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Strategies to Save

How to Cut Sneaky Subscriptions and Recurring Expenses with Trim

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

 

It’s easy for small expenses to add up and burn straight through our cash. Especially since there are so many subscription and membership services available to sign up for that automatically bill accounts after a free trial.

Trim is a website that wants to help you identify and cancel these recurring costs to save money. You can connect your accounts to Trim, and it searches transactions for recurring payments to merchants that you can cut off.

According to Trim, the service has saved its users $8 million in sneaky expenses, so we’re putting it to the test. In this post, we’ll review the site to see what expenses Trim can identify.

We’ll discuss:

  • How Trim works
  • How much Trim costs
  • Pros and cons

How Trim Works

First, you need to go to asktrim.com to create an account. You can sign up for an account by email or through Facebook. For this review, I chose the email option.

 

Authenticating and setting up your account

After you input your email, first name, last name, and phone number, the website will send you a text message to confirm your phone number.

A confirmation of your phone number is necessary because the website corresponds with you via text message. You can also choose to receive messages from Trim through Facebook Messenger if you prefer. There currently isn’t a Trim app.

Trim needs to connect to your bank and/or credit card accounts to locate recurring subscriptions for cancellation.

Trim supports over 20,000 U.S. financial institutions. If you don’t see yours on the list, you can email Trim for support. Although I find tweeting a company usually gets a faster response.

The syncing of your financial accounts to Trim takes just a few seconds.

You’ll get a text message with the subscriptions Trim has found once the connection is complete. The identified recurring costs will also populate in your account dashboard on the website.

Here are a few of the subscriptions it found for me:

The dashboard breaks down your recurring charges into three different sections. There are subscriptions, utilities, and frequent charges.

Altogether, Trim found:

  • A car insurance payment
  • A Comcast bill
  • A banking account fee
  • Work-related expenses (Bluehost, Grammarly, and Freshbooks)

You’ll probably find like I did that not all charges found will be ones you can cancel or need to cancel. The purpose of Trim is to seek out any surprises.

How Trim cancels accounts

The cancellation aspect of Trim is what I consider the highlight because of how much of a pain it can be to terminate your subscriptions and memberships.

To cancel a service using Trim, you hit the red “Cancel this subscription” link on the website.

You can also message “Cancel (insert service)” to authorize cancellation from your phone.

Trim will contact the company by sending an email or calling. In some cases, like a gym membership, Trim may send out a certified letter.

I’ll be honest, I’ve moved from one city to another and completely forgot to cancel my gym membership before. This feature is one I can appreciate since gym memberships can be a huge hassle to cancel remotely.

Does Trim catch all recurring charges?

I went into this review with a pretty good grasp of the recurring charges that I pay. I was mostly curious to see how many of them the website algorithm would catch.

Trim found many of the biggies instantly.

But I was a little disappointed it didn’t catch items like my Hulu subscription through Apple iTunes.

The FAQ page states that Trim first identifies popular merchants like Netflix that use recurring payments. Then, it goes back through your bills monthly. The algorithm may pick up on other merchants after a few billing cycles.

I reached out to Trim via Twitter to see if there’s a reason Apple iTunes didn’t appear. I figured that would be one of the more popular merchants.

They got back to me the same day. It seems as though Apple charges can be hit or miss.

Extra Trim features

Trim has a few additional bells and whistles. You can review recent transactions of your financial accounts by merchant and category time.

Trim also offers other savings tools. For auto insurance, there’s a section on the site where you can type in your car’s make, model, and year to shop for cheaper insurance rates. You can also look for better Comcast deals through the account dashboard to potentially negotiate a better contract.

How Much It Costs

The Trim website is currently free to use. You’re probably wondering — what’s the catch?

Trim is really free. There are plans to roll out a paid financial advising component. But the basic Trim subscription review and cancellation service is supposed to remain free of cost.

Trim Security

According to Trim, the service uses Plaid security to connect to your financial institutions. This means Trim does not store the usernames and passwords used to access your financial accounts.

Instead, the credentials are sent through Plaid directly to your bank or credit card issuer to retrieve your transaction history. The transaction data Trim uses is read-only so that no changes can be made to your accounts. Trim also uses 256-bit SSL encryption for its own site and databases.

Pros and Cons

Now, for the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • The service is free.
  • Trim finds monthly recurring costs that you may have forgotten.
  • You can delete your Trim account at any time.
  • You can connect Trim to over 20,000 financial institutions.
  • You can correspond with Trim via messaging, which makes managing your account easy.
  • The Trim Twitter account responds quickly if you have questions.

Cons:

  • Trim may not pick up on all sneaky expenses right away.
  • Although there are security measures in place, connecting your financial accounts could be a deal-breaker if you’re extra cautious.
  • Ideally, you want to pay enough attention to your bank and credit card accounts to spot sneaky charges on your own. Trim is a nice shortcut to see if you’re missing anything, but for the long term, try to get into the habit of monitoring your statements.

The Final Verdict

Overall, Trim is an easy-to-use tool that can help you make sure there are no subscriptions from many moons ago still posting to your account.

However, Trim did not catch my iTunes Hulu membership initially, so I suggest you plan to keep your account open for at least a few months to give the algorithm time to identify money leaks.

Taylor Gordon
Taylor Gordon |

Taylor Gordon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Taylor at taylor@magnifymoney.com

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16 States Offering Sales Tax Holidays in 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The back-to-school season can be an exciting but expensive time.

Buying school supplies adds up, even before new clothes, backpacks, and shoes join the list. Needs such as a new laptop, textbooks, or graphing calculator can cause costs to escalate.

The good news is that for the last 20 years, some states have offered holidays on which they don’t collect state sales taxes on many items on your back-to-school shopping list.

Craig Shearman, vice president for government affairs public relations for the National Retail Federation, a retail trade federation, says consumers can save about 5% to 10% during sales-tax holidays. Actual savings for consumers depend on the state sales tax rate in their state.

Sales Tax Holidays 2017

This year, 16 of the 45 states that collect sales taxes are offering tax holidays, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators, an organization that provides research, training, and other resources to state-tax administrators. Most of these holidays revolve around school-related purchases, though some states also have other tax holidays throughout the year for things like disaster preparedness items, firearms, hunting supplies, or energy- and water-saving appliances.

Here’s a schedule of upcoming tax holidays by state:

How does a tax holiday work?

