Summer is over, back to work everyone. I walked past a Christmas store on Fifth Avenue this morning. As we race towards the tail end of 2015 carve out some time in the coming weeks to make sure you are on target with the following checklist to help optimize your personal balance sheet to give you a feel good financial cheer for the holiday season.
- Max out your retirement plans – For many this is the one true no brainer of investing. If you are lucky enough to get an employee match in your 401k take it! Regardless you need the tax deduction so whether you are employed or self-employed contribute the maximum you can to your retirement plan for 2015 before making any other investment commitments.
- Create or review your will. This is the first relatively simple step in ensuring adequate estate planning for you and your family. A will ensures that your property is distributed fully according to your wishes and importantly if planned properly can avoid unnecessary financial and emotional uncertainty for your heirs.
- If you already have a valid up-to-date will in place you may need to take the next steps in forming a more comprehensive estate plan. If your overall wealth is expected to be in excess of $5 million estate planning is essential but even up to that level of wealth simply paying careful attention to ownership, location and family considerations in your current will help ensure your assets are safeguarded and distributed according to your wishes.
- The low interest rate train will be departing shortly. Before it leaves make sure you have reviewed all of your outstanding credit: mortgages, loans, car loans and unsecured credit to make sure you are paying the lowest rates available. For example refinancing high interest rate balances on credit cards with lower rate facilities like HELOCs or bank loans is a prudent way to lower interest payments and increase your ability to reduce principal.
- Ensure your assets are allocated appropriately. Assess your return and risk objectives and make sure your investment portfolio together with your exposure to debt is appropriate. August provided a strong warning of how aggressively markets can move. Uncertainty prevails and volatility will likely persist. Investors may ultimately be proved correct but staying solvent until that day comes is the crucial determinant if you are to be successful. September has remained volatile but the large moves we saw in August have abated. Reduce or add to positions as appropriate but do not over extend.
- Assess your realized and unrealized capital gains and losses y-t-d. If you are looking for positives from August’s market volatility here’s one to consider: regardless of where your assets are held and who is managing them your Investment portfolios are now likely sprinkled with losses. Although investment considerations should always be first priority, if you can re-position your holdings and accomplish point number 5 while reducing you 2015 tax bill at the same time, that’s a win. Be careful not to chase positions or leave yourself exposed but careful assessment of gains and losses is a valuable driver of total return after tax (the only number that matters)
- Plan your investment strategy for 2016. You need to take a view. Long-term common sense investing is the lowest but best denominator of investment success. Careful investing is defending against risks while moving towards opportunity. You may not be correct all the time, especially in the short-term, but understanding your positions and what makes your investment portfolio tick is crucial. Simply throwing money into broad cross sections of all asset classes will leave you completely at the mercy of markets for better or worse.
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