Monthly Archives: September 2016

Should You Know About Debunking 10 Budget Myths

The closest many people get to budgeting is depositing their paychecks into their checking accounts and buying everything with an ATM card until the money’s gone.

While there are certain advantages to this method, such as not incurring credit card debt, there are also major disadvantages, such as not quite knowing where all that money is going and not contributing enough to your savings because there’s never anything left over.

Even though budgeting is a wonderful tool for managing your finances, many people think it’s not for them. The logic they use, however, is often flawed. Below is a list of 10 budget myths that stop people from saving as much as they could – and should. Do any of these budgeting myths apply to you?

I Don’t Need to Budget
The truth is, almost everyone, even those with large paychecks and plenty of money in the bank, can benefit from budgeting. Keeping track of your monthly income and expenses allows you to make sure your hard-earned money is being put to its highest and best purpose. For example, if you knew how much money you were spending on restaurant meals every month, you might decide that you’d rather be putting that money toward something else, like a nicer vacation.

I’m Not Good at Math so I Can’t Manage My Money
Thanks to budgeting software, you don’t have to be good at math, you simply have to be able to follow instructions. Many of these programs are free and can be safely downloaded without fear of viruses or spyware from CNET’s download.com. If you know how to use spreadsheet software, you can even make your own budget. It’s as simple as creating one column for your income, another column for your expenses and keeping a running tab on the difference between the two.

My Job is Secure
No one’s job is truly secure. If you work for a corporation, downsizing or losing your job is always a looming possibility. If you work for a small company, these concerns may not apply, but if the owner died suddenly, the company might die with the owner. You should always be prepared for a job loss by having at least three months’ worth of living expenses in the bank. It’s a lot easier to accumulate this money if you know how much money you’re bringing in and laying out each month.

Government-Sponsored Unemployment Pay Will Tide Me Over
Unemployment benefits are not a sure thing. Let’s say a bad situation at work leaves you with no choice but to quit your job. Because you weren’t laid off, leaving your job will be considered voluntary and it’s very unlikely you’ll receive any benefits. It won’t help if you decide to remedy this problem by getting yourself fired, as those who are let go for bad behavior are also very unlikely to receive unemployment assistance. On top of that, getting fired will make it harder for you to get a new job.

It Won’t Happen to Me
We all think that unexpected high bills and tragedies won’t happen to us. With the number of things that can possibly go wrong in life, hoping for the best is the most logical emotional survival tactic. However, you might lose your job, be in a car accident, get cancer or need to help a friend or family member who falls on hard times. It’s best to be prepared and hope that you’ll get to use the money for something fun one day instead.

I Don’t Want to Deprive Myself
Budgeting is not synonymous with spending as little money as possible or making yourself feel guilty about every purchase. The crux of budgeting is to make sure you’re able to save a little each month, ideally at least 10% of your income, or at the very least, to make sure that you aren’t spending more than you earn. Unless you’re on a very tight budget (and we all are sometimes), you’ll still be able to buy baseball tickets and go out to eat. Tracking your expenses doesn’t change the amount of money you have available to spend every month, it just tells you where that money is going.

I Don’t Want Anything Big so I Don’t Need to Save
This one is tricky. If you don’t have any major savings goals to buy a house, a new car or to save enough money to quit your day job and take a stab at starting your own business, it’s hard to drum up the motivation to stash away extra cash each month. However, your situation and your attitudes are likely to change over time. Perhaps you don’t want to save up for a house because you live in New York City and expect that renting will be the most affordable option for the rest of your life. But in five years, you might be sick of the Big Apple and decide to move to rural Vermont. Suddenly, buying a home becomes more affordable and you might wish you had five years’ worth of savings in the bank for a down payment.

As another example, many people thought home ownership would be forever out of reach when the housing bubble was pushing prices ever higher, so they gave up on the idea of owning a home. After the bubble burst and prices sank, however, those who previously couldn’t even afford condos sometimes had the income to afford houses. Even FHA loans require a down payment, though, so those who saved their extra money when prices were high put themselves in a great position to buy when prices dropped.

