Essentials for Your Year-End Financial Checklist

The year-end deadline for many key financial decisions is approaching. Check your finances now to avoid unpleasant surprises.

December 31 marks the deadline for decisions that can significantly affect your wealth. Taking action now might enable you to reduce your taxes and increase your retirement savings. It’s also a great time to review your entire wealth plan with a professional financial advisor.

Take tax losses on your positions. Your investment portfolio probably has one or more poor performers. You may wish to sell losing positions to realize the losses and offset them against your capital gains. You can deduct up to $3,000 of excess capital losses against your ordinary income. Reevaluate and rebalance your holdings to achieve your desired asset allocations.

Fund your retirement accounts. Although you have until April 15 of next year to fund your retirement accounts, now is the time to determine your remaining contributions to your 401(k) plan and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA). If your income exceeds Roth IRA limits, consider a partial conversion of traditional IRA assets to a Roth IRA*. Also, don’t forget to take any required minimum distributions if you’ve reached age 701/2.

Review your flexible spending accounts. It’s a good time to review your health insurance coverage with your financial advisor and insurance agent. Make sure you don’t let your flexible spending account (FSA) balance exceed $500, the maximum amount you can carry forward into the next year. Some employers offer a grace period until March 15 to use last year’s funds. However, you can only use one of these options. You should check with your employer to see what their policy is.1

Review your beneficiary designations. Circumstances might have changed during the year, prompting changes to the designated beneficiaries in your will, trusts, retirement plans, insurance policies, and charitable gift plans. Review your estate plan to evaluate moving assets to new or existing trusts. Finalize your gifting to family and friends based on the latest gift tax limits. Review your insurance policies to determine if the coverage is still appropriate.

Year-end financial reviews are essential. Contact me today to schedule a review session that will help you find opportunities to manage your tax burden, control your bequests, and start planning your financial goals for the new year.

* Traditional IRA account owners should consider the tax ramifications, age and income restrictions in regards to executing a conversion from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The converted amount is generally subject to income taxation.



1 irs.gov, “Plan now to Use Health Flexible Spending Arrangements in 2018; Contribute up to $2,650; $500 Carryover Option Available to Many” 11/15/17

Money Management 101 for Single Parents Going it Alone

1. Determine What You Owe

As the head of the household, it’s up to you to make sure that your entire family’s needs are being met. In order to do that, you need to be extremely diligent when it comes to money management basics. This is not something that will happen by accident. Instead, you must plan for it and work toward it.

The first step is to set up your “office.” Gather all of your bills, a calculator, a pencil, and your checkbook.

I would also recommend that you grab an old binder that you can use to keep track of your financial data and a shoebox for storing paid bills.

Now you’re ready to begin:

  • Go through all of your bills, and pay anything that is due within the next week.
  • If you have bills coming due that you cannot pay, notify the company and ask them to set up a payment plan with you.
  • Print a copy of the chart “Paying Down My Debts” or make your own.
  • On the chart, list all of your debts, including any car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.
  • In addition, list the total balance left to be paid on all of these debts, and the percentage rate you are paying.
  • For now, leave the fourth column of the chart blank, and store it in your “Financial Data” binder.

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2. Eliminate Joint Debt

Before we create a plan for paying down your debt, it’s important to consider some special circumstances that may apply to you as a single parent. I asked LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, to share her expertise on handling joint debt:

Wolf: Let’s say a single mom still shares a credit card with her ex. What should she do?

Irby: Ideally, she would want her ex to transfer his portion of any joint balances onto his own credit card. That way, everyone is paying for their own debt.

Wolf: What about leaving both names on the account, and agreeing to pay part of the amount due? Is that ever advisable?

Irby: No. If you’ve made an agreement with your ex to split the debt payments on accounts that include your name, and your ex-misses a payment, it’s going to hurt your credit. If the ex-fails to pay altogether, the creditors and collectors will come after you. Not even a divorce decree can change the terms of a joint credit card agreement. In the credit card issuer’s eyes, you’re just as much responsible for post-divorce accounts as before.

