6 Important Financial Steps to Take in Your 30s

bigstock-busines-finance-money-and-bo-101189672-e1456837421206When you hit your 30s, you may start thinking about your major life goals, both personal and financial. Although you may be able to defer some of your personal life decisions, such as career changes, starting a family or moving to a new place, some major financial decisions should not wait any longer.

Many financial decisions can have a gradual, yet enormous, impact on your life. Making them at the right time ensures that you can meet your goals and achieve financial security. Here are seven key financial steps people in their 30s should take.

1. Build an emergency fund.

Whatever your current income is, you need to establish an emergency fund. Think about how you would pay next month’s rent if you lost your job. Or, if your car broke down, would you have enough money to repair it? Having a financial buffer means you don’t have to hit the panic button — or go into debt — when faced with an unforeseen expense.

Start by aiming to save enough to cover up to three months of your household expenses and gradually grow your emergency fund to cover at least six months of expenses. If money is tight, building an emergency fund can be overwhelming, so start small. Contribute an hour’s worth of wages each workday and gradually increase it to two hours’ worth of wages per workday. If that’s unrealistic, save $50 per week ($200 per month) and increase it to $75 a week or more as you are able. Use automatic deposits to your savings account to ensure regular contributions.

2. Make a plan to pay off debt.

As you turn 30, it’s smart to think about setting a strong financial foundation for your future, and that starts with paying off your debt. Not all debt is bad. Good debt includes your home mortgage or education loan, but if you have high-interest credit card debt or personal loan debt, it’s time to take these financial matters seriously.

The best strategy is to start paying off debt with the highest interest rate first. For instance, clearing credit card debt with a 22% interest rate would yield a better return on your money than paying off your home loan with a 4% interest rate. If you need help, work with a debt management professional to figure out how best to tackle your debt.

3. Start (or keep) maxing out your 401(k).

Unlike maxing out your credit cards, maxing out your 401(k) or other retirement plans is a good thing — and now is the time to start.

If you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, contribute as much as you can. If you’re not yet able to make the maximum allowable contribution, you should contribute at least enough to get the matching contribution from your employer if the company offers it. This is essentially free money; don’t let it go to waste. If your employer doesn’t provide a retirement plan, open a traditional IRA or Roth IRA account. With an IRA, you can contribute up to $5,500 in 2016.

If you work for yourself and don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you should establish your own. Some of the most popular options include a self-directed Solo 401(k) if you have an owner-only business or are self-employed, SEP IRA, or SIMPLE IRA plan. For these plans, the contribution limits each year are as follows:

  • Solo 401(k): Up to $53,000 for 2016, plus catch-up contributions of $6,000 for individuals over age 50.
  • SEP IRA: Up to $53,000, or 25% of compensation.
  • SIMPLE IRA: Up to $12,500, plus catch-up contributions of $3,000 for individuals over age 50, if the plan allows it.

4. Start investing now.

One of the biggest advantages you have in your 30s is time, so it pays to start investing early. Consider this example of two investors. At 30, Steve started investing $1,000 a month and did so until age 40. Even though he stopped, he didn’t withdraw his investment and let it grow until his retirement at age 60. On the other hand, Bob started investing at 40, contributing $1,000 a month until age 60.

Assuming an average rate of return of 5% compounded annually, Steve accumulated $154,992 at the end of the 10 years, but since he didn’t withdraw this money, it grew to $411,240 by age 60. Bob ended up with $407,460 with the same investment terms. This is the magic of time — and compound interest — working in Steve’s favor. With compound interest, your return is added to your principal each year, so your savings grow much faster than with a simple interest rate, when the return amount is the same each year, based on the original principal amount.

5. Figure out the right investment strategy for you.

If asset allocation is a foreign concept to you, now is the time to demystify it. Asset allocation is about picking the right proportion of different investment types (or asset classes) to match your portfolio with your risk appetite, investment time frame and financial goals. Some investments, like stocks, are more risky — and tend to yield higher returns — than others, like bonds. For instance, if you wanted a more aggressive investment strategy, you would want to create a portfolio with more exposure to stocks, and if you wanted less risk, you’d dial up your exposure to bonds.

Your asset allocation will have a huge impact on your net wealth over time. A portfolio that is too conservative may leave you with an insufficient nest egg, whereas a risky allocation could yield higher returns, but might keep you up at night when the market is volatile. It may be best to consult with a financial expert to come up with an investment strategy that fits with your goals and your tolerance for risk.

