3 Ways to be Financially Responsible with Your Tax Return

Here are some smart ways to spend your tax refund this year:

Pay down your debt. This may be the smartest choice when deciding what to do with your refund. Decreasing your debt helps alleviate the interest you’re paying, which will be a huge weight off your wallet and credit score. Debt can feel like a mountain, so use this opportunity to start digging yourself out from under it.

Put it into retirement. If you’re not steadily adding funds to your retirement account (401k, Roth IRA), you’re doing yourself a disservice. Even if you’re young and it doesn’t seem that important right now, you’ll be 65 before you know it.

Need help with retirement planning? 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 732.312.1414, email mary.laferriere@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

Build up an emergency fund. If you’re doing a good job of saving for retirement, congratulations. But you may get yourself into trouble if that’s all you’re saving. Take this opportunity to use your tax return to create an emergency fund in case things go south (you lose your job, car dies, etc).

*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.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

Is this the Year You Keep Your New Year’s Resolution?

Now that 2018 is officially here, many of us are coming to grips with a familiar, frustrating truth: there’s a big difference between making a new year’s resolution and keeping one. The good news is that we’re not alone. It’s estimated that approximately 40% of Americans make resolutions when the new year rolls around, but only 8% are successful in keeping them. Making a resolution only takes a moment of inspiration, keeping it calls for consistent dedication.

With the abundance of self-help books, podcasts, and seminars at our disposal, it’s easy to get tossed around on the latest and greatest informational waves. Too often, we jump from one fad to the next, spending substantial energy without moving closer to our end goal. It’s tempting to confuse activity with productivity. That makes it even more important to know the difference between the two. If you want to join the 8% of people who successfully stick to their resolution, you have to work smarter – not harder.

Simplify for Success

By limiting the variables in your resolution’s success equation, you can employ principles similar to those that make life hacks so popular. And while mental tricks and efficiency shortcuts aren’t substitutes for perseverance, they can help you avoid overthinking a problem or wasting time on unproductive practices.

As you work toward your 2018 resolutions, focusing on the following three aspects of each goal can help simplify your planning and streamline your pursuit.

1. Psychological

When the American Psychological Association weighs in on new year’s resolutions, it’s a good idea to hear them out. In an article on their website, the APA recommends a sensible approach that involves breaking large goals into smaller, attainable action steps. Following this recommendation increases the opportunities to tally some quick wins, and the psychological benefits of early success are invaluable to long-term achievement.

Example: If you want to build up an emergency fund of $1000, aim for saving $20 a week. It’s not as overwhelming, and over the course of the year, you get 52 chances to celebrate!

2. Physical 

Even if your resolution isn’t physical in nature (i.e. – lose weight, get in shape, run a marathon, etc.), it may be a good idea to incorporate some physical activity anyway. On the Harvard Health Blog, Heidi Goldman shares that exercise can help wire the brain in a way that protects memory and critical thinking skills. Considering the fact that “I forgot” and “I just can’t figure it out” are common excuses for breaking a resolution, improved clarity and brain function sounds pretty helpful.

Example: You resolve that 2018 is the year you finally learn to speak Italian. A 30-minute walk each day offers an excellent opportunity to practice your new vocabulary, and the cardiovascular exercise encourages the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, which can improve your brain’s ability to learn and retain new information.

3. Personal

In a previous post, we discussed the need for accountability. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Recruiting someone to hold you accountable makes the resolution a little more personal because it involves a risk of social capital. The key is finding someone who knows you well enough to challenge you, but cares for you enough to encourage you as well.

Example: Let’s say you resolve to pay off credit card debt this year and you ask your best friend to hold you accountable. When you pull out a credit card to pay for dinner, your friend can offer a good-natured reminder that putting your meal on credit isn’t helping you reach your goal—the kind of reminder you’d easily brush off if it came from a stranger.

Just because the concept of keeping a new year’s resolution is simple doesn’t mean the process is easy. But if something mattered enough to inspire a resolution in the first place, it’s important enough work towards throughout the year. If you stick with it, you’ll probably find that the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a goal is often more rewarding than reaching the goal itself.

 

3 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Retire

There are probably hundreds of questions someone should ask themselves if they’re planning on retiring in the near future. Some of those questions may pertain to you and some may not. Here are three basic questions everyone should know the answer to before they start the retirement process.

Can you afford to retire?

This is easily the most important question when considering retirement. You may be ready to call it quits, but you need to make sure your income in retirement will be greater than your expenses. Is your house paid for? Do you plan on relocating? Do you have car payments? Can you max out your social security benefits if you wait a little bit longer? These are all things you should be thinking about before you declare yourself ready to retire.

What are you going to do?

You can’t just sit around all day. You’ve spent your adult life working 40 hours a week and now you have nothing to do. Are you going to travel? Pick up a hobby like woodworking or golf? Figure out how you want to spend your time in retirement so you’ll know how you’re going to be spending your money. If you’ve got grandkids nearby you may be starting a new life as a babysitter. Whether you do a lot in retirement or choose to do as little as possible, that’s okay – but it’s good to have a plan.

Who are you going to be doing it with?

You make a lot of friends at work. When work is a big part of your life, your coworkers are sometimes the only people you have time for. What are you going to do after you retire? Will those work relationships last? Do you spend a lot of time with family? Is your spouse still working? Plug yourself into activities or organizations that will keep you engaged with others. Finding ways to stay social will help keep you active and feeling young.

Questions about retirement planning? 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!*

*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.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.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.

