Tips for avoiding financial trouble

Friday - 7/16/2010, 10:33am EDT

Arthur Stein, certified financial planner

Click below to hear the interview

Download mp3

By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

Where do your finances stand halfway through 2010? Arthur Stein is a certified financial planner with SPC Financial in Rockville, Md.

He says the summertime is a good time to think about where you are financially.

"Get to know your mortgage. Find out if you could refinance at a lower rate or with better terms. Find out if it's going to reset and you're going to have a higher payment in the future. If you are, you need to get ready for it. Also, with your homeowner's insurance -- check with your agent, make sure that you're fully insured. . . . I'm surprised at how many people who do not have enough homeowner's insurance."

Another area to look at would be your legal liability coverage under both your homeowners and car insurance plans.

Also, find out whether or not you will need to pay estimated taxes. Stein says this is especially important for those people who have more than one job.

"Even people who don't have outside income should at least look at the withholding that they're doing now . . . and make sure that the witholding is sufficient so that they do not owe money at the end of the year."

Another important issue has to do with life and disability insurance, even if you are still working and otherwise healthy.

"Very few people have enough life and disability insurance. If you're married and your spouse is dependent upon you, if you have kids, this is really a key issue. If you're approaching retirement, it's time to start looking at long term care insurance. Another big problem I see a lot is, either people do not have wills and powers of attorney, or they have not been updated in many years."

Stein explains that these documents should be clear, precise and detailed for a variety of reasons.

"With your will, it's kind of a package. You're also going to get powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney -- at least, you should. Take your couple. They're in a car accident, both of them are severely injured and can no longer make decisions for themselves. Who's legally entitled to make decisions? Nobody . . . Go ahead and get that legal package."

If there is no one to make decisions, the state usually steps in and Stein says, unless you want this, those documents are extremely important.

In addition to this, there are also beneficiary forms for your TSP, IRA and life insurance. These should all be up to date, as well.

"Most people will spend more time planning a vacation than they do planning their finances. People don't like to think about this. To think about a will is to think about -- 'I'm dying. I'm going to die early'. . . . It's not that people aren't smart enough, it's not their area of expertise. I have clients who are, literally, rocket scientists and they can't figure out their finances."

Stein says this is why there are professional financial planners available, and no one should feel stupid because he or she doesn't understand a beneficiary form or how the process works.