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. 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 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. 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.

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 732.312.1500, 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.

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 732.312.1500, 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.

5 Ways You Could Be Sabotaging Your Future Net Worth

The 3d person under a bill's rain. crise hopelessnessYou may not realize it, but the actions you take now can greatly impact your sense of financial security down the road. Many Americans inadvertently minimize their future net worth by focusing only on the short-term. It can be great to live in the moment, but in some situations it’s a good idea to take a step back to evaluate the long-term impact of your financial decisions.

Here are five ways many Americans are shooting their future net worth in the foot:

1. Renting a Home Instead of Buying

Purchasing a home is probably the biggest investment you’ll ever make, but if you choose a property wisely, it’s definitely worth it. Sure, you’ll need to come up with an initial down payment and you’re responsible for all upkeep and repairs, but in most cases these costs pay themselves back.

When you own the property, you build equity in an investment that will likely increase in value over time. Rather than making monthly rent payments to someone else, your mortgage payments are essentially an investment in your future. Homeowners enjoy the stability of knowing their monthly housing expenses are for the long term, whereas renters never know when their monthly rent will increase. Additionally, interest and property tax paid by homeowners is tax deductible, often offering the chance for an annual break from Uncle Sam.

Need a mortgage or you’d like to re-finance your current mortgage? First Financial has great, low rate mortgage options!  Check them out today.*

2. Not Paying Into a Retirement Plan Early in Your Career

When you’re young, saddled with student loans and barely making enough money to pay the rent, it’s easy to put off saving for retirement because it’s still 40 years away. However, waiting until you’re older to start saving can have a significantly negative impact your financial stability in your golden years.

The earlier you start saving, the more money you’ll earn in interest. For example, if you opened a 401(k) account in your mid-20s, saved a total of $30,000 and realized an 8 percent rate of return, you would have approximately $280,000 by age 65. However, if you save the same amount, realizing the same rate of return, but wait until your mid-40s to start the process, you’ll have only about $60,000 at age 65. Many companies also have a 401(k) match program, where they’ll match your contribution to a certain percentage or dollar amount, so you’re essentially turning away free money by not taking full advantage of this opportunity.

3. Waiting Until Withdrawal to Pay Taxes on Retirement Plan

Traditional 401(k) and IRA plans allow you to make tax-free contributions into your retirement account, with the deductions made in retirement when you withdraw funds. However, it might be smarter to open a Roth 401(k) or IRA, where taxes are deducted upfront, allowing you the benefit of making tax-free withdrawals in retirement. This could be a savvy move, as there’s a very good chance you’ll be in a higher income tax bracket when you retire than you were when you opened your retirement account.

4. Leasing Vehicles Instead of Financing

At first glance, leasing a vehicle can seem like an attractive option — less money down, lower monthly payments and the ability to drive a higher-priced car than you could afford to finance. However, leasing won’t add any gains to your future net worth. The monthly payments you make are essentially rent to the dealership, as you don’t get to keep the vehicle at the end of the lease. Rather than paying off the car and driving it for a few years payment-free, you’re forced to return it and immediately start making payments on another model — and continue the cycle every few years when your lease is up. Additionally, you’re limited to the number of miles you can put on a leased vehicle, you have to pay extra for excess wear-and-tear charges and you’ll pay sky-high early termination fees if you need to break the lease early.

In the market for a vehicle?  At First Financial, our auto loan rates are the same whether you buy new or used.** Apply online 24/7!

5. Using Credit Cards to Overspend

Everyone wants things they can’t afford, but offers for zero or low-interest credit cards can make it very difficult to avoid temptation. It might seem harmless to book a vacation or purchase a new furniture set using a credit card with little-to-no introductory financing, but what if you can’t pay the balance off before the promotional period ends? It’s not uncommon for these promotional interest rates to rise from zero to 18 or 20 percent, which can seriously increase the initial price of your expenditures and leave you with a mountain of debt that can take years to pay off.

Making savvy financial choices now can help ensure you’re able to enjoy stability later in life. Sometimes it’s worth making initial sacrifices now to allow yourself to ultimately come out ahead. Always consider what the impact of the choices you make now will have on your long-term happiness before jumping head first into a decision you’ll grow to regret.

