Why Sabbaticals Could Be the New Pre-Retirement

Brad N. Shaw, a Dallas, Texas-based serial entrepreneur, took a two-year sabbatical from 2011-2013 to spend more time with his family. He’s pictured here with his family in Vail, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Brad M. Shaw)

Serial entrepreneur Brad M. Shaw made a bold decision several years ago to take two years off from work and move his family to Vail, Colo.

Taking a two-year sabbatical had its challenges, the major one being uprooting his family in pursuit of more work-life balance and a change of scenery. But overall, he says taking time off was more than worth it — both for his family and his business.

“My daughter was growing up so fast,” says Shaw, who is CEO of a web design firm in Dallas. “As a serial entrepreneur, I was always away traveling or at the office. I wanted to be a present father and play a role in her upbringing. I also wanted to show her a life outside of the Dallas suburbia bubble.”

‘No reason to wait’

The concept of taking a sabbatical is not new. People have been taking them for decades. They’re typically thought of happening in academia, in which professors are paid to take time off for research. But sabbaticals have transcended academia and have spread into the general workforce in recent decades.

Thanks to a new wave of workers who value purpose over stability, the upswing of the gig economy, and companies that offer unlimited vacation time or paid sabbaticals, taking an extended break is becoming more of a reality for many. Many major companies in the United States offer unlimited vacation time or paid sabbaticals, such as Groupon, General Electric, and Adobe.

There’s also the reality that today’s American workers are not able to retire as early as previous generations — and they’re living longer, healthier lives. So a sabbatical can serve as a mini retirement, or a chance to take a break from the grind of 9-to-5 life.

Ric Edelman, the founder and executive chairman of Edelman Financial Services, explores this topic in his new book, “The Truth About Your Future: The Money Guide You Need Now, Later, and Much Later.” He says the combination of people living longer and being healthier in old age means the notion of retiring at 65 will be gone in the near future, both because it won’t be affordable and people will get restless.

Daniel Howard took a one-year, unpaid sabbatical in 2008 following the financial crisis to recharge and return to work with a fresh perspective. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Howard)

“You’ll be healthy enough to work, you’re going to want to work, and economically, you’re going to need to work,” he says. “For all those reasons, you’ll continue working. And so that notion that you’ll wait until you’re 60 to take that around-the-world cruise really won’t exist. There won’t be a particular reason to wait.”

Edelman says that instead of the traditional life path (go to school, get a job, retire, die), we’ll have a cyclical one in which people go to school, get a job, take a sabbatical, go back to school, take a different job, etc. Instead of having one big chunk of a 30-year retirement, people will take two years here, three years there, six months here, and they’ll enjoy time off throughout their life at various intervals.

Research has also proven that companies and the economy benefit when employees take sabbaticals. According to a report by Project: Time Off, an offshoot of the U.S. Travel Association, there has been a jump in employees taking time off in the last year. Unused vacation days cost the economy $236 billion in 2016 — an amount that could have supported 1.8 million jobs. In essence, employees not cashing in on their paid time off hurts the economy because employees are forfeiting money that could instead have been used to create new jobs.

Dan Clements, author of “Escape 101: The Four Secrets to Taking a Career Break Without Losing Your Money or Your Mind,” says the biggest benefit of taking a sabbatical is the perspective change it offers.

“People come back from sabbaticals with a completely different vision for how they want to live their life,” Clements tells MagnifyMoney. “They come back and they change jobs or they transform themselves in the company they’re in or they change their business.”

Upon returning to Dallas, Shaw says he made the decision to forgo scaling up his business in favor of running it on a smaller scale so he could be less stressed.

“The time away allowed me to reset my business ideas,” he says.

Clements thinks many companies have begun to offer unlimited vacation days or paid sabbaticals to keep up with the new generation entering the workforce, because by and large, millennials value purpose over stability. Companies want to keep employees happy by offering them the opportunity to find purpose in a way their 9-to-5 job might not be able to.

“You have a different generation of people entering the workforce for whom work means something different,” Clements says. “What they expect from work is not necessarily security and a paycheck, but what they expect is meaning from work more than previous generations have. Part of the way companies can supply that is to give people the time and flexibility to find it.”

Taking the plunge

Tori Tait, the director of content and community for The Grommet, an e-commerce website that helps new products launch, took a 30-day sabbatical in August. Her company offers paid sabbaticals at employees’ five-year mark. Tait, who lives in Murrieta, Calif., spent time relaxing in Huntington Beach, Calif., boating on the Colorado River, and living on a houseboat in Lake Mead, Ariz. Like Shaw, she says the biggest benefits for her were time off with family and a fresh perspective once she returned to work.

“I’m a working mom, so summers are often filled with me in the office, and [my kids] wishing we were at the beach,” she says. Tait says she enjoyed how during her month off, she didn’t have work in the back of her mind the way people often do when on a five- or six-day vacation.

Tori Tait, pictured with her daughters London, 10, and Taylor, 16, took a company-sponsored, 30-day sabbatical in August 2017. (Photo courtesy of Tori Tait)

Her biggest piece of advice for those planning a sabbatical is to not dwell on the planning aspect of it. “I grappled with trying to plan how I would spend my time,” she says. “Would I travel abroad? Volunteer? Finally do that side project I’ve been thinking about? In the end, I just thought, What is it that I always wish I had more time to do? The answer for me was: spend quality time with my family. So that’s what I did.”

Daniel Howard, the director at Search Office Space, a website that helps businesses all over the world find office space, took a sabbatical after the financial crisis in 2008. He says he took 12 months off to recharge in hopes of returning to work with more optimism and drive. His employers didn’t pay him for the time off, but promised him his job would be there upon his return.

He traveled with his then-girlfriend (now his wife) to Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Central America. They left their phones at home and relied on physical maps to get around. Aside from the occasional email to family to check in, they were completely disconnected. The biggest benefit for him? “The ability to completely disconnect from my working life and the opportunity to become a more well-rounded person by immersing myself in different cultures and experiences,” Howard says.

Although many people take their sabbaticals overseas, one doesn’t need to travel around the world to reap the benefits. Extended time away from work and technology is beneficial no matter where you are.

“I think for a lot of people, a sabbatical is the first real vacation they’ve ever taken,” Clements says. “I tell people that taking a one-week vacation is sort of like trying to swim in a puddle. You wade in a little bit, and you’re barely wet, and then you have to go inside. When you actually get away from your life for two or three times longer than you’ve ever taken a break from work, you get this sense of perspective that I think most people don’t normally get a chance to experience.”

The 4 stages of preparing for a sabbatical

If you don’t work for a company that offers unlimited vacation days or paid sabbaticals, that doesn’t mean you can’t take one. Clements shares his steps for saving up for a sabbatical:

  1. Boost your earnings. Try to figure out if there’s a way you can earn more before taking your sabbatical. Can you finally ask for the raise you’ve been wanting? Can you do freelance work on the side? Can you rent out part of your home on Airbnb, or drive for Uber? Consider all of your options.
  2. Make it automatic. Have money automatically withdrawn from your bank account the same way you would for retirement, a mortgage or automatic bill payments.
  3. Put it out of reach. Once you set aside money in a separate account, make sure it’s out of reach. Put it in a savings account that isn’t accessible online or via the ATM. If you have to physically go to the bank to withdraw cash, you’ll be less tempted to do so.
  4. Stretch yourself. Don’t be afraid to make your automatic savings plan more aggressive than you think you can handle. Challenge yourself to save more than you think you need, because you can always change the amount if you have to.

The post Why Sabbaticals Could Be the New Pre-Retirement appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Ignoring These 6 Financial Moves Could Ruin Your Retirement

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

You finally have enough money to retire, and you’re counting down the minutes—no, seconds—until you walk out the door for the last time. The excitement is palpable, and you can hardly believe you’ve reached this milestone. After all, it probably took at least thirty years of diligent investing to make your retirement dreams come true.

While I understand why you’re probably bouncing off the walls, you still have some work to do if you want to actually stay retired.

Say what?

Yep, you read that right. If you don’t complete a handful of important tasks now, you could wind up heading back to work part-time or cutting back on spending just to get by.

To avoid ruining your retirement, you need to make a handful of smart financial moves now. Here are the most important steps to take to keep your retirement safe and on track.

1. Have the “Money Talk” with Your Adult Kids

While giving money to adult kids is a taboo subject nobody wants to talk about, it’s actually a lot more common than people think. According to a 2015 study from Pew Social Trends, approximately 61% of parents with adult children in the US admitted to helping them financially within the previous 12 months.

