You can easily lose sight of your personal finances and goals when life gets in the way. But the turn of the year can act as a useful reset button to take stock of your financial health.
Here's a quick checklist to help you – and your family – organise your finances for the year ahead.
1. Understand your budget and balance sheet
“Cleaning your finances starts with taking a step back and having a good, long look at your financial decisions," says Dean Moore, managing director and head of Wealth Planning at RBC Wealth Management in the British Isles. It may sound rudimentary, but do you know which assets are where, and what comes in and goes out of your financial accounts?
“It's not unusual for clients to discover regular direct debits and standing orders they've completely forgotten about," explains Moore. “Treat your own finances as if you're a business and spend the time to understand your balance sheet – your assets, liabilities and cash flow. Taking inventory of all your accounts and where they stand will help you keep track of spending and gain a better picture of your overall wealth." This, in turn, creates a good foundation for setting realistic financial goals.
2. Declutter and consolidate your accounts
Over time, you may have opened several accounts at different financial institutions, managing multiple administrations with duplication of fees and investments. You can simplify this process by consolidating accounts with one institution that can manage it all on your behalf, or leverage digital tools to see everything in one place.
3. Create a personal and financial timeline
“It's important to be clear about your personal priorities for the year ahead when taking stock of your finances," says Annabel Bosman, head of Relationship Management for RBC Wealth Management in the British Isles.
Maybe you're planning to expand your business, move abroad, start a family or buy a second home. Whatever your plans are, most of them will have financial implications. “Knowing what's important to you personally can help align your financial plans to these priorities and ensure you have the means to realise them," Bosman says.
4. Allocate savings to short-, medium- and long-term goals
Dividing your savings among short-, medium- and longer-term goals can help you determine the amount of risk you should take on. For instance, you should take less risk with funds set aside for the short-term versus those set aside for the long-term, when savings in the form of a pension can be invested to potentially realise better returns in the long run.
5. Review your asset mix
After-tax returns may depend on how your portfolio is allocated among stocks, fixed income and cash. Moore explains “Speaking with an advisor can help you determine whether there's a need to rebalance your portfolio to meet the targets you set."
In addition to periodically rebalancing your portfolio, ensure your asset allocation is suitable for the life stage you are in right now. “You need to ask yourself whether your portfolio is appropriate for your age, ambitions and risk appetite. This kind of honest self-evaluation can be the key to you securing the financial future you want," says Moore.
Reviewing your wealth and assets can also serve as a good time to think about whether you 'have enough'. “Understanding your current financial position can help prompt discussions about passing on wealth to your family," adds Moore.
6. Ensure your will and power of attorney are up to date
“You would be surprised how many clients we come across that don't have a valid will in place," says Bosman. “People often neglect their own wills, so checking with your advisor to revisit your arrangements or indeed make them, is a must." Ensure that your signed will and power of attorney (POA) are current, for both medical and financial affairs.
Your will sets out your wishes for the distribution of your assets after your death, while an enduring POA is effective only when a person loses cognitive capacity. Everyone faces different and circumstance-specific situations. “You never know what the future has in store – just look at the COVID-19 pandemic," says Moore. Will writing in the UK was 267 percent higher
7. Use or lose your tax allowances
When the UK tax year starts in April each year, it marks the resetting of Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs), Junior ISAs, self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs) and Junior SIPPs allowances. An allowance is a yearly limit on how much you can save into these accounts, which then benefit from tax-free growth.
“The turn of the year is a good time to make sure you're using all of your allowances and take advantage of any remaining pension allowances before the April reset – do you have capital gains you could crystalise to make use of the annual allowance?" says Moore.
There are also higher risk, alternative investment opportunities that come with compelling tax incentives. “Enterprise investment schemes and venture capital trusts are two popular tools for investors in search of considerable potential returns," says Moore. “However, it's important to remember these are higher-risk investments and should therefore align with your risk appetite and exposure."
The New Year should also act as a tax filing reminder for those who are self-employed or a partner in a business partnership. “The UK government's annual income tax filing deadline for self-assessment tax returns is 31 Jan. If you miss this, you could receive a fine," Moore states.
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