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Judy Heft: 10 steps to improve financial health

Judy HeftIt’s never too late to get your finances order. In fact, summer is a prime time for many to focus on their finances as work tends to ease up. Here are 10 steps to improve your financial health: 

Destress a complicated household by hiring a financial concierge to manage the books, pay the bills, keep track of payroll, and interface with tax professionals. This is suitable for high-net worth and dual-income parents, employers of nannies and housekeepers, and owners of multiple homes and properties. A household should be run like a small business; it’s about numbers and soft management skills as well.

Consult with a financial planner during times of transition such as buying a home, divorce, downsizing, retirement. Divorce, for example, involves daily money management matters that require a lot of time and effort. During this turbulent time of life, a financial planner can create spending plans and help get life back in order. Fee-only planning can be more affordable for people with limited assets, while fees based on a percentage of assets are suitable for higher net worth accounts.

Protect a good credit score by monitoring and correcting any mistakes on a credit report. Federal law states that each of the big three credit agencies has to provide a free credit report to every American once a year, making it easy to check credit three times a year, once from each company. Start the process to correct errors as soon as possible after learning about them. Contact the vendor who notified the credit bureau and ask for proof of any transaction. Document all efforts to clear up the problem. Contact the credit bureau by mail and keep copies of each contact document. Then be patient while documents and requests make their way through the system.

Look into working with a virtual assistant (VA). A VA doesn’t require a set number of hours per week, is not an employee so creates no tax liabilities, and can be selected based on specific services and business niches. Many work from home, creating a situation that is win-win for the VA and the business. The VA industry is taking off in part because of the technology-driven trend away from in-person jobs, downsizing and other market forces.

Set and revisit financial goals at least once a year. Pay off credit cards; their high-interest payments impact the ability to pay off other debt and to invest money for the future. Review all bank accounts and don’t be afraid to change banks to get the best interest and terms. Review income and expenses with a financial advisor. Set smart, specific, measurable and realistic goals for putting money away, and stick to them. If goals can’t be met, reset them to levels that can be accomplished.

Be honest about the cost of college for children. One way to avoid an extended purgatory in the land of student loan debt is to borrow as little as possible. If that means sending a child to a state school, parents and child should sit down and have an adult conversation about financial expectations and abilities.

Take a timeout before making a major purchase. Wait a couple of days and then revisit the decision in order to determine if the purchase is a need or a want.

Take advantage of any matching funds offered by an employer because that’s free money that continues to grow over time.

Write a will. In my experience, the most common reason parents don’t get wills is because they cannot agree on guardians for the kids. Some people opt not to make a will because all of their assets are in vehicles that have named beneficiaries. Other people say they don’t know who they want to be their executor. And still others simply don’t want to think about their own demise. But the inconvenience of going to court and the expense of hiring an attorney are nothing compared to the emotional toll that dying without a will has on the survivors. Every day, families strain under the heavy responsibility of dealing with an unplanned estate. A family breadwinner, male or female, has a responsibility to loved ones to spell out the distribution of assets in a will.

Consider hiring a financial concierge to help pay bills, reconcile bank accounts, track charitable contributions, renegotiate fees for monthly services, categorize spending and more. A person who dies leaves behind historical documents and cherished mementos. A financial concierge can help organize anything from stamps to framed artwork, in addition to working with the attorney handling estate matters. For empty nesters on the go, a financial concierge can pick up the mail and pay the bills in their absence. A financial concierge can keep track of charitable contributions, as well as multiple properties anywhere in the world, paying property taxes, utility bills, snow removal and landscaping services, homeowners insurance, and other bills that accrue. 

Judy Heft is founder and owner of Judith Heft & Associates in Stamford, a financial concierge service for individuals, families and small businesses. She can be reached at judy@judithheft.com.


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