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Investing

Should You Pay Off Debt or Save Your Money?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

You have a regular source of income, you’re paying your bills on time and you have some extra dollars left over each month. What should you do with that extra cash?

If you don’t have debt (lucky you!), then the choice is simple — save or invest as much as possible. If you have debt, however, the choice can be a bit murkier: Should you pay off your debt first or save? Here are some things to consider when asking yourself that question.

Three times that saving your money might be smarter

1. If you don’t have an emergency savings fund

Just when you’re cruising along, life can throw some unexpected and expensive curves your way. A sudden job loss, medical bills or car repairs can pop up out of the blue, and if you don’t have the funds to pay for them, you can end up seriously in the red. To cover unexpected costs, some may resort to high-interest credit cards and loans. Those kinds of moves can dig you into a financial hole that can take years to pay your way out of.

Saving up a healthy emergency fund can protect you in instances like these. How much should you save? Experts generally suggest that you should save an amount equal to between three and six months of living expenses. Depending on your individual circumstances, however, you may need more than that. (Check out this article to figure out how much to save and where to keep it.)

2. Your employer offers matching retirement contributions

If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that offers a retirement plan with matching contributions, then consider making that method of saving a priority.

For example, if your employer offers to match your contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 6% of your salary in a 401(k) plan, then contribute at least that much, if possible. The money can then grow in a tax-free or tax-deferred 401(k) until you withdraw it in retirement — all that compound interest can really add up over the years. If you don’t contribute up to that amount, you’re leaving free money on the table.

Note, however, that If you need to withdraw these funds early (before the age of 59 and a half and before the account is five years old) there will be penalties to pay. That makes this a better tool for long-term savings rather than for the short-term or as an emergency savings fund.

3. Your debt has a very low interest rate

Debt gets a bad rap — often for good reason — but in some cases, carrying your low-interest debt and investing or saving your funds instead may be more beneficial. For example, the current fixed interest rate for direct subsidized and unsubsidized student loans is 5.05%, and the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate is about 4.3%. The stock market, on the other hand, has gone up an average of 10% a year since 1926.

Beyond comparing interest rates, however, you also need to assess how much risk you’re willing to take and how much access to your savings that you’ll need. Of course, there are no guarantees that your investments will perform well, and paying down debt comes with zero risk. Savings accounts are a less risky saving option, but the average interest rate is often less than 1 or 2%. Other options, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs), have restrictions on how the funds can be used outside of retirement.

Four times debt repayment may be more beneficial

1. You have high-interest debt

It’s hard to get ahead of high-interest debt, because compound interest is working against you. Credit card interest rates, for example, average between 15 and 20% — an amount which adds up quickly. If you make the minimum payment, you may not even be making a dent in the principal amount owed, and you can spend years just paying interest. Calculators like this one can help you figure out just how much interest you’ll pay and how long it will take to pay off.

If you have high-interest debt, make sure you explore all the options for paying it down, including consolidating your debt and researching balance transfer cards.

2. Your debt doesn’t offer any benefits

Though your debt is costing you in interest, you might find that some loans may offer useful perks. For example, federal student loans may offer tax benefits and even loan forgiveness programs for eligible borrowers. Similarly, there are tax write-offs for mortgages and in many cases, the money you invest in a home will pay off down the line when you sell your property.

On the other hand, the debt on the credit card you maxed out to pay for that trip to Cabo comes with no benefits — just a bunch of interest. High-interest debt with no benefits should be at the top of your pay-off priority list.

3. You want to raise your credit score

While there are many factors that go into determining your credit score, the amount of debt you carry is an important component. If you plan to buy a home or secure a loan in the near future, take a look at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which many lenders consider before approving you for a loan. If your DTI is high, you may want to consider paying off some debt before applying for that new loan, which may result in lower interest rates for you later.

4. Your debt stresses you out

Debt can take an emotional and physical toll on people, ranging from depression to insomnia and more. When it feels like a black cloud hanging over your head and it’s affecting your life in negative ways, it may be in your best interest to prioritize paying debt off first.

Should you pay off debt or save?

Of course, saving vs. paying off debt early doesn’t have to be an either/or situation — ideally, you can do both at the same time. If, however, a choice must be made between the two, there are many factors to consider. As with most financial moves, there are no cut-and-dry rules, and the best one for you will depend on your individual circumstances.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Julie Ryan Evans
Julie Ryan Evans |

Julie Ryan Evans is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julie here

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Investing

How to Make Money in Stocks

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Putting money in the market is well-worn financial advice for a reason: Investing in stocks is one of the best steps you can take toward building wealth.But how, exactly, is that wealth built? How is money earned by purchasing stock market holdings, and what can you do to maximize the gains you make from your own portfolio?

