How To Build Back Your Emergency Fund In a Tight Budget

Emergency funds are  important should you be faced with an unforeseen setback like a sudden job loss, an unexpected car repair or a serious medical situation. If you tapped into or depleted your emergency savings during the pandemic, it’s vital to set a financial goal to rebuild an emergency fund. Experts suggest having enough money for six months of living expenses in an emergency fund.

Even if your budget is tight, there are ways to stash some cash each month toward emergency savings. “It may seem difficult to set aside savings when you are on a tight budget, but you have to think about it as having no other choice,” said Dawit Kebede, a senior economist for the Credit Union National Association, which advocates on behalf of America’s credit unions.

Why is an emergency fund so important to have?

Your emergency fund allows you to pay for unexpected expenses, like providing a cushion if you lose your job or face sudden financial obligations. If you don’t have savings, you may have to rely on credit cards.

“Most people rely on high-interest rate credit cards to pay for unforeseen expenses, which leaves them in debt,” said Kebede. “Creating an emergency fund avoids relying on debt to absorb a financial shock.”

Pay yourself first

Kebede noted that people tend to put saving at the bottom of their priorities when they have fewer resources. So make building an emergency fund a priority.

“Understand that savings cannot be the lowest priority on your budget,” Kebede said. “You have to pay yourself first, even if it’s $15 a month. Setting goals and setting aside something, however small it may be, will go a long way. It will accumulate over time.”

Set a reasonable monthly goal, even when there’s little wiggle room.

Commit to putting bonus cash in your savings

If you get any extra money during the month, even if it’s a small amount, earmark it for your emergency fund.

“When building out your emergency fund for the first time or rebuilding following a major emergency expense, it’s okay to start with small contributions, and any tax refunds, gifts or extra cash are all great ways to contribute,” said Ryan Ball, vice president of market experience at Capital One. “Having a small amount in your account is more helpful than nothing at all in the preparedness for an emergency.”

Set up a save schedule

If you get paid twice a month, for example, create a plan to take a set amount and transfer it directly to your emergency savings account. Even if your budget is tight, pick a small amount and devote it to savings. “When contributing to your emergency fund, the best practice is to contribute to your account regularly and setting a schedule can help,” advised Ball.

To force savings, Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, advised automating your savings with a direct deposit from your paycheck into a dedicated savings account. “The savings happens first without having to think about it,” McBride said.

Another option, McBride explained, especially for the self-employed, is to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account at a regular interval, such as once per month or every two weeks.

How can you force yourself to save without it seeming like a punishment?

First, accept the mindset that savings should be viewed as deferred spending for important or unexpected items rather than a punishment, said Kebede. Next, take an inventory of your spending habits. Can you cancel monthly subscriptions you’re not using?

Can you reduce takeout meals or the amount you’re spending on extras like dining out or paying for coffee every morning? Can you carpool to save on gas or stick to your grocery list by meal planning in advance?

“Setting aside a small amount regularly helps you feel that you haven’t sacrificed a lot, and watching your savings slowly accumulate will also provide motivation for you to continue,” Kebede said.

Use your banking institution’s resources

Your bank may have resources available to assist you to promote financial wellness and education.

For example, Ball noted that Capital One has resources, including its complimentary Money & Life Program, that helps participants build a plan to achieve their goals in life and think through how their financial behaviors connect to those goals.

“In addition to Money & Life mentoring sessions with a professional mentor, we offer a self-guided Money & Life exercise, ‘Map Your Spend,’ that can help participants visualize their spending and figure out where they can make changes to put a little extra money per month away for an emergency fund,” he said.

Contact your bank or visit a retail location to inquire about what mentoring services may be available.

Source: How to build back your emergency fund in a tight budget | Fox Business

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How to Avoid Capital Gains Tax

Saving for retirement is all about investing, and no matter how you go about it, you’re going to end up paying taxes on what you save and earn. Taxes on capital gains can eat up a significant portion of your earnings each year.

When you’re building wealth and planning for retirement, it’s important to not leave any money on the table. That’s why it’s important to point out that a fiduciary financial advisor can help you optimize a tax strategy and identify savings opportunities to lower your tax liability.

