Tag: IRA

The 5 Best Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Change has to start somewhere, and for many people that change is easier to make if the starting point has some meaning. It can be a birthday, an anniversary, or any other date with some symbolic weight. Most commonly, people choose the beginning of the new year.

If you’re looking for some New Year’s resolutions that will truly change your life, consider adjusting your financial strategy. Here are five things you can do in 2021 to take your money game to the next level.

Refinance Loans

Interest rates are at near-historic lows, which makes this the perfect time to refinance your debt. Refinancing means switching your loans from your current lender to a new lender in order to take advantage of a lower interest rate. Refinancing can save you thousands of dollars, depending on the original interest rate and total balance.

 For example, let’s say you have a $200,000 30-year mortgage with a 5% interest rate, and you refinance to a 3% interest rate. Your monthly payment will be $244 lower, and you’ll save $31,173 in total interest over the life of the loan. 

You can refinance auto loans, personal loans, and even student loans. However, if you have federal student loans, you may want to hold off on refinancing. Refinancing a federal student loan converts it into a private student loan. This means you’ll give up extra perks and benefits like income-driven repayment plans and deferment and forbearance options.

Transfer Credit Card Debt

If you have credit card debt, you can pay less interest by transferring the balance to a new card with 0% APR on balance transfers. These special discounts usually last between 12 to 18 months, during which time you won’t be charged interest on the credit card balance.

For instance, let’s say you have a $5,000 balance on a card with a 17% APR. If you only make the minimum payments, you’ll pay $1,223.61 in total interest. If you transfer that balance to a card with 0% APR for 12 months and repay the balance in that time, you won’t pay any interest.

There is often a small fee associated with balance transfers, around 3% of balance transfers. For example, if you transfer $5,000, you’ll pay a $150 fee. That still leaves a net savings of $1,073.61 in the scenario outlined above.

Decrease Your Fixed Expenses

One of the best things to do for your budget in 2021 is to decrease fixed expenses like your car insurance, internet, cable, and cell phone. Call those providers and try to negotiate a lower rate.

 Go through your transactions for the past few months and write down all the recurring subscriptions like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and DoorDash. Then, group them into categories like “frequently use,” “sporadically use” and “rarely use”. Consider canceling anything you rarely use.

 See if you can get a better deal on your most popular subscriptions. For example, if you and your significant other both pay for Spotify Premium, get a Spotify Duo account instead, and save yourself $83.88 a year.

Open a Better Bank Account

Most people are missing out on an easy way to earn money through your bank account. You could be leaving hundreds of dollars on the table if you still have a traditional savings account.

According to the FDIC, the current average interest rate on a savings account is 0.05%. Many high-yield savings accounts offer rates between .40% and .60%. 

Let’s say you have $10,000 in a savings account with .05% interest. After one year, you’ll have earned $5.04 in interest. If you moved that amount to a high-yield savings account with .5% interest, you would earn $49.92 in interest over that same time period.

Start Investing

If you’re not investing for retirement yet, this might be the most important financial resolution you can make. Thanks to the power of compound interest, you can start investing now and see huge growth by the time you’re ready to retire.

IRAs and 401(k)s are the two main retirement accounts. Anyone can open an IRA, while only those who have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k) can open one.

 If you’re not sure how to invest in your retirement account, consider hiring a qualified financial planner through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).

If you’re not ready to work with a financial planner, you can use a robo advisor like Betterment or Wealthfront, which will create a portfolio based on your age, income, and expected retirement age. Robo advisors have low fees and are designed to help beginner investors.

How to Keep Financial Resolutions

First, start small. Pick one habit to change at a time. If you try to accomplish five goals at once, you’ll burn out quickly and give up. 

When you decide on a resolution, break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, if your goal is to talk to a financial planner about investing, break it down into the following steps:

1) Research financial planners through NAPFA

2) Send introductory emails to three financial planners

3) Choose the one that seems like the best fit

4) Schedule a consultation

Give yourself a deadline to accomplish each of these tasks, and ask a friend to hold you accountable.

Another tip is to tie your resolutions to a bigger goal. Like dieting or starting a new exercise plan, changing your financial habits is hard. If you’re used to grabbing lunch with your co-workers every day, bringing leftovers from home instead will seem like a huge change.