Wolf: What about situations when a couple’s divorce decree mandates that one individual must pay off the joint credit card debt, but that person fails to do it?

Irby: You can always file contempt of court papers against him/her, but in the meantime, your credit score suffers. So I suggest paying off the debt to save your credit. If you can’t afford to pay the debt, at least make minimum payments to keep a positive payment history on your credit report.

Wolf: What about other accounts, such as utilities and cell phones?

Irby: The safest thing to do, if you have a service in your ex’s name, is to turn off the account and reestablish service in your name.

 

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3. Find Money to Pay Down Debt

Another thing we have to do before creating a plan to pay down your existing debt is to find money in your budget each month. To assist in this step, I contacted Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Expert.

Wolf: How much money do you think the average person can uncover just by being more intentional about spending and budgeting?

Huffstetler: The average person could easily uncover an extra $250 a month—and probably much more.

Wolf: What are the top 5 areas that you think people should look to first when they’re trying to cut their expenses?

Huffstetler:

  • Food spending (both groceries and eating out)
  • TV-related expenses (cable/satellite services, certainly; but also movie subscriptions and rentals)
  • Phone services (particularly extras like call waiting, caller id, long distance, and cell phones)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Miscellaneous spending (all those small amounts spent on coffee, vending machine snacks, and other indulgences)

Wolf: How can single parents, specifically, stretch their child support dollars and reduce child-related expenses?

Huffstetler: For single parents looking to stretch their child support dollars, creativity is the key. Look to children’s consignment shops and thrift stores to buy your kids’ clothes instead of department stores; sign them up for Parks and Rec-run activities instead of privately-run activities (which will always cost more); and don’t feel like you have to make up for being a single parent by buying them extra things—it’s you they need, not stuff.

 

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4. Pay Off Your Debt

The next step is creating a schedule for paying down your debt:

  1. Pay off the debts that charge you the highest interest first.Bob Hammond, author of Life Without Debt, recommends that you pay off the debts that are charging you the highest interest first since borrowing from those creditors is costing you the most money. “Concentrate on paying off the high-cost debts as soon as possible,” Hammond advises. LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, agrees. “Highest interest rate debts cost the most money, especially when those debts have high balances. So you’ll save money on interest charges when you pay off those high-interest rate debts first.”However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Irby notes, “If you’re likely to get discouraged because it’s taking a long time to pay off that high-interest rate debt, you can start with the lowest balance debt. Getting some small debts paid off will motivate you to keep going.”
  2. Pay more than the minimum payment. Aim for paying more than the suggested minimum payment, in order to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.Miriam Caldwell, Money in Your 20’s Expert, shares this advice:
    • Choose one debt to focus on.
    • Increase your payment on that debt by as much as you can.
    • Once you have paid off that debt, move all that you are paying on it to the next debt you want to pay off.
    • You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get out of debt with this plan!
  3. Meanwhile, continue to pay the minimum balance due on all of your other debts.Record what you intend to pay toward each debt on the debt chart you made in Step 1.

 

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5. Budget Your Monthly Expenses

Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.

I know this can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.

Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:

  • Housing: 30%
  • Food: 12%
  • Auto: 14%
  • Insurance: 5%
  • Debt: 5%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Clothing: 6%
  • Savings: 5%
  • Medical/Dental: 4%
  • Miscellaneous: 7%
  • Child Care: 5%
  • Investments: 5%

 

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6. Set Financial Goals

Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.

Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do you need to file for child support?
  • Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
  • Is it time to think about going back to school?
  • Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
  • Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single parent family, that you need to consider at this point?

One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?

So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.

So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.

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7. Increase Your Net Worth

The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.

Determine Your Net Worth:

Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.

You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.

Set Up a Savings Account:

Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.

Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.

Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.

In addition, this regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.

