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Financial Tips 2018: How to get ahead on taxes, savings and insurance

It's 2018 and now’s the time to get your finances in order.

To help you and your family make all the right money moves next year, here’s a financial game plan that could help you grow your 401(k), avoid financial ruin and adjust to the new tax rules signed into law by President Trump.

Just as a New Year’s resolution to get fit can fail if you don’t hit the gym, getting ahead financially is tough if you don’t set up a plan and stick to it, says Dana Anspach, founder and CEO of Sensible Money, a wealth management firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Doing an annual financial check-up, she stresses, is only worthwhile if you use it as a jumping off point to “build good habits.”

“It’s figuring out the baby steps you can take that moves you and your money in the right direction,” Anspach says. “Every family should put together a playbook for the year.”

Here are steps to take to get you on the road to financial success.

Start with the Basics

Insurance isn’t sexy. In fact, it’s boring. It’s viewed by many Americans as just another bill, not an investment.

But insurance is the foundation of any financial plan, as it protects people from catastrophic losses that can wipe them out. Jan. 1 is the time to make sure your family has enough life insurance to pay for the kids’ college, keep current on the mortgage and fund other living costs in the event you or another breadwinner in the family dies, causing a loss of income.

“Check all of your insurance coverage,” especially if your life has undergone changes, such as having a child, advises Carla Dearing, CEO and founder of Sum180, an online financial wellness company in Louisville, Kentucky.

That means making sure your house, car, health and life is adequately insured against events that could put your family in financial peril.

Other basics not to overlook are making sure your will and estate plan are updated and all your financial accounts have the proper beneficiaries, adds Steve Janachowski, CEO of Brouwer & Janachowski, a wealth management firm in Mill Valley, California.

Tax Plan Tune-Up

The new tax law means most Americans’ tax bills will change. Some will pay more and many will pay less. Many longstanding deductions, such as home mortgage interest and state and local taxes have been cut or eliminated.

Uncertainty, as a result, is high.

“It’s important to understand what the new tax bill means to you,” says Paul Jacobs, chief investment officer at Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Stamford, Connecticut.

Taxpayers should analyze how to best take advantage of any benefits they receive. Perhaps more important, figure out how to minimize financial damage caused by changes to the tax code that reduce take-home pay or make owning a home more expensive.

For example, homeowners in coastal states where housing is expensive and taxes are high might need to rethink their real estate holdings after losing key deductions. Under the new tax law, the deduction for mortgage interest has been capped at $750,000, down from $1 million, and deductions for state and local taxes have been capped at $10,000. These changes could mean owning a home in 2018 and beyond will be more expensive.

While moving from your current home is a big decision that should not be taken lightly, “it may make sense to revisit where you live,” Jacobs says.

People living in high-cost states that are either approaching retirement, in line for a new job in another state or who aren’t happy where they're living now, “might want to consider moving to a low-tax state, such as Florida,” he says.

Simpler moves include reducing the money withheld from your paycheck for taxes if you’re getting a cut, or boosting your withholding if you expect to pay more in taxes.

It also makes financial sense to direct some or all of your tax windfall to your retirement account, or 529 college savings account, which can now be used to pay for private school from elementary school onward, adds Peter Mallouk, chief investment officer at Creative Planning in Kansas City, Kansas.

“Save the extra money before you get used to spending it,” Mallouk says.

401(K) Check-up

With employer-paid pensions no longer the major source of retirement income, personal savings accounts such as 401(k) s and IRAs need annual tune-ups to ensure they're building wealth efficiently.

And given that many Americans have some of their retirement savings invested in the stock market – which has been going up for nearly nine years and posted a 19.4% gain in 2017 – now’s a good time to review these accounts to make sure they are properly diversified and not too risky, says Scott Kubie, chief investment officer at Carson Group, an Omaha-based investment firm.

Many investors’ portfolios today may be more risky than they think. A portfolio that once had 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds, for example, may now have a stock weighting of 70% or more.

“I encourage people to look at their holdings and make sure they are not overexposed to risk that they are not prepared to handle,” Kubie says.

To reduce risk, investors should rebalance their portfolios, or get back to their initial asset mix of, say, 60% stocks and 40% bonds, he says.

One way to do that is to sell assets that have performed well and redirect the money into investments that haven't done as well. If investors don’t want to sell what they currently own, they can get their portfolio back in whack by directing future contributions into the part of their portfolio that originally represented a bigger slice of their overall investment pie.