An advisor can also help you manage assets and plan for retirement, so you can worry less about meeting your financial goals. According to a 2021 Fidelity study, financial advice can add between 1.5% and 4% to account growth over extended periods.1

Handing over a chunk of your profit can be painful. Thankfully, there are a few ways that you can reduce the amount of capital gains taxes you will pay after selling an asset.

Investing involves risk and no situation is the same. This is in no way intended as a personal recommendation and investment decisions are solely those of the reader.

1.

Choose Long-Term Investments

Capital gains can be classified as either short-term or long-term, each of which has its own tax rates.

Assets you have held for less than a year are considered short-term. When it comes to earning short-term gains, expect to be taxed at your ordinary tax rate. This can be as high as 37%, depending on your total taxable income.

If you want to avoid that, you should consider choosing long-term investments instead. By holding an investment for a year or more, you will qualify for long-term capital gains tax rates.

Most long-term capital gains will see a tax rate of no more than 15%, though certain assets (like coins and art) can be taxed at a rate up to 28%. Depending on your income, you may even qualify for capital gains tax rates as low as 0%.

2.

Take Advantage of Tax-Deferred Retirement Plans

Your retirement accounts likely make up a bulk of your savings and future assets. It’s wise to optimize these as best you can by utilizing tax-deferred (and tax-exempt) plans, to save yourself from added capital gains taxes.

When contributing to a tax-deferred retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or traditional IRA, you’ll receive a tax deduction on your contributions in the current tax year. This can save you money on your income taxes today, as well as help you save even more toward the future.

Your money will also continue to grow over time. When you’re finally ready to sell your investments and withdraw, any growth in the account is taxed at your ordinary income rate, rather than being subject to capital gains like other investment accounts.

A tax-exempt account, such as a Roth IRA, doesn’t offer any tax benefits today, but grows tax-free until retirement. When you’re ready to use the money, your funds (and growth) can also be withdrawn tax-free, helping you avoid capital gains yet again.

3.

Offset Your Gains

If you hold a number of different assets, you may be able to offset some of your gains with any applicable losses, allowing you to avoid a portion of your capital gains taxes.

For instance, if you have one investment that is down by $3,000 and another up by $5,000, selling both will help you reduce your gains. You would only be subject to capital gains taxes on the difference – or $2,000 – rather than the full $5,000 gain of the second investment.

Another offset strategy is tax-loss harvesting. With this method, you can carry over losses from one tax year into the next, to help offset future gains. Tax loss harvesting only applies if your losses in a given year exceed your total gains.

Take Retirement Quiz

If you’re looking for a way to decrease your tax burden, we recommend finding a financial advisor. They can help you understand your options and look for ways to save money on your tax bill, make smart investments and plan for retirement.

If you need help finding a financial advisor, we created a free quiz to help Americans find and vet qualified financial advisors who serve their area.

This quiz asks you a few questions, then matches you with up to three fiduciary financial advisors. You can compare your advisor matches based on their specialty, pricing, and more. You even earn 3 free consultations with each of our matches, so you can compare them and be fully prepared to pick a financial advisor.

The hypothetical study discussed above assumes that professional financial advice can add between 1.5% and 4% to portfolio returns over the long term, depending on the time period and how returns are calculated and is based on the Fidelity Whitepaper “Why work with a financial advisor, November, 2021”. Please carefully review the methodologies employed in the Fidelity Whitepaper.

The value of professional investment advice is only an illustrative estimate and varies with each unique client’s individual circumstances and portfolio composition. Carefully consider your investment objectives, risk factors, and perform your own due diligence before choosing an investment adviser..1

Helping people make smart financial decisions

When you own an investment or other asset – such as real estate, land, a business or stocks, for example – and later sell that asset for a profit, you have realized capital gains. The tax that is then levied on the profit portion of your sale is called capital gains tax.

Depending on how your gains are classified, and your total taxable income for the year, your capital gains tax rate can vary. This percentage could be as low as 0% or as high as your ordinary tax rate. Consider consulting a financial advisor to determine how your gains will be classified so you can know what to expect when taxes are due. Click here to get matched with up to three advisors who serve your area.

