How You Could Be Saving 33 Percent More This Year

The following post comes from DJ over at My Money Design, a blog that is completely dedicated to the idea of living a better life through finding financial freedom. You can also check out DJ at his new website, 1,000 Ways to Save. Enjoy!

If you’re looking for something truly powerful to do differently with your money this year, and you really want to ramp up your savings, then look no further than your 401(k) (or whatever tax-deferred savings plan you use)

Follow this simple advice: Max it out!

I’m serious.  Though it won’t necessarily be easy, by maxing out your savings, you could be pocketing an extra $4,500 this year.  ($9,000 if you’re married).

Here’s how it all works.

 

How Tax-Avoidance Saves You More

One of the things that is hard for people to really wrap their heads around is the idea of just how much money they are actually saving by using a tax-deferred retirement account such as a 401(k).

When taken to the extremes, the results are phenomenal! Let me illustrate.

The classic way to save money is to simply do the following:

  1. Earn money.
  2. Pay taxes.
  3. Get a paycheck for whatever is left over.
  4. Save some percentage of that paycheck.

Let’s say for simplicity that your gross (before taxes) bi-weekly pay is $3,000.  This means that:

  1. Earn money: $3,000 gross
  2. Pay taxes: If you’re in the 25% tax bracket, then roughly $750 of your money goes to the tax man.
  3. Get a paycheck for whatever is left over: $3,000 – $750 = $2,250
  4. Save some percentage of that paycheck: Let’s say you save 10%. That means that $2,250 x 10% = $225 goes into your after-tax account.  This leaves you with $2,250 – $225 = $2,025 to do with as you please for your normal, everyday living expenses.

Good effort!  But you’re missing out on an opportunity; a 33% more savings opportunity to be exact!

How so?

Follow the same math but use a 401(k) plan this time.  Here’s how it’s different:

  1. Earn money: $3,000 gross
  2. Save some percentage of those earnings. THIS TIME, because of how a 401(k) works, we get to save our 10% up-front!  Now, instead of saving $225, our same 10% savings works out to $3,000 x 10% = $300!
  3. Pay taxes: With only $3,000 – $300 = $2,700 leftover, now your 25% taxes drops down to $675.
  4. Get a paycheck for whatever is left over. Look at that!  Your net paycheck works out to $2,700 – $675 = $2,025 just as it did in the first example.

Do you see how that works?  You net the SAME amount of spending money in the end, but your savings went way up!

By how much? 

($300 – $225) / $225 = 33% more!

How is that possible? 

It’s simple.  You paid yourself instead of the tax-man.  By taking full advantage of a tax-deferred savings account, for every dollar you save, you’re NOT sending off 25 cents of it to the IRS.  You’re hanging on to it; keeping the full dollar for yourself.

Though that may not sound like a big accomplishment, when you really take advantage of this opportunity to the fullest extent, its true potential is revealed.

The IRS will allow you to save all the way up to $18,000 this year in your 401(k).  Using the same numbers as before, that could end up being a total of $4,500 MORE that you save for yourself (instead of handing over to the government).  If both you and your spouse do the same thing, then it doubles to $9,000 more for the two you!  That’s an incredible amount of savings!

How do I get there?

First off: I completely understand that deferring $18,000 into your 401(k) is not something that is going to happen over-night.  For most people it’s a struggle, and it certainly was for us.

However, once you recognize how powerful this savings tool is, it can become like a deal that is too good to pass up.  Over time, you’ll want to make every attempt imaginable to save money where you can so that you can take advantage of this opportunity more and more.

 

More Ways to Squeeze More Out of Your Savings

As if taking full advantage of your 401(k) and getting 33% more savings wasn’t cool enough, you should also know that tax-avoidance doesn’t have to stop there.  There are plenty of other tricks at your disposal to use as well.