Helping adult kids may not have been a big deal when you were working, but it can make a huge difference to your bottom line once you’re on a fixed income. This is why you need to have the “money talk” right away, said North Dakota financial adviser Benjamin Brandt.

“If you are nearing retirement and financially supporting adult children, now would be the time to have some conversations about money,” noted Brandt. “Adult children need to know that continued financial support could jeopardize your golden years.”

If you set expectations early, your adult kids will have time to learn how to fend for themselves and break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.

2. Dial Down Your Investment Risk

Your retirement plan is most vulnerable during the final years leading up to your target retirement date. With that in mind, it’s crucial to reconsider your desired level of risk as you start getting close.

“One of the best ways to reduce the risk of outliving your money is to reduce the risk you’re taking in your investment portfolio during those last few years,” said San Diego financial adviser Taylor Schulte. “This means allocating less to stocks and more to high-quality bonds.”

Once you settle into retirement, you can always consider increasing the risk again if it aligns with your long-term goals.

3. Meet with a Financial Planner

Does this sound overly complicated?

“If you think this might be a challenging task, you can always hire a fee-only financial adviser to put together an investment plan for you or use a target date mutual fund that automatically reduces the portfolio’s risk as you approach retirement,” said Schulte.

And, if you haven’t done so already, meeting with a financial planner is probably the smartest move you can make anyway. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all retirement income portfolio or investment approach retirees should take.

A financial planner can find the right mix for your financial goals, however.

“The right mix of stocks, bonds, and other asset classes should be chosen based on the cash flow you need to support the life you want,” said financial planner Eric C. Jansen of AspenCross Wealth Management. “One sure way to ruin your retirement is to let your retirement portfolio dictate the lifestyle you have, rather than being properly designed to support the lifestyle you desire.”

4. Create a Long-Term Financial Plan

Speaking of meeting with a financial planner, you can rely on these professionals to help you create a long-term financial plan. With a solid plan in place, you won’t have to stress over market fluctuations that would normally leave you stressing out.

“We are all emotional creatures,” said financial planner Don Roork of AssetDynamics Wealth Management.

It’s natural to panic when the market drops, or to feel a surge of happiness and excitement when one of your investments increases in value. In retirement, however, you don’t need all that drama. What you really need is a long-term plan that will leave you protected regardless of volatility in the market.

“The next time the market falls and you’re convinced that ‘this time is different’ and ‘the financial world is positively collapsing’ and ‘I’m going to lose all my money,’ don’t react emotionally and yank all the money out of your well-managed portfolio and move into cash,” said Roork.

Leave it to your adviser to worry about your portfolio—that’s their job, after all.

“Financial advisers don’t have a crystal ball of omniscience into your financial future, but they can skillfully help you evaluate the economic and financial market circumstances, and help you avoid emotion-driven investment thinking and actions that will ruin your retirement,” said Roork.

5. Think Long and Hard about Your Long-Term Care Options

While many people believe that long-term care insurance is too expensive to consider, not having a long-term care plan in place can ruin your retirement.

No one ever thinks they’re going to need long-term care or have to move to some kind of facility, but more and more individuals are finding out that’s not the case, noted Kansas City financial planner Clint Haynes.

Even if you don’t think it’s ever going to happen, you still have to prepare for it just in case.

“Whether it’s purchasing long-term care insurance or setting up steps with your children, a plan needs to be in place,” said Haynes. “The costs of a long-term care facility can be exorbitant and the emotional burden on your children can be even more trying. Take the time to create a plan with your family.”

And yes, this is another area where you can reach out to a financial planner or insurance professional for help. If the day comes where you need long-term care for any reason, you’ll be glad you did.

6. Decide How to Handle Social Security

Failing to plan is the same as planning to fail, and that’s especially true when we’re talking about Social Security.

“Many couples often opt to take Social Security at the earliest possible age of 62, but this isn’t always the best idea,” said financial planner Jude Wilson of Wilson Group Financial. The worst part is, most people go this route because they never took the time to compare all their options and potential outcomes.

As Wilson reminds us, taking Social Security early (at age 62) means agreeing to a payout that could be up to 25% less than what you’d get if you waited. If you wait until you reach full retirement age (age 66 or 67, depending on your birthdate), you’ll receive the full benefit you worked for.

The lower payout affects more than today’s Social Security check noted Wilson. “Future cost of living adjustments will be based on that lower amount. Over your lifetime, the cumulative effect of getting cost of living adjustments on that lower benefit adds up like a snowball rolling downhill in an avalanche.”

But, that’s not all. Taking Social Security at age 62 can also do harm to a surviving spouse in the future.

“When one spouse passes away, the survivor will receive the higher of the two Social Security checks, not both,” said Wilson.

While there are certainly times when an early payout is better, retirees who pick this option without weighing the pros and cons could wind up missing out on huge sums of money over time.

If that won’t ruin your retirement, I don’t know what will. The good news is that you can start implementing these six financial tips into your planning today and reap the rewards in the years to come. For more information on smart spending decisions in retirement, check out our picks for the best credit cards for retirees.

Image: Portra

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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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Seniors Are Getting Crushed by Debt, New MagnifyMoney Analysis Shows

More American seniors are shouldering debt as they enter their retirement years, according to a new MagnifyMoney analysis of data from the latest University of Michigan Retirement Research Center Health and Retirement Study release. MagnifyMoney analyzed survey data to see whether debt causes financial frailty during retirement. We also spoke with financial experts who explained how seniors can rescue their retirements.

1 in 3 Americans 50 and older carry non-mortgage debt

The Health and Retirement Study from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center surveys more than 20,000 participants age 50+ who answer questions about well-being. The survey covers financial topics including debt, income, and assets. Since 1990, the center has conducted the survey every other year. They released the 2014 panel of data in November 2016. MagnifyMoney analyzed the most recent release of the data to learn more about financial fitness among older Americans.

In an ideal retirement, retirees would have the financial resources necessary to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed during their working years. Debt acts as an anchor on retiree balance sheets. Since interest rates on debts tend to rise faster than earnings from assets, debt has the power to destroy the balance sheets of seniors living on fixed incomes.

We found that nearly one-third (32%) of all Americans over age 50 carry non-mortgage debt from month to month. On average, those with debt carry $4,786 in credit card debt and $12,490 in total non-mortgage debt.

High-interest consumer debt erodes seniors’ ability to live a quality lifestyle, says John Ross, a Texarkana, Texas-based attorney specializing in elder law.

“From an elder law attorney perspective, we see a direct correlation between debt and institutional care,” Ross says. “Essentially, the more debt load, the less likely the person will have sufficient cash assets to cover medical care that is not provided by Medicare.”

Even worse, debt leads some retirees to skip paying for necessary expenses like quality food and medical care.

“The social aspect of being a responsible bill payer often leads the older debtor to forgo needed expenses to pay debts they cannot afford instead of considering viable options like bankruptcy,” says Devin Carroll, a Texarkana, Texas-based financial adviser specializing in Social Security and retirement.

Some older Americans may even be carrying debt that they don’t have the capacity to pay.

According to our analysis, 40% of all older Americans have credit card debt in excess of $5,000. More than one in five (22%) Americans age 50+ have more than $10,000 in credit card debt. On average, those with more than $10,000 in credit card debt couldn’t pay off their debt even by emptying their checking accounts.

Over a third of American seniors don’t have $1,000 in cash

It’s not just credit card debtors who struggle with financial frailty approaching retirement. Many older Americans have very little spending power. More than one-third (37%) of all Americans over age 50 have a checking account balance less than $1,000.

Low cash reserves don’t just mean limited spending power. They indicate that American seniors don’t have the liquidity to deal with financial hardships as they approach retirement. This is especially concerning because seniors are more likely than average to face high medical expenses. Over one in three (36%) Americans who experienced financial hardship classified it as an unexpected health expense, according to the Federal Reserve Board report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015. The median out-of-pocket health-related expense was $1,200.

Debt pushes seniors further from retirement goals

Seniors carrying credit card debt exhibit other signs of financial frailty. For example, seniors without credit card debt have an average net worth of $120,000. Those with credit card debt have a net worth of just $68,000, 43% less than those without credit card debt.

