If you’re serious about saving for retirement, then you’ve probably done a lot of research and reading about the strategies you can use to do it, the tools the use, and things to look out for. Over time, that knowledge can really build up and it can be tough not to want to share it with family and friends. Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, knowledge is power. That means the more you–and in this case, others–know the better you can be when it comes to making financial and retirement decisions. Now, before I go any further, I want to caution to you to be careful when it comes to giving advice regarding taxes or particular investments. Furthermore, if you find that you’re gathering a large following or are taking payment in return for financial advice, you should be very careful and maybe should consider becoming a financial advisor or wealth manager so as to protect yourself and get the credentials needed. In regards to taxes or tax-based strategies, you can potentially open yourself up to some legal liability, particularly if you are not properly credentialed to do so and if things go south (in other words…don’t mess with people’s taxes or tell them what to do with their taxes if you’re not a CPA). Anyways, in regards to sharing your knowledge, maybe you’ve learned some really great tips from an financial advisor or maybe you really like crunching numbers and want to help others who aren’t so skilled. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge and skills to help others obtain a better grasp of their finances and retirement savings. Even if it’s just a matter of helping a friend set up a spreadsheet to track their expenses or helping a family member research an investment opportunity, you can share what you know and help others. Of course, if you aren’t comfortable with helping others with financial planning or preparing for retirement, you could also always just pass on the name of a reputable wealth manager or financial advisor.
Retirement plans and the tax laws that govern them can be intricate and complex. Furthermore, the recently passed SECURE legislation has forced many wealth managers, financial advisors, and tax experts to relearn how some retirement plans work and the best strategies to deal with the changes. It’s no surprise then, with all that, even professionals can occasionally get confused and give incorrect advice. While we work tirelessly to ensure that we are knowledgeable of all the retirement account-related laws and regulations that impact our industry and the people we serve, we aren’t completely infallible. Sometimes we have clients come to use with incredibly unique questions or situations that don’t always lend themselves to straightforward or simple answers. I’m not saying that I have or haven’t made a mistake or two with clients. What I am encouraging you to do, though, is to take some time to research your retirement situation, plans, and questions before reaching out to a professional. Not only does such research make you seem more knowledgeable to the professionals when you talk to them, it can also give you an idea as to what the correct answer might sound like. I also encourage you to do some research on the wealth managers and financial advisors you choose to work with. You can start off by seeing what local review sites say (i.e. Yelp, etc.) and by talking to friends for suggestions. You can also check local Better Business Bureau sites for ratings and any complaints. Finally, don’t be afraid to set up meetings with wealth managers or financial advisors to meet and talk with them about their practices before deciding to work with them. I encourage everyone to find the wealth manager or advisor that they are most comfortable with and confident in.
Many companies offer retirement benefits. Those benefits can range from simply offering 401(k)s to a wide range of financial resources that can include financial planning and multiple retirement account options. Furthermore, with legislation working it’s way through Congress that could allow small businesses to band together to offer retirement savings plans, more Americans could find themselves working for an employer that offers such benefits. Regardless of the size of the company you work for, if you are taking advantage of any employer offered retirement benefits, you need to make sure that you understand what those benefits entail and what their limitations are. There are many ways to go about that. One easy way to understand your retirement benefits is to read over any paperwork you received or filled out when you first entered the plan (which you should have kept in a safe place or be able to access online). That paperwork most likely will tell you what you can and cannot do. If you have questions beyond that, you should be able to reach out to the custodian of your retirement plan. If you work for a larger company, you may have a benefits manager that you can reach out to. While they may not know all the answers, they should at least be able to point you in the right direction or get you in touch with a plan custodian who can help. If your company offers retirement planning talks or events centered around planning for retirement, you should try to attend those if possible. If you are new to the retirement savings game, try to make sure that you understand as much as you can about your retirement savings plan, particularly what you can do with it should you choose to leave your employer as well as your ability to change contribution rates. If you are not new to the retirement savings game and have had a retirement plan through your employer for years (or decades), you will want to make sure that you stay abreast of any changes to those plans and how such changes could potentially impact your future distributions or ability to rollover the plan. As always, if you need help with deciding what to do with your employer retirement plans or you want to combine it with an IRA, you should speak with a certified financial planner.
