BY Mickey Orta
The top two questions that financial professionals have been hearing from customers are: “What’s going to happen to my investments and financial plans depending on the results of the presidential election?” and “When will things get back to normal post-COVID?”
While these questions can’t be answered directly, that doesn’t mean we have to sit tight without taking any action.
It’s probably safe to say that 2020 has not unfolded in a way that any of us could have predicted. The COVID-19 pandemic upended everyone’s plans—financially, and in general—starting in March. A busy and heavily contested election season added to the feeling of heading into the unknown.
Whether you’re looking at financial planning for 2021 from the perspective of a business or as an individual, the pandemic isn’t going away and so uncertainty is likely to continue.
To help reduce some stress, take a look at what is in your control and focus on those elements. Financial planning has many components that are squarely within your control.
The end of the year is a good time to pull together documents and start preparing for the next year. It’s a good idea to have the tax side of your house in order by the end of the first quarter anyway, so get a head start by doing the following tasks now.
• Retirement planning tune-up. Carve out some time to review your retirement planning. Despite a global pandemic, equity markets have done reasonably well this year. Take a look at asset allocation quarterly, to make sure that asset mix is in line with risk/return objectives. It’s also a good time to schedule year-end reviews with your financial professional to make sure that your plan remains on track.
• Beneficiary review. While looking at 401(k) or IRA accounts, review the beneficiary information in place and make sure it’s up-to-date and accurate. Take this step for any of your asset documents, including your will or any other estate planning documents.
• Savings review. Most financial professionals suggest having six months’ salary saved for emergencies. If the pandemic has caused you to dip into those savings, see where you are and make a plan to replenish. Even if you haven’t needed to access savings, take a few minutes to review accounts, particularly if any expenses have changed dramatically, to make certain that savings are at a sufficient level.
This is a busy time of year for financial professionals, so if you are planning on sitting down with yours, get that meeting scheduled as soon as possible.
Business owners also have a number of year-end financial steps to consider.
• PPP loans. If you’re a business owner who participated in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), you probably already know that many of those loans are eligible to be forgiven. Make sure you know what the important dates and details are, especially the deadlines for applying, and when your lender will accept applications. If you do not yet have this information, reach out to your bank or visit SBA.gov for guidance. And take this opportunity to make sure you understand the other loan programs that were made available this year.
• Cash on hand and in reserve. Just as individuals should have savings to cover up to six months of personal expenses, so should a business. Anything could disrupt the U.S. and global economies in the coming months, so it is important to anticipate and plan for potential impacts to your business. So ensure you have cash on hand or in reserve to help weather the storm. This includes working closely with a relationship banker to ensure you have established lines of credit in place if they are needed.
• Revenue and expense planning. The disruption from this year may provide an opportunity to diversity your business offerings, or it might make more sense to simplify your business focus. Investing in additional employees or equipment could be critical to sustainability. Or, it may not be prudent at this point. It’s a great time to work with a business banker or financial professional to either create a new budget for 2021, or get your budget back on track.
Reaching out to financial professionals now for help and advice is a wise use of your time, especially this year with all of the changes in the CARES act and additional aid from Congress. They will know and understand the details in these legislative packages, and how those changes might impact you and your situation.
Presidential elections don’t typically have a substantial impact on financial markets. The White House and Congress each have a role to play in shaping economic policy, with the Judiciary settling disputes between the branches. Post-election trading volatility is normal immediately following an election. But it doesn’t last—equity markets return to looking at the fundamentals that really matter.
So, focusing on what you can control is the best advice to navigate through uncertain times.
BY Mickey Orta