IRA’s.  IRA’s are great because they are like a 401(k) but you have a lot more control over where the money gets invested and how you handle it.  No matter whether you prefer a traditional or a Roth, make every effort available to try to max out these accounts as well.

Even if all you qualify for is a non-deductible traditional IRA, remember that you can always convert it over to a Roth at a later time.  Then you’ll enjoy tax-free spending on the back end!

Employer Contributions.  Does your employer contribute money to your 401(k)?  If so, that’s ALSO tax-deferred money that you get to keep!  Find out from your HR exactly what the rules are and do whatever you have to in order to max this out.  If not, you’re leaving free money on the table!

FSA’s.  If your employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA) for dependent care or health care expenses, this is another golden opportunity for you to save hundreds of dollars in the process.  FSA’s allow you to save a portion of your gross income for special needs before the taxes are taken out.   Here’s an article from the IRS about how they work.

For years, my wife and I would contribute the IRS maximum of $5,000 into our FSA .  That money would simply be turned around and used to pay off our daycare expenses.  But like the example above with the 401(k), had we NOT used the FSA, then after taxes that $5,000 would have really only been $3,750.  The FSA effectively gave us an extra $1,250 to use on our kids.

Now that the kids are older, we still use the FSA for our health care needs.  Though the IRS maximum is lower, we still end up getting hundreds of extra dollars to use on our medical bills that would have normally went away to the IRS.

529 Savings.  If you’ve got kids and would like to set money aside for them to use for college, then a 529 savings plan is one of the better ways to go.  A 529 savings is similar to a IRA, but instead of the end goal being retirement, you use the money to help pay for higher education needs like tuition, room and board, etc.  You can see what kind of 529 plans are available in your state with this website here.

We’ve been contributing a very small amount of money to our children’s 529 funds for years.  Every year when I receive our statements, I’m amazed by how much the money has grown up to in just a few short years.  Thank you compounding returns!

Readers – What are some of the ways that you take full advantage of tax-deferred savings?

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6355261479/in/

Finding the Perfect Mortgage the First Time 

The following is a guest post. Enjoy! 

Every year, millions of first-time homebuyers set out on a search for the perfect piece of property. They scour advertisements; they search through real estate apps; they go on countless tours and stop by untold open houses. Then, when they finally find the home of their dreams, they are utterly unprepared to make an offer.

Buying a home is more than comparing cabinet styles and deciding whether a pool is worthwhile. You must understand your mortgage options before you even consider whether you need or want granite countertops. This guide will help you determine what features you need from your home loan, so you can find and afford your dream home in no time.

Fixed vs. Adjustable

Mortgages last a long time ― typically between 15 and 30 years. Since that is such a significant amount of time for a loan, most lenders offer two options to help you manage your interest rate: fixed or adjustable. Which option you choose depends on your current income, your credit score, and a few other factors.

Fixed Rate

Fixed-rate mortgages are the most common. With these, you can expect the same interest rate for the entire duration of the mortgage loan. The primary benefit of having a fixed rate is knowing exactly what your mortgage payment will be each and every month; your home payment will never be a financial surprise. However, fixed-rate mortgages tend to have a higher interest rate ― at least initially.

Adjustable Rate

Adjustable-rate mortgages are less common but more accessible if you have poor credit. The opposite of fixed rates, adjustable rates will change over time. Most often, adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are actually a hybrid product, as lenders will promise a brief fixed period before adjusting your rate.

Some buyers find ARMs preferable because they seem to have lower interest rates. However, over time, those interest rates will rise, and you likely won’t be able to predict when or how much. Therefore, you can expect financial irregularity for the duration of your loan.

Jumbo vs. Conforming

The cost of your home will also determine the type of mortgage you can obtain. Though you might not realize it, most home loans have a size cap, and not all lenders offer conforming loans, which are the standard size, and jumbo loans, which are substantially larger.

Conforming loans earn their name because they conform to the guidelines of the appropriate government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac.

