Last Updated: December 22, 2008
2009 may or may not be as challenging, but financial planners say there are tactics you can do to make sure you start the New Year on the right financial foot. Here's a list of things you must consider in 2009.
- Review the amount of money in your emergency fund, said Shawn J. Jacobson, CFP®, ChFC of Legacy Financial Advisors and 2009 chair of the Financial Planning Association of Minnesota. "Do you have three to six months of living expenses accessible?" Jacobson asked. If not, make this a priority for 2009.
- Establish a budget. If you do one thing and one thing only in 2009, consider establishing a budget. Make sure you know how much money is coming in and going out. Check out the FPA Web site to learn more about how to create and stick to a budget. StickK.com is a new Web site that enables users to create what it calls "commitment contracts." One feature of the site helps users commit to creating and sticking to a budget.
- Look at personal debt levels. According to Jacobson, now is a good time to compare what he calls "good debt to bad debt." Good debt has the following characteristics: the interest is tax-deductible (a mortgage, for example), it has a low interest rate, and it's used for a tangible asset (a house). Bad debt has the following characteristics: it's used for consumption or a depreciating asset and it has a high interest rate (a credit card, for instance). Besides examining your personal debt levels, compare your overall debt (what you owe) to your assets (what you own). The difference between what you own and what you owe is called your net worth. If you own more than you owe, you have a positive net worth. If you owe more than you own, you have a negative net worth. "Do you have a positive net worth? Jacobson asked. If not, consider taking steps to create a positive net worth. If you have a positive net worth, consider what steps you need to take to increase your net worth.
- Check your credit score. AnnualCreditReport.com provides consumers with the secure means to request and obtain a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- in accordance with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act). Search the term "credit" on the FPA's Web site to read all the articles on this subject.
- Check your insurance coverage. According to AARP, it's important to make sure you save the right kind and the right amount of health, life, disability, homeowner's, and auto insurance.
- Be tax savvy. Check out the IRS's Web site for the latest in tax-saving ideas. For instance, the IRS recently updated Publication 17, "Your Federal Income Tax," on its Web site. That guide includes information on how to file an individual tax return, what to include as income, how to calculate capital gains and losses, how IRAs and other expenses can affect how much income to report, whether to take the standard deduction or itemize, and how to figure taxes and credits. Also, consider subscribing to the IRS' "Tax Tips" on its Web site too.
- Rebalance your investment portfolio. No doubt, much has occurred in 2008 that affected your investments. Now would be a good time to determine what your asset allocation – given your time horizon, risk tolerance, and investment objectives – should be. Your asset allocation is how much money you have invested in stocks, bonds, and other investments or products. If that ideal asset allocation is different from your current asset allocation, consider working with a financial professional to determine the most tax-efficient way to rebalance your portfolio. In some cases, it might be wise to sell investments that will produce losses. (See related article on FPA Web site about tax-loss harvesting). Also, plan on rebalancing your portfolio according to some criteria, say once per year in January or when the assets in your portfolio are more than five percentage points away from your target asset allocation.