 *Subject to credit approval.  Credit worthiness determines your APR. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See Credit Union for details. 

**A First Financial membership is required to obtain a First Financial auto loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Subject to credit approval.

Article Source: Laura Woods of gobankingrates.com, http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/money/5-ways-you-re-sabotaging-your-future-net-worth

 

How to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Money

adult online educationAre bills piling up on Mom’s kitchen table? Are you worried that Dad might fall prey to a scam?

If so, it’s time to discuss if they need help with their finances. Proceed carefully though, because they may not see things as you do: A study found that while 24% of adult children think their parents will need a hand with money, 97% of the parents do not.

“Conversations about money with your elderly parents are really about control — something they don’t want to lose,” says David Solie, author of How to Say It to Seniors.

Try these tips:

THE GROUND RULES:

Drop the attitude. An “I-know-better” air isn’t the best approach. “Take care your concern doesn’t come across as if you think their intelligence is diminished,” says Solie.

Avoid saying “you should…” Those two little words are sure to put them on the defensive.

Bring in a third party. “To your Mom and Dad, you will always be a kid — which is why the talk may go better if you deliver it alongside an outside expert,” says Paula Span, author of When the Time Comes.

WHEN YOU’RE FACE TO FACE:

1. Opening line. “Mom, I just read an article with great tips about how to simplify managing your money as you get older. Can I share a few of them?”

The strategy: “Bring yourself into the equation as a helper, not an overseer,” Span says. Framing the advice as someone else’s ideas may make your parents more open to accepting them.

2. Dangle a carrot. “I think we can save you some money on your cable bill, Dad. How about we take a look?”

The strategy: Suggest a small, concrete action with a clear payoff to start. An Allianz survey reveals that 61% of older Americans worry about outliving their money, so helping your parents cut costs is a good first move.

Seeing how beneficial your suggestions can be is likely to make them more receptive to other, more serious forms of help.

3. Keep your warnings indirect. “I know you’re too smart for this, but I want to tell you about this scam I heard about so you can warn your friends.”

The strategy: Being straightforward — “Mom, Dad, you need to watch out for people who ask for your bank account online” — may feel patronizing to your parents. Instead, plant a seed that doesn’t reflect on their competence to manage their affairs, says Colorado elder-law attorney, Catherine Seal.

4. Ask if you can tag along. “My friend’s Dad keeps getting invited to free-lunch retirement seminars. Do you? I’d love to go if you go.”

The strategy: Instead of trying to put the kibosh on a move you know is not smart, stand beside them during the sales pitch, suggests Kim Linder, a caregiver consultant. Then ask tough questions that will push your parents to think before they leap.

5. Use metaphors. “You wouldn’t buy a used car without a mechanic checking under the hood. Same goes for your investments. Let’s have a financial advisor look into this.”

The strategy: “In the second half of life, the right brain becomes the gatekeeper for information,” says Solie. “We respond better to stories and metaphors — the stuff that gives meaning to facts and linear data.”

You may also want to talk to the financial experts available to the members of First Financial Federal Credit Union. To set-up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial, call 732.312.1500.*

*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. Nondeposit 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://money.cnn.com/2013/04/01/retirement/parents-money.moneymag/index.html?iid=SF_PF_Lead

Could Your Next Stockbroker Be a Credit Union?

Can a not-for-profit credit union, like First Financial, give you the same level of service as a for-profit commercial bank? On many fronts, the answer is a resounding yes!

Credit unions have plenty of features that make them an attractive alternative to America’s big commercial banks:

  • Good rates on loans: As a general rule, credit unions are run for the benefit of their members rather than for the benefit of owner-shareholders. As a result, they’re often able to offer low interest rates on credit cards and other loans that few of their for-profit banking peers are able to match.
  • Competitive dividend rates on deposits: Credit unions are often able to easily trump the national average of 0.1% dividends paid on savings and money market accounts.
  • Lower fees: The majority of America’s credit unions have maintained the benefit of “free checking,” when very few of America’s big commercial banks still offer the service.

But for investors, there’s still one big hole in the credit union story: stock trading.