Another tactic is to invest some cash in overseas stock markets, rather than focus exclusively on U.S. markets, Kubie adds.  “Make sure you have some international exposure,” he says.

And now that the government has reduced the number of deductions available to tax-payers, the 401(k) is emerging as a key vehicle to shelter income from taxes. A dual income family, for example, that earns $100,000 per year and takes advantage of the pre-tax 401(k) contribution limit of $18,500 could slash their taxable income by $37,000.

“People should try to max out their 401(k),” says Janachowski. “It’s a no brainer.”

What investors should not do is try to time the market, or get out just because some pundits say the market is pricey and is due for a fall, he adds. “Start early and save consistently,” says Janachowski, adding that he believes corporate earnings and stocks will benefit from the cut in the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%.

Home Affordability Check

With fewer deductions, housing isn’t as financially friendly to homeowners, especially in New Jersey and California and other pricey, high-tax states along either coast. Now’s a good time to see if the house you're living in or the new house you're eyeing or the second home you've been dreaming about is still affordable, says Janachowski.

While the reduction in home-related deductions won’t impact most Americans, it could cause financial pain to those it does affect.

“It will be harder to afford housing because the government isn’t subsidizing it as much,” says Janachowski. “Does it mean you shouldn’t own a home or buy a home? No. A house isn’t only an investment; it is a place to live. But it could hit the second-home market and keep people from moving up to bigger homes.”

Do not be oversmart with your money

In trying to be smart with our money, sometimes we damage our long-term financial future. Here are some such common mistakes, and how to go about avoiding them.

We all intend to do the right thing with our money but sometimes our decisions and actions harm, rather than benefit, our financial situation. Typically this happens when you are in a hurry, or have not thought it through or not tailored a financial action to your specific situation. Here are some common situations where the end result may not be what you wanted, if you don’t take the trouble to do it right.

A budget too tight

You decide to streamline income and expenses to increase savings. But you overdo things and create a budget that may be designed to fail. The typical errors are to overlook tracking the expenses for a few months, so that you don’t know where you spend and don’t know your level of expense for each category of expense. Without this information, you could fail to allocate adequate resources for your expenses. These errors can derail your budget. A very tight budget, to save more, could prove to be unsustainable so that you may not be able to live with it. This would cause your budget to collapse, leading to your savings targets not being met.

If you are not used to living by a budget, ease yourself into it. Start by imposing broad upper limits. At this stage the focus should be on developing the discipline to account for expenses and to limit them. Once that happens, the next stage would be cutting the expenses, in a realistic manner. Don’t get discouraged if you slip a few times. You will learn with experience.

Going long term too early

You realize the importance of accumulating funds for long-term goals and start putting all your savings into provident fund or other long-term investments. This would be a good decision if you have taken care of liquidity and have an emergency fund. Long-term products typically have restrictions on withdrawals. Growth-oriented investments, such as equity, have volatile values that may mean that you incur a loss if you had to redeem them at short notice.

Thus, providing for long-term goals is good if you have made provisions for immediate liquidity needs. Build an emergency fund and invest for short- and medium-term needs along with long-term goals. This will ensure that your long-term goals are not put at risk by a need that was overlooked.

Saying no to debt altogether

You may think that you are protecting your finances by staying away from debt completely. But it may not be so. You may need to take on some debt to meet goals like buying a house. You could choose to stay on rent, but that comes with the risk of inflation pushing rentals beyond your means. A mortgage would also come with tax benefits, which would lower the cost of debt.

Having some amount of debt also means that you can demonstrate responsible debt behavior to get a good credit score, lack of which can result in higher costs if you need a loan urgently.

However, include credit and debt into your finances with discretion. Use debt to leverage your finances. Use facilities like credit cards for regular expenses, to built a credit history.

Penny wise pound foolish

Very often, we focus on one aspect of a decision and ignore its larger impact. Very often we end up cutting costs by cutting corners. For example, if you buy a durable good that is cheap but of poorer quality, you could end up paying more due to frequent replacements. There are also decisions you may consider clever now, but which could cost you dear later. These could include: avoiding insurance, believing that premiums are a waste of money; not maintaining an emergency fund believing that keeping funds in liquid but low-earning products is under-utilization of money; adopting a do-it-yourself approach, believing that paying an adviser is a waste of money. Not to forget: holding all your funds in low-risk products that earn low returns, ignoring the impact of inflation.

