In uncertain economic times, people are more focused than ever on protecting their assets. When you’ve worked long and hard to earn what you have, prudent planning can help make sure you’re insured against unforeseen life events that could cost you your savings.
Investing in life savings and retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k) plans is a major step in protecting long-term financial health, but a crucial next step is ensuring those assets aren’t zapped in case of emergency. Building a cushion account for emergencies is a big help, as is preparing for unforeseen events with insurance to help keep your savings intact.
While the government and employers can sometimes step in with assistance if unforeseen circumstances strike, most of the responsibility for safeguarding your future falls to you. These five basic steps can help anyone build a better future and help keep their assets intact no matter what comes their way.
1. Build an emergency fund.
One important step to protecting your financial health is creating a short-term financial cushion, often known as an emergency fund. To figure out how much you should have in this fund, calculate how much you and your family need to live for six to 12 months. These assets should be in a liquid account so they’re easily accessible in an emergency. Though it’s tempting to use this money for big living expenses such as cars, down payments, vacations, or investments, the purpose of this emergency savings account is to insulate you from dire circumstances so you have something to fall back on in case of unforeseen distress. It’s a financial panic button that makes the panic disappear if something major happens.
Many people find it challenging to add to their “rainy day fund” because there’s always something else to pay for, but an emergency fund provides peace of mind and security in both the short and long term. Emergency funds keep people from having to dip into their retirement savings. They also save families from having to use high interest debts such as credit cards to cover costs in the case of sudden illness, job loss, or unforeseen circumstances that demand cash now.
2. Ditch credit card debt.
Credit cards can be convenient, but if you don’t have the funds available to cover what you purchase, in the end you end up paying that much more—18 percent and up, to be exact—for everything you buy. Sure, that new pair of shoes is on sale, but if you don’t have the money to pay your full bill, they’ll end up costing more than full price in the end. Getting rid of credit card debt is a major step in every person’s financial health and also takes a lot of the stress out of personal finance.
Many people find themselves buried under credit card debt, but digging a way out is feasible if you just break the process into small steps. Start with the highest interest rate account and begin chipping away at your outstanding balance. The more you practice paying off debt, the more liberated you will feel.
3. Invest in retirement savings accounts.
It’s never too early to start investing in long-term savings and retirement accounts such as IRAs, Roth IRAs, and 401(k)s. In fact, even if your employer does not sponsor a 401(k) match program, anyone can open and fund an IRA account if they earn an income. This means even children can have accounts funded by babysitting, lawn mowing, or any other job. IRAs are a great way to help children invest in their financial futures and teach good lessons about thinking in the long term when it comes to money.
Withdrawals can be made from IRA accounts before retirement; however, instead of dipping into an account to cover emergencies or life events, an emergency fund should be used instead. IRAs can also be bequeathed to loved ones, so heirs can receive money in annual or lump sum distributions without taxes.
401(k) retirement savings programs are employer sponsored and allow workers to save a portion of their paycheck before taxes are taken out. Some employers also contribute to match savings, but these matched funds aren’t always available until an employee has been with a company for a certain number of years. Penalties apply for withdrawing funds before retirement age, which means 401(k) funds shouldn’t be used for emergencies; again, that’s why you need an emergency fund.
4. Opt into voluntary disability insurance.
Though government and employer-sponsored disability insurance can take care of some costs, most people who are affected by sudden disability need far more. In addition, some companies are decreasing their disability coverage options or getting rid of them altogether to ease rising health care costs. Opting in to voluntary short-term disability insurance policies helps safeguard you and your family in case of an accident or unpredicted illness. If you are unable to work because of a covered illness or injury from an accident, voluntary short-term disability insurance replaces a portion of your income. If an unforeseen problem comes along, additional disability insurance helps protect both your savings and your family’s financial future.
5. Safeguard your family with life insurance.
Many people think life insurance is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Most families can afford reasonable life insurance plans that will give them peace of mind. The earlier you sign up for life insurance, the less costly it will be.
Life insurance can cover base costs such as funeral expenses, but it can also include benefit payments that will help with mortgages, general living expenses for the loved ones you support, and future costs such as college education for children. Term life policies are the least expensive form of life insurance and expire after a certain time frame, usually between 10 and 30 years. These can help provide financial security until retirement funds are available.
On the other hand, whole life insurance policies never expire and provide a tax-free death benefit. The policy is active as long as premiums are paid, and the cost of the policy will never increase or decrease as you age. These policies pay dividends that may be collected from, borrowed from, or used to pay the policy’s premiums. A qualified insurance agent can help navigate which type of life insurance policy is most appropriate for you.
We can’t foresee every disaster, but we can take steps to help protect our financial health and love ones’ wellbeing in case crisis comes. By zapping high interest credit card debts, padding an emergency fund cushion, and insulating savings accounts from unforeseen life issues with the right kinds of insurance coverage, every person can relax knowing their finances are healthy.