October is Financial Planning Month which serves as a useful, annual checkpoint to make sure you are on track to meet your financial goals. A written, up-to-date financial plan encompasses not only investments, but risk management solutions, tax reduction strategies and estate planning.
10 Reasons You Need a Financial Plan
- To have one comprehensive document to address your finances.
Financial planning provides one summary location for everything related to your family’s financial life. From your budget, to your savings, to your investments, to your retirement, a financial plan helps you consider your finances in a holistic manner, and gives you one central place to see everything at a glance.
- To ensure your investments are in line with your current short- and long-term goals.
A financial plan includes short-term goals like buying a house and long-term goals like saving for retirement, as well as everything in between. As your goals change through time, your financial plan is a living document that should get updated with your advisor on at least an annual basis.
- To ensure you’re not spending too much money each month—to have adequate cash flow.
A realistic budget is very important to keeping you on track with your goals. This doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of little luxuries—it just means that those are already built into the plan so you don’t overspend.
- To ensure you’re saving enough money, in the right places, including adequate reserves.
As many of us have learned during the pandemic, having adequate emergency funds is important. That amount varies from person to person, and your advisor can help you define the amount you have saved for emergencies, and help you find the right strategies to use so that your savings are liquid and accessible when you need funds.
- To ensure your retirement is on track.
Making sure your retirement funds are invested for best performance while matching your risk tolerance and time horizon to retirement is one part of making sure your retirement is on track. Another part is making decisions about your desired retirement lifestyle and the corresponding monthly budget you will need later. These retirement lifestyle decisions can change throughout your working career, but should get more solid as you get from five to 10 years away from retiring.
- To put and keep adequate protection in place against risks—like health, disability, accidental death and liability.
Providing for your family’s financial security is an important part of the financial planning process, as is assessing other risks you may face such as liability from lawsuits. Having the proper insurance coverage in place can protect your whole family. And today’s policy designs mean you may be able to cover multiple risks with fewer policies—and may even be able to enjoy “living benefits” while providing death benefit protection for your family members.
- To address and have a plan in place for your estate.
Everyone needs an estate plan. A will allows you to spell out your final wishes, such as listing recipients of each of your possessions and designating minor children’s guardians. A trust can bypass probate court, saving money and keeping things private while easily transferring wealth. Health care directives and powers of attorney are critical should you become incapacitated. When creating your estate plan, your ideal team should include an estate attorney, your financial advisor and your tax professional.
- To help you manage changes.
A financial plan includes all its various parts and pieces so that you can quickly see what needs updating when life changes happen. Remember, the beneficiaries you list on your individual insurance policies and your retirement accounts (like 401(k)s) take precedence over what is in your estate planning documents. Too many people have had their ex-spouses receive money because they forgot to update all documents properly.
- To help you mitigate taxes.
It’s truly not how much you have; it’s how much you get to keep. Tax reduction strategies can help you annually, but your advisor can also help you look further ahead to reduce taxes later, such as during retirement. Remember, all the money you have saved in accounts like traditional 401(k)s are pre-tax dollars—you will have to pay ordinary income tax on that money when you withdraw it, which you have to do starting at age 72. Making a plan for taxation can help.
- To help enhance your peace of mind.
Reducing stress and sleeping more soundly may be the best reason of all to have a financial plan in place.