Jefferson City Magazine's Financial Round TableGather together several experts, introduce a hot topic, and you’ll get some great advice. That was certainly the case when City Magazine hosted its first Financial Roundtable Discussion earlier this year at Prison Brews in downtown Jefferson City. With 11 professionals — including real estate, insurance, banking and investment experts — sharing their insider tips on how to achieve financial security, the event was a huge success. For me, personally, it was also an eye-opener. I hate to admit it, but financial planning has not always topped my to-do list. But after listening to these financial wizards, I realized I needed to make some changes, or I was selling myself short.

Whether you are entering the job market for the first time or preparing for retirement and beyond, financial planning is essential. Below, in our Guide to the Good Life, our experts offer their best financial tips, broken down into age brackets, to help you get started, stay on track and ultimately achieve your dreams.

 

 20s/30s

Jefferson City Magazine's Financial Round TableFor most people, the 20s and 30s represent a time of significant change and personal growth. “This is a time when people are creating a career path, getting married, starting a family and buying a home,” says CPA and retirement planner Dan LeCure. Ideally, this is also the time to develop good financial habits and establish a relationship with professionals and mentors who can help guide you in your financial decisions.

Establish your goals, and formulate a plan.

Do some soul searching. What it is you want to accomplish in the short term? In the long term? For instance, are you planning to start a family in the next few years or move to a new location? Is there a dream house you hope to live in when you retire?

Decide what it will take to get from point A to point B to accomplish your goals.

Develop a plan. If you are married or in a relationship, also make sure everyone is in agreement, says Eric Davis, investment adviser with the Wallstreet Group.

Cultivate money-saving instead of money-spending habits.

Create a realistic budget that allows you to live within your means, and stick to it.

Save regularly. Begin modestly, and increase contributions over time as your budget permits.

Create an emergency fund for unexpected expenses, such as a job loss or car trouble. “A fully funded emergency fund is equal to three to six months of personal expenses,” says Kelli Schreimann Jones, CPA, CFP, with the Moneta Group.

Reduce and/or eliminate debt.

Pay down or pay off debt, such as credit card balances, student loans and car loans. Debt payments stretched out over time can substantially limit savings capacity.

Jefferson City Magazine's Financial Round TableAvoid taking on additional debt until you are more financially secure. Beth McGeorge, Realtor at RE/MAX Jefferson City, suggests renting or keeping your first home during these early years; but if you have the means to “buy up,” crunch the numbers on the different loan options before jumping in. “Sometimes the lower rate on the shorter-term loan makes the payment not much more than the higher rate on the longer-term loan,” McGeorge says, which allows you pay down your principal faster. “In five years, a 20-year note will have double the equity of a 30-year note.”

Pay as you go with cash.

Track your financial records consistently to avoid wasteful spending.

Maximize employer benefits.

Take full advantage of your company benefits, such as 401(k)s, cafeteria plans and Health Saving Accounts. According to U.S. News and World Report, “the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 30 years of 401(k) savings combined with Social Security benefits should generate an income that replaces at least 60 percent of preretirement salaries”
(Jan. 30, 2014).

Set up an Independent Retirement Account or a Simplified Employee Pension plan if your employer does not provide a retirement plan.

Contribute regularly to retirement accounts. Dedicate a portion of your paycheck along with money received from raises and bonuses.

Jefferson City Magazine's Financial Round TablePlan for the unexpected.

Set up a basic will. For individuals or those married without children, designate beneficiaries for your assets, says Hallie Gibbs II, attorney with Gibbs Pool and Turner. If you have children, Gibbs suggests setting up a trust. “This is needed to make sure that your children’s inheritance is properly managed to care for their health, education, support and maintenance.”

Buy term life insurance.

 

40s/50s

Earnings are often at their highest during your 40s and 50s, but unfortunately, so are expenses. Furthermore, this is the time when family and career take center stage, which makes it easy to lose sight of your financial goals. Yet, the clock is ticking. It’s time to start asking important questions, such as, “What do I want my retirement look like?” and “Am I on track to make this happen?” The key is having an individualized, focused plan for your future that is in line with your vision.

 Revisit goals, identify new ones and prioritize.

Watch out for lifestyle creep. Although you may be making more money, continue to focus on the bigger picture. Make wise financial decisions, such as choosing appreciable assets vs. depreciable assets.

Jefferson City Magazine's Financial Round TableManage your expectations. For instance, when considering when you want to retire, how will your decision impact other important issues, such as your health care benefits?

Reexamine your life insurance coverage, says Shelter Insurance agent Charlie Christiansen. “Age 50 is the last year someone can write or extend their term life insurance police for a 30-year period.”

Start looking into long-term care insurance policies after age 55. According to Jason Schwartz, senior vice president of commercial lending with Hawthorn Bank, annual costs for long-term care range from $50,000 to $120,000-plus a year.

Rev up your retirement planning.

Follow the advice from your financial professionals so you can preplan effectively and set realistic goals for your future. CPAs/financial advisers can help tremendously in finding ways to take advantage of tax vehicles, such as home and education credits, to help maximize your return so you have room to reinvest.

Maximize your income. Consider starting or increasing contributions to your IRA/Roth to supplement your 401(k).

Seek out other investment opportunities to make your money work more effectively for you, such as buying real estate.

 

60s/70s

It’s time to switch gears! For years you’ve concentrated on saving money, and now it’s time to reap the rewards and enjoy life. Overall, you want to ensure your lifestyle, says Frank Burkhead, CPA with Burkhead & Associates. However, be aware that suddenly dipping into what you’ve worked for your entire life can be an emotional experience. In addition, retirement often means living on a fixed income, so how you manage your money changes significantly.

Jefferson City Magazine's Financial Round TableFormulate a budget for retirement.

Estimate your total income. Remember to include revenue from all sources, including Social Security.

Tabulate expenses. “Know how much you are going to need to meet everyday expenses,” says Lorelei Schwartz, CPA with Schwartz & LeCure.

Make any necessary adjustments to minimize expenses, such as paying off debt and/or downsizing your home. Trae Lorts, CPA, CVA, with Williams-Keepers, also suggests “developing a multiyear tax plan that can reduce taxes for years to come.”

Make the most of your retirement accounts. “Move as much money as you can from traditional to Roth IRAs before turning 70 ½,” says Jill Dobbs, vice president and wealth consultant with Central Trust & Investment Co.

Protect yourself. Look into buying additional insurance, such as identity theft insurance and/or umbrella insurance (liability insurance that is in excess of other policies).

Plan to work. According to our experts, be aware that you may need supplemental income for those three to five initial retirement years before your benefits kick in.

Jefferson City Magazine's Financial Round TableKeep your good credit score.

Maintaining a good credit score can be more difficult when you’ve paid off all your loans and you rely on cash transactions.

Keep your score high by using credit occasionally and then paying off the balance every month. Using a gas card and/or buying airline tickets on credit will do the trick.

Take care of your loved ones.

Have a will in place. According to our experts, this is a good start, but understand a will alone does not guarantee your assets will avoid probate, a legal mechanism to transfer settlement and assets.

Title your assets to ensure they can’t be contested and alleviate potential family drama.

Set up your durable power of attorney and health care.

Reexamine any older trusts, and set up any new ones as needed.

Follow through on your attorney’s instructions.