Source: How to Avoid Capital Gains Tax

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Mortgage Refinance Demand Spikes 18% as Interest Rates Stabilize, MBA Says

Homeowners are rushing to refinance their home loans as the opportunity to lock in a low mortgage rate is running out.

During the week ending Jan. 28, mortgage refinance demand jumped 18% from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). Still, mortgage refinancing activity is much lower than it was this time last year due to higher interest rates.

Although mortgage interest rates are on an upward trajectory, many borrowers may still benefit from refinancing, said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting.

“There’s still demand there from people who are going to benefit from a sub-4% mortgage rate,” said Kan. “We’ve been so used to a 3% mortgage rate for the past couple years that a 3.7% rate seems high, but there are definitely people out there who have a higher rate.”

The MBA expects the average 30-year mortgage rate to reach 4.0% in 2022, which means that homeowners will likely see more rate volatility throughout the year if they decide to wait to refinance. Keep reading to determine if you can still save money by refinancing your mortgage before rates rise further. You can compare current mortgage refinance rates on Credible for free without impacting your credit score, so you can estimate your potential savings.

Mortgage rates are currently steady but are likely to rise soon

Average 30-year mortgage rates spiked in the beginning of 2022 and have been hovering around 3.55% for the past three weeks, according to Freddie Mac. Rates also significantly increased in January for the 15-year loan term, which is popular among homeowners who are refinancing. Average 15-year mortgage rates have stabilized in recent weeks, though, currently sitting at 2.77%.

Although mortgage rates have remained stable in the past several weeks, they’re expected to rise further as the Federal Reserve continues to revise its monetary policy and rises the benchmark rate in 2022. The MBA’s Mortgage Market Forecast predicts that 30-year mortgage rates will average 4.0% in 2022 and 4.3% in 2023.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some weeks when rates dropped and refis increased between now and then,” Kan said.

With Fed rate hikes anticipated as early as March, it may be wise for homeowners to consider refinancing now to lock in a relatively low mortgage rate. You can visit Credible to compare rates across multiple mortgage lenders at once, so you can find the best offer possible for your financial situation.

Nearly 6M homeowners can still benefit from mortgage refinancing

Despite rising mortgage rates, about 5.9 million “high-quality” candidates could still save an average of $275 per month by refinancing their home loans, according to Black Knight. More than 1 million of these homeowners could save at least $400 on their monthly mortgage payments, and 661,000 of them could save $500 or more per month.

That’s because mortgage rates are still relatively low compared where they were a few years ago. Although the time to lock in a record-low mortgage rate may have passed in 2021, current mortgage rates are still much more favorable than in 2018 when they reached nearly 5%.

If you’re still paying a 5% mortgage interest rate, you may have the opportunity to save money on your monthly payments by refinancing to a lower interest rate or shorter loan term. Plus, it may be beneficial to tap into record-high levels of home equity with a cash-out refinance.

You can browse rates from several mortgage loan lenders in the table below, and use Credible’s mortgage calculator to estimate your monthly payments.

Source: Mortgage refinance demand spikes 18% as interest rates stabilize, MBA says | Fox Business

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Critics:

Rising interest rates are causing big headaches for mortgage lenders, especially those who depend most on refinance business. Demand is simply drying up.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($647,200 or less) increased to 3.72% from 3.64%, with points decreasing to 0.43 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. That rate was 77 basis points lower the same week one year ago.

As a result mortgage refinance applications, which are highly sensitive to daily rate moves, fell 13% for the week and were 53% lower year over year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index. Rates have now been moving higher for five straight weeks.

“After almost two years of lower rates, there are not many borrowers left who have an incentive to refinance,” wrote Joel Kan, an MBA economist, in a release. “Of those who are still in the market for a refinance, these higher rates are proving much less attractive to them.”

Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell just 2% for the week and were 11% lower than a year ago. Buyers are actually more active now than usual, as some are hoping to get a jump on the popular spring market. With mortgage rates rising, and home prices still soaring, some are concerned they will no longer be able to afford the home they want.

