3 Reasons to Set Up a Donor-Advised Fund to Maximize Your Charitable Tax Deductions

Using donor-advised funds is a more advanced tax strategy that has gotten more popular recently with the introduction of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in February 2020. The TCJA nearly doubled the amount of the standard deduction, which makes it less advantageous to itemize deductions such as charitable contributions. For people with a lot of charitable contributions, donor-advised funds are one option to still get a deduction for charitable contributions.

What is a donor-advised fund?

A donor-advised fund (DAF) is a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization that accepts contributions and generally funds other charitable organizations. While the concept of a donor-advised fund has been around for nearly 100 years, they were typically only used by the ua-wealthy. And while it is true that donor-advised funds are still not going to be useful for the vast majority of people, recent tax law changes have made their use more prevalent.

You can set up a donor-advised fund with most brokerages, including Fidelity, Vanguard, and Bank of America. You can donate cash, securities, or other types of assets to the DAF. The exact list of assets eligible for donation depends on the brokerage. After you have contributed, you can then make charitable contributions from the balance of your account.

You can maximize your charitable tax deductions in one year

One common reason that people set up donor-advised funds is to maximize their charitable tax deductions in a particular tax year. To show why this can be beneficial, I’ll use an example:

Our example family files their taxes married filing jointly and has regular charitable contributions of $20,000 per year. The standard deduction in 2020 for married filing jointly is $24,800. Because their amount of charitable deductions is less than the standard deduction, they may not see any tax benefit from their charitable contributions (depending on their amount of other itemized deductions). In 2021 they again plan to contribute $20,000 to charitable organizations and again are unlikely to see any tax benefit from doing so.

Now consider this same family now decides to set up a donor-advised fund in 2020. They have extra money sitting around in low-interest savings or checking account or in a taxable investment account. So they set up a donor-advised fund in 2020 and fund it with $40,000 in cash, stocks, or other assets. They are eligible to take the full $40,000 as an itemized deduction, even if they only use $20,000 to donate to the charity of their choice. Then in 2021, they can donate the remaining $20,000 to their preferred charity. They will not be able to deduct any charitable contributions in 2021 but can instead take the raised standard deduction amount.

You may be able to deduct the full value of stocks or other investments

Another reason you might want to set up a donor-advised fund is that you may be able to deduct the full value of stocks or other investments. Again, I’ll use an example to help illustrate the point.

Let’s say that you have shares that you purchased for $20,000 that are now worth $50,000. Many charities, especially smaller organizations, are not set up to accept donations of stocks or other investments. So if you want to donate that $50,000 to charity, you may have to liquidate your shares. This will mean that you will have to pay tax on the proceeds.

With a donor-advised fund, you can donate the shares to your fund and deduct the full fair market value of your shares. Then the fund can make the contribution to the charity of your choice.

Donate a wide range of assets

Another benefit to setting up a donor-advised fund is the ability to donate a wide range of different classes of assets. As we mentioned earlier, many charities are not set up in such a way to be able to accept non-cash donations. While the exact list of assets that a donor-advised fund can accept varies by the firm running the fund, it generally will include more types of assets than a typical charity.

Why you might not want to set up a donor-advised fund

While there are plenty of advantages to setting up a donor-advised fund, there are a few things that you might want to watch out for.

  • It’s definitely more complicated than just making charitable contributions on your own. You may find that the tax savings are not worth the extra hassle.
  • On top of the added layer of complexity, most firms with DAFs charge administrative fees that can cut into your rate of return.
  • You may be limited on the charities that you can donate to. Each donor-advised fund typically will have a list of eligible charities. So you may find that a charity that you want to donate to is not available.
  • You also lose control over the funds that you donate – the donation to the fund is irrevocable, meaning once you’ve donated to the fund you cannot get the donation back. While most advisors state that they will donate the money as you direct, they are not legally required to do so.
  • The money in a DAF is invested, so it may lose value. That means that the amount you were hoping to donate may be less than you were anticipating. You also typically have a limited range of investments available for your investment, and those funds also often come with fees.

It’s also important to keep in mind, the annual income tax deduction limits for gifts to donor-advised funds, are 60% of Adjusted Gross Income for contributions of cash, 30% of AGI for contributions of property that would qualify for capital gains tax treatment; 50% of AGI for blended contributions of cash and non-cash assets.

The post 3 Reasons to Set Up a Donor-Advised Fund to Maximize Your Charitable Tax Deductions appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Secured vs. Unsecured Loans: Here’s the Difference

Whether you’re trying to buy a home or looking to get a college degree, you may need to take out a loan to finance your goals. If you’re seeking out your first loan, know that borrowing money is a common practice and you don’t need a degree in economics to understand it! Learning more about loans and the different types can help you make informed decisions and take control of your finances.

