Financial Planning Is Like An Oil Change

By ARA Content

(ARA) - Most people provide their cars with the right maintenance in order to make their investment last a long time. That same approach can work with planning your financial future.

Rather than following a regular “maintenance” schedule, many people think about their long-term financial health mostly when they need to take care of a current “life event:” buying a house, having children, facing a medical emergency and so on.

That leaves a lot of us feeling unprepared. A new study from A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., shows that 72 percent of Americans surveyed are concerned about their lack of cash assets on hand in the event of a job loss or unexpected major expense. The survey conducted by MarketTools Inc. also found 60 percent of respondents are concerned about being able to build a nest egg in order to retire in their desired time frame.

“It’s amazing how a little planning can do a lot to give you some comfort about being prepared for your long- and short-term financial needs,” says Sophie Beckmann, a Certified Financial Planner and CPA for A.G. Edwards. “The trick is to create a scheduled approach -- similar to a maintenance schedule for your car -- that keeps up with you as you move through different periods of your life.”

Beckmann says one way to take care of our future is by keeping financial strategies updated based on our life stages, the same way we’d perform regular auto maintenance. Here are a few tips for doing so:

Starting Out and Moving Up (ages 18 to 34):

* Think about your short-term goals. Start funding a nest egg so you’re prepared for emergencies or buying a house. With every paycheck, pay yourself first by setting a little aside in a money market account or other conservative cash investment.

* Create a foundation for long-term growth. This is the age to open and regularly fund an IRA and enroll and contribute to your employer’s 401(k) plan.

* Seek professional help. The people who seem happiest with their cars also seem to have longstanding relationships with mechanics or dealers they trust. A good early financial step is to establish relationships with a trained financial consultant and other advisers, such as an accountant or attorney (for estate planning), who can provide expert advice about various aspects of your financial future.

* Focus on family finances. If you’re starting a family, consider how you’re going to take care of its financial future. Areas to explore include life insurance, long-term disability insurance, a basic will, and -- if you have children -- perhaps contributing to a college savings plan or making arrangements for guardianship.

Looking Ahead (ages 35 to 54):

* Keep your retirement savings current. Review the growth of your long-term retirement investments (IRA, 401(k), company-sponsored pension plans) regularly to stay abreast of whether you’re likely to meet your objectives; adjust your contributions accordingly and rebalance your assets to maintain the mix that’s appropriate for your goals.

* Review your financial obligations. As you advance in your career or your family grows, regularly review your financial plan to make sure it’s keeping pace. If your salary rises over time, check to see that your family has enough life insurance protection, for example, or increase your retirement or education plan contributions.

* Dodge the tax man. Tax laws change frequently, and you need to be up to date on how they’ll affect your investment and income strategies. This is especially important now, during your peak earning years. Review with your financial consultant and accountant whether federally tax-free or tax-deferred investments make sense or whether the current tax laws, interest rates and dividend yields make it advantageous to use taxable investments for your income needs.

* Think healthy thoughts. Statistically, about one-third of all Americans requiring long-term health care are below the age of 65. As you near the age of 50, long-term care insurance may be a prudent protection to add to your financial mix to help protect against the potentially devastating costs of providing long-term health care for you or a family member.

Hitting Your Stride and Making the Long Haul (ages 55 to up):

* Keep planning. If you haven’t already, now is the time to speak with your financial consultant, attorney and accountant about creating an estate plan that ensures your assets get distributed as you wish, with a minimal tax bite.

* Build an income stream. Besides the investment capital you’ve been building up in your retirement plans, start looking at other ways to create future streams of income, such as annuities or dividend-paying stocks.

* Stay ahead of taxes. Especially after retirement, it’s important to keep up to date on tax laws. Review with your financial consultant and accountant whether federally tax-free municipal bonds make sense or whether the current tax laws, interest rates and dividend yields make it advantageous to use taxable investments for your income needs.

* Weigh your assets. Just as at an earlier age, you need to review your asset allocation and investment performance regularly to ensure they are keeping up with your needs for income or long-term asset growth. Depending on your health and other factors, retiring at age 65 could mean you’ll still have a couple more decades left -- be sure your money is likely to be around just as long.

* Taking the money. Depending on your retirement plan, when you turn 70 1/2, you may have to begin taking money out of the plan through “mandatory distributions,” which are set according to an IRS schedule based on life expectancy. Should this apply, work with your financial consultant to review your income and determine the most appropriate use for this money.

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For a copy of the survey results, contact Margaret Welch at (314) 955-5912 or

About A.G. Edwards:  A.G. Edwards, Inc., is a financial services holding company whose primary subsidiary is the national investment firm of A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc. For more than 115 years, individuals and businesses have turned to A.G. Edwards to develop strong personal relationships with financial consultants dedicated to a client-first philosophy of providing financial strategies tailored to their clients’ individual needs. A.G. Edwards and its affiliates encompass nearly 6,900 financial consultants in 715 offices nationwide and two European locations in London and Geneva.

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