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.

4 Big Legal Changes That Will Hit Your Wallet in 2018

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With all eyes on the GOP’s sweeping plans for tax reform, it’s easy to lose sight of other policy changes that could have an impact on your wallet.

In 2018, there are at least three key policy changes to keep tabs on — adjustments to Social Security benefits, 401(k) contribution limit changes, and the preservation of one of the year’s most controversial financial rules.

Here’s what you need to know:

More Social Security benefits

For Social Security beneficiaries, there is a lot to be excited about in 2018.

The cost-of living-adjustment, which determines the amount of money people receive from the system, is rising by 2 percent, the largest increase in five years. This means a growth in benefits for the more than 61 million recipients currently who currently utilize Social Security in America.

Additionally, the maximum payout—which is the amount you can receive once you’re eligible for 100 percent of your benefits—is also increasing, with the figure growing from $2,687 per month to $2,788 per month.

Greater 401(k) contributions

Saving for retirement will also be a little easier in the coming years, as the Internal Revenue Service announced that the annual limit for 401(k) contributors will increase by $500 in 2018.

Previously, anyone participating in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, the majority of 457 plans, or the  Thrift Savings Plan could set aside $18,000 per year, but the number will grow to $18,500. To see how much this change might affect your retirement funds, you can use this calculator to track how your 401(k) funds will grow over time.

Mandatory arbitration contracts

Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a regulation banning mandatory arbitration clauses, the often-controversial sections of consumer contracts that effectively prevent customers from filing class-action suits against a company they are doing business with, such as a bank.

However, this law, which was set to come into effect in 2018, has been overturned by Congress, meaning the rule will remain in effect.

Martin Lynch, the compliance manager and director of education for Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. in Agawam, Mass., says the repeal of the CFPB’s rule is a major defeat for consumers because forced arbitration is often used to scare customers out of taking action against the corporate world.

“That’s not fair, almost by definition,” says Lynch, who is also a member of the board of directors for the Financial Counseling Association of America. “It’s why the concept of consumer protection exists in the first place.”

Still to be determined: The GOP tax bill

It seemed as though 2017 might be yet another slow year for tax legislation. Then earlier this month Republican lawmakers moved to pass what is could be the biggest American tax overhaul since the 1980s.

While the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate still have to agree on a singular version of the new bill, which likely include close to $1.5 trillion in total tax cuts — $900 billion of which will be for businesses alone — they’re rushing to meet President Donald Trump’s Christmas deadline.

“If any or all of the proposed changes get enacted, we will have a lot to be concerned with,” says Cindy Hockenberry, director of tax research and government relations for the National Association of Tax Professionals.

So how will the Republican tax bill—in its current form—most affect consumers? Next year, not very much. The plan’s changes, which technically go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, will be mostly marginal until 2019 because Americans will mostly be able to file their taxes in April under the current rules.

Being aware of these changes can help you plan in advance because filing taxes in the coming years might be extremely different, depending on your income bracket and your usual deductions. While the bill—officially named the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—is not yet finalized, here are the parts of the bill’s current form that consumers are likely to feel the most:

  • Your income tax bracket could change: The House version of new law would reduce the number of standard tax brackets from seven to four, meaning many Americans would pay a new percentage of their income in 2019. You can check out this chart of the proposed percentages to see how your taxes might change.
  • Your state and local tax deductions will probably go away: The Senate plan would eliminate the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction. This means that if you typically itemize your taxes—instead of just taking the standard deduction— you will be unable to write off taxes paid to state and local governments on your federal filing.
  • You will no longer be able to deduct a personal exemption: Currently, you can take a $4,050 “personal exemption” from your return that doesn’t count toward your taxable income. Under both the House and Senate bills, this option would disappear, however the standard deduction you can take each year would almost double—increasing from $6,350 to $12,200 under the House bill.

Hockenberry, who is based in Appleton, Wis., says the most important part of the plan is its proposed elimination of the personal exemption and a number of itemized deductions. Some Americans might have to pay more each year, she added, because the increase in the standard deduction might not be enough to make up for these changes, causing some consumers’ taxable income to grow.