Loans take many forms but they all fall within two common categories: secured vs. unsecured loans. Whether you’re approved for either type of loan depends on your creditworthiness. Creditworthiness refers to how responsible you are at repaying debt and if it’s worthwhile or risky to grant you new credit. It’s helpful to be aware of your credit prior to seeking out a loan so you know where you stand.

Now that you’re familiar with the role creditworthiness plays in getting a loan, let’s discuss the differences between secured and unsecured loans, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and which one may be right for you.

What’s the Difference Between Secured vs. Unsecured Loans?

What’s the Difference Between Secured vs. Unsecured Loans?

The main difference between secured and unsecured loans is how they use collateral. Collateral is when something of economic value is used as security for a debt, in the event that the debt is not repaid. Usually collateral comes in the form of material property, such as a car, house, or other real estate. If the debt is not repaid, the collateral is seized and sold to repay all or a portion of the debt.

Key Difference: A secured loan requires collateral, while an unsecured loan doesn’t require collateral.

What Is a Secured Loan?

A secured loan requires collateral as security in case you fail to repay your debt. If secured debt is not repaid, the collateral is taken. In addition to seizing collateral, lenders can start debt collection, file negative credit information on your report, and sue you for outstanding debt. This generally makes secured loans more risky for the borrower.

Conversely, collateral decreases the risk for lenders, especially when loaning money to those with little to no credit history or low creditworthiness. Less risk means that lenders may offer some leeway regarding interest rates and borrowing limits. See the list below to review other typical secured loan characteristics.

Characteristics of a Secured Loan:

For borrowers:

  • Presence of collateral
  • Typically more risky
  • May require a down payment
  • May sell property to repay loan
  • Generally lower interest rates
  • Longer repayment period
  • Higher borrowing limits
  • Easier to obtain for those with poor or little credit history

For lenders:

  • Typically less risky
  • Lender can take your collateral
  • Lender can hold the title to your property until loan is repaid

Secured Loan Examples

The most common uses of a secured loan are to finance large purchases such as a mortgage. Usually, these loans can only be used for a specific, intended purchase like a house, car, or boat. A home equity loan is another example of a secure loan. Some loans like business loans or debt consolidation can be secured or unsecured.

Secured Loan Examples

What Is an Unsecured Loan?

An unsecured loan doesn’t require collateral to secure the amount borrowed. This type of loan is granted based on creditworthiness and income. High creditworthiness makes an unsecured loan more accessible.

The absence of collateral makes this type of loan less risky for borrowers and much riskier for lenders. If unsecured debt is not repaid, the lender cannot seize property automatically. They must engage in debt collection, report negative credit information, or sue. As a result of the increased risk, unsecured loans have characteristics that attempt to reduce the risk. These may include higher interest rates or lower borrowing limits, and you can see more in the list below.

Characteristics of an Unsecured Loan:

For borrower:

  • No collateral required
  • Typically less risky
  • Qualify based on credit and income
  • Stricter conditions to qualify
  • Generally higher interest rates
  • Lower borrowing limits

For lender:

  • Typically more risky
  • Lender can’t take property right away if you default

Unsecured Loan Examples

Common unsecured loans include credit cards, personal loans, student loans, and medical debt. Debt consolidation and business loans can also be unsecured. In each of these instances, collateral is not required and you are trusted to repay your unsecured debt.

Unsecured Loan Examples

Advantages and Disadvantages to Consider

When it comes to deciding on the type of loan you need, it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Secured Loans

Secured loans present advantages for repayment, interest, and borrowing amount, but have disadvantages regarding a borrower’s risk and limitations of use.

Advantages

  1. Bigger borrowing limits
  2. Less risk for lenders usually means lower interest rates for borrowers
  3. Longer repayment period
  4. Available tax deductions for interest paid on certain loans (e.g., a mortgage)

Disadvantages

  1. Risky for borrower (potential for loss of collateral like home, car, stocks, or bonds)
  2. Specifically for intended purpose (e.g., a home, but home equity loans are an exception)

Unsecured Loans

Unsecured loans can be advantageous for borrowers regarding risk and time, but they pose a disadvantage when it comes to interest rates and stricter qualifications.

Advantages

  1. Less risky for borrower
  2. Useful loan if you don’t own property to use as collateral
  3. Quicker application process than for a secured loan (e.g., a credit card)

Disadvantages

  1. More risky for lenders usually means higher interest rates for borrowers
  2. Hard to qualify for if you have low creditworthiness or inconsistent income (can qualify with a cosigner)

Take a look at the chart below to compare the key advantages and disadvantages between secured and unsecured loans.

Secured Loans

Unsecured Loans

Advantages

• Lower interest rates
• Higher borrowing limits
• Easier to qualify
• No risk of losing collateral
• Less risky for borrower

Disadvantages

• Risk losing collateral
• More risky for borrower
• Higher interest rates
• Lower borrowing limits
• Harder to qualify

Which Loan Type Is Best for You?

After considering the advantages and disadvantages of both loan types, it’s helpful to know which one is the best for certain circumstances. Here are some common contexts in which one may be better than the other.

