As the weather (finally) begins to get warmer and the winter doldrums become a distant memory, this might be a good time to do some "spring cleaning" with regards to your finances. Here are some tips to help you perform a money makeover.
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Organize Your Paperwork
This is the perfect time to get your financial files in order, since you'll need to dig through all your receipts, statements and other paperwork anyway to file your taxes. Rather than shoving all those papers back into a drawer (or, worse, the proverbial shoebox), spend some time setting up an organized filing system.
You may also want to look into an online-based record keeping system such as Shoeboxed.com so you'll have backup copies of financial files offsite, which will come in handy in case of fire or other disaster. There are also online financial tools that track your expenses, which can be especially helpful for those who tend to spend more than they earn. (These smartphone apps won't break the bank - in fact, they may help you save money. Don't miss 6 Financial Apps You'll Love.)
"Get an online cash flow program like Mint.com and become aware of what you are spending and create a spending plan for the next year," suggest Richard S. Kahler, CFP and owner of Kahler Financial Group.
Reassess Your Portfolio
Robert Korajczyk, professor of finance at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, says the current economic situation has left many investors holding portfolios with asset allocations that are very different than they were a few years ago.
"A good spring cleaning of one's portfolio should include a thorough reassessment of the portfolio's allocation across broad categories like domestic and international stocks, fixed income assets and real estate," says Korajczyk. "If you find yourself holding too much equity, given stock volatilities, reallocate to fixed income assets. Conversely, if you've completely gotten out of the market, it is probably time to consider increasing your exposure to equities."
Capitalize on Capital Losses
"If you are sitting on assets that have lost value, sell them in order to realize capital losses that you can use to reduce your tax burden," Korajczyk says. (Get a hold of yourself! Take losses in stride and learn to invest dispassionately in Taking The Sting Out Of Investment Loss.)
Review Your Withholdings
Speaking of taxes, if you were lucky enough to get a tax refund this year, don't make the mistake of viewing it as money that falls from the sky. It's actually an interest-free loan you've been giving to Uncle Sam. If you consistently overpay income taxes, you are having too much money withheld from your paycheck. Talk to your employer's personnel office and have them adjust your tax info. You'll end up with more money in your pocket every payday. (When you get a refund, you've essentially lent your money to the government, interest-free. Find out how to keep your money working in your favor, year-round in Don't Bank On A Tax Refund.)
Do A Coverage Check-Up
Most people don't give their insurance much thought - until it's too late. Kahler says this is a good time to study your insurance policies. Make sure all policy info, especially important details like your home's replacement value, is correct and up-to-date.
"Also, make sure you have as much liability insurance as possible - preferably $500,000 per incident. At the same time, see if you have unneeded coverage - like towing on your auto policy when you also are a member of AAA, which covers towing, too."
Prepare For the Inevitable
The sunny and bright outdoor atmosphere may make it a little easier for you to tackle some somber subjects. A true financial makeover wouldn't be complete without an examination of your will and other estate-related issues. The first step, Kahler says, is to review your will. Next, evaluate your insurance.
"Make sure your life insurance is adequate if you have children," he says. "That means no less than $500,000 and preferably $1 million for the breadwinner and at least $250,000 for the stay-at-home parent."
Designate Your Heirs
Along the same lines, Kahler offers an important reminder. "Check the beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries of your IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement plans. You may be surprised at who they are or who they aren't," he says. "Remember, if you have no contingent beneficiary, the proceeds go to your estate and the ultimate recipient of the IRA will have to take all the funds out and pay the income tax within five years."
Review Your Retirement Fund
Ideally, you'll live a long, healthy life - which means you'll need enough of a nest egg to get you through your golden years. "Are you maximizing your retirement plans or saving at least 20% of your income for retirement and to fund your emergency savings reserve?" Kahler asks. If not, put that at the top of the priority list. (If you hope to enjoy a comfortable retirement, it's time to get real. Read four cold, hard truths every soon-to-be retiree must face in 4 Retirement Reality Checks.)
Put Some Spring In Your Step
When it comes to financial issues, hibernation isn't an option. Spending a little time and effort creating a new financial plan can really pay off in the end.
Still feeling uninformed? Check out last week's business news highlights in Water Cooler Finance: Zombies File Taxes, Dead Bills Rise Again.