With so many Americans feeling uneasy about the economy and their finances right now, we decided to ask some of our financial advisors across the country to share their insights and advice for uncertain times.
Below, Chantel Bonneau, CFP®, a San Diego-based Northwestern Mutual wealth management advisor, offers insight on what you can focus on within your finances right now, even when you feel like so much is in the air.
What advice do you have for the people who may be nervous about their financial futures right now?
The best piece of advice I can give is to make sure you have a financial plan in place. If you’ve never had a plan before, now’s a good time to really think about what you want to accomplish, both in the near term and long term. You have an opportunity right now to start some really good habits when it comes to thinking about the big picture of your financial life.
So if you happen to have some extra time on your hands, take an inventory of your finances. Are your beneficiaries updated? Are you clear on your budget and how much it costs to live your life on a monthly basis? Do you know what underlying investments your investment accounts are invested in, what your risk profile is, and whether you’re properly diversified?
There’s a lot of anxiety around market movements, and seeing your retirement or other investment accounts jumping all over the place may not feel great — but that’s why you need to know what your goals are. If you’re clear on your goals, your risk tolerance and your time horizon, then you’re better able to ensure that your plan is driven by your needs and not by economic changes. Those principles always stand true. If this is all something you’ve never really thought about before, then it’s a good time to reach out to a financial advisor who can help talk it through with you.
But a lot of people feel like they can’t make any moves right now because there’s too much uncertainty. Can you make a financial decision within an environment where so much is changing?
The answer is, yes, there are decisions you can make right now that aren’t going to change. For instance, you may have certain goals that you need to clarify with your spouse or partner. You can take the time now to make sure you’re on the same page. There are also some things that contribute to your financial security that you can always be working toward — for instance, identifying your target emergency fund amount, or figuring out which debt you want to prioritize paying off first. Maybe you’ve been thinking you need life insurance or other types of risk management products. Perhaps you’ve been putting off setting up a will or trust — you can start that process now. Or maybe you’ve been thinking of refinancing your mortgage because rates are low. Some people are trying to make proactive financial decisions right now, some are working defensively, but I think it is fair to say that nobody is apathetic to their financial plan right now.
Also remember that it’s tax season. The tax-filing deadline was recently extended to July 15 from April 15, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should kick the can down the road — especially if you’re expecting money back. It doesn’t hurt to get everything together now so that you’re not rushing to file.
These are all to-do's that you would need to think about no matter what. So take this opportunity to make some financial progress. There’s not much you can control right now, but there are things you can focus on that you know won’t change.
You mentioned refinancing, which is on a lot of people’s minds. With rates so low, do you think it’s a good time to refinance?
I’m getting a lot of questions about what this new interest rate environment means when it comes to mortgages. And while you might see a 0 percent interest rate come down from the Fed, that doesn’t mean your mortgage rate will be 0 percent when you go to refinance. You may have even heard from some people that refi rates have gone up. So much of that is based on supply and demand.
If you currently have a higher rate than what you’ve been seeing out there, I’d suggest talking to your mortgage broker to see what your options are — just know that timing is relevant and it’s possible mortgage rates may come down even more in the future. Also remember that refinancing your mortgage is an important financial decision because there are still costs involved, so talk to your financial advisor to see if this makes sense for you right now. Your individual situation is just as important a consideration as any mortgage rates would be.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.