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8. Become Even More Frugal

Unfortunately, all of the work you’ve already done in steps 1-7 will have little lasting value if you don’t change your attitude toward money. Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.

Practice Discipline:

Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.

Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?

Try These Ideas:

  • Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
  • When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
  • Forget trying to keep up with “The Jones’s.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
  • Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
  • Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days–or even a week–to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.

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9. Schedule Your Own Weekly Financial Check-In

Grab your calendar and schedule a weekly financial update meeting with yourself. This is an extremely important step in managing your personal finances, and it’s one that you need to continue each and every week. During your “meeting” time:

  • Pay any bills that are due.
  • If your bank statement has arrived, take the time to balance your checkbook.
  • Check the balances of your checking and savings accounts.
  • Update your debt list to incorporate any recent payments.
  • This is also a good time to write out your grocery shopping list and check what’s on sale at your local grocery store this week (either using the store’s Web site or the sales circular that comes in the newspaper).
  • Finally, also make note of any upcoming expenses you need to anticipate and plan for.

An attitude of gratitude and finances.

 

 

References:
Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008, 
Huffstetler, Erin. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
Sources:
Caldwell, Miriam. Email interview. 27 Oct. 2008, Hammond, Bob. “Debt Free Key: 10 Steps for Coping With Credit Problems.” Life Without Debt. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1995. 31-32, Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
“Spending Plan Online Calculator.” Crown Financial Ministries. 11 Oct. 2008.

Written By: Jennifer Wolf

Source: thebalance

 

 

 

The Truth About Present-Day Retirement

Times have changed and so has retirement! Nowadays, retirement is no longer what people once expected. If you’re preparing to retire, the way your parents did, you might be stuck in the past and need to face present-day reality. So, what has changed in the last 10 years? Well, the factors below will shift your perspective about how you should be preparing for retirement!

First, with all the advancements of medicine and technology that we’ve had in this last decade, it’s no surprise that people are living longer. In the past, living 30 years after retirement, was actually outside the norm of an adult’s lifespan. Therefore, the 4% safe withdrawal rate that many financial planners followed was a valid rule of thumb. This guideline told retirees that if they took out only 4% of their assets and adjusted to inflation in their retirement portfolio, the risk of running out of money 30 years after they retired was very low.

But it’s no longer the case! If you’re saving conservatively for an amount that would last you around 30 years, disregard the 4% rule. People are now living past the age of 95 and a good amount of them are even retiring early. The average portfolio return for the standard investor has also decreased and is subject to more risk from the impacts of market volatility. The chances of outliving your nest egg is a lot higher these days.

Not only are people starting to live longer, the divorce rate is also significantly higher. You can no longer assume that you’ll still be married once you retire! How is that an issue, you ask? Well, a divorce could be a serious stumbling block for your retirement plan since your income might be cut in half during your golden years. Not to mention, your retirement assets might be split among you and your ex-spouse. Because of a divorce, you’ll most likely have to change your retirement strategy and lifestyle.

Have you noticed that everything costs a lot more than it used to? Some of this increase can be a result of natural inflation in prices. But, according to our government, inflation is very tame and under control. Yet, the cost of everyday goods is a lot higher and will keep outpacing inflation throughout your retirement. And it is not just everyday expenses that you’ll need to factor into your budget, there’s the added healthcare costs as well. Given the fact that there’s a good chance you’ll live longer, there are more medical issues you’ll be susceptible to. Not to mention the fact that your chances of getting injured or breaking something will dramatically increase. This means a lot more medical bills and trips to the doctor’s office! On top of that, the fact that a third of us will require some sort of assistance or nursing care, and you can see how retirement costs can skyrocket! Basically, retirement is not as cheap as it used to be.

