December is a great time to review your current financial situation, make some New Year's resolutions, and start 2014 on the right foot. Schedule a year-end check-up with your financial advisor, gather your most recent financial statements, and bring them to your meeting.
Once you're sitting in front of your advisor, ask him or her these six questions.
1. Should I make any changes to my portfolio?
Financial advisors talk a lot about asset allocation. That's the process of spreading your money across different types of investments -- stocks, bonds, cash, etc. -- to keep your eggs spread across a number of baskets. Amazingly, 90% percent of variability in portfolio returns is derived from asset allocation, meaning only 10% comes from actual investments themselves.
Because asset allocation is so critical, ask your advisor if you should:
- Rebalance your target mix of stocks and bonds based on your long-term financial goals and risk tolerance;
- Improve the diversification of your investments; and/or
- Upgrade the quality of your investments.
2. Do I need to do anything about my tax-deferred accounts?
Ask how much you can add to your tax-deferred accounts, such as IRAs, before the end of the year. Ask if you should convert part or all of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. And if you're over age 70 and a half, you must withdraw a certain amount from your Traditional IRA before Dec. 31. Let your advisor help you with that.
3. Should I implement any tax strategies?
Ask your advisor to evaluate your portfolio for any year-end tax-planning opportunities, like whether to recognize certain losses or gains and how much of each. Most advisors expect taxes to increase in the future. Taking time to prepare before the end of the year is a wise move.
4. How did my portfolio perform in 2013?
If your financial advisor manages money for you, ask him how you did. Did you make money? What investments performed the best and the worst? How did your portfolio perform compared to a benchmark, like the S&P 500? Most importantly, ask if you're on track to meet your long-term goals based on your portfolio's performance.
5. How much is my portfolio costing me?
You may like your financial advisor. You may think she's a great gal and a spiffy dresser. But how much is she costing you? Fees should be transparent, but not every advisor does a good job of explaining fees clearly and concisely. Also, small improvements in fees can translate into big dollars in your accounts.
Your advisor should be able to give you hard dollar amounts for what she's costing you in terms of commissions, asset management fees, hourly fees, or however you pay her. Your advisor works for you. Her ongoing advice and services should justify the amount you shell out to keep her in your employment.
6. What can I do to make 2014 a great investing year?
A new year can be like a clean slate. Don't beat yourself up over what you didn't do in 2013. Focus instead on what you will do in 2014 to make it your best investing year yet. Take note of what your advisor recommends -- be it beefing up your savings account, increasing your IRA contributions, or drafting a will.
Commit to making 2014 a great year. By asking your advisor these questions and acting on his or her responses, you'll set yourself up nicely for a very prosperous New Year.