  • A secured loan may be best if you’re trying to make a large property purchase or don’t have the best credit. The piece of property that you are purchasing can be used as collateral if you don’t already own other property. Additionally, this loan is more accessible for you if you have low creditworthiness and may be more advantageous with lower interest rates.
  • An unsecured loan may be best if you have high creditworthiness and a steady income. High creditworthiness helps you meet strict qualification criteria and can also help you obtain better interest rates (given that this type is characterized by higher interest).

Overall, secured and unsecured loans are each useful in different situations. Remember that the key difference is that unsecured loans don’t need collateral, while secured loans do. Secured loans are less risky for the lender and may allow for some advantageous repayment conditions. On the other hand, unsecured loans are risky for the lender, and they often come with stricter conditions that try to lessen that risk.

It is important to make smart financial decisions such as repaying debt on time and maintaining a good credit history. High creditworthiness is the key to getting the best conditions on any loan. No matter your circumstances, identifying which loan type is best for you depends on your specific credit and goals. Visit our loan center for help in deciding which loan is right for you.

Sources: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

 

The post Secured vs. Unsecured Loans: Here’s the Difference appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

5 Financial Goals to Start in 2021

 

Although many people start New Year’s resolutions in January, there’s nothing magical about January with regards to self-improvement. Still, the best time to make a change or set a goal is today, so if you’re ready to level up in your life, there’s no time like the present. Here are five financial habits that you might consider starting this year. 

Commit to a written budget (and review it often)

The very first thing that you’ll want to do is commit to a budget. Having a budget is the cornerstone and foundation for financial success. Knowing where your money is going (and not going) can help you understand where you’re at. If you’ve had trouble making or keeping a budget, resolve to start a budget this year. A tool like Mint can be a great way to put your budget on autopilot.

Remember that a budget is just a tool to help you to not spend money on the things you don’t find important so that you have money to spend on the things that you do find important. If you already have a budget, make it a habit to review your budget, at least monthly. That can help you identify where you might be able to make improvements.

As you start or recommit to your budget, make sure that it is written down. Budgets that are not written down, like goals, tend to fall by the wayside easily.

Start (or build) your emergency fund

Another great habit to get into in 2021 is starting an emergency fund. An emergency fund should be one of the very first things you do with any extra money you have in your budget. Even before working on eliminating your debt or saving for retirement, it makes a lot of sense to set aside money for emergencies.

A good rule of thumb is to start with a $1,000 emergency fund. It may not cover catastrophic emergencies, but it can help you to avoid having to spend on your credit cards when the unexpected happens. After you’ve started that basic emergency fund, then you can continue to build it up while also starting to pay off debt or invest for the future. If you can, it’s a good idea to have a couple of months of expenses in your emergency fund. That way you’re covered for a while in case you lose an income source or have a major emergency.

Make a plan to eliminate your debt

The next habit to start or continue this year is to eliminate your debt. Depending on how much debt you currently have, it may not be realistic to pay off all of your debt in 2021. But no matter what, you should have a plan in place. There are a variety of different debt repayment strategies – the debt snowball and the debt avalanche among many. It’s important to pick a debt payoff approach that works for you, and that you can stick to. Make it a habit to spend less than you earn and work towards becoming debt-free.

Spend with a purpose

Another great habit that can help you live within your means is to spend with a purpose. Spending with a purpose means that you are conscious with your spending. If you ever find yourself wondering where all your money has gone, you may benefit from being more deliberate with your spending.

Many people find success by setting a rule about any non-essential spending. For example, before you make any purchases besides essentials like rent, utilities, and debt payments, you must write it down. Just the act of writing it down (or taking a picture of it) is enough for many people to be more deliberate and conscious about what they choose to spend their money on.

Pay yourself first, and make sure to give yourself a raise

If you’re like many people, you may have good intentions of saving money each month, but at the end of the month, you find there’s nothing left over after all the bills are paid. One habit that people who are successful financially have is to pay themselves first. Put your savings money aside at the BEGINNING of the month. It’s a bit of a mental trick, but many people find that having that money out of sight helps them to save more.

Another financial habit to start is to always give yourself a raise. Whenever you get a raise at work or come across any “extra” money, IMMEDIATELY put it either in your emergency fund or use it to pay down your debt. Putting any raise or extra money towards your savings (instead of increasing your standard of living) is a great habit to start. 

This is a great habit to start, especially if you are young or just starting out in your professional life.  Of course, paying yourself first and giving yourself a raise, doesn’t mean that you have to only eat ramen or can’t have nice things. But thanks to the magic of compound interest, the sooner you start to save and invest, the better off you’ll be.

The post 5 Financial Goals to Start in 2021 appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life

As the dust slowly begins to settle and we observe businesses putting their action plans in place to recover, we all sit and wonder what this may look like for us. How will I recover from this? How am I going to cover these unexpected expenses? How will I increase my earning potential? Whether you’re navigating the muddy waters of being unemployed, furloughed, return to office plans or continue working remotely – we have many things to consider as time continues to quickly progress. How should we handle debt? Are there any more relief programs or funding? How can we pick up the pieces and properly recuperate what may have been lost? Use the tips below to jumpstart your journey of reclaiming your finances.