Finally, if you think about your assets, it’s safe to assume that your home is your most valuable one. You may be able to sell it at a profit, assuming that the value has increased over the years. However, that might be a misconception! In order to determine whether or not you’ll actually get a return on your investment, you’ll need to adjust for inflation and taxes. Also, if we experience any major volatility in the housing market like we did in the past, you might not be able to get as much money for your property as you expected. Like all markets, the real estate market can be unpredictable.

So, with all of these changes, how can one successfully save for retirement? Well, my biggest recommendation for every pre-retiree that I talk to is, BE PREPARED! It’s always better to set your retirement savings goal beyond your expected amount, than below it. With the unpredictability of divorce, age, and the financial markets, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you aim higher and save more, then your risk of running out of money during retirement will be a lot lower. Part of being prepared is to work closely with a financial planner that can guide your through your Golden Years. This ‘financial coach’ should be able to point out pitfalls that you might not have even thought of. It’s their job to make sure that you’re on track and don’t fall victim to your own wrongdoings. As well as to create a retirement game plan and an investment road-map that takes taxes and your risk tolerance into consideration.

Being prepared for retirement can be a daunting task. Especially given all the unknowns out there. But with proper preparation and guidance from a financial professional, you can glide into retirement knowing full well that you’re ready for the challenge!

How To Avoid A 401(k) Meltdown If The Trump Rally Fizzles

Millions of Americans are asking the wrong questions when it comes to their retirement plans. It’s not “how much should I invest now?” or “is the market safe?” You should invest as much as you can in every kind of market.

So forget about the question of whether the “Trump rally” is over, or taking a pause. If that’s your concern, you’re focused on the wrong thing.

Despite this reality, far too many investors are trying to find the right fund manager who can somehow predict and navigate the rocky seas the market will toss up. In rare cases, some managers get lucky and get in and out at the right time. But most don’t have this ability.

Most of us want to believe that professional money managers know just when to get in and out of stocks. We put a lot of faith in them — and mis-spend some $2 trillion in fees hoping that they’ll be right and protect our money.

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The numbers don’t lie, however. Most managers can’t do better than passive market averages and rarely outperform after you subtract their fees. So if you’re placing your trust in active management, you’re headed for a meltdown sooner or later.

A recent study by Jeff Ptak at Morningstar shows the folly of active management for most investors.

Ptak looked a the relationship between what actively managed funds return to the fees they charge for management. In most cases, expenses will cancel out most significant gains.

“Fees haven’t fallen that steeply, and, as a result more than two-thirds of U.S. stock funds levy annual expenses that would wipe out their estimated future pre-fee excess returns.”

What this means is that active managers who time the market aren’t likely to outperform passive baskets of stocks. When you subtract their fees, you’re not coming out ahead.

Fees take an even bigger bite when overall market returns are lower. If stocks return less than double digits, you’re going to feel the pain even more.

Ptak is blunt in his conclusion: “Many active stock funds are too expensive to succeed. The exceptions are small-cap funds, where it appears fees are still below estimated pre-fee excess returns.”

What can you do to avoid the meltdown of overpriced, actively managed funds? It’s a pretty simple process.

1) Find the lowest-cost index funds to cover U.S. and global stocks and bonds. Expense ratios shouldn’t be more than 0.20% annually (as opposed to 1% or more for active funds).

2) If you still want active funds in your portfolio, they should be highly-rated managers who invest in smaller companies.

3) Make sure that the “active” part of your portfolio is no more than 30% of your total holdings. While this is an arbitrary percentage, it will provide some buffer against market timing decisions.

You should also avoid the error of picking funds based on their past performance, which can never be guaranteed. So, instead of asking how they performed, you should ask “how many securities can they hold for the lowest-possible cost.”

 

Should You Borrow from Your 401(k)?

