Choosing Between a 401(k) and Roth IRA

When it comes to retirement savings, two of the more popular vehicles are the 401(k) and the Roth IRA. Both are tax-advantaged retirement accounts, but there are significant differences. Depending upon your specific situation, you may find that one fits your needs better than the other.

What are the savings limits?

For workers who haven’t yet reached age 50, it’s possible to save as much as $19,000 in a 401(k) as of 2019. Those who have passed 50 can save an additional $6,000 as a catch-up contribution. Depending upon their age, those who want to save in a Roth IRA can save $6,000 or $7,000 per year. Both are great savings vehicles, but those who are looking to max out their savings would most benefit from using a 401(k).

What is the tax treatment?

Most 401(k) plans save money on a pre-tax basis. This means that it’s possible to cut your tax bill in the current year. Savings put toward a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars. Both accounts will grow on a tax-free basis as long as the money is left in the account. The difference comes when you decide to withdraw the money. If you wait until age 59 and a half, you’ll pay no taxes on Roth IRA withdrawals. The government treats them as if you’ve already paid the tax due when you made the after-tax contribution. On the other hand, a regular 401(k) withdrawal will be taxed at your marginal tax rate. 

 

An additional benefit of a Roth IRA is the ability to withdraw your contributions at any time. Because you’ve paid the tax on the contributions, there is no tax due. If you withdraw the earnings from a Roth IRA before hitting age 59 and a half, you’ll owe regular income taxes on any growth along with a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

Is using both a good strategy?

Many future retirees wonder if it’s better to save in a Roth or a 401(k). It’s possible to save in both. Many employers offer a 401(k) match, and oftentimes, this match will be on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to 6% of the employee’s salary. Therefore, it’s a good idea to save at least to the full amount of this match. Any additional money could go toward filling up a Roth IRA to maximize tax-free withdrawals upon retirement. After contributing the maximum to a Roth, contributing to a 401(k) up to the maximum is a great next step. Overall, you could save between $25,000 and $32,000 by maxing out both accounts.

Finance Tips for the Holiday Season

The holiday season can get pretty expensive. Starting with candy and costumes for family and neighbors in October, followed by a feast of food in November and all of the gifts, gatherings, and extras around the winter holiday season, bills can really add up. Unfortunately, your wallet may not be able to keep up with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. There are several ways to help you save money while still allowing you to delight in the magic and wonder of the holidays.

Set a budget

It’s easy to spend money when you don’t try to set a cap on how much you’re allowed to spend. Without a budget, you’ll be more likely to overspend. Sit down and work numbers before even setting foot in a store so you know exactly how much you have to spend. On average, people spend around $704 during the holiday season, but that is all dependent on an individual’s personal financial situation.

Do your research

Everyone is going to be advertising that they have the best deal on a specific product during the holiday season. It’s up to you to do your homework and see who’s actually telling the truth. You can comparison shop right from the comfort of your own home by looking up prices online. That way, you’ll know you’re getting the best deal.

Break out your DIY skills

Giving a homemade gift is the perfect way to save money while also expressing how much you care about the recipient. Anyone can go out and buy something from the store, but a homemade gift takes planning, time to make, and a lot of thought. It can also save you a lot of money by making the gift yourself.

Enlist the help of others

If you decide you want to host a holiday gathering, don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own. Most guests expect to bring something to a party—whether it be a dish to pass, a bottle of wine, or even paper products. You’ll be able to throw a great party on a budget that all of your guests will enjoy.

Talk to a financial advisor

If you’re really struggling to keep up with expenses and expectations at the end of the year, it might behoove you to sit down and talk to a financial advisor. Whether you’re dealing with personal finance concerns or family investment issues, a financial advisor can examine all of those complex moving parts and help you develop a plan for keeping the spirit alive during the holidays.

