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Financial Advice for Fathers

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With Father's Day upon us, dads everywhere are gearing up for an avalanche of gifts and "I love yous" from their spouses and kids. If you really want to return their affection, think about what you can do to protect your family financially, both now and in the future. All it takes is a little organization and learning how to correctly allocate your resources.

Here are a few steps you can take:

Get insured. If your family depends on your income, you must be prepared for life's unexpected events, whether it be an accident, illness, unemployment or death. Make sure you've got adequate coverage for:
  • Health insurance. Everyone needs medical insurance, no matter how young or healthy. Just remember: Lower-premium medical plans aren't necessarily cheaper overall; you also need to factor in copayment, deductible and prescription amounts, in- and out-of-network charges, coverage limits and exclusions when choosing a policy.
  • Homeowner/renter's insurance. Don't let theft, fire, faulty plumbing or other catastrophes leave your family without a home or possessions. To reduce premiums, consider choosing a higher deductible; and opt for "replacement cost" vs. "actual cash value" coverage -- that way, your items will be replaced in today's dollars, rather than after depreciation has been factored in.
  • Life insurance. Depending on your family's size and ages, you'll probably want coverage worth at least five to 10 times your annual pay; more, if you want to cover college costs. And don't forget to insure your spouse's life so you'll be protected as well. SmartMoney.com's online calculator can help determine how much coverage you need.
  • Disability insurance. Millions of Americans suffer a disability at some point during their working years that is sufficiently serious to make them miss work for months or years at a time; yet many forego disability insurance, potentially leaving them without an income after a serious accident or illness. Learn details of your employer's sick leave and short-term disability benefits ahead of time, and if long-term disability is offered, it's probably a worthwhile investment.
  • Car insurance. Ruth Stroup, a Farmers Insurance Group agent from Oakland, California, advises, "Make sure your liability insurance relates to your net worth and income. It only takes one accident to wipe out your savings."

See my earlier blog, Insurance Reality Check, for more tips on choosing the right amounts of insurance coverage.

Start saving. To ensure your family's financial security, you need to make regular contributions to several savings vehicles:
  • Establish an emergency fund with enough cash to cover at least six months of living expenses. If that goal seems unattainable, start small: Have $50 a month from your paycheck or checking account automatically deposited into a separate savings account.
  • Even if retirement is decades away, the sooner you start saving and compounding your interest, the faster your savings will grow. If your employer offers 401(k) matching contributions, contribute at least enough to take full advantage of the match: A 50 percent match is the same as earning 50 percent interest on savings.
  • Once those two accounts are well-established, open a 529 Qualified State Tuition Plan or a Coverdell Education Savings Account to start saving for your children's education. To learn about 529 Plans, read the guides at FinAid and the Securities and Exchange Commission. IRS Publication 970 discusses both 529 Plans and Coverdell Accounts.
Get organized. Make sure your affairs in order in case something should happen to you. With your spouse, organize files for:
  • Medical, homeowner/renter, auto, life, disability and long-term care insurance policies.
  • Banking, credit card and loan accounts, including passwords for online account management.
  • A will (and possibly a trust) outlining how you want your estate managed after death.
  • Durable power of attorney and health care proxy specifying who will make your financial and medical decisions if you become incapacitated. Also, a living will tells doctors which medical treatments and life-support procedures you do or don't want performed. If the primary assignee is your spouse, choose alternates as well, in case you're both impacted.
  • Birth certificate, marriage license, Social Security card, funeral and burial plans, safe deposit box information and other important paperwork.
With all these documents, keep in mind:
  • Review them regularly and make updates when situations change. Make sure that designated beneficiaries for your will, life insurance and retirement plans accurately reflect your current wishes. For example, if a beneficiary dies or a new child is born, you may want to amend the documents.
  • Make sure your homeowner's insurance accurately reflects inflationary increases to the value of your home and its contents.
  • Make backup copies of everything (and photos/videos of possessions) and store in a few safe locations.

Take these few steps to protect your family now and believe me, you'll sleep better at night.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.

Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: http://twitter.com/PracticalMoney