Money Talks, So Should You

It's 'spring cleaning' time for your finances

Experts offer some advice to help put a spring in your money management.

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It’s spring, and a young man’s (and woman’s) fancy turns to love.

OK, maybe or maybe not.

But one relationship Americans could be, and probably should be, turning to is their personal finances — the engine that makes any long-term relationship more stable and enjoyable.

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To get financially whole and organize your money life, we canvassed finance and investment experts to uncover the top priorities when undertaking that spring cleaning:

Open a Roth IRA. John-Paul Valdez, a personal finance expert at Pearl.com and a former finance radio talk show host, advises opening a Roth IRA (or converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA) to set up yourself and your heirs for a sound financial future.

“A Roth offers many options later in life — it will allow you to make after-tax contributions, and your earnings will grow tax free,” he says. “You will also be able to make withdrawals tax free, during retirement, for example — and unlike with traditional IRAs, you will not be required to make annual withdrawals after you turn 70.5 years old.”

“Essentially, this move will help you pay as little income tax as possible in the future,” he says. “And if you plan on leaving money to your heirs, the Roth account will give you many more options on when and how much you take in distributions from the account according to your needs.”

Realign and "insure" your investment portfolio. Tim Biggam, chief market strategist at MoneyBlock, says a financial spring cleaning should drill down to two aspects: readjusting and rebalancing portfolios after large run-ups in prices; and buying puts as downside protection to your 401(k)s or portfolios.

"Given that the stock market is at all-time highs and the S&P 500 is almost there, this spring is not a bad time to take a look at trimming out of some winners at these levels to readjust allocations,” he says. “This has been shown to be a proven strategy for minimizing volatility over the long term, as stocks tend to be mean reverting.”

“Also, given that the VIX (a measure of volatility and option prices) is near its recent lows and the markets are at or near all-time highs, buying some comparatively cheap protection in the form of index put options makes absolute sense,” Biggam says. “This allows investors to put a floor in their portfolio at a fixed cost, while still allowing for upside appreciation. While most people insure their cars, homes and other valuables, very few people insure perhaps their biggest investment, their stock portfolios and 401(k)s."

READ: 10 creative ways to curb credit card spending 

Revisit your banking and credit card strategies. Kimberly Foss, a certified financial planner at Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif., says credit cards, bank accounts and retirement accounts should be a priority.

"On credit cards and debt, pay off large bills and negotiate with your card company for lower interest rates,” she says. “For banking, set up automatic deductions and get rid of old statements. Also revisit your retirement accounts — make sure to rebalance your portfolio and update beneficiaries.

Buy life insurance, with a twist. Ron Grensteiner, president of American Equity Investment Life Insurance, advises buying life insurance with a guaranteed purchase option. “The younger you buy life insurance, the cheaper your premiums, and permanent life insurance builds cash value which you can make tax-free loans against,” he says. “With the guaranteed purchase option, you can also increase your coverage in the future, regardless of health status.”  

Slash expenses, especially the small ones. Howard Dvorkin, CPA and founder of the nonprofit ConsolidatedCredit.org, advises cutting small expenses.

“It’s crucial to understand that small purchases add up over time,” he says. “Eliminating the morning coffee or bottled water from consumers’ monthly budgets can save individuals hundreds in a year. Saving loose change and bringing lunch to work are also great strategies consumers can implement to reduce spending.”

Taking a once-a-year look at your personal financial situation is a no-brainer (actually, most financial advisers want clients to check on their finances on a quarterly, or a semi-annual basis).

Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The Street.com. He is a former Wall Street bond trader.