Improving your financial health is not very hard
Some folks think financial planning is very difficult. While certain aspects are hard, such as constructing the right asset allocation to meet your goals, the basic concepts are not. The best approach to organizing your finances is the KISS rule: “Keep it Simple, Stupid.”
KISS can help you cut through the endless avalanche of financial and investment information. The financial truth is that there are relatively simple and straightforward ways to improve your financial health.
If you look at this list and need help implementing it, consider leaning on a trusted financial advisor who does thorough financial planning.
Banish toxic debt
Work to eliminate all credit card debt. Consolidate accounts and create a realistic plan to rid yourself of insidious and toxic debt.
Streamline your investments and reduce costs
Two factors contribute greatly to your returns and risk: asset diversification and investment expenses. Asset diversification, especially with professional guidance, helps you avoid putting too many eggs in one basket.
The cost to run your portfolio (e.g., mutual fund fees) affects how it performs as high costs can eat away at growth.
- Look up the underlying fund expenses on www.morningstar.com and ask why you need to buy A, B or C funds when there are less expensive options.
- Consolidate as many of your accounts as possible, especially old 401(k) and other retirement accounts that charge administrative fees, even if you left the employer. You may want to roll that 401(k) from the previous job into an individual retirement account, whose cost you can better control.
- Avoid purchasing annuities (especially variable annuities, whose value fluctuates with the market) unless you fully understand the pros and cons, tax and inheritance implications, potentially high fees and surrender penalties. Get second opinions on annuities from someone who doesn’t sell them.
Pay attention to overlooked assets
Social Security is an asset that is taken for granted for many folks. If you are tempted to take Social Security early, when first eligible at age 62, think again: Your check is up to 25% lower than if you wait until what’s called full retirement age.
- Get grounded advice on the benefits of postponing benefits. If you begin receiving benefits from age 62 up to your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced.
Married couples benefit additionally from Social Security planning strategies that can provide additional income. The Social Security Administration is not allowed to advise on strategies to maximize your benefits, so don’t expect to learn about this from the government.
And maybe you should work as long as possible. A financial planner can tell you how long you should work and what you should do in retirement to avoid outliving your assets.
Your loved ones will thank you (estate planning)
You could be handing an enormous mess to your heirs (that is, family and friends) if you don’t have your estate documents in order – or you have no estate documents. That means a will, a living will or healthcare directive (governing medical treatments to prolong your life) and granting powers of attorney to a trusted person should you not be capable of running your own affairs.
Estate attorney fees are not high if they potentially save your heirs hundreds of thousands of dollars of estate tax when your assets pass to your family, friends or charity.
One of the smartest estate planning techniques to help reduce estate taxes are irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs) that shelter your life insurance assets. While insurance benefits usually are tax-free, they still may be subject to estate taxes if the beneficiary is not your spouse. An ILIT allows you to give benefits to whomever you want. Your financial planner or estate attorney can tell you if this is a strategy you could use to increase your children’s inheritance.
Avoid excessive tax payments
It pays to time IRA distributions if you work (or not); consider Roth IRA conversions (if you qualify, you pay taxes up-front on the account and then future appreciation is not taxed); and give charitably in the form of investments (instead of cash). Wise advisors consider which types of investments are best held in taxable accounts, which in tax-deferred accounts.
Your financial advisor
KISS will help you cut through the noise, focus on what’s most important and become better informed on your financial journey.
If this list overwhelms you or you have questions about how to move forward, talk to your financial advisor.
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