The key is to imagine the future version of yourself who will benefit from the changes you make today. If your goal is to open and contribute to a retirement account, imagine yourself as a senior citizen living comfortably.

When you’re tempted to skip this month’s retirement contribution to buy concert tickets, think about your future self, what you’d want for them and how they would appreciate your sacrifice. It can also help to remember some of the financial mistakes you’ve made in the past, and how much easier your life would be right now if you had made a different choice.

The post The 5 Best Financial New Year’s Resolutions appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How To Retire At 50: 10 Easy Steps To Consider

Can you retire at 50? On average, people usually retire at 65. But what if you want to retire 15 years earlier than that like  at 50? Is it doable? Below are 10 easy steps to take to retire at 50.  Retiring early can be challenging. Therefore, SmartAsset’s free tool can match you with  a financial advisor who can help to work out and implement a retirement income strategy for you to maximize your money.

10 Easy & Simple Steps to Retire at 50:

1. How much you will need in retirement.

The first thing to consider is to determine how much you will need to retire at 50. This will vary depending on the lifestyle you want to have during retirement. If you desire a lavish one, you will certainly need a lot.

But according to a study by SmartAsset, 500k was found to be enough money to retire comfortably. But again that will depends on several factor.

For example, you will need to take into account where you want to live, the cost of living, how long you expect to live, etc.

Read: Can I Retire at 60 With 500k? Is It Enough?

A good way to know if 500k is possible to retire on is to consider the 4% rule. This rule is used to figure out how much a retiree should withdraw from his or her retirement account.

The 4% rule states that the money in your retirement savings account should last you through 30 years of retirement if you take out 4% of your retirement portfolio annually and then adjust each year thereafter for inflation.

So, if you plan on retiring at 50 with 500k for 30 years, using the 4% rule you will need to live on $20,000 a year. 

Again, this is just an estimation out there. You may need less or more depending on the factors mentioned above. For example, if you’re in good health and expect to live 40+ years after retiring at 50, $500,000 may not be enough to retire on. That’s why it’s crucial to work with a financial advisor.

Get Matched With 3 Fiduciary Financial Advisors
Managing your finances can be overwhelming. We recommend speaking with a financial advisor. The SmartAsset’s free matching tool will pair you with up to 3 financial advisors in your area.

Here’s how it works:

1. Answer these few easy questions about your current financial situation

2. In just under one minute, the tool will match you with up to three financial advisors based on your need.

3. Review the financial advisors profiles, interview them either by phone or in person, and choose the one that suits your’ needs.

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2. Maximize your tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

Once you have an idea of how much you need in order to retire at 50, your next step is to save as much as possible at a faster rate. If you are employed and you have a 401k plan available to you, you should definitely participate in it. Nothing can grow your retirement savings account faster than a 401k account.

See: How to Become a 401k Millionaire.

That means, you will need to maximize your 401k contributions, for example. In 2020, and for people under 50, the 401k contribution limit is $19,500.  Also, take advantage of your company match if your employee offers a match.

In addition to the maximum contribution of $19,500, your employer also contributes. Sometimes, they match dollar for dollar or 50 cents for each dollar the worker pays in.

In addition to a 401k plan, open or maximize your Roth or traditional IRA. For an IRA, it is $6,000. So, by maximizing your retirement accounts every year, your money will grow faster.

3. Invest in mutual or index funds. Apart from your retirement accounts (401k, Roth or Traditional IRA, SEP IRA, etc), you should invest in individual stocks or preferably in mutual funds. 

4. Cut out unnecessary expenses.

Someone with the goal of retiring at 50 needs to keep an eye on their spending and keep them as low as possible. We all know the phrase, “the best way to save money is to spend less.”

Well, this is true when it comes to retiring 15 years early than the average.  So, if you don’t watch TV, cancel Netflix or cable TV. If your cell phone bill is high, change plans or switch to another carrier. Don’t go to lavish vacations.

5. Keep an eye on taxes.

Taxes can eat away your profit. The more you can save from taxes, the more money you will have. Retirement accounts are a good way to save on taxes. Besides your company 401k plan, open a Roth or Traditional IRA.

