By Jill Schlesinger
Tribune Content Agency
The much-anticipated beginning of spring comes amid the heart of tax season, which makes now a great time to conduct spring cleaning for your money.
Taxes: If you received a tax refund of more than $1,000, your first task is to adjust your withholding. Remember, a refund is the return of a yearlong, interest-free loan that you extended to Uncle Sam, so let’s not do that again! If you need help determining the proper withholding amount, the IRS has a nifty calculator.
Once you adjust, you will have more money in each paycheck. It is critical that you capture this extra amount and save it. The easiest way to do so is to boost your retirement contributions into your employer-sponsored plan or to establish an automatic monthly draft from your checking or savings into a traditional or Roth IRA.
Investments: Something else you may have discovered in the process of preparing your returns is the tax inefficiency of many mutual funds. If you own funds in taxable accounts, you are whacked with two types of taxable distributions: ordinary dividends and capital gains distributions. To minimize the effect of the latter, you may want to examine your fund’s turnover ratio, which measures how much the fund manager buys and sells assets in the portfolio. A 100 percent turnover means the portfolio is changed completely in one year. The higher the turnover, the more taxes you will pay. Another way to minimize taxes - and actually pay lower fees - is to stick to low cost index funds.
As we approach the end of the quarter, don’t forget to rebalance your accounts so that your allocation remains in check. This requires that you override your emotional urge to keep winners and dump losers. But that’s the point of asset allocation - the various funds are supposed to move in different directions at different points in the economic cycle. If your retirement plan allows, elect auto-rebalancing so you don’t have to worry about doing it manually. Otherwise, put a reminder in your calendar for June 30, September 30 and December 30.
Identity Theft Protection: Change passwords; install firewalls and virus-detection software; shred unwanted financial documents; store personal information in a safe place; and review your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
Real Estate: The spring real estate season is a good reminder that you need to take care of one of your most valuable assets: your home. Make sure that your property/casualty insurance is up to date and then start making the list of maintenance items that you need to address, especially those that may have occurred as a result of winter conditions.
If you are ready to tackle some larger projects, prioritize them by choosing those that add the most value to your home. According to Remodeling magazine’s 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, “replacement jobs - such as door, window and siding projects - generated a higher return than remodeling projects.” The good news is that simple and lower-cost projects can provide you with a big bang for your buck.
Finally, with conventional mortgage rates at relatively low levels, new lower pricing on FHA loans and home prices continuing to advance, it may be a good time to determine whether or not a refinance of your existing mortgage makes sense.
According to Mike Raimi of Luxury Mortgage Corp, if you are looking for a 30-year conventional mortgage with 20 percent down, the best rates are available for those with credit scores above 740. For every 20-point drop in score, the mortgage rate jumps by a quarter of a percent. If your credit score is below 620, it’s tough to get a loan closed. (Credit scores do not have nearly as much impact on loans of 15 years and shorter.)
Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is the Emmy-nominated CBS News Business Analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, Jill covers the economy, markets, investing and anything else with a dollar sign on TV, radio (including her nationally syndicated radio show), the web and her blog, "Jill on Money." She welcomes comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check her website at www.jillonmoney.com.
This column was printed in the April 5, 2015 - April 18, 2015 edition.