Standing guarantee for others

Be sure of financial standing of the person for whom you are standing guarantee in a loan or giving an add-on credit card to. This act of kindness can damage your own finances. You would be responsible for the repayment if a primary borrower defaults on the payment. You could be saddled with repaying a loan that you neither benefited from nor can bear the burden of. Your credit score will be affected by this loan, and you may even find it difficult to access credit when you need it. Excessive spending on an add-on credit card too will strain your finances, apart from affecting your credit history and score.

Keep in mind the consequences to your own financial situation before you seek to offer financial assistance to others. Consider if the primary borrower can service the loan herself without difficulty. Give due consideration to your own ability to bear the stress if the obligation passes to you. Similarly, to protect your finances, consider the option of footing the family member’s credit card bill up to a reasonable amount instead of giving an add-on credit card. The person is then liable for all actions and omissions on the credit card and your responsibility is limited to the amount you have offered to foot.

Want to retire early? Here's a plan

Ready to quit your day job? There's a trend among some personal finance gurus called FI/RE -- financially independent/retiring early. It means being able to reach a point where you have assets (investment accounts or rental property) that earn enough income to cover all of your expenses. In other words, you're rich enough to quit.

But for most people, getting to financial independence means making some big sacrifices and getting very creative with their spending habits.

How to achieve financial independence

It comes down to how you save, spend and invest. Maximize your saving -- many of these people figured out how to save 50 percent of their incomes or more, sometimes by purchasing multifamily homes and taking on enough tenants to make an income.

But the spending side is key as well. The author of the website 1500 days, Carl J. set a goal for himself to bring his assets to $1 million in that amount of time. On his site, he details the step he took to reach his goal: Being financially independent and finally leaving the job he despised by April of this year.

Carl readily admits that he was making a good salary (around $100,000) and that he had been maxing out his savings in a 401(k) account along the way. So he was almost halfway to the goal. But he managed to stock away a significant amount of money and achieves his objective by methodically tracking how much his family was spending and cutting away waste.

"I had no idea how much money we were spending," he told CBS MoneyWatch in an interview. "So we did start keeping track of our spending ... I opened up a Google doc and set up categories, going out to eat, bonus things like alcohol, vacations."

By cutting out excessive spending and revamping their lifestyle, he and his wife were able to save a significant portion of their incomes each year and invest the money instead.

Financial adviser Kyle Mast said he has more and more clients come in to ask about achieving financial independence earlier in life, and while it often involves being more creative to make it happen, it can be done.

"Have a high savings rate, low living expenses ... there's all kinds of ways to travel for free, save money on things like cell phones, just by doing a little bit of research," Mast told CBS MoneyWatch.

Invest to build your assets

But saving will only get you partway to your goal. It's crucial to make your money grow to the point where it can sustain you.

"Save as much as you can, but investing is hugely important and [you need to] figure out how to do it correctly," Carl said. He taught himself how to use personal investing apps as a way to increase the money he was saving.

Financial adviser Lucas Casarez said if people plan to retire early, it's important to do their research and realize how long they'll need that money to last. Remember, you don't want to outlive your retirement savings.

Be aware that if you're under 59½, you won't be able to take money from an account like a 401(k) without paying an early withdrawal penalty.

For those withdrawals, Casarez recommends using nonretirement investing accounts or a retirement vehicle like a Roth IRA, from which the initial contributions can be withdrawn anytime, tax-free.

"Roth accounts are really fantastic tools as far as flexibility," Casarez told CBS MoneyWatch, "Any contributions to a Roth account can be withdrawn without penalty -- though you can't take out the earnings" without penalty.

That said, it's still a good idea to max out your 401(k) contributions while you're working. If you are saving for FI/RE that means up to the $18,500 annual limit not just meeting the employer match.

He cautions that with other types of investing accounts, "Try to mitigate capital-gains taxes. Know what's going to be considered income."

Challenges to consider

Keep in mind, even when you reach financial independence, it can be helpful to continue working part-time in your current line of work or take on a side gig to maintain an extra income stream or access to health insurance.