6. Start saving for college.

You should begin saving for college expenses as soon as you have a child. It may seem a bit early to get started, but college costs are going up, and the sooner you start saving and investing for this major expense, the better off you’ll be. A tax-advantaged plan, like a 529 college savings plan, can help you come up with the necessary funds to support your child’s college education. Considering the long time horizon, you may want to follow a relatively aggressive investment strategy for the plan.

Take the long view

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible,” says author, entrepreneur and motivational speaker Tony Robbins. When it comes to your financial life, this couldn’t be more true. While working on a financial plan, you must consider the long-term perspective — the far-off personal and financial goals you want to achieve — to determine the best steps to take today.

Though it may not always feel like it, you have control over your financial life. Making educated decisions and taking action early can help set you on the path to financial security and achieving your goals.

To learn more about your retirement, savings, and investment options, set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals! Feel free to contact us at 866.750.0100, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article source courtesy of Dmitriy Fomichenko of Nerd Wallet.

16 Surprising Things to Do to Be Smarter with Your Money

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Between happy hours after work, travel plans, manicures and new pairs of shoes, it seems as though there’s always ample opportunity to spend and spend some more. Unfortunately, giving into our spending desires too often can seriously damage our wallets and bank accounts. Thus, it’s important to take note of your finances and prioritize expenses in order to protect yourself from financial strains and unwanted stress.

When finances are a struggle, it can build a lot of tension that can seep into all aspects of one’s life and interfere with the ability to function, work and maintain healthy relationships. Plus, if you are managing finances with a spouse or partner, there’s double pressure to be responsible and make rational decisions together.

Here are 16 surprising ways to be smarter with money, feel financially balanced in the present and start saving for the future. Trust us, once you set yourself up in a way that is sustainable, you’ll feel more comfortable and happy on a daily basis.

1. Download an App.

“If you want to be smarter with your money you need to use a budgeting tool or app,” says Robbie Doull, associate at Quantitative Risk Management. “I use Mint, but there are hundreds of similar apps, and you can track things ranging from your stock investments to just what’s in your bank account,” he adds. Doull recommends getting a rough monthly spending number and to take note of where your money is going. Apps are great for laying out all of your expenses for you, as we often don’t consider our finances in the moment we are handing over a credit card.

2. Set a Budget.

“Personal finance is a pretty good subreddit devoted to personal budgets. It could be a good place to start if you are making a budget for the first time,” recommends Doull. When coming up with a budget, think about what is realistic for you (how much groceries you need based on your diet) and get rid of accessories that are not important (such as a new bag or pair of shoes). Plus, going under budget never hurts, so don’t feel pressure to meet that requirement each month or week, depending on how you space it out.

3. Grocery Shop Wisely.

Buying fruit and vegetables that are in season is a great way to save money, as prices are lower, and there are usually sales. If you want produce that is either out of season or for a smoothie, buy it frozen, as it’s less expensive and will last longer. Check in with your app to see how much you spend each month on groceries, and try and think about it while shopping. “If I know I spend an average of $150 a month on groceries, I find myself thinking about where I am on that budget when at the store,” expresses Doull.

4. Ask for Samples.

Many stores, especially Whole Foods Market, will allow you to taste the food before purchasing. Make sure that you enjoy the foods you bring home so that you don’t have to waste your money. Plus, sometimes they will give you larger pieces for free. If you ask to try a slice of bread, and you like it, they will often let you take the remainder of the loaf home free of cost. Similarly, if the store is out of a seasoning you like, you can ask someone in the fish or meat department if there is any bit of seasoning they can spare. Usually, you’ll find yourself coming home with a small container!

5. Take Advantage of Business Perks.

“If you work for a company that matches a portion of 401k deposits, it almost always makes sense to get the full matching amount, it’s basically free money that can be used for the future,” advises Doull. Saving money for the future is so important for financial freedom and retirement, as you don’t know what expenses may pop up as you age (medical bills, familial obligations, travel opportunities, etc.). “It should be clearly stated what percentage of contributions your employer will match, and then you can decide how much you want to contribute per month,” says Doull. Figure out what works for you, but start somewhere and now.

6. Set Up an IRA.

If you do not have access to a 401K, it doesn’t mean that you cannot start saving money for retirement. There are two types: Roth and Traditional. “In a Roth IRA, you are taxed before you contribute. So you would pay taxes now, and when you withdraw later in life, you don’t pay any tax. Traditional is basically the opposite, where you are not taxed now, but are taxed on withdrawal,” explains Doull. When deciding, look at your current finances and figure out what your goals are for the future regarding employment. Think about the age you’d like to retire and the type of lifestyle you want to live.