Sales-tax weekends are a set period of time in which the state doesn’t collect typical sales tax on certain items up to a certain dollar amount. Each state defines what will be exempt during the holiday, but common items for July and August holidays include clothing, shoes, school supplies, and personal computers.

Eight states holding tax holidays this year are doing so during the first weekend of August to help families buy back-to-school items. For example, Florida isn’t collecting sales tax on school supplies that are less than $15, clothing, footwear, and certain accessories that are less than $60, and personal computers and computer-related accessories less than $750.

Things to watch out for: Timing and spending caps

Just because a state offered a tax holiday in the past doesn’t mean its residents can expect to get one in the future. Georgia is not having tax holidays this year, after having two in 2016 that covered back-to-school supplies and Energy Star and WaterSense appliances. It’s the first time since 2012 Georgia will not have a tax holiday.

Previous sales-tax holidays in Georgia have helped mom Cheri Melone, 45, save on school supplies, lunchboxes, and backpacks for her sons, ages 11 and 3. Melone, who lives in Watkinsville, Ga., estimates she saved about $10 to $20 per child each year.

“It’s disappointing,” Melone says. “I know a lot of my friends that have big families, they wait for that weekend to go shopping.”

Massachusetts lawmakers are still determining whether the state will have a tax holiday this year. The state canceled its 2016 holiday after a Department of Revenue report found that the 2015 holiday caused it to miss out on $25.51 million in revenue.

In addition to double-checking if and when a state’s holiday is happening, shoppers will want to familiarize themselves with the holiday’s limits: The holidays only apply to certain items and often impose tax-free spending limits. And even though a state isn’t collecting sales tax during this period doesn’t mean that shoppers won’t see taxes added to their bill at checkout. Some states allow counties, cities, and districts to choose if they want to stop collecting their specific sales taxes during the holiday. In 2017, 49 of Missouri’s 114 counties will collect county sales taxes during the state’s back-to-school sales-tax holiday.

Beyond that, not all retailers may participate. Retailers in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia are required to participate in the tax holidays. New Mexico does not require retailers to participate. Missouri lets retailers opt out if less than 2% of their merchandise would qualify for the tax exemption. Florida lets retailers opt out if less than 5% of their 2016 sales were from items that would be exempt during the 2017 back-to-school tax holiday.

Guides to the sales tax holiday in Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, and Mississippi don’t specify if retailers are required to participate.

What are the pros and cons of tax holidays?

Shearman says the events benefit retailers by bringing customers into the store and help consumers by saving them money.

“Because [consumers are] excited about the prospect of what amounts to a sale going on, they’ll be in that frame of mind, and they will buy other things that are there that are not tax exempt,” Sherman says. “So the boost in sales per items that are still being taxed very often offsets the tax revenue lost from the tax-free items.”

However, economists like Ron Alt from the Federation of Tax Administrators says he thinks it is a bad tax policy because states lose the revenue. Also, retailers may mark up prices for the holiday to make money off the hype of a tax-free weekend, says Alt, senior manager of economic and tax research.

A March 2017 study from economists at the Board of Governors at the Federal Reserve System found that tax holidays boosted retail sales throughout the whole month.

Shearman says that while 5% to 10% saved is “relatively small,” it can help families that are financially stretched.

Georgeanne Gonzalez, 32, an Athens, Ga., mom who buys school supplies for her two children and her niece, says the state’s tax-free weekends helped her out a lot in the past as the school supply lists grew.

“It made it a lot easier when having three children to buy school supplies for,” she says.

Jana Lynn French
Jana Lynn French |

Jana Lynn French is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jana Lynn here

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Ultimate Guide to Maximizing Your 401(k)

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Employee Contributions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maximum personal contributions

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

2. Employer Matching Contributions

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

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

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

3. Employer Non-Matching Contributions

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

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

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

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

4. Non-Roth After-Tax Contributions

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

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

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

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

Here’s how they work:

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

A quick example to illustrate how the taxation works:

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

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

But they can be uniquely valuable in two big ways:

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

How to Maximize Your 401(k) Employer Match

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

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

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

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

How a 401(k) Employer Match Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Find Your 401(k) Employer Matching Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitfall #1: Vesting

Clock time deadline

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

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

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

Three things to know about vesting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitfall #2: Front-Loading Contributions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Contribute More Than Is Needed for Your Employer Match

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

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

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

3 big questions to answer:

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

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

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

Let’s dive in.

What Other Retirement Accounts Are Available to You?

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

IRA

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

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

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

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

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

Health Savings Account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backdoor Roth IRA

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

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

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

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

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

Taxable Investment Account

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

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

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

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

There are a few big factors to consider:

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

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

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

The Bottom Line: Maximize Your 401(k)

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

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

Matt Becker
Matt Becker |

Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt at matt@magnifymoney.com

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7 Money Moves New Empty Nesters Should Make Now

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrink your lifestyle

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

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

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

Review your insurance policies

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

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

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

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

Put your newfound money toward any outstanding debts

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

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

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

Don’t sacrifice your retirement goals to pay for college

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

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

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

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

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

Plan for long-term health care needs

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

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

Learn to say NO

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

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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5 Ways to Protect Your Money on Summer Vacation

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Summer vacations should be a time to relax and recharge your batteries. It’s also a time to socialize more, travel more, and fly to exotic destinations.

For those who are traveling long distances (especially to another country) during the summer, there are a few precautions you need to take to ensure that you protect your money. If you set these in place, you can relax a bit more and, hopefully, have more fun on your trip.

Tell Bank and Credit Card Companies About Your Travel Plans

If you don’t tell your bank or credit card company that you’re planning on traveling, they may think all those purchases you’ve made are faulty. Unfortunately, that means that you may lose access to your credit or debit card.

It only takes a few minutes to call these places and let them know about your plans. Doing so is even more important for those planning on traveling overseas. When you call, let them know the places you plan on visiting and how long your trip will last.

Only Bring the Necessities in Your Wallet

If you have a lot of cards and IDs in your wallet, only take what you will use on your trip. For example, bring a credit card, a backup credit card, and an ATM or debit card if you plan on withdrawing cash. If you need to, bring your driver’s license.

To prevent identity theft, leave your Social Security card at home in case your wallet gets stolen. If you think you might need it for any reason, photocopy it and black-out the last four digits. In fact, it’s a good idea to make photocopies of credit and bank cards you’ll be taking with you on your trip, as well as your IDs (including the passport data page) to keep on hand. You can also give copies of those, as well as your travel itinerary, to a trusted friend or family member at home in case of an emergency.