How to make money in stocks: 5 best practices

The way the stock market works — and works for you — is as simple as a high school economics class. It’s all about supply and demand, and the way those factors affect value.

Investors purchase market assets like stocks (shares of companies), which increase in value when the company does well. As the company in question makes financial progress, more investors want a piece of the action, and they’re willing to pay more for an individual share.

That means that the share you paid for has now increased in price, thanks to higher demand — which in turn means you can earn something when it comes time to sell it. (Of course, it’s also possible for stocks and other market holdings to decrease in value, which is why there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment.)

Along with the profit you can make by selling stocks, you can also earn shareholder dividends, or portions of the company’s earnings. Cash dividends are usually paid on a quarterly basis, but you might also earn dividends in the form of additional shares of stock.

Micro-mechanics of how stocks earn money aside, you likely won’t see serious growth without heeding some basic market principles and best practices. Here’s how to ensure your portfolio will do as much work for you as possible.

1. Take advantage of time

Although it’s possible to make money on the stock market in the short term, the real earning potential comes from the compound interest you earn on long-term holdings. As your assets increase in value, the total amount of money in your account grows, making room for even more capital gains. That’s how stock market earnings increase over time exponentially.

But in order to best take advantage of that exponential growth, you need to start building your portfolio as early as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to start investing as soon as you’re earning an income — perhaps by taking advantage of a company-sponsored 401(k) plan.

To see exactly how much time can affect your nest egg, let’s look at an example. Say you stashed $1,000 in your retirement account at age 20, with plans to hang up your working hat at age 70. Even if you put nothing else into the account, you’d have over $18,000 to look forward to after 50 years of growth, assuming a relatively modest 6% interest rate. But if you waited until you were 60 to make that initial deposit, you’d earn less than $800 through compound interest — which is why it’s so much harder to save for retirement if you don’t start early. Plus, all that extra cash comes at no additional effort on your part. It just requires time — so go ahead and get started!

2. Continue to invest regularly

Time is an important component of your overall portfolio growth. But even decades of compounding returns can only do so much if you don’t continue to save.

Let’s go back to our retirement example above. Only this time, instead of making a $1,000 deposit and forgetting about it, let’s say you contributed $1,000 a year — which comes out to less than $20 per week.

If you started making those annual contributions at age 20, you’d have saved about $325,000 by the time you celebrated your 70th birthday. Even if you waited until 60 to start saving, you’d wind up with about $15,000 — a far cry from the measly $1,800 you’d take out if you only made the initial deposit.

Making regular contributions doesn’t have to take much effort; you can easily automate the process through your 401(k) or brokerage account, depositing a set amount each week or pay period.

3. Set it and forget it — mostly

If you’re looking to see healthy returns on your stock market investments, just remember — you’re playing the long game.

For one thing, short-term trading lacks the tax benefits you can glean from holding onto your investments for longer. If you sell a stock before owning it for a full year, you’ll pay a higher tax rate than you would on long-term capital gains — that is, stocks you’ve held for more than a year.

While there are certain situations that do call for taking a look at your holdings, for the most part, even serious market dips reverse themselves in time. In fact, these bearish blips are regular, expected events, according to Malik S. Lee, CFP® and founder of Atlanta-based Felton & Peel Wealth Management.

So-called market corrections are healthy, he said. “It shows that the market is alive and well.” And even taking major recessions into account, the market’s performance has had an overall upward trend over the past hundred years.

4. Maintain a diverse portfolio

All investing carries risk; it’s possible for some of the companies you invest in to underperform or even fold entirely. But if you diversify your portfolio, you’ll be safeguarded against losing all of your assets when investments don’t go as planned.

By ensuring you’re invested in many different types of securities, you’ll be better prepared to weather stock market corrections. It’s unlikely that all industries and companies will suffer equally or succeed at the same level, so you can hedge your bets by buying some of everything.

5. Consider hiring professional help

Although the internet makes it relatively easy to create a well-researched DIY stock portfolio, if you’re still hesitant to put your money in the market, hiring an investment advisor can help. Even though the use of a professional can’t mitigate all risk of losses, you might feel more comfortable knowing you have an expert in your corner.

How the stock market can grow your wealth

Given the right combination of time, contribution regularity and a little bit of luck, the stock market has the potential to turn even a modest savings into an appreciable nest egg.

Ready to get started investing for yourself? Check out the following MagnifyMoney articles:

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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Investing

5 of the Best Ways to Invest $5,000

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Saving money can be difficult for everyone. Between student loans, buying a home, or starting a family, it’s an accomplishment to save a sizable amount of money at all. Once you have some cash saved up, you may wonder what the next step is. Many financial professionals would recommend investing your spare money to help you reach your goals.

