10 Ways to Invest Outside of Your 401(k) in 2018

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So you’ve got plans to max out your 401(k) and your emergency fund is cash-flush. What next?

You have plenty of options, many of which we’ve listed below. Wherever you put your money, remember that each type of investment comes with drawbacks. You should understand your risk tolerance and be comfortable with the potential pitfalls involved before getting started with a new investment. Asset diversification is a way to offset the potential risks — do not put all your eggs in one basket. If you are looking to diversify your assets, here are 10 ways to invest outside a 401(k). We’ve put them in order (roughly) of how complicated it is to get started with these investment strategies.

Upgrade your savings

Stashing your extra money in a certificate of deposit (CD), high-yield savings account, or money market account might be the least risky investment you can make in 2018.

The Federal Reserve has gradually raised its benchmark funds rate in 2017. The latest hike was in December, when the Fed raised the funds rate target range by 25 basis points. When the Fed rates increase, banks often raise savings rates as well. So it may be the time to upgrade your ho-hum deposit accounts.

Most accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a government agency, for up to $250,000. The risk with these accounts is you might not earn enough interest on your deposits to outpace inflation. If you choose a CD, you usually can’t access your money until the term ends without paying a hefty fee, so it’s probably not a good idea to lock all your savings into a five-year CD account.

You can read our reviews on CDs, online-bank savings accounts, and money market accounts with the highest yields and best perks.

Best for: Conservative investors who are not comfortable with investing in the market and those who need a place to save their emergency fund.

Get an automated micro-investing app

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Small savings add up quickly.

A wave of micro-investing apps have allowed users to invest spare money in small amounts in selected exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are securities that track a basket of stocks, bonds, commodities, or indexes — like the S&P 500 index, for instance. You can often select a ready-made portfolio depending your risk tolerance and invest as little as $5 each day.

Take Acorns as an example: It automatically invests a small amount of your money daily, weekly, or monthly. One of Acorns’ interesting features is rounding up your purchases to the nearest full dollar amount and makes the change available for you to invest.

Let’s say you used a credit card to buy a cup of coffee for $2.75. You can choose to invest the 25 cents on the app, or Acorns will invest the change for you if you elect automatic-roundup investments. It’s free to open an Acorns account. The app charges $1 per month if your balance is under $5,000, or 0.25 percent per year if your balance is $5,000 or more.

We’ve reviewed four micro-investing apps. Read more about their features here.

One thing to note: These apps target investors saving small amounts of cash, so you want to make sure the fees don’t eat into your returns. As a reference, the average ETF fee is 0.24%, and the average for target-date funds is 0.71%, according to Morningstar. So, it really doesn’t make much sense for you to pay $12 a year if you only invest $200 a year through Acorns — the fee would be a sky-high 6%.

Best for: People with cash sitting idle in their checking account. And those who have the best intention to save but struggle to get over the emotional barrier. The automated apps help you save spare money and potentially grow it through investing.

Open a Roth IRA

Consider opening a Roth IRA if you have maxed out your 401(k) or you are simply not happy with the investment choices in your plan.

It’s a more flexible retirement investment vehicle, especially for early-career professionals, than a 401(k), according to financial planners. With a Roth, you save after-tax dollars. Money invested in a Roth grows tax-free, and you can withdraw your original contributions — but not the earnings — before retirement without tax consequences or penalty. Many parents also make it a piece of their college savings plan, thanks to its tax efficiency.

The total allowable amount contributed to a Roth is $5,500 for 2018 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older). The IRS does have income limitations for who is eligible for a Roth IRA. Check if you qualify for a Roth here.

Best for: Young professionals who expect their incomes to rise as their careers advance, or their tax bracket to stay the same in retirement as it is now. Parents saving for their children’s education.

Health savings account (HSA)

Experts say an HSA is one of the most tax-favored, yet underused, investment vehicles.

People with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) are eligible for a tax-advantaged Health Savings Account. Pros highly recommend that those who have an HSA use it not just as a medical fund for unexpected emergencies, but also as a long-term retirement savings account.

HSA has a triple-tax benefit: The money you put into an HSA is tax-deductible; the balance grows tax-free and rolls over each year; and withdrawals from your HSA for qualified medical expenses are not taxed. There are a variety of HSA investment options, from regular savings accounts to mutual funds.

The annual maximum HSA contribution in 2018 is $3,450 for an individual and $6,900 for a family. If you are at least 55 years old, you can contribute an additional $1,000 annually. Experts suggest you max it out if you can, given its triple-tax benefits. While you must have a high-deductible health plan to contribute to an HSA, you get to keep and use the funds even after you’ve changed insurance coverage.

You can search for HSAs on DepositAccounts.com, which, like MagnifyMoney, is a subsidiary of LendingTree. This may help you navigate the hundreds of plan providers out there.

Best for: People who have a high-deductible health plan.

529 plans

A 529 savings plan is a tax-advantaged savings account designed to encourage saving for qualified future education costs, such as tuition, fees, and room and board. Much like a 401(k) or IRA, a 529 savings plan allows you to invest in mutual funds or similar investments.

It used to only be eligible for college expenses, but under the new tax law, you can now use 529 savings for private K-12 schooling. Tax benefits are now extended to eligible education expenses for an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.

The new rules allow you to withdraw up to $10,000 a year per student (child) for education costs.

Edward Vargo, an Ohio-based financial planner, told MagnifyMoney that 529 plans are “excellent legacy planning tools” for one’s grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

One drawback of a 529 plan is that earnings withdrawn not used for qualified education expenses will be taxed, and an additional 10-percent penalty is applied. So parents should thoroughly evaluate the expenses that might be needed to fund education down the road.

Best for: Parents, grandparents, or couples planning on having children.

Education

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If you want to advance your career, move up the ladder, or increase your earning potential, consider furthering your education.

To be sure, going back to school is a big time and financial commitment. Be prepared for a time period of uncertainty and income drop if you quit a full-time job to pursue a degree, which may require a lifestyle adjustment. But knowledge is invaluable, and there’s potential for an economic return, as well. A 2014 Georgetown University economic analysis of college majors found that obtaining a graduate degree leads to a wage bump.

Biology and life science graduate degree holders make a median of $35,000 more with a graduate degree, for instance. The median salary of those with an advanced degree in humanities and arts is $18,000 higher than their counterparts with a bachelor’s degree.

Investing in your education doesn’t necessarily require dropping everything to go back to school, either. Pursuing an unfinished degree on a part-time basis, attending professional workshops, taking ongoing education courses, or learning a new language could also be worth your time and money, depending on your career.

Best for: Professionals in fields where an advanced degree is highly preferred or those looking to advance their career or switch careers.

Open a brokerage account

If you’ve paid off your credit card debt, established an emergency fund, and exhausted all your tax-advantaged accounts, you can open a regular old brokerage account to squirrel away some more money.

A brokerage account is much like an IRA. It’s more flexible in terms of investment choices and money withdrawal than 401(k)s, but you don’t get any tax breaks. It allows you to buy and sell a wide variety of securities, from stocks and bonds to mutual funds, currency, and futures and options contracts, through a brokerage firm.

You can open a brokerage account with any of the major investment firms like Vanguard,Charles Schwab, or Fidelity. Just like with other financial accounts, you deposit money and work with a broker to buy or sell securities. The broker will recommend investments depending on your personal financial situation and goals. But you have the final say on investment decisions. The brokerage firm takes a commission for executing your trades, and there are fees linked to the transactions, ranging from account maintenance fees and markups/markdowns to wire fees and account closing fees.

Be prepared for a steep learning curve as a market newbie. You will have to study how each financial instrument works and the companies you invest in, such as learning to read their quarterly financial reports. Holding a brokerage account is also a big-time commitment. Although a broker will help you make investment decisions, you will have to stay on top of the daily market movements and news that may impact the market to make sure you are making a profit.

Best for: Aggressive investors with high-risk tolerance and extra savings.

Invest in real estate

The housing market poses a rosy picture in 2018. Nationally, home prices rose more than 6 percent in 2017, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices. Across the country, demand for houses is high while supply is tight.

It’s a good place to tap into if you are looking to diversify your portfolio.There are a couple options. If you want to get hands-on, you can buy a home and rent it out, flipp houses, or rent out your existing home. Or if you don’t want to be quite so involved, investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) is another option.

If you are buying a property, experts advise you put the down payment funds in a fairly liquid account, so that it’s immediately available when you need to make a purchase.

Whichever way you choose to invest in real estate, you want to keep up with the latest economic trends, especially the real estate market. For example, you may want to read the real estate market outlook PwC published for 2018.

Unlike many other highly liquid investments, properties cannot be bought and sold for profit in a heartbeat. You want to set aside cash for other life expenses before jumping into real estate, because you are likely to hold the property for a long time.

Best for: Investors with a large sum of cash to cover a down payment and those who understand the real estate market.

