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Investing

What to Do With Your 401(k) When You Retire

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.

With so much retirement advice focused on how to save as much as possible, the question of how to access the money in your 401(k) account can often get overlooked. But understanding how to turn your employer-sponsored retirement account into retirement income is an essential part of post-retirement financial security.

This is why every worker approaching retirement should review the payout policy of his or her specific 401(k) account well before leaving work for good. This policy outlines the rules governing your withdrawals from your 401(k).

While some 401(k) accounts allow for installment plans that pay you on a monthly or quarterly basis, others require lump-sum distributions or have other regulations regarding the size and timing of distributions. Knowing exactly what to expect from your employer’s 401(k) payout policy can help you plan your retirement income strategy.

While understanding the payout policy of your 401(k) is one portion of creating your retirement income strategy, there are several other issues you need to consider when deciding what to do with your 401(k) in retirement.

4 important rules to know

There are several IRS rules governing 401(k) distributions that you need to be fully aware of so you can stay on Uncle Sam’s good side.

1. Qualified distributions

Age 59 and a half is when 401(k) account holders are eligible to take qualified distributions, which means you can access money from your 401(k) account without having to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty. You will still pay ordinary income tax on these distributions.

2. Post-retirement contributions to your 401(k)

When you retire from the employer who holds your 401(k) account, you are no longer eligible to make contributions to that account. If you want to keep making contributions after retirement, you may roll over your 401(k) into an IRA or simply open a new IRA to contribute to while leaving your funds to grow in your 401(k).

However, you can only do this if you are still earning income. Since your IRA contributions must come from earned income, full retirement means no more contributions to retirement accounts. In addition, you must be under the age of 70 and a half to make contributions to a traditional IRA.

3. Penalty-free early retirement

If you retire or lose your job at age 55 or later, you can still access your 401(k) funds without paying the 10% penalty. This can help any worker who is either involuntarily retired, laid off or who decides to retire earlier than they planned.

4. Required minimum distributions (RMDs)

As of age 70 and a half, 401(k) account holders are required to take minimum distributions each year. The amount of the distribution is based upon your age and your 401(k) balance. One major benefit of 401(k) plans is that most plan administrators do this calculation for you.

What to do with your 401k in retirement

Of course, just knowing the rules and requirements doesn’t necessarily make it clear what you can and should do with your 401(k) once you’ve reached retirement. That’s why it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the most common options for accessing your 401(k) funds in retirement:

  • Leave it in place: Many 401(k) participants choose to simply leave their funds in the plan as they take distributions from it throughout their retirement. That’s because your employer is required to keep any 401(k) amounts greater than $5,000 invested according to your previously set asset allocation. You can take distributions while the remainder continues to grow.
    The only caveat to this option is what happens if you have less than $5,000 invested. If your account has less than that as of your retirement, it could trigger a lump-sum distribution, which will include taxes of the lump-sum at your marginal tax rate.
  • Rollover to an IRA: Leaving your 401(k) funds in place may not be the best option if your plan administrator charges higher fees than you want to pay or if the asset allocation options are more limited than you’d like. If you would like more control of either, you can choose to roll over your funds into an IRA. A rollover will also allow you to keep investing for retirement if you continue to have earned income even after separating from your employer.
  • Fund an immediate annuity: In some cases, 401(k) account holders can use their entire account balance to fund an immediate lifetime annuity. Such an annuity will provide the beneficiary with a monthly payout for life. In addition, this kind of transfer to an annuity will help alleviate the taxes that would be assessed with a lump-sum withdrawal, allowing you pay taxes on your annuitized income as you go rather than all at once.

Mind the (budget) gap

No matter how you plan to access your 401(k) funds in retirement, it’s important to plan ahead for your retirement expenses. There are several questions you need to ask yourself before you make the leap to retirement:

  • Do you have a current budget?
  • Have you planned your retirement budget?
  • Will you have enough money to last your entire retirement at your current annual level of spending?
  • Are there expenses you can cut to make sure your money will last?
  • When do you plan to take Social Security benefits? How much will you get per month from Social Security?
  • How can you bring in more income after you retire? Are you willing to work longer, take part-time employment early in retirement or downsize to reduce expenses?

Making sure you answer these questions before you retire can mean the difference between a comfortable second act and finding yourself retired without enough money.

Bottom line

Figuring out exactly how to access the money in your 401(k) means understanding the legal requirements set by the IRS, the specific policies of your 401(k), and your retirement income needs. Knowing what to expect from each of these can help you find the right 401(k) distribution strategy for your retirement.

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.

Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken |

Emily Guy Birken is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here

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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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