We all want to be slim, eat healthy and get our financial house in order, but few of us are disciplined enough to accomplish all that without help. After the indulgences of the holidays, both gustatory and financial, inevitably you'll probably resolve once again to make some changes in all these areas. You owe it to yourself and your family to make certain you keep your financial New Year's resolutions this year.
I won't presume to offer help on your diet and exercise program, but I do know that with the help of a personal financial advisor, you can make your financial life more manageable and successful. Every six years you delay saving and investing, you cut in half the lifestyle you will have in retirement.
First, financial advisors listen to your personal goals and tailor their recommendations to your situation. Just the act of sharing what you hope to accomplish makes it a lot more likely it will translate from inside your head onto paper and then to taking action. And don't delay seeking a coach until you've worked out the details. A professional helps you ask the right questions and stays the course with you until you've found the answers.
Second, a coach works with you to make those goals concrete and then documents them. For example, your savings goals should be a specific annual percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI), ideally at least 10 percent of your AGI in tax-free retirement accounts and another 5 percent toward retirement in taxable investments. If you are older and just getting started on a savings program, your advisor may recommend you save even more to catch up to where you should be.
Don't stop reading here with the idea that you are too rich or too poor to need a coach. Even financial advisors themselves seek professional help with their portfolios. Whether you live on $200,000 or $20,000 a year, you'll need to save enough to retire and keep that same standard of living. It will not be any easier to cut back on expenses when you're no longer working (if you think it will be easy, do it now and save and invest the difference!).
Relying on an objective advisor provides both a powerful catalyst for action and real peace of mind. You will have specific annual savings goals written down that you know will meet your goals, one for your retirement accounts and a second for retirement savings that will go into a taxable account.
Third, an advisor offers the best strategies to implement your goals, including prioritizing the appropriate retirement vehicles. You want to put your money into accounts that have the greatest number of asset allocation choices and the lowest fees. Many investors are frustrated by company 401(k) accounts that have high fees and poor choices and need help to sort out their choices.
For example, first invest just enough to get the entire match your company's 401(k) plan offers. Arrange for your contributions to get the full match in the company's Roth 401(k) if your company provides the option, next funding your Roth IRA accounts. After these two, make certain you have enough retirement savings in taxable accounts. There are strategic actions you can take as you enter retirement that require sufficient assets in taxable accounts.
Fourth, an advisor can also help you automate your savings. Making your contribution to an employer-defined contribution plan is simple enough, but few take the time to automate a taxable savings plan. Most brokers offer an automatic money link between your investment account and your checking account and also a monthly automatic transfer between the two accounts.
Say your paycheck is deposited on the first day of the month. Ask your broker to transfer money from your checking account into your investment account on the second day of the month. Then automate your investing. For example, if $600 is being deposited into your brokerage account each month, designate an asset allocation that purchases $100 or more of five or six funds. Most brokerage firms make this process both easy to set up and to change.
Once a year, rebalance your portfolio. Doing so after your June 30 statement is a convenient time, and your advisor can make that part of his or her ongoing recommendations.
You can get much more sophisticated than what's been described here, but a great way to start off this new year is to hire a financial advisor to help you realize the benefit of saving and investing with a minimal amount of work. ______________________________________________________________________
David John Marotta is President of Marotta Asset Management, Inc. of Charlottesville providing fee-only financial planning and wealth management at www.emarotta.com. Questions to be answered in the column should be sent to questions@emarotta dot com or Marotta Asset Management, Inc., One Village Green Circle, Suite 100, Charlottesville, VA 22903-4619.
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