Invest in a business

You may think it’s a type of venture only the super rich or a venture capitalists can do. Well, not necessarily.

The Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015 approved crowdfunding rules that allow startups or small businesses to seek investors through brokers or online crowdfunding platforms. This basically means, ordinary Joes can now buy into startups now.

A parade of online equity crowdfunding platforms allow non-accredited investors to put money in small businesses and startups. MicroVentures, DreamFunded, SeedInvest, StartEngine, and Wefunder are among those.

But tread carefully. Entrepreneurship gives hope and excitement, but investing in small businesses and startups is risky.

Make sure you do homework before starting a venture. Familiarize yourself with the process and understand the risks. You also want to research the company thoroughly, and understand its management structure and the product or service it offers. Basically, read up on anything you can to find about the company you buy into.

Because of the risks involved, the SEC put a cap on how much you can invest in those businesses through crowdfunding depending on your net worth and annual income. Check the limitations here.

Best for: Adventurous investors who are comfortable with the potential risks, passionate about entrepreneurship, and willing to spend time studying the businesses they invest in.

Wait, but what about Bitcoin?

Investing in the extremely volatile Bitcoin is so risky that it has the chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on guard.

Bitcoin has had a wild ride. Its value skyrocketed from $1,000 to $19,000 in 2017, often moving thousands of dollars a day. And it’s been in the news constantly. But, as with any high-risk financial move, you shouldn’t invest unless you are willing to lose it all. There are no consumer protections on Bitcoin. If Bitcoins are lost or stolen, they are gone forever.

That being said, if you are curious about it and want to learn how it works, you can throw in $20 or $100 to buy through a digital currency exchange or broker. You can read more about the cryptocurrency craze in our ultimate Bitcoin guide.

Best for: Curious investors willing to experiment — and potentially lose.

The post 10 Ways to Invest Outside of Your 401(k) in 2018 appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Spice Up Your Meals Without Hurting Your Wallet

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A fistful of parsley dries out in the refrigerator after you used it for a dish or two. And the 15 bottles of spices on your spice rack have long lost fragrance before you noticed.

Sound familiar?

It’s a common home-cook frustration. A new recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh basil and a pinch of smoked paprika, but when you go to the grocery store, even the smallest quantities of those ingredients provide far more than you need. Why?

The answer is simple: It’s good business.

Big bunches make big money

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As far as fresh herbs go, sellers make more money off of large bunches, according to John Stanton, professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Demand for fresh herbs — like basil, cilantro, mint, rosemary, thyme, and parsley — has increased dramatically over the past few decades, thanks to gourmet restaurants, and the rise of celebrity chefs and cooking shows. Growing fresh herbs has become a high-profit niche market, experts say, but it’s costly to compete.

Because herbs are at their best when freshly picked, it is important for sellers to establish a quick supply chain. To be successful, they must develop an efficient system to move the herbs from growers to customers, Stanton said. Herbs are also more delicate than vegetables. To prevent damage to the leafy herbs and keep their attractiveness, growers, distributors, and sellers also have to handle them gently and package them properly for long shelf life.

“You cannot have the product sitting around some place too long,” Stanton said. “The withered parsley is almost as powerful as the unwithered, but it just doesn’t look good.”

The complex, labor-heavy logistics that get herbs from growers to grocers in good condition cost a lot of money. Selling herbs in large bunches — more than what a home cook may need — helps make up for these costs.

While no one wants to reveal profit margins for the products they sell, Stanton said growers profit more from fresh herbs than from competitive produce, such as tomatoes and carrots.

The struggle of minimizing waste

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Jeanine Davis, associate professor at the department of horticultural science at NC State University, said small packets of herbs are good alternatives to big bunches of cilantro, parsley, or mint.

While home cooks may avoid food waste by electing the fresh herbs that come in plastic containers, they aren’t necessarily saving money. For instance, a full bunch of cilantro costs $1.99 at Wegmans, a regional supermarket chain in the Northeast, but 0.25 ounces of the same product packaged in a plastic is priced at $1.25. The package is actually more expensive if you calculate the cost per unit. And it may still come with more than you need, as well.

If you’re more concerned about minimizing food waste, subscribing to meal kits might be the way to go. Herbs, spices and seasonings come in the exact amount you need for a dish from meal subscription services like Blue Apron or Sun Basket.

How to make fresh herbs last longer

Compared with buying smaller packages of herbs or subscribing to a meal kit, buying those big, fresh bunches of herbs is the most affordable choice. Buying more than you need doesn’t mean you’ll inevitably waste food either. Karen Kennedy, education coordinator at the Herb Society of America, shared these tips with MagnifyMoney for getting the most value out of your herb purchases:

Spices last longer but can still be problematic

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Most commonly, dried spices are sold in bottles at grocery stores. Each bottle contains a few ounces of herbs, generally about 1 to 2 ounces. Prices vary dramatically by spice.

Kai Stark, purchasing manager at Frontier Co-op, an Iowa-based natural product wholesaler that owns the organic spice brand Simply Organic, told MagnifyMoney that spices are costly because some are extremely difficult to harvest, such as saffron and vanilla, making them incredibly labor-intensive. Others are prone to crop failures, making them risky items for farmers to grow, Stark explained.

Still, many may think two ounces of nutmeg for $5 is costly, especially when the recipe calls for only a tiny bit. Stanton, however, argues that people believe that dried herbs and spices are expensive because they only think of the cost per bottle. He referred to a roasted chicken meal as an example:

“Let’s say a jar of tarragon costs about $3, and a nice chicken may cost $7,” he said. “So you put the chicken in a pan. You took a pinch of tarragon and then you put it in an oven. The cost of the meal is [actually] the full $7 dollars of the chicken and about 3 cents of tarragon.”

“It’s better to think of it as cost per use and then it’s not that expensive,” he added.

How to keep your spice costs down

The trick to getting the most value out of a spice is using the whole bottle. Even though it might seem cheaper to buy dried herbs and spices in larger quantities, Kennedy suggests consumers stock them in small amounts to avoid waste.

In the case of nutmeg, you might want to buy a 0.53-ounce bottle that costs $2.

“If you can’t use it all before the flavor diminishes, you haven’t really saved anything,” Kennedy said.

Stark said the bulk aisle would be the place where consumers should look to save money on spices.

“You can purchase the exact amount of spice you want, whether it’s a pinch or a pound,” he said.

To be sure, not every grocery store has bulk spice aisles, and there may not be a specialty spice shop in your town. If that’s not an option at your local grocer, and you feel like you’re wasting money on spices you don’t use up while they’re most potent, consider these tips:

What you can do to make spices last longer

To keep their shelf life as long as possible, Kennedy said it’s best to store the dried herbs and spices in airtight glass jars and and place the bottles in a dry, dark, and cool location. Use your nose as a judge: You may want to toss your spice jar when a strong aroma or flavor doesn’t come off right away when you open it.

“When the fragrance begins to fade, so has the flavor,” she said. Most spices are good for one year when stored properly.

Spices sitting on the shelf for a year may not smell as good as when they were freshly bought, but Stanton said that doesn’t mean they are not safe to eat.

The expiration dates on food are mostly irrelevant, said Stanton, adding that they were labeled by companies hoping that consumers would regularly toss old products and buy new ones. Indeed, expiration dates are not required by law. Industry groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute are trying to get food manufacturers and retailers to stop labeling expiration/sell by dates to help consumers reduce food waste.

“If you have an old bottle of dried herbs, you might have to put a little more on,” Stanton said. “So instead of costing 3 cents to make the tarragon chicken, it actually costs 6 cents.”

The post Spice Up Your Meals Without Hurting Your Wallet appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

I Am a Foreign National — What Should I Do With My 401(k)?

Thanasis Konstantinidis didn’t know what a 401(k) was when he got his first job in the United States almost four years ago. He just thought the term sounded a bit strange.

The 34-year-old software engineer from Greece eventually learned the basics of the classic American retirement investment account. But it didn’t exactly seem like the wisest move. He was granted a temporary work visa for three years. If at the end of three years he wasn’t granted permanent residency in his host country, there was a chance he would have to leave the country all together.

“My future was very uncertain at the time, and I wasn’t sure if I’d stay in the U.S.,” Konstantinidis told MagnifyMoney.

In 2016, there were 27 million foreign-born workers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These workers made up nearly 17 percent of the American labor force that year, up from 13.3 percent in 2000.

Many non-native workers in the U.S. are young professionals hired by firms seeking workers with highly valued skills. In 2016, more than 870,000 foreign nationals were granted the most common temporary work visas. The U.S. has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of international students at colleges and universities in the past decade. After graduation, these students are often eligible for visas that allow them to pursue jobs in the U.S.

It is tricky enough for the average millennial to think about the future. The temporary immigration status of foreign nationals and the fact they may travel between countries in the future add additional layers of complication when it comes to retirement planning. How can they make long-term financial plans when they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to continue working in the U.S.?

