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The 6-Point Personal Finance Checklist for 40-Somethings

By Maurie Backman – Sep 26, 2016 at 5:02AM

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Your 40s are a great time to get your finances in order and think about the future. Here's how to start.

Hitting your 40s can only mean one thing: You're undeniably an adult, and there are certain financial responsibilities you can no longer get away with ignoring. If you're in your 40s, be sure to check these critical items off your list.


1. Check on that emergency fund

In our early working years, we're told to establish an emergency fund with enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses. If you followed that advice back then, you made a smart move.

But your expenses have probably changed over time, so it's a good idea to review your current living costs against the amount you have in your emergency fund, and adjust your savings accordingly. It could be that you set up that fund before having kids, or before those kids started doing activities and having commitments of their own.

If that's the case, you'll need to work on padding that emergency account. Or you might find that the opposite holds true – you now have a second income from your spouse returning to work, or your kids are in school instead of day care, in which case you may not need as much money sitting in cash as you once did.

2. Ramp up your retirement savings

If you're making more money now than you were in your 20s and 30s, take advantage by increasing your retirement contributions. Saving even $100 more each month could have a huge impact when retirement is still a good 25 years away. If you invest the money you save, and manage to generate an average annual 8% return, that extra $100 a month could turn into an additional $88,000 in retirement. You can currently contribute up to $18,000 annually to a 401(k), or $5,500 to an IRA.

3. Have kids? Have a plan for college

If you have kids, they might be years away from touring campuses and studying for their SATs, but if you don't start saving for college ahead of time, you may find yourself in a crunch when the time comes to begin paying those tuition bills. That's why now's a good time to start mapping out a college savings plan.

You may decide that your children will be responsible for paying most, or all, of their higher education costs on their own -- and that's OK. Or you might set up a 529 plan and start working monthly contributions into your budget. No matter what you decide, the key is to give college some serious thought in your 40s, when it's closer to becoming a reality than you might realize, but far enough away to save for it.

4. Take a long, hard look at your expenses

Many Americans find that their expenses peak in their 40s, and 40-somethings tend to have higher levels of credit card debt than most other age groups. That's why now's the time to evaluate your finances and decide whether you need to make some changes.

While you should comb through every line item in your budget to see where your money goes, be sure to focus on housing, in particular, because it's likely to be your single greatest expense. Look at your mortgage and ask yourself: Is my payment really affordable? Do I have a competitive rate? Do I stand a chance at paying off my mortgage by the time I retire? Though housing might eat up a chunk of your income, make sure your mortgage isn't standing in the way of your other financial goals.

5. Buy life insurance if you don't have it already

If you don't yet have a life-insurance policy in place, stop what you're doing, call some agents, and get some quotes. Almost everyone needs some form of life insurance, and the older you are, the more expensive it gets. Better to lock in your rate now before your health and age make it cost prohibitive.

6. Put more money in the stock market

Now that you're (hopefully) in a more stable job and (ideally) earning more than you did in your 20s and 30s, you should take the opportunity to put some more cash in the stock market. This way, you can grow the money you're bringing in, but not using, into an even larger sum down the line. Remember, the closer you get to retirement, the riskier it becomes to invest in stocks, so this is your chance to take advantage of excess income while time is still on your side.

Your 40s don't have to signify a midlife crisis -- at least not a financial one. As long as you stay on top of your finances, you can enjoy your 40s while setting the stage for an even more successful future. 

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