“Winter is coming” as Ned Stark said on Game of Thrones. For those of us in the Midwest, this means the weather is starting to turn a bit cooler, football has returned and many of us are putting together a Fall Cleanup List in preparation for winter. The list may include items like fall planting, raking fallen leaves, blowing out sprinkler lines and making sure the snow blower starts.
Along the same lines, this might also be a good time for you to create and review an Annual Retirement List. You can make this an annual event as the days start to get shorter.
From the perspective of a fee-only financial planner, what follows is a basic Retirement List for you to think about at least annually.
1. Review your current financial situation by assessing your income and assets versus your expenses and liabilities. You can use a spreadsheet or software like Mint or Quicken.
2. Determine a realistic amount to contribute regularly to your employer-sponsored qualified retirement plan, e.g., a 401(k) plan. If possible, you want to maximize allowable contributions and take advantage of any employer match.
3. Make a real plan toward reducing any debt. Curb your spending somewhere – maybe your daily coffee run – and apply that to your debt. And avoid taking on any new debt that could carry over into retirement.
4. Review your life, health, and disability income insurance policies to determine the amount of coverage for your current and future needs.
5. Revisit your estate planning needs. Are your account beneficiaries set up correctly? Do you have updated wills, trusts and other necessary documents in place?
6. Review all of your investment accounts. Do you need to re-balance based on market behavior? Will you need any cash within the next year for a large purchase? Is your overall mix of stocks and bonds still appropriate for you goals and time horizon?
7. Determine how much you expect to receive in retirement income from pension plans, veterans’ benefits, or Social Security. To receive an estimate for your future Social Security benefits, visit their web site.
8. Review your income tax situation to see if it will change after you retire. Do you see your marginal income tax bracket changing in retirement? Will this impact your investment or charitable giving strategies?
9. Review your credit to make sure your data is not compromised. You can receive one free report a year from each of three major credit bureaus here.
10. Schedule a meeting with your financial planner if you need help with items 1 to 9.
By using a Retirement List annually, you may see your savings increase as you get closer to reaching your retirement goals. You may also have more confidence in your overall financial situation. Best of all, this exercise should only take you about the same amount of time as cleaning up the yard.