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Staying on Course

Let a Website Be Your Guide for Basic Financial Planning

With the banking crisis finally showing signs of loosening its grip, now could be a good time to calculate how far off course the economic storm might have blown your financial plan. As discomfiting as the numbers might be, you need to figure out where you are to get where you want to go.

A free financial planning site provides a relatively painless way to identify your new spot on the map. At the aptly named SimpliFi, you can easily compute your net worth and learn what moves could help you reach your goals.
The site is operated by SimpliFi, an investment advising and financial planning firm in Winston-Salem, N.C., that began selling its services to credit unions in 2004 and is now expanding into the broader consumer market.
After you register, complete a brief interview that identifies what you own, what you owe, how much income you make and when you hope to retire. After you’ve finished, click on Where Am I Today? to learn your net worth. You’ll also receive a grade signifying the probability of achieving your financial objectives.
If you click My Tools at the top of the page, then on Your Retirement At-a-Glance, then on Detailed View, SimpliFi tells the return you’ll need to reach your goals. The return is based on your projected retirement age and assets invested. The site then displays an asset allocation ratio — the way your money should be divided among stocks, bonds and cash to get you to those goals. Click the My Reports tab to see suggested plan improvements.
SimpliFi shouldn’t be seen as the final word on a financial plan. The program lacks the detail and sophistication a financial planner could provide, and thus won’t be too helpful for those with complex planning issues.
But for many investors, it could be a good start on an important task.  Because some would rather undergo a root canal than untangle their finances, SimpliFi’s simplicity could make it a good tool to get going.
Even if the truth hurts.

Thomas D. Saler is a free-lance financial journalist based in Madison, Wis.

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