It's time for your mid-year personal finance review.
We are officially at the halfway point of the year, making now a perfect time to give yourself a financial checkup. Taking the time for a little financial reflection can help you see if you are where you want to be and, if not, what you might do to get back on track.
Step one: Review your retirement contributions.
Take a fresh look at the amount of money you are allocating to your 401(k), IRA or other retirement savings accounts. In doing so, think in terms of the monthly retirement income the money will generate, rather than the total amount in your savings. Online retirement calculators can show you the future monthly income you are likely to need in retirement and the progress you are making toward that goal.
Depending on what you learn, you may consider making adjustments to your contributions and/or your asset allocation, as needed. Your financial advisor should be able to provide the information you need to guide decision-making.
Your advisor can also help make sure you are maximizing tax-deferred investment opportunities. For example, the 2019 limit on 401(k) contributions is $19,000. If you are over 50, you can contribute an additional $6,000 to workplace retirement plans and $1,000 for IRAs. If your finances allow, consider increasing your monthly contributions to take advantage of these tax-saving programs. Take full advantage of any available company-match opportunities. While everyone’s circumstances are different, a good rule of thumb is to save 10 to 15 percent of your income for retirement.
Step two: Assess your personal and emergency savings.
Mid-year is also an appropriate time to check the balance in your emergency fund. If it contains enough to cover three to six months of living expenses, it is – in most cases – adequately funded. Not sure how much that should be? Again, use free online budget calculators can help you itemize your monthly income and expenditures.
If you have already dipped into your personal and emergency accounts this year and not replaced the funds, now is also a good time to create a plan for replenishing this account. A budget calculator can also be helpful in identifying ways to free up money so you can increase your savings – even if temporarily. It can also help you plan ahead on ways to reduce spending should you need to rely on these funds for an extended period.
Step three: Evaluate your insurance policies.
Insurance needs change over time. That’s why it is important to evaluate your insurance needs periodically to make you have the right types and amounts of insurance to cover unexpected circumstances that can wreck your finances.
Let’s start with life insurance. If you are young and your family is growing, you may want to increase your life insurance to replace lost income associated with untimely death. As you get older, on the other hand, you have less future income to replace. A life insurance calculator can help you assess your needs. Be sure your beneficiaries are up-to-date as well.
Any premiums you save by reducing your life insurance might be allocated instead to long-term care insurance, disability insurance or health savings accounts for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses during retirement. Consider your potential needs and plan accordingly.
Step four: Monitor your debt repayment progress.
Review your loan portfolio – including credit cards, student loans, home mortgages, car loans, home equity and personal loans – to determine how much debt you are currently carrying. Then assess whether or not your current repayment strategy is achieving your goals. If it’s not as effective as you wish, you might want to try a different approach.
For example, some people virtually stop using credit cards until they are out of debt. Others take a “snowball” approach, making minimum payments on all loans or cards except the one with the smallest balance. That debt receives extra payments until it is paid off, allowing you to move on to the next lowest debt. For many, a better strategy is the “avalanche” approach that involves sorting debt instead by interest rate and paying off the highest interest rate debt first. The important thing is to understand your debt and have a plan for managing it.
Step five: Review your will and estate plans.
A mid-year checkup is not complete without a look at your will and estate plans. Your personal circumstances change over time, and your plans must often change with them.
Perhaps you have moved to a state that has different laws governing taxes and estates. Maybe you received an inheritance, or your spouse has become disabled. It could be that you’ve added a new child, or a dependent child has grown into an adult. The executors or trustees you named originally may no longer willing, able or appropriate to perform their responsibilities. Your estate may have grown larger and more complex, requiring the services of a third-party executor or trustee.
These are just a few of the many factors that can impact your plans. Reviewing these documents regularly and adjusting for major life events helps ensure that your legacy is passed on according to your wishes and that your beneficiaries receive their inheritances as smoothly as possible.
The bottom line: A mid-year review of finances can accomplish several things. It gives you a reason to consider your near- and long-term financial goals, and helps you see if the decisions you are making are keeping you on track to meet them. It also allows you to take care of housekeeping issues that, if neglected, can hurt the ones you love most when you are gone.
Like any good check-up, it will either affirm what you already know – or tell you what changes are necessary. And once it is over, you are free to enjoy the summer.