If you need help planning your retirement or have questions about investing, we encourage you to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals. Contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

7. Cook at Home More.

All those restaurant bills certainly add up. Not only is cooking at home healthier, it also help you save money, as you have the option to buy in bulk, purchase deals and save for leftovers during the week. Stock up on meats, produce and nuts to create homemade trail mixes for snacks at work and delicious dinners that can be remodeled for lunch the next day. Buying lunch and snacks during the week can be pricey, so save some money by bringing your own.

8. Change Your Daily Coffee Order.

Do you wake up with a morning pumpkin spice latte with and extra shot, whip and vanilla syrup? Each morning? That cost definitely adds up! Think about some of your habits that are not essential for your wellbeing, energy, or time. Drinking a plain brew or even brewing your own coffee at home can be just as delicious once you adapt to the new taste, and it will give you more wiggle room in your budget for other things.

9. Get Grooming Discounts.

Beauty departments often offer free makeovers, so head to a counter and ask for a “new look.” It’s a great way to save money on both expensive beauty services and daily products, allowing the latter to last way longer. Similarly, many beauty schools will offer free or discounted hairstyle appointments, as it complements the students’ training. Plus, your hair will probably look great!

10. Try New Fitness Classes.

Most studios and gyms offer complimentary classes or passes for new customers, so definitely take advantage of that perk! Varying up your workouts is also beneficial for your body, routine and mind. There might also be referral offers, where if you refer new customers, you’ll receive a discounted price, as well.

11. Go BYOB.

Book reservations at BYOB restaurants to save money when dining out. Alcohol can be extremely pricy, and it’s pretty easy to find BYOB restaurants that serve delicious food. Be wary of a corkage fee; if it exists, bring a bottle that doesn’t require an opener or see if you can bring your own. These restaurants are also really fun for both romantic date nights and larger get-togethers.

12. Share Media Streaming Accounts.

A great way to enjoy your media and still save money is to share media streaming accounts with friends and family. One person can pay for Netflix, another for HBO Go, another for Hulu, and so forth. It’s easy to hook up the streaming accounts to your devices, and with a bowl of popcorn and a soft blanket, it makes for a cozy night in.

13. Reconsider Expiration Dates.

Expiration dates usually indicate an item’s quality and freshness, rather than it’s safety. We often throw food out once it reaches the expiration date, and this can be a serious waste of money. Understanding how long past the expiration date food can last will help eliminate these extra costs.

14. Change Your Commute.

Biking or walking, instead of driving can cut gas costs and enhance your quality of life, as studies show that a long commute can negatively affect one’s wellbeing. If biking or walking isn’t an option, find a carpooling buddy (or two) and take turns to help decrease one another’s expenses. Plus, it’ll be a more pleasurable way to arrive to the office!

15. Align Spending with Your Values.

“Look at money from a ‘freedom’ standpoint and align your spending to your deepest values,” says certified healthy living coach Liz Traines over email correspondence with Bustle. “Money gives you opportunities to do whatever it is you might want to do in your lifetime AKA it provides freedom,” she continues. Think about what you value in life and the behaviors that you embody in order to make mindful decisions.

16. Use a Journal.

If apps and technological gadgets aren’t your thing, stick with a journal to keep track of your expenses, budget and spending goals. “Look back on a week of spending and see what seems unnecessary and what that amount of money could buy you over time (i.e. that one bedroom apartment that would make life so much more peaceful),” advises Traines. Seeing the numbers in print can be a great wake up call.

Being mindful of your spending habits can help you save money for the future and make better decisions in the present. It’s a great feeling to enjoy financial freedom and security, and such chronic uneasiness can be debilitating to one’s wellbeing, self-esteem, health and lifetime goals. By making smart, responsible steps, it’s easy to create a life that is in line with both desires and needs and can pave the way for an exciting future!

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article source courtesy of Isadora Baum of Bustle.com.

5 Basic Principles You Should Follow to Achieve the American Dream

bigstock-Family-Moving-Home-With-Boxes-6143817Coined by author James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America, the “American dream” is described as,

“‘[T]hat dream of a land in which should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Everyone’s path to reach the American dream is different. Yet there’s always some common ground — namely, that through hard work we hope to retire comfortably and on our own terms.