The less you have in your wallet, the less of a hassle it will be if you do need to replace your cards if they get stolen. It’s even better if you put your credit cards and IDs in separate locations so you don’t lose all access to cash during your trip.

Use Your Credit Card as Much as Possible

Most credit cards will protect you from liability for fraudulent purchases, which is helpful in case your card is lost or stolen. Also, if you make most of your major purchases on your credit card (such as hotel and flights), you may be eligible for travel insurance. Of course, that depends on the terms on your credit card.

Using credit cards instead of cash means that you can recoup your losses much faster. If someone stole cash from your wallet, the chances of getting that money back are pretty slim. However, if you have a credit card stolen, all future purchases made will not be your responsibility.

If you want to save money on pesky exchange fees, make sure to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. That means you’re only paying the exchange rate on the day you make a purchase. You can even consider using a cash back or travel rewards card to earn points while you travel. Some cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, allow you to earn 2x points on travel and dining purchases.

Watch Out for Fake ATMs

There may be times when you need to get cash during your vacation. With thousands of ATM machines around the world, there’s no shortage of access. However, you’ll want to make sure that the machine you’re getting your cash from is a legitimate one.

Unfortunately, thieves like to put fake ATM machines in high traffic tourist areas. What happens is they end up stealing your card information and all your money along with it. In 2010, a man in Beijing was arrested for installing a fake ATM machine near a corner store. Unsuspecting passers-by would use the machine, get an “out of order” message, and later discover their accounts had been drained.

If you’re unsure about the ATM machine, don’t use it. The Beijing fraudster went to some trouble to make his ATM look legit, even adding signage like “24 hours self-service,” according to media reports. But there were some pretty clear giveaways to show the Beijing machine was a fake — the money slot was sealed shut, the security camera was a piece of plastic, and the receipt slot was sealed.

To play it safe, it might be better to avoid stand-alone ATMs and stick to ATMs that are located in airports, transportation hubs, hotels, or banks.

You can even do a bit of research beforehand and look up ATM machine locations on your bank or credit card website. For example, Visa and MasterCard show locations of their ATM machines around the world. You can easily do a search and know which one you can head to.

Also, consider keeping only a small amount of cash in the account linked to your debit card. Even if your account is compromised, a thief won’t get away with much.

Keep Up with Your Purchases from Your Trip

There’s nothing wrong with relaxing, but you still need to be alert on your trip. Whenever you purchase something, check the receipt to make sure all charges are accounted for or you got the right change if you paid in cash. If you have online bank access, check to see if all charges are actually yours.

Also, you’ll want to be as organized as possible. Aside from only bringing the necessities in your wallet, make sure you can access your things easily in your purse or bag. If you have to search in your bag a lot, you may end up misplacing important documents or lose valuable items.

It’s also a good idea to review your credit card and bank statements when you get back from your trip if you weren’t able to check it during your trip. If there is fraudulent activity, report it right away.

Final Thoughts

Protecting your money on your summer vacation doesn’t have to be stressful or take a lot of time. As long as you take some precautions and are careful in your surroundings, you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation much more.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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6 Things You Need to Know About Amazon Prime Day

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Online shoppers are gearing up for Amazon’s third annual Prime Day — a period of deep discounts on many Amazon items in mid-July. Since the company began Prime Day three years ago, it’s become the summertime answer to Black Friday.

But what’s all the fuss really about? In years past, there have been complaints that the site’s sale items aren’t all that exciting, with the hottest items selling out too quickly for many to take advantage of the deals.

Amazon hasn’t said much about what 2017’s Prime Day will look like, but to help you prepare, here are some things you need to know.

Q: When is Amazon Prime Day?

A: July 10-11

Prime Day kicks off at 9 p.m. EST on July 10, when the best deals will be posted online, and run for the next 30 hours.

New deals will be offered every five minutes, according to Amazon.

Q: Where can I find the best deals on Amazon Prime Day?

Electronics

Benjamin Glaser, features editor at DealNews, says that last year, Amazon Prime shoppers saved about 30% to 40% on electronics. Globally, people bought over 90,000 TVs, and in the U.S., people bought over 200,000 headphones during the 2016 Prime Day, according to an Amazon press release. However, Glaser cautions that TV deals tend to sell out fast.

It’s a safe bet that the best deals will be on Amazon-branded electronics, such as the Echo, Kindle, Fire tablets, and Fire TV products.

Glaser is anticipating seeing $15 off of the Fire TV Stick, which is currently at $39.99. The Echo, priced at $179.99, dropped to $129.99 on Monday June 26 for the day — the best deal on it this year.

It’s also likely that there will be deals on electronics that tie into the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, such as Philips Hue smart lights products — the starter kit is priced at $173.99 — and smart thermostats such as Nest, which is currently $246.85 (at the time of this writing).

Toys and more

Also, considering that 2 million toys and 1 million pairs of shoes were bought globally last Prime Day, it’s also likely there will be deals in those departments.

For example, among the best deals last year was $699 for the Segway miniPRO Smart Self Balancing Personal Transporter, which at the time was the lowest price for it on Amazon by $300, according to DealNews. The game Exploding Kittens: A Card Game was also on sale for $15, the lowest price on Amazon by $9 at the time.

Expect some products to have record low prices for Amazon.

“We have confirmed over the last two years that a lot of the prices rival the best prices we see on the site all year,” Glaser says.

Q: How long will deals last on Amazon Prime Day?

A: Amazon promises new deals every 5 minutes starting at 9 p.m. EST on July 10.

Some deals will expire in mere minutes, while others will last several hours, and some will last for the duration of the sale event. Each deal will have a timer that shows how long it is available.

Q: How do I know when an item goes on sale?

A: The Amazon App specifically includes a feature called “Watch a Deal” that will let you know when a deal you’re interested in is about to go live.

You also can join a waitlist (by selecting that button on the page) for deals that are 100% claimed.

Q: Do I need to be an Amazon Prime member?

A: You must be an Amazon Prime member to access the Prime Day deals. A Prime membership costs $99 a year or $10.99 per month and includes a number of other perks. Recently, Amazon announced a reduced price for Prime membership for low-income households.

“So, if that [$10.99] is less than what you think you’ll save on the stuff you want to buy [on Prime Day], then it’s a worthwhile investment,” Glaser says.