Identify your financial focuses

Over the course of this year, many financial goals that were initially set needed to be tweaked or came to a screeching halt altogether. While it would be nice if we could rectify the many financial aspirations we have for ourselves and our families all at once, it’s simply not realistic. To alleviate the impounding pressure many have had to experience for a good chunk of time this year, it’s best to identify two to three key areas of focus. Not only does narrowing your focus help direct where your efforts should lie, it removes unnecessary stress so that a plan of attack can be created and executed upon. For example, if you would like to begin rebuilding your emergency fund, savings or simply get caught up on bills and other overhead expenses – make sure the actionable steps you take align with the overarching goal. This helps create tunnel vision to execute on the goal while quieting the noise of things that can be tackled at a later time. You owe it to yourself and your finances to see these goals through to the finish line.

Revisit your budget and make adjustments as necessary

Many think of budgeting like that pesky chore you put off every single week. It’s that ‘thing’ you know needs to be done, but you always find something else to do instead. However, once it’s done – you’re always glad that you did it. Even if you have to have an adult temper tantrum, pull out the pen and paper (once again) to compare your income with expenses. Has your income increased or decreased? Are there expenses that are no longer on the list? Are there certain wants or luxuries that can be temporarily put on hold until things settle down? Take all of these factors into consideration when recalibrating your budget. Since there’s an increased amount of time indoors, are there any spending habits you’ve noticed that have been on the rise? If these questions are not easily answered, commit to reviewing the last few months of your bank statements. Do you notice more to-go food orders? An increased amount of emotional or impulsive purchases? Be honest with yourself and your habits so that you can address and make changes to healthily rebuild your finances.

Adjust debt payoff plan

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to contact your creditors – consider this as a reminder! It’s imperative you maintain an open line of communication with all lenders. These conversations can potentially lead to various options being available to assist you in your debt payoff process. Remember to keep in mind that you are not the only person experiencing financial hardship, so let pride become a thing of the past and be candid. Are there relief options during the pandemic? Are interest rates being lowered because of the current climate? If I were to miss a payment, what are the consequences? Are negative remarks being reported to the credit bureaus? Be very clear in your delivery. There are thousands and thousands of people attempting to pick up the pieces on their money journey. Take some time to check all creditor accounts for the most recent balances. From there, create (or readjust) your plan based on your personal circumstances. If it’s easier to tackle the smallest debt, shift your attention to those accounts. If catching up and restoring good standing with utilities and other overhead expenses need to be addressed first, do that. There is no right or wrong way to approach your plan; just don’t adopt the spirit of avoidance.

Monitor your credit score regularly

There’s been a huge surge in personal data being compromised due to the pandemic. To protect yourself and your credit score, be sure to obtain a copy of your credit report from at least one of the bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and review regularly. Normally, you are allotted one free credit report every year – however, because of the pandemic you can now request your report weekly at no cost to you until April 2021. We all know there’s a lot on all of our plates, but this can be incorporated in your weekly routine to make sure information stays accurate. During your review if there’s anything that’s false, submit a dispute and be sure to have any supporting documentation that can serve as evidence to support your claim.

Even though we don’t like to admit it, life can present a lot of challenges that we may not be fully prepared for in our ever-changing adulthood journey. This pandemic has shined a light on the areas in our lives that can use some more time, intention and attention. Instead of beating ourselves up about the lack of preparedness, let’s be sure to make adjustments now so no matter what happens with the economy or the state of this country it does not have such a huge, negative impact to our financial goals. Let’s face it – even in the midst of tragedy, this year equipped us with a different level of endurance and resilience. It reminded us what really matters and where our energy should really be dedicated to. Start where you are and do what you can. Refrain from comparing your personal money story to someone else’s. We all have unique situations and obligations that influence our saving and spending plans. Dust yourself off, grant yourself grace and begin a new chapter in your financial journey.

 

The post How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans?

Investing in your retirement early is the best way to ensure financial stability as you age, especially when it comes to understanding various retirement options. Getting started may feel overwhelming — luckily we’re here to help. We help break down the difference between 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, and how they can impact your financial life.

You may already know the value in adjusting your budget to make saving for a rainy day a priority. But are you also prioritizing your retirement savings? If you’re just getting started in the workforce and looking for ways to invest in yourself, 401(k) and 403(b) plans are great options to know about. And, the main difference between a 401(k) and a 403(b) is the company who’s offering them.

401(k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies and 403(b) accounts are offered by nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university companies. To understand the similarities and differences between plans in depth, skip to the sections below or keep reading for an in-depth explanation.

