Try these fast fixes for your fi­nances

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - BUSINESS - Liz We­ston

Some­times money is like tech­nol­ogy. Get­ting stuff done — whether it’s up­dat­ing an op­er­at­ing sys­tem or mov­ing a bank ac­count — of­ten takes longer than it should.

There are some money chores, though, that can be done a lot faster than you may think. The fol­low­ing fi­nan­cial tasks, which could save you a lot of cash and stress in the fu­ture, each can be dis­patched in 15 min­utes or less once you’ve de­cided on a plan and have your in­for­ma­tion at hand.

Ad­just your with­hold­ing

Tax re­form means dif­fer­ent brack­ets, the elim­i­na­tion of many de­duc­tions and the real pos­si­bil­ity you’re with­hold­ing too much or too lit­tle. Avoid un­pleas­ant sur­prises next year by check­ing your with­hold­ing now.

You’ll need last year’s tax re­turn plus your lat­est pay stubs. Plug the nec­es­sary num­bers into the IRS site’s with­hold­ing cal­cu­la­tor. The re­sults will in­clude in­struc­tions on ex­actly how to tweak your with­hold­ing, with a con­ve­nient link to a print­able W-4 form. You can drop that off at your hu­man re­sources depart­ment, or ask HR if there’s an on­line form.

Draft pow­ers of at­tor­ney

Most Amer­i­cans don’t have a will, which means they likely don’t have two doc­u­ments that are even more im­por­tant: pow­ers of at­tor­ney for health care and fi­nances.

If any­thing, these two es­tate plan­ning doc­u­ments — in which you name the peo­ple you want to make de­ci­sions for you should you be­come in­ca­pac­i­tated — are even more im­por­tant than a will. Wills are sup­posed to dic­tate what hap­pens af­ter you’re dead, but pow­ers of at­tor­ney af­fect what can hap­pen to you while you’re alive.

For the med­i­cal power of at­tor­ney (also called an ad­vance health care di­rec­tive in some states), name your fiercest ad­vo­cate: the per­son who is de­voted enough to carry out your wishes and stand up to doc­tors or rel­a­tives who dis­agree.

For the fi­nan­cial power of at­tor­ney, name the per­son in your life who is not only good with money but also ex­tremely eth­i­cal. Con­sider nam­ing back­ups to both po­si­tions, and col­lect every­one’s ad­dresses and phone num­bers be­fore you be­gin.

You may be able to get these doc­u­ments for free or low cost if your job of­fers pre­paid le­gal ser­vices. Oth­er­wise, you can buy Quicken Wil­lMaker soft­ware, which in­cludes the forms, for about $80, or use on­line sites such as Le­galZoom or Rocket Lawyer. Rocket Lawyer charges $40 per doc­u­ment, while Le­galZoom charge $35 for power of at­tor­ney for fi­nances and $39 for a health care power of at­tor­ney com­bined with a liv­ing will.

Start sav­ing for col­lege

Got kids? They’re go­ing to need some kind of post-sec­ondary train­ing to suc­ceed in the 21st cen­tury. Don’t worry right now about whether they’ll get a four-year de­gree. You prob­a­bly can’t save enough to pay the whole bill for that any­way. But what­ever you save can re­duce fu­ture stu­dent loan debt for what­ever ed­u­ca­tion they wind up get­ting.

A state-run 529 col­lege sav­ings plan is the best place for most fam­i­lies to save, and many states of­fer tax ben­e­fits (search for your state’s name and “529 tax break” to see what’s avail­able). You’re not re­stricted to your own state’s plan, though, so if you don’t qual­ify for a tax ben­e­fit in your own state, then con­sider one of the four plans Morningstar named as best in the coun­try:

Illi­nois’ Bright Start Di­rect-Sold Col­lege Sav­ings Pro­gram

Ne­vada’s The Vanguard 529 Col­lege Sav­ings Plan Utah’s my529 Vir­ginia’s In­vest529 plan

Go to the plan’s site to open an ac­count, then set up an au­to­matic trans­fer from your check­ing ac­count. You typ­i­cally can start with $25 per month or less, de­pend­ing on the plan. The sim­plest in­vest­ment choice is usu­ally an age-weighted op­tion, which gets more con­ser­va­tive as col­lege gets closer.

Roll over your re­tire­ment ac­count

Don’t risk los­ing track of your re­tire­ment money. If you cur­rently have a good 401(k) plan at work, call the plan’s toll-free num­ber to find out if it will ac­cept a rollover from your pre­vi­ous job’s ac­count. (What’s a good plan? One in­di­ca­tor is that it of­fers low-cost op­tions, such as tar­get date funds with an an­nual ex­pense ra­tio un­der 0.66 per­cent, which is the cur­rent in­dus­try av­er­age.) If the plan ac­cepts rollovers, ask for help in get­ting started — fill­ing out the forms takes just a few min­utes if you have the ac­count num­ber for your old plan.

An­other op­tion is to roll your old 401(k) into an IRA, where you’ll typ­i­cally have more in­vest­ment op­tions. Open an ac­count with an IRA cus­to­dian — Vanguard and Fidelity are two good, low­cost op­tions, or choose Bet­ter­ment or Wealth­front if you’re look­ing for a com­put­er­ized robo-ad­viser that will man­age the money for you. These sites’ on­line IRA rollover forms will guide you through the process.

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