6. Make more money.

Spending less is a great way to save money. But increasing your income is even better. If you need to retire at 50, you’ll need to be more aggressive. And the more money you earn, the more you will be able to save. And the faster you can reach your early retirement goal.

7. Speak with a financial advisor

Consulting with a financial advisor can help you create a plan to. More specifically, a financial advisor specializing in retirement planning can help you achieve your goals of retiring at 50. They can help put in a place an investment strategy to put you in the right track to retire at 50. You can easily find one in your local area by using SmartAsset’s free tool. It matches users with financial advisors in just under 5 minutes.  

8. Decide how you will spend your time in retirement.

If you will spend a lot of time travelling during retirement, then make sure you do research. Some countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, and so many others are good places to travel to in retirement because the cost of living is relatively cheap.

While other countries in Europe can be very expensive to travel to, which can eat away your retirement money.  If you decide to downsize or sell your home, you can free up more money to spend.

9. Financing the first 10 years.

There is a penalty of 10% if you cash out your retirement accounts before you reach the age of 59 1/2. Therefore, if you retire at 50, you’ll need to use money in other accounts like traditional savings or brokerage accounts. 

10. Put your Bonus, Raise, & Tax Refunds towards your retirement savings. 

If retiring at 50 years old is really your goal, then you should put all extra money towards your retirement savings. That means, if you receive a raise at work, put some of it towards your savings account.

If you get a tax refund or a bonus, use some of that money towards your retirement savings account. They can add up quickly and make retiring at 50 more of a reality than a dream.

Retiring at 50: The Bottom Line: 

So can I retire at 50? Retiring at 50 is possible. However, it’s not easy. After all, you’re trying to grow more money in less time. So, it will be challenging and will involve years of sacrifices, years living below your means and making tough financial decisions. However, it will be worth it in the long run. 

Read More:

  • How Much Is Enough For Retirement
  • How to Grow Your 401k Account
  • People Who Retire Comfortably Avoid These Financial Advisor Mistakes
  • 5 Simple Warning Signs You’re Definitely Not Ready for Retirement

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning to retire at 50, saving, etc). Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post How To Retire At 50: 10 Easy Steps To Consider appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

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“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

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If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

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“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

How to Start Investing in the Stock Market

Although investing in the stock market can feel intimidating at first, it could be the key to achieving your financial goals. Short of hitting the lottery or building a thriving business that you can sell, buying securities that increase in value over time is usually the easiest path to wealth. 

After all, the average savings account pays out a paltry 0.05% APY according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, yet the average stock market return is around 10% per year before accounting for inflation. 

Unless you want your money to languish in a savings account where it’s worth less with each passing year, learning to invest should be at the top of your to-do list.

6 Steps to Start Investing in the Stock Market

But, how do you start down a path that is notoriously complicated and has the potential to leave you with less money than you started? Here are a few top steps you should take to get started.

1. List Your Goals

Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish by investing in the stock market. A few examples of investment goals might include: 

  • Making a quick profit by investing in the short-term, and reselling stocks at a higher price,
  • Creating a source of passive income you can use later on,
  • Growing investment earnings so it can cover your retirement, or
  • Saving money for a specific goal.

As you list out your goals, make sure you have the extra money to invest on a regular basis, while also having cash set aside for emergencies. If you have a lot of credit card debt or other high-interest debt, you might even consider paying it off before you begin investing. After all, the average credit card interest rate is currently over 16% —  and you might not get an investment return anywhere close to that.

2. Start With Retirement Savings Accounts

There are advantages that come with investing in a retirement account. Accounts, like a workplace 401(k), a SEP IRA, or a Solo 401(k) are tax-advantaged, giving you the chance to reduce your taxable income (and thus, pay less in taxes) when you contribute. 

With a 401(k) plan from your job, for example, you can contribute up to $19,500 in 2020 and again in 2021. If you’re age 50 or older, you can also contribute another $6,500 each year which is called, a “catch-up contribution”. The amount you contribute is taken off of your taxable income, so your tax liability is lower.

You might also qualify for an “employer match” on contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement account. Check with your company’s human resource department to learn if your employer offers this benefit. 