Five basic principles to help you achieve the American dream.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from a number of recent polls, Americans’ finances aren’t necessarily on solid footing. U.S. personal savings rates are pretty poor, debt levels among middle-class families are high, and distrust of the stock market still exists following the credit bubble and mortgage crisis that precipitated the Great Recession. Now more than ever the American dream appears to be on the brink of disappearing.

But it doesn’t have to.

If you follow five basic principles, you too can achieve the American dream of a comfortable retirement for you and your family.

1. Get a degree.

It’s perhaps one of the oldest debates: “Should I go to college?” Not going to college means saving potentially five- or six-digits in student loan costs, but not getting a degree could constrain your ability to move up the socioeconomic ladder. However, as Pew Research showed in a study two years ago, not going to college could have dire consequences on your ability to comfortably retire.

Based on Pew’s analysis, which looked at the median salaries of millennials ages 25 to 32 who were working full-time, those with high school degrees were earning $28,000 annually. By comparison, millennials who obtained bachelor’s degrees or higher were netting $45,500 per year. Both of these figures are in 2012 dollars. This $17,500 difference could be huge over the course of four decades: Not only can this income difference be invested and compound many times over, but presumably the college graduate will have greater opportunities to move up the economic rungs to collect an even higher wage.

If you want to get your retirement savings off on the right foot, you need to seriously consider getting a college degree.

2. Save as much as you can.

Secondly, Americans need to kick their loose spending habits and learn to live on a budget. A Gallup poll conducted in 2013 showed that only around a third (32%) of U.S. households kept detailed monthly budgets. Not keeping a budget makes it very difficult for you to understand your cash flow, and if you don’t understand how money is entering and exiting your checking account, you’ll have a tough time optimally saving for retirement and funding your emergency account.

Thankfully, the solution is easier than ever these days: budgeting software. There are countless choices when it comes to budgeting software, and all programs handle the grunt work of doing math. Many can even help you formulate a strategy to save money. But budgeting also takes resolve on your end. This is where some keen budgeting tips can come in handy. Make sure you’re doing what you can to get everyone in your household involved so you all remain accountable for your spending habits, and consider having what you save automatically deposited into a savings or retirement account on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis to reduce the urge to spend.

The earlier you start saving, the quicker your nest egg can grow.

3. Invest for the long-term.

The next step would be to take the money you’ve saved and look to invest it for the long-term.

Although your investments could take on many forms, it is strongly suggested that you consider putting at least some of your money to work in the stock market. I know what you might be thinking, and yes, the stock market does have its pullbacks from time to time. Since 2000, we’ve witnessed two separate 50%+ drops in the broad-based S&P 500. However, we’ve also witnessed all 35 stock market corrections of 10% or greater in the S&P 500 completely erased by bull market rallies since 1950. Over the long term, stock market valuation tends to rise at a rate of 7% annually, including dividend reinvestment. This means you could double your money almost once every decade, assuming this average holds true.

 

Additionally, you’ll want to focus on buying solid businesses, because trying to time your buying and selling activity is almost assuredly not going to turn out well. A study by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, using S&P 500 data from Lipper, between Dec. 31, 1993 and Dec. 31, 2013, shows that investors who held throughout the entirety of both huge 50%+ drops still gained more than 480% over the 20-year period. By comparison, if you missed the 10 best trading days, your return dipped to just 191%. If you missed a little more than 30 of the best trading days over this approximate 5,000 trading-day period, your return would fall into the negative. That’s the power of long-term investing and compounding in action.

Questions about retirement savings, estate planning, or investments? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

4. Be tax-savvy.

The fourth thing you’ll want to do is aim to give back as little of your wages and capital gains as possible to the federal and state government. There’s no way of getting around completely paying taxes (so don’t try it!), but there are things we can do to reduce our tax liability.

One of the smartest moves you can make is contributing to a Roth IRA. Although there are numerous investment tools we can choose from, the Roth IRA is arguably the best, because investment gains within a Roth are completely tax-free as long as no unqualified withdrawals are made. In addition, there are no age contribution limits with a Roth IRA (unlike a Traditional IRA), meaning you can keep contributing well beyond age 70. There are also no minimum distribution requirements. This point is important if you want to allow your money to continue growing, or aim to have a hefty inheritance to pass along to your family.

Also, take into consideration where you’re living, as well as how you plan to withdraw your money during retirement. All 50 states seemingly have different tax laws, with some states being far more tax-friendly than others. If you choose to live and retire in a tax-friendly state, you could wind up saving a lot of money over the course of your lifetime and during your golden years.