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Think Twice Before You Max Out Your 401(k)

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Financial planners can’t emphasize the importance of saving for retirement enough: The earlier you start saving and the more you contribute, the better. But should you max out your retirement account? And if so, how do you do it? 

Unfortunately, there’s no solution suitable for all; every individual has a different financial situation.  

But let’s start with the basics: The maximum amount of money you can contribute to your 401(k), the retirement plan offered by your company, is currently $18,000 a year if you are under age 50, and $24,000 if you are 50 or older. If you were starting from scratch, you would have to tuck away $1,500 a month to max it out by year’s end.  

This is a big chunk of money. And although there are multiple benefits to saving for retirement, you may want to think twice before hitting that maximum.  

Remember, this is money that, once contributed, can’t be withdrawn until age 59.5 without incurring penalties (with some exceptions).  

What’s more, putting away a significant portion of their savings to max out their retirement fund doesn’t make much sense for some workers.  

If you are fresh out of college and your first job pays $50,000 annually, you’d need to save 36 percent of your paychecks to max out your 401(k) for the year.   

“Everyone needs to save for retirement, and the more dollars you could put in, the earlier, the better, but you also need to live your life,” says Eric Dostal, a certified financial planner with Sontag Advisory, which is based in New York. “To the extent that you are not able to do the things that you want to accomplish now, having a really really robust 401(k) balance will be great in your 60s, but that would cost now.”  

A few things to consider BEFORE you max out your 401(k)

  1. Do you have an emergency fund for rainy-day cash? If not, divert any extra funds to establish a fund that will cover at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses.  
  2. Do you have high-interest debt, such as credit card debt? High-interest debts, like credit cards, might actually cost you more in the long run than any potential gains you might earn by investing that money in the market.  Still, if you can get a company match, you should try to contribute enough to capture the full match. It never makes sense to leave money on the table.  
  3. Do you have other near-term goals? Are you planning to buy a house or have a child anytime soon? Do you want to travel around the world? Do you plan to pursue an advanced degree? If so, come up with a savings strategy that makes room for your nonretirement goals as well. That way you can save money for those big-ticket expenses and will be less likely to turn to credit cards or other borrowing methods. 

Maximize your 401(k) contributions

If your emergency fund is flush, your bills are paid and you’re saving for big expenses, you are definitely ready to beef up your retirement contributions.   

First, you’ll want to figure out how much to save.   

At the very least, as we said above, you should contribute enough to qualify for any employer match available to you. This is money your employer promises to contribute toward your retirement fund. There are several different ways a company decides how much to contribute to your 401(k), but the takeaway is the same no matter what — if you miss out on the match, you are leaving free money on the proverbial table. 

If you are comfortable enough to start saving more, here is a good rule of thumb: Save 10 percent of each paycheck for retirement, though you don’t have to get up to 10 percent all at once.  

For instance, 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, suggests that you increase your contribution amount for the next three pay periods and repeat again until you hit your maximum.  

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

Once you’re in the groove of saving for retirement, consider using unexpected windfalls to boost your savings. If you get an annual bonus, for example, you can beef up your 401(k) contribution sum if you haven’t yet met your contribution limit.  

A word of caution: If you’re nearing the maximum contribution for the year, rein in your savings. You can be penalized by the IRS for overcontributing. 

If your goal is to save $18,000 for 2017, check how much you’ve contributed for the year to date and then calculate a percentage of your salary and bonus contributions that will get you there through the year’s remaining pay periods.  

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What to Do If Your Company Doesn’t Offer a Retirement Plan

Working for a company with no retirement plans doesn't mean you can't create your own.

The ability to divert part of your paycheck to an investment account and build a nest egg is a huge advantage in the grand scheme of life. In fact, much of the American workforce relies on employer-sponsored retirement plans to do so.

