We all begin each year with good intentions: we’ll save more, pay down debt, get our financial house in order. The key to any of this is to state a goal in measurable terms and lay out small, concrete steps to get there. On the financial side, technology has made taking those steps much simpler.
Boost Your Retirement Savings. Employer retirement plans must be restated every six years. Many add new features upon restatement—ask your benefits coordinator how your plan can help you save. Common newer features include:
Automatic enrollment: new hires are automatically enrolled in the 401k plan, typically contributing from three to five percent of salary. Opting out must be an affirmative choice. If you aren’t already contributing to your 401k plan, do so immediately. You can start small—just start.
Automatic contribution increases: many plans now adjust 401k contributions up by a percentage each year, until the employee contributes 10-12 percent of salary to the 401k. If you aren’t contributing at least that much of your salary, increase your contribution rate by at least one percent now and ask if you too can have annual, automatic increases.
Roth 401k contributions: particularly if you earn too much to make a direct Roth IRA contribution ($133,000 for singles; $196,000 for married couples), you can likely designate some of your 401k contribution into a 401k Roth. As is the case with a Roth IRA contribution, you cannot deduct this. You don’t need to. Roth accounts are great; all earnings are off the tax grid forever. It probably doesn’t make sense to pile into a Roth in your high-earning, high-tax years. Still, you should get the Roth going -- a Roth has to be around for at least five years to get all the benefits.
Pay Off & Consolidate your Debt. If you are carrying a credit card, auto loan, or other similar balance, autopay is your friend. Determine what amount per paycheck will pay off that debt in a reasonable amount of time and still allow you to live. On your banking website, set up an automatic payment, timed to each payday, to pay off that bill. More than one loan? Make minimum payments on all but the one carrying the highest interest rate, and throw the maximum dollars at that expensive debt. As one loan is paid off, increase the payment on the next most expensive loan, and so on.
Conduct Essential Online Searches. Annually, take a look at your credit history (at annualcreditreport.com) and your Social Security statement (at ssa.gov). Each site is safe and free. Each will identify you using information from your financial past, so that only you can access your reports.
Social Security will allow you to set up an account to avoid entering all that information every time. Check your account annually, both to be certain your salary history is correct (you have a little more than three years to fix errors) and to monitor your projected benefit. In retirement, you can manage your benefit online -- far, far simpler than dealing with Social Security over the phone or in person.
The credit report web site has separate log ins for each agency (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). You are entitled to one free report from each agency annually. These are separate but overlap. It’s simplest to look at all three at once. If you are concerned about an ongoing issue, you can also choose to review one agency every four months. You have the opportunity to correct mistakes and request that outdated information be removed.
Note: Claire E. Toth, JD, MLT, CFP™, is Vice President at Point View Wealth Management, Inc., a registered investment advisor at 382 Springfield Ave., Summit. Visit us at www.ptview.com. CNBC has twice named Point View to its list of the top 100 American fee-only wealth managers. See http://www.cnbc.com.
Point View Wealth Management, Inc. works with families in Summit and beyond, providing customized portfolio management services and comprehensive financial planning, to develop and achieve their financial goals. We are independent and fee only. How can we help you? Contact David Dietze (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Claire Toth (email@example.com), or call (908) 598-1717 to learn how.