Twenty-eight percent of participants in a 2015 LIMRA Insurance Barometer Study have no confidence in their ability to make important financial decisions. If that sounds familiar, a financial wellness program can help.
Financial wellness programs take a holistic approach to finances. Gone are the days when financial wellness meant simply looking at credit card debt and savings for retirement. Today’s plans also take into consideration diagnostics, education and coaching.
Many employers offer financial wellness programs to their employees, but you can do your own financial checkup by examining several important aspects of financial wellness:
Tracking – First, find out how much money you have and how you spend it. A tracking tool can help you do that. It can be as simple as keeping a spending notebook or as detailed as creating a budget spreadsheet. There are online tools you can use, too, such as Mint, a well-known internet and smart-phone budgeting application.
Budgeting – Once you know what you make and where it goes, budgeting can prioritize your spending. It helps you focus on the things that are important to you — such as having enough money for repairs on the house, vacations or college for your children. It also can help you plan ahead so you can know in which months you’ll need extra money.
Managing Debt – It can be scary if you’re deep in debt, but you can take steps to pay off your bills. You can set up a monthly bill payment calendar and make sure you’re paying more than your credit cards’ minimum payment. If you need guidance, you can work with a credit counseling agency to design a payment plan, debt consolidation, debt settlement or bankruptcy.
Investment Planning – A financial advisor can provide advice on investment management, income tax preparation and estate planning. Fee-based advisors should have a Series 65 license to conduct business.
Many advisors require you to have $500,000 or more in assets before they will work with you. If you don’t have enough assets to hire an advisor, you can talk to a financial planner. Financial planners have a variety of backgrounds and provide a variety of services. Some assess every aspect of your financial life — including saving, investments, insurance, taxes, retirement, and estate planning — and help you develop a detailed strategy for meeting all your financial goals. Other professionals call themselves financial planners, but they may only be able to recommend investments in a narrow range of products.
Retirement Planning – If your company has a 401(k) plan, check with your human resources department for resource sheets, calculators or for the name of the plan’s advisor. People who don’t have access to a 401(k) can open an IRA (individual retirement account). Annuities can also play an important role in a retirement plan. They provide a fixed income for the term you select, whether it’s a period of years or your lifetime. Buying a lifetime annuity ensures you’ll never outlive your income.
Self-assessment – Your answers to self-assessment questions will give you a clearer picture of your financial wellness. You’ll be asked to rate your response to questions such as “My income exceeds my expenses” or “I have an emergency savings fund.” You can search for these assessments online by searching “Financial Wellness Assessment.”
Saving for College – Tuition for the 2016-17 school year averaged $24,610 for a public college and $43,320 for a private college. According to the College Board, costs have increased about five percent over the past 10 years. This should give you an idea of how much to save before your child reaches college age. Remember that scholarships can reduce the amount of money you will need.
Health Insurance – The Affordable Care Act requires all citizens to have health insurance. It’s also good sense to maintain coverage to protect your budget from paying catastrophic medical bills out of pocket.
Life Insurance – Everyone with dependents should have enough life insurance to ensure their heirs can pay off debts and continue their lifestyle in the event of an untimely death. Permanent, or “whole life,” insurance, also includes a savings component, or cash value. You can borrow the cash value with no tax consequence. Any amounts you do not pay back will be deducted from the policy’s death benefit.
Disability Income Insurance – How long could you pay your bills and continue your current lifestyle if your income stopped? During your working years, you’re more likely to become disabled than to die. Disability income replaces a portion of lost income if you cannot work due to disability.
Security Protection – If you pay your bills online or keep personal information on your personal computer, make sure hackers don’t have access. The more security layers you employ, the safer you’ll be. You can install a firewall, antivirus software or anti-spyware software; use complex and secure passwords; and check your browser security settings.
Education – If you’re truly interested in being financially sound, increasing your financial knowledge will help. You can read finance books at the library, take college courses, or subscribe to newsletters and other publications about money and finances.