A Financial Checklist You Can Handle

Presented by John B. Steiger

With the beginning of 2014 upon us, you may be setting goals and resolutions for the New Year. Starting fresh is always a great feeling, but the scale of what we set out to accomplish sometimes becomes overwhelming as the year progresses. The question is, how can you stay motivated to meet your financial goals in 2014?

Financial tips for every month

For many people, checking off items on a long list of to-dos brings a great sense of satisfaction. To help you keep moving toward your goals, we’ve created a month-by-month checklist of some key financial tasks to consider throughout the year. You might even find that you’ve completed some of these items already!

January

Establish a will or trust with an estate attorney. Although many people avoid thinking about estate planning, getting your affairs in order is one of the greatest gifts you can give your loved ones. If you’ve already established a will or a trust, sit down and review the documents with your attorney, making any necessary changes.
Create a budget. Establishing a monthly plan for spending and saving is an excellent way to help keep your finances in check, whether you’re reevaluating your financial life or just trying to maintain good habits.
Get ahead on your mortgage. If you can swing it, consider making a full extra payment toward your mortgage principal, which may help shorten the length of your loan.

February

Review life, home, and auto insurance. It’s a good idea to check your coverage regularly. Have you experienced a major life event in the past year, such as a marriage or birth? Any significant changes in your personal life may require you to reevaluate your coverage.
Revisit beneficiary designations for life insurance/retirement accounts. Do you need to add a new beneficiary or change a designation? Review your accounts to ensure that the correct people are listed.

March

Check your investment portfolio allocations and current holdings. As your financial advisor, we monitor your investment portfolio and holdings regularly. Nonetheless, you should be aware of where and how your assets are invested.
Explore loans, grants, and other sources of financial aid. There are many ways to finance college and postgraduate education expenses. If you have a college-bound child, it’s wise to get an early start researching the options available to you. The government-sponsored website http://studentaid.ed.gov is a great place to begin.

April

Review your online social security statement. Check your benefits information and earning record, and update any outdated personal information, such as your address or phone number.

May

Review 401(k), IRA, and SEP plans. No matter your retirement goals, keeping an eye on your balances and making regular contributions is essential. Depending on your circumstances, consider increasing the amount you contribute. (Retirement planning is equally important for self-employed individuals, who can take advantage of many of the same savings vehicles.) We encourage you to meet with us to discuss the investment allocations in your 401(k) or other plan.

June

Check your credit report. Request your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com and review it carefully for mistakes or suspicious charges, which could be a sign of identity theft.
Shred old documents. Any financial documents that you no longer need, such as bank and investment statements, should be destroyed to ensure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

July

Research 529 savings plans. Withdrawals from 529 plans are tax-free when used for qualified higher education expenses, making them an excellent way to save for a child or grandchild’s schooling.

August

Review online accounts. Take a look at the usernames and passwords you currently use for your online accounts. If the passwords are too basic or if you’ve held onto them for too long, consider changing them as a security precaution.

September

Assess your overall investment goals and strategy. It’s wise to reevaluate your financial goals every year, especially if you’ve had any major changes or unexpected events in your life. We can discuss your situation and help you adjust your financial plan accordingly.
Revisit your budget. Look back at the plan you made in January and decide whether to adjust your budget or stick to your current strategy.

October

Contact your CPA for year-end tax planning. Before tax season hits, it’s a good idea to speak with a certified accountant about changes in your personal circumstances, expiring tax breaks, and so on.
Consider charitable giving. Donating to charity at year-end is a popular way to do good while reaping potential tax deductions. Charitable giving may be another item you wish to discuss with your CPA.

November

Review the balance in your flexible spending account (FSA). FSAs require special attention so that you don’t lose unused funds at year-end. Under a new law, employers may allow employees to roll over $500 in FSA funds to the next year. Be sure to check the rules of your FSA plan and review your available balance.

December

Consider refinancing high-interest debt. Consolidating your mortgage, credit card, or car loan payments can make your financial life more efficient (and possibly lower your overall interest rate).
Pay off credit card balances every month. For the New Year, make a resolution to pay off your credit card balances every month, if you’re not doing so already.