Amazon also offers a 30-day free trial, so if you haven’t had Prime before, you can use that to participate in Prime Day.

“This might be a good month to give Prime a test drive and see if you get good value out of it,” Glaser says.

Q: How will I know when they announce deals?

A: Glaser says Amazon will likely soon start releasing ads for some of the deals, so keep an eye out for them. Look particularly at Amazon products, electronics, small kitchen appliances, and shoes. Plan what you want to buy and set a shopping budget.

Since some deals will only be available for a certain time, you might want to set alerts for items. If you don’t already have an app that you use to track prices on Amazon, Glaser recommends the free apps CamelCamelCamel or If This Then That.

With all of the deals, it will be easy to buy things you weren’t planning on and don’t need. Glaser cautions against getting swept up in these deals and recommends sticking to your budget on Prime Day.

“If you see something that’s 95% off, you might spring to buy it and not really think about how much money you’re still spending, and whether it’s something you actually want,” Glaser says.

Jana Lynn French
Jana Lynn French |

Jana Lynn French is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jana Lynn here

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RANKED: The 10 Best Options When You Need Cash Fast

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

What happens when your emergency fund isn’t enough?

Long-term unemployment or a medical emergency can easily dry up a once-healthy rainy day fund, leaving consumers wondering where to turn next. According to a recent consumer expectations survey by the New York Federal Reserve, only one in three Americans say they wouldn’t be able come up with $2,000 within a month to cover an unexpected expense.

It’s during times of vulnerability like this that it’s easy to jump at seemingly quick and easy sources of cash, like payday lenders, credit cards, or even your 401(k).

Unfortunately, practically every potential source of cash that doesn’t come from your own piggy bank is going to cost you in some way.

But at this point, it’s all about choosing the lesser of all evils — when all you have are crummy options, how do you decide which one is the best of the worst?

We’ve ranked common sources of emergency short-term cash from best to worst, which can help you sort through your borrowing options when your savings dry up.

#1 Personal loan from family and friends

It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have with a loved one, but asking a friend or relative for a small loan can be a far better idea than turning to high-interest credit debt, or worse, payday lenders. Unless they’re offering, it doesn’t have to be an interest-free loan. Agree on an interest rate that seems fair and is lower than what you’d find through a bank or other lender.

Because you have a relationship already, you may have an easier time convincing them to lend you money versus a bank that would make the decision after doing a credit check and evaluating other financial information.

#2 (tie) Lender-backed personal loan

A personal loan can be a solid borrowing option if you need money in a pinch or you’re looking to consolidate other debt. The process to apply for a personal loan is similar to applying for a credit card or auto loan, in that the lender will run your credit and offer you a certain rate based on your creditworthiness.

If your credit is poor, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the running for a personal loan, but it will cost you in the form of much higher interest charges. For example, Lending Club offers loans with APRs from 5.99% to 35.85%, but it’s willing to lend to people with a credit score as low as 600. You can get rates from multiple lenders without impacting your credit score here.

Why choose a personal loan over a credit card? It really comes down to math. If you can find a personal loan that will cost less in the long term than using a credit card, then go for it. Use this personal loan calculator to estimate how much a loan will cost you over time. Then, run the same figures through this credit card payoff calculator.

#2 (tie) Credit cards

If your need for cash is truly short-term and you have enough income to pay it off quickly, then credit card debt can be a decent option. This option gets even better if you can qualify for a card with a 0% interest offer. The card will let you buy some time by allowing you to cover your essentials while you work on paying off the balance.

Because the debt is unsecured, unlike an auto title loan, you aren’t putting your assets at risk if you can’t pay.

#3 Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

You may be able to leverage the equity in your home to cover short-term emergency needs. A HELOC, or home equity line of credit, is a revolving credit line extended to a homeowner using your home as collateral. How much you can take out will depend on your home’s value, your remaining mortgage balance, your household income, and your credit score. A home equity line of credit may allow you to borrow the maximum amount, or only as much as you need. You will also be responsible for the costs of establishing and maintaining the home equity line of credit. You can learn more about these here.

You’ll choose the repayment schedule and can set that for less than 10 years or more than 20 years, but the entire balance must be paid in full by the end of the loan term. You’ll pay interest on what you borrow, but you may be able to deduct it from your income taxes. Keep in mind that if you are unemployed, it will be unlikely that you’ll be approved for a HELOC.

HELOC vs. Personal loans

Because home equity lines of credit are secured against the borrower’s home, if you default on your home equity line of credit, your lender can foreclose on your home. Personal loans, on the other hand, are usually unsecured, so, while failure to make your payments on time will adversely impact your credit, none of your personal property is at risk.

#4 A 401(k) loan

A 401(k) loan may be a good borrowing option if you’re in a financial pinch and are still employed. And it is a far better bet than turning to a payday lender or pawn shop for a loan. Because you’re in effect borrowing from yourself, any interest you pay back to the account is money put back in your retirement fund. You are allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of the total amount of money in your account, whichever is less. Typically, 401(k) loans have to be repaid within five years, and you’ll need to make payments at least quarterly.

But there are some cons to consider. If you get laid off or change jobs, a 401(k) loan immediately becomes due, and you’ll have 60 days to repay the full loan amount or put the loan funds into an IRA or other eligible retirement plan. If you don’t make the deadline, the loan becomes taxable income and the IRS will charge you another 10% early withdrawal penalty.

#5 Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) withdrawal

Generally, withdrawing funds from your retirement savings is a big no-no, because you’re going to miss out on any gains you might have enjoyed had you kept your money in the market. On top of that, there are fees and tax penalties, which we’ll cover in the next section.

But there is an exception: the Roth IRA or Roth 401(k).

Because funds contributed to Roth accounts are taxed right away, you won’t face any additional tax or penalties for making a withdrawal early. The caveat is that you can only withdraw from the principal amount you’ve contributed — you’re not allowed to withdraw any of the investment gains your contributions have earned without facing taxes and penalties.

However, it is still true that any money you take out is money that will not have a chance to grow over time, so you will still miss out on those earnings.

#6 Traditional 401(k) or IRA withdrawal

Experts typically recommend against borrowing from your 401(K) or IRA, but when you’re in desperate need of cash, it may be your best option.

Just understand the risks.