Other retirement accounts to consider include a traditional or Roth IRA. You can deduct your full traditional IRA contribution from your taxable income, if you don’t have a retirement plan at work. Another option is funding a Roth IRA which lets you contribute using after-tax dollars instead. This means you won’t get a tax deduction for contributing, but Roth IRA funds grow tax-free and you can take distributions at retirement age without paying any taxes. 

In 2021, contribution limits for IRAs stay the same as 2020. You can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA, or $7,000 if you’re age 50 and older. 

3. Open a Brokerage Account

In addition to investing for retirement, you can also open a taxable brokerage account. You won’t get any upfront tax advantages for opening a brokerage account, but you get the chance to buy and sell stocks and other securities, or buy and hold them for the long-term.

There are excellent brokerage account options for beginners or experienced investors, many of which let you invest in some capacity without any fees. Some of the top firms to consider include: 

  • Betterment: Best for Beginners
  • Robinhood: Best for No Minimum Balance Requirement
  • M1 Finance: Best for Free Trades

4. Compare Costs and Fees

You might not have a lot of options if you’re investing in your workplace retirement plan at first. If you have the option to select a brokerage firm, you’ll need to compare the fees and costs involved in investing. Fees and costs to watch out for include:

  • Investment management fees. These fees can be nonexistent or as high as 1% of your account balance (or more).
  • Expense ratios. Specific funds, like index funds or mutual funds, might carry this fee.
  • Transaction fees. You might pay transaction fees when buying or selling a stock or another security.
  • Front-end loads. This fee can be charged on some investments upfront.
  • Annual account fees. A charge that’s tacked on just for using your brokerage account.

These are just some of the main fees to watch out for, but there are plenty of others. If you want to figure out how much you’re paying in fees on your investment accounts, the free retirement fee analyzer tool from Personal Capital is a good place to start.

5. Start Off With Simple Investments

You’ve probably heard plenty about the “hot stocks” of the last few years, and how investors who got in early have gotten rich by being in the right place, at the right time. Unfortunately, most “regular” investors don’t hear about hot stocks until it’s too late.

As a beginning investor, it’s usually best to keep your stock market strategy simple by investing in what you understand. Some beginning investments to consider include exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which are made up of various investments that track an index or focus on a specific industry sector. You could even stick to index funds, which are another type of investment that tracks an index and are mostly “hands-off” for the investor.

Target-date funds are another type of simple investment to consider. These funds include a selection of stocks and bonds that adjust for less risk over time. If you purchase a target-date fund that’s meant to last until 2050, for example, your risk would be high at first but slowly taper down as you approached 2050 or whatever “target date” you choose for retirement.

6. Research Before Jumping on Complex Strategies

If you’re curious about more complex investing options, you’ll need to learn more about how and when to invest. Some resources to turn to include investing books, like:

  • The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John C. Bogle
  • Investing All-In-One for Dummies by Eric Tyson

You could also check out top investing forums like Seeking Alpha or the Bogleheads forum, taking the time to read through questions and answers from investors at the top of their game.

Blog posts that can help you get started with some investing basics include: 

  • How to Invest Essentials for Beginners & Intermediates
  • How the Stock Market Works
  • How to Buy Stock Online

The Bottom Line

Investing in the stock market can be nerve-racking, but starting with common-sense investments in place (e.g. employer-sponsored retirement account) and uncomplicated investments (like index funds), lets you ease into the process slowly.

Over time and with more experience, you’ll have a better sense of when — and when not to — shy away from the risks of the stock market.  

The post How to Start Investing in the Stock Market appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

7 Pros and Cons of Investing in a 401(k) Retirement Plan at Work

A 401(k) retirement plan is one of the most powerful savings vehicles on the planet. If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that offers one (or its sister for non-profits, a 403(b)), it’s a valuable benefit that you should take advantage of.

But many people ignore their retirement plan at work because they don’t understand the rules, which may seem confusing at first. Or they worry about what happens to their account after they leave the company or mistakenly believe you must be an investing expert to use a retirement plan.

Let's talk about seven primary pros and cons of using a 401(k). You’ll learn some lesser-known benefits and get tips to save quickly so you have plenty of money when you’re ready to kick back and enjoy retirement.