Having a withdrawal plan in place prior to retirement means that you’ll have laid out exactly how much money you’ll need each year when you retire. Having a plan in place can potentially keep you from withdrawing too much money from say a 401(k) or investment account each year, and having that withdrawal bump you into a higher tax bracket. Making small adjustments can save you big bucks come tax time.

5. Understand how to use debt.

Finally, it’s important that you maintain discipline when it comes to utilizing debt, as high levels of debt can cripple your ability to save, and can crush seniors’ budgets during retirement.

What you’ll want to keep in mind is that there are different kinds of debt, and they’re not all bad. Student loan debt can be a good thing since it allows you to get a better paying job, but what you may want to consider is not aiming for Harvard. In-state colleges can often be cheaper than the most prestigious colleges, and may even offer a better return on your investment.

What you’d want to avoid is racking up debt on credit cards because you wanted the latest outfit or gadgets for you home. Since nearly all vehicles depreciate in value over time, auto loans are another notorious source of bad debt you should try to minimize.

Check out First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Long story short, the better you manage your debt, the less likely it is to keep you from being able to sock away a good chunk of your income for an emergency or retirement.

The American dream has, and always will, require hard work, so be financially proactive and go claim your piece of the pie.

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article courtesy of Sean Williams of The Motley Fool.

Top 5 Financial Regrets…and How to Avoid (or Move Past) Them

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When was the last time you heard the phrase “no regrets”? Maybe it was accompanied by the acronym “YOLO,” or you saw it written in script on a sappy motivational poster.

It’s time to get real. Most of us do have regrets — especially when it comes to our finances.

According to a new survey from Bankrate.com, 75 percent of Americans say they have financial regrets. Apparently, we’re the most remorseful when it comes to saving — especially for retirement, and after that, emergency expenses. The site reported 42 million Americans regret not starting their retirement saving earlier, and that those concerns increased with age. Millennials said they regretted excessive student loan debt most, with 24 percent of respondents under 30 listing it as their chief financial regret. Other top concerns included taking on too much credit card debt and not saving enough for a child’s education.

There are no do-overs in finances, unfortunately, but you can do better. Here are the top 5 financial regrets with suggestions for how to turn the situation around.

1. Retirement Savings

If you’re feeling behind, you need to get on the automatic bandwagon. Saving by automatic contribution (a 401(k) or similar plan) works because you make a good decision one time and get to dine out on it for years.

If you’re starting late, you need to aim to stash away 15 percent of your income (including matching contributions). Not there yet? Ratchet your contributions up 2 percent a year until you hit that mark. Also look into catch-up contributions that allow you to contribute an extra $1,000 to an IRA or $6,000 to a 401(k) if you’re 50 or over. Working longer can also help. The money in your retirement accounts can continue to grow, and when it comes to Social Security, you’ll get an increase in benefits of about 8 percent per year (guaranteed) from age 62 until age 70.

How will you begin preparing for your retirement today? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

2. Emergency Expenses

“Everybody can start saving for those minor emergencies, because it’s not really a question of if, it’s just a question of when,” says Aron Szapiro, policy and finance expert at HelloWallet.com.

He’s right — it’s only a matter of time before a minor health expense or unexpected car maintenance comes into play, and the only way to prepare is to start saving. Let your first goal for your emergency fund be $2,000. Once you’re there, congratulations — you’re ahead of many Americans (63% of whom don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency). Then, aim for three months’ worth of living expenses. You’re on your way to being ready for anything.

3. Credit Card Debt

Sit down with a notepad and make a list of everything you owe and — this is key — the interest rate for each debt. It’s usually a smart move to make paying off credit card debt your first priority, because it usually has the highest interest rates. Szapiro says there’s “something magical” about paying it down.

“If you have a really high interest rate of 18 percent or 20 percent, every dollar you put towards the credit card is a guaranteed return of 18 percent or 20 percent,” he says.

That’s a pretty significant return rate, and it’s risk-free.

(Note: There is one investment you can make that beats that credit card interest rate return — grabbing employer matching dollars offered in a retirement plan. If you have credit card debt and need to save for retirement, aim to do both simultaneously, even if you don’t do either fully until the credit card debt is gone.)

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

4. Student Loan Debt

Although student loan debt is a top regret for many Americans, especially millennials, taking it on can be an investment in future salary and capital. Federal student loans tend to have low interest rates and sometimes have tax benefits, and there are forbearance options in the event of major financial difficulty.