In this article, we answered typical questions foreign nationals may have about 401(k)s as they pursue careers in the U.S.

Should foreign nationals contribute to a 401(k)?

The answer here may seem intuitive to those who, like Konstantinidis, think they will only stay in the U.S. for a few years. Tying up their funds in a 401(k) in a country they may be leaving soon might seem unwise. And by choosing not to participate in a 401(k) plan, they may have more cash available for their immediate needs.

In truth, there are pros and cons depending on a few factors, so you have to ask yourself a few questions first:

Do you view this 401(k) as part of a long-term investment plan or only as a short-term savings account?

When you are young and start saving early, you have a huge advantage on your side — time.

“Most of those folks who are here on a temporary visa tend to be young,” said Chris Chen, a Waltham, Mass.-based wealth strategist at Insight Financial Strategists. “They happen to be able to take the advantage of the power of compounding. That is truly a gift that you can’t get when you are older.”

It’s also an opportunity to invest in the U.S. market, which is among the strongest economies in the world and has a relatively mature and stable market with lower fund fees than many other countries.

Are you a high earner, which would increase the tax benefit of opening a 401(k)?

Another immediate and major benefit that you would lose is the tax advantage. Especially for those high-income earners, you are saving money by not paying taxes now, and when you withdraw the money at retirement, you will pay fewer taxes because ideally you will be in a lower income bracket.

Is there an incentive to contribute to your 401(k), like a company match?

If your employer offers a match, you would be walking away from additional income if you fail to contribute. Many U.S. employers offer to match up to a certain percentage of employee 401(k) contributions.

For example, an employer may offer to match up to 3 percent of the employee’s contribution.

Let’s say you make $60,000 a year and contribute 6 percent (or $3,600) into a 401(k) for the year. Your company would match up to three percent (or $1,800) of that contribution. This means you would only contribute $3,600 to your 401(k) but end up with $5,400 thanks to the match.

“They would be leaving money on the table by giving up on the match,” said Chris Chen.

How certain are you about returning to your home country in the near future?

It may not feel like your odds of needing a U.S.-based retirement fund are certain, especially if your circumstances are anything like those of Konstantinidis.

However, Chris Chen argues that an international worker’s future isn’t all that uncertain. In fact, if anything is certain at all, it’s the fact that they will likely retire at some point.

“Whether it is India or China or Europe, when you go back to your country, you are going to have to use the tools available there for retirement,” he said. “And in the meantime, you will still have an extra little [retirement fund] out there in the U.S.”

If you were to leave the U.S., you have several options on managing your U.S.-based savings, some of which will require some administrative hassle. We’ll cover these options later.

Furthermore, your plans may change. You might have planned to stay in the U.S. for just two years, but you may end up staying longer. In that case, it could be wise to start saving for retirement early.

Can your 401(k) help with non-retirement goals?

Hui-chin Chen, a financial planner with Arlington, Va.-based Pavlov Financial Planning, who works with foreign nationals in their 20s to 40s, told MagnifyMoney some have other plans for their 401(k) than just retirement.

Many of her clients stayed in the U.S. for jobs after completing their college or graduate studies here. Although some eventually left the country, they still wanted their children to have the same study abroad experience. So they considered their 401(k) an education fund.

“They think, ‘Okay, I can leave some money in the U.S. I don’t care about taking it with me,” Chen explained. “‘And if I leave the money in the U.S., I might as well get some tax benefits. I can wait until I am older and I can take that money out to pay for their college.’”

Just keep in mind that if you try to tap your 401(k) for funds before you turn 59 and a half, you will likely face early withdrawal penalties and could be hit with income taxes.

The disadvantages of contributing to a 401(k)

While financial planners encourage foreign nationals to invest in their 401(k) in general, they would advise against the the idea in some cases.

For those who are certain that they are just staying in the U.S. for a very short time, are in a relatively low tax bracket, and don’t see 401(k) as a long-term savings plan, experts suggest they open a taxable account — like a brokerage or savings account — or send money back home if they have better investment choices over there.

But do take note that you are a considered a U.S. resident from the tax perspective as long as you live in this country. This means if you invest outside the U.S., your income from those investments are still subject to U.S. taxes.

The tax benefits could justify the administrative hassle for high-wage earners once they leave the country hoping to take the 401(k) funds out. That’s because they are able to save a potentially significant sum of money without paying taxes upfront. And when they withdraw those funds later, they will likely be at a lower tax bracket and, hence, enjoy a big tax savings.

For lower-income workers, however, that tax benefit doesn’t necessarily pack the same punch, especially if their account has a smaller balance.

“It’s OK if [your 401(k) is worth] $200,000. If it’s $18,000, the benefit is offset,” said Andrew Fisher, president of Worldview Wealth Advisors, a financial advisor firm that specializes in working with cross-border individuals with U.S. connections.

How much should I invest and where do I invest?

If you’ve decided to open a 401(k) with a U.S. company, the next challenge is figuring out how much to save and where to save it.

The answer to the first question — how much to save — is simple if your company offers a match.

Sirui Hua, 26, a producer with a New York-based digital media company, told MagnifyMoney that he saves 4 percent of his income in his 401(k). His employer offered to match up to 4 percent of his income and he didn’t want to give that up.

“If I don’t save the money now, I’d have nothing when I go back,” Hua said. “At least I would have a little something one day I go home.”

Hua, originally from China, was recently approved for his work visa by his employer, which allows him to continue working in the U.S. for up to six years. Knowing that he has a full six years of stable work ahead of him, he is planning to increase his 401(k) contribution. He’s still not sure if he’ll use it as a retirement account if he returns home to China, but he would rather take the opportunity while he has it.

At least contribute enough to capture the full match. From there, consider increasing your contribution based on your other financial goals.

Depending on your personal goals and future plans, contribute more if you are able to. Just remember the legal contribution limit for 401(k)s is $18,500 in 2018.

It may also make sense to save cash in a standard savings account so that you can access money in an emergency. Remember, early 401(k) withdrawals come with potential tax penalties.

What do I do with my 401(k) if I leave the country?

This is the question that has deterred many foreign workers from investing in their 401(k) accounts.

There are basically two solutions: You can either leave it in the U.S. or take the money out and deal with the tax and early withdrawal penalties — and the potential hassle of getting a U.S.-based bank to transfer funds to an international account.

Leaving your 401(k) in the U.S.

You can leave your 401(k) with your employer’s plan administrator or you can roll it over into an IRA.

In general, pros recommend that you do not cash out your 401(k) if you don’t have to. Keeping your 401(k) is the easiest solution.

“It’s less likely that [the plan providers] will say, ‘We have to close your account,’” Hui-chin Chen said. ”Because as long as you are still a plan participant, they cannot kick you out.”

That being said, you will want to check in every now and then to be sure your investments are properly allocated based on your needs. Hui-chin Chen notes that companies may offer good low-cost index funds with balanced asset allocations for employees. However, it’s important to be sure your investments are well-balanced and you’re not taking on more risk than is suitable for your age and goals.

You can keep your 401(k) with most plan providers even after you leave the company, she added. However, there are exceptions. Check with your HR department and read the details in your plan documents to find out specific plan rules.

Rolling it over into a traditional IRA

Another option for workers who leave the country is to roll the funds into a traditional IRA (Individual Retirement Account) that you can control yourself. Just like a 401(k), you may be able to defer paying taxes on money contributed to an IRA.

A major difference between an IRA and a 401(k) is that you are limited to a total annual contribution of $5,500 ($6,500 for those over age 50) with the IRA. But an IRA may potentially offer a wider variety of investment choices than a typical employer-sponsored 401(k).

The challenge with opening an IRA for foreign nationals is that not many plan providers work with people with foreign mailing addresses because they are seen as a potential risk, experts said. You should check with brokerage firms to see whether they will hold accounts for people with international addresses.

The advantages of keeping your 401(k) in the U.S.

Potential tax benefits

When you withdraw your 401(k) funds from a U.S.-based account, it’s likely that your home country will not treat it as taxable income.

Tax laws in different countries vary. There is a grey area whether other countries respect the tax benefits of the U.S.-based 401(k) or IRA.

Fisher of Worldview Wealth Advisors explains that in his experience, most countries have not expressly accepted or denied the tax-deferred status of funds held in a 401(k) or IRA, but most foreign tax preparers are treating it as such. In other words, you may continue to enjoy a tax-free growth investment vehicle even if you move overseas. But you want to check your country’s tax laws to make sure this is the case.

The magic of compounding

Before you take this road, remember you could face a 10% early withdrawal penalty plus a hefty income tax bill.

If you’re a younger worker, you’re also missing out on potentially decades’ worth of growth that you might enjoy if you leave your funds where they are.