The concern isn’t just small portfolio values. For retirees with debt, credit card interest rates outpace expected performance on investment portfolios. Today the average credit card interest rate is 14%. That means American seniors who carry credit card debt (on average, $4,786) pay an average of $670 per year in interest charges. Meanwhile, the average investment portfolio earns no more than 8% per year. This means that older debtors will earn just $4,508 from their entire portfolio. Credit card interest eats up more than 15% of the nest egg income.

For some older Americans the problem runs even deeper. One in 10 American seniors has a checking account balance with less than $1,000 and carries credit card debt. This precarious position could leave some seniors unable to recover from larger financial setbacks.

Increased debt loads over time

High levels of consumer debt among older Americans are part of a sobering trend. According to research from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, in 1998, 36.94% of Americans age 56-61 carried debt. The mean value of their debt (in 2012 dollars) was $3,634.

Over time debt loads among pre-retiree age Americans are becoming even more unsustainable. Today 42% of Americans age 50-59 have debt, and their average debt burden is $17,623.

Credit card debt carries the most onerous interest rates, but it’s not the only type of debt people carry into retirement. According to research from the Urban Institute, in 2014, 32.2% of adults aged 68-72 carried debt in addition to a mortgage or a credit card, and 18% of Americans age 73-77 still have an auto loan.

Even student loan debt, a debt typically associated with millennials, is causing angst among seniors. According to the debt styles study from the Urban Institute, as of 2014, 2%-4% of adults aged 58 and older carried student loan debt. It’s a small proportion overall, but the burden is growing over time.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in 2004, 600,000 seniors over age 60 carried student loan debt. Today that number is 2.8 million. Back in 2004 Americans over age 60 had $6 billion in outstanding student loan debts. Today they owe $66.7 billion in student loans, more than 10 times what they owed in 2004. Not all that student debt came from seniors dragging their repayments out for 30-40 years. Almost three in four (73%) older student loan debtors carry some debt that benefits a child or grandchild.

Even co-signing student loans puts a retirement at risk. If the borrower cannot repay the loan on their own, then a retiree is on the hook for repayment. A co-signer’s assets that aren’t protected by federal law can be seized to repay a student loan in default. Because of that, Ross says, “We never advise a person to co-sign on a student loan. Never!”

How older Americans can manage debt

High debt loads and an impending retirement can make a reasonable retirement seem like a fairy tale. However, an effective debt strategy and some extra work make it possible to age on your own terms.

Focus on debt first.

Carroll suggests older workers should prioritize eliminating debt before saving for retirement. “Several studies have shown a direct correlation between debt and risk of institutionalization,” he says. Debt inhibits retirees from remodeling or paying for in-home care that could allow them to age in place.

Downsize your lifestyle

As a first step in eliminating debt, seniors should check all their expenses. Some may consider drastic measures like downsizing their home.

Cut off adult children

Even more important, seniors with debt may need to stop supporting adult children.

According to a 2015 Pew Center Research Poll, 61% of all American parents supported an adult child financially in the last 12 months. Nearly one in four (23%) helped their adult children with a recurring financial need.

Wanting to help children is natural, but it can leave seniors financially frail. It may even leave a parent unable to provide for themselves during retirement.

Work longer

Older workers can also eliminate debt by focusing on the income side of the equation. For many this will mean working a few years longer than average, but the extra work pays off twofold. First, eliminating debt reduces the need for cash during retirement. Second, working longer also allows seniors to delay taking Social Security benefits.

Working until age 67 compared to age 62 makes a meaningful difference in quality of life decades down the road. According to the Social Security Administration, workers who withdraw starting at age 62 received an average of $1,077 per month. Those who waited until age 67 received 27% more, $1,372 per month.

Retirees already receiving Social Security benefits have options, too. Able-bodied retirees can re-enter the workforce. Homeowners can consider renting out a room to a family member to increase income.

Consider every option

If earning more money isn’t realistic, a debt elimination strategy becomes even more important. Ross recommends that retirees should consider every option when facing debt, including bankruptcy. He explains, “A 65-year-old, healthy retiree would be well advised to pay down the high-interest debt now. Alternatively, an 85-year-old retiree facing significant health issues is better off filing bankruptcy or just defaulting on the debt. For the older person, their existing assets are a lifeline, and a good credit score is irrelevant.”

Don’t take on new debt

It’s also important to avoid taking on new debt during retirement. “The only exception,” Ross explains, “[is taking on] debt in the form of home equity for long-term medical care needs, but then only when all other reserves are depleted and the person has explored all forms of government assistance such as Medicaid and veterans benefits.”

Every senior’s financial situation differs, but if you’re facing financial stress before or during retirement, it pays to know your options. Conduct your research and consult with a financial adviser, an elder law attorney, or a credit counselor from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to choose what is right for your situation.

The post Seniors Are Getting Crushed by Debt, New MagnifyMoney Analysis Shows appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Trump Administration Axes Government-Backed Savings Program myRA

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced it’s ending the myRA program, a government savings program meant to encourage non-traditional workers to save for retirement, not even two years after the accounts became available nationwide in November 2015, under the Obama administration. In a press release, the department says it will start to “wind down” the program as part of Trump administration efforts to “promote a more effective government.”

“The myRA program was created to help low to middle income earners start saving for retirement. Unfortunately, there has been very little demand for the program, and the cost to taxpayers cannot be justified by the assets in the program,” said Jovita Carranza, U.S. Treasurer in today’s press release.

Carranza also noted demand for myRA had been extremely low. Currently, according to a treasury spokesperson, there are 20,000 myRA accounts with a median balance of $500 and an additional 10,000 accounts with no balance. That’s up from the 15,000 workers who were enrolled in myRA by the program’s first anniversary in November. Still, that’s not much, given the program was intended to help some 40 million working-age households that don’t own any retirement account assets.

In the press release, the department says myRA has cost American taxpayers about $70 million to maintain. The spokesperson told MagnifyMoney myRA would cost taxpayers an additional $10 million annually if continued.

What Is myRA?

The myRA account was free to open, charged no fees, and didn’t require a minimum deposit to open an account. These features were intended to appeal to workers who may not have access to traditional retirement savings accounts like a 401(k) or 403(b). Workers could contribute up to $5,500 annually, or $6,500 if they were 50 or older, up to $15,000 before having to roll the account into a private-sector Roth IRA.

myRA funds earn interest at the same rate as the Government Securities Investment Fund, which earned 2.04% in 2015 and 1.82% in 2016. That’s a larger return, on average, than savers would get keeping their funds in a typical big bank savings accounts today, which tend to carry fees and offer interest rates as low as 0.01% (though digital banks tend to offer a better rate of return). The single investment option also offered consumers a simpler alternative to choosing from a variety investment options within traditional retirement accounts.

How Does This Affect People With myRA Accounts?

The department has posted a list of FAQs and answers for account holders on myra.gov. For the moment, account holders can continue making deposits, and their balances will continue to accrue interest. The website says the Treasury Department will reach out to all account holders with information about transferring funds from or closing the account and will notify account holders of when it will stop accepting and processing deposits.

In the meantime, account holders should log in and make sure their contact information is accurate, so they can be reached.

The post Trump Administration Axes Government-Backed Savings Program myRA appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

A Comprehensive Guide to the Solo 401(k) for Business Owners

If you run your own business, one of the difficulties in saving for retirement is that you don’t necessarily have easy access to a 401(k).

Enter the solo 401(k). This is a retirement savings option for self-employed business owners who have no employees and their spouses. Read on to find out how it works, who is eligible, and how you can open an account.

The Solo 401(k): Explained

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

Also known as a one-participant or individual 401(k), a solo 401(k) works just like a company-sponsored 401(k) would, except it’s for self-employed individuals who don’t have any other employees other than their spouses and themselves.

Just like a traditional 401(k), you can control how your money is invested. There are different plans, with most comprising stocks, bonds, and money market funds. These are considered “free” prototype plans offered by brokerages, and you’re typically limited to investments offered by that brokerage.

However, there are options for those looking to participate in alternative investments, such as precious metals or even real estate. There are companies that help you open what’s called a self-directed 401(k) and that sponsor “checkbook control” solo 401(k) plans, meaning that individuals can control the type of investments they want to make, whether it’s stocks, bonds, foreign currency, real estate, or commodities. You do so by writing a check for investment purchases, from a bank account dedicated specifically for that purpose.

