By REBECCA LAKE
Sept. 21, 2021
If you’ve taken on the task of mapping out your annual financial plan, you deserve a pat on the back. Making sure you’ve covered all the bases is important to both your short- and long-term financial health. Keeping track of your progress with an annual financial planning checklist makes it easier to see which tasks have been completed and which you still need to tackle.
- An annual financial plan allows you to determine your financial situation at the given moment.
- It should include looking at all your assets and liabilities, deciding what your goals are, and what methods you intend to employ to achieve them.
- Make sure you check off every strategy you’ve considered, even if you decided not to pursue it.
What Is an Annual Financial Plan?
An annual financial plan is a way to determine where you are financially at this particular moment. This means taking into consideration all your assets—how much you get paid, what’s in your savings and checking accounts, how much is in your retirement fund—as well as your liabilities, including loans, credit cards, and other personal debts. Don’t forget to include things like your mortgage or rent, plus utility bills and other monthly expenses. This snapshot should also factor in what your goals are and what you’ll need to accomplish in order to get there. This can include things such as retirement planning, tax planning, and investment strategies.
Annual Financial Plan Check-Up
Now that you know what an annual financial plan is and how to make one, let’s recap the most important steps in the process. Check off each step that you’ve considered, even if your response was, “No, I don’t want to refinance my mortgage,” or “My credit cards are already paid off.” The idea is to make sure you’ve looked at the issue. It’s vital for you to cover every item in the above section, so that you have a full financial inventory.
Create Your Personal Financial Inventory
Your personal financial inventory is important, because it gives you a snapshot of the health of your bottom line. This annual self-check should include:
- A list of assets, including items such as your emergency fund, retirement accounts, other investment and savings accounts, real estate equity, education savings, etc. (any valuable jewelry, such as an engagement ring, belongs here, too)
- A list of debts, including your mortgage, student loans, car loans, credit cards, and other loans
- A calculation of your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of debt you have versus your total credit limit
- Your credit report and score
- A review of the fees you’re paying to a financial advisor, if any, and the services they provide
Set Financial Goals
Once you have a personal financial inventory completed, you can move on to setting goals for the remainder of the year or and for the next 12 months. Your goals will be divided into short-term, mid-term, and long-term ones.
Among your short-term goals might be to:
- Establish a budget
- Create an emergency fund or increase your emergency fund savings
- Pay off credit cards
Your mid-term goals might include:
- Getting life insurance and disability income insurance
- Thinking about your dreams, such as buying a first home or vacation home, renovating, moving, or saving so that you’ll have money to have a family or to send children or grandchildren to college
Then review your long-term goals, including:
- Determining how much of a nest egg you’ll need to save for a comfortable retirement
- Figuring out how to increase your retirement savings
Focus on Family
If you’re married, there are certain things that you and your spouse should be thinking about on the financial front. These are some of the items that may be on your punch list:
- If you have children, determining how much you’ll need to save for future college expenses
- Choosing the right college savings account
- If you are caring for elderly parents, investigating whether long-term care insurance or life insurance can help (also ask whether you should purchase one of these for yourself)
- Purchasing life insurance for yourself and your spouse
- Starting to plan how you and your spouse will time your retirement, including your Social Security claiming strategy.
Review Your Retirement Savings Plans
Saving for retirement in an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k) is a smart way to enjoy some tax advantages. As you put together your annual financial plan, you should consider whether you need to:
- Decide whether a Roth or traditional IRA is best for you now
- Consider switching an existing IRA to a different brokerage
- Convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA (times when either your income or the value of your account is lower are especially good for making this change at the lowest possible cost)
- Do the same for your 401(k), which can also be Roth or regular
- Rollover any old 401(k) accounts from a previous employer. If your employment status has changed from employed to self-employed, update yourself on the limits for SEP IRA or other self-employment retirement accounts and maximize your contribution amounts.
- Increase or decrease your annual contribution amounts to retirement accounts.
Important: It’s vital to review where your investments are, especially during a market shift, such as when the market cratered early in the coronavirus pandemic.