If your nest egg consists of stocks (or mutual funds or ETFs), do you watch CNBC to get strategy and investment ideas? Does must-see TV for you include Fox Business or Bloomberg TV? While it’s all well and good to get perspectives and ideas from the pundits and talking heads on TV, you should be careful about taking it as gospel. It can be tempting to act on a claim regarding what the markets will do next or where the next hot stock will come from. However, you need to to avoid letting that cloud your judgment or impact your goals. Don’t forget, these pundits and talking heads have to market themselves to stay relevant and earn money and thus, they talk about a lot of things they may not necessarily know about or which is really just a hunch. When you think about it, there is really no way that any one person could be so knowledgeable about the economy as those investing professionals and pundits claim to know. While the ones on the business channels aren’t necessarily hacks, they also aren’t really thinking about investors such as yourself who are going at it to build a nest egg or provide a bit of an emergency fund. I’m not telling you to avoid watching Fast Money or having Fox Business News on the background in your office (if you have the luxury of having a TV in there), but I am warning you to be cautious of the information you receive and to take it with a grain of salt. Essentially, you need to drown out the noise and focus on the good/helpful information they share. Don’t get caught up in buying everything they say.
In my last blog post, I talked about the importance of doing a thorough review of your retirement accounts and plans at least a few times a year. Today, I’m going to focus on making sure your retirement account beneficiary forms–as well as insurance policy beneficiary forms–are up-to-date. This is very important as outdated or incomplete beneficiary information can cause a lot of pain for family and friends when it comes to distributing your estate. Incomplete or outdated beneficiary information can lead your accounts to fall into probate or, worse yet, lead to fighting and distruption among family and friends. You should review your beneficiary information at least once as year and after every major life change (i.e. marriage, divorce, birth of a child, etc.) to make sure your money is going to the people you want it to go to. Reviewing your beneficiaries also gives you an opportunity to adjust just how much each beneficiary receives of your account (many insurance policies and accounts allow you to set percentages for each beneficiary). When you review and update your beneficiary forms, if you find you have questions regarding the forms, you should contact your account custodian.
Thanks to the Internet, you can read up on just about every topic imaginable (thanks for choosing my blog at this moment! lol.). With all those words out there to read, how do you know that you are reading efficiently and getting the most out of what you are reading? The key is to get good and useful information out of what you read. There are a few ways to do that. First, you will want to to vet the sources that you are reading. What appears when you do a Google search of the source? Is the sources you are researching quoted or used by other sources? What are the credentials of the writers for that source? Next, you will want to make sure the information (or source) you are reading fits with your goals and needs. Does the information give you what you are looking for? Do you agree with what the author is saying and how it’s written? If you don’t agree with the source, then you most likely don’t want to use it in your decision-making and can skip over it in the future. Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about reading efficiently. I’m bringing it up because there is a lot of information out there regarding financial and retirement planning and it is an area that people may often feel inclined to research on their own (or take on parts on their own with the help of a financial planner). While there is a lot of useful/helpful information out there, there is also a lot of misleading information out there as well and it can at times be difficult to tell the two apart. That wrong information may be packaged in a way in which it seems helpful, but really isn’t. That’s why you need to do some research regarding the sources you read to ensure you are getting both information that is helpful to you and which you want to read.
Tax returns are a popular target for scammers and identity thieves. The information provided on your tax return contains lot of private information about you and your family (i.e. Social Security numbers, income, business information, etc.), which can make it easy for criminals to steal your identity. While identity theft and the improper disclosure of tax return information is taken seriously by the government and law enforcement, that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen to you. Thus, you should take your own steps to protect your information. If you have paper copies of your tax returns, make sure that they are locked away in a safe place that an intruder or guest cannot get into. If you are working with a tax professional to prepare your return, make sure you are aware of his/her privacy and security policies. If you are requested by anyone to provide copies of past tax returns, be sure to research how the information is being used and protected. If you have questions about a firm’s privacy practices or about the security of your vital information, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The beginning of the new year can be a great time to review where you get your retirement saving and planning information. You can use the time to review just how effective or efficient the resources you currently use are as well as explore new sources of information. If you are looking for new online resources, a new Google search might turn up blogs and websites that provide information that can supplement what you are already using. If you have been considering switching financial advisors or planners, now is a good time to do so as well. If you are looking for a new certified financial planner in the Dallas, Texas-area, please give me a call at 972-265-7990.