5 Essential Things You Need to Know About Saving for Retirement

bigstock-Mature-Retired-Couple-Enjoying-71278750Saving for retirement is essential. The concept of retiring on the checks you get from social security has vanished in the 21st century. You have to go out of your way to gather the funds necessary to sustain a long and enjoyable retirement.

Generation X is the most vulnerable group. In the financial crisis a study revealed that they lost nearly half of their total wealth. But it’s never too early to save for a long and happy retirement, and it’s certainly never too late.

This guide is going to show you the essentials you need to know about retirement saving.

1. Look Ahead.

Don’t be blind to your financial situation. Be proactive and take notice of what your various retirement funds are going to actually give you during your twilight years. Look into your employer-sponsored retirement program and see whether it’s sufficient enough to cover your needs.

There are so many people that have yet to even think about retirement. The later you start saving for it the less you can expect to get. This can have the consequences of forcing you to continue working throughout your retirement simply to survive.

You can never save too much for retirement, so get started now.

2. Ignoring the Problem.

It’s never nice to think about your final years, and it’s certainly never nice to think about your final years if you are unsure as to whether you can afford to survive. But this is a problem that will only become more urgent the older you get.

Don’t enter a cycle of denial where you prioritize current financial issues over your retirement. Starting today is always better than starting tomorrow.

3. Make Sacrifices.

If you are starting your retirement fund later in life, you may have to consider making sacrifices. In other words, you are going to have to sacrifice some of your current quality of life in order to get the income you need when you decide to leave work.

Make some conscious trade-offs to increase saving and reduce spending. One good move is to increase contributions to your work-based retirement fund. Each time you receive a raise, you should make it your priority to increase the amount of money you are saving.

A simple change in your state of mind can have a big impact going forward.

4. Face Financial Reality.

If you have already reached middle age, you are about to enter your peak earning years. Many people are scared to face the financial realities of retirement. They are terrified of discovering they don’t have enough to retire at the age they wanted. But it’s vital that you know you are following a clear path.

You should have an intimate knowledge of interest rates and inflation, for a start. It may be worth contacting a financial advisor to find out about what other retirement options are open to you. You may discover that there are better choices available.

5. Consistency is the Key.

Be consistent with your savings. Make sure that you are constantly contributing to your retirement fund. The key to building up a healthy amount of money is to be automatic. Make sure that you are constantly making payments and you will be amazed at how quickly it can all add up. Setup a regular payment agreement with your bank so you don’t even need to think about making contributions.

Saving for retirement is best done as early as absolutely possible. Failing to do this will leave you in the difficult position of not having enough money to meet your basic needs. Begin saving and commit to regular payments and don’t compromise on your retirement for anything or anyone.

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!*

*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 AJ Agrawal of the Huffington Post.

13 Commandments For Smart Personal Finance

commandments1. Know your goals. This means trying to step back and say, “Where are we going? How are we going to get there?”  While it doesn’t necessarily mean having all the pieces in place, you should be able to identify the goals and a few actions that will bring you closer to achieving them.  Don’t be be afraid of dreaming a little, but also make sure the goals are specific, measurable, and realistic.

2. Don’t be paralyzed by past mistakes. Most people, even those who are highly successful, have made bad investments at some point in their lives.  The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and move forward. Stressing about the past is not a productive activity.

3. Develop a plan. A goal without a plan is nothing but a wish.  You also need to be flexible enough to re-calculate as goals and situations change. This is where a trained and certified financial planner can be an asset, monitoring your performance, how it measures up to the market, and whether or not you are on track to meet your stated goals.

4. Know your cash flow. This is the financial equivalent of taking your blood pressure. It’s not about putting you on a budget, it’s about knowing how much money is coming in and where it’s going. You might be surprised at how much you are spending on certain items. Having a handle on your cash flow combined with knowing your goals, will help identify possible changes that can be made to help you achieve your objectives.

5. Plan your major celebrations without stress. Planning for a child’s wedding?  Rather than incurring excessive debt, consider scaling down the event to reduce stress. In addition, if there is enough time and with proper planning, there may be ways to save well in advance.

6. Understand your liquidity. Liquidity is the ability to convert your investments into cash quickly.  Liquidity is valued because life is dynamic and your need to move quickly may be necessary – whether it’s due to an opportunity like a good investment, or an unforeseen expense, like a flood in your basement.

7. Know and manage your risk. Things go wrong and accidents happen. Whether it relates to a downturn in your health or your finances, you want to protect your family. Understanding your insurance options is an important part of every financial plan.

8. Plan for financial independence. Knowing when you can retire and having some confidence that you will have enough money, is what financial independence is all about. The financial planning process can help you project your retirement at a given age based on such things as assumed income, expenses, inflation, social security, and savings.

9. Establish an estate plan. This gives you control over your money and your children’s future when you’re gone.  Unfortunately, too many people relegate this to the bottom of their list.

10. Manage your taxes. Your accountant and financial advisor should be talking when it comes to your tax planning. You should have a strategy in place that will minimize your taxes, while helping you achieve long term value.

11. Manage your debt. Carrying debt creates anxiety and stress. Credit card debt in particular often results in interest rates exceeding 20%! It’s important to pay down debt as quickly as you can. This ultimately frees up funds that can be relegated elsewhere.

12. Understand your investment strategy. Your investment strategy should be tied to your goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. Having a plan guides you so that you avoid the type of panic that can lead to making bad decisions.

13. Putting it all together. Simply stated, this means looking at the big picture and feeling confident you have crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s. Be sure to prioritize your needs and talk with a professional who can offer independent advice.

Questions about retirement savings, estate planning, or investments?  If you would like 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 866.750.0100 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.

Article Source: http://www.valuewalk.com/2015/06/personal-finance-commandments/