10 Financial Decisions Americans Keep Putting Off

Author: Christy Bieber | May 07, 2018

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Popular among procrastinators

Managing your money can seem like a full-time job sometimes. Unfortunately, far too many of us aren't doing very well at completing essential money tasks that should be on everyone's to-do list. In fact, 7 in 10 Americans postpone making major financial decisions, according to research by Principal Financial Group and behavioral economist Dan Goldstein.

The research found 56% of Americans haven't made any major financial decisions over the course of the past three years, which owes largely to the fact that less than a third of us report feeling confident enough to make important choices with their money.

So which financial decisions are Americans putting off, exactly? Let's look at some of the top money matters Americans procrastinate on -- and get some helpful advice on tackling these issues so you can take control over your finances

ALSO READ: The Smartest Financial Decision I Ever Made. 

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1. Making a retirement plan

We all have to retire sometime. Yet, an estimated 6 in 10 Americans have no idea how much money they'll need to retire comfortably. Less than half of Americans say they've got sufficient resources or tools to save for retirement, and just 16% of Americans are confident they'll have enough saved to live on during their golden years.

To make plans for retirement, start by figuring out how much retirement income you'll need. You can estimate spending during retirement, determine how much you'll receive in Social Security, and calculate how much income your investments need to produce to cover the gap between spending and benefits.

Divide the shortfall by your expected investment returns during retirement to find out how much savings you'd need to cover costs without touching your principal balance. If you think you'll earn 5% in retirement and want income of $60,000, you'd need $1.2 million. Use a calculator to determine if you're saving enough to hit your goal or if you need to increase your savings.

While you'll probably draw down your principal over time -- and that's fine, because you can't take it with you -- this conservative method will ensure that you have more than you need. If you have high healthcare expenditures, or if your investments don't perform as well as planned, you'll have spare cash.

You can also use a retirement savings calculator to estimate how much you'll need during retirement. However, be careful about the assumptions the calculator makes regarding how much income you'll need, as most calculators estimate you'll spend less than you did before retirement, and this isn't necessarily the case.

Once you know what you need to save, make automated transfers of funds each payday to a 401(k) or IRA to hit your goals. 

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2. Making investment decisions

Around half of all Americans don't own any stocks, according to Gallup polls. Young people under 35 and middle-class adults are the groups least likely to be invested. Lack of knowledge and fear of the market were major reasons for not investing.

Historically, investing in the stock market has provided a significantly better rate of return than investing in real estate or bonds. If you want your money to earn a reasonable rate of return you're going to have to figure out a way to buy stocks.  

Fortunately, it's easy to do. You can build a well-rounded, diversified portfolio by investing in just a few index funds that give you exposure to a variety of assets, including large U.S. companies, small companies, and foreign stocks. 

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3. Dealing with orphan retirement accounts

In 2015, Americans lost track of an estimated $7.7 billion in retirement savings, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. If you've left an old job and not made provisions for your 401(k), you may be one of the millions with misplaced money.

You can leave your money invested in your 401(k) with your old employer if you're happy with the fees and investment offerings, but make sure you monitor how the investment is performing and what you're invested in. You also have other options, including rolling old plans into your 401(k) at your new job or rolling them into an IRA.

To decide what your best option is, talk with your past employers. If you have money invested in a 401(k) and the fees are high or investment options are limited, decide whether you'll roll over the funds to the 401(k) at your new job or to an IRA.  If necessary, open a new rollover IRA with a discount broker or roboadvisor, and ask plan administrators for your old plan to do a direct rollover.

Make sure money from your old 401(k) goes directly into your new 401(k) or IRA because you don't want to be hit with penalties for early withdrawals, which could happen if money from the account is given to you and you don't get it reinvested within 60 days. 

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4. Creating a budget

Only 35% of people follow a strict budget and live within their means on a regular basis, a recent Willis Tower Watson survey revealed. While budgeters reported far fewer money worries than those who lacked a budget, most Americans just aren't that excited about sitting down and creating a spending plan.

The good news is, the budgeting process can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be -- and you don't have to live by a detailed budget that allocates every dollar if you don't want to. One great option for budgeting is a 50-30-20 budget. This simple budget involves making sure fixed spending on housing and other essentials stays below 50% of your income. Meanwhile, 20% of income gets saved; and 30% of income goes to discretionary spending.

By automating your 20% savings and ensuring essential spending doesn't exceed 50% of income, you can use your money wisely without effort and spend the remaining 30% on anything you want without worries. 

ALSO READ: 3 Reasons to Have a Budget

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5. Tackling debt

About 4 out of 5 Americans are in debt, and more than a quarter have no plans for how their debt will be repaid, according to a recent Lending Tree survey. Household debt totals around $12.84 trillion in the United States, and if you're one of the millions with credit card debt, personal loan debt, medical debt, and car loans, you'll want to make a plan to become debt-free -- unless you enjoy paying thousands in interest.

