14 Jan

Have you done your Financial Check-up?

General

Posted by: Rita Wagner

Thanks to my DLC colleague Kristin Woolard, DLC National for this article.

Welcome to your free financial check-up, discussing 5 key factors to assist you in ensuring you are on the right track to a solid financial future.

Credit

Ensuring you are using credit wisely will pave the way to making sure you have options available to you if or when you need them. One thing we can all do is check our credit report on a regular basis – at least once each year – so you know where you stand and whether your credit score has been compromised in any way, especially through fraud. You can contact Equifax at 1-800-465-7166 or go to the website at www.equifax.ca for more information.

There are many people who believe that it is more responsible to not use credit at all but, in fact, if you don’t have any credit accounts reporting to the credit bureau, financial institutions have no way of knowing how responsible you are with credit and you will likely be turned down if you need a loan or credit card in the future.

Making payments on time is critical to maintaining a good credit score but also keeping your account balances below 75% of the maximum limit is another way of boosting your credit score. If you have multiple accounts, spreading the balances evenly among them using balance transfer methods can help to bring some accounts in line.

It’s wise to pay off your higher interest credit accounts first but that decision needs to be balanced with whether to pay down the higher-payment accounts.

Savings

The old adage, “10% of the money you earn should be tucked away into savings” is a good one. Although it may be difficult to be disciplined enough, if you “pay yourself” every month, the savings will start to build and you may find you don’t need to rely on credit to handle those unexpected expenses.

I personally have a monthly allotment that I transfer to my savings account the same day each month. I have a reminder in my phone to physically do the transfer and it is built into my budget as if it were another utility payment I have to make.

Taking advantage of a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) is a great way to earn higher interest on your savings as opposed to the low rate you are paid for a standard bank savings account. If your TFSA is managed by a Financial Planner you can see very good returns on your investments. Any money earned within your TFSA is tax-free and can be withdrawn at any time.

Retirement

Part of the savings picture is, of course, planning for retirement. If you can, work an RRSP contribution into your budget as soon as possible so you will be much further ahead when you want to put your feet up and enjoy.

I follow my Financial Planner’s recommendations when it comes to how much I contribute each year. As I am self-employed, the amount I contribute each year varies but I always make a contribution.

Contributing to an RRSP also gives you a tax break at the end of the year and you can use your tax return money to put towards paying down your mortgage or put it towards a vacation. Both of those are win-win scenarios.

Mortgage

Being the largest loan most Canadians will ever have, your mortgage deserves attention and regular check-ups. Choosing the right mortgage structure for you and taking advantage of today’s historically low rates, can put you on track to huge savings.

Take a look at your debt-structure. If you are making high monthly payments on high-interest loans and/or credit cards, you could easily restructure your circumstances by refinancing your credit accounts into your home. In most cases, this reduces the amount of interest you are paying overall and lowers your monthly payments. At the same time, if you take advantage of an accelerated payment structure (bi-weekly or weekly) and bump up your minimum required payment by the 15-25% that your institution allows, you can pay down your principal and be mortgage free much sooner!

In today’s mortgage climate, if you currently have a mortgage rate anywhere over 4% you should do yourself a favour and have me do a Free Mortgage Analysis for you so you can see apples to apples whether there are any financial advantages to breaking your existing mortgage for a better rate. When you can see the costs vs. benefits in black and white, the answer as to whether to refinance will be crystal clear.

Insurance

Making sure you have adequate insurance is essential in protecting yourself and your family in the event of a crisis or emergency. Whether it be home, health, life or disability insurance, it is always a good idea to review all of your insurance coverage at least once a year to make sure you are fully covered.

Mortgage insurance is a great idea but most clients benefit more from having independent mortgage insurance coverage as opposed to taking the insurance coverage offered by the institution that has your mortgage. The average Canadian makes a change to a mortgage every 38-42 months, you may have to re-apply for the same coverage at an older age and higher premiums. If your mortgage insurance is through a company that is independent of the bank, you would have the ability to keep the coverage and premium you initially had even if moving your mortgage to another institution at a better rate works better for you.

Another way to go is Term Life Insurance. Securing a policy that will cover all costs and pay out all obligations should anything happen to you will give your family peace of mind in the worst circumstance.

Critical Illness Insurance offers protection should you become affected by one of the approved conditions and is often paid in a lump sum amount once you have survived the specified waiting period. It gives you the assurance that the costs of a serious medical condition, as well as living expenses, will be covered.

Wrap Up

I recommend talking to your Dominion Lending Centres mortgage professional to make sure you make the best decision on all insurance needs.

I hope you have found some value in the information provided. As always, I recommend seeking out the experts and gaining knowledge before making any important decisions that will affect your future.