Let’s say you save $18,000 in a 401(k) over your time working in the U.S. It might seem like peanuts to you. But consider this: If you never contribute another penny to the account, you could grow that savings to over $317,000 over the next 40 years (assuming an average annual return of 7.2%).

“It’s no longer peanuts,” said Chris Chen. “When you take [the money] out, think of that $18,000, what are you going to do with it? People often do that without much savings, so they will end up spending it.”

Cashing out your 401(k)

If you don’t want to leave the money in the U.S. to invest for the long run, there are more tax complications and administrative hassle to contend with.

You’re allowed to withdraw the money from your 401(k) when you leave the country, experts say. The amount you withdraw will count as taxable income unless you’re 59 and a half or older. You’ll also face a 10 percent penalty.

You have to notify your plan provider when you leave that you are no longer a U.S. tax resident. The provider most likely will withhold taxes on the money withdrawn, and you will have to file taxes for that income the following year, Hui-chin Chen said.

If you want to save money on taxes, Hui-chin Chen suggested you wait until the year after you leave or even later to take the funds out. When your U.S. income becomes just the amount of money you withdraw from your 401(k), you will be put in a lower tax rate than what it would have been, Hui-chin Chen said.

But note that you need a bank account to receive the distribution, and not every provider may be willing to mail a check to an overseas address. It is likely that you probably have to keep a checking account open in the U.S., which is also easier said than done — banks don’t like clients with foreign addresses, either, Hui-chin Chen said.

“In the grand scheme of things, [for] most people, if they don’t stay in the U.S. for the long term, taking the money with them is probably not that difficult the year they leave or the year after they leave when they still have some leverage with the bank,” she said.

If you have a sizeable 401(k), taking a small distribution each year to pay zero-to-minimum amount of taxes is doable, experts say. But then you are facing far more complicated ongoing maintenance, which includes filing taxes every year, and keeping a U.S. bank account and address live. You may also be subject to some state taxes depending on your resident country, Fisher said.

Although Konstantinidis didn’t contribute to his previous 401(k) plan, his employer invested 3 percent of his income in a 401(k) for him for free. Konstantinidis, who lived through nearly a decade of financial crisis in Greece, is ultimately skeptical about the stock market.

Now, the self-acclaimed “paranoid” computer scientist is considering contributing 3 percent of his income to the 401(k) with his current employer as he awaits his green card — he is settling down.

“I’ve actually seen my 401(k) go up,” he said. “That’s really impressive. Now I am convinced.”

401(k) Frequently Asked Questions

401(k) is the name of an account U.S. workers can use to save for retirement through their employer. The name 401(k) comes from the section of the U.S. tax code that it was derived from in the 1980s.

The traditional 401(k) allows workers to set aside part of their pre-tax income to save for retirement. It’s up to the individual to decide how much to save. Even if you are not an American citizen, you are eligible to participate in a 401(k) plan, experts say.

There is also a Roth 401(k) option, which is becoming increasingly common. With a Roth 401(k) you would contribute funds and pay taxes on them right away, with the ability to withdraw funds in retirement tax-free.

When an employee signs up for a 401(k) plan, they’re typically given a choice of different investments, such as mutual funds, stocks, or bonds. The benefit of a 401(k) is that you not only avoid paying income taxes on your savings now but you’ll have a source of additional income later when you are ready to retire.

The legal maximum amount you can save in your 401(k) is $18,500 in 2018.

Employers may offer to match employees’ contributions up to a certain percentage.

For example, an employer may offer to match up to 3 percent of the employee’s contribution. Say you make $60,000 a year and contribute six percent (or $3,600) into a 401(k) for the year.Your company would match up to three percent (or $1,800) of that contribution. This means you would only contribute $3,600 to your 401(k) but end up with $5,400 thanks to the match.

Some employers may vest your match immediately. That means as soon as they contribute to your 401(k) the funds belong to you. However, others may have a vesting schedule, which is a set timeline that dictates how long it takes for you to own the money your employer contributes.

Generally speaking, you can start taking money out of your 401(k) account when you reach age 59 and a half. There are ways to tap into your 401(k) sooner, but you’ll face an additional 10 percent early withdrawal penalty and you could owe income taxes on the amount you withdrawn.

The post I Am a Foreign National — What Should I Do With My 401(k)? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

7 Research-Driven Ways to Save More Money in 2018

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We all know we should save money for retirement and unexpected mishaps like that broken heater in middle of winter. But, like many tasks in our lives, saving for the future is easier said than done.  

Despite historically low unemployment rates and increasing household income, Americans still aren’t the greatest savers. The average American saved just a little over 3 percent of their disposable personal income in October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s compared with savings rates of 19.3 percent in Japan and 5.5 percent in the United Kingdom, according to Trading Economics, a global economic data provider. 

Of course, many workers struggle to save simply because their day-to-day expenses eclipse their earnings. But sometimes, a lack of savings could be more of a psychological phenomenon than a monetary one. Research regularly shows that saving money demands a great deal of forethought, self-control and willpower — capabilities that are in direct conflict with our innate desires for pleasure and satisfaction in the here and now. 

Nobel Prize laureate and renowned behavioral economist Richard Thaler said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that saving for retirement is “cognitively hard” and that it’s   “obviously preposterous” to assume that everybody will figure out how much they have to save and actually carry out the plan. 

The key to saving more is understanding your weaknesses and using tools and strategies that can help you do the right thing without having to think too hard about it.  

We’ve done the hard part for you and found research-backed methods that may help you save more. Follow the tips below to start saving more — and saving smarter — in  2018. 

1. Think present. Act now.  

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The first step to solving your debt problem may be to understand your personality — more specifically, how you think and feel about time. That’s because time orientation, or the way we think about time in relation to our goals, plays a major role in people’s ability to save. 

In a 2014 paper published in “Psychological Science,” scholars Leona Tam and Utpal Dholakia concluded that individuals who think about savings cyclically — seeing life events as a series of repeating experiments — are estimated to save 74 percent more than those who think linearly. People with linear time -orientation view life in past, present and future terms.  

Tam and Dholakia found that those with a cyclical mentality will likely save over time because they tend to believe that their future situation will be similar to what it is now.  Rather than being overly optimistic about their savings potential in the future, which might cause them to put off saving money until later in life, these people will go ahead and start saving now. And by focusing on saving in the present, they are more likely to make it a routine. 

On the other hand, those who think about life in past and future terms may be more likely to put off savings longer because they feel they’ll be better prepared to save later in life.  

“The belief is that if you perform an action in the current cycle now, you will be more likely to perform this particular action in the next cycle,” Tam and Dholakia wrote. “But if you do not perform now, you will be less likely to perform it in the next cycle.” 

The importance of time perspective is also underlined in a 2014 study performed by renowned psychologist Philip Zimbardo in partnership with MagnifyMoney. The study looked at how people’s perception of time impacted their financial health.   

After surveying 3,049 participants in six countries, Zimbardo, co-author of “The Time Paradox,” found that individuals who make decisions based on negative past memories tend to be in good financial health. They are more conservative and likely to save for their future to avoid a repeat of previous negative experiences.  

In contrast, those future-oriented optimists are more likely to make bad financial choices and be less financially healthy.  

But out of the three time orientations — past, present, or future — the group that was in the worst financial shape was the present-minded one. These people are more likely to focus on the here and now, leading them to make impulsive decisions without considering their future. 

2. Automate your savings 

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Yes, it’s just that simple. Behavioral economists have concluded that in order to save more money, you have to make saving as easy as possible and spending as difficult as possible.  

“If people have to actively think about saving, then they probably won’t do it,” Shlomo Benartzi, a behavioral economist at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote in the “Harvard Business Review” earlier this year. Automated deposits are the most effective way to save for retirement, he argued. 

U.S. companies are increasingly changing their 401(k) enrollment policies from requiring employees to “opt-in” to participate into new ones where workers are automatically enrolled upon employment and are required to “opt-out” if they would like to avoid enrollment. Because that dropout action requires extra time and effort, fewer people would withdraw from their 401(k) plans. 

A 2005 study by William G. Gale, J. Mark Iwry, and Peter Orszag found that workers are more likely to save for retirement if they are automatically enrolled in a company 401(k) plan than if they were given the choice to opt in. 

Besides participating in your company’s retirement plan, you can also auto-save a portion of your salary to your savings account. Many employers set up automatic deposits from your paycheck into multiple checking or savings accounts. You can have a portion of your paycheck automatically transferred into a savings account so that you will be less inclined to touch that money. This might make it easier for you to resist the temptation to spend. 

3. Automate periodic savings increases 

This is auto-saving 2.0.  

Thaler and Benartzi carried out their well-known “Save More Tomorrow” study from the late 1990s to early 2000s, following more than 21,000 workers at three different companies.  

In one portion of the three-part study, the researchers followed 315 workers at an unnamed manufacturing company. About 160 workers elected to increase their 401(k) contributions each year for four years and 32 of them opted out over the years.  