But while we think of retirement accounts as part of a standard workplace benefits package, the reality is that not every employer offers a tax-advantaged retirement plan. The good news is that it’s possible to save for retirement on your own. Here’s how:

Start with an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

If you have earned income, you are eligible to open an IRA. It’s possible to contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA in 2017. Individuals over the age of 50 can contribute an extra $1,000 each year to “catch up” on their retirement savings. There are two main types of IRAs to choose from:

Traditional IRA

When you contribute to a traditional IRA, you receive a tax deduction. Your investment broker will send you a statement at the end of the year so you know how much to deduct.

Because you receive a tax deduction now, you will have to pay taxes later when you withdraw money from your retirement account. You can start withdrawing money at age 59 and a half, and pay taxes on it at your marginal rate.

Note that if you or your spouse has a retirement plan through work, or if you have a higher income, your deduction eligibility phases out with a traditional IRA.

Roth IRA

With a Roth IRA, you make contributions with after-tax money, and the investments grow tax-free. So, you don’t get a tax advantage today, but you don’t have to worry about paying taxes on your future withdrawals.

Although this sounds pretty great, it’s important to note the income restrictions on the Roth IRA. Your ability to contribute phases out starting at $118,000 a year as a single filer in 2017. Once you reach $133,000 in income for the year, you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA at all. Instead, you might need to switch to a traditional IRA.

Choosing Between a Traditional & Roth IRA

Making this decision mainly focuses on your expected tax situation. If you think your taxes will be higher in the future, you can save money by paying taxes now at a lower rate and using a Roth IRA. However, if you think your tax bill will decrease later, try to avoid paying taxes today with the help of a traditional IRA contribution tax deduction.

Other IRA Options

Do you have a side gig on top of your full-time job? If so, use that as a reason to access some of the self-employed IRA options, such as SIMPLE IRA and SEP IRA accounts.

These IRA accounts often allow a higher yearly contribution than a traditional or Roth IRA. For 2017, the SIMPLE allows up to $12,500 in contributions each year with a $3,000 potential catch-up contribution. The SEP IRA has a limit of the lesser of 25 percent of your compensation or $54,000 for 2017.

Open Your IRA

Opening an IRA is relatively simple. You can open an IRA account with most online brokers and investors. Some even allow you to open an account with no minimum or opening balance. Other brokers might require a regular monthly contribution of $100 to create an account.

Many brokers offer access to low-cost index funds and ETFs for instant diversity and a reduction in fees. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account into your investment account.

Consider talking to your human resources department to see if you can have part of your paycheck diverted to your IRA. Even if you don’t have an employee retirement plan, you can still passively generate savings for your future self.

See how debt affects your ability to save with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.

Consider the myRA

A few years ago, the government started an IRA alternative called the myRA. If you have a small amount to contribute, this can be ideal. You contribute as little as $5 per paycheck. Your tax-deductible contribution is invested in the Government Securities Fund. Your annual contribution limit and tax benefit is in line with a traditional IRA.

Once your account balance reaches $15,000, or after 30 years, you have to move the money into a private IRA. Plus, you don’t have as many choices for investing with the myRA. Your money has to go into the specified fund. Because the barrier to entry is so low, it’s a good starter retirement account as long as you plan to upgrade later.

Open a Health Savings Account (HSA)

Health care costs can present a challenge during retirement. One way to address this issue, especially if your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, is with the HSA.

Not only do you receive a tax deduction for your contributions, but also the money grows tax-free as long as you use it for qualified health-related costs. While you can use the money now, it’s a good strategy to let the money grow. Plan to use the HSA for health care costs during retirement to capitalize on long-term, tax-free growth.

Once you reach 65, you can treat your HSA like a traditional IRA (with most of the same rules). However, integrating the HSA into your overall plan by using it in conjunction with an IRA can help you maximize your assets during retirement.

Are You Eligible for a Solo 401(k)?

Another option for those with side gigs is the solo 401(k). If you have a side business on top of your work, and you don’t have any employees, you can take advantage of higher 401(k) limits by opening a solo 401(k). One advantage to the Roth solo 401(k) is that it doesn’t come with the income restrictions you see with a Roth.