At an open house last Sunday in Waldorf, Maryland, there were already three offers before potential buyers were even let in the door to have a look.

“We thought that because of the winter months that it would slack off a little bit, prices would start to come back down to normal, but that’s not happening. It’s anguish, it’s pain, it’s agony,” said Rondie Robinson, who was house hunting with his wife and daughter.

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Greenlight Debit Card and App Helps Kids and Parents With Money

Piggy banks may still be useful for some — but Greenlight, an Atlanta-based debit card and financial trainer app, is aimed at kids and parents as the latter teach the former about how to grow and manage money in 2022 and beyond.

“Greenlight is the family finance company that’s on a mission to help parents raise financially smart kids,” Greenlight founder and CEO Tim Sheehan told Fox News Digital in an email exchange on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.

Greenlight, a start-up that’s only a few years old, today serves more than 4.5 million parents and kids. The company says families have saved more than $200 million and invested more than $10 million toward their financial futures through its programs.

Tim Sheehan is founder and CEO of Greenlight; he shared insights with Fox News Digital. He says that children can “learn to spend wisely” with his company’s debit card and app, with the help of guardrails and guidance.  (Greenlight)

“Financial literacy is one of the most important factors in our health and well-being,” Sheehan also told Fox News Digital, adding that it’s “the gateway to building a strong financial foundation for the future.”

He also that children need to understand the “difference between wants and needs. This is a financial fundamental … Once you help your kids nail this down, they can start learning how to spend wisely.”

What does the Greenlight card do?

The basic concept is simple: Teach kids how to handle money via a debit card that requires parental guardrails and guidance. After signing up for the service, parents load money onto the child’s debit card.

Kids can then use the card to make purchases virtually wherever Mastercard is accepted. Parents can also help kids set up the card to work with Apple Pay and Google Pay.

What does it cost?

The price of the basic service plan starts at $4.99 a month for up to five children. Plans that include investing for kids and parents, 1% cash back, and other premium perks are $9.98 per month.

How does the app work?

There is more to Greenlight than a debit card. Its app is useful for basic budgeting and handling transactions — and can be used for investing, too.With the app, kids can save, donate, and invest money. They can keep an eye on their balances, set financial goals, and research stocks.

The Greenlight debit card — controlled by parents — allows children to make purchases and track their spending; in addition, a companion app helps them understand how to budget for big-ticket items, and even invest. (iStock, File / iStock)

For example, a child might set a goal of earning and saving money for a new skateboard — then track his or her progress toward earning enough money to actually make that purchase.

Parents can set up the app to allow kids to experience the real-life rewards of earning, spending, saving, and investing — with a built-in cushion that prevents them from making any seriously devastating choices.

The app enables parents to put training wheels on kids’ financial habits. When the kids are ready to do it on their own, the training wheels can be removed over time.

How does the card help kids?

Young people aren’t often taught how to be financially responsible or literate — with dire consequences. Young adults may complete high school and even college without a fundamental understanding of how to earn, save, and grow their money over time.

In this image, a child is shown putting a coin into a piggy bank at home. A relatively new debit card service and app called Greenlight — five years old this year — helps children learn to use money wisely and budget for the future.  (iStock, File / iStock)

With the Greenlight app, kids learn early on to connect the work they do (such as household chores) with expanding balances — then to connect those growing balances with greater buying power.

When parents offer monetary incentives based on the quality of chores done, kids learn that work done well will be better rewarded than work done poorly. This valuable lesson will pay off when those children grow up and enter the workforce.

Though parents can put strict controls on how much a child can spend in a given category, some kids learn best by actual experience — even if that experience leads to temporary disappointment.

Some experiential learners might benefit from having the opportunity to spend a bit too much on frivolous items — then see exactly how poor choices delay the achievement of larger, more desirable goals.

Parents can allow kids just enough over-spending in one budget category to teach a lifelong lesson.

Why are adults using this card, too?

As a fintech app, Greenlight provides adults with a means of investing. “Fintech” refers to the use of technology to “improve and automate the delivery of financial services,” according to Investopedia. (Cryptocurrency, robo-advisers, and blockchain-based open banking are a few prominent examples.)

