Financial Resolutions Worth Keeping in 2010


In the days ahead, you're sure to hear a lot of talk about financial resolutions to make for 2010.

Most of the time it will be good advice, but it's just that – advice. It's folks like me, financial planners and writers, telling you what's good for you. This year, I'm going to take a different approach by sharing with you some of my financial resolutions for the New Year.

The truth is that even those of us who dispense financial advice for a living could do a better job of managing our money. Sometimes, in fact, I feel like I spend so much time helping others that I let things slide on my end.

That's why I've made a few financial resolutions of my own for 2010. I suspect most readers will find that at least one of these goals could apply to them as well.

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Hoping to end 2010 in better shape than I began, here are my top five New Year's financial resolutions:

1. Get back on budget: For years, I kept a family budget of one kind or another. It started as a hand-written summary of monthly income and expenses. Later on, I used the budgeting function in Quicken, the personal finance computer program. However, I found that to be overkill with so much detail provided that it overwhelmed.

Most recently, I used a simple spreadsheet that tracked gross monthly income in comparison to fixed and variable monthly expenses with one column dedicated to the current scenario and a second one to a projected (or maybe wishful) scenario. This proved to be the most effective approach, and I need to get back to it.

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2. Get taxes done early: Once upon a time, I prepared my federal and state tax returns each February with the aim of receiving refunds in March. At that time, I worked for a large company, had taxes withheld from my paycheck, filed a fairly simple tax return and could count on receiving a refund.

Now, I'm self employed, and that means considerable more complexity. There are business deductions to track, variable income to juggle and estimated tax payments to make. As a result, there's a strong incentive to procrastinate. Over the past few years, I could be found rushing to finish my tax returns in the days leading up to April 15.

This year, I pledge to get started early even though I don't anticipate a large refund and could even end up owing a small amount. But I feel I will benefit by the organization and focus on finances that can result if you're not rushed at the end of the tax season.

There's just one big unanswered question: Will I continue to prepare my own tax returns or hire a professional, given the growing complexity of my tax situation as my business grows? At heart, I'm a do-it-yourselfer, but it's getting time to reconsider that approach.

3. Look at a Roth IRA conversion: As I've written before (and will write again), 2010 will usher in major changes for the Roth IRA, a retirement savings vehicle that allows for tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

Beginning Friday, individuals and couples earning more than $100,000 a year will join lower income Americans in being able to convert from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. A tax law signed by former President Bush in 2006 eliminated that cap effective Jan. 1, 2010. Also, there is a special one-year provision that allows anyone converting to a Roth next year to defer the resulting taxes owed until 2011 and 2012. That means convert now; pay taxes later.

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