Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Defensive Financial Planning

One aspect of financial planning that receives little attention is avoiding an unexpected depletion of your assets. It involves dull, boring stuff like insurance and taking care of yourself. Far more exciting are graphs showing the exponential growth of compounded savings and glossy magazines featuring lifestyles of those retirees who planned well. But in financial planning, a good defense can preserve the wealth you took so much effort to build. Consider the following.

INSURANCE. Okay, few things in life are as nauseating as insurance. Most of us would rather see the dentist than review our insurance coverage. But insurance protects our finances when bad things happen.

Health insurance
provides the means to get medical care. Health problems, not credit card craziness, are the number one reason why people end up in bankruptcy. Insurance doesn't necessarily prevent bankruptcy, but it makes it much less likely. A good health insurance policy also opens doors at the emergency room, and ensures that you get good care. Your recovery may be faster and you suffer less stress over availability and quality of care.

Disability insurance
provides income when you can't work. More often than you might think, people suffer from disabilities. Social Security disability isn't easy to qualify for, and the process takes a long time. Private disability coverage is often easier to qualify for and more generous.

Life insurance protects your family if you're no longer around to provide for them. Not everyone lives to 75, 80 or older. Life insurance feels like the biggest waste of money imaginable, unless your family needs it. Term life is usually the best choice. Permanent, whole, or universal life typically involve high commissions and other costs. Most people are better off buying term coverage and saving for retirement in other financial vehicles.

Auto insurance is required by law, but the amount of coverage you have to buy is often pretty low. Boosting your liability coverage will make sense as soon as you have any sort of respectable net worth. Without good liability coverage, a single accident can wipe out a lifetime of saving.

Homeowners/renters insurance provides liability coverage, and in the case of homeowners coverage, the funds to rebuild if your house burns down. Get a flood rider if there's any significant chance of flooding (and not just from a river, but also from sewer backups and the drainage ditch in the back yard). Buy earthquake coverage if you're in a high risk zone.

Umbrella policy. An umbrella policy provides liability coverage above and beyond your auto and homeowners policies. You can buy protection up to $10 million and perhaps even more. Umbrella coverage becomes a good idea once your net worth reaches a level you wouldn't be embarrassed for others to know about. Remember, a single car accident can wipe out a net worth of $500,000, $1 million or more, even if you have $300,000 of liability coverage from your auto policy. The umbrella policy puts a lot more protection over your head, and is worth thinking about if you start to get attached to your six or seven figure net worth.

Business liability coverage may make sense for those who are self-employed and work in circumstances where a customer or other person might be injured. For example, if you operate a catering business out of your kitchen, buy some insurance that covers the possibility of customers getting food-borne illness from your products. Accidents happen.

MAINTAIN YOUR HEALTH. As mentioned above, the single most common reason for personal bankruptcy is a health problem. Health insurance doesn't cover all expenses, and significant health problems can prevent you from working. Even if your uninsured health care expenses are modest, you still confront the mortgage, grocery bills, gas expenses, etc. So exercise, eat a balanced diet and avoid/quit smoking. Keeping your health as good as possible can make a real difference in your financial well-being.

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