Six money resolutions you actually can keep
By LIZ WESTON
For The Associated Press
Let’s face the grim truth: Those 10 pounds you want to lose will likely be among your New Year’s resolutions next year, too.
If you really want a sense of accomplishment, take care of money tasks that don’t require ongoing discipline and that you typically don’t have to repeat every year. Some of these are “one and done,” while others you may have to revisit as your life changes, but they all will give you a sense of progress toward your financial goals.
–Consolidate retirement accounts. Consolidating makes it easier to monitor your investments and can save you money. Investment choices in 401(k)s typically cost significantly less than those available outside the plans, and many large-company 401(k)s offer dirt-cheap funds not available to retail investors. If you have a good 401(k), ask your employer if you can transfer your old retirement accounts into it. Otherwise, consider rolling old accounts into a single IRA at a discount brokerage. For even more simplicity, consider low-cost target-date retirement funds that relieve you of the ongoing need to rebalance your accounts.
–Buy life insurance. Not everyone needs life insurance, but if you do, you likely need a lot of it. If anyone else depends on your paycheck or your child-rearing services, you need to calculate your future obligations and subtract your current resources to see how much insurance to buy. Life insurance calculators can help you refine the numbers; USAA has a good one. Then get quotes from several carriers. Most people will need to opt for term insurance, which is vastly cheaper than insurance that has an investment component, such as whole life.
–Set up savings buckets. Imagine never having to scramble to pay a big bill, whether it’s holiday expenses, a car repair or your property taxes. That’s possible when you set up savings accounts dedicated to specific costs. Online banks typically allow you to set up multiple accounts at no extra cost. For each goal, figure out how much you’ll need to pay the bill when it’s due, and divide by the number of paychecks you’ll get between now and then. Set up a regular transfer for that amount, and the cash will be waiting for you when you need it. For less predictable bills, such as car repairs, you can use the previous year’s bills or Edmunds.com’s True Cost to Own feature to estimate likely costs.
–Refinance your student loans. If you have good credit, you may be able to lower the interest rates on your education debt. Refinancing to a lower rate is pretty much a no-brainer when you have private student loans. With federal student loans, you’d be giving up some pretty important protections, such as income-based repayment plans and more generous forbearance and deferment options. That may be a gamble worth taking if you have a solid job and can pay off the debt quickly. Otherwise, consider refinancing any private loans separately and apply the amount you save to your federal loan bills. That will help you get rid of them faster.
–Write your will. If you don’t have stuff or pets or minor children or you do but don’t care what happens to them keep putting this off. Otherwise, you can use Quicken WillMaker software or a site like LegalZoom to draft a simple will. If you have a more complicated situation or you want expert help — not a bad idea when it comes to end-of-life issues — your local bar association can offer referrals to estate-planning attorneys.
— Check your beneficiaries. You typically have to name beneficiaries when you open retirement accounts and buy life insurance, but you also may have named them for bank or other financial accounts. Some states allow you to designate “transfer on death” beneficiaries for vehicles and even real estate. The people you name in most cases will get the money, even if you’ve since divorced or named somebody else in your will or living trust. You can check and change many financial beneficiary designations online. Self-help legal site Nolo has information about naming, changing and revoking beneficiaries for cars and homes.
You’ll want to review your beneficiaries and most of the other tasks on this list after any major life change, such as a birth, adoption, marriage, divorce or death. Until then, count these as resolutions you were able to keep.