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6 surprising benefits of having a financial plan
Pursue all of your goals — from a vacation home to retirement and more — with the help of the powerful projections and analysis your advisor can deliver in this detailed document
YOU’RE DOING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS, contributing to a 401(k), saving for your kids’ college, using debt strategically and more. But have you pulled all those pieces together into a real financial plan? One that takes into account unexpected life events, tax considerations, inflation and changing market conditions? One that projects the likelihood that you’ll reach your goals and suggests adjustments to help you overcome hurdles along the way?
“If you think of yourself as the CEO of your financial life, your financial plan is your business plan,” says Craig Bottolfson, a Merrill wealth management advisor in Mesa, Arizona. “It captures your vision for the future and outlines in great detail steps you and your advisor can take as you pursue that vision.”
Hard questions a financial plan can help answer
How likely am I to reach all my goals?
A financial plan factors in risks, such as inflation and market volatility, and projects your probability of reaching each goal. It also charts how that probability might improve if you adjust your strategies.
How am I doing so far?
A financial plan provides a periodic check-in on progress toward short-term goals like paying for education or a wedding, as well as long-term goals like retirement.
Should I consider adjusting my portfolio?
A financial plan includes a target asset allocation based on your goals, timelines and risk tolerance — and demonstrates how that portfolio might grow, based on historical performance.
Will I have the income I want in retirement?
A financial plan projects a range of potential retirement income, factoring in such elements as taxes, inflation and market conditions, along with the likelihood of reaching your stated goal.
How can I plan for taxes in retirement?
Along with your projected annual retirement income, a financial plan will spell out your potential annual income tax bill.
A comprehensive multipage document, a financial plan turns your vision into numbers, investment approaches and projections of potential future wealth. It quantifies the impact of tax obligations and inflation years from now and factors future costs and potential risks into your current strategies. “What a financial plan can do really well is help clarify aspects of your financial life that seem dauntingly complex,” says Bottolfson. “The mystery is why more people don’t ask for one.” Consider these six surprising benefits a financial plan can offer:
1. A 360-degree view of your finances. Seeing everything you own and owe in one place can be eye-opening. “People typically just go through life earning money and putting savings aside,” says Patricia Savre, a Merrill wealth management advisor based in Minneapolis. “When I put my clients’ net worth up on a screen as part of a financial plan, it’s often the first time they've seen the big picture.”
“This full view of your current finances can help answer questions like ‘How much should I be spending, saving and investing?’ and ‘What are the tax, education, insurance and financing strategies I should consider?’” says Michael Lawrence, market executive for Merrill’s Minnesota division.
“This full view of your finances can help answer questions like ‘How much should I be spending, saving and investing?’ and ‘What are the strategies I should consider?’”
2. The confidence to make your next move. “When they see the big picture, people often learn that they’re doing better than expected,” says Lawrence. “Having that knowledge can give you the confidence to make major financial decisions.” Savre, for instance, recalls a 65-year-old woman who was delaying retirement because she believed she hadn’t saved enough. “I took her through the financial planning journey. Using our scenario comparison tool, we pressure-tested the amount she had saved against various contingencies and were able to demonstrate that she already had enough to fund the retirement she wanted. She’s now happily retired,” Savre says.
3. Permission to spend. A financial plan’s detailed projections of future income and assets can also help you feel more comfortable about spending money today. Brian Marks, a Merrill wealth management advisor in Dallas, worked with a couple who were pleasantly surprised to see that they had already saved more than enough to fund all of their most important goals. That knowledge gave them the comfort level to accelerate their charitable giving and give their three children a portion of their inheritance in advance. They even began funding an annual family trip to Hawaii. “They were able to create wonderful family memories and see the joy their wealth brought to others,” Marks says.
4. Reassuring perspective amid volatility. In a 24/7 news cycle, every market fluctuation or global crisis can lead people to make financial moves they later regret. “A financial plan helps to keep you focused on your goals,” Lawrence says. One of Bottolfson’s clients, a retired engineer, became anxious that a market decline was going to force him to go back to work. “When we revisited his plan, he was able to see that, despite the drop in the market, his and his wife’s resources were still on track to comfortably fund their lifestyle,” Bottolfson says. “The work we’d incorporated into their plan to prepare for market fluctuations gave him the fortitude to ride out the tough times.”
“When they see the big picture, people often learn that they’re doing better than expected. Having that knowledge can give you the confidence to make major financial decisions.”
5. A reality check — and incentive to save more. By reviewing your financial plan annually, you can see how you’re doing and make any necessary adjustments. Marks, for instance, points to a couple he works with who are in their late 40s and have an ambitious savings plan to retire early. They’ve committed to maxing out their 401(k) plans and setting aside an additional $70,000 a year. “By checking their progress annually, I could help them see when they appeared to be falling behind,” says Marks. “As a result, they’ve actually increased their savings rate, which could have just as much financial impact in the long term as market returns.”
6. Uncovering opportunities and risks you might otherwise miss. Marks recalls a very conservative investor who was missing out on potential growth. “To demonstrate the long-term impact of his investing style, we constructed a financial plan that compared projected potential returns for conservative, moderately conservative and moderate asset allocations.” He adds, “We ran scenarios of how his allocations could be adjusted over time, getting more conservative as he grew older to help preserve his wealth. That knowledge empowered him to pursue greater growth now, while still remaining within his risk tolerance.”
Marks also recalls a couple who wanted to move across the country to be closer to their grandkids. “When they told me about the offer they were considering making on a house, I ran the numbers: how much their down payment might be, what they might sell their current home for and how high their new monthly mortgage payment would be,” he says. “When they saw the long-term effects of these costs on their financial picture, they chose a smaller home instead, which they love, and their financial plan has stayed intact.”
Ultimately, as all of these clients have discovered, it’s the lack of unpleasant surprises that might be the greatest hidden benefit of having a financial plan. “By modeling unexpected circumstances and planning ahead for them, we can help to ease our clients’ biggest concerns,” says Lawrence. “That frees them up to enjoy all that they’ve worked so hard to achieve.”