Who Is Eligible for a Solo 401(k)

Only self-employed individuals and their spouses are eligible for a solo 401(k). This plan is ideal for consultants, independent contractors, or sole proprietors. If you hire part-time workers or contractors, then you’re still safe. However, if they work for you for more than 1,000 hours a year, you cannot participate in a solo 401(k).

Furthermore, you need to have the presence of self-employment activity to be eligible, which includes ownership and operation of an LLC, C, or S corporation, a sole proprietorship, or a limited partnership where the business intends to make a profit. There are no criteria as to how much profit a business needs to generate, as long as you run a legitimate business with the intention to generate a profit.

If you are currently employed elsewhere, you can still open a solo 401(k) account if you’re serious about maximizing your pre-tax savings. If you work for an employer that offers a 401(k) plan, you can still participate in their plan alongside a solo 401(k) plan, as long as you don’t exceed the contribution limits.

Where to Open a Solo 401(k)

You can open a solo 401(k) with most major brokerages. For those looking for a custom plan, there are companies that specialize in providing those plans. Some insurance companies also offer solo 401(k) plans but only if your goal is to invest solely in annuities.

Below are some of the most popular companies offering solo 401(k) plans:

Vanguard – The individual 401(k) offers all Vanguard mutual funds. However, you cannot purchase exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or mutual funds from other companies and cannot take out a loan. There is no setup fee, but there is a $20 fee per account per year to maintain your solo 401(k).

SunAmerica – The SunAmerica Individual(k) offers mainly annuities as part of their plan. You can take out a loan (for a fee). It costs $35 to set up your account, and there is an annual maintenance fee of $75.

E-Trade – The E-Trade Individual 401(k) Plan allows Roth contributions and has a brokerage option with $9.99 trades for any ETF. They accept IRA rollovers and allow for loans. They also will pay you if you transfer your current solo 401(k) to them: $200 for $25,000-$99,000, $300 for $100,000-$249,000, and $600 for a $250,000+ plan.

How to Establish a Solo 401(k)

When opening a solo 401(k) plan, you want to choose the option best for your needs. Once you’ve selected your brokerage, you’ll need to have the necessary documents:

  • 401(k) plan adoption agreement
  • Designation of successor plan administrator, which requires a notary or a witness
  • Brokerage account application
  • Designation of beneficiary form
  • Power of attorney (optional)

If you plan on opening one for your spouse, you’ll need to do twice the paperwork (one form for each person).

Remember, you need to open a solo 401(k) account by December 31 of the tax year. You don’t need to actually fund it until the April 15 filing deadline. If you miss opening an account, you’ll have to wait until the next tax year to do so.

How Much You Can Contribute to a Solo 401(k)

Participants in a solo 401(k) plan can make contributions both as an employee and an employer.

For elective (employee) contributions, you can contribute up to 100% of your earned income, up to the annual contribution limit, which is $18,000 in 2017. Those age 50 or older can contribute an additional $6,000, depending on the type of plan, according to the IRS.

When making a contribution as an employer, you can contribute up to 25% of your earned income as an employee. Your total contributions cannot exceed $54,000 in 2017 ($53,000 for 2016), not counting extra contributions for those 50 or older.

For example, Mary earned $40,000 from her freelance business in 2016. She put $18,000 in this plan as an employee. As an employer, she contributed 25% of earnings, which is $10,000. In total, she contributed $28,000, which is the maximum she can contribute.

Remember, contribution limits are for each person, not each plan. If you are working full time for another employer and participate in that company’s 401(k) plan, combined contributions to your traditional 401(k) and solo 401(k) cannot exceed the annual limit.

To figure out the maximum contributions you can make, check the IRS website on how to calculate a more accurate amount.

Read more: 9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs >

Learn More About Solo 401(k)s

The Pros of a Solo 401(k)

The solo 401(k) has higher contribution limits compared to other retirement savings plans. You can contribute up to $18,000 plus 25% of earned income, compared to a maximum of $54,000 or only 20% your earnings (whichever is less) with a SEP IRA. Your employer contributions are also tax deductible.

You also have the option to borrow up to 50% of your account’s value or $50,000, whichever amount is less.

The Cons of a Solo 401(k)

A solo 401(k) can get complicated to set up and maintain, particularly if you intend on opening a customized plan. Depending on the company you go with, fees can cost you at least a few hundred dollars to set up an account, not including fees to maintain the plan annually.

Even if you open a prototype plan, it can cost you. Yes, it’s free to set up, but they put many requirements on you as the owner. These requirements include filing tax return documents once a year if your plan has more than $250,000 in assets and keeping up to date with all records and transactions.

Alternatives to a Solo 401(k) Plan

There are two alternatives to a solo 401(k) plan — a SIMPLE IRA and a SEP IRA. The main difference between each is the maximum amount you can contribute to each year.

SIMPLE IRA – A Simple IRA plan is for those who as an employee (including those who are self-employed) have earned a minimum of $5,000 any two years before the current calendar year and expect to receive at least $5,000 for the current calendar year. You can contribute up to $12,500, plus an employer match of 3% of employee compensation. Those 50 or older can also contribute up to an extra $3,000. You can find more information about the simple IRA on the IRS website.

SEP IRA – A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan only allows employers to contribute to the plan, unlike a solo 401(k). Employers can contribute a maximum of $53,000 or 20% of their net self-employment earnings, whichever amount is less.

Even with all its benefits, there may be a few reasons why someone is better off not opening a solo 401(k). “If you’re concerned about doing additional paperwork, a SEP IRA might also be a better choice,” advises Robert Farrington, founder of the College Investor. “If you’re working a side hustle and have a regular 401(k) at your day job, the alternatives might be easier.”

Who Solo 401(k) Plans Are Best For

While any of the above options are helpful for self-employed individuals, the solo 401(k) is best for those who are looking to invest heavily in their savings. “The solo 401(k) is best suited for a self-employed individual who wants to maximize their retirement savings,” says Farrington.

“Furthermore, if you’re a husband/wife/spouse team, your spouse can also contribute to the solo 401(k) with the same percentage of ownership, so you can get even more in tax savings and retirement contributions.”

The post A Comprehensive Guide to the Solo 401(k) for Business Owners appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

8 Ways to Avoid Early IRA Withdrawal Penalties

An early distribution penalty isn't always inevitable. These exceptions might just apply to you.

Qualified retirement plans are designed to be used solely for retirement income. Taxable withdrawals from these plans before age 59.5 are generally assessed an additional 10% “early distribution tax” by the IRS. (The additional tax for SIMPLE IRA plans is 25% in the first two years of participation, and 10% thereafter). However, there are exceptions to this tax. Most of the exceptions apply to both individual retirement accounts and employer sponsored qualified plans, while a few only apply to IRAs. It may be possible, however, to roll a portion of your company’s retirement plan to an IRA in order to take advantage of those exceptions that only apply to IRA plans.

1. Disability

If you become disabled you can access your retirement funds without penalty, but there’s a catch. To claim the exemption, the IRS requires a “total and permanent” disability. You are only considered disabled if “you cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity because of your physical or mental condition. Additionally, “a physician must certify that the condition has lasted or can be expected to last continuously for 12 months or more, or that the condition can be expected to result in death.”

2. Education (IRAs only)

Distributions to pay qualified expenses for higher education qualify for the exemption if the student is enrolled in at least half of a full-time academic work load at an eligible academic institution. Qualified expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment required for the education. These expenses can be for you, your spouse, you or your spouse’s child or grandchild. It is important to note that any expenses paid for with other government program funds or tax benefits are generally not eligible for this exemption. To qualify, the education expenses must be paid in the same year as the withdrawal.

3. First-Time Homebuyers (IRAs only)

Qualified first-time homebuyers can exclude up to $10,000 of penalty-free distributions from the early withdrawal tax if the proceeds are used to buy or build a primary residence within 120 days. The home can be for you, your spouse or either of your descendants. The term “first-time homebuyer” is a little misleading. According to the IRS, you are a first-time home buyer if you or your spouse did not have any ownership in a primary residence during the previous two years. So even if you have owned a home in the past, you can be considered a “first-time” homebuyer if it has been at least two years since you sold it. While this exemption can only be used once in a lifetime, both you and your spouse could each withdraw $10,000 and apply it to the same residence.

4. Unreimbursed Medical Expenses

Any unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (Line 37 of the Form 1040) can be paid with funds from your IRA or company retirement plan without incurring the early distribution tax. The medical expenses must be paid in the same calendar year as the withdrawal to qualify.

