12 steps to determine how you stand financially

Before you can begin to achieve your financial goals, the brokerage firm of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith recommends that you know exactly where you stand at the present time. At its free women's seminars it provides a list of the following 12 steps to help you toward financial organization:

* Assess your net worth, which is simply the difference between your assets, or what you own, and what you owe.

* Determine your actual cash flow, by tracking your monthly flow of cash to give yourself a good idea of how well you are balancing your income and expenses.

* Create a realistic budget that enables you to exercise some control over expenditures for regular expenses, and thus reverse overspending in order to free up money for savings, investments, and cash cushions for emergencies.

* Keep efficient records, and make sure your spouse or some other member of your family is acquainted with your files.

* Establish spending priorities and outline investment objectives.

* Plan for major expenses, such as a house, your children's education, or starting your own business.

* Review your present investments to see if you are getting the best return based on your investment goals and tax situation.

* Examine your insurance protection to see if there are any coverage gaps.

* Ask the personnel manager or benefits office of the company for whom you work to explain your corporate benefits in detail, so you can use them fully, or supplement them where needed.

* Periodically, check the balance in your social-security account.

* Make a will, or if you have one, review it periodically to make sure it clearly states your present wishes.

* Begin to plan now for your retirement, by determining where and when you will retire, how much money you will need to live comfortably, and what savings and investment planning you will need to do in order to supplement pensions or other income. Any good brokerage office can help explain tax-deferred annuities , and how to invest in com mon stock, municipal bonds. Treasury bills, notes and bonds, money market funds, Individual Retirement Accounts, Keogh plans, and other investing options.

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