It’s hard to write a column about money in July. Everyone is mentally on vacation, unwilling to concentrate on financial matters — unless there’s an emergency. The lazy days of summer are not conducive to taking on money projects. But here are five things you could do this summer to improve your financial future.
—Take a closer look at the mutual funds inside your 401(k) plan. It’s not enough just to make those automatic contributions from your paycheck. You should review those choices in light of your current circumstances, which have likely changed since you made your initial allocations. And the rising market may have given you more exposure to the stock market than is wise now.
Go to Morningstar.com and research the funds that you have invested in. How has their performance been, compared to their peers? If your plan has “proprietary funds” not listed in the Morningstar database, check with your plan administrator for performance documentation compared to their benchmarks. And if the funds in your plan have all underperformed, you can complain to management about your choices!
—Call your life insurance agent. I know that elicited a groan. Reviewing your policies is likely the last thing you’d like to do on a lazy summer day. But your agent is relaxing, too, so you might have his or her full attention. Be careful about switching policies, generating new commissions. But do you still need all that insurance, now that your children are grown? Or do you need more insurance, since you’ve had that new baby?
Check out inexpensive term insurance prices online at AccuQuote.com or TermQuote.com. For more sophisticated policies that build cash value, you’ll need an agent who places your needs above the thought of juicy commissions. And be sure to check the beneficiary on each policy. Make sure the insurance company has the correct name and address — so your ex-spouse doesn’t wind up with a windfall one day.
—Review your will or revocable living trust. Who, on a lovely summer day, wants to think about dying? Yes, but death takes no holiday. So is your end-of-life plan up to date? Are your grandchildren covered, or has a beneficiary passed away since you created your plan?
This is the time to contact your attorney for a phone review. It’s easy and inexpensive to make changes to your revocable living trust. And don’t forget to review and update your health care power of attorney. It may be time to put that obligation on your adult children instead of your spouse.
—Appeal your property taxes and check for exemptions. Rising property taxes are a national issue, as municipalities and states seek money to fund their services. Summer may not be the window during which you can appeal in your locality, but you will never know until you ask.
The “smart money” business owners hire attorneys who specialize in getting legitimate property tax reductions. But ordinary people typically struggle to pay the increased bills. Find one of those smart lawyers and ask for help. (Fees are usually paid out of the money that is saved.) And if you’ve suddenly become a “senior” (which has different definitions in each state), find out if you qualify for a freeze or reduction in your taxes.
—Check your credit report. It’s easy and it’s free. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com, where you are entitled to one free report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year, without signing up for credit monitoring services. The report can be accessed instantly and securely online. It’s better to find out about mistakes before you need to access your credit in the future. As an alternative, you may have a credit card that offers free credit reports and credit scores.
Don’t take a vacation from your money this summer. It could be costly. And that’s The Savage Truth.