A solo 401(k) comes with a very generous contribution limit. On the employee side, you can contribute up to $18,000 for 2017. Your business can also contribute a percentage of income (20% or 25%, depending on your type of business). For those 50 and over, contributions to a participant’s account, not counting catch-up contributions, can’t exceed $54,000

These accounts are harder to find than IRAs. You might need to speak with a specialty brokerage or your bank to open a solo 401(k).

Taxable Investment Accounts

Finally, you don’t have to limit yourself to tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Any regular brokerage account can help you save for retirement. Brokers such as Acorns and Robinhood can help you invest pocket change for the future.

When investing through taxable investment accounts, though, you need the discipline to avoid withdrawing the money before you retire. Taxable investment accounts don’t restrict your access in the same way, so it can be tempting to raid your retirement fund for today’s expenses.

Get Started Now

Regardless of your employer’s involvement, you need to make room in your budget for retirement savings. No matter how you go about it, the important thing is to start investing with retirement in mind. The earlier you start, the more time your money has to grow.

Image: Portra

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I’m About to Retire. What Accounts Do I Withdraw From First?

It can vary, but there are a few rules of thumb to consider when it comes to paying taxes on your retirement funds.

Q. I’m confused about how to decide which accounts to take money from when I retire next year. I’m 61. I have $730,000 in my 401K, $129,000 in a Roth, $200,000 in taxable mutual funds and about $50,000 in cash accounts. I will have about $24,000 a year in Social Security but not until age 65.
— Almost there

A. Congratulations on your upcoming retirement.

The good news is that you are permitted to start taking distributions from your 401K without penalties once you reach age 59 1/2. So next year when you retire, you are permitted to take money out of all of these accounts without any tax penalties, said Marnie Aznar, a certified financial planner with Aznar Financial Advisors in Morris Plains, N.J.

She said you should keep in mind that distributions from your 401K will be subject to ordinary income taxes, while distributions from your Roth IRA will not be subject to income taxes upon distribution.

The money that you have accumulated in taxable funds is also available, but if there are embedded capital gains in these holdings, you will incur taxable capital gains upon sale of the funds, Aznar said. If you have any capital loss carry-forwards, you could use them to offset future capital gains on your tax returns.

If your taxable account is generating some interest and dividends that you could have transferred into your checking account automatically each month, Aznar suggests you start with that in terms of covering your basic living expenses.

“The longer that you are able to leave the money within your 401K plan or IRA rollover — if you choose to roll it over — the longer it will remain invested on a tax-deferred basis,” Aznar said. “This means that you can avoid paying taxes for longer which will result in accumulating more funds.”

She said you may want to consider withdrawing just enough from your 401K plan to keep your tax burden as low as possible.

Without knowing more about your situation, Aznar made some assumptions to give a more detailed example.

Let’s assume you file your tax return “married filing jointly” and have no other income starting next year.

If you then hypothetically earned $100 of interest income and $4,000 of dividend income annually and claimed the standard deduction, and if you were to withdraw $30,000 from your 401K you would be subject to a total federal and New Jersey tax bill of less than $1,500 for the year, she said. (Calculations can vary by state; consult a local tax accountant for a better understanding of the taxes you’ll be subject to.)

If you were to withdraw $20,000 from the 401K plan, this would result in avoiding federal taxes completely and paying less than $400 in New Jersey state taxes, she said.

And once you start taking Social Security, your tax situation will change.

“Determine how much you need to withdraw to live on each month and then ideally, pull from the various buckets in the most tax-efficient manner,” she said.

For more on taxes, visit out tax learning center.

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How to Set Up Your First 401K

There's a lot to consider when saving for retirement. Here's what you need to know to get started with a 401K.

So you’ve decided to save for your retirement using your company’s 401K plan. Congratulations! It’s a great way to save. But now what? Which funds do you choose? How much should you contribute? Are there limits? How do your employer’s matching funds actually work? Can you access the money if you need it before retirement?