With Greenlight, parents can set up brokerage accounts to help fund college tuition, first cars, or other sizable expenditures. Families can also use the app to research investments in stocks and EFTs. How have young people improved their ‘financial literacy’ through these products?

Greenlight’s CEO Sheehan told Fox News Digital that in his view, “Gen Z is the most entrepreneurial generation to date, with 62% of Gen Zers indicating they’ve started or intend to start their own business.” He said that many “Greenlight kids” have become entrepreneurs and begun their own businesses.

Sheehan added that a 12-year-old girl used the card and app to start her own face mask business during the pandemic — and that she now donates 20% of her sales to charity. Another young person, a 14-year-old based in Alaska, used his savings from Greenlight to publish a book series, Sheehan said.

What’s the biggest mistake parents make in teaching kids about money?

“The biggest mistake parents make,” Sheehan said, “is not talking about money.” He added, “Kids and teens need to be taught that money is earned along with the importance of saving, spending wisely, and investing for the long term.”

Source: Greenlight debit card and app helps kids AND parents with money | Fox Business

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How To Turn Your Retirement Account Into a Personal Pension Plus

Just as you insure your home against the risk of fire and flood, so too can you insure another of your most valuable investments from risk: your retirement savings.

Retirement is a source of significant anxiety for Americans. It’s reported 40% of us fear retirement more than death. Outside of government jobs, pensions have nearly all disappeared. Important changes aimed at addressing some systemic issues are coming, but experts like Wade Pfau believe new Social Security legislation may not be enough. Combined with the potential of a recession (as the bull market keeps running), economic pressures posed by COVID-19, and 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, this is hardly surprising.

With the near extinction of employer-provided pensions, Americans increasingly have to figure out their own retirement income plan, though many of us lack the tools or training to do so.

The ‘Fragile Decade’

Financial literacy is an often-neglected area of education among Americans; this causes financial planning to feel opaque and overwhelming. For many, retirement boils down to, “How much money do I need to save by the time I retire?” But it’s not that simple, and not planning for sequence-of-returns risk is a major pitfall.

Because retirement accounts are typically tied to the stock market, and the stock market is inherently volatile, it’s possible for an unexpected downturn to significantly impact a retiree’s income stream if it happens during the so-called “fragile decade” – the five years leading up to retirement and the five years that follow.

Simply put, if you experience significant losses due to some combination of withdrawals and poor performance during the fragile decade, it is difficult to recover. You’re in a position where your earning years are either behind you or almost behind you, and most of your retirement (if not all of it) is still ahead. Given that retirement can last 30 years or more, that could spell disaster during your most vulnerable years. That’s sequence-of-returns risk, or sequence risk.

Insuring Your Retirement Like You Insure Your Home

So, is your retirement at the mercy of the risks inherent in the stock market? Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be. An annuity can be an effective way to ensure your retirement’s durability by reducing your income stream’s exposure to market risks. Just as you insure your home against the risk of fire and flood, so too can you insure another of your most valuable investments from risk: your retirement savings.

Some financial advisers have been hesitant to offer their clients annuities, for a variety of reasons. Among these reasons are high costs and limited liquidity, as well as the lack of a death benefit. Many believe they’re just too complicated. While these complaints were true of some types of annuities, they aren’t true in general. Not anymore.

These objections are being overcome as modern annuities tend to be simpler and less costly. These innovations have inspired many financial advisers to change their position on annuities; in fact, a 2021 survey conducted by RetireOne and Protective Life found fewer than a quarter of financial advisers would not recommend an annuity to a client, even if it was the best fit for the client’s needs.

But some of those objections still are worth examining. Most annuities do have liquidity restrictions and many are not historically good at protecting against inflation.

Contingent Deferred Annuities

A contingent deferred annuity (CDA) has the same overall advantage of other income annuities – guaranteed income regardless of stock market downturns, badly-timed withdrawals, and so forth – but this type of annuity sidesteps some of the remaining hurdles.

