What Is a Financial Checkup?

By Rebecca Lake · January 25, 2023 · 10 minute read

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What Is a Financial Checkup?

Scheduling annual visits with your doctor is important for maintaining good physical health. Likewise, planning a financial checkup can be a great opportunity to assess your money health.

Financial wellness means ensuring that you have enough money to meet your obligations today while also being able to fund your goals for tomorrow. Regular financial checkups can help you see how well you’re doing. What’s more, they give you the opportunity to pinpoint where you might be able to improve your money management strategy as well, helping you to achieve wellness.

If you’ve never done a personal financial checkup before, fear not. Getting started is easier than you might think. Read on to learn:

•   What is a financial checkup?

•   Why are financial checkups important? How will I benefit?

•   What are the key steps in a financial checkup?

What Is a Financial Checkup?

A financial checkup is a thorough review of your personal finances. It’s similar to getting a health checkup from a doctor, only instead of checking your blood pressure and other vitals, you’re measuring your financial stats. For example, some of the things you might review as part of a financial check include your:

•   Monthly budget and expenses

•   Debt situation and repayment strategy

•   Credit reports and scores

•   Retirement savings

•   Emergency savings

•   College planning, if you have kids

•   Insurance needs and coverage

Those are all things that can go along with setting up a financial plan. What is a financial plan? It’s a strategy for managing your money in order to reach your personal money goals. You can complete a financial checkup and financial plan yourself or do so with the help of a professional financial advisor.

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Why Are Financial Checkups Important?

A financial health checkup can help you to establish where you are with your money situation, where you’d like to be financially, and what steps you need to take in order to get there. Completing regular personal financial checkups can guide you to improve your financial health as you work toward your goals.

For instance, money checkups could help you to:

•   Get clarity around budgeting and expenses

•   Eliminate bad spending habits

•   Define your short- and long-term financial goals

•   Instill a sense of financial discipline as you work toward those goals

•   Develop a habit of saving consistently

•   Create an actionable plan for paying off debt

•   Form a workable strategy for retirement savings

•   Fine-tune your investment goals

Taking those kinds of actions can get you on the path to living your personal definition of financial freedom. That might mean retiring early, for instance, or finding ways to create passive income so you can live a lifestyle that isn’t job-dependent.

Skipping out on regular financial checkups can make it more difficult to do those kinds of things and put your financial security in danger. The simple reason: You’re oblivious to how you’re doing with your money.

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Key Steps to Take for a Financial Checkup

Money checkups can help you move ahead with achieving financial security, but what do you actually include in one? How often do you need to perform a financial checkup? And do you need to get help from a professional financial advisor? Here’s a closer look.

•   Frequency: In terms of frequency, it may be a good idea to consider a personal financial check at least once a year. For example, you might schedule it for the beginning of January. That way, you can review the previous year and set goals for the upcoming year. Quarterly checkups may be a better option if you’d like to get smaller snapshots of your finances throughout the year.

•   Hiring a financial advisor: Whether you hire an advisor for a financial checkup is entirely up to you. An advisor can offer an extra set of eyes to review your finances but it’s important to know what you’ll pay for that help. The average financial advisor cost is around 1% of the assets they manage annually. However, some financial institutions provide access to professional advisors for free. It’s worth doing a bit of research to see what might be available.

Ready to start your financial health checkup? Here’s a simple checklist you can follow.

Take Your Financial Vital Signs

Getting some numbers down on paper can be a good way to start your financial checkup. Looking at certain metrics for the last 12 months can give you some perspective on where you are financially. Here are some of the most important measurements to take:

•   Your monthly income and expenses

•   How much you have saved for emergencies

•   What you’re carrying in total debt

•   Debt-to-income ratio (i.e., how much of your income goes to debt repayment)

•   Your credit scores

•   How much you’ve invested for retirement

•   What percentage of your income you’re saving monthly

Along with looking at specific numbers, it can also be helpful to ask some basic questions to gauge your financial health. For example, you might ask yourself:

•   How many months did I stick to my budget vs. going over budget?

•   Have I bounced any checks or overdrafted my bank account this year?

•   Was I late paying any bills in the past 12 months?

•   Did I reach any savings goals or fall short of any goals?

•   Did my overall debt load increase or decrease?

•   How well did my investments perform?

The purpose of looking at numbers first and asking these kinds of questions is to establish your financial baseline. You can then move on to the next steps to take a deeper dive into your money situation.