Obviously, there are a lot of questions that can arise when it comes time to set up your retirement savings, but we’re here to help. Here’s what you need to know to set up your 401K.

What Is a 401K?

The section of the U.S. tax code that describes these retirement savings plans is Section 401(k), thus the name. These plans let you invest pre-tax dollars directly from your salary, along with any additional investment made by your employer. Unlike an Investment Retirement Account (IRA), 401Ks are sponsored by employers, and, if offered at all, they must be made available to all employees of the company sponsoring the 401K.

Your employer does have the right to impose a couple of restrictions, however. 1. They can require that you work full-time for a period of time before eligibility, and 2., can also stipulate that you be at least 21 years old before enrolling. That’s why it’s always good to ask about eligibility when interviewing for a new job.

You Choose Your Investments

Most 401Ks are self-directed. That means you choose where to put your money from a list of funds made available through your 401K plan provider (Vanguard and Fidelity are two of the larger firms providing 401K funds). This can get tricky. Do you choose the safest investments that offer little risk but less reward? Do you opt for high growth? Targeted funds? Emerging market funds? What about bonds?

Obviously, you’re going to want to do some research, perhaps even talk to someone with some expertise. Most plan providers share details about the individual funds they offer on their websites, or at least have links to more details. Some even offer tools to help you choose which funds fit your needs, while others make real live people available for limited consultations. Seek out the assistance you need to fully understand what you’re doing with your savings.

You Also Choose How Much to Save …

There’s really no correct answer when it comes to how much to save, but certainly, saving as much as you can for retirement is a good idea. And if your employer offers matching funds (free money!) for your investments, you’ll at least want to invest the full amount they match. So, for example, if your employer matches up to 3% of your salary, you’ll want to invest at least 3%, though certainly you can invest more. Here are some tips on how to maximize your 401K.

… But There Are Limits

Federal law allows investors to put up to $18,000 into a 401K each year unless you’re over age 50, when you’re allowed to make an additional $6,000 in “catch-up” contributions.

If you’re in the lucky position of being able to save more than these limits, there are investing alternatives to your 401K that you may want to consider. These include IRAs, certificates of deposit (CDs) and even individual stocks if you’re familiar enough with the markets.

You Can’t Use Your Money …

Keep in mind that a 401K isn’t like a savings account. But for a few exceptions, you can’t withdraw your money before age 59½ without paying early withdrawal penalties and taxes. You can take a loan against your 401K if your employer’s plan allows for that, but only for specific purposes like education, medical reasons or first-time home purchases. Your repayments will come right out of your paycheck, making the process simple, but there are some dangers you’ll want to consider before borrowing against your 401K.

If you’re just starting out in the investing/saving world, you may want to consider putting a portion of your income toward an emergency fund that is easily accessed, carries no penalties and can get you out of a jam, like a giant car repair bill, when you need it.

… But You Can Take It With You

To another job, that is. When you leave, you won’t lose your investments, though you could lose contributions made by your employer. That’s because some employers require a “vesting period” for their contributions to your 401K. Essentially, it means you have to work for the company for a predetermined period of time before you can claim what they’ve given you.

When you leave, you simply set up a rollover IRA with your plan provider. Those funds can then either stay put in the IRA or be rolled over to your 401K with your new employer. You’ll want to compare the income history for the funds before deciding where the money will best serve you.

Retirement may feel eons away, but it pays (quite literally) to start early. Fortunately, we’ve got a full list of 50 things millennials can do now to retire at 65.  

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This Is Not Your Father’s 401K: The Retirement Product You Should Know About

Want guaranteed income for life? Here's how you can get it.

Chances are you’re like most Americans and, regardless of your age, you aren’t saving enough for retirement, if you’re actually saving anything at all.

Nearly 40 million U.S. households (45%) have no retirement assets, according to a recent report by the National Institute on Retirement Security, and half of those households are headed by someone aged between 45 and 65. In fact, savings rates are so bad that many Americans are dying with an average of $62,000 in debt.

