day if your expenses are too high for that month; guaranteed to always be on budget!” That certainly is one way to stay within your budget, but a more practical way is to plan ahead and provide enough flexibility for the unknowns.
#4 – Review Withholding Amounts. So, your taxes are now done and you can forget about taxes for 12 months, right? WRONG! With major tax reform we are just now seeing how it is impacting people. This is a great time to review the amount that you withheld during 2018 and see if you should be withholding more or less. The IRS provides a free calculator that can help most taxpayers plan for their 2019 taxes, here is the link: https://apps.irs.gov/app/withholdingcalculator/. The most common strategy we are now discussing with people is how to make charitable contributions in light of the newly established standard deduction thresholds. We have written at length about this and are happy to speak to anyone about these concepts.
#5 – Review Beneficiaries & Review Estate Plan. These tasks unfortunately do not happen frequently enough. We advise people to review both of these annually.
#6 – Review Insurance Policies. Insurance policies are frequently established and never thought about again. This time of year is a great time to think about your coverages and if they are still appropriate for you.
#7 – Shred Old Information. We are talking about spring cleaning, right? Take a little time to clean up your filing cabinet and get rid of old documents. Generally, accountants recommend that you maintain full tax returns and all supporting documents for 7 years. After 7 years, they recommend that you maintain only the tax return, all supporting data can be shredded. For most other documents, we recommend holding onto a “current” copy for at least 12 months (such as bank statements, investment statements, mortgage statements, etc.) and then replacing the older versions with newer versions annually.
#8 – Price Shop Major Fixed Expenses. When reviewing your budget, look for fixed items that you have signed up for on a subscription basis and consider whether you still need them, or if technology has helped create a better option. This may include utilities, satellite radio, streaming music, television, internet, social/fitness clubs, cell phone provider, etc. A great example of this personally is our television service. About a year ago, I decided to cut the cord and switch from cable to Hulu. I couldn’t be more pleased with the decision, as I cut my cable bill (not internet) from about $90 to $40 and actually got MORE channels. This space is filled with competitors (YouTube TV, Sling, DirectTVNow, etc.) which is creating significant competition and keeps the pricing low while providing a similar experience to cable.
#9 – Increase Maximum Retirement Deferrals – If you are currently maxing out retirement benefits, confirm that you have increased the withholding amount for 2019.
#10 – Create an Audacious Goal – Consider seeking a goal for 2019 that makes you a little uncomfortable… if you strive towards it, it may be the best decision you make all year!