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Resolve to do better financially in the new year

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New Year’s resolutions have been around for thousands of years. According to history.com the ancient Babylonians promised to repay debts and return borrowed items to keep in good graces with the gods. Romans believe the god Janus was two-faced, looking both to the past and the future. Romans would make promises of better behavior in the new year to keep the god happy.

In modern times, New Year’s resolutions aren’t made to the gods, but to one’s self. That may be why, according to statisticsbrain.com, less than 10 percent are kept.

So how do we make resolutions we can keep? Psychologist Edwin Locke’s goal-theory states that to increase the likelihood of reaching your goals, they must be specific, clear, realistic, and challenging. So, if you want to increase the chances of reaching your goals next year, instead of telling yourself this year, you want to lose some weight, say something like, “I want to lose 20 pounds by June.” A goal like that is achievable with hard work and has a specific time frame.

With that in mind, here are some financial New Year’s resolutions for 2018:

Calculate your net worth

Recalculating your net worth at the beginning of each year helps you visualize your progress towards retirement, college funding, or other goals. For most people, it is a simple process. Collect your Dec. 31 statements from your bank, brokerage account, credit cards, mortgage, 401(k), IRA, and add up how much you have in assets and subtract what you have in debt. These calculations will give you a general new worth.

With this information you should be able to tell if you’re on track to reach your goals or need to make any course corrections. Has your credit card debt increased? Are your savings growing? Are you contributing regularly to your 401(k) plan? A review of your net worth will expose areas of your spending where there might be areas to cut back or save more.

Reset retirement savings

The beginning of the year is the perfect time to review your retirement accounts. If you’re involved in your employer’s retirement plan, review the percentage of your salary you’re contributing and consider increasing that amount. If you haven’t joined the plan, consider doing so. An extra $50 or $100 per pay period can improve chances of a more successful retirement.

The most common reason people tell me they don’t increase their 401(k) contributions is they won’t have enough take-home pay to live their lives if they contribute. In my experience, most people are surprised by the small difference in their take-home pay even when they max out their retirement contributions. To help you determine how much you can save each period, incorporate your retirement savings into your regular budget.

Don’t forget your IRA

Even if you participate in your work retirement plan, you and your spouse may still be able to contribute to a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA, depending on your wages. Discuss these and other retirement strategies with your financial advisor to keep on top of ever-changing tax regulations.

Review debt–reduction goals

The beginning of the year is a good time to set new savings goals, review your mortgage, credit card, and other debt, and create a plan to pay these amounts down.

If you owe money on your credit cards, determine how much you can realistically afford to pay off during the year. A good rule of thumb is to pay off your highest-interest-rate credit cards first, then concentrate on the lower interest rate cards. This strategy decreases your interest costs and eventually leads to more money in your pocket and not the credit card company’s pocket. When following this strategy, avoid or limit additional purchases on those cards.

If you have money left over after paying off your credit cards and adding to your savings, consider making payments towards the principal on your mortgage. This strategy shortens the length of your mortgage and will pay off your mortgage faster. However, if you must choose between adding to your retirement nest egg and paying extra on your mortgage, talk to your financial advisor to determine which option is more suitable for you.

Review your credit report

This is a good idea after the breaches at the credit reporting agency Equifax and other companies this year. Order your report (you may be able to get a copy for free) and take steps to repair any negative entries. A poor credit report affects your ability to borrow money, might lead to higher interest rates on loans, and have could have other negative effects.

Review insurance needs

Over your lifetime your need for life insurance, disability, long-term care, and other insurances will change. A young family may need life insurance to protect against the premature death of one or both income earners. Older couples may need to consider long-term care insurance to care for their needs when they can no longer take care of themselves. A review with your financial advisor can help you protect your family against unforeseen life events.

Setting realistic New Year’s resolutions leads to greater success in reaching your goals. The steps in this column are manageable and can be broken into bite-sized pieces to increase the likelihood of success. Make a checklist with simple tasks to keep track of how you are doing, and if needed, make changes throughout the year. Review your plans with your financial advisor now and throughout the year and the chances of your success greatly increase.

Anthony N. Corrao, an independent advisor with Corrao Wealth Management, has a website at www.corraowm.com.

Securities offered through First Allied Securities Inc., A Registered Broker Dealer. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through First Allied Advisory Services, A Registered Investment Adviser.

Updated 5:04 pm, July 9, 2018
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