The average credit card balance in June 2015 was $15,706, down from its peak of $18,600 in 2009.¹ With the average credit card annual percentage rate sitting at 14.9%, it represents an expensive way to fund spending.²

Which leads many individuals to ask, “Does it make sense to borrow from my 401(k) to pay off debt or to make a major purchase?”³

Borrowing from Your 401(k)

  • No Credit Check—If you have trouble getting credit, borrowing from a 401(k) requires no credit check; so as long as your 401(k) permits loans, you should be able to borrow.
  • More Convenient—Borrowing from your 401(k) usually requires less paperwork and is quicker than the alternative.
  • Competitive Interest Rates—While the rate you pay depends upon the terms your 401(k) sets out, the rate is typically lower than the rate you will pay on personal loans or through a credit card. Plus, the interest you pay will be to yourself rather than to a finance company.

Disadvantages of 401(k) Loans

  • Opportunity Cost—The money you borrow will not benefit from the potentially higher returns of your 401(k) investments. Additionally, many people who take loans also stop contributing. This means the further loss of potential earnings and any matching contributions.
  • Risk of Job Loss—A 401(k) loan not paid is deemed a distribution, subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty tax if you are under age 59½. Should you switch jobs or get laid off, your 401(k) loan becomes immediately due. If you do not have the cash to pay the balance, it will have tax consequences.
  • Red Flag Alert—Borrowing from retirement savings to fund current expenditures could be a red flag. It may be a sign of overspending. You may save money by paying off your high-interest credit-card balances, but if these balances get run up again, you will have done yourself more harm.

Most financial experts caution against borrowing from your 401(k), but they also concede that a loan may be a more appropriate alternative to an outright distribution, if the funds are absolutely needed.

 

 

 

 

  1. NerdWallet, June 25, 2015. Average for U.S. Households
  2. CreditCards.com, April 2015
  3. Distributions from 401(k) plans and most other employer-sponsored retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income and, if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Generally, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking required minimum distributions.

Self-Employed? Here’s How to Save for Retirement

  
Zigy Kaluzny/Getty Images

Working for yourself comes with lots of perks: setting your own hours, your own dress code and your own workload. That’s probably part of the reason nearly a quarter of workers freelance, either full- or part-time. They make good money, too. Almost half earn six figures.

The downside is making up for all the benefits that employers typically provide. That means figuring out health care coverage (which at least is now easier — if not cheaper — than it was before Obamacare) and setting up retirement accounts.

“When you have a workplace 401(k), a lot of the heavy lifting for retirement planning is already done for you,” says Christine Benz, director of personal finance at Morningstar. “That makes it easier to overcome some of the barriers around getting started with retirement planning.”

That’s not the case for self-employed workers. More than three out of 10 freelancers said they were anxious about saving money for retirement, and more than half reported being behind, according to a November study by TD Ameritrade. By contrast, Americans with access to a workplace retirement plan were more than twice as likely to be very confident about having enough money to retire, according to a separate study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

The good news is that saving for retirement is not impossible when you’re working on your own, though it may require more effort. Here’s what you need to know:

You’ll need to put away even more. Financialadvisers recommend that savers stash away at least 15 percent of their income for retirement, including their own money as well as any employer match. Freelancers have to sock away even more income to make up for not getting an employer match. That’s on top of building an emergency fund with at least six months’ worth of expenses that can help weather a dry spell.

It’s important for freelancers to factor the cost of those savings into their business budget, says Randi Merel, a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch. “You have to make sure that you’re earning enough money to cover your benefits,” she says.

You’ve got several options.
There are several ways freelancers can save money for retirement. Here are three to consider:

1) A traditional or Roth IRA: If you already have one of these accounts and aren’t making a ton of money, you can just continue putting aside retirement income there. With a traditional IRA, any withdrawals will be taxed, but you can deduct your contributions.

With a Roth (you’re eligible if your income is less than $120,000), you pay taxes now on your contributions, but the money grows tax-free. You also can make tax-free withdrawals on the principal, so it can double as an emergency fund for new freelancers, although you’ll want to keep the investments fairly conservative. “Then when you start taking on more projects and making more money, you can have a dedicated retirement fund,” says Randall Greene, CEO of Greene Financial Management in Altadena, Calif.

