6 Sound Moves for a Fiscally Fit Future

After the holiday celebrations are over, it’s time to refocus on goals for the coming year. While resolutions to lose weight, exercise more or give up caffeine are all worthwhile, it’s the financial resolutions you make and keep this year that can really make a difference come retirement time.

Here are six money resolutions worth implementing in the new year, courtesy of Claudia L. Sachs, CFP, a financial planner with Prudential Financial Planning Services:

1. Get organized. Knowing where your receipts, investment statements and tax returns are is an essential component of your financial plan. Setting up a system now will keep you organized throughout the year. Create separate folders for all of your 2008 tax-deductible expenses, your banking and investment statements, insurance claims and pay stubs/W2s. This one simple step will get your financial year off to a good start.

2. Make copies of important documents. In an emergency, you may need to quickly locate critical records such as insurance policies, bank account and credit card numbers. Compile a comprehensive list with account information and contact numbers for all-important accounts. Also, make copies of deeds to property, stock and investment statements and other valuable holdings. Put everything in a safe place in your home and keep a copy in a location away from home, such as in a safety deposit box.

3. Start a plan for getting out of debt. It could be a daunting way to start the year, but there is no better time than now for a financial reality check. Write down your credit card balances, the interest rates being charged and the minimum monthly payments. Figure out which cards (those with the highest rates) to pay off first. There are many good books on the subject, and depending on how much debt you have, you may want to meet with a financial adviser to develop a specific pay-down plan. Try to resist the temptation to pay off your credit cards with a home equity loan or line of credit. You’ll only be trading an unsecured loan for a secured loan, without getting to the root of your tendency to overspend.

4. Review your 401(k) plan. Or sign up, if you haven’t already done so and your company offers a retirement plan. Many employers offer matching funds – sometimes as much as 50 percent of your contributions and up to 6 percent of your salary. That’s free money! If you are already in a plan, now is a good time to review your allocations for the past year to see if you need to make adjustments.

5. Check your insurance coverage. Did you make home improvements this year? Have a baby? Change jobs? You may want to make changes to your insurance policies to make sure you are adequately covered. If you or your spouse have neglected to purchase life, long-term care or disability insurance, now is the time to meet with a qualified professional to discuss the benefits of these important financial safeguards.

6. Review your estate plan. While not something most people look forward to doing, documenting your wishes in the event of your death is essential. If you have not done so already, make plans to draw up a durable power of attorney for health care and finances and a living will. These simple steps can help protect your assets and loved ones should the unthinkable happen.

Getting your financial house in order takes more than just writing down a list of resolutions. It takes discipline and planning. But having clearly identified goals and taking consistent steps toward them will help you make great strides toward having a financially happy new year.

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