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Tag: 401k

Pre-Retirement Spring Cleaning Checklist

Spring is in the air, and that means it’s time for spring cleaning.  But wait!  Before you pick up that dustpan, give a thought to your financial spring cleaning first. 

What do finances and spring cleaning have to do with each other?  If you’re preparing for retirement, the answer is “A lot!” 

These days, the term spring cleaning is often used as a metaphor for getting your affairs in order.  As you can imagine, getting your retirement affairs in order is critical if you intend to actually retire when and how you want.  There are many things to keep track of, many tasks that need doing, and many decisions to make. 

So, how do you begin?  Well, when many people do their actual spring cleaning, they make a checklist.  What supplies they’ll need, what rooms to organize, what needs to be mopped, vacuumed, dusted…it’s the most efficient way to clean.  We suggest doing the same for your finances.  So, without further ado, here is a sample Spring Cleaning Checklist to help you better prepare for retirement. 

Pre-Retirement Spring Cleaning Checklist

  • Contribute the maximum amount to your IRA if you have one.  Remember, an IRA is a valuable way to save for retirement in a simple, tax-advantaged way.  For 2024, the annual IRA contribution limit is $7,000 up to age 49, and $8,000 for those 50 and older.1 
  • Review your 401(k) and increase your contributions if necessary.  How has your 401(k) been performing?  Do you understand how your money is being invested and why?  Are you contributing enough to take advantage of any employer matching?
  • Start looking at your existing expenses.  Which are likely to continue after retirement?  What expenses can you remove right now?  This is a good way to find extra ways to save for retirement, and it will make your life a lot simpler once retirement comes. 
  • Make sure you know where all your estate planning documents are.  You should have a copy of your will, power of attorney, advance medical directives, letter of instructions, and other documents in a secure but easily accessible place.  Make sure your spouse (or other loved ones) knows where these documents are kept. 
  • Review your current insurance policies.  Are there any potential gaps you see?  (For example, Critical Illness and Long-Term Care insurance are two types of policies many people don’t have but are often extremely valuable for retirees.)  

But most of all …

  • Make a list of your top retirement concerns.  Is there anything you are confused or nervous about?  If so, start getting the answers you need now instead of waiting till you’re already retired.  Remember, you want to enjoy your golden years, not stress over them. 
  • Similarly, make a list of any new goals or dreams you have for retirement.  What will it take to achieve or afford them?  Are you on track?  If you’re not sure, it’s time to start planning. 

Spring cleaning is never the most fun thing in the world, but it’s often one of the most beneficial.  Just as you probably enjoy living in a clean, organized home, you’ll enjoy the peace of mind that comes with getting your finances in order.  Trust us: if there’s one thing we’ve learned in all our years of helping people plan for retirement, it’s that a little organization today can make for a much happier retirement tomorrow. 

Of course, if you need help with any of the items on this checklist, please let us know.  For example, if you aren’t sure how your 401(k) is doing, we’d be happy to help you analyze it.  If there’s a valuable estate planning document you don’t have, we can point you in the right direction.  And if you have any questions or concerns about retirement, the chances are good that we have the answers. 

In the meantime, we wish you a happy spring—and a happy spring cleaning! 

1 “401(k) limit increases to $23,000 for 2024, IRA limit rises to $7,000” Internal Revenue Service, accessed November 9, 2023.

Questions You Were Afraid to Ask #10

The only bad question is the one left unasked. That’s the premise behind many of our recent posts. Each covers a different investment-related question that many people have but are afraid to ask.  So far, we’ve discussed the essentials of how the markets work, the differences between various types of investment funds, and the ins and outs of stocks and bonds. 

A few months ago, however, an acquaintance of ours asked us a question not about investments but investing.  Specifically, she wanted to know our thoughts on the modern trend of using mobile investing platforms — aka “investing apps.” 