Annual contribution limits for both accounts are $5,500 for younger savers and $6,500 for those over 65.

2) SEP IRA: The most common plan for freelancers and sole proprietors, SEP IRAs allow contributions up to about 20 percent of your compensation, or $53,000, that grow tax-free.  There’s a complex formula to determine your contribution based on your compensation as a self-employed person.

A nice benefit of SEP IRAs is that the deadline for contributions is either Tax Day or when you file your taxes. So, you could put away just 5 percent of your income all year, but decide in February to put another 20 percent in because you find that you have the extra income. That can help you make up for any leaner years when you couldn’t contribute as much. (The same benefit applies to IRAs and Roths, but at much lower limits.)

You can set up a SEP IRA with almost any bank or brokerage, and fees tend to be minimal. “It’s a very cost-effective option,” says Douglas Boneparth, a financial advisor and partner with Longwave Financial.

3) Solo 401(k): Also known as an individual 401(k), these accounts let you put away $18,000 as an employee. Additionally you can contribute about 20 percent of your compensation (again, use the above calculator to determine the exact amount) or $53,000, whichever is less, as your own boss. Those over age 50 can put in an extra $6,000, and spouses who work together can both put in $53,000.

A Solo 401(k) may cost more to set up and require additional paperwork at tax time, but its assets are protected from creditors under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Contributions must be made before the end of the calendar year.

Many Solo 401(k)s also offer the option to borrow against your retirement savings, although experts say that doing so is rarely the best financial move.

Skip automation. Most retirement accounts offer an auto-fund option allowing you to set aside a predetermined amount of money each month. That can be more difficult for freelancers, since your income fluctuates. Instead, consider making contributions a few times a year, recommends Gage DeYoung, a certified financial planner and founder of Prudent Wealthcare in Aurora, Colorado. “Plan on doing it at the same time that you pay your estimated quarterly taxes,” he says.

Plan to work longer. Since freelancers control their schedules and how much work they take on, they’re ideally situated to ease into retirement. If you plan to continue working (even if you’ve scaled back) to delay drawing down your retirement funds, then you can retire more securely on a relatively smaller nest egg.

Written by Beth Braverman of Fiscal Times

(Source: Fiscal Times)

The Surprising Costs of Downsizing Your Home

© Jamie Grill/Getty Images
© Jamie Grill/Getty Images

When I look at my retirement stash, I have to admit it’s kind of small. When I look at my house, I realize it’s kind of big. And when I consider the two together, I think that maybe I should downsize and use the equity in my house to buy a condo or add to my retirement savings and rent.

Downsizing isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of the few strategies — along with working longer, delaying Social Security or spending less later in retirement — available to near-retirees who find themselves short on retirement savings and don’t have time to catch up, says Steven Sass, of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “The house is a major source of people’s savings. If you don’t want to work longer or give up eating out in retirement, downsizing should be part of the plan.” (Another way to get at home equity is to take out a reverse mortgage)

Do the math. Before you sell your house and move, add up the costs that can chip away at the amount you free up. For starters, fixing up a house to sell often means spending thousands of dollars in repairs and upgrades (new roof, anyone?). Once the house does sell, you’ll pay commissions to real estate agents on both sides of the transaction, usually to the tune of 6% of the home’s value. Packing and transporting enough furniture to outfit a two-bedroom condo will run $1,500 if you move a few miles away and $5,000 or more if you move across the country, according to the calculator at http://www.moving.com. As for the furniture you don’t keep, you could find yourself spending a few thousand dollars to ship the good stuff to your kid across country and paying a hauler to cart away the rest.

Even after the move, you won’t be home-free. Condo association fees run at least several hundred dollars a month, on top of insurance and property taxes, and if the building needs a major improvement, such as a new roof, you’ll get hit by a special assessment to help cover the cost. Renting is more predictable but leaves you vulnerable to annual rent hikes. And whether you rent or buy, you’ll surely want to buy new furnishings that fit the smaller space, says Paul Miller, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Fla. “You think you’re freeing up all this money by downsizing, and then you spend thousands to refurbish.”

