NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- OK, 2014 is here: Another financial year begins. What needs to be done?
Here are a few reminders, most pretty simple ways to make finances more efficient and profitable.
First, keep a close eye on the mail, as year-end statements from banks, brokers and mutual fund companies will start flowing soon. You'll need them for your tax return, and they'll provide tidy summaries of information useful in such things as rebalancing an investment portfolio.
Rebalancing, or restoring the mix of stocks, bonds and cash to match your master plan, can take place at any time, but now is as good as any. Because the Standard & Poor's 500 rose about 30% last year, while bonds did poorly, many investors will now have more money in the stock portion of the portfolio than they intend.
But before restoring the intended balance, revisit the plan to make sure the asset mix still makes sense. Your brokerage or mutual fund company probably has an asset allocation tool on its website, such as this one from Vanguard .
Keep in mind that bonds, traditionally meant to be a relatively safe holding, are rather risky right now. Bond yields remain very low, and bond prices could fall dramatically if prevailing interest rates rise as they are expected to, since investors would not pay full price for older bonds with stingy yields. So investors should think about whether to trim their bond allocation for the time being.
Rebalancing typically requires selling some investments. Generally, those candidates should be chosen without regard to how they have performed in the past, so with every holding, ask, "Would I buy it today, at today's price?" If the answer is no, sell. If you're happy with your holdings, consider doing the rebalancing by buying and selling assets in tax-sheltered accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s so you won't be hit with taxes on assets sold at a profit.
Happily, inflation has been very low in recent years -- only about 1.2% in 2013 through November. If you can, raise your monthly savings goal by that percentage to keep pace. Be sure you put all you can into accounts such as 401(k)s that offer tax deductions on contributions. Put at least enough into your 401(k) to get the full employer's matching contribution, if there is one.
This is also a good time to look at your rainy-day fund and make plans to beef it up. It should contain enough cash to keep you going for six to 12 months. Bank savings and money market funds and accounts are fine for this. Certificates of deposit are paying so little that it's not worth tying your money up; a rainy-day fund should be accessible.
If you haven't done so before, considering getting into the 21st century with electronic bill paying and cash management through your bank or services such as Quicken. That will help you see where you can trim expenses, and alert services from financial institutions can warn you if cash is running low, credit card bills are due or you're getting close to your credit limit.
Of course, everyone should abide by a standard piece of advice at this time of year: Pay down those credit card debts from the holidays. Start with the ones charging the highest interest rates.