Health insurance is a big consideration. You won't be eligible to register for Medicare until age 65, so if you leave your job, you may need to purchase insurance in the private market -- which can be much more expensive than a plan you get through your employer, who helps shoulder the cost.

And though the idea of being able to walk away from a day job and not work again may sound like a dream come true, some financial experts caution people to take care when retiring from work completely, especially at a young age.

"The challenge is that if you're going to retire at age 40, you'll probably live until you're in your 90s and you're going to be pretty active," financial adviser Ryan McPherson told CBS MoneyWatch. "Work provides a tremendous amount of structure, social interaction, challenges and a sense of accomplishment," he said. "You can get bored and depressed very easily. Keeping yourself involved in full-time work or volunteering is very important."

13 tips to help save money if you live in London, from a financial expert

Because ‘savings’ and ‘London’ rarely ever feature in the same sentence

It’s no secret that London is home to some of the highest living costs in the world.

The median annual salary for London is £34,473, but there are many people – especially young people – living on well below this.

After rent and bills are paid, the remainders of pay packets go to food and necessities – so how are we meant to save for that big holiday or to get out feet firmly on the property ladder?

In light of Financial Capability Week this week we spoke to Andrew Johnson, Advice Manager at Money Advice Service who has revealed his 13 top tips for saving when you live in London.

1. Loose change adds up

By the end of the week, many of us have a few coins left over in pockets and purses – and even down the back of the sofa. Gather up these odd coins each week and put them in a jar. Even just a £1 a week in loose change will give you a cushion of over £50 by the end of the year. Looking after the pennies really can mean the pounds look after themselves.

2. Keep track of what you spend

Sometimes it’s hard to know where the money goes. Try keeping a spending diary for a week or two where you write down everything you spend from the smallest stick of chewing gum to filling the tank with petrol. This will help you identify items you might be able to cut back on.

3. Reconsider your smoking habit

If you smoke 15 cigarettes a day, that’s costing you almost £2,000 a year. If you’d like to kick the habit and boost your savings into the bargain, get the NHS on your side. Use the NHS cost of smoking calculator to help you give up smoking.

4. Make sure you’re getting the best deal on your bills

Shop around for the best deals for your phone, internet and fuel bills and review your suppliers every year to see if you’re still getting a good deal.

5. It’s all about the side-hustle

There are no simple ways to increase your income. Possible options might be take on extra work – perhaps a job you could do from home, such as child minding, or turning a hobby into a small business, selling things you make. If you have a spare room, you might think about taking in a lodger.

How to find places in your budget where you can save

6. Do up a budget

The best way to assess what you are spending and get control over your finances is to complete a budget. Our free Budget Planner puts you in control of your household spending and analyses your results to help you take control of your money. Alternatively try keeping a spending diary for a week or two where you write down everything you spend from the smallest stick of chewing gum to filling the tank with petrol. This will help you identify items you might be able to cut back on.

7. Have a goal

Having a savings goal can help determine which account is best for you. If you have more than one goal you could use different accounts for each one.

8. See if your bank offers bonus rates

Some accounts may offer a high bonus rate which is designed to tempt you in – but bonuses drop off after a certain period. If you don’t have time to keep switching, avoid accounts offering bonus rates and look for a rate that’s been more stable historically.

9. If you don’t know where to start with bank accounts, try comparison websites

Best buy tables and comparison websites are a good starting point for anyone trying to find a savings account tailored to their needs. Not all comparison websites will give you the same results, so make sure you use more than one site before making a decision.

10. Set up a savings account

If you want to earn a bit more interest then consider a regular savings account but remember, with these types of accounts or fixed term accounts you might not be able to access your money immediately without paying a penalty.

What is the best way to create a budget?

11. Review your budget every few months

Life is unpredictable so try to review your budget and your spending if there’s a change, or at least every couple of months. You might get a pay rise, which means you can save more, or you might find your household bills increase.

12. Put time aside to manage your money (like you put time aside to go to the gym, see friends etc.)

Taking the time to manage your money better can really pay off. It can help you stay on top of your bills and save £1,000s each year.

13. Use an app to help you budget

There are also some great free budgeting apps available and your bank or building society might have an online budgeting tool that takes information directly from your transactions. Just grab as much information as you can about your income and spending (bills, bank statements…) and get started.

5 Big Retirement Money Mistakes to Avoid


It’s never too late to start getting smart about money.