How a 401(k) Works
How a 403(b) Works
The Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b)
The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)
5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
What is a 401(k) and 403(b)
$19,500 with your employer matches. Plus, most retirement funds have required minimum distributions (RMDs) by the time you turn 70. This essentially means you have to take a minimum amount of money out each month whether you want to or not.

In most cases, employers will offer 401(k) matching to encourage consistent contributions. For example, your employer match may be 50 cents of every dollar you contribute up to six percent of your salary. For example, with this employer match on a $40,000 salary, you would contribute $200 and your employer would contribute an additional $100 each month. This pattern would continue until your annual contributions hit $2,400 and your employer contributes $1,200.

Employee matching is essentially free money. You’re monetarily rewarded for your retirement payments. Be sure to pay attention to vesting periods when setting up your employer match. Vesting periods are an agreed amount of time you need to work at a company before you receive your 401(k) benefits. For example, some companies may require you to work for their team for a year before earning retirement benefits. Other employers may offer retirement benefits starting the day you start working with them.
403(b) accounts include school boards, public schools, churches, hospitals, and more. This type of account is also known as a tax-sheltered annuity plan — they allow pre-tax income to be invested until taken out.

Employers that offer 403(b) retirement plans may offer a pool of provider options that undergo nondiscrimination testing. This allows employers that qualify for this account to shop around for plans that offer the best benefits and don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). For instance, some 403(b) accounts may charge more administrative fees than others.

Employers are able to offer employee matching on 403(b) accounts if they decide to. To cut costs for nonprofit companies, 403(b) retirement plans generally cost less than 401(k) accounts. Costs associated with starting up these accounts may not affect you, but it may affect your employer.

Account Type 401(k) 403(b)
Yearly Contribution Limit $19,500 $19,500
Employer-Issued Packages For-profit employers:
Corporations, private establishments, etc. and sole proprietors
Non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employers:
School boards, public schools, hospitals, etc.
Minimum Withdrawal Age 59.5 years old 59.5 years old
Early Withdrawal Fees 10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary 10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
Source: IRS.org

 

The Differences Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Both a 401(k) and 403(b) are similar in the way they operate, but they do have a few differences. Here are the biggest contrasts to be aware of:

  • Eligibility: 401(k) retirement plans are issued by for-profit employers and the self employed, 403(b) retirement plans are for tax-exempt, non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. As well as Hospitals and Charities.
  • Investment options: 401(k)s offer more investment opportunities than 403(b)s. 401(k) accounts may include mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds, while 403(b) accounts only offer annuities and mutual funds. Each employer varies in retirement benefits — reach out to a trusted financial advisor if you have questions about your account.
  • Employer expenses: 401(k) accounts are generally more expensive than 403(b) accounts. For-profit 401(k) accounts may pay sales charges, management fees, recordkeeping, and other additional expenses. 403(b) plans may have lower administrative costs to avoid adding a burden for non-profit establishments. These costs vary depending on the employer.
  • Nondiscrimination testing: This form of testing ensures that 403(b) retirement plans are not offered in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). However, 401(k) plans do not require this test.

 

The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Aside from their differences, both accounts are set up to aid employees in retirement savings. Here’s how:

  • Contribution limits: Both accounts cap your annual contributions at $19,500. In the event you contribute over this limit, your earnings will be distributed back to you by April 15th. If you’re under your retirement contributions by the time you’re 50 years old, you’re allowed to make catch-up contributions. This means that, if you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,500 more than the yearly contribution limit.
  • Withdrawal eligibility: You must be at least 59.5 years old before withdrawing your retirement savings. In the case of an emergency, you may be eligible for early withdrawal. However, you may be charged penalties, taxes, and fees for doing so.
  • Employer matching: Both retirement account options allow employers to match your contributions, but are not required to. When starting your retirement fund, ask your HR representative about potential benefits and employer matching.
  • Early withdrawal penalties: If you choose to withdraw your retirement savings early, you may be penalized. In most cases, you need a valid reason to withdraw your funds early. Eligible reasons may include outstanding debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or medical bills. In addition, you may be charged a 10 percent penalty fee, taxes, and other fees. During a downturned economy, as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees may be waived.

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
retirement plan options and their benefits. When employers offer retirement matches, consider contributing as much as you can to meet their match.

2. Set up Monthly Automatic Contributions

Save time and energy by setting up automatic contributions. You may feel less interested in contributing to your retirement as your payday approaches. Taking time to set up a retirement fund and budgeting for this change may be holding you back. To meet your retirement goals, consider setting up automatic payments through your employer. After a while, you may not even notice the slight budget adjustment.

3. Leverage Employer Matching

Employer matching is essentially free money. Employers may put money towards your future for nothing but your own contribution. This encourages employees to consistently put money towards their retirement savings. Not only are you able to earn extra money each month, but this “free money” will grow with interest over time. If you can, match your employer’s contribution percentage, if not more.