In the end, they found the majority of the people who agreed to the annual contribution increases nearly quadrupled their saving rates. 

The success of the program shows the power of inertia — the tendency for objects or people to continue moving in a certain direction unless they take action to change it. Once their savings strategy was set —  increasing annually with their raises — very few people ever got around to changing their savings allocations again once they enrolled.  

You can mimic these results on your own as well. If you are comfortable enough to start saving more, try adding 1 percent more to your retirement fund every six months. Some retirement plans even offer automatic step-up contributions, where your contributions are automatically increased by 1 or 2 percent each year.  

Larry Heller, a New York-based certified financial planner and president of Heller Wealth Management, suggested that you increase your contribution amount for the next three pay periods and repeat until you hit your maximum.   

“You will be surprised that many people can adjust with a little extra taken out of their paycheck,” Heller told MagnifyMoney.    

4. Set an actionable plan with negative consequences  

One of the big reasons why people fail to save more is a lack of motivation. Dean Karlan, an economics professor at Yale University, created the “commitment contract” theory,   arguing that establishing the economic penalty for failure of saving helps people hit their savings goal. 

Here is how the commitment contract works: It allows people to set a positive goal, for instance, to save more money or to set a New Year’s resolution. If they fail to accomplish the goal, they may be subjected to some form of penalty per the terms of their contract. 

The idea is that your motivation to save money is enhanced by a contract where negative consequences are imposed if conditions are not met. 

For example, a die-hard animal rights activist might develop a commitment contract to save $2,000 in five months for an international trip, with the stipulation that if this person violates the contract, he or she must buy a $70 ticket to a SeaWorld theme park. 

There doesn’t appear to be a savings app that will implement economic punishments if you didn’t hit your savings goal. But you can: join a like-minded accountability group on social media, or ask a friend or family member to be your accountability partner. They could play the “bad cop” for you while you are saving toward a goal. The hope is that you will feel the pressure to carry out your plan under supervision, in addition to the contract you have committed to. And if you miss the target, this partner would ruthlessly urge you to pay your penalty. 

5. Focus on smaller goals first

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Now you know you need to establish a savings goal, but it might be daunting to even think about achieving that goal.  

Experts found that breaking down the goal into manageable pieces spurs confidence, even though the ultimate amount of money that would be saved is exactly the same.  

Benartzi and his colleagues at UCLA asked a group of participants if they would like to save $5 every day, and another group if they wanted to save $35 a week, and the third group whether they thought they could save $150 a month. The results were astonishing: Nearly 30 percent of the participants said they could save $5 a day, while just 7 percent elected to save $150 a month.  

Bloggers have popularized the $5 savings challenge as well, where people were encouraged to save every $5 bill they come across in their wallet instead of spending it. One woman claimed she saved $40,000 over 13 years just by socking away her $5 bills.  

Let’s say you want to make it easier to save for an iPhone X (about $1,000) in seven months. Instead of telling yourself you’ll save $150 per month, break it down even further by committing to save $5 per day. You might achieve that by cutting back on your daily dining-out budget. Just take it one baby step at a time. 

And you don’t have to literally take the money out of your wallet. You could use an app that helps you save in small amounts over time as well.  

Digit connects to your checking account and tries to find spare money in your account to transfer to your Digit savings account. You can command the app via text messaging to save more, deposit money into savings, or transfer money back to your checking account. Note: the app is free to use for the first 100 days. After that, it charges $2.99 per month. 

There is also Acorns, a microsavings app that automatically invests a small amount of money daily, weekly or monthly for you. One of Acorn’s interesting features is it rounds up your purchases to the nearest full dollar amount and makes the change available for you to invest. Let’s say you used a credit card to buy a cup of coffee for $2.75. You can choose to invest the 25 cents on the app, or Acorn will invest the change for you if you elected automatic roundups investment. It’s free to open an Acorns account. The app charges $1 per month if your balance is under $5,000, or 0.25 percent per year if your balance is $5,000 or more. 

We’ve reviewed microsavings apps, including Acorns. Read more about their features here. 

6. Save that big windfall 

Scholars Peter Tufano and Daniel Schneider wrote in a 2008 paper that it’s relatively easier for people to save lump-sum distributions because they perceive those funds differently from their regular income. An annual tax refund, inheritance, performance bonus, or graduation or wedding gifts are seen more like an unexpected surplus of money. 

When you get that big year-end bonus or your tax check in the 2018 tax season, you may want to save the large portion of the refund while putting a smaller amount in your checkings account. You will feel good saving for durable items, such as household appliances, a car, or a down payment but leaving a little room for the occasional self-indulgence. 

7. Track your spending

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You thought you knew how much you spent in Starbucks each month, but you might be surprised by the actual dollar amount going into coffee once you start tracking your expenses. 

Benartzi and fellow researcher Yaron Levi reported that those who used a mobile app that tracked spending and investment performance cut back on their spending by 15.7 percent. 

Their findings align with results from a 2016 Federal Reserve study: About 62 percent of consumers with access to mobile banking checked their account balance on their phone before making a big purchase, and half of them decided not to buy that item because they were informed of their real-time account balance and credit limit. 

It’s time to download a budgeting app that aggregates all your financial accounts — debit and credit cards, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, and so on. Once you get an accurate sense of your finances, you may think twice before buying that $1,000 Canada Goose parka. 

We’ve ranked popular budgeting apps. Check out the reviews here. 

The post 7 Research-Driven Ways to Save More Money in 2018 appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Uber Data Breach Impacts 57 Million — Here’s What You Need to Know

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Some 57 million Uber users’ personal information was exposed in October 2016 when the car-hailing company experienced a cyber attack, the company announced Tuesday — more than a year after the occurrence of the incident. 

Some 57 million Uber users’ personal information was exposed in October 2016 when the car-hailing company experienced a cyber attack, the company announced Tuesday — more than a year after the occurrence of the incident. 

Bloomberg reported the company paid $100,000 to the hackers responsible for the attack to keep the breach private.  

What happened? 

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new CEO who was appointed by the board in August, said in a statement that two people outside the company “inappropriately accessed user data stored on a third-party cloud-based service that we use.” 

The attackers stole data of the 57 million people across the globe, including their names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers. About 600,000 U.S.-based drivers were among 7 million Uber drivers whose license numbers and names were exposed in the breach. 

The data breach was the latest in a string of high profile cyber attacks that weren’t revealed until months or years later.  Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that Uber users have to worry about any of their financial information being exposed. Khosrowshahi said no evidence indicated that trip location history, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or dates of birth were stolen.  

What was done? 

After the attack happened, Uber “took immediate steps” to safeguard the data and blocked further unauthorized access to the information, according to Khosrowshahi. The company identified the hackers and made sure the exposed dada had been destroyed. Security measures were also taken to enhance control on the company’s cloud storage. 

“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Khosrowshahi said. “While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes. We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers.” 

The company let go two employees who led the response to the incident on Tuesday, according to the statement. Uber is also reporting the attack to regulatory authorities.  

What can you do? 

Uber said no evidence shows fraud or misuse connected to the data breach.  

If you are an Uber rider…

The company said you don’t need to take any action. Uber is monitoring the affected accounts and have marked them for additional fraud protection, Khosrowshahi said. But you are encouraged to regularly monitor your credit and Uber accounts for any unexpected or unusual activities.

If anything happens, notify Uber via the Help Center immediately. You can do this by tapping “Help” in your app, then “Account and Payment Options” > “I have an unknown charge” > “I think my account has been hacked.” 

If you are an Uber driver…

If you are affected, you will be notified by Uber via email or mail and the company is offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection.  

You can check whether your Uber account is at risk here 

Check out our guide on credit freezes and other steps you can take to protect your identity if personal information is compromised in a data breach.

The post Uber Data Breach Impacts 57 Million — Here’s What You Need to Know appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Here’s How the House and Senate Tax Reform Plans Would Affect Homeowners

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House and Senate Republicans have rolled out separate versions of tax-reform plans, aiming to cut taxes for corporations and individuals. Although the two bills diverge in a number of ways and the fate of both remains in flux, one thing’s for certain: Homeowners would be affected under both plans.

In this article, we lay out the changes to housing-related provisions under both plans and explain what they would mean for existing homeowners and first-time homebuyers.

Where are we?

The House version of the tax bill passed by a 227-205 chamber vote ahead of Thanksgiving. The Senate Committee on Finance approved the Senate’s version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late on Nov. 16 with a 14-12 vote along party lines.

The Senate’s bill is to go to the full Senate for a vote the week following the Thanksgiving holiday. President Trump has called on lawmakers to pass one cohesive bill by Christmas, and Republican legislators would like to see the reforms take effect in 2018.

What are the changes?