Any Money I Save Would Just be Used for Education
Yes, the catch-22 of student financial aid is that the more money you have, the less financial aid you’ll be eligible for. That’s enough to make anyone wonder if it isn’t better to just spend it all and have nothing in the bank in order to qualify for the maximum amount of grants and loans.

When you apply for federal student aid such as the Stafford Loan, Perkins Loan or Pell Grant, you will fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Whether you are an adult student going back to school or the parent of a student headed to college, this form does not require you to report the value of your primary residence (if you own a home) or the value of your retirement accounts. This means that if you want to save money without compromising your financial aid eligibility, you can do so by using your savings to buy a house, prepay your mortgage or contribute more money to your retirement accounts. The savings you put into these assets can still be accessed in the event of an emergency, but you won’t be penalized for them. Paying down credit card debt and auto loans can also serve as a form of saving that won’t detract from your financial aid eligibility. Just think of all that interest you won’t have to pay when your balances go down or are even paid off completely.

Another issue is that even if you employ all the legal strategies available to you to maximize your financial aid eligibility, you still won’t always qualify for as much aid as you need, so it’s not a bad idea to have your own source of funds to make up for any shortfall in the aid you’re offered.

I’m Debt-Free
While being debt-free is unusual and commendable, it won’t pay your bills in an emergency. A zero balance is better than a negative balance, but that zero can quickly become negative if you don’t have a safety net.

I Always Get a Raise or Tax Refund
It’s never a good idea to count on unpredictable sources of income. Your company may not have enough money to give you a raise, or as much of a raise as you’d hoped for, even if you’ve earned it. The same is true of bonus money. Tax refunds are more reliable, but this depends in part on how good you are at calculating your own tax liability. Some people know how to figure to the penny how much of a refund they will get (or how much they will owe) as well as how to adjust this figure through changes in payroll withholding throughout the year. Others find W-4 forms, 1040s and tax tables incomprehensible and April is always a surprise. You might be expecting a $1,000 refund only to find that you’re getting $300 – or worse, that you owe.

Solutions
If you’re still not convinced that budgeting is for you, here’s a way to protect yourself from your own spending habits. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account you won’t see (i.e., a savings account at a different bank from your checking account) that is scheduled to happen right after you get paid. If you are saving for retirement, you may have the option of contributing a regular, set amount to a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan. This way, you’ll always pay yourself first, you’ll always have enough money for the transfer and you’ll always pay yourself the same predetermined amount that you know will help you meet your goals. If you don’t think you have the discipline for budgeting, this is your best bet.

However, a better solution is to make this automatic contribution in conjunction with starting a budgeting spreadsheet or using budgeting software. This way, you won’t run into any unpleasant surprises, like your checking account balance reaching zero when your car insurance is due and you don’t get paid for another week.

Some Reasons Why Saving Money Is Important

If you don’t earn much and you can barely pay your bills, the idea of saving money might seem laughable. When you only have $5 left at the end of the month, why even bother to try saving? Because everyone has to start somewhere, and if you work at it, your financial situation is likely to improve over time. Saving money is worth the effort. It gives you peace of mind, it gives you options, and the more you save, the easier it becomes to accumulate additional savings.

Peace of Mind
Who hasn’t lain awake at 3:00 a.m. wondering how they were going to afford something they needed? If money is really tight, you might be wondering how you’re going to pay the rent next week. If you’re a little further up the financial ladder, you might worried about how many months you could pay the bills for if you lost your job. Later in life, the money thoughts that keep you up at night might center around paying for your kids to go to college or having enough money to retire. (Get help with college savings by reading Stop Procrastinating! Enroll In A College Savings Plan.)

As you accumulate savings, your financial worries should diminish, as long as you’re living within your means and not always looking for new things to worry about. If you already have next month’s rent taken care of by the first week of the current month, if you know you can get by without work for three to six months, if you have savings accounts for your children’s education and your own retirement that you’re regularly funding, you’ll sleep better at night. The reduced stress from having money in the bank frees up your energy for more enjoyable thoughts and activities.