Review Your Investments
It’s important for investors to take stock of where their investments are during the annual financial planning process. This is especially true when the economy undergoes a shift.
- Check your asset allocation. If stocks are taking a dive, for example, you may consider adding real estate investments into your portfolio mix to offset some of the volatility.
- Then figure out which investments will do the best job of meeting your asset allocation goals—and whether your current investments still fit that profile.
Rebalance Your Portfolio
Periodically rebalancing your portfolio ensures that you’re not carrying too much risk or wasting your investment dollars on securities that aren’t generating a decent rate of return. It also makes sure that your current portfolio reflects your investment strategy, as changes in the market often cause a shift that needs to be corrected to maintain the diversification you originally planned.
- Look at which asset classes you have in your portfolio and where the gaps are. If necessary, refocus your investments to even out things.
- Consider the costs of managing your portfolio and decide whether it’s time to try a robo-advisor or other strategy to cut them.
Tip: When making your plan, don’t forget to consider the tax implications of any financial changes you may be making.
Plan on Addressing Tax Planning for Investments
While you’re looking over your portfolio and rebalancing, don’t forget to factor in how selling off assets may affect your tax liability. If you’re selling investments at a profit, you’ll be responsible for paying short- or long-term capital gains tax, depending on how long you held the assets. This step can wait until the end of the year. When you get to that point in time, you’ll want to consider these strategies:1
- Harvesting tax losses by replacing losing investments with different ones to offset a potentially higher tax bill
- Looking into whether you should offset capital gains and losses
- Investigating whether it makes sense to use appreciated securities to make charitable donations or support lower-income family members.
Update Your Financial Emergency Plan
As the nation—if not the world—has certainly learned, a sizable emergency fund is helpful when financial troubles descend, so be sure you have socked away adequate resources. While you’re at it, look at your broader emergency plan as a whole.
- If you don’t have three to six months’ worth of expenses tucked away, building your emergency savings should be a top priority.
- Invest in insurance: Are you covered for a temporary disability, for example?
- Make sure you have a financial and medical power of attorney in place.
Look Ahead to Future Savings
As you move through the year, think about where else you could be saving money to fully fund your emergency savings and put aside more for the future. Consider whether you should:
- Refinance your mortgage
- Rethink your car insurance
- Lower your food bill
- Utilize flexible spending or health savings accounts
- Cut the cable TV cord
- Curb your energy bill
- Divert your paycheck to savings by contributing more to retirement accounts or funneling money directly from your paycheck to an emergency savings account
Work on Building Alternative Income Streams
A 401(k), pension plan, or Social Security benefits may all be potential sources of income in retirement, but they’re not your only options. Figure out what else you could build in.
- Investing in a rental property and becoming a landlord can provide regular income.
- Real estate crowdfunding offers some interesting possibilities for investors who don’t want to own a property outright.
- A part-time job may be the right solution for adding to your income. With WFH workplace, you have abundance of flexible hour jobs that you can add to your core job. The biggest constraint is time management. So, reconcile your time and the jobs you can do.
- If funds are tight, you are old enough, and you own your home, investigate whether a reverse mortgage is a good solution for you.
- Think about purchasing dividend stocks, starting a side hustle, creating a website that you can monetize, or making investments in peer-to-peer lending. These options require varying degrees of time and money to get started, but they all provide avenues for boosting income in retirement.
Start Using or Update Your Financial Planning Apps
Using financial planning apps to track your expenses and income can simplify your financial life, but not all programs are created equal. As you wrap up your annual financial plan, review the financial planning apps and software you’re using to see if they still fit your needs. If you’re not putting any apps to work yet, take the time to review the options and how they can help you manage your money.
The Bottom Line
An annual financial plan is an exceptionally valuable tool for your life (and peace of mind) today and for your future. Best-case scenario: You’ve checked off all the items on this punch list by now. If not, don’t hesitate to put time on your calendar to do so.
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- Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 409 Capital Gains and Losses." Accessed March 3, 2021.