To get a handle on your debt, make a list of all you owe. Use your credit report, pulled for free from AnnualCreditReport.com, to get a complete list of creditors. Check statements or online accounts to find the interest rate and total amount due, then determine which debts to pay off early. While repaying a mortgage or student loans early may not make financial sense if you prioritize investing instead, getting rid of high-interest consumer debt ahead of schedule will save you a fortune.

Calculate how much you can pay towards debt each month -- which will ideally be more than minimum payments -- and develop a plan to become debt free. The debt snowball method of paying off your lowest debt balances first is an effective way to stay motivated. 

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6. Starting an emergency fund

Around 60% of Americans don't have $500 in savings to cover an unexpected emergency.  If you're one of them, you've obviously put off creating an emergency fund. An emergency fund should ideally have three to six months of living expenses in it, but saving up even $1,000 to $2,000 is a good start so that a car repair or medical issue doesn't put you in debt.

To save an emergency fund, open an account separate from your primary checking account and schedule automated money transfers to the account each payday. Put aside as much money as you can until you have at least your mini-emergency fund of $1,000 to $2,000. If you invest just $20 per week -- less than the cost of dinner out for two -- you can have over $1,000 by the end of the year. You'll be more prepared for an emergency than most of your fellow Americans.

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7. Buying life insurance

Around 6 in 10 Americans have some type of life insurance coverage, but nearly half of those who are covered don't have enough coverage to meet their family's financial needs. And, of course, that's not even including the 40% who have no coverage at all.

If you have anyone depending on you, from aging parents to a spouse or child, you should have a term life insurance policy. This is true even if you aren't earning any money if you're helping others, such as caring for parents or children. What you do has value and someone would likely have to be paid to pick up the slack if you couldn't do it any longer.

Buying a term life insurance policy is inexpensive and gives you peace of mind of knowing your family is cared for. Determine how much insurance you need by subtracting the value of your assets from the costs of long-term financial goals, such as paying off a mortgage and putting your kids through college. You could also use a simple formula, such as buying a policy worth 10 times your income plus $100,000 in college education costs for each child you have.

You can shop online for life insurance and should get quotes from several trusted insurers. Check with your state's insurance department to make sure the insurer you choose is licensed to sell policies in your state so you'll be protected if something goes wrong with the company providing your policy.

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8. Creating an estate plan

Around 60% of Americans haven't taken any steps to put an estate plan in place, according to a recent Caring.com survey.  Estate planning tools such as wills and trusts help you make sure spouses, children, and pets are cared for. Making an estate plan also allows you to decide where your money goes, instead of having intestacy law determine what happens to hard-earned assets.

For many people, creating a DIY will is fairly easy using simple forms you can find online. However, if you have a blended family, disabled loved ones to provide for, significant assets, minor children, or other family or financial factors that make your plan more complicated, it's best to talk with an attorney. Some offer a flat-fee service to help you put together a plan and keep legal costs affordable.

Your estate planning process shouldn't just include creating a will either. It's a good idea to make a living will to specify preferences regarding the use of extraordinary measures to keep you alive in case of a medical emergency. You can also find sample forms online so you have control over medical issues in a time of crisis.

ALSO READ: The Estate-Planning Documents Everyone Needs

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9. Making a long-term care plan

For a person turning 65 today, there's a 70% chance long-term care will become necessary in the future. Costs of long-term care in the United States topped $225 billion in 2015, and are expected to only grow as baby boomers age. Despite the fact long-term care is costly and there's a good chance it will become necessary, many Americans have no plans in place at all for affording long-term care.

The process for making a long term care plan will vary based on your age and financial situation. If you're still young, you may be able to purchase an affordable long-term care insurance policy to cover you for future care. Be sure to review policy terms carefully to find out the circumstances under which care is covered and whether there's a daily limit on the amount the policy pays. Many policies provide inadequate coverage, so a careful review of the fine print is key.

If you're getting older, you can work with an attorney to protect assets while qualifying for means-tested Medicaid benefits. Medicaid covers long-term care, but Medicare typically does not, so finding a way to structure ownership of assets to become eligible for Medicaid nursing home benefits is one of the most efficient and affordable ways to protect assets while getting care paid for.  

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10. Saving for college

Around 3 in 10 parents don't yet have any college savings for their children, according to a recent Fidelity survey. Of the parents with savings, many parents haven't accurately calculated what college will cost. Parents of preschoolers underestimated by around $110,000 what college would cost during their children's years of attendance. Even parents with kids in high school were around $70,000 short in their guesses regarding how much college would cost in a few years.

Parents can use college cost calculators to estimate how much they'll need to save for their children and can open a 529 account through a financial advisor or brokerage firm to fund future educational expenditures. The sooner parents start saving, the greater the chance they'll be able to spare their kids from student loans. 

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Becoming proactive about your money will relieve financial stress

Procrastinating on taking control over your financial life only adds to your money worries. In some cases, delaying decisions costs money in the form of extra interest on debt or foregoing returns you could earn by investing earlier.

By following the simple steps recommended here, you can tackle the money issues you've been putting off so you'll be on your way to financial success. 

ALSO READ: How Can I Manage My Money?

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