Five things to review annually

Plan for your family's future as you review your savings and investment strategies.

  • Charitable Giving Account
  • Facebook.
  • Twitter.
  • LinkedIn.
  • Google Plus
  • Print

When are you most likely to do a reality check on your investments? Is it when they’re doing well? Or is it when the markets are down and you’re nervous? Chances are it is the latter, which may not be the optimal time to make investment decisions, particularly if emotions are high. That’s why taking the time to do an annual review of your investments and other financial matters makes sense.

“Careful planning is essential in all economic climates,” says John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement planning and investing at Fidelity. “Think of it as if you were driving on a dangerous road. That’s not when you check your brakes and tires. You do that before, so you know they are in good shape.”

An annual financial checkup can accomplish many things. You can stop and think about your family’s financial goals, such as saving for retirement, a house, or a child’s education. You can consider reducing taxes on your investments, protecting your income, or building a financial cushion. Once you are clear on your goals, you can then work on ensuring that you are investing appropriately for those goals. And while you are looking at your accounts and holdings, take care of “housekeeping” items, too, like checking beneficiaries and completing a health care proxy, which are not complicated but can have serious consequences if neglected.

Here are five questions to ask when you do a financial review.

1: Is your investment strategy on track?

You probably have several savings goals and accounts. Your annual financial review should revisit each of your priorities and your strategy for reaching them. If your conditions have changed, make adjustments as necessary.

At least once a year, check your target investment asset mix to ensure that it continues to meet your time frame, risk tolerance, needs, and preferences, and to perform any rebalancing that might be necessary in light of the past year’s market performance.

On your own or with your adviser, take some time to look at specific investments and evaluate whether they continue to have a role in your portfolio. It’s important to match your investments to certain time frames or specific goals. Some may be long-term such as saving for a child’s education or your retirement. Others may be more short-term such as saving for a new car, a vacation home, or travel.

For example, you may take on more risk saving for a retirement that is decades away, but you may want more conservative investment options to fund 25% of a grandchild’s college education in five years. Or, you may earmark $35,000 from a particular fund this year to pay for a new car for your spouse.

Tips:

2: Are you saving tax efficiently?

What strategies are you exploring to help defer, reduce, or more efficiently manage taxes on your investments?

The overall impact of taxes on performance can be significant: Morningstar cites that, on average, over the 88-year period ending in 2014, investors gave up from one to two percentage points of their annual returns to taxes. A hypothetical stock return of 10% that fell to 8% after taxes would, in effect, have left the investor with 2% less investment income in his or her pocket, according to Morningstar.1

Although you cannot control market returns or tax law, you can control how you use accounts that offer certain tax advantages. This type of approach is often referred to as active asset location. Employing this strategy allows you to choose which assets to keep in your tax-advantaged accounts and which to leave in your taxable accounts. In general, the more tax inefficient an investment is, the more tax you pay on it.

Our basic rule of thumb is to put “tax inefficient” investments which generate taxable income—like taxable bonds and Real Estate Investment Trusts—in tax-deferred accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs. For those investments which are more “tax-efficient”—like stocks and ETFs held for more than a year—place them in taxable accounts.

Are you already taking full advantage of a 401(k) plan, Keogh, IRA, or other qualified account that may be available to you? Generally, these accounts are the best place to start a program of active asset location, because of their tax advantages, but each comes with contribution and withdrawal restrictions.

If you are entering retirement and transitioning from saving to spending, a tax-savvy withdrawal strategy can help your savings last through retirement. While the traditional withdrawal hierarchy of taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-exempt assets is a good starting point, individual situations and changing circumstances may require making adjustments. Aim to withdraw no more than 4%–5% from your savings each year to help ensure that your saving will last for a 20–30 year retirement.

Tips:

3: Are you protecting your income?

You’ve worked hard and want to protect your income. So it’s wise to evaluate your family’s total insurance needs annually to make sure you have the right amount and type of insurance to cover unforeseen circumstances that can derail a financial plan.

Life insurance may be a good place to start. If your family is growing, you might want to increase the amount of your life insurance to protect your loved ones. On the other hand, many people find as their net worth climbs and their children reach adulthood, they need less life insurance.

If you choose to reduce your life insurance, you may want to apply the savings toward your health insurance, which becomes more critical as you age and continues to increase in cost. You might also benefit from looking into long term care insurance, which may offer a variety of features and options.

One more thing: Your annual review should also include a simple check of your insurance beneficiary designations to see whether they are up to date.

Tips:

4: Are you preserving your assets?