Other expenses you might not have considered: Instead of the driveway you currently enjoy, you’ll probably have to fork over cash for a parking space. If you can’t squeeze Grandma’s armoire into the second bedroom (or bear to part with it), you’ll pay $100 a month to rent a storage unit. Because you won’t want to stash those old tax records in the second bedroom, you’ll spring for storage space in the building. Moving far away from friends and family? Factor in the expense of traveling back to the old neighborhood a few times a year. As for the next family reunion, that won’t be happening in your two-bedroom condo: Count on covering the cost of renting a beach house.

Of course, moving to a condo or apartment also allows you to cut your utility bills, eliminate yardwork and snow shoveling, and get rid of your mortgage or trade it for a smaller one — and maybe you’ll make your kids chip in for the beach house. Still, be sure to add up the pluses and minuses before you put out the For Sale sign, not after.

“There are a lot of considerations that go into the downsizing decision,” says Miller. “This may be the last move you’re going to make, so you’d better make it a good one.”

Written by Jane Bennett Clark of Kiplinger

(Source: Kiplinger)

How to Retire Well No Matter What Happens in the Market

Steve Vernon, an actuary and a research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity, has a surefire solution for bear scares. “Nothing helps sleeping at night more than knowing you have a fixed stream of income that won’t be impacted by what’s going on in the markets,” he says. The key is to maximize your guaranteed sources of income.

Settle on a Social Security strategy

You can start receiving Social Security at age 62, but if you delay until age 70, the payout will be 76% higher. “Even if you are going to tap other assets to live off before age 70, you still come out ahead delaying Social Security,” says David Littell, co-director of the retirement-income program at the American College of Financial Services. What if you don’t have enough income to cover your needs until 70? Couples have an option. The higher wage earner can delay until 70 while the other spouse taps benefits earlier.

Get the basics covered

Take a small piece of your retirement savings and buy yourself guaranteed income. For example, $100,000 in an immediate fixed annuity these days would entitle a 65-year-old male to a lifetime monthly payout of $555, and $535 for a 65-year-old woman. (Women’s longer life expectancy is the reason for the difference.) That’s the equivalent of an annual withdrawal rate in excess of 6%.

Stick with a single-premium immediate annuity. Since payouts are based partly on market interest rates—which are still low—start with a small contract now and buy in intervals over a few years. You can get quotes atImmediateAnnuities.com.

If you’re five to 10 years from when you want the payouts to start, look into a fixed deferred annuity. You pay your premium today and designate when you want the income to begin.

Turn down the lump sum

Many private-sector employers, eager to shed traditional pension obligations, have been offering employees the option of taking lump sums today. Vernon recommends sticking with the pension’s annuity payouts, as you’ll have a hard time safely creating as big a guaranteed stream of income from a lump sum.

Written by Carla Fried of Money

(Source: Time)

Here’s a Milestone You Don’t Reach Until Your Seventies

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Provided by LifeHack

The major milestones of older Americans are not attended with the same sense of wonder that accompanies the major milestones of younger Americans. Sure, registering for Social Security benefits and signing up for Medicare are rites of passage, but they don’t hold a candle to earning your driver’s license, receiving your first kiss, winning your first promotion, or dancing at your wedding.

If you have retirement accounts when you become a septuagenarian, then you’ll encounter a milestone the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) strongly encourages you to remember. Beginning April 1 of the year following the year in which you reach age 70½, you must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from most of your retirement accounts. Forbes offered this list:

  • Traditional IRAs
  • Rollover IRAs
  • Inherited IRAs
  • SEP IRAs
  • SIMPLE IRAs
  • 401(k), 403(b), and 457(b) plan accounts
  • Keogh plans

There currently are no RMDs for Roth IRAs, unless the accounts were inherited.

