By Chelsea Wunnicke, Edvest 529 College Savings Plan
After a long Wisconsin winter, it sure feels great to open the windows and let in a fresh spring breeze. As I feel this change in the air, I’m ready to sweep out the house, wash a few windows, and get organized before the busy warm-weather season really arrives. Time to tackle the mountain of winter gear accumulated by the front door!
When you hear the phrase “spring cleaning,” you probably think of deep cleaning your home, putting winter clothes away, and maybe even donating things you don’t need. But when it comes to spring cleaning, you can also consider tidying up personal and family finances.
With the holiday season over and Tax Day just around the corner, now is the perfect time to see your financial situation. Not only will it help you organize, but it may alleviate stress regarding your overall finances.
Here are four ways you can start spring cleaning your finances:
1. Review and Assess Your Financial Goals
Maybe you had a financial goal that started as a New Year’s resolution, or maybe there’s a goal you’ve been working on for multiple years. Now is a great time to ask yourself, “Is this financial goal still something that is important to me and my family?” If yes, take a look at your progress toward your goal. If not, because things do change over time, give yourself the freedom to set a new financial goal that fits your family’s current situation.
If your financial goals have been a little cloudy, or more of an idea than a specific goal, this is the perfect opportunity to get more detailed. Adding clear intention around your goals, like “how much” and “by when” can help turn an idea into action. Keep in mind, there is no such thing as a right or wrong financial goal – every family has their own unique situation, vision, and priorities.
2. Find an Accountability Buddy
Just like cleaning the house or tackling a DIY project, which are more manageable with support, an “accountability buddy” shares your journey toward success when it comes to financial goals. They can be a friend or family member who is working on their own financial goals, and the two of you agree to check in regularly about your progress.
One of my current financial goals is to set aside money for my two children’s education using my state’s 529 college savings plan, Edvest 529. I know that saving for college now with a 529 plan will take the stress out of paying for college later. To stay accountable to this goal, our family got specific about how much we wanted to save, and set distinct savings timelines based on when each child will start their higher education journey. You know the kids will keep us accountable!
I chose to save with a 529 plan because of its many tax benefits and flexibility. Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to claim a state income tax deduction or tax credit when you contribute to a qualified 529 account. Funds from your account can be used at any accredited public or private college or university, technical school or community college, or professional school nationwide, and even some schools abroad. On top of that, account earnings grow tax-free, and withdrawals are free from state and federal taxes as long as they are used to pay for qualified education expenses like tuition, books, certain room and board fees, computers, and more. All these benefits mean my family can reach our higher education savings goal faster.
3. Systemize Anything you Can!
When it comes to keeping just about anything organized, systems and habits win out over good intentions every time. Example: my kids used to strew backpacks, shoes, and coats all over the floor when they came home from school and childcare. No matter how many times I reminded them, or eventually just put items away myself, it was their habit. Then we put up hooks that they could reach, creating a new system and habit, thankfully getting me out of the daily reminding business. Finances are the same way. Anything I can do to automate my good intentions, so that I don’t have to remind myself, and potentially lose progress by forgetting, is a win.
I chose to systematize my college savings by setting up an automatic deposit from my checking account to my 529 plan each month. This allows my savings goal to come first, and I work the rest of my family budget around it.
4. Name Beneficiaries and Successors to Your Accounts
An important but often overlooked financial best practice is to name beneficiaries and successors on your accounts, whether it’s a 529 plan, retirement account, life insurance plan, or other. Putting this in place helps your accounts stay out of state courts in the event you are no longer able to manage your accounts or make financial decisions. You’ll likely need to gather information such as names, social security numbers, and contact information for whoever you wish to list as a successor.
Don’t Wait for April Showers
As spring gets into motion, I hope you are able to find some ways to reduce stress and gain confidence in your financial goals as you spring clean your family’s finances. Whether your goal is saving for college, or something different, having a specific goal, a buddy, and a system can help you get there. After all, the kids’ clutter comes and goes, but an organized financial plan can set your family up for a future of success! If you want additional help or information, please continue exploring CSPN’s blog.
About the author:
Chelsea Wunnicke serves as a Wisconsin College Savings Program Finance Officer with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. With a background in delivering Financial Capabilities Outreach and Education with the University of Wisconsin, Chelsea has expertise in helping families and communities envision financial inclusion, and find strategies to improve their futures. Chelsea lives with her family in rural Richland County, Wisconsin, and has a special interest in helping more Wisconsin communities and youth benefit from early saving for higher education.
To learn more about Wisconsin’s Edvest 529 College Savings Plan, its investment objectives, tax benefits, risks, and costs, please see the Plan Description at Edvest.com. Read it carefully. In 2023, Wisconsin taxpayers can qualify for a state tax deduction up to $3,860 for each contributor per beneficiary per year from contributions made into an Edvest College Savings Plan. Investments in the Plan are neither insured nor guaranteed and there is the risk of investment loss. Consult your legal or tax professional for tax advice. If the funds aren’t used for qualified education higher expenses, a federal 10% penalty tax on earnings (as well as federal and state income taxes) may apply. Check with your home state to learn if it offers tax or other benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds, or protection from creditors for investing in its own 529 plan. TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, LLC, Member FINRA, distributor and underwriter for Wisconsin’s Edvest 529 College Savings Plan.