If you’re not sure where to get started investing your $5,000, take a look at some of your options below. Although we’re not presenting every single investment option on the market, many of these are a good place for investors to get started.

Best ways to invest $5,000

When you decide to start investing, remember that there are many options. The best option for you will vary based on your particular financial situation. If you’re not sure which investment path is right for you, then consider talking to a financial advisor before taking the first step.

1. Use a robo-advisor

A robo-advisor is an automated investment platform that operates online. Instead of choosing where each and every dollar is allocated, you just need to answer a few questions from the robo-advisor. Once you enter your information, the platform will automatically build a portfolio that matches your investment style and goals. For example, if you’re a young person interested in saving for retirement, your portfolio may be more aggressive than an older investor who will need to access their money sooner.

The biggest benefits of using a robo-advisor are that they typically offer lower fees than other brokerage accounts and instant portfolio diversification with even a small amount of investment capital.

Some drawbacks to consider about robo-advisors include a lack of personalized services that a human advisor might offer. In some cases, you may not have any access to a human advisor, which might be a problem when you have specific investing questions.

When you are just starting to invest, a robo-advisor may be a good choice. If you are comfortable with growing your investments slowly over time, then a robo-advisor is capable of handling this for you. As your investment portfolio grows, you may want to look into an investment advisor to help create a more personalized plan to meet your goals.

To get started with a robo-advisor, compare the fees of several options before you choose one. Consider your options carefully and choose a robo-advisor that seems best suited to your investment needs.

2. Consider micro-investing

Micro-investing is a way to start investing without having to save up to a minimum account balance. Some brokerage accounts require several hundred dollars as a minimum investment, but that isn’t realistic for everyone. Instead, you can use micro-investing to get started.

Micro-investing apps such as Acorns allow you to invest your spare change. Typically, you link up your debit and credit cards to the app. Each time you make a purchase, the app will round up your purchase to the next dollar and invest the change.

For instance, if you bought dinner for $20.25, the micro-investing app would round up your purchase to $21 and invest 75 cents. Although that seems like an incredibly small amount, your investments can add up over time. The best part is that your budget will barely feel the squeeze of this investment method.

3. Save for your retirement

Retirement is an expensive part of life that will be here sooner than you think. If you plan to stop working in your later years, then you need to start planning as early as possible in order to capitalize on the benefits of compounding interest.

The first place to start your retirement investment is through your employer’s 401(k) plan. Check to see if your employer offers a plan that’s worth maximizing; some employers even offer matching funds, which is essentially free money for your golden years.

Other types of retirement accounts that you may want to consider are traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. Both of these accounts have annual contribution limits set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Although each of these accounts have different rules, both are very commonly used retirement accounts that are suitable for new investors.

4. Open a high-interest savings account

Many investment accounts can leave your money inaccessible for a certain period of time. A high-interest savings account could help solve that problem. Your money will grow slowly, but you would have access to the cash at any time.

If you’re concerned about not having quick access to your cash, then this is a good option. The interest rates on these accounts are typically lower than investing your money in the market. However, there is significantly less risk involved as well. You will need to determine what kind of investment risks you are willing to take before choosing this route.

A high-interest savings account is an especially good option for anyone that has not built an emergency fund. Life happens, and you may need quick access to cash. Before opening a high-interest savings account, take a look at all of your available options to ensure you are getting the best rate possible.

5. Put your money into a CD

A certificate of deposit (CD) is a savings account that will allow you to earn interest on the money you deposit into it. Although CDs typically pay more interest than your average bank account, there is a trade-off. You will need to leave your money in the account for a specified amount of time.

For example, if you put your money into a two-year CD, you will be expected to leave that money alone for two years. If you take your money out too soon, then you will have to pay an early withdrawal fee.

Typically, the longer you agree to leave your money in the account, the more interest you earn. Think carefully before locking your money into a CD — it’s a good way to earn interest but it can backfire if you are forced to make an early withdrawal.

To get started with a CD, find the best rate for your money before signing up.

Bottom line

You have many great options when it comes to getting started with investing. It can be difficult to take the first step, but many agree that it is an important component of a better financial future.

One reason why investing can seem difficult to beginners is that they aren’t sure where they want to go with it. Consider your short- and long-term goals and be realistic about the amount of risk you are willing to take with your investments before your portfolio starts to grow.

Want more investment ideas? See some top options for investing $10,000.

This article contains links to DepositAccounts, a subsidiary of LendingTree, our parent company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Sarah Sharkey |

Sarah Sharkey is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah here

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