4. Avoid Early Withdrawal

Credit card balances, student loans, and mortgages can be stressful. Instead of withdrawing early from your retirement fund to pay for these, consider other debt payoff methods. If you’re eligible to withdraw from your retirement early, you may face penalty fees, taxes, and administrative expenses. This may hinder your savings potential or push back your desired retirement date.

5. Contribute Your Future Raises and Bonuses

If you’re saving less than $19,500 to your retirement fund this year, consider contributing more. If you earn a bonus or a raise, stick to your current budget and consider increasing your contributions. Ask your employer to increase your retirement payments right before you receive a bonus or raise. The more you contribute, the more interest you’ll accrue over time.

Whether your retirement funds are established through a 401(k) or a 403(b), these accounts offer you the chance to build your financial portfolio. Consistently funding your retirement account may better your financial plan and set you at ease. As your contributions age, so do your interest earnings. You’ll be able to make money on your pre-taxed income and set your future self up for success. Get started by checking in on your budget and carving out a specific amount to put towards your retirement each month.

The post What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How a CFP Celebrates Her Money Wins

People may often imagine that when they reach their milestones, there will be fireworks and party buses along with a huge celebration. And while sometimes there are, most wins are simply small steps you take every day until one day you wake up where you visualized you would be. That is why it is important to celebrate it all — the ups, the downs, the wins, the steps forward, and sometimes even backward. Without awareness and reflection, you might miss out on celebrating how much progress you have made in your financial life. By acknowledging even the so-called small things, you can keep the momentum alive and feel good about yourself.

Here are some ways I celebrate my money wins, no matter how big or small:

Tell my family and friends.

By sharing my money wins and even challenges with my closest friends and family, it opens me up to receive the love and support that is needed to sustain the financial journey. I think because money is still a topic most do not feel comfortable talking about, getting vulnerable with close family and friends allows them to do so with me in return. That kind of give and receive is part of living an open, abundant life. If you’re comfortable, you can even share on social media about your wins, which could inspire others. Sharing your money goals and personal finance journey also helps you stay out of the “I am all alone” mindset, which is not true and can actually hold you back from receiving more in your financial life.

Pause and feel proud of myself.

There are so many specific times in my life where I felt my money wins viscerally and just paused to take a moment to feel proud of myself for doing it. Whether it was saving a certain amount of money, negotiating a specific compensation package, or changing a mindset pattern holding me back from living abundantly, I can recall the memories specifically and feel great about them and myself. I remember years ago when I sold my first business and received the payment in my bank account, I felt amazing to know that I actually did it. I had finally reached my financial goal. It was just a regular workday and I was alone doing my weekly money date. And I distinctly remember feeling all the excitement and joy knowing I had accomplished something I worked on for years. The irony is when we reach our financial goals such as buying a home, paying off our student debts, or reaching our cash cushion goal, there aren’t actually big fireworks. Instead, you feel a deep understanding within yourself that you finally reached a goal you may have been striving toward for years.

Remember I can keep doing what it takes.

When celebrating my money wins, it also reminds me that I have the power to do and create what I want in life. By using my real-life experiences of achieving something I have worked for, I am reminded that I can continue doing so to achieve whatever next financial goal I have. When I reached my cash cushion goal years ago, I remembered that I have the power to keep creating my financial life as I desire and have the discipline to save for my goals. These reminders are key because no matter where we start financially, we all have the power to create our lives as we want, and choose how we show up, behave, think and act with our money. We are not victims. When I feel that and know that in my being, I feel anything is possible and am able to stay in the positive, “I can,” mindset.

Buy something memorable to acknowledge my hard work and effort.

This does not always have to be something major but can even be something that you have been wanting for a significant amount of time. When I reached my own financial goal last year of making a certain amount of business revenue for the year, I decided with one of my larger incoming checks to my business, I would take a portion and buy myself a designer handbag I had wanted for a few years. It was a gift to myself that I could enjoy and remember my hard work to achieve it. But you don’t always have to spend a lot. I also treat myself to smaller things like a massage or treating my family or friends out to a nice dinner. I just try to take time to celebrate by enjoying something nice whether it is a material item or a nice experience with my loved ones.

Journaling my accomplishments.

Every year, I take time to reflect on my total accomplishments for the year by journaling them out. This activity is solely for me to remember all I have achieved and to feel good about my accomplishments. By reflecting, I am able to connect to the positive aspects and blessings in my life to acknowledge how incredible I am. We tend to focus on what we are lacking or what we are not. By doing this activity, you are shifting your mindset and balancing the scales in a sense.

It’s common to look internally and criticize ourselves. Our mind jumps to comparing, thinking, “I don’t have this or that or I didn’t do this or that” or even feeling like a failure. With that mindset, you can get stuck only focusing on what you are not and have not, instead of embracing all that you are and all that you have. Having an attitude of gratitude goes a long way, especially with money. So take time to celebrate and feel grateful for what you have and all that you have accomplished. I truly believe this will also help you continue to attract more in your life.