Here’s a quick overview of housing-related changes proposed in the bills:

  • Both bills nearly double the standard deduction, while eliminating personal exemptions.
  • The House and Senate both proposed changing residency requirements for capital gains home-sale exclusions by increasing the live-in time period to five out of the last eight years. Current law allows people to write off up to $250,000 — or $500,000 for couples filing jointly — from capital gains when selling a home, as long as they have lived in it for two out of the past five years.
  • Under the House plan, mortgage borrowers can deduct mortgage interest on loans up to $500,000, for debt incurred after Nov. 2, 2017. Currently, the tax deduction cap is $1 million. The deduction for state and local income taxes would be gone. But the state and local property tax deduction would remain but be capped at $10,000. (There is no cap, currently.)
  • The Senate bill would leave the mortgage interest deduction unchanged, but eliminate all state and local tax deductions (SALT), including deductions for property taxes.

Read more about the Senate and House bills here.

Fewer people will claim mortgage interest deductions

The National Association of Realtors (NAR), a vocal critic of the tax reform proposals, expressed through statements and press briefings that both plans would negatively affect homeownership. The association has called the tax reform legislation an “overall assault on housing.”

“Simply preserving the mortgage interest deduction in name only isn’t enough to protect homeownership,” NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall said in a statement.

Nearly doubling the standard deductions and repealing some itemized deductions would likely mean that far fewer people would itemize when they file taxes. NAR officials worry that these moves will undercut the incentives to pursue homeownership.

The standard deduction is a fixed dollar amount, based on your filing status and age, by which the IRS lets you reduce your taxable income. The itemized deduction allows you to list your various deductions, including the mortgage interest deduction. You can claim one or the other — whichever lowers your taxable income more.

The standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly is $24,400 under the House plan and $24,000 under the Senate plan. Wolters Kluwer, a global information services company, suggested in an analysis that only those taxpayers who would deduct more taxes through itemizing than taking the bigger standard deduction — the top earners — would benefit from itemizing deductions like the one for mortgage interest.

Impact under House plan

Capping the mortgage interest deduction

The good news is that the majority of existing homeowners won’t be affected by the cap on the mortgage interest deduction, because only about 21 percent of American households take the deduction under the current law, according to the Tax Policy Center.

But about 18.5 percent of new homebuyers would get hit with a bigger tax bill on their housing-related tax liabilities, according to an analysis released by Trulia, an online real estate resource for homebuyers and renters.

Many economists say the mortgage interest deduction distorts the housing market by driving up home prices and soaking up much-needed supply, and that it doesn’t necessarily help increase homeownership rates.

“Because the mortgage interest deduction skews to upper-income families, it encourages people to buy bigger homes,” Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin, a Seattle-based real estate and technology company, told MagnifyMoney. “It also encourages builders to also build bigger homes, so it encourages sprawl.”

Less than 10 percent of the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution receive the tax subsidy on mortgages, the Tax Policy Center said.

Richardson added that this doesn’t mean the deduction should be completely eliminated. She said she thinks putting a cap on the deduction is only to make the math work for the corporate tax cut, though it is not structured in a way to help middle-class homeowners.

“People who have the means to buy those homes” with a mortgage of more than $500,000 “would continue to buy those homes,” Richardson said. “What we’d like to see is [changes] to help buyers who wouldn’t be able to afford a house unless they got some kind of tax credit. That would be a subsidy that was progressive instead of regressive.”

A silver lining to some: Middle-class homeowners might benefit from an income tax cut, which hopefully would help them purchase a house, experts say.

“The result of that is still a little fuzzy,” Richardson said. “It’s not clear that middle-class buyers in the long run would actually receive an income tax cut.”

What does it mean to first-time homebuyers in expensive cities?

The mortgage interest deduction provides little benefit to new home buyers because many new U.S. homeowners do not itemize or are in the 15 percent tax bracket or lower, William G. Gale, chairman of federal economic policy in the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, wrote in an analysis for the Tax Policy Center.

First-time buyers are generally looking for cheaper homes. Nationally, the median sales price for existing homes is $245,100, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, well under the $500,000 cap, so capping the mortgage interest deduction shouldn’t affect them too much.

But for buyers in high-cost markets, where demand is high and affordability is challenging, the cap will sting, Richardson said.

“You cannot find a $500,000 home in the Bay Area,” Richardson said. “Good luck with that.”

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In San Francisco, the median home sales price is around $1.2 million, according to Redfin and Trulia.

Home prices are expected to go up next year, as the Federal Reserve is expected to increase the short-term interest rate by year’s end, economists say.

“For the first-time buyer, you are dealing with this double whammy,” Richardson said. “If you add onto the fact that really expensive states’ first-time home buyers won’t be able to deduct all of the mortgage interest, then that is an additional expense. So it really is a challenging situation to put new buyers in.”

Trulia reported that across the 100 largest markets, more than half of homebuyers in coastal California, New York and Cambridge, Mass., would experience an increase in their home-related tax liabilities if they purchased a home under the House plan.

Impact on housing supply

Real estate experts expect less movement in the housing market since people who already own homes with big mortgages can continue to deduct the interest. This would make the housing supply crunch even worse in those expensive markets because people may choose to stay in the same house, knowing they couldn’t deduct the same amount of interest on their next big mortgage.

Factor in a longer live-in requirement for capital gains exclusions of homes sales, which economists believe will result in more homeowners waiting longer before moving to a different house to save on capital gains, and it would be even trickier for first-home buyers to bid for a desirable house in higher-end markets.

“It’s definitely not going to help alleviate price increases,” Cheryl Young, senior economist at Trulia, told MagnifyMoney. “But it will also contribute to competition.”

Trulia found that roughly 10 percent or more of existing homeowners in California and the Northeast would lose the incentive to sell their homes. Nationwide, the figure is 2.5 percent.

What does it mean for homeowners in high-tax states?

People living in high-tax states, such as New Jersey, New York and California, where homes are also costly, will see a rise in their property tax liability on taxes paid above the $10,000 property-deduction cap.

Trulia estimates that more than 20 percent of existing homeowners in New York and San Francisco would experience an increase in their property tax bills. Nationally, about 9.2 percent of existing homeowners will experience an increase in their property taxes.

Impact under Senate plan

Bigger property tax liability

Although the Senate plan is in some respects seen as more straightforward than the House bill, removing all SALT deductions would have a more expansive impact on homeowners across the country. That’s because they wouldn’t be able to deduct their property taxes anymore, Trulia’s chief economist, Ralph McLaughlin, explained in an analysis.

Existing homeowners in the Northeast and the Bay Area — New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and California — would be hit the hardest, according to McLaughlin.

A study commissioned by the National Association of Realtors and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that, for many homeowners who currently benefit from the mortgage interest deduction, the elimination of other itemized deductions and personal exemptions would cause their taxes to rise, even if they elected to take the increased standard deduction.

The study found that homeowners with adjusted gross incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would see their taxes rise by an average of $815.

Mortgage interest deduction would be worth less

Leonard Burman, a fellow at the Urban Institute and professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University, wrote in an analysis that if homeowners cannot deduct state and local income, sales and property taxes, only the very wealthy and the very generous would benefit from itemizing. As a result, he estimated that only 4.5 percent of households would itemize under the plan, compared with the current 26.6 percent.

“Even for those who continue to itemize, the mortgage interest deduction may be worth much less than many homeowners believe,” Burman wrote. “This is because net tax savings depend not only on whether mortgage interest plus other deductions exceed the standard deduction, but by how much.”

The post Here’s How the House and Senate Tax Reform Plans Would Affect Homeowners appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

5 Places to Shop for Novelty Gifts You’ll Feel Good About Buying

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For lots of people, holiday shopping consists of frantically running through the crowded aisles at Target, Walmart, T.J.Maxx, Macy’s and Best Buy — or typing things like “gifts for Mom” into the Amazon search field. And while they spend a good deal of time and effort shopping (and stressing), the outcome is all too often a load of generic products from big-box stores and a generous helping of conspicuous consumers’ guilt.

Sound familiar?

If you’re looking to break that pattern, there are lots of places where you can find holiday gifts that will stand out among all the other “stuff.” Here, we rounded up some noteworthy retailers and brand websites you could explore for interesting, unusual gifts, based on the personality of the person you’re shopping for.

A plus: You can feel good about spending money in these places because someone else will benefit from your dime.

For the sassy and quirky

A screenshot of the BlueQ website.

BlueQ is the place to buy a gift for someone with a good sense of humor. The Pittsfield, Mass.-based novelty gift manufacturer was founded in 1988, and its self-described mission is simple: “We just want you to be happy.”

From colorful stocks to quirky reusable handbags, and tin boxes to oven mitts, almost every item sold at BlueQ features a sassy phrase combined with edgy, vintage imagery. Want a taste?

I’m not bossy; I’m the boss” on an oven mitt.

House rule: Be nice, or leave” on a magnet.