You can also look into options to refinance your student loans at today’s low interest rates (just know that doing so takes forbearance and other payment options off the table). However, don’t prioritize paying off student loans over saving for your future. The latter will serve you better — especially if there are matching dollars in play.

5. Saving for Children’s Education

Regrets for not saving are understandable — but because financial aid exists, you have to put retirement first. That said, a smart way to start is with a 529 plan, which in many states offers an immediate tax benefit. Some plans also offer the option to contribute small amounts of money (e.g., $25) every month or pay period (again, automatically) which adds up over time.

“There’s no one magic number. It’s not like saving for a down payment for a house or something where you have a specific goal, a specific time you want to do it,” says Szapiro. “It’s something where the more you save, the more options you’ll have.”

Our Investment & Retirement Center can also assist you with setting up a 529 College Savings Plan – be sure to contact them today at 866.750.0100, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to get on the right track!

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

11 Things To Do With Your Money In The First Five Years After College Graduation

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A lot changes during the years that separate college graduation from five-year reunion. After caps and gowns come first jobs and apartments, then–far too often–bad bosses and roommates, leading to second jobs and apartments. A few years later your Facebook news feed will become a sea of engagement photos, foretelling weekends inundated with weddings. In the meantime, former classmates will become lawyers, doctors, MBAs–and occasionally parents.

Throughout all this you’ll wonder how you became old enough for a lease, for taxes, for a bridesmaid’s dress. You may also ask yourself: How am I going to afford all this? As your life evolves in the early years of adulthood so do your finances, the relationship you have with your money and what you need it to do for you.

If you are at the start of this journey, congratulations. Now is the best opportunity you will have to keep out of financial trouble and develop a solid foundation. But if there is no need to panic if you’ve already got a few working years under your belt, you’re not old yet. Small changes can still go a long way.

1. Build a cash cushion. Cars break down, jobs get lost and family members get sick. Emergencies will be emotionally trying, but they don’t need to be a financial drain. With each paycheck move some money into a savings account, preferably through automation. Long term your goal should be to have enough cash to cover three to six months of expenses, but it’s okay to start small. Consider a 52 week money challenge, in the first week save $1, second week $2 and so on, after a year you’ll have $1,378. Ready to commit to more? To determine where on the three to six month spectrum you should aim, evaluate your job security, the availability of jobs in your field and if you can expect family help.

2. Get health insurance. You can typically stay on a parent’s health insurance plan until you turn 26. For plans bought via government marketplace you have until the end of the year. Employer coverage usually ends in your birthday month, but you get a 60 day Special Enrollment Period leading up to your 26th. Use this window. This way coverage can start as soon as your old insurance lapses and you’ll avoid paying a penalty for every month you aren’t covered. The fine is the higher of 2.5% of household income (to a maximum) or $695 per adult per month (up to $2,085).

3. Do your 65 year-old self a favor. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan open an account and invest at least enough to take full advantage of company matching contribution (free money!). If not, open an individual retirement account and contribute as much as you can. In either case, create a road map to be making contributions of 10-15% of your income before your five-year reunion. Why? The power of compounding means saving a little bit of money now will go farther than saving a lot later on.

How will you begin preparing for your retirement today? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 866.750.0100, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

4. Give yourself a student debt-free deadline. Student loan repayment plans are typically structured to take 10 years. If remaining student-indebted well into your 30s doesn’t sit well, consider giving yourself a cutoff. “A deadline can be a great strategy if it based in reality,” says Karen Carr, a financial planner at the Society of Grownups. Use a loan repayment calculator to determine how much time you can shave off by paying more than the minimum. For example, a borrower with $30,000 in debt, a 10 year loan term and a 6% interest rate could conclude payments more than a year early by paying $400 a month rather than $330 – check out First Financials Student Loan calculator. Repeat this exercise every time you get a raise, tax refund or other windfall.

5. Crack down on your credit. Got credit card debt? Build a plan to pay it down, taking the same basic steps as you would to cut down your student debt timeline. Another one of our calculators – Credit Card Payoff – can be used to determine the amount of money you would need to put toward your debt each month to reach a desired pay off date.

Don’t even have a credit card? Experts suggest asking yourself if you have self-control and, crucially, whether you’ll be able to commit to paying your balance in full every month. If not, either steer clear of credit cards or open a card with a very low credit limit. If you can control your spending urges, a card paid on time can be a good way to boost your credit score. A solid score will come in handy if you ever want to get a mortgage or refinance your student debt. Used responsibly, rewards points and cash back are also nice tools for subsidizing things you may not otherwise be able to afford.