5. Medical Insurance During Unemployment (IRAs Only)

If you lose your job and receive unemployment compensation for at least 12 consecutive weeks you may qualify to pay your medical insurance premiums with amounts withdrawn from your IRA without the early distribution tax. IRA withdrawals can be used to pay medical insurance premiums for yourself, your spouse, or your dependents without the 10% penalty. The distributions must be received in either the year you received unemployment compensation or the next year and must be withdrawn no later than 60 days after you start a new job.

6. Active Duty Military Reservist

If you are a member of the military reserves and are called to active duty for at least 180 days (or for an indefinite period) you will not have to pay the excess tax on any withdrawals made during your period of active duty.

7. IRS Levy

If the IRS places a levy on your retirement plan and you withdraw funds to satisfy the levy, you will not be charged the excess tax. If, however, you withdraw funds to pay taxes owed in anticipation of a levy, the exemption does not apply.

8. Substantially Equal Periodic Payments

If you do not meet any of the aforementioned exceptions, but still want to access your retirement plan without penalty, you can take “Substantially Equal Periodic Payments” over a period that is the longer of five years or until you reach age 59.5. The “Substantially Equal Periodic Payment” must be calculated according to complicated IRS actuarial rules. (You should consult a certified public accountant to perform the calculations.) These payments cannot be stopped or changed once they start or the 10% early distribution tax will be applied retroactively applied and you will also be charged interest.

It is important to weigh the consequences of taking distributions from plans designed to provide retirement income for non-retirement expenses. You should try to find another means to pay these pre-retirement expenses when possible. (If you plan to take out a loan, a good credit score will lead to a better rate. See where you stand before applying. You can check two credit scores for free at Credit.com.) Otherwise, make certain that you seek the advice of a competent tax adviser before making this critical decision. Mistakes can be costly.

Image: Squaredpixels

The post 8 Ways to Avoid Early IRA Withdrawal Penalties appeared first on Credit.com.

Ultimate Guide to Maximizing Your 401(k)

You’re probably familiar with the basics of a 401(k).

You know that it’s a retirement account and that it’s offered by your employer. You know that you can contribute a percentage of your salary and that you get tax breaks on those contributions. And you know that your employer may offer some type of matching contribution.

But beyond the basics, you may have some confusion about exactly how your 401(k) works and what you should be doing to maximize its benefits.

That’s what this guide is going to show you. We’ll tell you everything you need to know in order to maximize your 401(k) contributions.

The 4 Types of 401(k) Contributions You Need to Understand

When it comes to maximizing your 401(k), nothing you do will be more important than maximizing your contributions.

Because while most investment advice focuses on how to build the perfect portfolio, the truth is that your savings rate is much more important than the investments you choose. Especially when you’re just starting out, the simple act of saving more money is far and away the most effective way to accelerate your path toward financial independence.

There are four different ways to contribute to your 401(k), and understanding how each one works will allow you to combine them in the most efficient way possible, adding more money to your 401(k) and getting you that much closer to retirement.

1. Employee Contributions

Employee contributions are the only type of 401(k) contribution that you have full control over and are likely to be the biggest source of your 401(k) funds.

Employee contributions are the contributions that you personally make to your 401(k). They’re typically set up as a percentage of your salary and are deducted directly from your paycheck.

For example, let’s say that you are paid $3,000 every two weeks. If you decide to contribute 5% of your salary to your 401(k), then $150 will be taken out of each paycheck and deposited directly into your 401(k).

There are two different types of employee contributions you can make to your 401(k), each with a different set of tax benefits:

  1. Traditional contributions – Traditional contributions are tax-deductible in the year you make the contribution, grow tax-free while inside the 401(k), and are taxed as ordinary income when you withdraw the money in retirement. This is just like a traditional IRA. All 401(k)s allow you to make traditional contributions, and in most cases your contributions will default to traditional unless you choose otherwise.
  2. Roth contributions – Roth contributions are NOT tax-deductible in the year you make the contribution, but they grow tax-free while inside the 401(k) and the money is tax-free when you withdraw it in retirement. This is just like a Roth IRA. Not all 401(k)s allow you to make Roth contributions.

For more on whether you should make traditional or Roth contributions, you can refer to the following guide that’s specific to IRAs but largely applies to 401(k)s as well: Guide to Choosing the Right IRA: Traditional or Roth?

Maximum personal contributions

The IRS sets limits on how much money you can personally contribute to your 401(k) in a given year. For 2017, employee contributions are capped at $18,000, or $24,000 if you’re age 50 or older. In subsequent sections we’ll talk about how much you should be contributing in order to maximize these contributions.

2. Employer Matching Contributions

Many employers match your contributions up to a certain point, meaning that they contribute additional money to your 401(k) each time you make a contribution.

Employer matching contributions are only somewhat in your control. You can’t control whether your employer offers a match or the type of match they offer, but you can control how effectively you take advantage of the match they do offer.

Taking full advantage of your employer match is one of the most important parts of maximizing your 401(k). Skip ahead to this section to learn more on how to maximize your employer match.

3. Employer Non-Matching Contributions

Non-matching 401(k) contributions are contributions your employer makes to your 401(k) regardless of how much you contribute. Some companies offer this type of contribution in addition to, or in lieu of, regular matching contributions.

For example, your employer might contribute 5% of your salary to your 401(k) no matter what. Or they might make a variable contribution based on the company’s annual profits.

It’s important to note that these contributions are not within your control. Your employer either makes them or not, no matter what you do.

However, they can certainly affect how much you need to save for retirement, since more money from your employer may mean that you don’t personally have to save as much. Or they could be viewed as additional free savings that help you reach financial independence even sooner.

4. Non-Roth After-Tax Contributions

This last type of 401(k) contribution is rare. Many 401(k) plans don’t even allow this type of contribution, and even when they do, these contributions are rarely utilized.

The big catch is again that most 401(k) plans don’t allow these contributions. You can refer to your 401(k)’s summary plan description to see if it does.

And even if they are allowed, it typically only makes sense to take advantage of them if you’re already maxing out all of the other retirement accounts available to you.

But if you are maxing out those other accounts, you want to save more, and your 401(k) allows these contributions, they can be a powerful way to get even more out of your 401(k).

Here’s how they work:

Non-Roth after-tax 401(k) contributions are sort of a hybrid between Roth and traditional contributions. They are not tax-deductible, like Roth contributions, which means they are taxed first and then the remaining money is what is contributed to your account. The money grows tax-free while inside the 401(k), but the earnings are taxed as ordinary income when they are withdrawn. The contributions themselves are not taxed again.

A quick example to illustrate how the taxation works:

  • You make $10,000 of non-Roth after-tax contributions to your 401(k). You are not allowed to deduct these contributions for tax purposes.
  • Over the years, that $10,000 grows to $15,000 due to investment performance.
  • When you withdraw this money, the $10,000 that is due to contributions is not taxed. But the $5,000 that is due to investment returns — your earnings — is taxed as ordinary income.

This hybrid taxation means that on their own non-Roth after-tax 401(k) contributions are typically not as effective as either pure traditional or Roth contributions.

But they can be uniquely valuable in two big ways:

  1. You can make non-Roth after-tax contributions IN ADDITION to the $18,000 annual limit on regular employee contributions, giving you the opportunity to save even more money. They are only subject to the $54,000 annual limit that combines all employee and employer contributions made to a 401(k)..
  2. These contributions can be rolled over into a Roth IRA, when you leave your company or even while you’re still working there. And once the money is in a Roth IRA, the entire balance, including the earnings, grows completely tax-free. This contribution rollover process has been coined the Mega Backdoor Roth IRA, and it can be an effective way for high-income earners to stash a significant amount of tax-free money for retirement.

How to Maximize Your 401(k) Employer Match

With an understanding of the types of 401(k) contributions available to you, it’s time to start maximizing them. And the very first step is making sure you’re taking full advantage of your employer match.

Simply put, your 401(k) employer match is almost always the best investment return available to you. Because with every dollar you contribute up to the full match, you typically get an immediate 25%-100% return.

You won’t find that kind of deal almost anywhere else.

Here’s everything you need to know about understanding how your employer match works and how to take full advantage of it.

How a 401(k) Employer Match Works

While every 401(k) matching program is different, and you’ll learn how to find the details of your program below, a fairly typical employer match looks like this:

  • Your employer matches 100% of your contribution up to 3% of your salary.
  • Your employer also matches 50% of your contribution above 3% of your salary, up to 5% of your salary.
  • Your employer does not match contributions above 5% of your salary.