In 2013, these enterprises determined that the size of home loans should be limited to $417,000 for a single-family home in the United States. The GSE can do this because it purchases and sells mortgage-backed securities, which form the foundation of the housing market. In 2007, the unreliability of these securities incited the Great Recession, so adhering to the size cap for home loans should keep the economy more stable.

Conversely, jumbo loans are available from some lenders for those looking to purchase a home worth more than $417,000. However, such sizeable loans represent a marked increase in a lender’s risk, which means you must have impeccable credit, high income, and a large down payment to qualify. As long as you are prepared for the financial responsibilities of a more expensive home, a jumbo loan is an excellent mortgage option.

Conventional vs. Government-Insured

Finally, not all potential homebuyers have the credit history or liquid assets to purchase a home. Fortunately, the government offers unconventional, government-insured loan programs to help less-advantaged citizens buy property.

The benefit of having a government-insured home loan is that the government promises to pay your mortgage if you default, so lenders see the loan as no-risk. There are three main types of government-insured mortgages:

VA Loans

Typically available only to veterans or their partners, VA loans require no down payment, offer competitively low interest rates, and do not require mortgage insurance. These loans do conform to GSE guidelines, but they are incredibly easy to qualify if you or your spouse served in the Armed Forces.

FHA Loans

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) also offers a mortgage program to low-income, low-credit homebuyers. Unlike VA loans, FHA loans require a down payment ― though it can be as low as 3.5 percent ― and mortgage insurance. However, interest rates are low.

USDA Loans

If you are willing to move to a rural community, the United States Department of Agriculture will help you secure a mortgage. Your qualification for this program depends on your income; it can be no more than 115 percent of the regional average. However, by participating, you earn exceedingly low interest rates and the opportunity to bypass a down payment, as long as you pay mortgage insurance.

Strategies to Trade Forex Online

The following is a guest post by Mary Beth Sanders. Enjoy! 

The 2016 US Presidential elections have come and gone. To a proportion of the world’s surprise, Donald Trump won the elections. This news sent the financial markets into a tailspin, causing traders to move their investments into safe-haven funds as well as hedge stocks. The markets then recovered some of their losses; however, they continue to be very volatile and strongly influenced by any global political murmurings.

As time passed, investment brokers and the world at large calmed down allowing the financial markets to recover some of their losses; nonetheless, the volatility remains. Added to this, because of the inherent liquidity of cash, the foreign exchange trading markets remain the most volatile of all the financial markets, resulting in the need for caution when considering the option to trade Forex online.

How wise is it to trade Forex online?

This beg the question: How wise is it to trade Forex online in our current politically and economically unstable climate? Unfortunately, this is not a challenge unique to a single currency or country. Because of the rise of the internet and online trading, the global volatility affects all currencies. The only difference is that it affects some currencies positively and others negatively.

What is foreign exchange trading?

Before we answer this question, let’s take a look at trading online entails. According to the Investopedia University, this market “is one of the most exciting, fast-paced markets around. Until recently, forex trading in the currency market had been the domain of large financial institutions, corporations, central banks, hedge funds and extremely wealthy individuals… now it is possible for.. investors to buy and sell currencies easily with the click of a mouse through online brokerage accounts.”

Trading strategies

If online traders read the current volatility in the markets correctly, it is possible to trade successfully; however, caution is required. Experts recommend that you develop a solid trading strategy before you start trading and then it is imperative to stick to it. Here are three tips in order to help you work out your trading strategy:

  • Decide which position you are going to take

A trader can take three positions – short-term, medium-term, or long-term. In a nutshell, this essentially means that a trader needs to decide whether he is going to buy a certain currency and at what point he/she is going to sell it.

  • Decide which currency pairs you are going to trade in

You need to sell one currency to buy another currency. Currencies are always divided up into pairs. For example, the GBP-USD is a currency pair. In this case the British Pound is the commodity and the US dollar is the currency that you will use to buy the GBP.

