No matter the current status of your finances, there’s always room for improvement. It’s common for people to change their long term financial plan as they get closer to retirement, but it’s also important to revise your financial strategy in the short term to help address current concerns or reach new goals in the new year.
Whether your 2018 goals include getting out of debt, planning for retirement, or saving up for a home, these 10 tips could help you set yourself up for a successful year.
- Initiate a Spending Review: If you’re looking for ways to cut spending because you want to save money or get out of debt, a spending review is a good place to start. Look at all of your expenses from last year. Were there any surprises? Should you have a separate savings account for vacations or taxes? By seeing the big picture, you can create a plan that matches your life.
- Max Out Your 401K: People who want to save more for retirement may want to consider increasing their 401K contributions. First, see how close you are to the $18,500 annual maximum and increase contribution amounts accordingly. If you are age 50 or over, you can further increase the amount with a catch-up contribution of an additional $6,000. Keep in mind that this pre-tax deferment into a 401K account can help lower your tax rate.
- Review Entertainment Subscriptions: In today’s subscription economy, you may be wasting money paying for services you rarely use. If you’re searching for an effortless way to save a little extra each month, evaluate which on-demand services you use all the time versus those you only use occasionally. Sometimes, with the occasional subscriptions, it’s less costly to simply buy the one things you like on that service—for example only pay for the season of particular TV show rather than a continuing subscription to a video service you rarely watch.
- Rebalance Investment Accounts: As you change your financial goals, you need to change your financial strategy. Although some portfolio managers will rebalance quarterly on your behalf, at the minimum make sure it’s done once a year. Adjust the weightings of your portfolio so they’re more aligned to your new goals. Sell or buy assets to maintain your new desired level of asset allocation. By rebalancing in these ways, you can increase or lower the amount of risk for your investments.
- Donate to Charities: Worried about tax season? Donating to recognized charities could help lower your tax bill. Whether you donate cash or household items, charities will issue you a receipt that recognizes the amount of your generosity—allowing you to write off your donations during tax time.
- Fund 529 College Savings Plans: Whether you’re planning to go back to school or you want to help your kids pay for college, a 529 plan can help you save for school with pre-tax dollars. As an added bonus, you don’t have to pay federal or state income tax on the earnings, provided the cash is withdrawn to pay for college or graduate school tuition, fees, room and board, or books. Plus, in some instances, you may be eligible to get a state income tax deduction for your contribution.
- Protect Your Identity: The beginning of the year is a great time to check your credit report and make sure that your identity is protected. By law, you’re entitled to a free credit report each year via AnnualCreditReport.com—this is the only site legally authorized to provide the reports for free. By reviewing your report, you can ensure you recognize all of the accounts in your name and that your credit is fully intact.
- Evaluate Healthcare Accounts: If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) ensure to use the funds before December 31st because as they say, “use it or lose it.” This is a good time for scheduling visits with eye doctor since FSA funds are good toward glasses, contact solutions, and more. Plus schedule other medical appointments since the funds can also reimburse copays. And if you have a Health Savings Account (HSA), then you might be able to rollover funds and continue to increase the savings you have for the later years—if this is the case, then you might want to consider contributing the annual maximum amount as this account can help during retirement.
- Update Accounts and Documents: Whether its insurance amounts or legal documents such as trusts and wills, it’s smart to review these annually. You may change amounts or names of beneficiaries. For example, if you become a grandparent, then you may want to ensure your grandchild will have a nest egg toward college.
- Evaluate Debts: There’s “good” debt, such as mortgages and car payments; however, sometimes other less healthy debts get on the personal balance sheet. Whether your debt has increased due to a medical procedure, unexpected home or car repair, or credit card bills, create a plan for paying these debts in a timely manner. And if you want to avoid getting stuck with high interest payments for years to come, try to pay more than your minimum payments each month.
If even paying your minimums each month seems too difficult to manage, you should explore other options for debt relief such as a debt consolidation loan or balance transfer credit card offers. Of course, the Freedom Debt Relief program could be a good fit if you are dealing with significant amounts of debt ($15,000 or more). If you qualify, we could help you get out of debt faster and for less than making minimum payments.
By taking these 10 steps, you’ll be ensuring an annual check-up that can help you set up 2018 for financial success.