Check out First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

6. Plan to be flexible. An average college graduate will hold 5.8 jobs between ages 22 and 28, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a related trend, the Census Bureau has shown that people in their 20s move homes almost twice as often as the general population. This flux is why it is best avoid decisions the will lock up your money at this point in your life. The unexpected will occur.

A friend who responded to an informal poll for this story wrote about signing a two-year lease on her first post-college apartment. She liked the idea of avoiding a rent increase (multi-year leases lock in a rate). She also saw it as a way to feel grounded in a new city. A year later she ended up paying for that decision when she got the opportunity to move closer to family and friends, but couldn’t get out of her lease or find a sub-letter who would cover the full rent.

Life’s unpredictable nature is also why, if you can’t do both, you should put away a small cash pile before saving in a traditional retirement account. IRA and 401(k) contributions are made pre-tax, so if you withdraw funds before age 59 1/2 you’ll in most cases need to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty in addition to regular income taxes. Another option is funding a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k). With these accounts you’ll make contributions post-tax, which is more costly short term, but means in an emergency you can withdraw your original contributions (although not earnings) without tax or penalty.

7. Learn five practical skills. We pay for convenience, which is fine, but expensive. Determine which services actually improve your life. (Maybe you’ll decide a wash-and-fold service is worth an extra $25 a month, but $3 on coffee each morning is not.) Don’t allow not knowing how to do something force you to pay for services. Commit to attaining a few practical skills that can save you money in the long run. For example, learn to: cook a few basic meals, change a tire, fill out a tax return, paint your nails, sew. For more inspiration read about roommates who saved $55,000 with a buy nothing year.

8. Ask your significant other how much she/he earns. A 2015 survey of couples found that 43% of people did not know their partner’s salary. Of those 10% were off by $25,000 or more. Find out. Knowing how much your partner earns will help you set realistic expectations of what your life together should look like now and in the future. If gaps exist around basic questions like salary, couples might have other opportunities for improvement on the financial front, such as sorting through and tackling important issues together around the next big milestones in their lives. By taking time to engage in conversation and plan, your chances of creating a strong foundation and achieving your goals are greatly enhanced.

9. Negotiate.  In a recent survey, job search and review site Glassdoor found that just 41% of U.S. employees negotiated their most recent salary offer, the rest accepted the salary they were first quoted either for a raise or new jobs. Jessica Jaffe, Glassdoor spokesperson notes, “Of the small portion who did [negotiate], 59% were able to get more money. This shows negotiating can pay off.” Sites including Glassdoor compile information on average salaries by company and job title.

10. Decide if you’ll need a graduate degree. Step 1: Determine if going to graduate school will get you where you want to go by talking to recent grads, consulting people five to ten years ahead of you in their careers and researching average post-grad salaries for your field, location and school of choice.  Step 2: Figure out how you are going to pay for school. How much will you need to fund with loans? Will your employer pay your tuition if you return after graduation? What if you go to school part-time, will your company cover any credits? Do you qualify for any scholarships? How much can you save toward future costs?

If you have undergraduate debt, you can usually defer payment for the years you are in grad school, but your loans will continue to accrue interest. This means you will leave graduate school more indebted than you go in, regardless of whether you need loans to fund this next step in your education. In this case, a key calculation in the years before grad school is whether you should use extra money to pay down undergraduate loans at a faster clip or to hide it away to eventually put toward tuition. Phil DeGisi, chief marketing officer of student debt refinance startup CommonBond, says that decision should depend on interest rates. If the average rate on loans for the type of grad school you’d like to go to is higher than the rate on your student loans you should focusing on saving. If the the rate on your student loans is higher focus on paying down debt. If both rates are high, figure out if you can refinance your undergraduate debt to a lower rate.

11. Save and pay for something you really want. In the first few post-college years, most people are afraid of non-essential spending. How can you justify a new dress or a vacation if you haven’t reached your emergency fund or retirement savings goals? Start by saving every $5 bill you receive – you’ll be amazed how quickly it adds up. $100 for a great new pair of sunglasses and then with a little more effort, you can save $1,000 to go on that vacation you’ve worked so hard for. It feels great when you know you didn’t take away from your other goals, since you were using money that would have otherwise been spent, not money you were saving. Most importantly, paying for things that you truly wanted, with money you had saved for that purpose shows that you have control over your finances. As Bonneau points out, it’s “hard to regress in lifestyle,” but relatively easy to build sustainable habits now.

