Imagine the structure of your house: there’s a foundation, a frame, a roof and the siding. What would happen to your home if one of those major pieces was missing? Now imagine your financial situation as also being comprised of equally important parts. These parts can be more generally broken down into your assets and liabilities, your protection from risk, your investments, and your tax situation.
Together, these parts reinforce your financial foundation so that you can be more prepared to protect and preserve your wealth in tough economies and volatile market conditions. But, without one of these important parts, your financial foundation is less stable and could be exposed to challenges that may arise in the future. These vulnerabilities in your financial situation can wreak havoc on your long-term objectives, your family, and your lifestyle.
By taking into account your current financial situation including your assets and liabilities, your protection needs, your investments, and your tax situation, while exploring options on solidifying your financial core, you can protect yourself from setbacks along the way and pursue your future goals more confidently.
Let’s start with the basics – assets and liabilities
Your income is central to pursuing all your goals. Basic financial principles dictate that what you bring in must exceed what you send out. All the excess income should be applied toward your investment goals and simultaneously to build and emergency cash reserve, and pay down debt such as your mortgage and credit cards.
Build your cash reserve
You must have cash available when you need it for emergency situations. So when something unexpected happens such as a job loss, you can pay your day-to-day expenses without tapping into your assets that are set aside for your long-term financial goals. That’s why it is critical to have a systematic savings strategy to build an emergency cash fund of at least 6 months. This way you will be able to cover short- and long-term emergencies.
Your short-term reserve will cover frequent minor emergencies such as a leaky roof or car repairs. Your long-term cash reserve is for more significant changes such as a job loss or a disability. A short-term cash reserve typically consists of short-term liquid investments such as savings accounts, money market accounts, whereas a long-term reserve investments offer lower liquidity but higher rates of return such as certificates, Treasury notes, and CDs.
An added layer of protection may include establishing a home equity line of credit as part of your emergency fund. Keep in mind, it’s much easier to qualify for a home equity line when you are employed.
Without a sufficient cash reserve as a safety precaution, difficult financial times can lead to worse times especially if those times include you withdrawing cash from your long-term investments to get by, which can worsen not only your current tax situation but also your future standard of living.
Pay down debt and borrow smart
In a society where credit is provided left and right to people, it’s common to have debt. If you have debt, you have to be smart about it. Managing debt is difficult especially when you are not meeting your day to day expenses. One way to manage your debt wisely is to pay down your high interest debt first and work your way down to lower interest balances.
Say you have a credit card balance with an interest rate of 17.99% and a car loan of 4.99%. It makes sense to put down more dollars for your credit card first because overtime you are paying more per dollar borrowed than you are for the car loan.
Now, say you have an opportunity to consolidate both of these debts in a home equity line of credit that offers a fixed rate of 4.99%. This may be a considerably better option because you can save on interest and negotiate a lower monthly payment, and perhaps reap tax advantages. And the extra money that is saved as a result of the consolidation, use it to pay down the new balance faster.
Also, another opportunity is to refinance your mortgage. Mortgage rates continue to be quite low hovering around 5%. Lowering your mortgage rate could reduce your payment and therefore free up some extra cash for you that you can contribute toward your other investing goals. Talk to your financial advisor about the best options to take in order to reduce your debt and increase dollars saved so that you can produce your longer-term objectives.
Make sure you are protected
Everyone needs insurance. No one likes to think of how an unexpected illness or disaster can wreak havoc on your financial situation. But an unexpected event can wipe out years of careful saving in a very short period of time. The fact is that most people have substantial gaps in their coverage, or don’t have protection at all.
Consider life insurance to protect your family from your eventual passing. This is why it’s important to have life insurance. If your loved ones depend on you for financial support, and that financial support is gone, they may not be able to survive financially. So first make sure you take advantage of life insurance options provided by your employer. Also, consider an individual policy, which is portable and will provide coverage no matter what job change you make or even if you are no longer employed.
Consider disability income insurance to protect your income. Imaging if you experience a sudden illness or injury that renders you unable to work. How would you meet your day-to-day expenses? Though it seems unlikely that you will experience a sudden disability, the fact is that more than 30% of Americans will become disabled at some point in their life. Take advantage of any disability coverage provided by your employer, which typically replaces 40%-60% of your base salary and an individual policy to close the gap. Plus, an individual disability income policy is portable so you can take it with you regardless of where you work.
