Planning for a secure financial future is not easy.
· Maybe you're saving to buy your first home.
· Perhaps starting your own business is a dream.
· The costs of a college education have spiraled and you may wonder how you will pay for your child's education.
· You will probably live longer. Additional years after retirement can cost more than originally planned.
· Your company pension plan and Social Security may not be enough to maintain your standard of living after retirement.
· Complex financial marketplace and changing tax laws make it difficult to understand your financial picture.
Everyone needs to plan for tomorrow. At every income level, there are steps you can take to make more efficient use of your assets and to ensure a secure financial future. It makes sense to develop well-defined goals and to map out appropriate strategies to turn your dreams into reality. To help you get started, below are some frequently asked questions about personal financial planning.
What is personal financial planning?
Personal financial planning is a process, not a product. It is an organized, well-planned system of developing strategies for using your financial resources to achieve both short- and long-term goals. You may think of the process as helping you to answer three straightforward questions:
· Where am I?
· Where do I want to go?
· How do I get there?
When should I start planning?
It is important to start planning for the future as soon as you can. Time passes quickly —it is never too soon to start planning for tomorrow.
Who should prepare my personal financial plan?
A well-qualified financial adviser should work with you to prepare your plan. A CPA financial planner combines the objectivity and trust long associated with the CPA profession and the financial savvy developed through years of experience and expertise in personal financial planning.
What should it include?
A comprehensive financial plan—one that addresses your entire financial picture—should include a review of your net worth, goals and objectives, property and other assets, liabilities, cash flow, investments, retirement planning, estate planning, tax planning and insurance needs, as well as a plan for implementing your goals.
I don't have a lot of money. Do I need a full-scale financial plan?
You may not. You can seek out different levels of financial planning advice, from counseling on a particular issue to comprehensive planning. Speak to the advisers you are considering and discuss with them your budget. You should be able to find one who meets your needs.
What role does goal-setting play in financial planning?
It is important to list both short- and long-term financial goals on paper. You can then rank the importance of the goals. If you are saving toward something tangible, instead of just saving, it may be easier. These goals could include: available cash for emergencies, education for children, care for family members, retirement, a nest egg to permit a career change, acquiring or selling a business, estate planning, financial independence or personal objectives such as a special vacation or second home.
How do I know how much I am worth?
One of the first things that you should do in reviewing your financial situation is to determine your net worth. Many people are surprised to find out how much they are really worth.
First, estimate the value of your assets. If you have owned your home for a number of years you may be sitting on a nice nest egg. Several different real estate appraisals will help you determine its worth. Organize bank and brokerage statements and record their value. Don't forget assets in IRAs, company savings, or 401(k) plans. List your liabilities such as mortgage, car loans or credit card debt. Subtract your liabilities from your assets and you will have a good estimate of net worth.
How can I plan for tomorrow when I can barely pay for today?
Create a budget. Determine what you actually spend each month. It is easy to keep track of large expenses such as mortgage and car payments. The variable items such as food, clothing and entertainment are often what get away from us.
How much should I be saving?
It is hard to apply a rule of thumb toward savings, because it varies with age and income level. Ten percent is a good start. If that amount is too high for you, don't let that deter you. You can start by putting a little money aside each month and slowly increasing it.
How does insurance fit into the process?
Evaluating your insurance needs is part of personal financial planning. The insurance industry has changed a great deal over the past few years and there is a wide array of new products. Some of them may be better options than your current coverage. Your CPA can work with your insurance agent to see if you have adequate coverage.
Do I need a will?
Everyone needs a will. Whether you are single or married, you need a will. No one but you knows how you want your estate divided after your death. It is especially important if you have children. If you do not have a will and both you and your spouse die, the court will appoint a guardian for your children. Maybe you would have chosen someone else.
What type of advice can I expect from a CPA financial planner?
You can expect objective financial advice that is tailored to meet your financial goals and objectives, as well as the level of risk with which you are comfortable. Depending on your unique situation and goals, your CPA financial planner may confer with your attorney, stockbroker, insurance agent and other investment advisers to achieve the best plan for you.
After a plan is developed, what happens next?
The best plan is useless unless it is put into action. A CPA financial planner can advise you how to implement the plan and can put you in touch with other financial experts as needed.
How often should I update the plan?
It is good to review the plan when there is a significant life event such as marriage, birth, death or divorce. Any change in financial position should be evaluated as well. Many people have an annual update that reviews how the plan is being implemented. The review also considers changing goals and circumstances.