If you have more than one qualifying retirement account, then a separate RMD must be calculated for each account. If you want to withdraw a portion of each account, you can, but it may prove simpler to take the entire amount due from a single account. Once you start, you must take RMDs by December 31 every year. If you don’t, you’ll owe some hefty penalty taxes.

The IRS offers some instructions for calculating the RMD due. “The required minimum distribution for any year is the account balance as of the end of the immediately preceding calendar year divided by a distribution period from the IRS’ “Uniform Lifetime Table.” A separate table is used if the sole beneficiary is the owner’s spouse who is ten or more years younger than the owner.”

If you would prefer to have some help figuring out the correct amount when RMDs are due, contact your financial professional.

How $1,000 Invested at Birth Could Change Everything

baby hand holding money
Getty Images

In the presidential debates, we’ve heard more about Donald Trump’s anatomythan what may be the most pressing financial issue directly in front of millions of boomers: Where will they find monthly retirement income that is guaranteed for life?

The retirement industry can talk about almost nothing else, which in hindsight seems a predictable turn. Did we really believe Americans would manage their 401(k) plans well enough to stash away 25 years of post-career financial security? We haven’t come close, and in this sense the 401(k) has been a colossalfailure. Now the first wave of pensionless retirees is about to land, and politicians have almost nothing to say on the subject.

One reason is that there are no quick fixes, which is why it may be time to dust off a long-term solution first floated in the 1990s and still championed by one of its architects, Bob Kerrey, the former democratic senator from Nebraska. He would like every child born in the U.S. to receive $1,000 in a “KidSave” account that would compound over 65 years before being tapped. “For most people it’s not income that matters,” says Kerry, now with investment firm Allen & Co. “It’s wealth accumulation.”

In other words, retirement security is less about what you earn and more about how much and how soon you save. Compound growth over seven decades can do a lot of heavy lifting.

Kerrey reiterated his support for what he calls “wealth accounts” last week during a discussion on the financial impact of longevity, hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch at the Museum of American Finance in New York. These wealth accounts would be funded at every child’s birth through a government loan, to be repaid when the child enters the workforce some 25 years later.

The initial $1,000 by itself wouldn’t make a huge difference: at 6% a year over 65 years it would produce just $44,145 in tax-deferred savings. But the existence of a wealth account from birth would encourage more saving, Kerrey believes. These accounts would be strictly off limits for 65 years and in his estimation could be enough to guarantee adequate income that will never run out later in life. If parents or grandparents, say, kicked in $20 a month for 20 years the nest egg would swell to more than $240,000 at the child’s retirement.

KidSave accounts enjoyed bipartisan support years ago but stalled amid efforts to boost other types of savings accounts and shore up Social Security. As previously envisioned, the initial deposit might be $2,000, indexed annually for inflation. That alone might produce $250,000 at age 65, Heritage Foundation found in its assessment of the program nearly two decades ago. Another version of the program called for $1,000 at birth and five annual payments of $500, which could generate a nest egg of nearly $140,000.

Why dust off KidSave accounts now? They are a relatively painless way to address a retirement income shortfall in the, yes, distant future. But as the youngest boomers and then Gen Xers retire with virtually no guaranteed income other than Social Security, the shortfall will only grow. Everything is on the table now as policymakers try to fix the retirement income issue via things like expanded Social Security, guaranteed retirement accounts, 401(k) annuities, better home reverse mortgages, and breaking down legal barriers to working longer.

Kerrey noted that without change every American now under age 40 will receive a 25% cut in Social Security benefits at retirement. We need interim steps. But we also need a long-term plan. The candidates have touched on ways to fix Social Security and cut ballooning student debt. But for now they are far more fixated on Donald Trump’s, er, hands than the retirement income crisis descending on the nation.

Written by Dan Kadlec of Money

(Source: Time)

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