If you withdraw funds from a traditional retirement account before age 59 1/2 , the money will be taxed as income, and you’ll be charged a 10% early distribution penalty tax by the IRS. You may want to speak with a tax professional to estimate how much you’ll have to pay in taxes and take out more than you need to compensate for that loss. There’s no exception to the income tax, but there are a number of exceptions to the 10% penalty, such as qualified education expenses or separation from service — when you leave a company, whether by retirement, quitting, or getting fired or laid off — at 55 years or older.

When you take that money out, not only will you lose out on potential tax-deferred investment growth, but you’ll also lose a huge chunk of your retirement savings to taxes and penalties.

#7 Reverse mortgage

Homeowners 62 years old and older have another option for cash in a pinch: a reverse mortgage. With a reverse mortgage, your property’s equity is converted into (usually) tax-free payments for you. You can take the money up front as a line of credit, receive monthly payments for a fixed term or for as long as you live in the home, or choose a mix of the options. You keep the title, but the lender pays you each month to buy your home over time.

In most cases, you won’t be required to repay the loan as long as you’re still living in your home. You’ll also need to stay current on obligations like homeowners insurance, real estate taxes, and basic maintenance. If you don’t take care of those things, the lender may require you to pay back the loan.

The loan becomes due when you pass away or move out, and the home must be sold to repay the loan. If you pass away, and your spouse is still living in the home but didn’t sign the loan agreement, they’ll be allowed to continue living on the property, but won’t receive any more monthly payments. When they pass away or move out, the home will be sold to repay the loan.

The reverse mortgage may take a month or longer to set up, but once you get the paperwork set you can choose to take a line of credit, which could serve as an emergency fund, advises Columbus, Ohio-based certified financial planner Tom Davison.

He says the reverse mortgage’s advantages lie in the fact that it doesn’t need to be paid back until the homeowner permanently leaves the house, and it can be paid down whenever the homeowner is able. You can also borrow more money later if you need it, as the line of credit will grow at the loan’s borrowing rate.

Take care to look at the fine print before you sign. Under current federal law, you’ll only have three days, called a right of rescission, to cancel the loan. Reverse mortgage lenders also usually charge fees for origination, closing, and servicing over the life of the mortgage. Some even charge mortgage insurance premiums. Also, if you pass away before the loan is paid back, your heirs will have to handle it.

#8 Payday loan alternatives

While regulators work to reign in the payday lending industry, a new crop of payday loan alternatives is beginning to crop up.

Services like Activehours or DailyPay allow hourly wage earners to get paid early based on the hours they’ve already worked. Activehours allows you to withdraw up to $100 each day and $500 per pay period, while DailyPay, which caters to delivery workers, has no cap. DailyPay tracks the hours logged by workers and sends a single payment with the day’s earnings, minus a fee ranging from 99 cents to $1.49.

Another alternative could be the Build Card by FS Card. The product targets customers with subprime credit scores and offers an initial low, unsecured $500 credit limit to borrowers, which increases as they prove creditworthiness. The card will cost you a $72 annual membership fee, a one-time account setup fee of $53, plus $6 per month just to keep it in your wallet. It also comes with a steep interest rate — 29.9%. After all of the initial fees, your initial available limit should be about $375.

#9 Pawn shop loans

Pawn shop loan interest charges can get up to 36% in some states and there are other fees you’ll have to pay on top of the original loan.

Pawn shops get a shady rap, but they are a safer bet than payday lenders and auto title loans. Here’s why: Because you are putting up an item as collateral for a payday loan, the worst that can happen is that they take possession of the item if you skip out on payments. That can be devastating, especially if you’ve pawned something of sentimental value. But that’s the end of the ordeal — no debt collectors chasing you (payday loans) and no getting locked out of your car and losing your only mode of transportation (title loans).

#10 Payday loans and auto title loans

We have, of course, saved the worst of the worst options for last.

When you borrow with a payday loan but can’t afford to pay it back within the standard two-week time frame, it can quickly become a debt trap thanks to triple-digit interest rates. According to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, only 14% of payday loan borrowers can afford enough out of their monthly budgets to repay an average payday loan. Some payday lenders offer installment loans, which require a link to your bank account and gives them access to your funds if you don’t pay.

Some payday lenders today require access to a checking account, meaning they can dip in and take money from your bank account if you miss a payment. Also, your payday loan will be reflected on your credit report. So if things end badly, your credit will suffer as well. They have no collateral, so payday lenders will continue to hound you if you miss payments.

And, of course, auto title lenders require you to put up your wheels as collateral for a loan. And if you rely heavily on your car to get to and from work, having it repossessed by a title lender could hurt you financially in more ways than one.

The loans are usually short-term — less than 30 days — so this might not be a good option for you if you don’t foresee a quick turnaround time for repayment. If your household depends on your car for transportation, you may not want to try this option as there is a chance you could lose your car. If you don’t repay the loan, the lender can take your vehicle and sell it to cover the loan amount.

One more thing to watch out for is the advertised interest rate. Auto title lenders will often advertise the monthly rate, not the annualized one. So a 20% interest rate for the month is actually a 240% APR.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Strategies to Save

9 Ways to Save Money on Your Summer Reading List

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Summer is the perfect season to tear through a stack of books. You might already be able to picture yourself sunbathing on a beach with a drink in one hand and a book in the other. Books are great but, like summer vacation, they aren’t free.

Books are already a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment, but compared to a $15 movie ticket or $11.99 a month streaming subscription, spending around $20 on a book can be a hard sell. Luckily for you, and booklovers everywhere — there are plenty of ways you can save money on books.

Use these tips to save money as you cobble together your summer reading list.

Host a book swap

 

Get all of your favorite bookworms together with some cheese and crackers for a book swap at your place. Ask everyone to bring a few books that they wouldn’t mind parting with, and set them all out on a table. As you mix and mingle over food and drinks, you and your guests can browse the collection for new additions to your libraries. The best part about this party is you’ll have a great pool of candidates to ask for recommendations. When all’s said and done, you’ll have a number of new-to-you books to read, for next to nothing.

Read the classics

It takes 70 years after the author’s death for a book to enter the public domain, so many classic texts can be shared and copied for free. Check sites like The Public Domain Review and Project Gutenberg to get free copies of classic titles. Gutenberg even has user-recorded audio versions of books.

Use a subscription service

Subscription services can be a great way to save money on books after the free trial ends. Depending on your price level and how much you read, paying for a monthly subscription could end up significantly cheaper than buying a book each time you’d like to read one.