What is a 401(k) retirement plan?

Traditional retirement accounts give you an immediate benefit by making contributions on a pre-tax basis.

A 401(k) is a type of retirement plan that can be offered by an employer. And if you’re self-employed with no employees, you can have a similar account called a solo 401(k). These accounts allow you to contribute a portion of your paycheck or self-employment income and choose various savings and investment options such as CDs, stock funds, bond funds, and money market funds, to accelerate your account growth.

Traditional retirement accounts give you an immediate benefit by making contributions on a pre-tax basis, which reduces your annual taxable income and your tax liability. You defer paying income tax on contributions and account earnings until you take withdrawals in the future.

Roth retirement accounts require you to pay tax upfront on your contributions. However, your future withdrawals of contributions and investment earnings are entirely tax-free. A Roth 401(k) or 403(b) is similar to a Roth IRA; however, unlike a Roth IRA there isn’t an income limit to qualify. That means even high earners can participate in a Roth at work and reap the benefits.

RELATED: How the COVID-19 CARES Act Affects Your Retirement

Pros of investing in a 401(k) retirement plan at work

When I was in my 20s and started my first job that offered a 401(k), I didn’t enroll in it. I was nervous about having investments with an employer because I didn’t understand what would happen if I left the company, or it went out of business.

I want to put your mind at ease about using a 401(k) because there are many more advantages than disadvantages.

I want to put your mind at ease about using a 401(k) because there are many more advantages than disadvantages. Here are four primary pros for using a retirement plan at work.

1. Having federal legal protection

Qualified workplace retirement plans are protected by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), a federal law. It sets minimum standards for employers that offer retirement plans, and the administrators who manage them.

ERISA offers workplace retirement plans a powerful but lesser-known benefit—protection from creditors.

ERISA was enacted to protect your and your beneficiaries’ interests in workplace retirement plans. Here are some of the protections they give you:

  • Disclosure of important facts about your plan features and funding 
  • A claims and appeals process to get your benefits from a plan 
  • Right to sue for benefits and breaches of fiduciary duty if the plan is mismanaged 
  • Payment of certain benefits if you lose your job or a plan gets terminated

Additionally, ERISA offers workplace retirement plans a powerful but lesser-known benefit—protection from creditors. Let’s say you have money in a qualified account but lose your job and can’t pay your car loan. If the car lender gets a judgment against you, they can attempt to get repayment from you in various ways, but not by tapping your 401(k) or 403(b). There are exceptions when an ERISA plan is at risk, such as when you owe federal tax debts, criminal penalties, or an ex-spouse under a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. 

When you leave an employer, you have the option to take your vested retirement funds with you. You can do a tax-free rollover to a new employer's retirement plan or into your own IRA. However, be aware that depending on your home state, assets in an IRA may not have the same legal protections as a workplace plan.

RELATED: 5 Options for Your Retirement Account When Leaving a Job

2. Getting matching funds

Many employers that offer a retirement plan also pay matching contributions. Those are additional funds that boost your account value.

Always set your 401(k) contributions to maximize an employer’s match so you never leave easy money on the table.

For example, your company might match 100% of what you contribute to your retirement plan up to 3% of your income. If you earn $50,000 per year and contribute 3% or $1,500, your employer would also contribute $1,500 on your behalf. You’d have $3,000 in total contributions and receive a 100% return on your $1,500 investment, which is fantastic!

Always set your 401(k) contributions to maximize an employer’s match, so you never leave easy money on the table.

3. Having a high annual contribution limit

Once you contribute enough to take advantage of any 401(k) matching, consider setting your sights higher by raising your savings rate every year. For 2021, the allowable limit remains $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over age 50. A good rule of thumb is to save at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Most retirement plans have an automatic escalation feature that kicks up your contribution percentage at the beginning of each year. You might set it to increase your contributions by 1% per year until you reach 15%. That’s a simple way to set yourself up for a happy and secure retirement.

4. Getting free investing advice

After you enroll in a workplace retirement plan, you must choose from a menu of savings and investment options. Most plan providers are major brokerages (such as Fidelity or Vanguard) and have helpful resources, such as online assessments and free advisors. Take advantage of the opportunity to get customized advice for choosing the best investments for your financial situation, age, and risk tolerance.