  • Establish your exit point

You need to decide at what point you are going to sell your commodity. For example, if your position is gaining ground or making money, at what rate will you sell or cash out? On the other hand, if your position is losing money, at what rate will you sell and cut your losses?

Final Thoughts

These three tips are just a start to help you develop a solid trading strategy, as they will help you safeguard your investments and prevent you from losing money. In order to successfully trade Forex online, you can check out this website, in order to improve your trading strategy by adding well thought-out stop losses and limits

Opportunity Funds

The following is a guest post by Akash Sky. Akash writes articles that teach people about investing using intuitive graphics and simple, plain English over at akashsky.com. Enjoy! 

I’m sure you have all heard of emergency funds, and I’m sure that many of you have them as well. But, have you heard of an opportunity fund? It’s similar to an emergency fund, except the purpose behind its use is different. In this article, we will discuss following:

  • what an opportunity fund’s purpose is
  • how large an opportunity fund should be
  • who stands to benefit most from an opportunity fund
  • where an opportunity fund should be stored
  • how an opportunity fund should be used

Alright, let’s start by discussing the purpose an opportunity fund.

 

What’s the purpose of an opportunity fund?

To better understand the purpose of an opportunity fund, let’s examine the purpose of an emergency fund. According to Investopedia, the purpose of an emergency fund is to improve financial security. In other words, the emergency fund is there to limit your downside potential (i.e. bad things like debt, homelessness, hunger, etc.). Now, take that purpose and reverse it.

The purpose of an opportunity fund is to maximize your upside potential. Basically, an opportunity fund’s purpose is to give you the financial fuel to make the most of an opportunity that comes across your way.

 

What type of person benefits most from an opportunity fund?

First off, I want to explicitly state that an opportunity fund is not for everyone. If you are simply looking to remove risk from your life and remain financially comfortable, an emergency fund is more than enough for you.

A person well-suited for an opportunity fund would have the following attributes:

  1. Is actively looking to increase their wealth / net-worth, even at the cost of accepting risk
  2. Can lock away / save additional money without negatively impacting their life

 

How much money should I set aside for an opportunity fund?

There are no hard rules for the amount of cash you need to have in your opportunity fund – you just need enough to make the most of an opportunity that is likely to come your way. In order to do that, you are going to have to do some introspection. You should try and answer the following question: what are some of the best opportunities that I have come across in the last 5 years?

Then. ask yourself: “How much capital / money would I have needed to take advantage of those opportunities?”. Of course, its hard to give an exact figure. For example, if you happen upon a killer real estate deal, your “opportunity fund” would need to be large enough for a down-payment, whereas if you come across a smaller opportunity like a correction in the stock market, you would only need a few thousand dollars.

In my case, I’ve got $5,000 in my opportunity fund. The opportunities that I’m expecting to capitalize on at the moment are corrections in the stock market, my personal blog, and small business ventures. In order to find out the dollar amount you need in an opportunity fund, you need to clearly define the opportunities that you want to take advantage of. Once you’ve done that, all you need to do is calculate the financial fuel you would need to make the most of those opportunities and then save that amount in the form of an opportunity fund.

 

Where should I place my opportunity fund?

Just like an emergency fund, an opportunity fund needs to be liquid. That means that you can’t store your opportunity fund in an investment that is difficult to convert to cash.

This means that savings accounts, CDs (if you are willing to take a slight penalty), and money market accounts are great places to store your opportunity fund. However, the best place (in my opinion) to store an opportunity fund is inside of a 1 year old I-Bond.

I-Bonds are a hybrid between CDs and savings accounts. After you lock away your money for 1 year, you are free to access it at any time. In addition, I-bonds carry less risk than savings accounts because they are immune to inflation and interest rates. To top it off, I-bonds often pay higher rates.

 

How should I use an opportunity fund?