Expanded Options
The more money you have saved, the more you control your own destiny. If your job has you on the verge of a nervous breakdown, you can quit even if you don’t have a new job lined up yet and take time off to restore your sanity before you look for new employment. If you’re tired of living in an unsafe neighborhood, you can move to a safer area because you’ll have enough for a deposit on a better apartment or a down payment on a nicer home.

If you get sick and need expensive healthcare that your insurance doesn’t cover, you’ll have a way to pay for it even though you can’t work while you’re getting treatment. And knowing that you have options because of the money you’ve socked away can give you even more peace of mind.

No, money doesn’t solve every problem. It you are laid off, it might take as long as two years to find a new job. Some illnesses won’t go away no matter how many procedures you can afford, and random crime can happen even in a supposedly secure gated community. But with more money in the bank to deal with issues like these, you give yourself better odds of coming out on top.

Money Working for You
Most of us put in hundreds of hours of work each year to earn most of our money. But when you have savings and stash your funds in the right places, your money starts to work for you. Over time, you’ll need to work less and less as your money works more and more, and eventually, you might be able to stop working altogether.

What does it mean to have your money working for you? When you’re first starting to save, you’ll want to put your money somewhere safe, where you can access it right away for unforeseen expenses. That means an online savings account, where you might earn 1% interest annually and not even keep up with inflation, which tends to run around 2% to 3% per year. You’ll even have to pay taxes on your meager 1% earnings. Anything is better than earning 0%, though, or not having savings and going into credit card debt, which will cost you 10% to 30% in interest per year.

Once you’ve saved three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund, you can start saving money in a tax-advantaged retirement account. That’s where the magic starts to happen. These accounts, such as a Roth IRA or 401(k), allow you to invest in the stock market. If you do it right, you’ll earn about 8% per year on average over the long run. You won’t pay any taxes on those investment gains along the way, which will help your money grow even faster. With a Roth IRA, you contribute after-tax dollars, and everything that’s in the account after that is yours to keep. With a 401(k), you get to contribute before-tax dollars, giving you more money to invest up front; you’ll pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement. (If you’re not sure whether it’s better to pay taxes now or later, you can hedge your bets and contribute to both your employer-sponsored retirement plan and a Roth IRA.) The third choice, a traditional IRA, allows you to contribute before-tax dollars as you do with a 401(k).

If you have a high income and low expenses, you might accumulate enough to retire in 10 years. For most people, it takes closer to 40 years. But at some point, if you save and invest regularly, you should be able to live off the income generated by your investments – the saved money that’s working for you. The earlier you start, the more time a small amount of money has to grow large through the miracle of compounding.

Information About Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Did you make any resolutions concerning your personal finances last January? If so, how did you do? Did you attain your financial goals, or was this year a total financial washout for you? While the days leading up to New Years Eve are often spent reflecting on the year gone by, the following days should be spent reflecting on the New Year, reviewing your financial scorecard for the past year, and then look for ways to improve in 2014.

There’s a good chance last year’s resolutions didn’t stick. According to a report from the University of Scranton’s “Journal of Clinical Psychology,” only 8% of us actually achieve our New Year’s resolutions. The good news about New Year’s resolutions is that you get a fresh crack at them each year. Here’s some financial changes you should resolve to make in 2017.

Calculate Your Net Worth
If you haven’t done so already, The New Year is as good a time as any for determining what you’re worth (financially, of course). Calculating your net worth is a key step to assessing your financial health and reaching your financial goals. Looking closely at all your assets and liabilities helps create a clear picture of where you are prioritizing your current spending and saving and where you need to make changes in your spending and saving habits.

It’s a good idea to recalculate your net worth each year to keep on top of your progress towards your financial goals and correct any mistakes you’re making before they create overwhelming debts. Many sites, including Investopedia, offer free tools to help you calculate your net worth. The resolutions you need to make will become more obvious after making this calculation.