A CDA acts as a sort of “risk wrapper” for your IRAs, Roth IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts, but the insurance portion is unbundled from the underlying accounts so that investments in ETFs and mutual funds may be covered. The amount of income you receive from the CDA (your coverage base) is calculated from the total of your initial investment, and will not drop below that amount, no matter what the markets do. In fact, your coverage base may go up, and those annual income payments can range from 3% to 6%. Keep in mind that excess withdrawals CAN impact your coverage base, however.

The CDA’s income payments trigger when you need them and are paid by the insurance company for the rest of your life, even after your assets are depleted. Until then, your financial adviser continues to manage your retirement assets for you.

This means that, if the stock market trends very well, the accounts the CDA is safeguarding will grow and so will the amount that your income payments are based on, giving you a bigger cushion later in life. But if the market does poorly and your accounts shrink, your CDA continues to pay out at the same rate, regardless of how poorly your investments perform. And, subject to the claims paying ability of the insurance company, they continue even if the underlying accounts are depleted. It’s guaranteed income for life.

How Do CDAs Work?

That sounds great, right? But you’re probably asking how it all works and, perhaps most importantly, what it’ll cost. Again, this is insurance. It isn’t free. But, it’s all more straightforward than you might think.

The first question to ask is: What do I want to cover? A CDA is typically designed to cover mutual funds and ETFs. The best CDAs offer many approved mutual funds and ETFs to choose from. The chances are your retirement accounts are already set up to work with them. You decide the total value you want to insure, and that sets your initial coverage base.

It’s important to reiterate that these funds stay where they are. Your financial planner continues to manage them, and you retain the same level of control you always had. In some cases, you can continue to add funds to that coverage base, too. Depending on the specific CDA you’re paying for, you may even increase the income you get from the CDA by doing so. You can also withdraw funds from your retirement account normally, though withdrawing funds too frequently can have an adverse impact on your annuity income.

Once you trigger your payments, those payments continue for life. They’re withdrawn from the covered accounts, but the rate of payment stays constant even if the value of the covered accounts drops – even if it drops to zero.

Another salient point: You don’t need to trigger payments if you don’t need that income, and you can cancel that coverage once you feel confident that your other retirement income streams are sufficient to maintain your quality of life. If you don’t want to pay fees for coverage you don’t need, then you don’t have to.

And speaking of those fees, you’re usually looking at something about 1% to 2.2% of the account value withdrawn each year from the accounts being covered. Those fees can be variable, based on the account value, or they can be fixed based on your total initial investment. A fixed fee means your fee is established when you establish your initial coverage base, and it remains constant as account values fluctuate. The fee does not increase if your retirement accounts give you particularly good returns, but the reverse is also true: If your accounts do poorly, you don’t see a reduction in your fees.

Here’s one of the best parts: Triggering your payments doesn’t necessarily trigger a taxable event. If you’ve been deferring your taxes with a Roth IRA, covering that Roth with a CDA allows you to draw income from that account upon retirement, without the usual tax implications of withdrawing money from a traditional IRA or a taxable account.

All these benefits make CDAs an efficient method for de-risking your portfolio as you near retirement. It’s a great way to make the fragile decade less fragile.

A ‘Personal Pension Plus’

Pensions are rare these days. Entire generations have entered the workforce without the promise of a pension. Your parents may have pensions. But do you have one? Probably not.

A CDA can turn your existing retirement accounts into something very pension-like, one that can protect your income during that crucial “fragile decade.” And, with the dual advantages of being able to cover retail mutual funds and ETFs, and the inheritability of the asset, a CDA really is a “Personal Pension Plus.”

When dealing with investment accounts, it is easy to get tunnel vision about Return on Investment, and how much money you have saved. But what you’re trying to achieve is the best quality of life possible, once your earning years are over. You want to have the greatest possible spending power during your retirement. A CDA can help you do that by turning your retirement account into a guaranteed income stream…for life.

Edward J. Mercier

Edward J. Mercier is president of RetireOne®. He has more than 25 years of experience spanning investment and insurance products, including sales, distribution, clearing and general management. He has held multiple senior leadership positions at Charles Schwab & Co., most recently as general manager of investment management distribution and clearing services.

Source: How to Turn Your Retirement Account Into a ‘Personal Pension Plus’

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