For example, as an Audible subscriber, you’ll pay $14.95 for access to the library, plus get one book credit per month, which you can use to buy any book. If you’re subscribed to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service for $9.99 a month, you can read an unlimited number of books in a month, but only keep 10 books on your device at a time. As another example, an $8.99 Scribd subscription gives credits for three books and one audiobook each month and unlimited access to magazines and documents.

If you’re a fan of subscription boxes, you can try a subscription box service like OwlCrate and or a number of book subscription boxes available on Quarterly. The prices and packages will range widely depending on your taste, and some boxes even add in goodies for booklovers. OwlCrate’s subscription boxes, for example, start at $29.99 and come with one new hardcover Young Adult novel and three to five items inside each monthly box. In contrast, Quarterly’s Literary Box sends once every three months and costs $50 per box, but it comes with at least three books hand-picked by the box’s featured author, and a handwritten note from that author.

Get a free advanced review copy

If you’re a particularly voracious reader, and don’t mind sharing your opinion, you may be interested in getting advance copies of books in exchange for reviews online. A number of book-related sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing host early review programs. Publishers do too, but you’ll need some insider knowledge. Sign up to receive newsletters from publishers like HarperCollins and Penguin Random House for information on how to get advanced copies.

If you’re a book blogger, you may want to consider signing up for a blog tour — when authors go from blog to blog to promote their books or organize a mass posting by several book bloggers about the upcoming title — with a company like Blogging for Books or TLC Book Tours. Finally, if you’re interested in making a little money for your reviews, you can sign up with a publishing house or use websites like Online Book Club or Nothing Binding. You probably won’t make enough to quit your day job, but at least you’ll be paid to do something you enjoy. For example, Online Book Club’s site says you won’t be paid for your first review, but after that, you’ll be paid $5 to $60 per review.

The main downside to doing this is that you may not enjoy all of the books sent to you to read.

Share a Kindle library

If you use Amazon Kindle, you can share Kindle books, apps, games, and audiobooks with friends or family members pretty easily, and you don’t have to be an Amazon Prime member to use this feature. If you want to share with friends, you can lend a book from your Kindle library to theirs for up to 14 days. Just go to your Kindle Store and select the title you want to loan out. Then enter the borrower’s email address and hit send. Beware: They have to delete the book from their Kindle Library for you to get it back. Also keep in mind a Kindle book can only be loaned once, so if anyone else asks you to borrow the title, they’re out of luck.

If you want to get your entire family reading, try a Family Library. It requires at least two adults with Amazon accounts to join an Amazon Household, you both can then add child accounts. You and the other adult will see all of the books in the Library, while the children will only be able to see “shared” books. You can also share Kindle books borrowed from a public library and those loaned to you via personal lending.

Use the 72-hour rule

Journalist and money expert Carl Richards came up with the “72-hour rule” to hack his bad habit of buying every book he wanted on Amazon, ending up with a pile of unread titles.

Now, Richards says he lets a book sit in his shopping cart for at least 72 hours before hitting “buy.” The trick helps him save money on books because he only buys books he’ll actually read. You can apply a similar rule to your purchasing process to save on books yourself. The 72-hour time frame isn’t set in stone. You can set the wait for as long as you need, as long as it gives you enough buffer time to think about your purchase before you buy.

If you can empathize with Richards’ problem in other areas of your budget, you may want to check out what we wrote about how you can apply the 72-hour rule to your spending habits here.

Buy used books

Used books are a great way to save on popular titles. Try visiting used bookstores or online book retailers like Amazon, eBay, thriftbooks.com, or AbeBooks.com for used reads. They’re typically cheaper than brand new ones, but hold the same great content. The downside to this savings strategy is you’ll probably have to wait to get the physical book shipped to you before you can read it. In that case, always look for free shipping to save.

Unfortunately, this strategy may not work for you if you’re strictly a digital reader.

Get a book for free online

You could get several books for free this summer just by knowing your way around the web.

As of this writing, signing up for a subscription service like Audible or Scribd will usually earn you a free book or at least a couple of weeks on a free trial. These are great options if your budget is too tight to afford a subscription and you can knock out a book in the two weeks before the free trial ends. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can get one free book a month from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.

Visit a public library

You’re probably well aware of this resource since it’s funded with your tax dollars, but here’s a quick reminder to support your local library. You can visit your local library to borrow as many books as you want for free. All you need to borrow books is a library card, which is also free. If you don’t know where your local library is located, you can consult Google or check out the database on PublicLibraries.com.

You might not even need to leave your house to borrow a book from your local library. If your library offers e-book lending, you could log in to your account on their site and borrow a book for free from the comfort of your couch. Search OverDrive.com or the Libby app (by OverDrive) on any device to find and borrow e-books available for lending near you. You’ll need a student ID or library card number to borrow, then you can download the e-books to read offline on all of your devices, including the Kindle or Kindle app, Nook, or another e-reader for the lending period.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Life Events, Strategies to Save

Here’s How to Withdraw Your Savings When You Finally Retire

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

There isn’t a shortage of material on how to build up your retirement nest egg. But once you get it, and you’re ready to retire, how do you actually spend it? Withdrawing from your retirement account (also referred to as “taking a distribution”) isn’t as simple as withdrawing from an ATM. In fact, there is an entire strategy as to which account you should take from first, when you should file for Social Security, and how much to withdraw each year.

The main objective of retirement is to have your money outlive you; and making your money last throughout retirement is harder now than it used to be. This can be attributed to three big factors: people are living longer, the number of pension plans are declining, and the costs of living and health care are rising. If your retirement savings isn’t large enough, you could be forced to go back to work, assuming you’re physically capable to do so, or rely on family.

Also, taking from the wrong account could result in losing some of your money to taxes; withdrawing too much can shorten your money’s overall lifespan. Here are some key points you’ll want to know.

Key Rules to Follow

Age matters

Generally speaking, you cannot start withdrawing from pre-tax retirement accounts like a 401(k), 403(b), or traditional IRA until age 59½ without a penalty. This does not apply to Roth accounts, however. You are allowed to withdraw any principal funds from your Roth accounts without penalty because you paid taxes up front on those funds — you just can’t withdraw any of the gains you’ve earned over the years. To keep everything simple, we’ll assume that you’re already over 59½ and all of your retirement savings are in tax advantaged accounts like a 401(k).

Don’t cash out everything at once

Let’s go back to our original assumption that you’re over 59½ and ready to retire. One of the biggest mistakes would be to liquidate all of your account into a lump sum. This causes two problems.