It’s a terrific question, because the use of such apps — and the number of apps available — has exploded in the past few years.  So, in this message, we’d like to continue our series by answering:

Questions You Were Afraid to Ask #10:
What are the pros and cons of investing apps? 

Mobile investing apps enable people to buy and sell certain types of securities right from their phone.  They have provided investors with a quick and easy way to access the markets.  For new investors who are just getting started, these apps have made the act of investing more accessible than ever before. 

That’s a good thing!  Even today, many people only invest through an employer-sponsored retirement account, like a 401(k).  That’s because they may lack the resources, confidence, or ability to invest in any other way.  But not everyone has access to a 401(k).  And while 401(k)s are a great way to save for retirement, many people have other financial goals they want to invest for, too.  Mobile apps provide a handy, ready-made way to do just that. 

Continuing with the accessibility theme, many apps enable you to invest right from your phone, anytime, anywhere.  In addition, many apps don’t require a minimum deposit, so you can start investing with just a few dollars.  Finally, the most popular apps often charge extremely low fees – or even no fees at all – to buy or sell stocks and ETFs. 

Many apps also come with features beyond just trading.  Some apps will help you invest any spare change or extra money, rather than let it simply lie around in a bank account.  Others enable you to invest automatically – daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.  That’s neat because investing regularly is a key part of building a nest egg. 

It’s no surprise, then, that these apps have skyrocketed in popularity.  In fact, app usage increased from 28.9 million in 2016 to more than 137 million in 2021.1  Part of this surge was undoubtedly due to the pandemic.  With social distancing, many used the time to try new activities and learn new skills from the safety of their own home…investing included. 

But before you whip out your phone and start trading, there are some important things to know, first.  Investment apps come with definite advantages…but also some unquestionable downsides.  When you think about it, an app is essentially a tool.  Like any tool, there are things it does well…and things it can’t do at all.  And, like any tool, it can even be dangerous if misused. 

The first issue: the very accessibility that makes these apps so popular is also what makes them so risky.  When you have a tool that provides easy, no-cost trading, it can be extremely tempting to overuse it.  Researchers have found that this temptation can lead to overly risky and emotional decision-making, as investors try to chase the latest hot stock or constantly guess what tomorrow will bring.2  The result: Pennies saved on fees; fortunes potentially lost on speculation. 

The second and biggest issue is that while these apps make it easy to invest, they provide no help with reaching your financial goals.  No app, no matter how sophisticated, can answer your questions.  Especially when you don’t even know the questions to ask.  No app can hold your hand and help you judge between emotion-driving headlines and events that necessitate changes to a portfolio.  No app can help you determine which investments are right for your situation.  Just as you can’t hammer nails with a saw, or tighten a bolt with a screwdriver, no app can help you plan for where you want to go and what you need to get there. 

Take a moment to think about the goals you have in your life.  They could be anything.  For instance, here are a few our clients have expressed to me over the years: Start a new business.  Visit the country of their ancestors.  Support local charities and causes.  Design and build their own house.  Play as much golf as possible.  Volunteer.  Visit every MLB stadium.  Send their kids to college.  Read more books on the beach.  Tour national parks in a motorhome.  Spend time with family.

Achieving these goals often requires investing.  But there is more to investing than just buying and selling stocks.  More to investing than simply trading.  Investing, when you get down to it, is the process of determining what you want, what kind of return you need to get it, and where to place your money for the long term to maximize your chance of earning that return.  It’s a process.  A process that should start now, and last for the rest of your life.  A process that an app alone cannot handle – just as you can’t build a house with only a saw. 

So, our thoughts on mobile investing apps?  They are a tool, and for some people, a very useful one.  But they should never be the only one in your toolbox. 

In our next post, we’ll look at two other modern investing trends. 

1 “Investing App Usage Statistics,” Business of Apps, January 9, 2023.

2 “Gamified apps push traders to make riskier investments,” The Star, January 18, 2022.