The post How a CFP Celebrates Her Money Wins appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Money Audit: Can I Retire Early?

Mint devotees James, 51, and wife, Carol, 43, hope to mark 2018 as the year they achieve what many only dream of accomplishing: retiring early from the daily grind.

He’s a technical manager and she’s a self-employed real estate agent residing in Birmingham, Alabama. Their net worth totals $1.66 million (not including their mortgage-free home).

“Is financial independence within our reach?” James asked via email.

At first glance, I thought, “absolutely.”

But most of their money is tied up in retirement savings vehicles like a 401(k), SEP IRA and a pension, which require that you reach “retirement age” to make withdrawals without penalty, usually 59 ½ years-old.

Assuming the recommended distribution of about 4% from their investments each year in retirement starting at age 60, their nest egg can more than cover their cost of living once they become eligible to withdraw from those accounts. Plus, James says his social security payments will be roughly $3,000 per month once he can begin collecting.

But can the couple feasibly retire now?

Ahead of some suggestions for James and Carol, here’s a bigger snapshot of their finances:

Household Income: $160,000 per year

Savings/Investments: $1.66 million

  • $1.2 million in a Roth IRA, SEP-IRA and 401(k)
  • $192,000 expected lump-sum distribution from pension
  • $221,000 in a brokerage account
  • $50,000 in cash

Debt: Zero. Everything’s been paid off.

Monthly Spend: About $3,000 not including vacations and payroll taxes.

  • Groceries $350
  • Cell Phones $135
  • Car/homeowner/umbrella liability insurance $177 combined,
  • Health insurance $400• Life insurance $25
  • Gasoline and car maintenance $230• Power $160
  • Property tax $150• Leisure $150• Dining out $200
  • Utilities $65
  • Medical $100
  • Gifts $200
  • Clothing $125
  • Non-grocery $125
  • Home maintenance $150
  • Auto registration $25
  • Other $250
  • Vacations and travel $1,700
  • Payroll Taxes $2,600

Okay, here are my thoughts.

Let’s Run Some Numbers

How much money would the couple realistically need each year to maintain their current lifestyle (which I don’t think is lavish)? And where would they source that money?

Let’s guesstimate.

Their current expenses – minus the cost of payroll taxes from Carol’s real estate company, which would, presumably, be much lower once she winds down the business in retirement – are roughly $4,700 per month.

No longer receiving health benefits through James’ employer, the family would need to secure their own medical insurance until qualifying for Medicare at age 65. Until then, they could easily see their medical expenses jump by a factor of two – maybe more.

That means that they’d need about $6,000 per month to keep status quo…at least until their 13-year-old daughter is headed to college, at which point their expenses may creep higher. However, James said they’re working on a plan to mitigate those costs by encouraging their daughter to earn high school Advanced Placement credits, which can be applied toward college credits. The family estimates providing $10,000 per year for their daughter’s schooling, while she’d cover the rest. (And by the way, they may be able to tap their Roth IRA for college expenses when the time arrives.)

Their current cash savings and brokerage account investments total $271,000. After taxes, I figure money could stretch about three and a half years. James still wouldn’t be eligible to withdraw from his 401(k) at that point.

Don’t Quit (Yet).

Instead, take the year to transition.

As stated, with so much of their savings tied up in a 401(k) and various IRAs, it will be eight years before James – and 16 years before Carol – can qualify for penalty-free withdrawals from their retirement portfolios. The remaining money in their traditional savings and brokerage accounts ($172,000) is only enough to cover them for a limited number of years given their current expenses and the fact that they’ll need to pay more for medical insurance.

For these reasons, now may not be the best time to quit their careers cold turkey.

James even admitted to not wanting to leave the workforce entirely.

Instead, the couple wants to channel their skills into new lines of work that offer more time and flexibility. With his technical skills, James envisions bringing in some income through consulting work. As a real estate agent, Carol looks forward to staying active in the market, but working on fewer deals.

I suggest they utilize the first half of this year to better map out – and even experiment with – their work/life framework in early retirement.

Can James plant some seeds this year for securing consulting work and land a client or two? Can Carol wind down, say, 20 to 30% of her business and start working on projects she’d like to pursue in retirement?

Meantime, could they stow away another $70,000 in the bank? With about $120,000 in cash– the equivalent of two years of living expenses –the family then has a long, liquid runway to fully build out this next chapter in life and establish new revenue streams to support their expenses. Eventually earning a combined $60,000 a year in part-time work would be a healthy target so that they could extend the need to tap their retirement portfolios – to perhaps even beyond age 59 ½.

And speaking of retirement portfolios…

Keep investing, but be mindful of stock exposure.

Just because they’re retiring, doesn’t mean their investments should get out of the game, too. It will be many years before James will want to withdraw from his 401(k) and Carol from her SEP-IRA. [By the way, for James, once he quits his job, he may want to transfer his 401(k) to a Traditional IRA to be able to continue making some annual contributions.] If the market takes a dip or a dive, they should have enough time to recover.