To see how this works with real numbers, let’s say that you make $3,000 per paycheck and that you contribute 10% of your salary to your 401(k). That means that $300 of your own money is deposited into your 401(k) as an employee contribution every time you receive a paycheck, and your employer matching contribution breaks down like this:

  1. The first 3% of your contribution, or $90 per paycheck, is matched at 100%, meaning that your employer contributes an additional $90 on top of your contribution.
  2. The next 2% of your contribution, or $60 per paycheck, is matched at 50%, meaning that your employer contributes an additional $30 on top of your contribution.
  3. The next 5% of your contribution is not matched.

All told, in this example, your employer contributes an extra 4% of your salary to your 401(k) as long as you contribute at least 5% of your salary. That’s an immediate 80% return on investment.

That’s why it’s so important to take full advantage of your 401(k). There’s really no other investment that provides such an easy, immediate, and high return.

How to Find Your 401(k) Employer Matching Program

On a personal level, taking full advantage of your 401(k) employer match is simply a matter of contributing at least the maximum percent of salary that your employer is willing to match. In the example above that would be 5%, but the actual amount varies from plan to plan.

So your job is to find out exactly how your 401(k) employer matching program works, and the good news is that it shouldn’t be too hard.

There are two main pieces of information you’re looking for:

  1. The maximum contribution percentage your employer will match – This is the amount of money you’d need to contribute in order to get the full match. For example, your employer might match your contribution up to 5% of your salary as in the example above, or it could be 3%, 12%, or any other percentage. Whatever this maximum percentage is, you’ll want to do what you can to contribute at least that amount so that you get the full match.
  2. The matching percentage – Your employer might match 100% of your contribution, or they may only match 50%, or 25%, or some combination of all of the above, and this has a big effect on the amount of money you actually receive. For example, two companies might both match up to 5% of your salary, but one might match 100% of that contribution, and one might only match 25% of it. Both are good deals, but one is four times as valuable.

With those two pieces of information in hand, you’ll know how much you need to contribute in order to get the full match and how much extra money you’ll be getting each time you make that contribution.

As for where to find this information, the best and most definitive source is your 401(k)’s summary plan description, which is a long document that details all the ins and outs of your plan. This is a great resource for all sorts of information about your 401(k), but you can specifically look for the word “match” to find the details on your employer matching program.

And if you have any trouble either finding the information or understanding it, you can reach out to your human resources representative for help. You should be able to find their contact information in the summary plan description.

Two Big Pitfalls to Avoid When Maximizing Your 401(k) Employer Match

Your 401(k) employer match is almost always a good deal, but there are two pitfalls to watch out for: vesting and front-loading contributions. Both of these could either diminish the value of your employer match or cause you to miss out on getting the full match.

Pitfall #1: Vesting

Clock time deadline

Employer contributions to your 401(k) plan, including matching contributions, may be subject to something called a vesting schedule.

A vesting schedule means that those employer contributions are not 100% yours right away. Instead, they become yours over time as you accumulate years of service with the company. If you leave before your employer contributions are fully vested, you will only get to take some of that money with you.

For example, a common vesting schedule gives you an additional 20% ownership over your 401(k) employer contributions for each year you stay with the company. If you leave before one year, you will not get to keep any of those employer contributions. If you leave after one year, you will get to keep 20% of the employer contributions and the earnings they’ve accumulated. After two years it will be 40%, and so on until you’ve earned the right to keep 100% of that money after five years with the company.

Three things to know about vesting:

  1. Employee contributions are never subject to a vesting schedule. Every dollar you contribute and every dollar that money earns is always 100% yours, no matter how long you stay with your company. Only employer contributions are subject to vesting schedules.
  2. Not all companies have a vesting schedule. In some cases you might be immediately 100% vested in all employer contributions.
  3. There is a single vesting clock for all employer contributions. In the example above, all employer contributions will be 100% vested once you’ve been with the company for five years, even those that were made just weeks earlier. You are not subject to a new vesting period with each individual employer contribution.

A vesting schedule can decrease the value of your employer match. A 100% match is great, but a 100% match that takes five years to get the full benefit of is not quite as great.

Still, in most cases it makes sense to take full advantage of your employer match, even if it’s subject to a vesting schedule. And the reasoning is simply that the worst-case scenario is that you leave your job before any of those employer contributions vest, in which case your 401(k) would have acted just like any other retirement account available to you, none of which offer any opportunity to get a matching contribution.

However, there are situations in which a vesting schedule might make it better to prioritize other retirement accounts before your 401(k). In some cases, your 401(k) employer contributions might be 0% vested until you’ve been with the company for three years, at which point they will become 100% vested. If you anticipate leaving your current employer within the next couple of years, and if your 401(k) is burdened with high costs, you may be better off prioritizing an IRA or other retirement account first.

You may also want to consider your vesting schedule before quitting or changing jobs. It certainly shouldn’t be the primary factor you consider, but if you’re close to having a significant portion of your 401(k) vest, it may be worth waiting just a little bit longer to make your move.

You can find all the details on your 401(k) vesting schedule in your summary plan description. And again you can reach out to your human resources representative if you have any questions.

Pitfall #2: Front-Loading Contributions

In most cases, it makes sense to put as much money into your savings and investments as soon as possible. The sooner it’s contributed, the more time it has to compound its returns and earn you even more money.

But the rules are different if you’re trying to max out your 401(k) employer match.

The reason is that most employers apply their maximum match on a per-paycheck basis. That is, if your employer only matches up to 5% of your salary, what they’re really saying is that they will only match up to 5% of each paycheck.

For a simple example, let’s say that you’re paid $18,000 twice per month. So over the course of an entire year, you make $432,000.

In theory, you could max out your annual allowed 401(k) contribution with your very first paycheck of the year. Simply contribute 100% of your salary for that one paycheck, and you’re done.

The problem is that you would only get the match on that one single paycheck. If your employer matches up to 5% of your salary, then they would match 5% of that $18,000 paycheck, or $900. The next 23 paychecks of the year wouldn’t get any match because you weren’t contributing anything. And since you were eligible to get a 5%, $900 matching contribution with each paycheck, that means you’d be missing out on $20,700.

Now, most people aren’t earning $18,000 per paycheck, so the stakes aren’t quite that high. But the principle remains the same.

In order to get the full benefit of your employer match, you need to set up your 401(k) contributions so that you’re contributing at least the full matching percentage every single paycheck. You may be able to front-load your contributions to a certain extent, but you want to make sure that you stay far enough below the annual $18,000 limit to get the full match with every paycheck.

Now, some companies will actually make an extra contribution at the end of the year to make up the difference if you contributed enough to get the full match but accidentally missed out on a few paychecks. You can find out if your company offers that benefit in your 401(k)’s summary plan description.

But in most cases you’ll need to spread your contributions out over the entire year in order to get the full benefit of your employer match.

When to Contribute More Than Is Needed for Your Employer Match

Maxing out your 401(k) employer match is a great start, but there’s almost always room to contribute more.

Using the example from above, the person with the $3,000 per-paycheck salary would max out his or her employer match with a 5% contribution. That’s $150 per paycheck. Assuming 26 paychecks per year, that individual would personally contribute $3,900 to his or her 401(k) over the course of a year with that 5% contribution.

And given that the maximum annual contribution for 2017 is $18,000 ($24,000 if you’re 50+), he or she would still be eligible to contribute an additional $14,100 per year. In fact, this individual would have to set his or her 401(k) contribution to just over 23% in order to make that full $18,000 annual contribution.

3 big questions to answer:

  1. Do you need to contribute more in order to reach your personal goals?
  2. Can you afford to contribute more right now?
  3. If the answer is yes to both #1 and #2, should you be making additional contributions to your 401(k) beyond the employer match, or should you be prioritizing other retirement accounts?

Questions #1 and #2 are beyond the scope of this guide, but you can get a sense of your required retirement savings here and here.

Question #3 is what we’ll address here. If you’ve already maxed out your employer match and you want to save more money for retirement, should you prioritize your 401(k) or other retirement accounts?

Let’s dive in.

What Other Retirement Accounts Are Available to You?

Your 401(k) is almost never the only retirement account available to you. Here are the other major options you might have.