Milestone events
In addition to the monthly tasks outlined here, keep these significant planning milestones in mind as you near retirement age:

Age 50: Consider making catch-up contributions to IRAs and qualified retirement plans.
Age 55: You can take distributions from 401(k) plans without penalty if retired.
Age 59½: You can take distributions from IRAs without penalty.
Ages 62–70: You can apply for social security benefits.
Age 65: You become eligible for Medicare.
Age 70½: You must begin taking required minimum distributions from IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s.

Although this may seem like a lot of information to take in at once, glancing at the checklist each month and being ready for important retirement-related dates can greatly improve your sense of financial security, granting you peace of mind in 2014—and beyond.

This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer.

IRS CIRCULAR 230 DISCLOSURE:
To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any U.S. tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.

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John B. Steiger is a financial consultant located at 460 Totten Pond Road Suite 600 Waltham, MA 02451. John offers securities as a Registered Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC. John can be reached at 781.547.5621 or at john@financialconnector.com.

© 2013 Commonwealth Financial Network®

At Cleary, we are committed to a holistic approach of protecting and preserving our clients’ financial assets. Give us a call today at 617-723-0700 and let us know how we can help you.

Fireplace and Home Safety

More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.

Heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently.

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) encourages you to practice the following fire safety steps to keep those home fires safely burning. Remember, fire safety is your personal responsibility …Fire Stops With You!

Keep Fireplaces and Wood Stoves Clean

  • Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
  • Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
  • Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.
  • Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.
  • Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces.
  • Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
  • Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

Safely Burn Fuels

  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
  • When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trash can. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.

Protect the Outside of Your Home

  • Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
  • Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
  • Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.

Protect the Inside of Your Home

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms.
  • Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
  • Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.

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FEMA (2013, January 2) Fireplance and Home Fire Safety (http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/heating/fireplace.shtm

Concerned about your personal insurance coverage? At Cleary, our experienced Personal Lines department will work with you to evaluate your insurance needs, identify exposures, and create a customized insurance portfolio. Give us a call today at 617-723-0700.

Service Contract Act (SCA) for Executives

The Professional Services Council (PSC) is the national trade association of the government professional and technical services industry. The PSC mission is to provide value to their members by being the leading advocate and resource for the federal professional and technical services industry. In December the group held a conference outlining SCA for Executives. The conference addressed training, Contracting Officers, and Paying SCA Wages and Fringe Benefits.

  • Training. SCA compliance is difficult because the regulations are complicated and it touches various departments and personnel in your organization. It is important to make sure your employees working in accounting, human resources, program management, contracts and executive management are properly trained. Al Corvigno, President MARAL, LLC holds a two day SCA training class at the PSC facility three times a year. You may e-mail him at acorvigno@marallc.com or call him at 252-312-4853, if you would like more information.
    Al has over 40 years of experience in SCA and runs the SCA program for PSC, along with his one day SCA courses in Arlington, VA, and at client locations nationwide. It is the only SCA training program that includes a technical manual along with a 24/7 technical hotline.
  • Contracting Officers. Many contractors have had problems and or issues dealing with their respective Contracting Agencies. The PSC training is helpful if and when an issue arises. If your employees are properly trained contractors will have a”road map” to follow insuring they have attempted to comply with the SCA.
    If an issue arises with a Contracting Officer it is often recommended that the contractor utilize a “third party” advocate, such as a DOD Labor Advisor, who is responsible for that contract and can speak to the Contracting Officer and reconcile the issue.
  • Paying SCA Wages and Fringe Benefits. Contractors should not pay wage increases or fringe benefit health and welfare costs until their contracts have been modified by their Contracting Officer. Making increased payments before your contract is modified can compromise your company’s position when and if a request for an equitable adjustment is submitted.

It is important to make the proper business decisions and comply with the SCA because some of the items discussed have the potential to “make or break” your contract.

At Cleary, we know how important a comprehensive benefits package can be to your continued success. Give us a call today at 617-723-0700 and we will work with you to create a plan that meets your fringe-benefit obligations and provides your employees with valuable benefits.