Reset Your Retirement Savings
At work, you probably have the opportunity to save for your retirement through a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan sponsored by your employer. If so, consider that most people find it easier to max out their retirement contributions by budgeting to contribute a set amount each month.

Employer Plans

If you have access to a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan at work, consider instructing your employer to withhold enough through salary deferrals to ensure that you reach the maximum limit each year. If you’ll be 50 or older by December 31, bump that amount to account for the additional catch-up contributions you’re allowed to make. If you are paid on some other frequency, such as weekly or bi-weekly, simply divide the contribution limit by the number of your pay periods for the year.

Of course, you should save only amounts that you can realistically afford, as contributing more than you can afford may result in having to incur debts to cover everyday expenses. To determine how much you can save each period, incorporate your retirement savings into your regular budget.

Are you self-employed? If so, depending on your income, you can contribute to an SEP IRA, profit-sharing plan or independent 401(k) plan. And if you’ll be 50 or older by Dec. 31, the contribution limit jumps for independent 401(k)s, helping you save even more.

Don’t Forget About IRAs

Even if you’re covered under a retirement plan at work, you and your spouse can each contribute to a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA, as long as your combined taxable wages and net self-employment income is not less than the total amount contributed. Anyone 50 or older can contribute an extra $1,000, increasing the total allowable contribution to $6,500, or $541.66 per month. Keep in mind, however, that in 2017, a modified adjusted gross income of $62,000 to $72,000 ($99,000 to $119,000 for married couples filing jointly) puts you in the phase out range for deducting your traditional IRA contributions (these numbers apply if you are covered by a retirement plan at work, limits will be different if you are not, see here for more information).

Update Your Savings and Debt Reduction Goals
Creating easy access to your funds can be quite tempting, and if you are like most people, you will spend money that you can easily attain. Therefore, to help you reach your goal, be sure to transfer amounts earmarked for savings from your checking account to a designated separate savings or investment account that is not easily accessed, making it less tempting for you to spend the money that you have managed to save.

Take a few minutes now to set new savings goals for 2017, including how much you would like to add to your retirement nest egg, your children’s education fund or the down payment on your home. You should also reset how much you plan to pay on your personal loans, debts and home mortgage accounts.

And don’t forget about paying some extra principal toward your mortgage payment each month. By doing so, you’ll earn a risk-free return on that money equal to your mortgage interest rate. Plus, you’ll cut down on the number of years it will take to pay off your mortgage. However, if you must choose between adding to your retirement nest egg and paying extra on your mortgage, talk to your financial advisor to determine which option is more suitable for you.

Other Resolutions
Rebalance Your Investment Portfolio

The previous year was no different from any other year: some sectors over-performed and some sectors under-performed. Chances are that the sectors that did the best last year may not enjoy a repeat performance this year. By rebalancing your portfolio to its original or updated asset allocation, you take steps to lock in gains from the sectors with the best returns and purchase shares in the sectors that have lagged behind last year’s leaders.

Pay Down Your Credit Cards.

If you owe money on your credit cards, determine how much you can realistically afford to pay off during the year. For best results, try not to charge additional purchases on those cards while you’re trying to pay down what you owe. If you have high interest credit card balances, consider whether it would be more beneficial to pay off those high interest debts or to add to your savings.

Review Your Credit Report

Review your credit report, and take steps to repair any negative aspects. Now that you’re entitled to three free credit reports each year, there is no excuse for not reviewing what is one of your most important financial reports, especially since errors in these reports are not uncommon. That said, obtaining a truly free credit report isn’t as easy as some companies claim, so be sure you know all the terms and conditions before requesting a report. A poor credit report could adversely affect the amount you are able to save, as it could result in you paying higher interest rates on loans, which reduces your disposable income.

Review Your Life Insurance and Disability Insurance Needs

As you move through your career, your life and disability insurance need to continue to change. Give some thought as to how much protection you need and compare it to the coverage you currently have through your employer’s benefit package. Consider whether you need more or less life insurance, and whether your needs would be better satisfied by term or permanent life insurance. Also, review your disability insurance coverage to determine whether you have enough coverage.