First of all, taxes. Taking large lump-sum distributions could leave you with a very large tax bill because whatever you withdraw will be treated as additional income. The second problem is that once you liquidate your investments, that means they are no longer growing. It may be a mistake to become too conservative with your investments in retirement, because many of us will live well into our 80s. With potentially 20 years ahead of you, you’ll want your money to keep growing, keep beating inflation, and give you the best shot at not outliving your funds.

The solution: periodic distributions

It’s recommended that retirees take periodic distributions, usually on a monthly basis. This allows you to take a portion of your money out to spend while letting the remainder stay in the market to grow. Figuring out how much you’ll need can be tricky. Many retirees stick to the 4% rule, which seeks to provide steady income while preserving the principal. If you had $1 million saved, you could withdraw $40,000 each year. A person with a $1.25 million retirement savings withdrawing 4% could receive $50,000 per year.

It is considered a best practice to withdraw your investments proportionately, also known as pro rata. To understand what that means, say you have a retirement account with four investments: Stock A, Stock B, Stock C, and Stock D, and each of them makes up 25% of your portfolio, or $250,000 each, for a total of $1 million.

If you follow the 4% rule, you need to withdraw $40,000. It could be a mistake to take the full $40,000 from one single stock as this would throw off the allocation. Pro rata means that you would take $10,000 from each stock, which keeps your portfolio balanced.

Depending on how many investments you hold, calculating a pro rata distribution can become difficult. Your best bet is to consult a financial planner in your area or call your investment firm’s customer service line.

Don’t forget to factor in taxes

Remember, if you’re withdrawing from a pre-tax account, the amount you take out and the amount you actually receive will be different. These funds will be taxed as regular income in your top tax bracket. For example: If you need $2,000 per month to meet your needs, you may need to take out an amount closer to $2,500 to leave room to pay taxes.

Tap into non-retirement savings first

It’s common to have more than one retirement account. To avoid taking a tax hit, many financial experts recommend tapping into non-retirement savings first. “Very generally, and depending on your tax bracket, you should typically take money out of your non-retirement accounts first to keep your taxable income lower,” says Neal Frankle, CFP and blogger at Wealth Pilgrim.

This way, you can give your retirement funds an even longer time to grow before you’re ready (or forced by the required minimum distribution) to start making withdrawals.

Of course, this is an oversimplified strategy and won’t fit every case. Again, it’s wise to seek professional help, at least in the last few years before you retire, to map out a game plan. “This takes a little time and may cost a bit, but it is by far the best investment a pre-retiree can make in my experience,” says Frankle.

Delay Social Security withdrawals as long as possible

We’ve saved the best (worst?) for last. If trying to decide whether to dip into your savings account or 401(k) first was complicated, it doesn’t get much trickier than figuring out the right time to start tapping your Social Security.

In an ideal world, you would ignore your Social Security until at least age 70. That’s when you can capture your maximum benefit. The longer you wait to take Social Security, the more you will receive. Sure, you can start withdrawing funds at age 62, but you’ll only get 75% of your potential earnings.

To get 100% of your potential benefit (for those born between 1943 and 1954), you’ll have to wait till age 66.

But the deal gets even sweeter if you can hold off till 70, when you’ll get your full benefit plus another 32%.

Of course, that’s an ideal world.

In reality, most people start tapping their Social Security funds at age 62.

To visualize the benefit of delaying Social Security for as long as possible, check out this chart from Merrill Edge:

Planning Your Social Security Strategy

There are a lot of complexities attached to Social Security and when to start taking benefits; some of which include your tax bracket, life expectancy, marital status, and how much you’ve saved. The easiest way to help sort this out is to decide the amount of money you could live on each year. For some, this amount is 75%-80% of their pre-retirement income. Someone living on $60,000 might be comfortable with having about $48,000 per year in retirement. It is up to you and your financial planner to decide what combination of options can get you to that number.

But here are some things to consider:

If you’re married

The bulk of the complexities around Social Security are with married couples. When you tally up the options, married couples have dozens of strategies to choose from compared to a handful for singles.

The two main concepts you’ll want to be familiar with are the spousal benefit and the survivorship benefit.

The spousal benefit can allow a spouse to collect up to 50% of their spouse’s benefit based on the spouse’s full retirement age. This could allow for the higher earning spouse to wait to file later to receive the maximum benefit. You can look up your full retirement age here.

For example, Jack and Jill are married, and both are 66 years old. Jill earns significantly more than Jack, and her full retirement age for Social Security is 66. Jack could file Social Security on his own age and earnings history or for the spousal benefit. Since 50% of Jill’s benefit is higher than what he would have gotten on his own, he can file for the spousal benefit now, and Jill can file at age 70. This could help them maximize their total benefit as a couple.

The survivorship benefit is much more straightforward; it allows the surviving spouse to collect a portion of a deceased spouse’s benefits. You can learn more here.

If you’re single

Figuring out Social Security if you’re single can be a lot simpler. You could begin taking Social Security at 62 for a reduced benefit or wait until age 70 to get the highest possible payout. Those who are single due to death or divorce may have a few more options.

In the case of divorce, if you were married for at least 10 years and you have not remarried, you may be eligible to claim a spousal benefit. This is also the case for an ex-spouse who is deceased.

How much do you have saved?

This is perhaps the biggest component: the longer you wait to file for Social Security, the more you could earn. If your nest egg can cover the majority of your retirement lifestyle and your health is good, you may be better off waiting until later to start Social Security.

What’s a Required Minimum Distribution?

There’s also the pesky required minimum distribution (RMD) to consider. When it comes to any retirement funds that were set aside, tax deferred during your working years, the RMD rule makes sure that workers eventually withdraw those funds. Why? Because the IRS isn’t going to leave billions of tax dollars on the table forever.

In a nutshell, the RMD is the amount of money you have to begin withdrawing from your tax-deferred retirement accounts by age 70½. There’s a whole complex way to figure out what your RMD is exactly, but the truth is that you probably won’t have to worry about it.

In fact, most retirees who are living off of their retirement funds meet the RMD by default. Someone with $100,000 in a traditional IRA on December 31 of last year would have to withdraw about $3,780 if they turn 71 this year. If you’re close to 70½ and want to estimate your RMD, you can use this link.

