Getting your wallet in shape for the New Year

Five basic tips for individuals and couples

Photo Credit: Alan Crosthwaite. Dreamstime.com.

Two things often fall at the top of many people’s New Year’s resolutions lists: Personal health and personal finances. Both are important. Read some basic tips for maintaining your personal financial well-being in 2013, from financial advisor Jenny Sperry, CFP, ADPA, of Waddell & Reed Financial Advisors.

Balance

“You’re biggest concern is that you avoid outliving your assets,” says Sperry. This single, most-basic tip is much more important than any other financial advice, she says. “Make sure the whole picture makes sense.” Balance your savings, contributions to an emergency fund, retirement accounts and insurance needs. Create and keep a balanced household budget.

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Tackling debt

For individuals or couples facing debt or credit issues, Sperry encourages a solid debt-reduction plan to go hand-in-hand with a commitment to balance household finances. First, tackle any collateralized debt. “It’s never good to have a car repossessed,” she says. Then, prioritize according to which debt carries the highest interest rate. Sperry warns, however, “The biggest mistake most people make is…paying debt off so quickly that they forget to put money into savings, which puts them in a situation where they get into more debt later. Be disciplined. You want to simultaneously be putting money into savings and do not neglect putting money into retirement.”

Future planning

Planning for the future is of the utmost importance once establishing a balanced financial life, especially for couples and those in families. “Do you have an appropriate amount of insurance so that if something should happen your partner is not just out on the streets,” Sperry asks clients. She says one should look to life insurance and disability insurance, as well as plans which can cover long-term healthcare needs. Insurance, she says, can get more expensive as you age, so tackling the need now can save money. Planning for the future also includes education savings if one has children.

Partner agreements

For couples, whether new or ongoing, Sperry says it is important to clearly spell out a “domestic partner agreement,” or, the expectations and intentions each partner has for and of the other. Such agreements can stand up in court if made with an attorney. “It spells out all of these intentions [at the start of a relationship] so that it is harder for people to contest if feelings or circumstances change,” Sperry says. “It gives you a road map if anything should happen.”

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End-of-life documents

Especially for couples, Sperry says, it is important to carefully consider and complete end-of-life and other legal documents. She tells clients in relationships to have both durable and healthcare power-of-attorney agreements to allow each individual in the relationship to have final say over the other’s finances and healthcare needs. She also encourages clients to look into wills and irrevocable trusts, which can protect jointly-held assets after a partner dies or becomes incompetent. Her biggest tips for couples: “Don’t use the same estate lawyer as your partner. Do not go to the meetings with your partner. Do not let your partner be a witness. These are one of the things being used by families to challenge end-of-life decisions — that a partner coerced them and that if left to their own devices they would have had [the property] go to their family [instead of their partner].” Sperry also encourages same-sex couples to review and update wills, trusts and other end-of-life documents once every year or two or as circumstances change. : :

more info: Jenny Sperry can be reached at 704-553-7220, ext. 127, jsperry.wrfa.com.

[Ed. Note – This content reflects general thoughts and expertise on theoretical financial questions and circumstances. For the best and most accurate financial planning advice for you or your family, consult a certified financial planner or advisor.]

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.