For nearly 20 years, April has been known as Financial Literacy Month: an opportunity to develop a greater understanding of financial concepts to reflect on your current situation. While we all understand that financial literacy is important, actually following through and completing your financial goals is how you make your dreams into reality.
With spring upon us, perhaps now is the perfect time to get your financial plan in order so you can ensure you’re still on track to achieve your financial goals. Here are a few things you can do this month to get ahead and some resources to help guide you:
Rebalance Your Investment Portfolio
If you are a rookie investor or if you’ve been investing for a while, by reviewing your portfolio regularly, you can account for the changes within the market, especially after last year’s rollercoaster ride. If you are responsible for managing any of your investment accounts, now is a good time to evaluate the asset allocation and consider adjusting if certain asset classes have shifted meaningfully. However, be sure to consider your long-term goals, the current investment environment, and possible taxes before you pull the trigger.
Read: Stress Testing Your Financial Plan
Automate, Automate, Automate
It’s tough to save for retirement, not to mention your children’s/grandchildren’s education, and future unexpected expenses. Saving money is hard and having to deliberately force yourself to do it, month after month, is even harder. It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending what you make. The best way to avoid this is to automate your savings and bill payments wherever possible.
Remember to periodically review your budget and identify areas for improvement. Perhaps you received a raise or realized you can live without a certain service or possession. If this is the case, pay yourself first and increase your retirement savings by a percent or two. If you feel you are already saving enough for retirement, now is the best time to establish monthly direct deposits to college savings account, or a brokerage account. With an automatic, disciplined savings plan, let the power of time and compounding work for you.
Read: The Four Stages of Retirement
Read: Are you ready for retirement?
Read: The Power of Saving
Review Your Tax Withholding
If you had a large tax refund or bill this year, you should adjust the tax withholding from your paycheck or estimated tax payments. While giving the government an interest-free loan isn’t the end of the world, having a large tax bill can result in penalties for underpayment on top of what you already owe. To pay the right amount, submit an updated Form W-4 to your employer or adjust your quarterly estimated tax payments to one-fourth of last year’s total income tax liability. (Note: If your adjusted gross income is over $150,000 and you make quarterly estimated tax payments, you must pay at least 110% of last year’s income tax liability or 90% of this year’s.)
Download: 2022 Guide to Tax & Wealth Planning
Read: 2023 Tax Updates & FAQs
Watch: Tax Updates & Planning Considerations for 2023
Credit Score Maintenance
Keeping your credit score above average and protected, in conjunction with a healthy spending habit, will allow you to get ahead. Here are a few actionable tips to noticeably improve your score:
- Consolidate your balances and credit cards. Since length of credit history has a significant impact on your score, be sure to cancel your newer cards first and hold on to your older accounts.
- Apply for higher credit limits on your accounts even if you don’t need them. Keeping your “credit utilization” percentage below 10% is considered “great” and below 30% is “good”.
- Automate monthly payments of your credit card so you never miss one. Payment history is one of the most heavily weighed factors in your credit score and if you accidentally miss one, it can be damaging to your score.
- Check your credit score and reports often. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the consumer credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). You can access your free reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Freeze your credit if you do not plan to take on any new debt in the near future. Freezing you credit is often used to help prevent identify theft by blocking anyone from accessing your credit file and opening a new account in your name.
Read: The Guide to Getting Started on Financial Wellness
Download: The Ultimate Financial Planning Checklist
Get Your Children/Grandchildren Involved
Personal finance touches everyone, and your children/grandchildren will likely be affected by issues such as saving for the future, credit card debt, mortgages, and student loans. They will eventually encounter financial decisions that you will not be able to guide them on. Being financially literate ensures they will make smart financial decisions and give them a big head start as they enter the world. Take the time now to teach them about the value of hard work by rewarding chores with an allowance and the power of saving by providing a matching contribution. Finally, make talking about money an ongoing discussion which will surely pay dividends well into their future.
Download: The Financial Conversations Your Family Should Have
Read: Giving the Gift of a Roth IRA
Preparing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Having an effective, up-to-date plan is vital to achieving wealth transfer goals, minimizing estate taxes, decreasing the need for public court proceedings (e.g., probate), and avoiding difficult family situations.
The irony of planning is the forethought into what’s not in our control. We must plan for the unexpected, which includes difficult topics related to our death and how our loved ones and assets will be taken care of when that time comes. Make sure your wishes are followed by considering some these estate planning resources.
Read: How to Create an Estate Plan
Download: Estate Planning Guidebook
Read: Do You Need a Trust?
The Bottom Line
As we celebrate Financial Literacy Month this April, it is our hope that this advice will help you achieve your financial goals. We’re here to help as you consider your whole financial plan and future.
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Please consult with an attorney or a tax or financial advisor regarding your specific legal, tax, estate planning, or financial situation. The information in this article is not intended as legal or tax advice.