Consider long-term care insurance to take care of your family and your assets. More than 70% of people over the age of 65 will need long-term care. So odds are you will need long-term care at some point in your life. Unfortunately, long-term care is expensive, whether it’s at a home, assisted-living facility, or in a nursing home. With a long-term care policy you can protect your lifetime of savings from being wiped out quickly because you have to pay for your long-term care services. So your family doesn’t have to suffer from financial burden.
Informed and active investing
Investing is key to any long-term success. The markets can go up and down, which can be frustrating. Staying on track and keeping your long-term goals in mind involves discipline, regular investing, diversification, and a knowledgeable strategist to guide you on structuring your portfolio.
Having a well-thought out investment strategy is critical, but equally important is monitoring that strategy and sticking to it for the long run. Markets that are in flux and causing mayhem may keep you away from sticking to the plan and compromise your long-term plan. Your Financial Advisor can help you maintain an objective focus on your portfolio.
Make investing a habit
Volatile markets tend to make investors nervous about the decisions they originally made in their portfolios causing to mess around with purchasing and selling at wrong times and thereby incur losses. These periods when your emotions overpower your investment composure make it really easy for you to get bumped off track. Keep in mind, your Financial Advisor devises strategies to take advantage of both long-term as well as short-term macroeconomic trends.
Dollar-cost averaging. This investment strategy involves allocating a set dollar amount toward the purchase of shares on a regular schedule such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, regardless of the market’s performance. This ensures that more shares are purchased when prices are low and fewer when prices are high. Over time, this may lower you average cost per share.
Managed accounts. Through this strategy, a knowledgeable and professional money manager oversees your portfolio, monitoring your investments and performance to make sure they are aligned with your investment objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance. He also designs strategies to take advantage of various opportunities that may come about from market volatility in the long- and short-term. Having a professional money manager may take the emotion from your investment decisions.
Annuities. When you purchase an annuity, you can systematically invest into it by making regular scheduled contributions. Each contribution is allocated to the subaccounts you have selected. Through an annuity you can get a guaranteed income stream for life. Annuities can take a lot of the worries such as unexpected market events, market performance, inflation issues, and future life events away from investing. An annuity can take these risks out of the equation by providing retirement income that may include guarantees based on the claims-paying ability of the company that issues the annuity.
The practice of timing the market to buy and sell individual securities based on the market’s ups and downs is difficult, but positioning your investments based on economic trends whether those trends are expected to unfold in the near term or long term may uncover opportunities. The strategy of putting your money to work in the market for the long term while managing it for the short term also is tried and true. Staying invested for the long-term will ensure that you won’t miss out the market’s good performing days as long as you carefully hedge against downside risk in the short-term.
To make sure you continue to invest on an ongoing basis, take advantage of systematic investing opportunities. Also consider the strategies below to complement your long-term investment plan:
Make sure to mix it up
Diversifying across multiple asset classes is the key ingredient to hedging against risk. A well-rounded portfolio containing a mix of investments such as different types of funds, securities, alternative assets, real estate and so on can help you reduce the risk that your portfolio will fluctuate widely in value. More importantly, when you diversify, you set yourself up for potential opportunities of many different types of securities rather than only a handful.
Diversification works together with asset allocation, or in other words how you strategically divide your investment dollars across the many asset classes such as stocks, bond, cash, or alternative assets. Within each asset class, you should have several investments that are aligned with your investment objectives and long-term goals. For instance, your equity portfolio might include individual stocks, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds across different sectors and market capitalizations including domestic and international markets.
An investment plan for different stages of your life
There is no such thing as an investment plan for life that is static. Where you are in life affects how you can handle financial loss. Clearly, a major setback in your retirement funds is very different for someone who is 60 vs. someone who is 24. So it only makes sense as your priorities, risk tolerance, and time horizons changes that your investment plant should change too. Your Financial Advisor can help you plan according to where you are in your life and what’s important to you at that point. By aligning your investment mix with your circumstances, your risk tolerance can be in the right comfort zone if you hit a rough patch.
Smart tax strategies
You should also consider positioning yourself for tax diversification in your investment portfolio to minimize your overall tax exposure. This is especially important as the tax environment changes and rates increase for higher taxpayers.
Your portfolio can be structured to include a combination of investments such as taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free to help you achieve the right balance of risk and opportunity.