The Ultimate 2021 Financial Checklist
How's your financial health?
Just like you get a physical each year, it’s also good practice to review the state of your money’s health. In that spirit, we’ve created a financial checklist to help you gain and maintain control of your financial life.
This can feel a bit daunting to take care of all at once, so try and check things off section by section to get it all done. Of course, you could also sign up for Farther, and we’ll be happy to lend you a hand in taking control of your financial life today.
Investing and wealth-building
Setting up and maintaining the right types of savings and investment accounts is critical to accomplishing your near and long-term goals.
- Top off your emergency fund – You should aim to save for 3-6 months of expenses with no income in your emergency fund. Don’t let inflation eat away at it though – make sure it’s invested appropriately in safer, easy-to-access assets.
- Max out your retirement accounts – Don’t just take advantage of matching, max out your 401(k) or 403(b) and your IRA each year to minimize your taxes and maximize your tax-advantaged investing.
- Consolidate your accounts – Speaking of retirement accounts, you can rollover any old accounts you’ve accumulated over the years into an IRA. That way you won’t lose track of your money or end up paying extra fees associated with retirement plans and any high-cost fund options in them.
- Save for big purchases – If you’re planning on making a big purchase like a house in the near-term, make sure you’re putting those savings in an account with a plan designed to achieve your goal in the timeframe you want.
- Contribute to your child’s 529 – Education keeps getting more and more expensive. With costs expected to be $250-500k at public and private schools in 2035 respectively, the earlier you contribute and the more time you have to let that money grow, the better.
- Rebalance your investments – Maintaining the right mix of stocks, bonds, and other securities in your investment portfolios requires attention as markets move up and down. Rebalance your investments to get back to your goal state in each account.
Saving and spending
Your financial health is as much about what you do with your savings as it is generating more of them. Take this opportunity to reevaluate how you spend and save on an everyday basis.
- Automate your savings – Get ahead of the game by automating the process of saving and investing. Set up recurring deposits or use a service like Farther to sweep surplus cash into an investment account to put that money to work.
- Reduce your expenses – Income – expenses = savings. It seems straightforward enough, but our expenses have a tendency to creep up to match our income. See if there are opportunities for you to rein that tendency in.
- Eliminate old subscriptions – Subscription services often continue billing long after you’re no longer using a product anymore. Take a look through your monthly charges and see where you can eliminate payments for products you no longer need.
- Pay off your credit card balances – Credit Card balances are typically the most expensive debt form of debt - often 2-10 times as expensive as a mortgage. Pay off anything that you can by prioritizing the highest interest cards and consider consolidating the remainder with a lower cost personal loan.
- Consider paying off your student loans – Depending upon the interest rate of your loans, these can either be a pain point preventing you from building wealth as quickly as you’d like or low-cost leverage to do a little more sooner. Prioritize paying off or refinancing anything over 6% before adding more to your savings.
Life comes with all sorts of risks that are best managed with a plan and downside protection. Make sure your plan is up-to-date.
- Protect your income – Life can throw curveballs your way, so be sure to make sure the income you and your family are counting on is protected. If you have a spouse or kids, term life insurance is important and disability insurance will cover you if you can’t work because of illness or injury.
- Safeguard your assets – You likely shelled out quite a bit for your biggest assets, and you don’t want to be on the hook for damage or theft. Homeowners or renter’s insurance will cover your shelter and most anything inside, while car insurance keeps your vehicle covered. If you have other big purchases – anything from engagement rings to boats – consider protecting them too.
- Secure your person – Last but not least, protect yourself. Your health with health insurance, your identity with identity theft insurance, and if you have over $500,000 in net worth consider an umbrella policy for everything else.
- Dust off your estate plan (wills and healthcare directives) – Take a quick look at your estate plan to ensure that all of the key components are there and that they are still as relevant as they were when first written. At minimum, make sure you have a last will and testament, advance health care directive, and power of attorney drawn up.
- Review your beneficiaries – You can designate a beneficiary for all of your investment accounts to ensure quick and easy access to your savings. If these aren’t updated for your current situation and something happens to you, your assets could take months or even years to pass to your beneficiaries through probate courts, even if your will is up to date.
When was the last time you checked to see if you’re getting the best rates on your financial products? Take a look to see if you’re still getting the best deal.
- Boost your banking – Banks change their promotions and incentives all of the time, but they don’t often bring the best deals to their current customers. Check to see if your bank is meeting your checking account needs and providing the best interest rates for savings accounts and no fees for checking.
- Capitalize on your credit – There are thousands of credit cards out there offering all sorts of different rewards, but which one is best for you right now? Match your spending to the right rewards card to stretch your earnings.
- Inspect your insurance – It’s important to be protected, but it’s better to get the best deal on that protection. Evaluate your insurance providers and see if there are any improvements in cost you can find.
- Look at your loans Refinancing may significantly lower the interest you pay for your mortgage, student loans, or personal loans. Even a few tenths of a percent can be worth thousands over the years for bigger pieces of debt.
If you give to causes, have you instituted a formal philanthropic giving plan? Make sure you are maximizing your impact and efficiency.
- Set up a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) – DAFs allow you to set aside money for most charitable purposes and realize tax benefits immediately, then direct the funds to specific organizations and causes later, making sure that you are being tax efficient and committed in your giving.
- Check your employer match – Many employers offer matches for employee charitable gifts. Make sure you are maximizing the amount your chosen causes get by registering your giving with your employer.
- Review Your Chosen Organizations and Causes – Your priorities and the priorities of organizations change over time. Are the organizations in which you are investing achieving the goals you expect them to, or addressing causes you feel passionately about?
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