In general, the more time you have until retirement, or the higher your risk tolerance, the more stock funds you should own. Likewise, having less time or a low tolerance for risk means you should own more conservative and stable investments, such as bonds or money market funds.

RELATED: A Beginner's Guide to Investing in Stocks

Cons of investing in a 401(k) retirement plan at work

While there are terrific advantages of investing in a retirement plan at work, here are three cons to consider.

1. You may have limited investment options

Compared to other types of retirement accounts, such as an IRA, or a taxable brokerage account, your 401(k) or 403 (b) may have fewer investment options. You won’t find any exotic choices, just basic asset classes, including stock, bond, and cash funds.

However, having a limited investment menu streamlines your investment choices and minimizes complexity.

2. You may have higher account fees

Due to the administrative responsibilities required by employer-sponsored retirement plans, they may charge high fees. And as a plan participant, you have little control over the fees you must pay.

One way to keep your workplace retirement account fees as low as possible is selecting low-cost index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) when possible.

One way to keep your workplace retirement account fees as low as possible is selecting low-cost index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) when possible.

3.  You must pay fees on early withdrawals

One of the inherent disadvantages of putting money in a retirement account is that you’re typically penalized 10% for early withdrawals before the official retirement age of 59½. Plus, you typically can’t tap a 401(k) or 403(b) unless you have a qualifying hardship. That discourages participants from tapping accounts, so they keep growing.

The takeaway is that you should only contribute funds to a retirement account that you won’t need for everyday living expenses. If you avoid expensive early withdrawals, the advantages of using a workplace retirement account far outweigh the downsides.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

3 Credit Cards for Retirement Investing

The age of the pension has swiftly declined since the 1980s, and more Americans than ever before must invest in their own retirement. Retirement planning and investing is crucial, as it can help you get through your golden years comfortably.

When you have many other financial obligations, it can be difficult to set aside funds for retirement. But some credit cards can help by earning rewards that can be redeemed directly into an investment account.

Here are three credit cards with retirement or investing rewards.

  1. Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card

Rewards: Two points per dollar spent on all purchases.

Sign-Up Bonus: None

Annual Fee: $0

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): Variable 15.24% APR on purchases and balance transfers.

Why We Picked It: You can redeem your rewards directly into Fidelity retirement accounts.
For Your Retirement:
Every purchase earns two rewards points on the dollar. Points can be redeemed as deposits into eligible Fidelity retirement accounts, including a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Rollover IRA, or SEP IRA. Every $2,500 you spend is worth a $50 rewards deposit.
Drawbacks:
If you aren’t a Fidelity member, you won’t see much value from this card.

  1. Bank Americard Cash Rewards Credit Card

Rewards: 3% cash back on gas and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on up to $2,500 in purchases each quarter; 1% back on all other purchases.

Signup Bonus: $150 bonus cash if you spend $500 in the first 90 days.
Annual Fee:
None

APR: 0% APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then variable 14.24% to 24.24% APR.

Why We Picked It: Merrill Lynch investors can use this card to boost their investments.
For Your Retirement:
If you use a Merrill Lynch Cash Management Account to invest in your retirement, this card can help you increase your contributions. Cash back can be redeemed for an electronic deposit into an eligible Cash Management Account, and those redemption types earn an extra 10% bonus every time you redeem.
Drawbacks:
If you don’t have an eligible Bank of America or Merrill Lynch account, you’ll lose out on the 10% redemption bonus.

  1. Edward Jones World Card

Rewards: One point per dollar spent on all purchases.

Signup Bonus: $100 account deposit if you spend $500 in the first 90 days.
Annual Fee:
None

APR: Variable 14.24% APR on purchases; 0% APR for 12 months on balance transfers, then variable 14.24% APR.

Why We Picked It: Edward Jones members can redeem rewards for account deposits.
For Your Retirement:
Every purchase you make earns one point on the dollar. Your points can be redeemed for cash deposits into an eligible Edward Jones account, including IRAs.
Drawbacks:
You can only access this card if you’re an Edward Jones customer.