Personal Finance for College Students

You’re finally living on your own, attending classes and joining new clubs and organizations. In college, it’s easy to overlook personal finance when focusing on your studies, but proper money management is vital for a successful future. If you’re new to college and money management, here is some personal finance advice. 

Consider Your Credit

Swiping a card is convenient, but that money has to come from somewhere. If you’ve fallen victim to overspending on your card, try to set up a system to evaluate your spending habits. Perhaps you could limit card spending and use more cash. Or, perhaps you need to change your card limit to dissuade yourself from making unnecessary purchases. In addition, you should keep track of when your credit card payments are due—missing those payments can harm your credit score, which can be difficult to improve later down the line.

Search For Perks

Many colleges and surrounding businesses offer benefits to students. From dining halls to student discounts, you’re bound to find ways to save money. For instance, shops close to your school may offer student discounts, allowing you to pay a set percentage less for meals and clothes. In the same vein, your school may offer textbook rentals as opposed to purchases, which can save money. Or, if you can find those books online at Amazon or from other e-commerce sites, you may be able to save bundles. 

Build a Budget

Understanding and implementing a budget can have positive long-term effects. If you’ve struggled with overspending or other money-related issues, budgeting can be a huge benefit. Calculate the amount of income you’ll make in a given month, including rates for on-campus jobs, and figure out your expenses. You’ll want to save a percentage of that income and avoid going over it. The sooner you establish a budget and learn to stick to it, the sooner you’ll save money and build your personal finances.

Find a Job

Colleges often have part-time jobs available for even the busiest of students. From cooking in the dining hall to operating an office desk to providing prospective students with campus tours, student jobs abound in academia. Taking on a job for just a few hours each week can help you better understand time management while generating income. If you want to earn academic credit while you work, internships and work-studies can be a great use of your time. Plus, any campus job is a terrific resume-builder for your post-grad job search. 

Tips for Financial Independence and Early Retirement

What do you consider to be “retirement age”? Perhaps early 60s or late 50s. What about 30s and 40s? The FIRE movement, which stands for “financial independence, retire early,” has gained traction with individuals as young as their 20s. The idea of working 9-to-5 jobs for several decades is an intimidating one, and FIRE offers the chance to work hard and, earlier than expected, play hard. However, FIRE is not an easy process, and it takes plenty of planning to truly retire early. Here are some considerations to take into account if you plan on retiring early.

Do Your Research

Monthly earnings from social security and pensions, costs of present and future healthcare concerns, and similar factors must be considered before an individual takes any steps towards early retirement. There are several complications, ones that often work against each other, to sort out during the planning phase of FIRE, but these factors help paint a picture of your financial future. Make sure you understand what FIRE really is, and what it means for you and your situation. In some cases, research may prove that early retirement isn’t the best option; rather, switching to part-time work or taking a temporary hiatus from work is better. 

Speak With a Financial Advisor

Financial advisors often assist individuals experiencing drastic life changes, such as making a family or retiring. When it comes to the latter, financial advisors will examine whether a client’s current financial system sets a strong foundation for retirement. Additionally, financial advisors look to the future to predict potential issues. Taking all of this into consideration, clients and advisors can develop a plan to work towards that independence. While hiring a financial advisor does come at a cost, the benefits of receiving an expert’s advice and planning assistance can be a lucrative investment. 

Don’t Rush the Process

A simple Google search can unearth a plethora of FIRE horror stories. A common trend in these tales involves early retirees jumping the gun and retiring before they’ve hit their financial goals. For some, this means retiring several years sooner than planned. While earlier-than-early retirement is enticing, it’s unwise to throw your financial goals out the window. Doing so means deviating from your financial plans, which in turn leads to increased risks of your independence returning to dependence. Remain patient and diligent as you work towards retirement, and avoid making rash decisions to save time—that won’t always equate to saving money.

