Investors and the media alike are expected to focus on interest-rate increases and proposed changes to income and estate taxes as key discussions going into 2017. While both topics will present new challenges or opportunities in personal finance, there are perhaps more unknowns at this time than there are objective criteria one could use to make firm decisions. There are, however, steps to improve your financial situation going into the New Year that don’t depend on new legislation. Consider these prudent and effective to-do items no matter what 2017 brings.
Verify and Update Your Beneficiaries
Even if you have a Last Will or Living Trust, certain assets will pass to heirs based on law and beneficiary designations, not what is written in your estate planning documents. We often find that individuals have changed jobs, married or divorced and not updated the beneficiary on current or former employer retirement plans, life insurance, annuities or pension benefits. In some cases, no beneficiaries were ever put in place. It’s a good exercise from time-to-time to do what one might call a beneficiary fire drill, and verify all of your financial resources are setup to go to your intended recipient. If family or financial circumstances have changed, you may want to initiate a conversation with your advisor about your beneficiaries to see if there are strategies you should consider or revisit.
Review Your Credit Score and Credit Report
Monitoring credit history and transactions can help detect fraud and identity theft, as well as avoid unpleasant surprises if you apply for new credit such as an auto loan or home equity line of credit. A credit score of 740 or more is generally considered very good and should qualify for the best rates from most lenders. Many banks and credit card companies now offer a monthly updated credit score as a free benefit to customers. Online banking may also let you establish alert emails or text messages for transactions above a certain amount to help track activity. Resources like Credit.com offer a free Credit Report Card, a good summary of where you stand and possible steps to improve your credit. You may also want to read up on understanding your score.
Start Organizing Records for Your Tax Returns
If you itemize your deductions or may claim credits related to your work, children, education or home energy improvements, you can start to gather any relevant records needed to prepare your 2016 tax returns. Forms to report wages and investments generally won’t arrive for another few weeks to months, but other material from 2016 may be in your email inbox or somewhere in a pile on your desk. Some time spent sorting now will help when deadlines start to approach.
Check for Lost Property
You can search for and claim property you or a family member lost, unknowingly misplaced or maybe never knew you were entitled to at all. Examples include the contents of safety deposit boxes, physical stock or bond certificates, old life insurance policies or residual assets of a company that dissolved. Estimates from State Treasurers’ offices are that 1 in 10 people have unclaimed property. Many states have online searches for most unclaimed property records. This site is a useful directory to start your search https://www.unclaimed.org/