A financial plan is only as good as the data that you start with. Obtaining accurate and timely data is usually the biggest challenge that a financial planner faces. Since data is always changing, it is important that you plan to plan. Pick a date; usually an end of quarter or end of year date is the best. If you are eager to get started now, your recent end-of-quarter bank, mutual fund and investment account statements are probably arriving now. Begin sorting and organizing them.
WHAT INFORMATION IS NEEDED?
For a comprehensive plan, gather as much information about your financial situation as you can. Be sure that you have updated information for each of the areas that you will be reviewing.
Bank Statements. Make sure that you have all of your bank statements whether they are for checking, savings, CDs, loans, credit cards, etc. If you have savings bonds, TIPs bought on a government website or other investments which do not provide regular account balances, make sure that you put a note in your file regarding: date of purchase, ownership, cost, current value. This data should be kept for all assets.
Investment Statements. Mutual funds generally issue statements on a quarterly basis but often more information is needed. To do a really accurate financial plan, you need to know the date your securities were purchased and at what price. If you don’t remember the basis or the cost of your assets, take the time to call your brokerage firm to obtain it.
Annuity Statements. Make sure you have all of the documentation involving your annuities. Many annuities contain riders or special features that you will need to be aware of when modeling your plan. Inaccurate assumptions can render even the finest financial plan worthless. Make sure that you know how much you have contributed to the annuity and what the current value is.
Notes, receivables, etc. If you lent money or have other receivables, be sure that you have some kind of written document to substantiate the loan and the terms of the loan. It’s always prudent to have some kind of written document, signed by both you and the receiver of the loan, along with the terms of the agreement. This will help you to avoid future disputes over the money should they arise.
Checking Your Work. Check your recent income tax return to reconcile the interest and dividends you received with your account statements. If there is an income listed on your tax return and you had since disposed of the asset, make a note of this and include it in your Income Tax File.
Income Tax Returns
Establish an Income Tax File and have complete copies of your tax returns for the past three years. For simple returns, there may not be much variance from year to year, however, if you have real estate, rental properties, partnerships, a small business, etc., having all of this information for review might be important. If you have received 1099 forms, K1 forms or other relevant tax materials, are sure to include it with your tax returns.
Check with your Human Resources representative to get a full accounting of your benefits. Typical benefits include life insurance, health insurance, 401(k), and profit sharing. If you are in management, your benefits might also include stock options, stock purchase agreements, deferred compensation and other benefits. If you have stock and/or stock option benefits, make sure that you have in your file grant statements indicating the date of the award, stock option strike price, vesting schedule and a description of the restrictions that might accompany the grant or award. Be sure that you also include a copy of your pay stub so that the cost of your benefits can be determined.
Complete insurance information is helpful since insurance products generally have riders that provide special contract features. You need to know your insurance coverage inside out. If you have permanent life insurance, that which has a cash value, contact your insurance company to obtain an In Force Illustration. This document will show the current values of your death benefits and cash value projections, which show how your policy can be expected to perform in future years based on the assumptions you provide. Be sure to include your property and casualty insurance coverage documentation as well for review.
The Social Security department generally sends out a benefits statement each year. Make sure that you have a current copy. Should you need to obtain one, contact the Social Security department through a link provided in the Related Links section.
If you have a pension, deferred compensation or other company retirement benefits, be sure that you obtain this information from you employer. Be certain that you have the benefits booklet, which may describe what options you have for receiving these benefits. Timing deferred compensation benefits can be critical to minimizing your tax burden in the future.
Real Estate Documents
Maintain complete detail of your home and other real estate purchases. Know the date, price, ownership titling and details on costs of additions, which may add to your cost basis. Details of your mortgage are also important. You need to not only know how much you pay each month, you also need to know the date the mortgage was taken out, the term of years the mortgage will be amortized and the interest rate you are paying. If you have an adjustable rate, you will need to know what the terms of the interest reset are and when it will reset.
While maintaining current statements and basis are important, if you have taken any risk tolerance surveys to help you indicate how your portfolio should be allocated, include this in your file. If you have an investment policy statement, be sure to include that in your file folder.
Estate Planning Documents
Be sure to have copies of your wills, trusts, and other important estate planning documents. Your Budget While all of the above documents are important having an accurate accounting of your monthly expenses is critical and usually the hardest piece of information to gather in a financial plan. Since your expenses will increase annually based on your inflation assumptions, starting with incorrect expenses makes your plan worthless. More about the budget will be discussed in the financial statement section.