Having a year-to-year strategy helps you achieve short- and long-term goals.
Creating a financial plan allows you to set goals and keep track of financial benchmarks throughout the year. Creating a year-to-year plan can ensure you are staying on track to accomplish your short-term and long-term goals. Each year, I provide a checklist to get you started on creating a plan. There will certainly be other things you want to address; however, getting these 8 financial priorities in place is a good start.
Short- and long-term financial goals. Whether you want to be debt free in 10 years or own a home in 3, you are more inclined to save if you have specific goals. Factor these goals into a budget, and figure out where you can squeeze the extra money from to make these goals realities.
Budgeting. Every effective financial plan starts with a budget. Identify necessary spending and savings items. Give yourself a little leeway but try to stay disciplined to your budget.
Emergency funds. These can be a financial lifesaver! A sudden job loss, major surprise expense, or unexpected health issue can change your financial picture quickly. The general rule of thumb is to maintain an emergency fund equal to 3 times your monthly living expenses if you are a dual-income household and 6 months of monthly living expensesif you are a single-income household or if one person’s income is relied upon to provide for the family’s standard of living. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a good idea to bolster these funds with an extra month or two of savings.
Debt reduction. Look to see if there is some high-interest debt (like credit cards!) that can be paid off. With interest rates near record lows, putting extra money towards low-interest debt may not be the best idea. If you think you can earn a higher rate of return than the interest being charged on your debt by investing that extra money, you should come out ahead in the long run. Some forms of debt, such as a mortgage on a house, may also be acceptable due to the tax deductibility of the interest.
Retirement plan contributions. If you already contribute to an employer plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b), keep it going. The Internal Revenue Service increased the maximum contribution amount to $20,500 per year ($27,000 per year for individuals older than 50 years). You should max out 401(k)s and 403(b)s before utilizing other tax-advantaged retirement accounts because they are protected by federal law if you are ever sued and have a judgment against you. If you own your practice, determine whether you are utilizing the best type of retirement plan for your specific situation.
Traditional and Roth individual retirement accounts (IRAs). If you are already maxing out employer-provided retirement accounts and wish to save additional amounts toward retirement, consider contributing to a traditional or Roth IRA. These accounts also offer excellent tax-advantaged growth and are protected in most states from lawsuits. The contribution limit remains unchanged at $6000 per year for 2022 ($7000 for individuals older than 50 years). Please note: Deductibility and the ability to contribute are determined by your income, so it is important to be aware of the limitations.
Disability and life insurance. Often overlooked, disability and life insurance are actually very important components of financial security. Disability insurance supplements a portion of your income in the event you are sick or disabled and unable to work. In the event of a long-term disability, it could ensure you stay in your home and/or are still able to save for financial goals like retirement. All eligible physicians should have comprehensive disability coverage that provides at least 60% of their pre-disability income. Life insurance is slightly more situational, but if you own a home with a mortgage or have any other debts that would not be absolved at your death, have children whose college educations you would want to guarantee, and/or have an individual or organization you would want to provide for in the event of your death, then life insurance should be considered.
Estate planning. The complexity of an estate plan may vary based on your assets and needs, but having basic estate planning strategies in place is important. Work with an estate planning attorney to review whether you need wills, powers of attorney, trusts, etc.
Having these 8 important components well in hand will give you a good foundation to start moving toward a financially secure future. We recommend speaking with your financial advisor about other areas of your financial plan that could use improvement.
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