What’s at the heart of your financial health?
While you might not give it much thought throughout the day, your heart is continually working to help you accomplish all the things you set out to do, from basic functions like breathing, eating and walking, to your more ambitious goals, such as running a marathon or climbing the world’s highest peaks. However, if disease or injury weakens your heart, your body’s organs will not receive enough blood to work normally, which can lead to failure. The good news, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), is that heart disease is preventable in most cases, when people adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, treating high blood pressure, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and getting regular checkups.
What if there were similar steps you could take to maintain your financial health?
Fortunately, there are. Think about the role your heart plays at the center of your circulatory system. A comprehensive financial plan plays a similar role in helping to maintain your financial health. Like your heart, your financial plan is central to your financial health, continuously working to help ensure that all of the various components that make up your complex financial picture come together in a seamless, efficient and cohesive manner to keep you moving forward.
Yet, like maintaining a healthy mind and body, maintaining financial health takes some work. Consider this: For more than 50 years, the AHA has worked diligently to raise awareness about heart disease. Nonetheless, it continues to be the greatest health threat to Americans and is still the leading cause of death worldwide. While there are many reasons for this, it often comes down to a failure to take preventive steps, such as regular check-ups. A parallel can be drawn when it comes to managing your finances.
Often, people think they don’t have enough money to engage in planning, or they wait until a financial problem or crisis occurs before reaching out for help. However, the earlier you engage in the planning process, the more likely you are to remain on track toward your goals at every stage of your life. I’m in my mid-fifties and am taking these steps.
Whether you have an existing plan that needs updating, or you’re new to the financial planning process, working with an independent financial professional to put a comprehensive strategy in place can help put you on the right course toward a healthy financial future. To get started, consider the following.
- Meet with a professional. When it comes to managing your money, you should seek the same high level of competence and expertise that you would want in a heart specialist. An experienced financial professional will not only address the questions and concerns that keep you up at night but develop a plan to help ensure that you remain on track toward your important goals, every step of your journey.
- Create a baseline. Creating your financial baseline begins with gathering data. Your financial professional will collect information about your income, savings rate, liabilities and debt, your current tax bracket, the value of your financial accounts and investment portfolio, and more. This information is collected as part of the discovery process to assess where you are today. They will take the time to learn what’s most important to you and your family and document your financial objectives and life goals. They’ll want to know about your attitude and fears about money. How much risk are you comfortable taking to accomplish your desired return? What is your timeframe for each of your goals?
- Develop a plan. Once you and your financial professional have worked to identify and document all of this information, a thorough analysis can be conducted, followed by personalized recommendations, based on your goals, preferences, risk tolerance, timeframe and more. Once recommendations are agreed upon, your financial professional will develop a comprehensive plan for accomplishing your goals. However, there’s another important step before your plan can be fully implemented. That’s stress testing your strategy.
- Stress test your strategy. A stress test on a treadmill is conducted to help reveal any underlying problems or concerns with your heart. While your financial professional won’t subject you to a treadmill, stress testing is one of the most important steps in the planning process. Using sophisticated financial planning software, your financial professional can test your strategy under hundreds of potential scenarios to model the probability of meeting your goals under different market and economic conditions, or changes in your plans. These may include things such as a sudden market drop, forced early retirement, a prolonged low-interest rate environment, or a desire to travel more or purchase a vacation home in retirement. Stress testing various scenarios enables you and your financial professional to make more informed decisions along the path toward accomplishing your goals.
- Monitor your financial health. Similar to monitoring your physical health, you also want to carefully monitor progress toward your financial goals. However, continual monitoring of the financial markets, economy, geopolitical factors, and your own investment portfolio, can be time-consuming and difficult to achieve on your own. In addition, you may not have access to all of the resources required to make informed decisions, such as how to properly align your asset allocation with your risk target, when and how to rebalance your portfolio, or how to harvest losses in a tax-efficient manner. This is where ongoing advice and professional portfolio management can really make a difference. In addition to bringing the robust resources necessary to manage risk across all aspects of your planning, your financial professional is able to provide timely, objective and personalized advice to help keep you on track in any market or economic climate.
- Don’t forget annual check-ups. While your financial professional will continue to monitor your strategy and recommend adjustments as needed, it’s also important to meet for a formal review, at least once a year. Not only does this provide an opportunity for you to ask questions and provide feedback, but to discuss changes in your life that may impact your strategy going forward. For example, are you considering a job or career change in the coming year? Did your college-bound child just receive a partial scholarship? Will you hit a milestone birthday this year, such as age 50, making you eligible for catch-up contributions? If you’re retired, is your spending down, due to staying home more during the COVID-19 pandemic? Your annual plan review provides an opportunity for you and your financial professional to make any necessary adjustments to accommodate new goals while helping you stay on track.
Like your physical health, your financial health requires regular attention. That’s because your physical, mental, spiritual and financial health are inextricably linked. Each contributes to your overall sense of well-being, so a change in one area can impact the others, for better or worse. This past year has been particularly challenging for many people—physically, emotionally and financially. If you need help in strengthening your sense of well-being in any of these areas, don’t wait to reach out to a qualified professional who can help you get back on course toward a healthier, happier and more confident future.
This information is provided by Voya for your education only. Neither Voya nor its representatives offer tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax or legal advisor before making a tax-related investment/ insurance decision.
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