Understand Your Drive

Why do you want to retire early? Is it to avoid unhealthy amounts of stress? Are you trying to spend more time with your family? Has a hobby become your life-long passion? A thorough understanding of the “why” behind your desire to retire early will help you figure out how to reach your financial goals. Anyone can say they want to have more free time. But what are you going to do with that free time? Take some time to introspect and figure out what drives you towards early retirement. 

Why You’re Overspending (And How to Stop)

Compare your monthly income with your monthly spending. Do you notice a glaring discrepancy? Are your earnings in the red? Can’t figure out how you spent hundreds on groceries? You aren’t alone. Overspending is easy to do, and purchases can accumulate in the blink of an eye. Here are some reasons why you’re overspending and advice on how to stop.

You’ve fallen into a bad habit

Do you buy lunch at the deli down the street every day? This is just one example of a bad spending habit. It may be comfortable and convenient to make a daily or weekly purchase, but ten dollars per day, five days a week, four weeks a month equals $200 each month just for lunch. 

The best way to remedy a bad spending habit is to ease yourself out of the habit. For the lunch example, try packing a meal most days each week, and only go out once a week or so as a special treat. You don’t have to quit anything cold-turkey, and easing yourself towards a better spending habit might inspire you to be more mindful of what you buy.

You ignore automatic payments

This one is easy to notice, especially if you subscribe to magazines and newspapers that clog your mailbox. Still, with the rise of streaming services and other digital subscriptions, you may not be keeping track of all the services you subscribe to. It’s easy to let automatic monthly payments slip through the cracks, but those payments are also an easy way to lose money.

Each month, carefully study your credit card statement. Write down the names of subscriptions you used during the month, whether that means watching a movie on Netflix or flipping through a copy of Sports Illustrated. Next to that list, write down the subscriptions you didn’t use. Unsubscribe from the ones that you didn’t touch. You’d be surprised how much money you can save annually just by paring down your subscriptions.

You haven’t disciplined your spending habits

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t disciplined their spending habits. Whether you fall victim to impulse buys at the checkout line or fill your gas tank before it hits the halfway mark, everyone has a spending vice. 

No two people have the same income, interests, and habits, which can make disciplining your spending habits difficult. The key is to figure out what you’re buying and why you’re buying it. It helps to break purchases up into categories, such as “loans,” “food,” and “entertainment.” Not only will this show how much you’re spending, but it will also reveal what exactly you’re spending your money on.

3 Things to Consider Before Investing in Stocks

As an increasing number of books, websites, and apps introduce the stock market to the general public, more people find the stock market to be accessible. Even though software and guides have streamlined the process, adequate research is essential for anyone hoping to get into the stock game. It’s crucial to keep numbers in mind, but nuggets of advice are equally important. Whether you’re a first-time investor or seasoned stock aficionado, the following three tips are important to keep in mind.

You have to set goals

Throwing your cash in random directions and hoping something sticks is the exact opposite of what a good investor should do. Look into the industries that interest you and seek out key players and up-and-coming competitors. Then, develop a strategy by deciding how much money you’ll invest total, and how much each investment will be. It’s best to start simple if you don’t have much investing experience, which means you should stick to regular investments and establish a well-researched foundation. Once you’ve started that foundation, give yourself a timeframe before you check on those stocks again—as you’ll see in the next section, obsessing over the numbers is going to hinder you.

You have to keep a level head

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has maintained for years that the buy-and-hold strategy is the best option for any investor. Real-time updates cause dramatic fluctuations to the stock market. While sudden drops in stock rates are worrisome, a goal-focused investor should be safe, even if rates are down. This is especially key in the short-term, as split-second decisions can be dangerous for the success of an investor’s stock portfolio. A volatile market is one in which long-term negative changes come into play. A short-term downturn is not necessarily a cause for alarm.

You have to diversify your investments

Don’t just invest in a bunch of businesses from one industry. Check out a few industries and businesses of interest to you, and ask yourself whether they fit in with your overall goals and budget. A diverse portfolio reduces the overall effect of a downturn on your portfolio. This may not be doable early into your investing journey, but as your portfolio grows and your investing confidence improves, diversification is going to be important.

