If you're like many people, you've recently resolved to shed a few holiday pounds, reach some career or business milestones, and improve your financial life.
But how? Should 2014 be the year that you invest more aggressively -- or more conservatively? Should it be the year that you hire a financial advisor, or the year that you branch into real estate?
Here are some financial moves you should make in 2014.
1. Contemplate your goals
Your portfolio should reflect your goals, age, and risk tolerance. However, as the years pass, our goals tend to change.
Adjust your portfolio according to your new goals. For example, within the past year, you may have decided that you hope to retire earlier than you had previously planned. If that's the case, you should redesign an "ideal portfolio" that reflects your new goal.
As a general rule of thumb, the shorter of an investment timeline you face, the more conservatively you should invest. If your goal is to retire earlier than expected, you may want to dial back your risk exposure.
As you adjust your portfolio, keep your changes small but consistent. Small changes in your portfolio allow your overall strategy to develop at an even pace, but major changes could drastically impact the performance of the portfolio in ways you may not be prepared for.
2. Review your asset allocation
The beginning of the year can be a great time to rebalance your portfolio.
Ideally, you've already decided how to divide your portfolio among equities (such as domestic and international stock funds), fixed-income investments (such as Treasuries and bonds), and alternative asset classes. In other words, you've already selected a model asset-allocation strategy.
Now it's time to review your portfolio to see whether your current holdings are aligned with your ideal asset-allocation. Equities rose dramatically in the year 2013, which may mean that you're overexposed to equities. Examine your portfolio to make sure you're not out of balance.
3. Review your account structures
Make sure your investments are held in the proper accounts.
Are you saving for retirement? Keep your investments in a 401(k), 403(b) or equivalent, or else open an IRA.
Are you trying to send your children to college? Keep some of your investments in a 529 College Savings Plan or other educational plan.
Are you investing just for fun? Keep your money in a taxable brokerage account so that you don't face any restrictions or limits that govern when you can withdraw your funds.
The end of the year is a great time to reconsider the tax structure of your accounts. Sure, your retirement savings are being held in tax-advantaged accounts. But should they be held in traditional or Roth accounts?
The answer to that question depends on your personal situation. Have you experienced any substantial income changes in the past year? Have you set new goals? What's your timeline? Depending on your individual tax situation, you may favor tax-deferred accounts over tax-exempt accounts, or vice versa.
4. Review portfolio performance
While market timing isn't for everyone, that doesn't mean you should ignore the market completely.
You should review your portfolio performance at least annually -- if not quarterly -- to make sure you're at least performing in line with your benchmark indexes. The end of the year is a good time to review how well your expected performance matched your actual performance.
If your portfolio performance is out of line with the indexes you're following, your portfolio might be experiencing "style drift." This happens when a fund manager drifts away from a particular asset class in order to chase higher returns elsewhere. This can throw off your asset allocation and expose you to risks that you weren't aware of.
Furthermore, reviewing your portfolio can help you determine whether the underperformance of one fund is a fluke or a continual occurrence. Monitor your portfolio's performance so that you can catch "style drift" and other red flags before they threaten your portfolio.
5. Maximize last year's retirement contributions
Have you maxed out your retirement contributions from 2013? If not, there's still time, but hurry -- you won't be able to make prior-year contributions after the 2014 tax-filing deadline.
Eligible investors can contribute $17,500 to a 401(k) in the year 2013. (That increases by an additional $5,500 if you're 50 or older.) Eligible investors can also contribute $5,500 to a traditional or Roth IRA in 2013, plus an extra $1,000 if you're 50 or older.
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