IRA

An IRA is a retirement account that you set up on your own, outside of work. You can contribute up to $5,500 per year ($6,500 if you’re 50+), and just like with the 401(k) there are two different types:

  1. Traditional IRA – You get a tax deduction on your contributions, your money grows tax-free inside the account, and your withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income in retirement.
  2. Roth IRA – You do not get a tax deduction on your contributions, but your money grows tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free in retirement.

You can read more about making the decision between using a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA here: Guide to Choosing the Right IRA: Traditional or Roth?

The big benefit of IRAs is that you have full control over the investment company you use, and therefore the investments you choose and the fees you pay. While some 401(k)s force you to choose between a small number of high-cost investments, IRAs give you a lot more freedom to choose better investments.

The only catch is that there are income limits that may prevent you from being allowed to contribute to an IRA or to deduct your contributions for tax purposes. If you earn more than those limits, an IRA may not be an option for you.

Health Savings Account

Health savings accounts, or HSAs, were designed to be used for medical expenses, but they can also function as a high-powered retirement account.

In fact, health savings accounts are the only investment accounts that offer a triple tax break:

  1. Your contributions are deductible.
  2. Your money grows tax-free inside the account.
  3. You can withdraw the money tax-free for qualified medical expenses.

On top of that, many HSAs allow you to invest the money, your balance rolls over year to year, and as long as you keep good records, you can actually reimburse yourself down the line for medical expenses that occurred years ago.

Put all that together with the fact that you will almost certainly have medical expenses in retirement, and HSAs are one of the most powerful retirement tools available to you.

The catch is that you have to be participating in a qualifying high-deductible health plan, which generally means a minimum annual deductible of $1,300 for individual coverage and $2,600 for family coverage.

If you’re eligible though, you can contribute up to $3,400 if you are the only individual covered by such a plan, or up to $6,750 if you have family coverage.

Backdoor Roth IRA

If you’re not eligible to contribute to an IRA directly, you might want to consider something called a Backdoor Roth IRA.

The Backdoor Roth IRA takes advantage of two rules that, when combined, can allow you to contribute to a Roth IRA even if you make too much for a regular contribution:

  1. You are always allowed to make non-deductible traditional IRA contributions, up to the annual $5,500 limit, no matter how much you make.
  2. You are also allowed to convert money from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at any time, no matter how much you make.

When you put those together, high-earners could make non-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA, and shortly after convert that money to a Roth IRA. From that point forward the money will grow completely tax-free.

There are some potential pitfalls, and you can review all the details here. But if you are otherwise ineligible to make IRA contributions, this is a good option to have in your back pocket.

Taxable Investment Account

While dedicated retirement accounts offer the biggest tax breaks, there are plenty of tax-efficient ways to invest within a regular taxable investment account as well.

These accounts can be especially helpful for nearer term goals, since your money isn’t locked away until retirement age, or for money you’d like to invest after maxing out your dedicated retirement accounts.

How to Decide Between Additional 401(K) Contributions and Other Retirement Accounts

With those options in hand, how do you decide whether to make additional 401(k) contributions, beyond the amount needed to max out the employer match, or to contribute that money to other accounts?

There are a few big factors to consider:

  • Eligibility – If you’re not eligible to contribute to an IRA or HSA, a 401(k) might be your best option by default.
  • Costs – Cost is the single best predictor of future investment returns, with lower cost investments leading to higher returns. You’ll want to prioritize accounts that allow you to minimize the fees you pay.
  • Investment options – You should prioritize accounts that allow you to implement your preferred asset allocation, again with good, low-cost funds.
  • Convenience – All else being equal, having fewer accounts spread across fewer companies will make your life easier.

With those factors in mind, here’s a reasonable guide for making the decision:

  1. Max out your employer match before contributing to other accounts.
  2. If your 401(k) offers low fees and investments that fit your desired portfolio, you can keep things simple by prioritizing additional contributions there first. This allows you to work with one account, at least for a little while, instead of several.
  3. If your 401(k) is high-cost, or if you’ve already maxed out your 401(k), a health savings account may be the next best place to look. If you can pay for your medical expenses with other money, allowing this account to stay invested and grow for the long term, that triple tax break is hard to beat.
  4. An IRA is likely your next best option. You can review this guide for a full breakdown of the traditional versus Roth debate.
  5. If you’re not eligible for a direct IRA contribution, you should consider a Backdoor Roth IRA.
  6. If you maxed out your other retirement accounts because your 401(k) is high-cost, now is probably the time to go back. While there are some circumstances in which incredibly high fees might make a taxable investment account a better deal, in most cases the tax breaks offered by a 401(k) will outweigh any difference in cost.
  7. Once those retirement accounts are maxed out, you can invest additional money in a regular taxable investment account.

The Bottom Line: Maximize Your 401(k)

A 401(k) is a powerful tool if you know how to use it. The tax breaks make it easier to save more and earn more than in a regular investment account, and the potential for an employer match is unlike any opportunity offered by any other retirement account.

The key is in understanding your 401(k)’s specific opportunities and how to take maximum advantage of them. If you can do that, you may find yourself a lot closer to financial independence than you thought.

The post Ultimate Guide to Maximizing Your 401(k) appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

7 Ways to Manage Money Better than Your Parents Did

Don't let your parents' bad habits become yours. Here's how to do money the right way.

Every generation has their own habits when it comes to money. Whether it was our parents stashing cash in paint cans or their bedroom mattresses, or our great grandparents balking at investing after the Great Depression, generational events help mold how we manage our lives.

Sometimes it’s a good thing. Learning to be frugal after living through hard times can leave you better off, for example. Then again, some financial habits from decades ago have absolutely left people worse off.

If your goal is avoiding many of the financial pitfalls your parents (or their parents) fell into, you should strive to learn positive money habits while unlearning any lessons that stifle wealth.

I spoke to several financial planners to hear their thoughts on how the younger generation can do better than their parents. (Full Disclosure: I am also a certified financial planner.) Here’s what they said.

1. Avoid Placing Blind Trust in Financial Advisors

Your parents and their parents likely met with a financial planner during their lives. They didn’t have as much information at their disposal as we do today, so they hired professional help.

Unfortunately, many placed too much trust in the financial professionals they hired. Without much oversight, old school financial advisors were able to line their own pockets at their client’s expense, usually by selling them high-cost investments with low returns they didn’t understand.

To avoid falling victim to bad advice, you should learn as much about investing as you can, says Colorado financial advisor Matthew Jackson of Solid Wealth Advisors.

“Dedicate yourself to learn about investing so you can make educated decisions about your retirement rather than risk being led down a wrong and costly path,” Jackson said.

“In the age of technology, educating yourself about finances can be free and done in the comfort of your own home,” he continued.

You should still consider hiring a financial advisor, however. Just don’t trust them blindly. Brian Hanks, a financial advisor and author of How to Buy a Dental Practice said  your best step is to find an independent, helpful, fee-only advisor who is paid a flat fee to offer comprehensive advice.

By avoiding advisors who are paid commissions for the investments they sell, you can ensure you’re getting unbiased advice meant to benefit you.

2. Diversify Your Investments

Many people from the older generation have a narrow view of what it means to invest. Unfortunately, they tend to believe their way is the best way – even if it’s not the best way for their kids.

“If the parents are risk averse, they tell their kids to save their money in bank CDs, pay down debt, and avoid things like equities,” said financial advisor Joseph A. Azzopardi of The Well Planned Retirement. “If the family’s wealth was primarily made in private business, they encourage their children to focus their capital on business ownership.”

While many of these strategies can be successful when it comes to building wealth, there is no single best strategy. That’s why Azzopardi and many other advisors suggest their clients diversify instead of putting all their eggs in one basket.

“Diversifying a family’s balance sheet is a valuable way to lower overall risk and create multiple sources of income,” he said.

3. Switch Employers When it Benefits You

Our parent’s generation was strikingly loyal to a single employer, often to their detriment. Even when they had the opportunity to make more money, they often eschewed that option based on a misguided sense of duty.

“Many people just put their heads down and went to work every day, never thinking that there might be a better opportunity across the street,” says financial planner for business owners, Grant Bledsoe.

While loyalty is admirable, the advice to stick with a single employer for life is rather outdated today.

“You can be loyal to your employer of course, but need to be more strategic about your career advancement,” says Bledsoe. “You can really boost your earnings by continuing to improve your skill set and taking calculated risks along the way.”

4. Plan for a Lengthy Retirement

These days, people are living significantly longer. For the younger generation, that means we need to save up more cash to retire.

