When it comes to your financial plan, you can't trust a computer
At my annual physical exam recently, the doctor took my vital signs, reviewed my medical records, and after reading my EKG results, said, “Well the computer says you’re having a heart attack.” But the computer was wrong.
I’m in my early 40s and run marathons, and my heart rate is extremely low. So, after reading the EKG, the doctor went to work. She asked me several questions, reviewed prior data and my medical history. After doing her research, she overruled the machine.
The same situation can apply to people looking to establish a financial plan or review their current plan. Without the right data and appropriate questions, even a financial plan using sophisticated software to create a financial model can give an answer that isn’t reality.
January is when many people review their portfolios and update their financial goals for the year. In 2021, exceptionally strong stock market performance gave many a boost of confidence, and perhaps some felt that that there was no reason to review or revise their plans for the coming year. The stock market reversal in 2022 shows why it’s never wise to rest on our laurels – we should always be reviewing and revising our plans so that we can adapt to change. What about personal or family changes, such as a job relocation on the horizon, potential tax rate increases, interest rate increases or the prospect of buying that second home? All of these life changes can have a major impact on one’s financial strategy — questions that a computer model isn’t likely to ask.
When it comes to financial planning, the data inputs are critically important, as well as answers to these questions. A financial adviser should be asking a wide variety of questions to make the model work.
As you review your plan in January, here are some key questions and recommendations to consider.
Is Your Portfolio Still Invested Correctly to Match Your Goals?
When you develop your financial plan, one goal is almost always to become financially independent and retire comfortably. Investors should not assume last year’s portfolio returns will be the norm going forward. Instead, they should rebalance their portfolio to build in the appropriate level of stocks and bonds to match their retirement time horizon. When stocks are riding high, a portfolio can become overly aggressive, which introduces risk. When stocks are down, rebalancing means you will become a buyer, and improve your chances of participating in the rebound. Determine if your portfolio is invested correctly for your retirement time horizon.
What Has Changed?
If you have a financial plan, assumptions were made that may no longer be true. Here are a few examples:
- Were you planning to buy a vacation home? If so, how might changes in real estate prices and interest rates affect your plan?
- Were you planning on four years of college expenses for your children, with one now enrolling in medical school?
- Did you receive a nice promotion at work and now your income trajectory is skyrocketing?
- Will higher tax rates have an impact on your plan?
All of these changes need to be considered, so that your plan continues to stay on course, while having a real sense of what your financial future looks like. An up-to-date financial plan can bring much more clarity when big financial decisions need to be made.
Who is Counting on You for Financial Support?
Ten years ago, everyone in your family may have been healthy. Now, there could be an aging parent who needs financial support to pay health care costs. You may have a sibling with children who may not be able to afford to pay for their college tuition.
If this is the case and you are willing to help, study your options and work with a financial adviser to determine how much money is available to help your loved ones. And make certain you understand the impact to your personal retirement plan. Most computer models will not be asking you this type of question!
What Are Your Plans for Retirement Living – and What Will They Cost?
Many individuals have dreamed of using their retirement to travel the world. Now, if that time is here, determine how often you would like to travel annually and what it will cost. Others are planning to move to a warmer climate in another state, which will involve selling and buying a home, moving costs and other expenses.
What’s the cost of living in the state where you plan to retire compared to where you are now? What about state income taxes and property taxes? Housing expenses can take a large bite out of your nest egg, so figure out the cost of these moves before making any big decisions.
Finally, What Keeps You Up at Night?
When asking clients this question, the answer isn’t always related to money. A response I hear often is, “I’m worried about taking care of my parents and my kids at the same time that I’m juggling my business.” Another common response is, “If something happens to me, does my spouse know how to carry on managing the household?”
Sometimes it helps clients to talk through these concerns and hear stories of how other people have managed through similar life events. Financial advisers tend to have a diverse set of experiences in walking through life with different clients, and can have an unbiased perspective to share.
Of course, money is a normal concern. “Are we headed for a major crash?” “Do we have enough to cover our health care needs in retirement?” This is where financial modeling, incorporating probability analysis, can provide peace of mind. Knowing you’ve run the numbers and worked through various scenarios can allow you to sleep better at night.
Life doesn’t happen in a straight line. Taking the time to review and update your financial plan for recent changes, plus thinking through changes to come, is a good way to keep your financial strategy in check. Use the new year as a time to complete your financial check-up. Ask yourself the right questions … and don’t rely solely on a computer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa is the Practice Area Leader for Corporate Executives at CI Brightworth and is the current chairwoman of CIPW’s Business Development Committee. In addition to serving clients, Lisa has published three books, Girl Talk, Money Talk. The Smart Girl’s Guide to Money After College; Girl Talk, Money Talk II. Financially Fit and Fabulous in Your 40s and 50s; and CI Brightworth’s first book, Building Your Wealth Inside Corporate America. Lisa has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, YahooFinance, CNBC.com, and many more. A frequent speaker at seminars across the country, she also produces a podcast series, Taking Stock with Lisa Brown, with regular financial content for busy professionals, in under 30 minutes.
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