Choosing a Credit Card to Help You Save for Retirement

There are many ways to save for retirement: 401(k) plans, IRAs, and more. If you aren’t saving for retirement yet (or you think you need to save more), the time to start is now. The earlier you begin, the better shot you have of reaching your retirement goals. Until you decide on the best investment strategy, credit cards should be a secondary concern at best.

When you set up an investment account, you should understand all the different ways you can contribute, and find out if credit card rewards are an option (some investment accounts are more flexible than others).

Credit cards that let you directly redeem your rewards for an investment deposit are convenient, but they’re not the only way to contribute rewards to retirement. If you have a retirement account that accepts cash contributions, you can simply redeem any credit card’s cash back rewards for a check or bank deposit, then turn around and put that money in your account.

Whether you choose a rewards card with investment redemptions or not, try to find one that fits your spending habits. If you spend the most money at one or two merchant types, you should try to find a card that rewards those purchases. If your spending is unpredictable, you should find a card with a flat rewards rate on every purchase.

What Is Required to Get a Credit Card for Retirement Investing?

The best rewards cards require good or excellent credit. Before you apply, you should check your credit score to see if you’ll make the cut. You can check your credit score for free at Credit.com.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees, and terms with credit card issuers, banks, or other financial institutions directly.

Image: iStock

The post 3 Credit Cards for Retirement Investing appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School

With a brand new PhD under her belt, our latest Mint audit recruit, Renee, is ready to take on the real world with gusto. The 34-year-old is eager to buy a home and ramp up her retirement savings. She currently lives in San Francisco and has just started a full-time earning $87,000 a year (before taxes).

Renee also received a sizeable inheritance, totaling about $200,000 of which she used $30,000 to pay off her student loans.

So, why does Renee want an audit, exactly? Her finances seem perfectly in order, it seems.

As Renee explains, she wants advice around the best ways to plan for big goals like home ownership and retirement. “I’m especially eager to buy my own apartment, but it is extremely daunting (and expensive) in the Bay area,” she says. As a result, she’s leaning to move to New York City (Brooklyn, specifically, where she thinks may offer more bang for her buck in some neighborhoods.)

She wants to know how much of a down payment she can reasonably afford and how to budget for monthly housing costs.

First, though, I wanted to learn more about Renee’s finances. Here’s what the quick audit revealed:

  • Retirement savings: $40,000 in a 403(b) and Roth IRA. She allocates $200 month from her paycheck to the 403(b).
  • Rent: $1,850 per month
  • Groceries: $400 per month
  • Where is all that savings parked? $100,000 in index and mutual funds, another $50,000 in an 11-month CD earning 1.5%, and remaining $20,000 in checking.

My Advice…

Play Retirement Catch-Up

For a 35-year-old worker, one rule of thumb is that you should have an amount equal to your salary in retirement savings. For Renee, who is nearing age 35, that means $80,000 to $90,000. She’s only about halfway there, so my recommendation is to play some retirement catch up. While it’s not realistic to think that she can invest another $40,000 this year, she can do better.

For starters, what about taking advantage of her company’s 403(b) match? She believes her company offers one, but wasn’t sure about the details. I suggested she learn the specifics and try to capitalize on that offer by contributing at least enough to earn the full match. Allocating closer to 10% of her salary would be ideal. (And PS. that contribution is tax deductible!)

Worried that this would stretch her paycheck too thin, I reminded Renee that she can always adjust her retirement contributions each month, but urged her to give it a try. (My bet is that it won’t be as painful as she suspects.)

Pad the Rainy Day Account?

I wasn’t sure how far her $20,000 in checking would last her. She said it would be about a 6-month reserve, which I feel is adequate. No need to make adjustments there. One thought: She may want to move that $20,000 to a savings account that’s a little less accessible (like an online account without a debit card), so that she isn’t tempted to cash it out on a whim.

Protect Your Down Payment

Renee has $100,000 in a brokerage account, which she plans to use towards a down payment in the near future. But here’s something to consider: What if the market plunges six months before you want to make a bid for a home? And you suddenly lose 15 or 20% of your investments? It would take time to recover, more time than you want.