Review Your Budget

Making a budget is usually at the top of the list of personal finance basics for beginners. A budget is a plan for spending the income that you have each month. The basic elements of a budget include:

•   Fixed expenses, such as housing

•   Variable expenses, which need to be paid monthly but their amounts may change (such as food costs)

•   Discretionary expenses or the “wants” in your budget

•   Income

•   Debt repayment

•   Savings

You might also include taxes as its own budget category if you’re self-employed. In this situation, you will need to set aside money regularly to pay estimated tax bills.

If you’re doing a financial checkup for the last 12 months, it can be helpful to look at what’s changed in your variable and discretionary expenses. For example, are you paying more for utilities than you were 12 months ago? Has your grocery bill increased? (Given the current rate of inflation, it may well have.) Is a bigger chunk of your budget going to “fun” things like hobbies, entertainment, or recreation?

Analyzing individual budget categories can help you pinpoint money leaks or areas where you might be able to cut back on spending. It’s also a good opportunity to review what you’re paying for cell phone service, internet, or car insurance to see if it’s worth switching to a cheaper provider.

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Check Your Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is money that you save for unplanned or unexpected expenses. Emergency savings is meant to be separate from money you save for sinking funds or for various short- and long-term financial goals.

If you have an emergency fund, check the balance to see how much cash you have on hand for rainy days. How much should you have in an emergency fund? An often-cited rule of thumb dictates saving three to six months’ worth of expenses for emergencies. If your savings balance is below that amount, you might go back to your budget to see where you might be able to find extra money to set aside.

Also, consider where you’re keeping your emergency fund. Ideally, that money should be somewhere that’s easily accessible in case a true emergency comes along. But you might also be interested in earning a great interest rate in the meantime. If you’re keeping your emergency fund in a traditional savings account at a regular bank, you might consider upgrading to a high-yield savings account instead in order to cash in on a higher rate.

Factor in Life Changes

Life changes can affect your financial plans in different ways. Losing a job, for instance, can shrink your income. Getting married might increase your household income if you’re both working. Having a child, changing jobs, moving, buying a home, and starting a business are other situations that can impact your financial outlook.
If you’ve been through any of these life changes in the past year, consider what that might mean for things like budgeting, saving, and expenses. It’s also important to review your tax situation.

Getting married, for instance, means a change to your tax filing status. Having a child can open the door for added tax breaks. And starting a new business can bring additional tax obligations, such as estimated quarterly tax payments. Those are all things that could increase your tax bill year to year. It’s therefore important to consider where they fit in during your financial checkup.

Recommended: Getting Back on Track After Going over Budget

Review Your Investment and Retirement Goals

Investing can be key to building wealth over the long-term. You can invest inside of a tax-advantaged plan, such as a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account (IRA), or through a taxable brokerage account. As part of your financial health check, it’s helpful to know:

•   Where your money is invested (i.e., taxable vs. tax-advantaged accounts)

•   How your portfolio is diversified across different asset classes

•   How those assets have performed over the last year

•   What you’re paying in investment fees

•   How your risk tolerance or tax situation has changed over the past year

•   Whether you’re on track with retirement saving.

Reviewing those things can give you an idea of whether you’re on the right track with your investments. For example, if you’re 30 years old and want to retire at 50 with $1 million, but you only have $10,000 invested, that’s a clear sign that you’ve got a lot of work left to do.

Using online investment calculators and retirement calculators can help you to figure out how closely you’re keeping up with your goals. And if you don’t have an investment account yet, you may want to consider setting up an IRA online and a taxable brokerage account so you can start growing wealth.

The Takeaway

A financial checkup is a smart way to keep tabs on your money and your financial health. It will give you the opportunity to make course corrections and can aid you with overcoming personal financial challenges. If you’re struggling with credit card debt, for example, then a periodic financial checkup can help you to figure out a strategy for paying down your balances while streamlining your expenses so you’re less reliant on plastic. It can also help with positive situations, such as where to allocate a recent raise.

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How often should you do a financial checkup?

Completing a financial checkup at least once a year can be a good way to see whether you’re on track with your goals and where you might be able to improve. If you’d like to check in with your money more often, you might schedule quarterly financial checkups instead.

How do you do a financial health checkup?

A financial health checkup starts with gathering information about your income, expenses, debt, and savings. From there, you can review your financial progress and goals to determine what steps to take next with your money.

What does financial wellness include?

Financial wellness means being able to manage your current money obligations with ease while also being able to look ahead to the future. Someone who has achieved financial wellness generally has stable income, a firm grip on their expenses, a dedicated savings habit, and little to no “bad” debt. Another component is looking forward and tracking well for future financial goals, like retirement.

Photo credit: iStock/Bilgehan Tuzcu

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