In the competitive, complex world of banking services, it’s a reasonable question: Do credit unions offer online brokerage accounts? Is there a credit union out there where you can open a checking account, sign up for a credit card, take out a car loan, and trade stocks, all in one shop?

As it turns out, there is. Or rather, there are. Quite a few of them, including First Financial.

Time to Meet the Broker

According to Bankrate.com, there are 7,351 credit unions operating in the United States, handling nearly $1 trillion in assets and serving 93.9 million customers.

Now granted, not all of these credit unions offer brokerage services. That’s not surprising. After all, not all banks offer online stock trading.

What’s actually more surprising is that quite a few credit unions do offer brokerage services, usually by teaming up with outside brokers.

CUSO or CUNA Who?

Now admittedly, most of these brokers aren’t exactly household names. If you’re looking for a credit union that’s partnered up with a Charles Schwab or E*TRADE Financial, you may be in for a long search.

As the first couple of letters of these brokers’ names — “CUSO” and “CUNA” — suggest, at least some set up shop with the specific intent of targeting the specific market niche of Credit Union members. That said, the brokers listed don’t look to be fly-by-night shops.

San Diego-based CUSO Financial Services, for example, has been in business since 1996. CUNA Brokerage is a division of Madison, Wisconsin-based CMFG Life Insurance. Here at First Financial, our Investment and Retirement Center partners with CUNA Mutual Group to provide our members with investment, insurance and brokerage services.

So if you’re dead-set against big banks but don’t want to give up on the idea of managing your own retirement portfolio — you may not have to. There are options out there for people who’d like to switch to a credit union but who also want to keep trading stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs. First Financial can do that for you!

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 brokerage, investments, and/or savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1500.

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. Nondeposit 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.

Click here to view the article source.

10 IRA Tax Tips

Knowing these 10 IRA tax tips can help you when saving for retirement. When preparing taxes and setting up retirement accounts, it’s important to know how your IRA or individual retirement arrangement affects your tax return. Being knowledgeable will allow you to make smart decisions when contributing to an IRA and how to handle the account in the future until you request disbursement at retirement.

Use these ten IRA tax tips to make smart decisions regarding your retirement future:

  1. Money contributed to a traditional IRA is not taxed until disbursement. Not including Roth IRAs, the person who owns a traditional IRA is not taxed until they request money from the IRA during retirement. Usually, the person’s tax bracket is lower during retirement, saving the person money by waiting to pay taxes until they are retired.
  2. IRAs can only be owned by one person. When the person owning the IRA dies, a beneficiary can be awarded any portion of the monies in an IRA that remains.
  3. Use the correct form. When making nondeductible contributions to a traditional IRA, the taxpayer has to use Form 8606, Nondeductible IRA’s.
  4. Know if you are eligible for a tax credit. Use form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions to find out whether you qualify for a tax credit.
  5. Persons can contribute to a traditional IRA up to the age of 70 years old.  If you are 70 1/2 years or more old at the end of a tax year, you may not contribute to a traditional IRA that year.
  6. To be eligible to contribute to a traditional IRA, the person who takes out the IRA or their spouse must have taxable income from specific sources. Income can come from a salary, wages, self-employment income, tips, commissions, or bonuses. Also included are taxable alimony and maintenance payments that the owner of the IRA received during the tax year. Income that does qualify includes deferred compensation, rental property income, pension or annuity compensation, and dividend and interest income.
  7. Contributions to an IRA can be made up till the tax filing date. You can contribute for the applicable tax year (the previous year) until April 15.
  8. Funds withdrawn from an IRA are taxable the same year they are withdrawn. Withdrawals of only deductible contributions are fully taxable.
  9. Early withdrawal may be taxable. Owners of traditional IRAs who withdraw monies before they are 59-1/2 years old may have to pay an additional ten percent tax.
  10. Late withdrawal may be taxable. Owners of traditional IRAs who do not withdraw the minimum amount after they turn 70-1/2 may owe an excise tax.

Contact the First Financial’s Investment and Retirement Center to set up a no-cost consultation at 732.312.1500 or visit our website for more information.

Article Source: Made Manual, Instructions for Life http://www.mademan.com/mm/10-ira-tax-tips.html#vply=0