Question: I’m planning for my retirement in a few years. Besides maximizing my 401(k) and/or employer pension plans, what other personal financial indicators should I monitor?
Answer: Ideally, retirement financial plans should include all aspects of income, expenditures and assets. Successful retirement will mean overseeing total finances or net worth.
Managing investments, savings and debt reduction are all important to increase net worth, which is the sum total of assets minus total liabilities. In short, it’s the monetary value of everything you own after subtracting all debts. Calculating net worth is not complicated, but it may take time to gather all the required information.
First, add up total assets including the current market value of investments, retirement savings, real estate, vehicle(s), items of significant value (i.e., art, jewelry, furniture, etc.), and cash in checking/savings accounts as well as cash value of insurance policies.
Next, add up total outstanding debts including mortgage(s), car loan(s), student loans, personal loans, credit card debt and any other balances due.
Then subtract total debts from total assets to determine net worth, which could be negative or positive. If negative, don’t automatically panic. Typically people early in their careers have a low or negative net worth often because of student loan debt, buying a home, and/or limited savings.
However, once you reach 60 years old, financial experts recommend a net worth goal of six-time annual salary. For example, at $110,000 a year of income the net worth target would be $660,000. Net worth at this stage of life will help determine available resources during retirement.
According to the Federal Reserve, the average net worth for Americans between the ages 55 and 64 is $1,167,400, while the median is only $187,300.
To increase net worth at just about any stage of life try to spend less and make more, according to Andrew Wang, managing partner at Runnymede Capital Management. Sounds simple; however, “While many financial advisors and coaches are quick to suggest budgeting, I find the easier path is to simply start tracking your spending,” Wang said.
“Most people know how much money they make, but too few know where they’re spending money every month,” he said. Wang suggests modifying expenditures to focus on paying down existing debt rather than making purchases that creates new debt. Whether it’s student loans, credit card balances or car loan, net worth should improve by paying off these balances.
“Sometimes a side hustle can generate extra income to help pay down debt,” Wang said.
A major component of net worth often is a home. Owners can maximize real estate as an asset by a simple, yet powerful strategy — pay off mortgages early. Net worth could increase by tens of thousands of dollars in a relatively short period of time.
If you’re concerned about losing the mortgage interest tax deduction, tax advisors suggest if the mortgage is retired early, put the money that would have been paid in interest toward a worthwhile charitable cause. You can get the same deduction and help support that cause.
Increasing cash and cash equivalents also will add to net worth. However, the average American family puts aside less than five percent of income into savings. A good rule to increase savings is ‘pay yourself first,’ according to Paula Pant, personal finance writer, speaker and media commentator.
“If you have a sufficiently long time horizon, consider investing in a S&P 500 index (fund) with minimal fees,” she said.
Financial advisors also suggest a complete net worth review at least once a year. Then determine a plan to improve your net worth position by the next annual review.