That said, too much exposure to stocks at this stage in life, and particularly because of their soon-to-be reduction in earnings, means they don’t want to be overexposed to the stock market.

A very general rule of thumb is to subtract your age from 100 and make that your stock percentage in your portfolio allocation. So, Carol, who is 43 years old, would want to be about 57% invested in stocks and the rest in bonds and cash. James would want to be around 49% invested in stocks. If they believe their risk tolerance is below average, then they may want to consider investing even less in stocks.

In summary, early retirement (aka living life on their terms sooner than later) is not unfeasible for James and Carol. Calling it quits tomorrow? Not so much. But if James takes the year to build inroads in the world of consulting and Carol to unwind some of her clientele while exploring other passions and pursuits (and all the while both continuing to save), I think that in a few years they could be fully immersed in their definition of early retirement!

 

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Money Audit: Can I Retire Early? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

2020 has shaped all of us in some way or another financially. Whether it is being reminded of the importance of living within our means or saving for a rainy day, these positive financial habits and lessons are timeless and ones we can take into the new year. 

While everyone is on a very unique financial journey, we can still learn from each other. As we wrap up this year, it’s important to reflect on some of these positive financial habits and lessons and take the ones we need into 2021. Here are some of the top financial lessons:

Living Within Your Means

It’s been said for years, centuries even, that one should live within one’s means. Well, I think a lot of people were reminded of this financial principle given the year we’ve had. Living within your means is another way of saying don’t spend more than you earn. I would take it one step further to say, set up your financial budget so you pay yourself first. Then only spend what is leftover on all the fun or variable items.

Setting up your budget in the Mint app or updating your budget in Mint to reflect the changes in your income or expenses is a great activity to do before the year ends. Follow the 50/20/30 rule of thumb and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you spending more than you earn?
  • Are there fixed bills you can reduce so you can save more for your financial goals? 
  • Can you reduce your variable spending and save that money instead?

The idea is to find a balance that allows you to pay for your fixed bills, save automatically every month and then only spend what is left over. If you don’t have the money, then you cannot use debt to buy something. This is a great way to get back in touch with reality and also appreciate your money more. 

Have a Cash Cushion

Having a cash cushion gives you peace of mind since you know that if anything unexpected comes up, which of course always happens in life, you have money that is easy to liquidate to pay for it versus paying it with debt or taking from long-term investments. Having an adequate cash cushion this year offered some people a huge sigh of relief when they lost their job or perhaps had reduced income for a few months. With a cash cushion or rainy day fund, they were still able to cover their bills with their savings.

Many people are making it their 2021 goal to build, replenish, or maintain their cash cushion.  Typically, you want a cash cushion of about 3- 6 months of your core expenses. Your cash cushion is usually held in a high-yield saving account that you can access immediately if needed. However, you want to think of it almost as out of sight out of mind so it’s really there for bigger emergencies or opportunities that come up.

Asset Allocation 

Having the right asset allocation and understanding your risk tolerance and timeframe of your investments is always important. With a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the stock market this year, more and more people are paying attention to their portfolio allocation and learning what that really means when it comes to risk and returns. Learning more about which investments you actually hold within your 401(k) or IRA is always important. I think the lesson this year reminded everybody that it’s your money and it’s up to you to know.

Even if you have an investment manager helping you, you still need to understand how your portfolio is allocated and what that means in terms of risk and what you can expect in portfolio volatility (ups and downs) versus the overall stock market. A lot of people watch the news and hear the stock market is going up or down, but fail to realize that may not be how your portfolio is actually performing. So get clear. Make sure that your portfolio matches your long term goal of retirement and risk tolerance and don’t make any irrational short term decisions with your long-term money based on the stock market volatility or what the news and media are showcasing.

Right Insurance Coverage

We have all been reminded of the importance of health this year. Our own health and the health of our loved ones should be a top priority. It’s also an extremely important part of financial success over time. It is said, insurance is the glue that can hold everything together in your financial life if something catastrophic happens. Insurances such as health, auto, home, disability, life, long-term care, business, etc. are really important but having the right insurance policy and coverage in place for each is the most important part.

Take time and review all the insurance coverage you have and make sure it is up to date and still accurate given your life circumstances and wishes. Sometimes you may have a life insurance policy in place for years but fail to realize there is now a better product in the marketplace with more coverage or better terms. With any insurance, it is wise to never cancel a policy before you a full review and new policy to replace it already in place. The last thing you want is to be uninsured. Make sure you also have an adequate estate plan whether it’s a trust or will that showcases your wishes very clearly. This way, you can communicate that with your trust/will executor’s, beneficiaries, family members, etc. so they are clear on everything as well. 

Financial lessons will always be there. Year after year, life throws us challenges and successes to remind us of what is most important. Take time, reflect, and get a game plan in place for 2021 that takes everything you have learned up until now into account. This will help you set the tone for an abundant and thriving new financial year. 

The post Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com