“As life expectancy continues to grow, present and future retirees will need to plan for a retirement that could span the course of several decades,” said Seattle Financial Advisor Josh Brein.

Whether you sit down with a financial advisor or plan your investments yourself, make sure you’re planning for a lengthy and expensive retirement. According to the Social Security Administration, men and women who reach the age of 65 can expect to live until ages 84.3 and 86.6, respectively.

5. Put Your Own Financial Health First

Our parents placed a lot of faith in higher education, so much so that many worked hard to pay for their children’s college education while neglecting their own retirement needs. This is a mistake, said financial advisor Joe Carbone of Focus Planning Group.

No matter what, you should remember you can’t borrow money for retirement. And, once you reach retirement age and find you’re short on cash, it’s too late.

6. Learn Basic Financial Education Early

In many families, the topic of money has always been taboo. You don’t speak of it because it’s “rude,” or because it’s an adult topic that shouldn’t be discussed with the kids.

But, not talking about money can be devastating for young people who reach adulthood without basic financial knowledge. Because of this, most financial advisors agree today’s parents should teach their kids money basics like budgeting and how to manage credit scores.

“Let’s face it, it almost completely falls on the parents to be the money professor since it’s rarely touched upon in our education system,” said Kansas City Financial Planner Clint Haynes.

If you don’t teach your kids about money, you can expect them to learn their lessons the hard way.

7. Build a Lifestyle That Doesn’t Require Debt

Today’s climate of cheap and easy credit started decades ago. Unfortunately, many of our parents embraced the idea of borrowing money to buy things they couldn’t afford.

This has led to the acceptance of ideas like the “perpetual car payment” and huge mortgages.

Albuquerque financial planner Jose Sanchez said his dad fell into the trap of financing an expensive car long ago when car loans first came into play. After getting his first job, he went out and bought a new 1968 Camaro, mostly because he thought “he deserved it.” But, after having kids and settling into working life, he realized the purchase was more of a financial burden than he thought.

Today’s workers would be wise to reject the easy credit atmosphere that is so prevalent today. The less money you owe, the more options you have.

And when it comes to building a life you truly love, the more options you have, the better off you’ll be.

Image: Zinkevych

The post 7 Ways to Manage Money Better than Your Parents Did appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Money Moves New Empty Nesters Should Make Now

Raising one child to age 17 costs a middle-income married couple on average $233,610, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Once your kids leave the nest, all of the money you spent feeding, clothing, and entertaining them is suddenly up for grabs. But if empty nesters don’t earmark their newfound savings for specific goals, it’s easy to fall into the so-called “lifestyle creep” trap — when your lifestyle suddenly becomes more expensive as soon as your discretionary income increases.

A 2016 study by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found that a couple collectively earning $100,000 per year should be able to put an additional 12% toward their retirement savings after their children fly the coop. But in reality, researchers found that same couple would only increase their 401(k) contribution by 0.3 to 0.7 percent.

Covington, La.- based certified financial planner, Lauren Lindsay encourages empty nesters to put their extra pocket money to work.

“In general, when people have money ‘available’ they tend to spend it and not even be conscious about how they’re spending it,” Lindsay told MagnifyMoney. “I think it’s really important to refocus our goals now that we are in a different stage and, hopefully, on that home stretch towards retirement.”

Lindsay says the empty-nester stage is a really good time to circle back and revisit your budget to focus and make a plan for your financial goals. “Depending on where you are in the scale of retirement, you could use the extra funds to pay off a car, pay down the mortgage, save towards a trip, fund the emergency fund, or other goals,” she says.

As a new empty nester, there’s likely an endless list of purchases and lifestyle upgrades your newfound savings could go toward. You may even think you deserve a new car or boat, or to go on a luxury vacation every year after 18 or more years of child-rearing.

You can certainly treat yourself if you’d like, but you should make sure to get your financial house back in order before celebrating your freedom.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your empty-nest savings go to the right places.

Put a number on what you’re saving now that the kids are gone

You may not be aware of exactly how much money you are really saving now that there are fewer mouths to feed at home. Creating or revising your budget gives you an opportunity to see the numbers behind the decrease and adjust your spending to maximize potential savings.

Peachtree City, Ga.-based certified financial planner Carol Berger suggests new empty nesters take the opportunity to complete a cash flow analysis — either on your own or with a financial adviser.

“This will allow you to identify how much discretionary income you have and then develop a plan on how to use it,” says Berger. Tally up the reduction in your spending to get an idea of how much potential cash you could be diverting to your own financial goals.

Shrink your lifestyle

If you’ve spent decades shopping for a family of three or more, it’s hard to break that habit right away. You might still be shopping for more groceries than you really need, for example, and wasting money in the process.

It might be time to take an even bigger step toward minimizing your housing costs — downsizing. Not only could this reduce your overall housing costs, but it’ll give you an opportunity to shop around for a home that better fits your needs as you age or to consider a residence in an active adult community with homes and amenities designed specifically for those ages 55 and older.

Check out what you’re paying for utilities, too. While you may have needed the tricked-out cable package when your kids were living at home full time, you may not care about paying for premium channels any longer. Call your provider and negotiate a less-expensive package. Try using a service like BillFixers or Trim to renegotiate or cancel bills and features you may no longer have use for.

Review your insurance policies

The same goes for your insurance policies like car and health insurance. Under the current health care law, kids can stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until they turn 26. But if your adult child already has employer-provided insurance, you don’t need to pay for their coverage anymore.

Contact your employer’s human resources department to discuss removing members from your family plan, or switching to a lower-cost individual plan when you’re on your own. The same goes for any vision or dental insurance plans you may still be paying the family price for.

If you’re still paying for your child’s life insurance policy, you may want to speak with them about transferring the plan into their name or canceling the plan if they have access to a better one through an employer.

It couldn’t hurt to ask for a discount on your car insurance or switch to lower-cost coverage because the kids aren’t there to drive your car.

Put your newfound money toward any outstanding debts

Saving for retirement is important and paying off your outstanding debts should be your top priority. The interest rates on unsecured debts like credit cards are generally higher than any returns you’d receive on potential savings. So if you pay off your debts first, you’ll actually save yourself more money in the long run.

According to a 2017 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, the number of Americans 60 and older with student loan debt rose from 700,000 to 2.8 million individuals between 2005 and 2015. The average amount of student debt owed by older borrowers almost doubled during that time, from $12,000 to $23,500.

One of the worst things you can do for retirement planning is ignore past-due debts. If debts go unpaid for too long, you could see your wages or even your future Social Security benefits garnished. The same CFPB report shows the number of retirees who had their benefits cut to repay a federal loan rose from about 8,700 to 40,000 borrowers over the 10-year period.

Don’t sacrifice your retirement goals to pay for college

College has never been more expensive. But remember: Your kids can take out a loan for school and pay it off as their income grows. You can’t necessarily take out a loan for your retirement.

That’s why financial planners often advise parents not to put themselves at financial risk by sacrificing their nest egg to pay for their child’s college education — unless they can afford to take the hit.

“Many people believe that they must send their kids to college, and they pay a hefty sum for that — sometimes at the expense of their retirement,” says Oak Brook, Ill.-based certified financial planner Elizabeth Buffardi.

If you’ve covered your debts and have room to save more, you still have plenty of time to contribute to your retirement funds.

Let’s say a married couple has $200,000 already saved for retirement with 15 years left to go. They collectively earn $100,000 per year, and they have diligently been saving 15% of their monthly pre-tax income for retirement. If they double their savings to 30% — putting away $2,500 each month — and their investment grows at an average annual rate of 6%, they could have well over $1 million saved by retirement.

Plan for long-term health care needs

A couple retiring today will spend an estimated $260,000 on health care needs in retirement, according to Fidelity.

Think of what other health care needs you could have in retirement. Buffardi says she always asks clients if they are worried about needing long-term care in the future. While most workers will qualify for Medicare once they turn 65, Medicare does not cover all long-term care needs. If you know you have a family history of dementia or other age-related illnesses that may require long-term care, this may be a concern for you. You may consider taking out a long-term care insurance policy or setting aside funds in a regular savings account.

Learn to say NO

Even after your kids move out, they can still treat you like the Bank of Mom and Dad. They may come to you for a wedding loan or to ask you to co-sign something they can’t afford, like a mortgage. Even though their pleas may pull at your heartstrings, consider your own financial needs first.

The post 7 Money Moves New Empty Nesters Should Make Now appeared first on MagnifyMoney.