Not taking your RMD, or less than what is required, from a traditional IRA or 401(k) will cost you. The IRS will levy a 50% penalty on the difference between the amount you withdrew and the amount you should have withdrawn.

What if you’ve got more than one retirement account?

If you have multiple traditional IRAs, your RMD will be calculated using the combined value of each account. This allows you to choose which IRA to withdraw from, or to divide the RMD between the accounts.

What if you’re still working in your 70s?

If you are still working beyond 70½, you do not have to take an RMD from your 401(k) until the year you retire. You would still have to take it from your traditional IRA whether you’re working or not. If you are not working and you still have old 401(k)s at different employers, you would be forced to calculate and withdraw the RMD amount from each account separately.

What about Roth retirement accounts?

The RMD rule does not apply to Roth accounts. “Your money grows tax-free in the account and will pass to heirs without any tax obligations,” says Joseph Hogue, a Chartered Financial Analyst. Roth accounts can be a great tool when you’re withdrawing because you have much more control of what you pay in income taxes while in retirement.

Kevin Matthews II
Kevin Matthews II |

Kevin Matthews II is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kevin here

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Pay Down My Debt, Strategies to Save

Create a Budget Designed Just for Dumping Debt

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Even if you hate spreadsheets and numbers, coming up with a debt-destroying budget can be simple with a single rule: always apply excess funds to debt.

This rule can work with two of the most common debt repayment methods: the debt snowball or the debt avalanche.

The debt snowball method attacks smaller debts first, regardless of interest rate. The goal is to motivate you with small victories in order to go on and gain confidence to pay off larger debts. The debt avalanche method focuses on paying down debt with the highest interest rate until you pay off the balance with the lowest interest rate.

How Much Can I Throw Toward My Debt?

The math for your budgeting process is super-simple: Monthly income minus monthly expenses equals the amount of extra money you can apply toward your debt each month. The emphasis is on extra money because you’ll still want to pay your minimum debt obligations to avoid getting behind on your payments.

Note: If you still need help with the math because you’ve got to actually figure out how much you spend each month, you can use an app that connects with your bank to add up all your expenses. Check out services like Mint.com, YNAB, or Personal Capital to help you get quick figures around your income and spending along with categories for each.

Though the math is not too complicated, the harder part could be increasing the gap between your income and expenses to actually have a surplus in your budget.

Unless you’ve got little to no wiggle room in your budget, you don’t have to start cutting expenses quite yet. However, there are some expenses that are discretionary and should be omitted from your equation until you’ve tamed your debt load.

For now, just get a baseline of what you should have left over at the end of each month once all your bills and expenses are accounted for. If it’s $15, great. Start there. If it’s more, even better.

Once you get this number, use it to pay more on your debt than is required. So if your minimum payment is normally $50, pay $65 with your $15 surplus. It can be the smallest debt or the account with the highest interest rate. What matters now is that you do something to get into the habit of making extra payments on debt and accounting for it in your monthly budget.

How to Apply This Rule in Various Scenarios

If you budget with a goal in mind, the purpose of your money becomes clearer. Any kind of money that turns out to be extra should be applied to debt to reduce your balances. But the key is being mindful of extra money, even when it doesn’t seem to be extra.

For example, getting a raise is a reason for some people to increase their standard of living. They might move to a place with a view or buy that lavish SUV they’ve been eyeing for a while. If you’ve committed extra funds to a purpose (paying off debt), the decision is made for you far in advance of you actually getting the money.

The same goes for your income tax refund check. You might bank on this money every time income tax filing season comes around. While many people are planning spring break trips and shopping sprees with this money, you’ve got to make up your mind that this money is already earmarked for debt repayment.

Finally, there’s always that unexpected windfall: an inheritance, a settlement, or any type of money you never saw coming. This might be one of the most difficult chunks of money to part with for the sake of paying off debt. After all, you didn’t know it was coming, and maybe you didn’t have to work too hard for it.

In this case, it’s pretty tempting to want to splurge and blow it all on something you think you deserve. Things can get complicated at this point. But if you keep following “the rule,” this money is technically already allocated, and your debt repayment budget suddenly becomes easier to stick with.

Keep Widening the Gap Between Income and Expenses

This is the fun part. Why? You get to be creative and have more control over your debt repayment timeline. Want to get out of debt fast? Then you’ll have to figure out how to make your income outpace your expenses. It could mean adding a side hustle to the mix or getting more aggressive with cutting out or decreasing expenses.

Adjusting Your Tax Withholdings

If you pocket a large tax refund each year, ask yourself why. It is likely because you are paying too much in income taxes throughout the year. If that’s the case, you can change your tax withholdings through your payroll department to keep more money in your pocket throughout the year. It will mean a smaller tax refund come tax time, but you’ll have more cash on hand to put toward your debt with each paycheck.

Use this IRS withholding calculator to estimate your withholdings.

Decrease Your Income Tax Liability

There are more than a few ways to decrease your income tax liability. From IRA contributions to tax tips for entrepreneurial endeavors and other tax credits and deductions, there should be one or more things you can do to owe less on your tax bill.

Cut Expenses Where You Can

There are so many ways to save money on so many things. You can start small with things like eating out and having cable and work up to saving money on housing costs or refinancing student loans.

Then there are the diehards who go full monty and go through full-on spending freezes on things like takeout and travel. The list of cost-cutting measures can get pretty long, but you get the point: Go through your spending with a fine-tooth comb and find out where you can save and what you could cut.

Increase Your Income

Creating another stream of income sounds gimmicky, but there are ways to do it without getting caught up in scams. You can find a part-time job, provide consulting services on the side, or even start a mini-business like dog walking or car washing. It shouldn’t be anything that will cost you tons up front to start, and it shouldn’t hinder your ability to keep your full-time job.

You may find that you have to try a few things before you come up with the perfect combination of low overhead, quick to start, and profitable. That’s OK. Just keep plugging away until something clicks. It’ll be more than worth it to add that extra income to the budget for paying off more debt even faster.

Remember the Golden Rule: Excess Cash Goes to Debt

It all comes down to committing your cash to a purpose ahead of time. No matter how your financial circumstance changes, you’ll know what to do when you’ve got a surplus of money.

You’ll have to come up with a list of things you are willing to do to increase your cash reserves, but if you keep the goal in mind of continually applying extra funds toward debt, you’ll save on interest and also pay down your debt faster.

Aja McClanahan
Aja McClanahan |

Aja McClanahan is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Aja here

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