Even if you are saving enough for retirement, you might still wonder if that money will last your entire lifetime. Defined contribution plans like 401Ks are great at helping employees save for retirement, but they provide no guarantee of income as pensions do. On top of that, most 401Ks are self-directed, meaning those who do a poor job handling their investments could end up with significantly less money than they need in retirement.

But what if you could guarantee yourself income for life, just like ubiquitous company pension plans used to provide (and government pension plans still do)?

Well, you can. Here’s how.

Back in 2014, the Treasury Department started an initiative focused on “putting the pension back” into 401K retirement savings. (Need to brush up on retirement lingo? Here’s a handy guide.) Through loosened restrictions and some tax-law changes, the Treasury made it easier to convert funds from retirement savings into plans known as longevity income annuities, or LIAs, that provide guaranteed lifetime income.

Income for Life

LIAs are deferred annuities and, while they’ve been for a while, they’ve only recently become a part of mainstream retirement planning. The Treasury initiative could even cause them to become an integral part of 401K target funds. Here’s how they work: Say you have $100,000 in retirement savings. At age 65, you use $10,000 of that money to purchase an LIA. “Even in the current low-interest-rate environment, a deferred single-life annuity purchased at age 65 for a male costing $10,000 can generate an annual benefit flow from age 85 onward of $4,830 ($3,866 for a female) per year for life,” a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper concluded.

It’s easy to see how helpful this kind of guaranteed income could be, particularly given larger investment amounts. Of course, it’s a hedge that you’ll live long enough to take advantage of those funds, but some programs provide for reimbursement should you die before accessing all of your money. More on that in a minute.

According to Olivia S. Mitchell, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the working paper mentioned above, LIAs are available to investors but are not yet tied to defined-contribution plans.

“There has been discussion about including them in the target-date suite of funds, and some employers are actively looking for options,” she said in an email. “Relatively few insurers have them available as yet.”

“One reason annuities or lifetime income streams are not a standard feature of 401K plans is that many people don’t understand these products,” she wrote in an article for Forbes. “For instance, some older individuals tend to underestimate their chances of living a long time, so they don’t take proper precautions against outliving their assets. Others don’t understand financial concepts, and so they’re reluctant to take unfamiliar financial decisions. After all, retirement is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event!”

Just because they aren’t directly tied to defined-contribution plans just yet doesn’t mean LIAs aren’t easily accessed. AARP, for example, has been offering its Lifetime Income Program through New York Life since 2006. AARP’s plan has a cash refund feature so, as we mentioned earlier, if you die before your payments equal your annuity purchase price, your beneficiary will be paid the difference.

Is an LIA Right for Me?

As with most financial tools, some people will benefit from an LIA more than others. “People in poor health might not want to elect deferred annuities, particularly if they have a poor survival prognosis,” Mitchell said. “Some very wealthy people will not need the LIA as they can self-insure against outliving their assets. Retirees with a (well-funded) defined benefit pension probably don’t need additional annuitization. And people with a very small nest egg might not find it worthwhile to annuitize, say, $10,000. But much of the middle class could benefit.”

In considering LIA plans, Mitchell recommends asking how highly rated the insurer is who provides it. She also suggests knowing how well the state insurance guarantee fund is being run and the maximum amount you’d recover should the insurer go bankrupt. (As you’re planning your retirement, you should also make sure you have a full picture of your finances, including your credit. You can get a free snapshot of your credit report on Credit.com.)

So how much should you consider putting into an LIA? “Older individuals would optimally commit 8% to 15% of their plan balances at age 65 to a LIA, which begins payouts at age 85,” Mitchell, et al, wrote in their working paper.

As for timing, it doesn’t really make sense for someone who isn’t at or near retirement age to purchase an LIA. For one thing, you can’t access your retirement funds without penalty until age 60.

“It makes sense to decide how much to devote to the LIA in your mid-60s, since that gives 20 years over which the annuity value can build up,” so you can begin taking payments at age 85, Mitchell said.

Of course, there are a variety of annuity products to suit different personal needs, such as earlier payout options, so it’s a good idea to speak with a financial professional who can help you decide what product might be best for your financial situation.

