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Tax time is the ideal time for a fiscal checkup

A friend tells the story about her 2-year-old who grabbed a passing microphone at a school board meeting and demanded, "Ladies and gentlemen, you must listen to me!"

It worked for him, so here goes . . .TAXPAYERS OF THE WORLD, YOU MUST LISTEN TO ME. GET A FISCAL CHECKUP NOW!

If I have your attention as completely as Jimmy held that school board's, then that which follows will not end up unheeded in the bottom of your local school's newspaper recycling bin.

You get a physical checkup annually, don't you? (Well, you should, you know.) Get a yearly fiscal checkup, too. Tax preparation season is the ideal time to be sure the financial heart of your life is pumping strong.

- Talk to all the keepers of your money - your banker, accountant, broker and/or financial planner, etc. But check before you chat. What will your financial helper charge you for this fiscal check-up? If your planner charges by the hour, dovetail your checkup with other financial business you'll do at tax time and you could save some money. And even if he/she doesn't bill you for your fiscal checkup, write down all your questions before you meet. Then you will spend everyone's time profitably.

- Look over your financial plan. (You don't have one!? Now you are scaring me.) After all, the evaluation of your financial plans and goals is the main point of this entire fiscal exercise. You need to ask questions like: Are my financial goals and needs the same as last year? Is my income stream the same? Have my company benefits changed in ways that affect my finances? Should I refinance my home and/or restructure my debts so I can pay off the mortgage? How much money must I have each month of my retirement? What are the implications on our savings plans that my spouse returned to work or changed jobs? My children will all be college age in 2004. What should I do now so I can help them pay for their schooling? Given new tax laws, should I change my investment mix? Is a Roth IRA a good option for me?

Banal issues these are not, so carefully develop your own set of questions based upon your situation. My personal questions always begin with this one: "When can I retire?" My financial planner, still humoring me after all these years, says, "Not yet, Carol, not yet." Then we get down to cases so I know precisely what I must do in order to hear, "Now, Carol, now!"

- Talk to your insurance person because he/she oversees a choice bit of your annual income. Find out: Does my insurance company have any new policies or programs that can benefit me? Can I save money by making some slight alterations to my coverage? Is there advantage in increasing my premium payments to get better coverage or to participate in personal liability coverage or other options?

- Save! It is never too late to start saving. Ok, that's my strong editorial comment. But beyond that, ask your financial experts how your personal savings plan can work to your best advantage. If you don't have a regular savings plan, what is your best starting point? What financial instruments make the best sense for your age and income? How much money should you save monthly to meet your long-term financial goals?

- Check your beneficiaries. Especially if you have married, unmarried, remarried or otherwise lost a spouse, make a thorough search of all the 100 places you have listed a beneficiary. Virtually every financial tool and corporate benefits plan requires you to list a beneficiary. Check with your human resources office at work and go through the copies of account forms you keep at home to see if you've been consistent and if all your records are up-to-date. Review your entire portfolio of investments because you likely filled out a beneficiary form each time you undertook a new 401 or IRA or mutual fund or stock or bond. Don't forget the institutions of finance - banks, credit unions, brokerage house management ac-counts and the like. Insurance policies, too.

TAXPAYERS OF THE WORLD, YOU MUST LISTEN TO ME! Please take good care of yourself. Get checkups physical and fiscal in 1998.