Certified Financial Planner John Wade offers up advice on planning for your fiscal future

O&AN: What is the number one piece of advice you would have for readers in the year 2007?
JW: Pay yourself first! Build your own personal wealth and protect your future by paying yourself before anyone else, even "Uncle Sam."

O&AN: How is that done? Doesn't Uncle Sam get his before I get my paycheck?
JW: "He" gets his based on ever dollar you do not defer to a retirement account. Money contributed to a 401(k) or similar plan is not included in your current income and therefore, is not taxed currently; it is taxed when it is withdrawn in retirement years.

O&AN: What would you tell someone who has never contributed to their company 401(k) plan?
JW: Start now, plain and simple. This is especially important if your company matches your contributions. To not do so is like leaving free money on the table and who would actually walk away from free money?

O&AN: How much should employees contribute?
JW: This really depends on personal circumstances but the more the better, even the maximum when possible. At the very minimum, employees should contribute the amount their employer will match. Again, to not do this is like throwing away free money!

 O&AN: How can someone save if their company does not have a 401(k) or they are not eligible to contribute?
JW: In this case, I would recommend establishing an IRA (individual retirement account) with a local adviser. In fact, most banks offer IRAs for their customers who need them. Set up an automatic investment plan with your IRA so that funds are transferred automatically each month from your checking account to your IRA.

O&AN: Speaking of retirement, is there anything a new retiree or someone about to retire should know?
JW: There are so many things that it is a topic that could be an article unto itself. I guess the main thing for someone already retired is to make sure your adviser fully understands your objectives and reviews your plan with you on a regular basis, at least two to four times a year.
For someone considering retiring, whether this year or in ten years, work with an adviser to complete a comprehensive plan, taking into consideration all of your assets, your risk tolerance and your overall objectives. Again, a good relationship with an adviser can be invaluable. Make sure you are meeting with him/her 2-4 times a year.

O&AN: Are there any other "basic" things you think our readers should focus on in 2007?
JW: Two basic things come to mind. First, protect yourself and your partner if you have one by completing proper legal documents for each other. A number of good attorneys who advertise in this paper can help you with that. You owe it to yourself and each other to make this a priority.
Second, if you have debt, start eliminating it now. Debt is the worst enemy of a secure financial future. Tackle your debt head-on and get rid of it. Sure, it may take a while but you simply have to do it. Payments on debt are payments you are not making to yourself to build your own wealth.

O&AN: Any closing thoughts?
JW: If you are doing nothing to build a better financial future for yourself, do something today to get you started. One of the main keys is to take that first step. Then, never stop. 

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