The spring season is typically thought of as the time for deep-cleaning and organization. What better time for your clients to address their personal finances? We’ve put together these tips you can share.
- Take a hard look at credit cards.
Even though the newest credit cards are equipped with computer chips that make it harder for hackers to hijack your data, it’s a good idea to check out your statements to make sure there are no mistaken or duplicate charges.
- Pay off debt.
With credit cards, it’s best to pay off balances monthly, or keep balances to less than 30% of your available credit line. If you’ve gotten into credit card debt, keep in mind that while it’s financially advantageous to pay off cards with high interest rates first, research has shown that emotionally it may be better to pay off low balances first so that progress is physically visible as fewer bills come in the mail. When considering payoff of mortgages or student loans, create a long-term plan that considers your retirement, estate and tax situation.
- Check your credit reports.
It’s free to check your credit reports to ensure no one has used your name or identity to open false accounts or make unauthorized purchases. The problem of identity theft is growing. The Federal Trade Commission says identity theft complaints increased by 47% in 2015, with tax-refund fraud leading the way. Get a free credit report here: https://www.annualcreditreport.com
- Take inventory of your purchases.
Keeping a current inventory of furniture, automobiles, jewelry and artwork is important for your insurance records, estate plan and will.
- Review your insurance policies and investment accounts.
Take a close look at your home, auto and life policies to make sure you actually have the coverage you need and are not over- or underinsured. And if you own accounts with named beneficiaries, are they up to date? Keep in mind that by law, your named beneficiaries often take precedence over your will. If you have named an ex-spouse or another party on your accounts, it can create a real problem. Be sure to check. (NOTE: Check your real estate titles and business ownership records while you are at it.)
- Do an overall financial review.
Step back and take a fresh look at your net worth composition, your investment portfolio and your overall financial situation. Are you on track for retirement? Does your portfolio need rebalancing? Does it match your risk tolerance? Is your estate plan up-to-date? Are beneficiaries designated properly?
- Create a document that summarizes everything.
Make sure your master financial document is complete with account numbers, passwords and phone numbers. Keeping a record of all financial assets, including investment accounts, life insurance policies and legal documents, and detailing the location of the original documents is incredibly important should something happen to you. It goes without saying that this is confidential information and should be protected and kept in a safe location which your loved ones know about and can access.
- Create a realistic budget.
Compile all your actual expenses and payments from the last year and categorize them, including the yearly costs like accounting fees. Include gifts and entertainment expenses. Are you happy with what you’ve spent? Are there areas you’d like to reduce or change? Consider fixed expense changes like cable or cell plans. Maybe you can find a less expensive auto insurance plan or free banking. IMPORTANT: Make sure you and your partner are on the same page with spending.
- De-clutter (for profit.)
While you are de-cluttering, look for items you can sell to augment your income or donate for tax savings.
- Do some audits.
For instance, audit your subscriptions. Are you using that club membership or entertainment subscription? Is it worth the cost to you? Audit your energy consumption. Can you turn off some lights or unplug some “energy vampires?” Can you automate your thermostat, replace lightbulbs or switch utility plans to take advantage of savings for time-of-use? Audit interest rates. For instance, do you have the lowest interest rates possible on outstanding balances like auto or mortgage loans or credit cards, or the highest interest rates possible on savings?
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