A Washingon couple earning over $60,000 annually accepted planner Barry Schuttler's offer for a brief review of their financial situation for this story. Their goal was building assets for a comfortable retirement.

His advice to get them started toward that goal:

Cash in a small 10-year-old whole-life insurance policy and invest the money in something earning a substantially highter rate of interest. (Both are adequately insured at work.)

Refinance a rental property they own. Of the $29,000 realized, 20,000 could be invested either in two $50,000-rental properties or -- to diversify -- half put into a rental property and half in an oil and gas tax shelter. The remaining $9,000 (enough to make first-year payments on any new real estate) should be held back in a money market fund for liquidity in case of emergency.

While their property continues to appreciate, he said, they could use the equity to build other investmens while reducing their tax obligations.

Reconsider the mutual fund in which they were investing. Other funds, he said, have had a much better performance rate.

Increase readily available savings to at least $5,000 "for safety."

Use credit cards only for items that can be paid off in a month. For larger purchases, borrow from a bank, savings and loan association or credit union at cheaper rates.