Berks County / Credit / Montgomery County / Mortgage

Getting Your Finances On Track

Choosing the Right LenderAre you making progress toward your financial goals? Are your finances in order? Are you prepared for a financial emergency? If you’re not sure, take time to thoroughly assess your finances to make sure they’re on track to help you achieve your financial goals.

Assess your financial situation.

Evaluating where you stand financially will help you determine how much progress you are making toward your financial goals. There are several items to consider:

  • Your net worth. Prepare a net worth statement, which lists your assets and liabilities, with the difference representing your net worth. Prepared at least annually, it can help you assess your financial progress. Ideally, your net worth should grow by several percentage points over inflation.
  • Your spending. Next, prepare a cash flow statement, detailing your income and expenditures for the past year. Are you satisfied with the way your income was spent? You may be surprised by amounts spent on nonessential items like dining out, entertainment, clothing, and vacations. This awareness may be enough to change your spending habits. More likely, you’ll need a budget to help guide your future spending.
  • Your debt. Debt can be a serious impediment to achieving your financial goals. To assess how burdensome your debt is, divide your monthly debt payments (excluding your mortgage payment) by your monthly net income. This debt ratio should not exceed 10 percent to 15 percent of your net income, with many lenders viewing 20 percent as the absolute maximum. If you are in the upper limits or are uncomfortable with your debt level, take active steps to reduce your debt or at least lower the cost of that debt.

Increase your savings.checkbook

Calculate how much you are saving as a percentage of your income. Is it enough to fund your future financial goals? If not, go back to your spending analysis and look for ways to reduce expenditures. That may mean reassessing your lifestyle choices, since you need to live below your means to find money to save. Commit to saving more immediately and then take steps to make that commitment a reality. For instance, you may decide to increase your 401(k) contributions by $25 per week. To do that, you may need to fore-go your daily stop for coffee and a muffin, cut back on how often you dine out, and reduce your monthly clothing allowance. Not sure it’s worth that much sacrifice to save $25 a week? After 20 years, that weekly $25 savings could grow to $63,811 at an 8 percent annual rate of return, before the payment of any income taxes. (This example is provided for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to project the performance of a specific investment.)

Rebalance your investments.

At least annually, thoroughly analyze your investment portfolio:

  • Review each investment in your portfolio, ensuring it’s still appropriate for your situation.
  • Calculate what percentage of your total portfolio each asset type represents, compare this allocation to your target allocation, and then decide if changes are needed.
  • Compare the performance of each of your portfolio’s components to an appropriate benchmark to identify investments that may need to be changed or monitored more closely.
  • Finally, calculate your overall rate of return and compare it to the return you estimated when setting up your investment program. If your actual return is less than your targeted return, you may have to increase the amount you are saving, invest in alternatives with higher return potential, or settle for less money in the future.

Prepare for financial emergencies.

  • To make sure you and your family are protected in case of an emergency, set up:A reserve fund covering several months of living expenses. The exact amount you’ll need depends on your age, health, job outlook, and borrowing capacity.
  • Insurance to cover catastrophes. At a minimum, review your coverage for life insurance, medical insurance, homeowners insurance, auto insurance, disability income insurance, and personal liability insurance. Over time, your insurance needs are likely to change, so you may find yourself with too much or too little insurance in any of these areas.

Review your estate plan.

Take a fresh look at your estate planning documents. Even if the recent increases in exemption amounts mean your estate won’t be subject to estate taxes, there are still reasons to plan your estate. You probably still need a will to provide for your estate’s distribution and to name guardians for minor children. You should also consider a durable power of attorney, which designates someone to control your financial affairs if you become incapacitated, and a health care proxy, which delegates health care decisions when you are unable to make those decisions.

By:  Mabel Davis

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