Maybe you’ve made it this far with few problems … you’ve done pretty well all alone just by winging it. Good for you.

But retirement planning isn’t about the past 30 years of your life — it’s about the next 30. And that’s harder. There are decisions you can’t undo, and mistakes are tougher to recover from when you don’t have a paycheck to back you up.

Here are five big money mistakes people make every day that a comprehensive retirement plan can help you avoid:

Written by Bill Smith, the host of the television and radio show "Retirement Solutions." Author of "Knock Out Your Retirement Income Worries Forever." He is the CEO of W.A. Smith Financial Group and Great Lakes Retirement Inc. His firms specialize in retirement income planning, wealth management, wealth preservation and estate planning.

Big Mistake No. 1: Choosing your retirement date based on age alone.

People often decide to retire at a certain age because it coincides with some well-known retirement milestone. They’ll settle on 65, for example, because that’s when Medicare kicks in, or 66 because it’s their full-benefit age for Social Security. Some even say 59½, because that’s when they can access their retirement accounts without any extra penalties. But before you decide when to retire, it’s crucial to assess your income needs and if you’ll have enough to meet them. If you retire before you’re 62, will you have enough money to draw from until your pension and/or Social Security payments kick in?

Remember, if you’re taking money from a tax-deferred account (such as a 401(k) or a traditional IRA), Uncle Sam will want his share. If you need $5,000 a month, you’ll have to withdraw closer to $6,500 just to net that amount. At the very least, you’ll spend down an enormous portion of your money very quickly, and you could put your entire retirement at risk. Which takes us to …

Big Mistake No. 2: Investing all your money in stocks.

If there’s a downturn in the market while you’re depending on your investment accounts for income, it could be devastating — especially if all your money is in equities. If those stocks drop 10%, 20% or more, and you have to sell them to pay your bills; you’re going to run out of money before you know it. The term “sequence-of-returns risk” should strike fear into every retiree’s heart. And don’t forget, those dividends that sound so good when you’re buying in aren’t guaranteed if things go bad.

Yes, with this bull market, it’s tempting to stay with stocks, but in retirement, a diverse portfolio is vital.

Big Mistake No. 3: Waffling on whether to buy an annuity.

There are pros and cons to annuities — the key knows what’s best for you and your unique situation. And that’s another reason why it’s important to have a plan. This isn’t a decision you should make based on what others tell you. Your adviser can help you determine whether you need an annuity based on whether you’ll require guaranteed income at some point in your retirement. And if it would benefit you to have one, he can help you decide how large that annuity should be.

Big Mistake No. 4: Losing track of an old 401(k) account.

This is another one of those things that gets away from people because they get busy. It isn’t that you forget about it completely — it’s just not getting any attention anymore because you aren’t adding to it. Which means the account probably isn’t being updated to reflect your risk tolerance as you near retirement? Also, if the account isn’t part of your overall plan, it may not include the proper investment vehicles to help you accomplish your goals.

You may think of it as benign neglect, but someone should be managing that money — either you or your financial adviser — whether you roll it over into an IRA or not. You absolutely don’t want to just leave those dollars out there, waiting for something bad to happen in the markets.

Big Mistake No. 5: Being unrealistic about rates of return.

People hear that the S&P 500 has averaged a 9.6% return since 1930, and that’s what they expect to earn. That number, of course, is deceiving. There are good years and bad years, and the typical investor will react to each in just the wrong way — selling low out of fear and buying high out of greed.

Unfortunately, many retirees have that 8% or 9% return in mind when they decide their withdrawal rate in retirement. If they only get 5% or 6%, they either have to adjust their budget accordingly — which takes discipline — or take on more risk. It’s better to project a more conservative number that works within your overall plan — maybe 4% or 5%. If you get higher returns, great — but if you don’t, you’re far less likely to run out of money.

Final take: 4 keys to retirement success

Retirement should be something you can look forward to with confidence, and winging it won’t give you that. Here are some keys to success:

  1. Take market risk seriously when it comes to investing retirement money.

  2. Don’t rule out any kind of financial product without having a true understanding of how it would fit into your plan.

  3. Take control of all your retirement dollars; make sure you’re not forgetting about anything.

  4. Seek help from a professional who can guide you. A retirement specialist can help you build a plan and will assist you as you make your way to and through this next stage of your financial life.


Arisa Horikawa

Author:Arisa Horikawa
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