Mid-year money checkup - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Mid-year money checkup

© iStockphoto.com / JL Gutierrez © iStockphoto.com / JL Gutierrez

By Andrew Housser


Back in January, you may have been one of many who set some financial resolutions for 2015. In fact, each year, one-third of Americans resolve to save more, spend less or get out of debt. Now – halfway through the year – is a good time to evaluate your progress. Are you on track? Or are you among the many who need a do-over on their resolution?

Even if you have fallen out of line with your good intentions, it is never to late to re-commit. Ask yourself these six questions to strengthen your financial outlook during the remainder of 2015.

1. Are you succeeding in paying down debt?

Some people make an intention to pay down a credit card or other debt – but wind up actually increasing the debt. Check in now on your progress. Download or find a paper copy of a statement for each account today, and at the beginning of the year. Take an honest look. Is your balance lower, higher or the same? If the balance is not decreasing, what can you do to change the pattern? Maybe you need to take credit cards out of your wallet or delete credit card information stored online. These tactics can help people who cannot resist using plastic. Make sure you have established an emergency savings fund so that you do not need to put unexpected expenses on credit. Take action to put yourself on a better path before another week passes.

2. Do you need to refine your goals?

Most people find more success when they work toward a specific life goal. Did you set goals at the beginning of the year? If not, set them now. Aim to save a specific amount by year's end, to eliminate a particular credit card balance, save for a vacation you want to take, or save a percentage of your income toward retirement. Then, when 2016 rolls around, you can identify whether you succeeded – and set new goals for next year.

3. Have you committed to a savings plan?

If you resolved to save in an emergency fund or for another goal, have you put that plan into action? If not, why not? Call or visit your employer or bank to arrange to have part of your paycheck automatically transferred to a retirement fund or to a savings account devoted to your goal.

4. Are you contributing to your retirement plan?

The American Benefits Council reports that 80 percent of people who have access to a retirement plan sponsored by their employer contribute to that plan. If you are not among them, now is the time to get on board. It is especially vital to participate if your employer matches your contribution. When you do not participate, you are passing up part of your compensation. And if you are among the 80 percent, see if you can up your contribution.

5. Are you on track with taxes?

For employees, withholding usually adequately covers their annual tax bill. For the self-employed, now is a good time to check in regarding quarterly estimated self-employment tax payments. If your income has increased or decreased, your tax liability might have changed. There is still time to adjust your payments accordingly. Another thing to consider: If you received a large tax refund from your 2014 taxes, would it be better to have that money in your monthly paycheck, so you can use it to repay debt? If so, you can submit a revised W-9 form at any time during the year to adjust your withholdings to a more appropriate amount. The IRS Withholding Calculator can help you make a decision.

6. Are you covered by appropriate insurance?

Insurance coverage can be expensive – and essential. Evaluate your coverage and be sure you have the right benefits. For most people, this includes health insurance, auto insurance, and homeowner's or renter's insurance. Other coverage might be needed if you have valuables (such as jewelry or electronics) or live in a flood zone. People whose dependents rely on their income might need life insurance, while older people without dependents may no longer need it. Umbrella coverage, while perhaps not essential for most people, can provide peace of mind for a relatively low cost. As you get older, you may want to look into long-term care coverage options. If you are unsure what you need, talk with an independent financial advisor. Having the right coverage might prevent your running into debt when the unforeseen occurs.

If these resolutions were not on your list, there is still time to attend to them. If you are in good shape with your resolutions, there is no harm – and potentially great benefit – in adding a few new goals to the list. Either way, you will be able to look back at 2015 as the year you made a real difference to your finances. That is a report anyone would be glad to ring in at any time of year.



Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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