Busy making a f–king difference” on a sock.

Nutcase” on a pocket box.

Always be yourself unless you can be a unicorn, then always be a unicorn” on a pack of gums.

Why we like it

Fun stuff doesn’t need to be costly. The price range for the goods is from $1.80 to $15.

The joy-bringing gift shop donates 1 percent of the sales of its socks to Doctors Without Borders and 1 percent of oven mitt and dish towel sales to hunger relief programs throughout the world. Another 1 percent, this from profit selling recycled purses and bags — made from 95 percent post-consumer goods — goes to support international environmental initiatives. BlueQ also employs people with disabilities to assemble its products.

Where to shop

You can order from BlueQ’s website, and many bookstores and gift shops carry BlueQ’s items. Find a store near you here.

For the creative and ethically conscious

A screenshot of the Uncommongoods website.

Uncommongoods is a marketplace for artists and crafters from across the world to sell independently designed, often fair-traded and hand-crafted products. To name a few:

Handwoven baskets from Rwanda

Cardboard iPad TV stands

Glass Zipper Bags

Why we like it

The company values sustainability as a business and a product distributor. Many the items sold on its website are made of recycled materials. Customers can choose a nonprofit organization that partners with Uncommongoods to give $1 with every order.

A team of buyers not only evaluates goods based on materials and function, but also cares where each design comes from, how it’s made and who made it, according to the shop’s website.

During the peak winter months, when Uncommongoods hires hundreds of seasonal workers, the company says it pays its lowest paid hourly worker 100 percent more than minimum wage.

To make your shopping experience easier, Uncommongoods has a search engine for gift suggestions for your loved ones, letting you filter different personalities and hobbies.

Where to shop

Uncommongoods is an online-only marketplace: https://www.uncommongoods.com/

For the indie foodie

A screenshot of the Mouth website.

Mouth is a paradise for your foodie friends and family. The company prides itself on producing interesting, indie, small-batch foods. You can buy your friends specialty eats from 40 states, and learn about the people who made the food you purchase here.

Why we like it

You won’t find convenience-store staples like Doritos or Hershey’s on Mouth. Most of the foods that Mouth sources are either handmade at local stores or workshops across the country, or come from brands started as homemade concoctions, according to its website. You would be supporting small, local businesses by purchasing treats that match your friends’ tastes. For ingredients that cannot be sourced domestically, such as coffee and chocolate, the company makes sure they are fair-traded and organic.

While Mouth is dedicated to selling treats that are made in an environmentally friendly, relatively healthier way, it by no means claims that everything on its website is good for you. But Mouth promises that its foods are not full of chemicals, preservatives or unhealthy fats.

Where to shop

You can browse snacks online at https://www.mouth.com/.

For the literary and intellectual

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Independent stores tend to have a rich history and offer diverse specialty books depending on the theme of the store and its location. Chicago’s Women and Children First, for instance, opened in a modest storefront in 1979 and is one of the country’s biggest feminist bookstores — it would be a great place to shop for someone passionate about supporting women. Sales from Indy Reads Books in Indianapolis support a nonprofit dedicated to improving adult literacy, and a book from there could be a meaningful gift for a philanthropic friend.

Why we like them

Apart from offering personalized services, specialized book selections and a platform for literary gatherings, many local bookshops are increasingly carrying gift items — pins, mugs, T-shirts, cards — consistent with the history or theme of the store.

If you have bookworms on your shopping list, pick a book from their favorite author or a souvenir from the shop they loyally frequent. This is a great way to support small businesses.

Where to find independent bookstores

You can use this guide to find a local independent bookstore near you.

For the artsy and modern

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Museum gift shops are stocked with fine-art-inspired collectibles — not just totes or posters. Gift shop items often embody the very best design principles in a form of functionality or art.

Depending on where you are and what types of art you like, you can find prints, office stationery, books, dining sets, home furniture, apparel and more from the country’s art museums or through their websites

Why we like them

The gift shop is usually a critical revenue generator for a nonprofit museum, according to the State Department Bureau of International Information Programs. So when you buy a Monet umbrella or an American Gothic magnet while visiting a museum, you’re showing your support. If you are a member of a particular museum, you can often get a discount. And the purchase is likely to be appreciated by your art-loving friends.

Where to shop

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Met Store has some of the best art book selections. It is now offering a 25 percent discount on select holiday ornaments, Christmas cards and calendars.

The Art Institute of Chicago: The Art Institute is America’s second-largest art museum after the Met in New York. It is best known for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art collections. The collectibles at the gift shop well represent the museum’s masterpieces.

Museum of Modern Art: The MoMA in New York has an outstanding history with design. In 1932, the museum established the world’s first curatorial department devoted to architecture and design. The MoMA Design Store features a vast range of modern and innovative design objects. It is currently offering 20 percent off on 100 gift items.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: The SFMOMA gift store offers an impressive selection of modern and contemporary art books. Apart from that, you can order gallery-quality reproductions of artworks that are often exclusive to the museum, through its website.

The post 5 Places to Shop for Novelty Gifts You’ll Feel Good About Buying appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

What Happens if Republicans Repeal the Obamacare Individual Mandate?

obamacare Affordable Care Act paper family
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Senate Republicans on Tuesday proposed to repeal the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act by 2019 as a part of their tax reform plan.

With open enrollment for 2018 Obamacare coverage well underway, and after two failed attempts earlier this year to repeal the ACA, the Senate’s proposal has reignited feelings of uncertainty over the health care law’s future.

The Senate’s proposal also came a couple of days before House Republicans’ planned Thursday vote on their own tax reform bill. (The House’s version does not propose to touch the insurance coverage requirement.)

Part of the reason behind the Senate’s proposal to cut the individual mandate is to help free up federal dollars and partially offset a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax cut proposal. Without the mandate, fewer people would likely sign up for coverage and that would mean less money the government would need to spend on the tax subsidies it offers to balance out the cost of premiums for millions of Obamacare enrollees.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if the individual mandate is eliminated, it will save the federal government $338 billion, and 13 million more people — mostly the young and healthy — will be uninsured by 2027.

Here is what you need to know about the individual mandate and what it means if it goes away:

What is the individual mandate?

The individual mandate is a provision under the ACA that requires most U.S. citizens and noncitizens who lawfully reside in the country to have health insurance. It was signed into law in 2010. Consumers who can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it have to pay tax penalties unless they are otherwise insured or meet certain exemptions.

The purpose of the mandate was partially to ensure that even healthy and young Americans would sign up for health coverage, balancing the so-called insurance risk pool and helping to keep premiums affordable.

Why is the mandate unpopular?

The provision has been widely unpopular since its introduction. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest poll suggests that 55 percent of Americans supported the idea of removing the individual mandate as part of the Republican tax plan.

More than 27 million people in the United States remained uninsured in 2016, the foundation reported, down from 47 million prior to the implementation of the ACA.

How does the individual mandate work?

The tax penalty for nonexempt individuals who do not sign up for health coverage is calculated as a percentage of household income or as a fixed amount per person. You’ll pay whichever is higher.

For 2017 the penalty was either:

  • $695 per adult and $347.50 per child, up to $2,085 per family, or
  • 2.5 percent of household income

The maximum penalty can be no more than the national average price of the yearly premium for a Bronze plan (the minimum coverage available in the individual insurance market) sold through the insurance marketplace.

HealthCare.gov hasn’t yet published the 2018 guidance, but Kaiser has launched a calculator using 2018 projections from Bloomberg BNA. For 2018, the calculator estimates the amount of penalty is $3,816 for a single person and $19,080 for a family of five or more, according to the foundation.

2018 Individual Mandate Penalty Calculator

Some people are exempt from the penalty

You meet exemptions if coverage is considered unaffordable based on your income — under the ACA, “unaffordable”’ is if you would have had to pay more than 8.05 percent of your household income for the annual premium amount for health coverage in 2015 or 8.13 percent last year.

If you have experienced economic hardships or difficult domestic situations, such as homelessness, the death of a family member, bankruptcy, substantial medical debt or the toll of a disaster that damaged your property badly, you may apply for a hardship exemption.

People who are ineligible for Medicaid because their state hasn’t expanded that program also qualify for a hardship exemption. Those whose incomes are at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for Medicaid. That 138 percent means a little over $16,600 every year for a single person and nearly $34,000 for a family of four.

See more examples of people who qualify for penalty exemptions at IRS.gov.

You can find out if you are exempt from health care coverage using this tool:

What does it mean if the individual mandate is lost?

The immediate concern is that without fear of a tax penalty, not enough young, healthy people would get covered. When these low-risk people drop out of the market, coverage is skewed toward older, sick people who really need coverage. And that can lead to rapid increases in premium costs and even induce some insurers to drop out of the market.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation and senior adviser to the foundation president, summarized his thoughts on the loss of the mandate in a series of tweets Wednesday, saying he’s “doubtful” insurers would remain in the marketplace if the mandate were removed:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., defended the proposed repeal in a statement on Wednesday.