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

Don't forget to include retirement savings in your plan to build a successful business.

When you’re hard at work as a self-employed entrepreneur or freelancer, retirement can seem like something that’s miles away. It can not only feel less important than getting your business or trade off the ground, but also seem like you won’t have spare money to set aside for a good, long time. You can save for your future, however. Here are some steps self-employed individuals can take to plan for their retirement.

1. Enroll in a Retirement Plan

Yes, there are retirement plan options out there for self-employed people like you. These include:

One-Participant 401K Plan: The one-participant or “solo” 401K is essentially the same as a traditional 401K designed to cover a business owner with no employees. (Note: You can hire your spouse and include them in this plan as well.) According to the IRS, you can contribute elective deferrals up to 100% of your earned income and employer non-elective contributions (determined by a special computation). Contributions are made pre-tax (you’ll be taxed when you withdraw the money, which you typically can’t do without a penalty until age 59½) and give you great flexibility in how much (or how little) you contribute. The contribution limits for 2017 are $18,000 and 25% of compensation up to the amount that’s defined in your plan, respectively, according to the IRS.

Traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA): Many self-employed people can see immediate rewards from contributing to a traditional IRA, as these are tax-deductible in certain situations, giving you an immediate break on your taxable income. For example, if your income is $60,000, and you contribute $4,000 to a traditional IRA, you’ll only be taxed on $56,000 for that year. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll have to pay taxes when withdrawing the money and tax penalties can arise if you withdraw your retirement dollars early.

Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA: To set this plan up, you simply fill out a form — no annual reporting to the IRS is required. The IRS notes that you can open a SEP IRA through your bank or other financial institution and can contribute up to 25% of your net earnings from self-employment. This type of plan is generally best if your business has no employees, or very few, because you have to include all employees in the plan — and everyone has to receive the same amount, which can get pricey if you have a lot of people working for you.

Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA: Per the IRS, a SIMPLE IRA plan is best suited as a start-up retirement savings plan for small employers. Under this plan, both employees and employers can contribute to traditional IRAs.

You can read more about the retirement plan options available to self-employed individuals on the IRS’s website and check out our glossary of common retirement terms you’ll want to know.

2. Budget By Percentages, Not Dollars

As a self-employed person, your income likely fluctuates from month to month, meaning you can’t budget the same way that a non-self-employed person would. It can help to think about budgeting for non-fixed expenses in percentages, instead of dollars, personal finance expert AJ Smith suggested in a blog post on Credit.com.

“If, for example, you want to save for retirement, try putting aside a certain percentage of your income rather than a certain dollar amount,” Smith wrote. “A dollar amount can lead you to save too little in high-income months and more than you can realistically afford in low-income ones.”

3. Be Vigilant About Your Taxes

Paying taxes can be a lot more complicated when you’re self-employed. For instance, throughout the year, you’ll have to estimate how much you owe for Medicare, Social Security and income tax and pay it in quarterly installments — and face penalties if you do so incorrectly. Plus, you’ll have to a pay a self-employment (SE) tax, which is essentially a combination of the Social Security and Medicare tax.

It’s important to properly work your tax payments into your budget, so you don’t wind up spending dollars you don’t really have. You may also want to consult with a tax accountant or other financial expert about your taxes, so you don’t miss out on important deductions or credits that could drive more money to your bottom line — and subsequently your retirement plans.

4. Stay on Top of Your Credit

Similarly, you’ll want to monitor your credit scores to make sure they’re in good shape and that you don’t wind up paying extra in interest on personal and business financing. Those dollars can severely hamper your ability to save for your eventual happy golden years. (You can see how your credit is doing by getting two free credit scores every 14 days on Credit.com.)

Remember, too, many business lines of credit require a personal guarantee, meaning you’ll be personally liable for any debts your business has that go unpaid. As such, you’ll want to carefully consider all loans you’re thinking of taking on to finance your business. Overextending yourself can make it harder to save not just for retirement, but also for future bills and/or emergencies that may come your way.

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