2020 is not only the start of a new year—it also marks a new decade full of opportunities for growth, improvement and forward momentum. One specific area in which many people could stand to improve is financial management. January is Financial Wellness Month, making it an ideal time to work toward this goal.
Almost 60% of Americans consider debt to be a major roadblock in the pursuit of their 2020 financial goals, according to a recent survey from GoBankingRates. This data also reveals that, while one in four Americans are stressed about finances, only 35% prioritize tools like a budget to track expenses and save money.
Despite a steady flow of income in most American households, according to the State of the U.S. Financial Capability report:
- 31% cannot earmark $2,000 for a possible emergency;
- 29% forego routine healthcare due to costs;
- 23% have unpaid medical bills;
- 19% sometimes overdraw their checking accounts;
- 19% have been late on a mortgage payment;
- 16% have taken a loan from their retirement plan.
Similarly, in a July 2019 survey of more than 1,700 individuals throughout the United States about their health insurance plans and coverage(s), HealthMarkets found that more than 80% of uninsured respondents who had an emergency either could not afford the costs or required six or more months to pay off the bills.
These statistics might sound harsh, but the upside is that reclaiming financial control does not need to feel intimidating or inaccessible. If one of your 2020 resolutions is to be smarter with money, below are three tips to help you jumpstart this goal toward a secure financial future.
Tip 1: Don’t Overlook the Importance of Life Insurance.
While 57% of people in the U.S. own at least some form of life insurance, 43% are still uninsured, based on 2019 data from Statista. If you are in the latter category, now is the time to obtain life insurance. If you are in debt, self-employed, married or starting a family, life insurance is a wise investment, and it tends to be cheaper when you acquire it as a young person. In fact, most policyholders in their 20s and 30s pay just $10–$50 a month in premiums for term life policies, notes Business Insider. If you don’t already have life insurance, talk to a licensed agent who can help guide you through the process and determine the type of policy and amount of coverage you need to make an informed decision that can help safeguard your loved ones in the event of the unthinkable.
Tip 2: Evaluate Your Current Health Insurance Coverage.
Even with employer health insurance, one in six Americans make “difficult sacrifices” to fund their medical costs, and one in five agree that healthcare bills derail their efforts to save money, according to a joint poll from the Los Angeles Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In addition, this poll found the average health insurance deductible as of 2018 was $1,350, compared to just $379 in 2006. As a result, many people who are insured through their employers are now charged more out-of-pocket than in decades past, according to the Los Angeles Times. If your current policy is a financial burden, there are ways to adjust premiums or deductibles through several options in the health insurance marketplace. A licensed, non-biased insurance agent can help you review and understand those options.
Tip 3: Start Making Tax Preparations as Soon as Possible.
Finally, while tax returns are not due for another few months, this process should not be postponed until the last minute. The sooner you start planning for tax season, the more equipped you will be—in terms of both finances and logistics—when it’s time to file.
Minimize your stress levels and maximize your benefits by tracking all expense write-offs, organizing documents, knowing which income tax bracket you’re in, and tucking some extra money into savings in case you owe the IRS.
In addition, here are a few more recommendations:
- Check your withholding. To decrease your risk of owing an unexpected amount on this year’s tax return, use the IRS’s Tax Withholding Estimator, which can determine if you have withheld enough money from each paycheck. If this withholding amount is too low, then you will be charged the remainder, so check this in advance and submit a new W-4 document if anything needs to be adjusted.
- Bunch itemized deductions. Write-offs like mortgage interest, state and local taxes, certain medical expenses and charitable donations have now been capped at $10,000. If your itemized deductions are not above that standard amount, push some of these expenses into the first of the year. This is known as “bunching,” and it can increase your chances to exceed $10,000 in write-offs.
- Increase retirement savings. If you have an IRA retirement fund, any contributions made to this account before April 15, 2020, can be written off as deductions if the IRA provider is notified that you want this money to count for the 2019 tax year. Additionally, small business owners can deduct as much as 25% of their Simplified Employee Pension IRA contributions, up to $56,000.
The thought of taking hold of your finances may seem overwhelming and difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Take advantage of the freshness of a new year—and decade—and make use of these tips to improve your financial status so you can continue to maintain financial strength throughout this year and the years to come.
Z. Stahl is the executive vice president and chief marketing
officer of HealthMarkets, one of the
largest independent health insurance agencies in the U.S. that distributes
health, Medicare, life and supplemental insurance products from more than 200
insurance companies. Stahl holds the chartered property casualty underwriter
(CPCU), associate in insurance accounting and finance (AIAF) and associate in
reinsurance (ARe) designations, and earned a bachelor of science in economics
from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He lives in Dallas
with his wife and four children.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.