The year is more than halfway over. Have you acted on all those financial resolutions that you set at the start of 2017? If not, there's still time to complete them and take other favorable actions. Here are some suggestions:
1. Check at least one of your credit reports
And do the others in the coming months. Everyone can obtain free credit reports through annualcreditreport.com. You're allowed one free report every 12 months from each of the three reporting bureaus - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
The public's understanding of credit scores actually eroded over the past year, according to a recent study by the Consumer Federation of America and Vantage Score Solutions. In particular, many respondents seemed less sure about which types of businesses may use credit scores.
The information in credit reports is used to tabulate your credit scores - numbers that lenders use to determine whether to extend loans and at what interest rates. You can test your knowledge by taking the 12-question quiz at www.creditscorequiz.org.
2. Manage your Social Security or pension benefit account
Even if you're too young to start collecting a pension or Social Security retirement benefits, there are reasons to pay attention. By opening a "My Social Security" account at ssa.gov, you can learn more about the program, estimate your benefits, and verify that your annual earnings have been accurately reported by employers. That latter point is important, as your ultimate retirement benefits are affected by your job earning.
When you look into your pension benefit options, you will learn about what age you can start collecting without penalty, see if you will be affected by the windfall, and find out how much income you need to supplement the pension in retirement so you can plan ahead.
3. Review your investment and retirement accounts
While it's anyone's guess whether the financial markets will continue rising, it's certainly wise to review your accounts and make sure they match up with your overall goals and risk tolerance.
If interest rates continue rising, bond investments will be under pressure. Nearly one-third of respondents surveyed recently by financial giant BlackRock indicated, incorrectly, that fixed-income instruments can't lose money. In truth, longer-maturity bonds historically have dropped in price about as often as stocks, though the magnitude of decline is usually much steeper with stocks.
4. Analyze rates and fees
Credit cards, checking accounts, and loans typically have various fees and interest rates applied to them. On the credit-card side, interest rates have been rising and likely will continue that trend. Plus, cards come with various fees such as those for balance transfers, cash advances and expedited payments, along with annual fees and late-payment fees.
Consider reducing your overall debt. If you have mortgage and auto payments, look at your payment. Even today people who are still paying 6% or 6.5% on their mortgages should be paying lower rates. They should refinance, or, if they have significant cash and a low balance left on the loan, pay down their debt. You are not only reducing your debt, you will start getting a bigger return on cash flow for your retirement.
Overdraft fees and ATM withdrawal fees generally have been on the upswing, though more large banks - nearly four in 10 - are now offering free checking accounts, with no balance requirements or monthly fees, reports researcher Bankrate.com. While you're at it, sign up for bank account alerts that send notifications when you're at risk of triggering a low balance or insufficient funds fee. Alerts also can signal unauthorized activity in your account.
5. Find out what your projected 2017 taxable income is and plan ahead
Tax reform looked like a strong possibility at the dawn of 2017 with President Trump vowing to cut taxes, eliminate some deductions, and simplify the code in various ways. At midyear, it now appears less likely that reform will happen anytime soon.
Those old standby strategies - take as many deductions as available this year while deferring income to next year - still apply for many taxpayers. Among other general tips, you might want to assess whether you are subject to making estimated payments and check whether the amount you're having withheld from paychecks is sufficient.
Also, it's not too early to start thinking about managing taxable investment gains and losses. You may offset gains with losses and - to the extent you have excess losses - use them to shelter up to $3,000 in ordinary income per year.
We are here to help you at each step, so please let us know if you have any questions about these tips or the bigger strategies guiding your retirement.
David Hanson & Carl Hanson, CFP®