Be honest with yourself about the way you spend. Use a digital spending tracker or notebook to hold yourself accountable and to find places where you can cut back to focus on your priorities. Maybe that’s a vacation fund, a shoe fund, a charity fund, an education fund or an other-peoples’-weddings fund. You decide.

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article courtesy of Samantha Sharf of Forbes.

11 Easy Ways To Save Money

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There are few things better than realizing that an easy habit you picked up landed you an extra couple hundred dollars by the end of the month. Maybe it was finally ditching that morning cold brew from the funky coffee place down the street. Maybe it was scouring the below-eye-level shelves for some major deals from the grocery store.

Because you can never have enough tips on being smarter about saving money, we’ve rounded up a few creative ways to help loosen up your wallet from everyday people like you and I.

1. Save those Lincolns.

“I try and save every $5 bill I receive. I have an envelope full of fives that I hide away so I forget about it. I’m currently at about $900 in fives!”

Stephanie

2. Grab coffee from the office.

“For the first few months of the year, I promised myself I wouldn’t spend more than $1 on coffee. I was spending about $4 a day at local coffee shops, and instead bought street coffee or grabbed a cup of joe from the office. In three months I spent less than $90 — versus the average $360 I was spending before. KA-CHING!”

Jessica

3. Be an Amazon pro.

“Nerd alert — the app Paribus will keep track of what you’ve purchased and alert you and will automatically ask for a price adjustment if the price changes. Just got $8 back from Amazon this week!”

Meredith

4. Stock up on meats.

“I stock up on meats when they’re on sale and do a bit of pre-freezer prep work. I’ll portion things out — I can thinly slice chicken breasts for stir fry and then freeze that as a meal — and often will marinate them at the same time. Then I defrost it the day I want to use it. I’ve gotten dinners for my family of three down to about $4 per dinner this way, or $1.30 per person per dinner.”

Mallory

5. Check the far aisles.

“Whenever you go to a store like Target or Walmart, check the end caps, especially those along the outer perimeter of the store. That’s where they put deeply discounted items on clearance. It’s sort of a catch-all, but it’s where you can grab a box gift set of Old Spice bathing and deodorant products for $5.”

Tyler

6. Co-ops are your best friend.

“Shop at a co-op! I do all my grocery shopping at a co-op once a week and eat lots of organic and otherwise happy food for a ridiculously low price. My partner and I usually spend less than $400 on groceries a month. Bonus: You get to witness the occasional throw-down over food politics.”

Also: If you are very, very broke, most of the CSAs and farm shares in New York have tiered plans for different incomes!

Irina

7. Keep the change.

“Carrying around change is a universal hatred, and most of mine used to go absentmindedly into tip jars and in between couch cushions. I now keep an empty jar on my counter in which I dump all my change at the day’s end every day. Yes, simple trick, and nothing you haven’t heard before, but at the end of two months I end up with an extra ~$100 I would have literally given away.”

Lauren

8. Get money for your old clothes.

“H&M is currently trying to rehabilitate its image as one of the worst offenders of fast fashion. As such, H&M offers a coupon to customers who bring in a bag of clothing, and it’s worth 15 percent off their entire next purchase. They take anything, too. What does that mean?  When the consignment store like Beacon’s Closet, Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange won’t take your used clothing, put it in a bag and give it to H&M for that coupon. It can be old t-shirts from Dollar General, for all H&M cares — they just want to recycle.”

Double tip: “When you’re at H&M using that coupon for 15 percent off your entire purchase, text to sign up for their newsletter to get 20 percent off of one item. They let you use it on the most expensive item too, and in conjunction with the 15 percent off coupon. Then to avoid getting their annoying texts, immediately reply “STOP” to the newsletter to unsubscribe. Then you can use the discount again next time with the same process.”

Tyler

9. Tag along to a friend’s gym.

“I go to Crunch Fitness with my friend, as her guest, for free — which eliminates paying for a monthly gym membership.”

Stephanie

10. Ride for free.

“Bike to work instead of using subway! A 30-day fare card in New York is $116. I still use the subway sometimes, so I save about $80 per month.”

Roque

11. Go cash-only.

“If I don’t want to spend frivolously, especially that week before my next paycheck, I’ll go cash-only. I know mentally that I have breathing room in my account, but if I only take out $100 for the week, I’ll be smarter every day when going out to get lunch or run for coffee knowing that I want to make those specific, tangible, in-front-of-me dollars stretch. This curbs a lot of impulse spending too.”

Mallory

*Original article courtesy of Jenny Che of the Huffington Post.