The worst mistakes you may be making with your money aren't the ones you think you're making. Forget about the thing everyone talks about, which is investing smarts. Its practical effect is overrated. Believe me, it doesn't matter that you aren't getting a piece of Facebook's IPO. (The number of people who got rich of tech IPOs is dwarfed by the number who lost money in them.) Who cares if the only thing you think when you see an ETF is WTF? The lousy investing record of most individual investors only proves that a little knowledge, more often than not, is a dangerous thing.
Every financial planner will tell you that the most tragic money mistakes have to do with elementary safeguards that go overlooked or unused. They take no investing expertise to fix and are easy to take care of—until they become irreversible and potentially devastating. Here are four of them. If you are looking for a late starting 20120 financial resolution you can actually keep, resolve to polish off all four of these. And do it this weekend.
Not saving for retirement – Far too many business owners miss the opportunity each year to make a contribution to an IRA or SEP or solo 401(k) simply because they don’t think of it. If you have of these plans, confirm that you’re making the maximum contribution. (And don't forget: if you are 50 or older, you may get to make a higher contribution than everyone else.) If you and your spouse contribute to IRAs, check with your CPA to find out if you can make a contribution for 2011—yes, 2011. You have until April 16, 2012 to make your contribution for 2011. If you don't have an established plan, there is a chance that you can fund a company plan or an IRA for 2011 in a few simple steps. Call your CPA or financial planner today.
Not being insured – You probably already have coverage within your company to account for any type of scenario that could happen at work, but what about on the personal side? Call your insurance agent or financial advisor and have them review your current policies. In my experience, most clients who do so find an opportunity either to upgrade inefficient coverage or do away with a policy that no longer serves its purpose. At the very least, you’ll go identify what you've actually insured. Property and casualty insurance—which includes home, auto and umbrella liability—is a competitive business; there’s no reason to pay above market prices for below average protection.
Sloughing off your taxes – Don’t rush around to get your CPA everything at the eleventh hour and leave your tax filing until the deadline. It's a sure way to miss possible deductions. Call your CPA today and ask him or her to send you a tax organizer or set a meeting to sit down with them this month to be sure you have everything gathered. If you don’t have a CPA, talk to colleagues or your financial advisor about finding someone that fits your specific needs. Having a qualified professional prepare your taxes is typically worth the price and you might end up saving on taxes simply by having a fresh set of eyes review your situation.
Forgetting about beneficiaries – If you own a 401(k), any type of IRA, an insurance policy, a Transfer-On-Death (TOD) account or Payable-On-Death (POD) account, review your beneficiaries. More often than not in my experience, clients forget to update their beneficiary designations to reflect the changes in their lives. Call the financial institution that provides your statements and confirm with them that you have the proper beneficiaries listed on your accounts. Often clients are stunned to find out that they their estate—or worse, an ex-spouse—would have been the only heir to their life's work. Better for you to find this out now than for your heirs to learn it after you're gone.
Accomplish these four things and you'll have done a year's worth of good for your personal financial health. And you'll still have most of 2012 ahead of you.
Nick Cosky, CFP contributed to this article