Use your annual review to make sure you have an estate plan, and that it continues to reflect your family status and financial situation. Ensure that it helps make the best use of the latest estate and tax laws, and that key individuals know where to find relevant documents and information.

If you do have a plan, do the people you care about know about it? Where is it, and what role should your loved ones play if something happens to you? Marriage, divorce, birth, and death are the four big events that affect estate plans, but you may also want to consider other factors, such as longevity and health, that could affect your planning.

Thinking about a will, health care proxy, and power of attorney can be uncomfortable, but consider the alternative. Do you want someone else making these decisions for you? If you don’t have any of these key documents, take the time to set them up. If you have them, review not only your paperwork but any life events that have occurred. Moving, having children or grandchildren, or losing a loved one can have a big impact on your plan overall.

Tips:

5: How does your plan affect your family?

It’s not just your retirement or financial future that you are planning for. You are likely researching and cultivating strategies to provide financial assistance to parents, children, or even grandchildren. Beyond college, a lot of parents are helping to launch their millennial children into the world of fully independent living. Meanwhile, many have aging parents who can no longer live on their own or manage their own financial and personal affairs. Will caring for others affect your financials goals, priorities, and outcomes?

An annual review can help prioritize financial decisions that you need to make to support your family’s goals across the generations—and help tee up long-neglected family money conversations. It can help you bring your family together to sort through vital matters related to such things as college savings, caregiving responsibilities, health care decisions, estate planning, and the tax implications of an inheritance.

Tip:

Take a long-term view for your family

While all this might sound like a lot of ground to cover, an annual review is well worth the effort when you consider the hard work you have invested in building and protecting your wealth. Says Sweeney: “It’s important to have a long-term view of your financial strategies. The annual review is an opportunity for you and your family to evaluate your current goals and objectives, and to reassess your investment and financial situation, while also thinking about planning for the future.”

Learn more

  • Facebook.
  • Twitter.
  • LinkedIn.
  • Google Plus
  • Print
1. Taxes Can Significantly Reduce Returns data, Morningstar, Inc., 2015. Federal income tax is calculated using the historical marginal and capital gain tax rates for a single taxpayer earning $110,000 in 2010 dollars every year. This annual income is adjusted using the Consumer Price Index in order to obtain the corresponding income level for each year. Income is taxed at the appropriate federal income tax rate as it occurs. When realized, capital gains are calculated assuming the appropriate capital gain rates. The holding period for capital gain tax calculation is assumed to be five years for stocks, while government bonds are held until replaced in the index. No state income taxes are included. Stock values fluctuate in response to the activities of individual companies and general market and economic conditions. Generally, among asset classes, stocks are more volatile than bonds or short-term instruments. Government bonds and corporate bonds have more moderate short-term price fluctuation than stocks but provide lower potential long-term returns. U.S. Treasury bills maintain a stable value if held to maturity, but returns are generally only slightly above the inflation rate. Although bonds generally present less short-term risk and volatility than stocks, bonds do entail interest rate risk (as interest rates rise, bond prices usually fall, and vice versa), issuer credit risk, and the risk of default, or the risk that an issuer will be unable to make income or principal payments. The effect of interest rate changes is usually more pronounced for longer-term securities. Additionally, bonds and short-term investments entail greater inflation risk, or the risk that the return of an investment will not keep up with increases in the prices of goods and services, than stocks.
Diversification/asset allocation does not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss.
The tax information and estate planning information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. Fidelity cannot guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable to a particular situation may have an impact on the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of such information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. Changes in such laws and regulations may have a material impact on pre- and/or after-tax investment results. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use. Fidelity disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.
Fidelity Guided Portfolio SummarySM (Fidelity GPSSM) is an enhanced analytical capability provided for educational purposes only.
Morningstar is not affiliated with Fidelity Brokerage Services, member NYSE, SIPC, or its affiliates.
Morningstar is solely responsible for the information and services they provide. Fidelity disclaims any liability arising from your use of this information.
Votes are submitted voluntarily by individuals and reflect their own opinion of the article's helpfulness. A percentage value for helpfulness will display once a sufficient number of votes have been submitted.

Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917

750915.1.4
close
Please enter a valid e-mail address
Please enter a valid e-mail address
Important legal information about the e-mail you will be sending. By using this service, you agree to input your real e-mail address and only send it to people you know. It is a violation of law in some jurisdictions to falsely identify yourself in an e-mail. All information you provide will be used by Fidelity solely for the purpose of sending the e-mail on your behalf.The subject line of the e-mail you send will be "Fidelity.com: "

Your e-mail has been sent.
close

Your e-mail has been sent.