Before we talk about how to use an opportunity fund, lets quickly talk about how to NOT use an opportunity fund. An opportunity fund is NOT extra spending money for when things go on sale. If you truly want to make the most of an opportunity fund, you need to spend it on opportunities that will provide long term benefit to you.

In order to properly use an opportunity fund, you need to be able to identify worthwhile opportunities when you come across them. In order to do so, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this opportunity likely to benefit me far into the future?
  • When is next time I can reasonably expect something like this opportunity to pop up again?

If you are not likely to come across the opportunity again and it is likely to benefit you far into the future, it may be a worthwhile endeavor to use your opportunity funds on. Ultimately, deciding if the opportunity is right for you is a personal choice. However, having an opportunity fund allows you to have a choice to begin with. It’s up to you whether or not to use your financial fuel to take up an opportunity to change your life for the better.

 

Finishing thoughts

In the end, whether or not an opportunity fund is a good fit for you depends on your financial goals. If you want to actively grow your net-worth instead of cruise along, I highly recommend starting an opportunity fund. In the investment world, cash is king, and you’ll always need to have some of it on hand to pounce on any wonderful opportunity that comes your way. After all, fortune favors the bold, and it is much easier to be bold with an opportunity fund.

How about you all? What do you think about opportunity funds, and are they right for you?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

Why More Practical Money Skills Should Be Taught In School

The following is a guest post. Enjoy!

Younger people have to make significant financial decisions these days, and acquire financial facilities such as bank accounts and debit cards at an earlier stage than previous generations did. With likely trends continuing into future years of increased life expectancy, uncertain economic and job prospects, and the already present need for students to manage their living costs and student loans when in further education, the need for youngsters to be financially aware is increasing.

A desire for financial education

Research undertaken by bodies such as the Personal Finance Education Group (pfeg), a body helping younger people gain financial skills, has revealed that over 60% of youngsters open a bank account before starting secondary school, and some 75% of 15 year olds with a bank account have a debit card. The pfeg also found an overwhelming number of parents and teachers, and young people themselves, thought financial education should be taught in schools.

The need for financial education

Along with managing savings and bank accounts from a tender age, young people very soon have to get to grips with heavier financial aspects such as managing a budget when studying away from home and dealing with student loans.

Judging aspects such as the best way to finance their mobile phone by understanding contracts and commitments, deciding when to borrow money, how much they can afford to borrow, and assessing the most appropriate loan sources for their needs are just some of the required financial skills.

The possibility of having to leave home at a young age for the right job, and organising what may be tight finances when renting and paying bills on a starter salary, are very real circumstances younger people have to face with career-specific jobs less likely to be found closer to home.

The Money Advice Service claim that consumers lose on average nearly £430 per year simply through misunderstanding financial terms and conditions or not studying them properly, and this could be at least in part blamed on lack of sound financial education at a younger age.

If nothing else, the principles of assessing financial products such as bank accounts, credit cards, loans and contracts would stand younger people in good stead. For example, if considering taking out a loan, youngsters would be shown how to assess the lender’s suitability for their requirements such as visiting their website and looking for key information such as their credentials and checking if they’re members of the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority), and how they operate perhaps by reading their ‘FAQ’ page. The website of established lender Avant Credit is a good example.

Steps being taken

Unfortunately, due to pressures to deliver on other aspects of the ever-changing school curriculum, barely a third of primary schools offer financial education. That said, some headway has been made through the pfeg’s Centres of Excellence programme; as of April 2016, over 50,000 students had benefitted from some type of financial education and over 2,500 teachers had been equipped with skills enabling them to teach financial education.

All-party parliamentary groups have been formed in recent years to instigate financial education; in 2014 the Parliamentary Group on Financial Education for Young People was the largest all party group with over 200 members. Household name financial institutions were involved in providing training materials and actual lessons to young people in over 1,000 secondary schools.

Steps are being taken, but there’s still a long way to go in equipping youngsters with important financial skills.