Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

--Get on top of debt. Carrying too much debt can undermine the best-laid financial plans. An industry rule of thumb is that no more than 28 percent of your pre-tax income should go toward home debt; no more than 36 percent should go toward all debt (home, car, credit cards, etc.). If possible, it's wise to stay well below those limits. To efficiently pay down nondeductible consumer debt, focus on the highest interest balances first. You might also think about refinancing your house as a way to save on your monthly expenses.

--Go automatic. Put as much on auto-pay as possible -- recurring payments as well as contributions to savings.

--Save for retirement. While you're at it, make sure that saving for retirement is also automatic, either through contributions to a company retirement plan or to an IRA. Increase your retirement savings if you can.

--Check your insurance. Review your insurance coverage. Health and auto insurance are both a must. If you have dependents, consider life insurance.

--Review your portfolio. Make sure your investments still reflect your goals and feelings about risk. If not, it's time to reallocate.

--Create an estate plan. If you don't have a will, make this a priority, especially if you have children for whom you must designate a guardian. Also, check that the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and insurance policies are up to date.

Make it a family commitment

This may seem like a lot to handle, but remember, you don't have to do it all at once -- or necessarily all by yourself. You could divide these tasks with your spouse or partner, and then review the information together to agree on a plan of action. If you have kids, get them involved, too, as appropriate for their ages. It could be a great lesson in money management, as well as a motivation to set their own savings goals.

Good financial habits have to be practiced. The earlier you start, the easier it gets. And working together makes it easiest of all. Here's to a financially fulfilling 2013!

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm), is president of Charles Schwab Foundation and author of "It Pays to Talk." You can e-mail Carrie at askcarrie@schwab.com. This column is no substitute for an individualized recommendation, tax, legal or personalized investment advice. To find out more about Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CHARLES SCHWAB & CO., INC. MEMBER SIPC

DIST BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.


Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz is a Motley Fool contributor.

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