Anything we expect to last a long time has to be maintained – our vehicles, our homes, our health, and yes – even our IRAs. Each year around tax time, give your IRA an annual check up to make sure you're benefiting from the account.
Check Your Contributions
When you set up an IRA, there is no employer to take your retirement contribution out of your paycheck for you in the same way people contribute to a 401(k) plan. It's an “individual” retirement account, meaning it's up to you to remember to contribute! At tax time, check to see if you made your contribution into your IRA. You have until the April tax-filing deadline to make your annual IRA contributions, so even if you've forgotten you have a few months to make up for it and take the deduction on the current year's tax return, too.
Are Your Beneficiaries Correct?
Hopefully you will get to spend all of the money you're working so hard to save during your retirement. If you should not outlive the money in your IRA however, you want to make sure the appropriate people are named as beneficiaries of that money. Did you know an IRA is not covered in a will? You need to designate beneficiaries with the financial institution you opened your Individual Retirement Account with. Every year, it's a good idea to take a quick look at who you have named as your beneficiaries, because it does change from time to time. What happens if you get divorced? You probably don't want to keep your ex as your beneficiary. What happens if you have additional children? You will probably want to add them as beneficiaries. Most of the time you won't need to change who you have listed as your beneficiaries for your IRA; but keep an eye on it during your “annual checkup” to make sure it isn't time to make a change.
Consider Your IRA Investments
While many people set up their IRA investment and then “forget about it”; it's never a good idea to let your investments manage themselves. Each year, you should take a look at what you are investing in to determine whether or not you want to make changes in how your money is being invested. Sometimes you may want to modify your risk level by balancing your investments and reducing risk. Sometimes you may decide to change the type of investments completely based on changes in the economy and how well (or poorly) certain industries are performing.
Are You Managing Multiple Retirement Accounts?
It used to be people would get out of school, find a job, and stick with it until they retire. Now it's far more common for people to move from job to job every few years, and equally common for people to have more than one retirement account going. Each time you change jobs, you might sign up for the employer-sponsored retirement accounts or 401(k) plans. Some people keep multiple accounts for good reasons, but for the majority of people it's far easier to manage your retirement fund if you roll it all over into a single IRA. There are fees charged to many 401(k) or employer-sponsored retirement plans, and moving all your money into a single IRA can save you quite a bit of money.
If you take these aspects into consideration every year, you'll always know your IRA is working to your benefit. As with anything you want to last you a long time, your retirement account(s) need regular maintenance to ensure they're up to par.