Top Personal Finance Apps of 2019

Many people struggle with managing their money. Tracking bank balances and expenses can be tedious and somewhat dull. The good news is the technology industry has made it much easier to balance checkbooks and pay bills using the power of smartphones and apps. There are hundreds of personal finance apps to choose from, so here are some of the best personal finance apps of 2019 to help narrow down the list.

Prism for Bill Payment

Prism combines all your bills and bank balances in one user-friendly platform. You can schedule bills for payment and receive due date notifications. There is no charge to download the app, and it is compatible with Windows 8, Kindle, iOS, Windows Phone, and Android phones.

EveryDollar for Budgeting

Dave Ramsey, the well-known personal finance guru, helped design this app’s budgeting features. The app features a built-in expense tracker that connects to your financial institution. Using this feature, you can see how much you have spent each month and how much money you have left to spend. The app also has financial planning that lets you contact money management experts.

Clarity Money for Managing Subscriptions

This app lets you manage all of your monthly subscriptions in one platform. Unfortunately, many people cannot keep track of all their subscriptions and do not realize just how much money they are spending. Clarity Money eliminates the need to handle monthly subscriptions individually.

The app also allows you to analyze your spending patterns and how you can improve your finances based on those patterns. You also receive a free Vantage credit score from Experian.

Acorns

This app invests money for you every time you make a purchase with a credit or debit card. For example, if you spend $3.75 using a linked card, Acorns will round up that transaction and invest the $0.25 in a portfolio of exchange-traded funds. The app makes it possible for the average person to invest without spending thousands of dollars with large investment banks.

 

Personal finance apps are not the only digital option you have to manage your finances. Many reputable online financial publications offer free budgeting worksheets, templates, easy-to-use financial calculators and offer tips on how to build a budget that works based on your unique financial situation.

Building Financial Independence After College

College years bring forth an abundance of growth and independence for students alike.  You’re likely getting into the habit of managing your school work and class schedule completely on your own, and if you’re taking advantage of on-campus housing you’re living on your own for the first time.  With all of these new life milestones coming to light, there’s a good chance that though you’re taking your own independent strides, you may still be under a parental wing, financially. As graduation is approaching for many college students this month, it may be time for you to consider the best ways to adapt to the real world, and potentially build your financial independence.  Here are a few tips:

Open Your Own Account/Credit Card

The first major step to building your own financial freedom after college is looking into opening your own bank account or credit card if you haven’t already.  Visit a bank that you trust, and sit down with a banker that will help set you up with the right type of account, preferably one that builds interest or provides you with small rewards.  As for a credit card, building your credit is an essential part of growing up; however, always be careful when using a credit card. To build your credit wisely, make small purchases that you can pay off in full each month.  Racking up a high balance that requires you to make minimum payments can ultimately do more harm than good in the long run. Additionally, you’ll want to research which credit card would work best for you. Many companies offer different programs and rewards and incentives; make sure you find what fits your financial situation best.

Take on Small Bills

If your parents were assisting you with some of your bills, such as your cell phone or car payment, consider taking them on, on your own.  You can start small, by taking over your cell phone, and build as you go, moving forward with a car payment/insurance, rent, and your student loans.  These payments will not only help you practice paying bills on time, but many of them will also help build your credit score.

Generate Income

During college, you may have had a part-time job or an internship.  Now that you’ve graduated and have more time available, you can consider adding more hours to your current schedule or looking for full-time work.  Either option will generate a consistent income that will help you build steady financial independence.  Once you’re building your income, consider making some of it automatically deposit into a savings account or an emergency fund.

Student Loan Myths

Student Loan Myths

Many people take out student loans in an attempt to ensure they earn more over their working lives. Overall student loan debt in the US is now more than $1.5 trillion. Those in such debt generally have a great desire to pay it off. This leads to many myths around the subject of student loan debt. Here are a few to avoid.

