By Taylor Schulte
I love to-do lists. Even more so, I love crossing things off that list. If you visit my office, you will likely notice that I keep a to-do list on my desk at all times. It helps clarify my thoughts and holds me accountable for the most important items I need to tackle in the coming days, weeks and even months. It may be common sense, but according to the popular Harvard/Yale study, those who write down their goals, share them, and maintain accountability, are 33 percent more likely to achieve them.
As we begin a new year, I often hear rumblings of resolutions — many of them relating to money and finances. Most of the time, however, these rumblings and resolutions turn into a distant cry by February and little progress is ever made. If you actually want to make changes to your personal finances this year, consider drafting a to-do list for your financial goals.
Here are four ideas for your list to improve your financial situation in 2015:
1. Increase 401(k) Contributions — The limit on employee contributions to a 401(k) plan will increase to $18,000 in 2015. For those participants over 50 years old, the limit will increase to $24,000. Take advantage of this opportunity and elect to increase your contributions starting in January. This will reduce your taxable income and increase your retirement savings. And if you haven’t started contributions, now would be a good time!
2. Review Debt — Contrary to analysts’ predictions, interest rates have remained low for an extended period of time. With rates at historical lows, the trend might not last much longer. If you haven’t done so already, review your current debt obligations and see if there is an opportunity to restructure them at a lower rate. This includes credit card debt, home loans, auto loans, and even student loans.
3. Reduce Fees — Every fee you pay means less money in your pocket. Banks are often changing their rules and you might be surprised to learn you are paying a fee for something you previously received for free. Sites like Mint.com will help you track the fees you are paying and alert you when a fee has hit your account. Challenge yourself and see how many fees you can reduce or remove this year. Consider re-investing the dollars saved into a savings or retirement account.
4. Review Your Investments — Take a close look at your investment portfolio. When contemplating a change in your portfolio, don’t forget to consider how long you’ve owned each investment. For instance, assets held for a year or less generate short-term capital gains, which are taxed as ordinary income. Depending on your tax bracket, your ordinary income tax rate could be much higher than the long-term capital gains rate, which applies to the sale of assets held for more than a year.
Did you notice that I mentioned my to-do list was located on my desk? Not in my phone, tablet or computer. I’m a technology junkie, but I still firmly believe that the physical act of writing out my to-do list reinforces the importance of the tasks. The act of crossing off my tasks as I complete them is much more enjoyable too!
Taylor Schulte, a Certified Financial Planner, is the founder and CEO of Define Financial in downtown San Diego. He specializes in helping individuals, families and small businesses achieve their financial goals.
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