“We can deliver even more relief to the middle class by repealing an unpopular tax from an unworkable law,” he wrote. “It just makes sense.”

The post What Happens if Republicans Repeal the Obamacare Individual Mandate? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

A New Housing Bubble? Some Cities Might Already Be on the Cusp

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The housing market is heating up again. Home prices have risen faster than income growth in the past five years, and the combination of low housing supply and increasing demand is driving home values ever higher.

Could we be in danger of another housing bubble?

Economists don’t seem to be too worried about the national housing market.

Across the U.S., increases in home prices have outpaced income growth by 34 percent since 2012, driven by economic expansion. However, this percentage is less than half the pace seen between 1997 and 2006, according to a recent Urban Institute study.

For the most part, homes are still affordable relative to household incomes, experts say.

According to the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that carries out economic and social policy research, a median-income household can afford a house that is $70,000 more expensive than the price of the median house sold on the market. In contrast, in 2006, there was a $22,000 shortfall between what the median household could afford and the median sales price.

“Yes, prices are high, yes, the market is expensive, and yes, housing is unaffordable for some people, but that does not mean we are in a bubble yet,” Nela Richardson, chief economist at  Redfin, a Seattle-based real estate and technology company, told MagnifyMoney. “Those attributes of a classic bubble are missing.”

By “classic bubble” attributes, Richardson is pointing to telltale signs of trouble, such as lax mortgage lending standards, rapidly rising mortgage rates and the levels of speculation in the housing market we experienced 10 years ago.

Even as home prices were skyrocketing, soft underwriting practices allowed a record number of people to purchase homes with very low down payments. As the crisis intensified, housing prices began to nosedive and borrowers who bought more home than they could afford eventually defaulted on mortgages.

In the wake of the Great Recession, the federal government implemented stricter mortgage lending regulations that have made it much harder for financially unstable borrowers to qualify for a mortgage loan.

“Any of the mortgages made today [are] just super clean” and there is a historically low default rate, Bing Bai, an Urban Institute researcher, told MagnifyMoney. “We are not in that kind of risk like the risk we had before in previous bubble years.”

Mortgage default rates have fallen to 3.68 percent for single-family homes, not quite as low as pre-recession levels but much better than the peak of 11.53 percent in 2010.

10 Metros at Risk of a Housing Bubble

 

So, the nation as a whole might not be facing an imminent bubble. However, Urban Institute economists have put certain cities of the country on the “bubble watch” list.

In the study, they analyzed 37 metro areas across the U.S. to find how much housing prices have gone up since their lowest point following the financial crisis and how affordable homes are based on the median income for that city. Below are the top 10 cities in danger of a housing bubble.

#1 San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, Calif.

#2 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

#3 Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, Fla.

#4 Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, Calif.

#5 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.-Wash.

#6 Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.

#7 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif.

#8 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.

#9 (tie) Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo.

#9 (tie) Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, Calif. 

California snags five of the top eight spots, led by the San Francisco metro area.

In San Francisco, for example, a family earning the median income for the area needs to dedicate at least 70 percent of income for a typical 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, Bai said. The median home sales price is $1.2 million in the Bay Area, according to Redfin and Trulia, an online real estate resource for homebuyers and renters.

The overheated housing situation in the Silicon Valley and Seattle is largely a result of the tech boom during the years of economic recovery, Richardson said. Yet demand is still going strong with healthy job increases despite stunning home prices.

“There’s a lot of money looking for a place to land,” Richardson added.

Some other cities seeing swelling housing prices are in Florida and Texas. Not coincidentally, the coastal real estate markets are where international investors have been pumping in large sums of money in recent years, pushing demand even higher. The Urban Institute reported that California, Florida and Texas are the top U.S. destinations for foreign buyers.

“It’s not just about the local economy in these markets,” Richardson said. “It’s about the global economy.”

Advice for home buyers in super expensive cities

The truth is, experts don’t see a sign of price decline in hot markets any time soon.

“Demand is still there, with low supply, [and] it’s just going to keep prices high,” Cheryl Young, senior economist at Trulia, told MagnifyMoney.

If you are looking to buy in cities where home prices are sky-high and competition is extremely fierce, here is what pros suggest you can do to bid for a desirable house:

Time it right

“Home buying is all about timing,” Young said. “We always say you shouldn’t rush to enter the housing market if you are not ready.”

If you’ve definitely decided to buy, the best time to start looking might be during the fall. Young said home prices are, in general, at their nadir in the wintertime, so you may want to start looking in the fall when prices started to dip as home supply is higher than they are at other times of the year.

Check out our story on why October’s the best time to start looking for your first home.

Come to the table prepared

When you are ready to start looking, you also need to save up for a down payment, Young said.

A good rule of thumb for a down payment is 20 percent. That way you could avoid paying for the additional cost of private mortgage insurance. But the reality is that it’s tough for buyers to put down that much money, especially if you are in a super-expensive market. It’s fine if you can’t save up for 20 percent, but of course the more you can scrounge up, the better.

Also recommended: Have all your financial statements ready and compare mortgage rate offers from several financial institutions to be sure you’re getting the best deal. Avoid these common mistakes homebuyers make before they apply for mortgages.

“Working with someone who knows the local area, who knows how to strategize how to make an offer that is as good as cash or almost as good as cash if you are in a competitive market is very important,” said Richardson.

If you can get preapproved for a mortgage, it will give you a competitive advantage.

“It’s really about showing the seller that you are ready when the opportunity comes up so that you can lock in the purchase,” Young said.

The post A New Housing Bubble? Some Cities Might Already Be on the Cusp appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Capital One Is Exiting the Mortgage Business: Here’s What it Means for Borrowers

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Capital One announced Tuesday that it would shutter its profit-losing mortgage and home equity origination businesses.  

As a result, the banking and financial services company will cut about 900 mortgage-related jobs in three states, a Capital One spokesperson told MagnifyMoney via email.  

In addition to its mortgage loan business, the banking and financial services company offers a variety of products that includes credit cards, checking and savings accounts and auto loans.  

But the company has struggled to make its mortgage business as profitable as the competition. Capital One originated $901 million in home loans in the third quarter of 2017, but that wasn’t enough for the bank to make the list of top 40 mortgage providers, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication. 

“Given the challenging rate environment in this space, we are structurally disadvantaged and we are not in a position to be both competitive and profitable,” the company’s spokesperson said. 

Ted Tozer, senior fellow at the Milken Institute (a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank focused on global prosperity) and former president of Ginnie Mae, told MagnifyMoney that Capital One’s exit should not have a negative impact on the home lending business because it has not been an effective player since it entered the space some eight years ago.  

“It’s come to light that they don’t have a cost-effective operation because they really haven’t invested in technology,” Tozer said. 

In fact, he said, this will be good news for the industry because other financial institutions will then absorb Capital One’s customers in an increasingly competitive business. 

The competition in the home lending business has grown fiercer as interest rates rise, driving fewer homeowners to refinance, Tozer noted. The country is also still experiencing historically low homeownership rates.  

Nonbank financial institutions that have sprung up since the Great Recession are taking an increasingly big slice of the business. Legacy banks such as Capital One are losing customers to industry disruptors, like Quicken Loans, that have invested heavily in technology to streamline the lending process, experts say. 

“Everyone’s trying to compete for the fewer borrowers out there and you have to really have a cost-effective infrastructure to be able to compete in this kind of cut-throat environment we are going through right now,” Tozer said.  
“Capital One is hamstrung by old technology, whereas the new nonbanks are doing this 21st-century technology, and they are able to get the consumer a better experience for a cheaper price.” 

So how will the end of Capital One’s mortgage business actually affect consumers?

If you were hoping to get a Capital One mortgage …

You’re out of luck. Capital One is not going to take additional home loan applications effective immediately.  

If you have a Capital One mortgage or home equity loan already …

Not much will change for you. The bank will continue to service the loans in its portfolio. The company’s spokesperson told MagnifyMoney that consumers who have a loan in process or whose loan is being serviced by Capital One can continue to access their accounts the same way they’ve done so far – through digital means, by phone or by visiting a bank branch. 

If you are the middle of processing a Capital One mortgage application … 

The spokesperson said Capital One would close all open mortgage applications soon. If a loan cannot be closed promptly, the financial institution will refund any fees would-be borrowers have paid so that they can find another lender. 

Capital One will continue to provide specialized multifamily financing to the real estate development and investment community through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), according to to the company. 

Capital One will also continue lending activities for affordable housing supporting the low- and moderate-income markets. 

Experts suggest consumers reach out to their loan officer or customer service to receive an update on their loan if they have questions.   

The post Capital One Is Exiting the Mortgage Business: Here’s What it Means for Borrowers appeared first on MagnifyMoney.