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What’s on your wish list? A bigger house? A new boat? An exotic vacation? As your career advances and your earning potential grows, it’s tempting to want to “upsize” your lifestyle. But before you go all in with increasing your spending, prioritize your goals and focus on what’s essential for a successful financial future.
Wants Versus Needs
It’s fun to imagine yourself in a new home. Extra bedrooms, a home theater, and a pool all sound great until you consider the real cost to your savings. Think about how much more you could end up spending in monthly mortgage costs and taxes before you make a decision to buy more house than you really need. Instead of upgrading, add the money you would have spent on higher mortgage payments to your retirement savings. Having enough money once you retire is a worthwhile objective.
Of course you want to give your children the best possible life experiences that you can afford. But before you spend thousands of dollars on a family vacation at an expensive distant getaway, consider whether your children would have just as rich an experience camping in the mountains or taking a road trip through several states. The money you save by scaling back the expense — but not the fun — could be used to boost your child’s college savings. And that goes for other activities, too. Shop around for the best deals on your child’s music, dance, or sports lessons, and add the savings to a college fund.
Review Your Plan
The success of any spending plan rests with your commitment to the goals you’ve set for yourself. When you conduct your annual financial review, make sure that you’re not only on track to reach your established goals but that any new goals you’ve incorporated into your plan are realistic and affordable. An increase in your income shouldn’t inflate your lifestyle if doing so would thwart your objectives or make them harder to achieve.
You can lower your tax bill and increase your retirement savings with one simple move. Making a contribution to an eligible retirement account by the April 15, 2021 income tax deadline will reduce your 2020 taxable income by the amount you contribute.
Individual Retirement Account (IRA)
An IRA offers you the flexibility to choose a variety of different investments to hold in your account. For 2021, you can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA – $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older. You must have “earned income,” including money from wages, salaries, tips, bonuses, commissions, or self-employment, to contribute to an IRA. Your spouse can contribute to an IRA as well. Additionally, employees, incomes below $75,000 ($124,000 for couples) are eligible to make traditional IRA contributions and still claim the deduction.
A “Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees,” or SIMPLE IRA, is a retirement savings plan designed for small businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Employees can set aside up to $13,500 in 2021 ($16,500 if age 50 or older). Employers must either match employee contributions dollar for dollar – up to 3% of an employee’s compensation – or make a fixed contribution of 2% of compensation for all eligible employees, even if an employee chooses not to contribute. As with a traditional IRA, you can make a contribution to a until April 15 following the end of the tax year and benefit from the tax deduction.
Solo 401(k) plans are designed to cover a business owner with no employees and his or her spouse. You can make elective deferrals of up to 100% of your earned income, up to the annual contribution limit in 2021 of $19,500 ($26,000 if age 50 or over), plus employer non-elective contributions of up to 25% of compensation. The maximum amount you can contribute to a Solo 401(k) for 2021 is $58,000 ($64,500 if you’re age 50 or older). Contributions can be made to the plan up until the company’s tax return deadline, including extensions. Your financial and tax professionals can help you determine which plan is right for you.
When there’s a lot going on in your life, you might be tempted to put thinking about your finances on the back burner. But that’s never a good plan. Improving your financial outlook can be as easy as laying down – and following – a few simple ground rules.
Create a Spending Plan
Add up your monthly expenses – rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, food, commuting costs, loan and car payments, etc. – and subtract them from your after-tax income. If expenses are top heavy, look for places to trim.
Paying bills and making loan payments on time will help you earn a healthy credit score. Credit cards can help you establish credit, but make sure you pay off any balances each month to avoid accruing interest and lowering your credit score.
Start an Emergency Fund
Set aside money in a cash account in case of a job loss or an unexpected expense. Your goal should be at least six months’ worth of living costs.
Set Concrete Goals
A down payment on a house, a college fund, retirement – identifying specific goals can keep you on track. Think about how much you’ll need to save for each goal and review your progress periodically.
Contribute to a Retirement Plan
Take advantage of your employer’s 401(k) or other retirement plan, or open an individual retirement account (IRA) on your own.
There’s a lot to like about a 401(k) plan. Whether you already participate in your employer’s plan or you’re just now thinking about joining, reviewing the benefits as tax time approaches is a smart idea.
The Pretax Advantage
When you participate in a traditional 401(k) plan, your contributions to the plan are taken out of your pay before income taxes are deducted, thus lowering your taxable income. Your plan contributions and any earnings grow tax deferred until you withdraw them, typically at retirement, when you may be in a lower tax bracket than you are now. And with automatic payroll deduction, contributions to your employer’s plan come out of your paycheck before you are tempted to spend the money.
The Benefits of a Match
Most employers match employee contributions up to a certain percentage. That’s like getting “free money.” All the funds you contribute to the plan belong to you right from the start. Over time, all your employer’s contributions will also belong to you, based on a vesting schedule outlined in your employer’s plan documents. Remember, the sooner you start contributing to your plan, the longer you’ll have to benefit from compounding – earning interest on both contributions and earnings.
2021 Tax Deduction
You have until December 31, 2021, to make contributions to a 401(k) and get the tax deduction on your 2021 income-tax return, so consider contributing as much as possible to reap the tax benefits. You can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) plan. If you’re age 50 or older, you can make an additional “catch-up” contribution of $6,500, for a total of $26,000.
A Word About Roth 401(k)s
Your employer may also offer a Roth 401(k) option. Roth contributions are made with after-tax so withdrawals of earnings are tax-free, provided all requirements are met. A Roth 401(k) may be a good option if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket after retirement.
FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. It’s a financial movement growing in popularity as more and more people seek to eliminate debt and build savings so they can retire earlier than usual. Regardless of your target retirement date, this movement focuses on some smart financial strategies:
One of FIRE’s focus is on eliminating all debt and reducing expenses. Paying off debt is the first step with a focus on not accumulating new debt. Start by scrutinizing how you spend your money to identify unnecessary expenses.
FIRE followers also look for ways to increase their income. Things like switching jobs for a significant pay increase, working side gigs or generating passive income from owning rental property add money toward the early retirement goal.
The last tenement of FIRE involves sound investing strategies. Start by maxing out retirement plan contributions. And if your employer offers a matching contribution, be sure you’re saving at least the minimum amount to get the maximum contribution.
An umbrella insurance policy is a tool to help protect your family and your assets. It adds an extra layer of protection above your other liability policies like automobile or homeowners. If you are involved in a major accident, having an umbrella policy can save you from costly legal claims and judgments.
All About You
Having an umbrella insurance policy kicks in when your other policies are exhausted. If you’re involved in a serious car accident and you’re sued for injuries that exceed the limits of your car insurance, your umbrella policy will kick in and help cover the costs saving your wages and assets from garnishment or liens. It’s important to note that umbrella policies won’t cover your own injuries or damage. You’ll need to access other insurance policies like your health or car insurance for these costs.
Often umbrella policies will extend to cover liability and damages caused by your spouse or children who may not have liability insurance in their name.
Umbrella policies can contain a list of excluded activities that won’t be covered. Common exclusions include breach of contract, boating or other watercraft use, injuries resulting from criminal acts or business activity or losses. If you have a business, consider getting a business-specific policy.
What’s Your Number?
Work with an insurance professional to determine how much coverage you’ll need. Some use net worth as a guide. For example, if your net worth is $1.5 million and your auto insurance has a $300,000 liability cap, you’ll need $1.2 million in umbrella insurance. Most insurers sell umbrella policies in $1 million increments and some will require you to have a minimum amount of coverage from your other policies before you can buy an umbrella policy from them.
Umbrella insurance is generally affordable costing a few hundred dollars a year for a million dollars in coverage. With some policies covering your hobbies and vacation activities like renting jet skis or motor bikes, buying umbrella insurance is an affordable solution for your insurance needs. Consult with your insurance agent to learn more.
If you’re looking for a steady source of income before you start collecting Social Security, consider an annuity* to fill the gap.
Whether you’re planning to retire soon or recently retired, delaying when you begin collecting Social Security can potentially increase your monthly payout.
To fill this time gap, consider purchasing an immediate annuity. The regular annuity payments can delay the need to draw on your retirement funds for your day-to-day expenses. An immediate annuity begins paying you immediately, as opposed to a deferred annuity which starts paying you at a future date. Depending on your situation, you can purchase annuities that pay over the period of time you need. If you retire at age 62 but want to wait until age 70 to begin collecting Social Security, you can purchase an eight-year annuity that will provide monthly payments until you reach age 70.
Work with your financial professional to determine how much monthly income you’ll need to fill the Social Security gap and what type of annuity will work best. Don’t forget to factor in inflation. Consider adding a cost of living rider** to your annuity that will boost your payment in line with changes in the Consumer Price Index.
By locking in income now, you’ll avoid the possibility of having to sell your retirement holdings in a down market.
*Fixed annuity contracts guarantee a minimum credited interest. For immediate fixed annuity contracts, annuitants receive a fixed income stream based, in part, on the interest rate guarantee at the time of purchase. Annuity products are not FDIC-insured, and their contract guarantees are backed solely by the claims-paying ability and strength of the issuing life insurance company. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ may result in a 10% federal tax penalty, in addition to any ordinary income tax.
*Riders may incur an additional premium. Rider benefits may not be available in all states. Riders that pay benefits for events other than death will likely reduce the policy’s death benefit and cash value.
The holidays are behind you, but chances are paying the bill is not. Starting the New Year with a thoughtful spending plan can help you make progress throughout the year. Include your entire family in the process to help ensure they are on board with this goal.
Plan in Advance
Planning for holiday shopping should be part of your regular budget. Starting with last year’s spending history, document necessary expenses such as mortgage, insurance, transportation, food, utilities, etc. Determine where you might be able to cut expenses. Subscriptions, dining out and convenience purchases, such as coffee should be considered. Then add savings goals and some disposable income. Be sure to save monthly toward holiday spending, so you won’t have to rely on credit.
Track Every Dollar
Now work the plan. The key to successful budgeting is recording all your expenses. Choose a recording system that works best for you. Electronic methods like a spreadsheet or bookkeeping software will allow you to create reports to easily summarize your monthly and yearly progress. There are several online options, that can connect directly to your bank accounts. Choose a system that will be easy for you to stay faithful in updating your spending.
At the end of the day place all receipts in a designated space. Don’t forget to hang on to receipts for cash purchases.
Remember that creating a budget isn’t very helpful if you don’t track how much you spend. So log your receipts regularly to update your spending against your budget. Monitor your savings goals, too. Update your records weekly or monthly and you’ll be grateful for these routine updates at the end of the year when it’s time to prepare next year’s budget.
Get a Checkup
To increase your chances of success, scrutinize your progress each month—not any longer than that—and share what you’ve learned with family members. Together you can review where you could improve and encourage everyone to keep a lid on impulse spending. Staying on track will result in less stress and no spending hangover after the holidays next January!