Getting your financial house in order can be one of the most empowering and profitable things you can do at the beginning of the year.
It may not seem as compelling as losing weight, better fitness or decluttering your home, but getting financially focused as a New Year’s resolution can pay off big—for this year and beyond. Also, achieving financial health and organization is actually a lot more manageable than many of those other perennially made then broken New Year’s resolutions. We often don’t want to think about it, but once decisions are made and set in motion, you don’t have to keep at it daily, the way you do with diets or exercise; yet you’ll continue to reap the rewards of financial fitness for years to come. Let’s get started.
Consider maxing out your retirement-plan contributions. For 2019, you can add as much as $19,000 in savings to a workplace retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), up from $18,500 in 2018. Workers over 50 years old can save an additional $6,000 in “catch-up” contributions. If you can’t save the maximum, be sure to contribute at least enough money to take advantage of any matching funds from your company. Because workplace retirement plans are tax-deferred accounts, you generally don’t pay income taxes on any earnings from your investments until you withdraw funds.
For individual retirement accounts (IRAs), the contribution limit has increased in 2019 to $6,000 from $5,500 in 2018. You have until April 15, 2019, to make contributions for 2018. Keep in mind that if you have maxed out your contributions to your 401(k) or 403(b), you also have the option of contributing to an IRA.
With the costs of college tuition and housing both rising, you may resolve to help family members with those or other large expenses. For 2019, the annual gift tax exclusion is $15,000. A 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged way to save for higher education and allows you to gift savings to your children, grandchildren, other family members. With a 529, you can gift a lump sum—up to $75,000 in one year ($150,000 for married couples)—and then treat the gift as if it were given evenly over a five-year period. Also, if you do not want to make a lump sum contribution, and have not made any contributions or gifts to a particular recipient for 2018, you can make a maximum contribution of $15,000 between now and December 31, 2018 and then make another contribution up to the maximum in 2019.
Consider revisiting your asset allocation, or how your investments are divided among equities vs. fixed income vs. cash. Your asset allocation should reflect your savings goals and stage in life. For example, as you get closer to retirement age, you might consider moving some savings to a more conservative asset allocation, with a greater percentage of your assets invested in fixed income.
“No one ever wants to see their assets dissipate. However as you get closer to retirement, you truly cannot afford any asset erosion,” says Marilyn Booker, Managing Director and Head of Morgan Stanley's Urban Markets Group.
Also, the multiyear bull market in stocks, coupled with recent volatility, may mean that more of your money might be invested in stocks than you would ordinarily be comfortable with.
Your Financial Advisor can help you determine how your assets and overall financial plan can be aligned with your goals.
The start of the year is a good time to make sure that you have updated all of the information for the beneficiaries named in your various estate planning and insurance documents, such as wills, retirement plans and life insurance policies.
If you don’t have an estate plan, with a will, durable power of attorney or health care proxy in place, you may want to make this the year to do so.
Ensure that you have sufficient insurance coverage for your family. If your employer doesn’t offer disability insurance, you may want to consider buying a policy. Also, about half of us will need some type of long-term care services in our lifetime.1 If you tend to procrastinate, remember that the older you get, the more expensive the cost of some insurance premiums will be.
Don’t forget to create a plan for your digital assets as well. Can your family members find the usernames, passwords and other necessary information to access your online accounts if needed?
If you have aging parents, consider having a conversation with them about their estate planning so you’re prepared if they become ill or incapacitated.
Determine how much of your income and time you want to devote to charitable efforts in 2018. If you have a more substantial amount of money to donate, consider a donor-advisor fund. A DAF is a charitable-giving instrument that provides a simple and effective way for you to direct gifts, year-round, to your favorite charity from a single account.
For many of us, resolutions are a distant memory by February 1st. To ensure that doesn’t happen to you, consider checking in with yourself regularly to see the progress of your goals. Booker suggests writing your goals down and putting them in a place you look at often—such as on your desk, your smartphone, or a sticky note on your mirror. There are also digital tools available online to help you monitor your finances and share your financial picture with your advisor.
Talk with your Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor to discuss your plans for 2019.