I would personally never risk money in the stock market if I anticipated needing that money in the next five years. And according to Renee, she hopes to buy a home in the next two years. My advice: Protect the down payment from market fluctuations by moving 50% of that money over to a short-term CD and with the other $50,000 she’s got saved in an 11-month CD, use all that savings towards a future down payment.

Know How Much House You Can Really Afford

To buy in NYC or San Francisco, a 20% down payment is standard. With $100,000 to put down, that means that she’s looking at homes valued at around $500,000. With today’s current mortgage rates nearing 4% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, she’s looking at close to $2,000 a month in payments. But we’ve yet to get to taxes, maintenance and home insurance.

Instead, consider a starter apartment, a studio or junior one-bedroom closer to $400,000. A 20% down payment would be $80,000, leaving her with another $20,000 for closing costs. Her monthly payments would come to around $1,500 per month, close to 30% of her take-home pay, which is a smart cap for housing payments.

 

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Create Your Own Retirement Plan

One of the good things of working for a company is that they create a retirement plan for you. As an employee, you don’t have to do anything else but to participate in the plan. However, when you’re self-employed or a small business owner, you’re responsible of setting up your own retirement plan.

When it comes to operating your own business, time is of the essence. However, even if you’re crazy busy, saving for retirement should be a priority. Indeed, a retirement account allows you to contribute pre-tax money, which lowers your taxable income.

Luckily, a financial advisor can help you save time and help you choose the right plan that is best for you. Below are four retirement saving options you can create as a self-employer individual.

1. Solo 401k

A solo 401k is for small businesses or sole proprietors who don’t have any employees other than a spouse working for the business. The solo 401k mirrors a typical 401k plan that most companies offer. The main difference is that you can contribute as an employee and employer.

In other words, because you’re both the boss and the worker, you get to contribute in each capacity. That in turn allows you to contribute a higher amount each year. However, your total yearly contributions cannot exceed $58,000 or $64,000 for individuals age 50 or older as of 2021. To set up a solo 401k, you have to get in touch with a financial institution.

2. SEP IRA

If you’re an independent contractor, self-employed, or has a small business with 25 employees or less you can set up a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension). It’s very easy to establish and don’t even require you to incorporate your business to qualify.

In a SEP IRA, the employer alone contributes to the fund, not the employees. You can contribute up to 25% of your annual salary or $58,000 in 2021, whichever is less.

3. Keogh Plan

Keogh plans are available to self-employed people, including sole proprietors who file Schedule C or a partnership whose members file Schedule E. This type of plan is preferable among those who have a high and stable income.

But the main advantage the Keogh has is the high maximum contribution you can make. In 2021, you can contribute up to $58,000. To set up, you will need to work with a financial institution such as Charles Schwab. 

4. Simple IRA

The Simple IRA was created by the Small Business Protection Act to help those who work at small companies to save for retirement. The small business can offer the plan if it has 100 or fewer employees.

Both the employer and the employee can contribute up to $13,000 in 2021, plus an additional catch-up amount of $3,000 if you’re 50 or older. If a company offers a Simple IRA, it must match an employee’s contribution dollar for dollar, up to 3% of each participant’s annual salary or make a nonelective 2% contribution to all employees.

Where to Invest Your Keogh, SEP IRA, Solo 401k, Simple IRA

As a small business owner, there is always an investment program that suits your needs for your IRA, SEP, Keogh and solo 401k. Places such as banks, brokerage firms and mutual funds institutions such as Vanguard, Fidelity, Charles Schwab are great options. But before opening account, make sure you consider how much money you have, your appetite for risks, the annual fee, etc.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a small business owner or self employed, you should take advantage of the tax benefits offered by these plans mentioned above. Creating a retirement plan is important, because not only will you be able to grow your retirement savings faster but also no one is going to do it for you. 

Related:

  • 4 Simple Ways to Accelerate Your Retirement Savings
  • How to Retire at 50:10 Easy Steps to Consider

Tips on Retirement Planning

Retirement planning can be a major challenge, but you don’t have to go in it alone. Speak with a financial advisor who can help you come up with a unique plan based on your circumstances and situations. Use SmartAsset advisor matching tool to get matched with fiduciary financial advisors in just 5 minutes.

 

The post How to Create Your Own Retirement Plan appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com