You Can’t Pay Student Loans Early

There is a common myth that says you have to pay the stated amount each month and that it’s impossible to pay off student loan debt early. This is not the case. It is indeed possible to pay extra and take care of student loans before the actual term of the loan is finish. There’s no penalty for paying early, and you may be able to save thousands in interest costs in the process.

You’re Stuck With Your Interest Rate

Student loans can come from the government, and they can come from private lenders. Those who take out loans from multiple lenders will likely get stuck with a variety of interest rates. Private loans can come with higher interest rates, but there’s no need to be stuck with a bad rate. It’s possible to refinance these loans and save money in the process. There is the possibility to consolidate the loans into one loan if you have a good credit score.

You Can Skip Payments

Some borrowers are stuck with very large student loan payments each month. There is an option for income-based repayment plans. Others might think skipping a payment or two is a good idea from a cash flow standpoint. Actually, this idea could not be further from the truth. Going into default on a student loan will hurt your credit score. Additionally, the interest will continue to compound on the unpaid amount, which will increase the amount of debt you actually owe.

Public Service Forgiveness Is Free Money

There is a program in place that allows borrowers who work in public service to have their student loan debt forgiven after spending 10 years serving the public. However, contrary to popular belief, this is not free money. You’ll have to claim the amount of the debt that gets discharged as income on your tax return, and you’ll owe taxes on that amount.

Student loans can be scary. The amount that college students are willing to borrow has grown in recent years. There are many myths that surround repayment. Don’t get caught up in believing them. They can wind up costing you even more money.

What Your FICO Score Means

What your FICO score means

Just as the understanding of the value of a dollar comes with time, the importance of your credit score often evades us until we are deciding to buy a car or purchase a home. The gravity that a credit score holds is substantial. These scores influence the credit available to you and the terms that go along with it, such as interest rates. When looking to purchase a car or home, lenders rely on the consumer’s credit scores for an understanding of the risk they take on by loaning money.

While there are different credit scores, the most widely used and accepted is the FICO score created by Fair Isaac Corporation. Using the information provided by one of three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) FICO creates a credit score ranging from 300 to 850, with the higher number representing lower risks for lenders and insurers.

How exactly do they determine a consumers credit score? FICO analyzes five main factors, which each have a different impact on the score:

  • Payment History (35% of the FICO score)
  • Debt/amounts owed (30%)
  • Age of credit history (15%)
  • New credit/inquiries (10%)
  • A mix of accounts/types of credit (10%)

While the exact number of your credit score can be distracting, it is more beneficial to focus on the areas that require work, rather than feeling overwhelmed by your rank on the credit range. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the five main factors considered by FICO when determining consumer credit scores:

Payment History

This is simply how well does a consumer do with paying their bills on time. Credit reports show when consumer payments are submitted for lines of credit, and it specifies how long payments took to come in: 30, 60, 90, 120 or more days late. Since payment history is the most significant component of a credit score, it is essential to get all credit line payments in as soon as possible.

Accounts Owed

This refers to the amount of money a consumer owes in whole. Having a lot of debt doesn’t necessarily have a significant impact on your credit. Instead, FICO looks at the ratio of money owed to the amount of credit available. Put simply, do not max out your lines of credit.

Length of Credit History

The longer a consumer has had credit, the better this element of their score will be. FICO looks at how long the oldest account has been open, the age of the newest account and the overall average.

New Credit

This refers to recently opened lines of credit. If a consumer opens a bunch of new accounts in a short period, this signals FICO that there is a higher risk, which lowers the consumer’s credit score.

Mix of Accounts
Just like stockbrokers want to diversify their portfolios, consumers want to expand their credit portfolio. With a healthy mix of retail accounts, credit cards, installment loans, such as a car loan, and mortgages, a consumer has ensured a higher FICO score.