9 Ways to ‘Spring Clean’ Your Finances

BY ERIN BENDIG

Don’t forget to spring clean your finances this year. Not only will it make managing your money easier, it could save you some money.

March 19 is the first day of spring, and you know what that means: It’s time to get started on your home’s annual spring cleaning. As you deep clean your home, however, there’s another thing that also needs tidying — your finances. 

Organizing and cleaning up your accounts can help you save money throughout the rest of the year, so it’s important to set aside some time to “spring clean” your finances in the coming weeks.  

Below are nine ways you can spring clean your finances, setting you up for financial success throughout the rest of the year.

1. Check your credit report

Image of a cup of coffee next to a credit report paper.

A good starting point to organize your finances this spring is by checking your credit report. It’s important to check for any errors on your report that could be negatively affecting your credit score, such as incorrect personal information, balance errors, incorrect accounts resulting from identity theft or incorrect balances. And errors on your credit report are more common than you may think. 

study from the Federal Trade Commission stated that one in five Americans were likely to have errors in at least one of their credit reports. And according to Consumer Reports, the number of complaints about credit report errors has more than doubled from 2021 to 2023, jumping from 165,129 to 443,321. 

Fortunately, you can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — each week at AnnualCreditReport.com. Checking your report is also a good first step for those looking to improve their credit score

2. Get a better savings rate

A piggy bank with an arrow on it

If you haven’t been saving your hard-earned cash in a high-yield savings account, what are you waiting for? Now’s a great time to open one of the best high-yield savings accounts in order to maximize your savings throughout the rest of the year. 

By not taking advantage of the high APYs on these accounts — in many cases, over 5% — you’re leaving free money on the table. Use our tool below, powered by Bankrate, to compare high-yield savings rates today.

Similarly, if you’ve looking to invest in CDs, now’s a good time to lock in rates. Since the Federal Reserve began holding interest rates steady, savings rates have started to fall. If the Fed cuts interest rates later this year, as expected, CD rates will likely drop even further. Use the tool below, powered by Bankrate, to compare CD rates today. 

3. Get rid of unwanted subscriptions

streaming tv

You likely don’t need, and are even unaware of, all the subscriptions you’re paying for each month, which can eat up a big chunk of your budget. A great way to save a little (or a lot) of extra money each month is to get rid of the subscriptions you don’t use and don’t need. 

Unless you’re watching TV literally all day, you probably don’t need a subscription for more than one or two streaming services, like Netflix. And if you subscribed to a streaming service to watch a specific show, you’ve likely forgotten to cancel now that you’re caught up. There’s a whole number of other subscriptions that could be eating away at income each month, from meal-prep services to dating apps to music streaming.

Download an app that can track your monthly subscriptions and easily let you cancel them, like Rocket Money or PocketGuard. Many of these apps come with additional features that can help you manage your finances as well.

4. Turn your old stuff into cash 

Senior couple organizing items in home attic.

When you spring clean your attic or basement this year, you may want to think twice about throwing everything away. Some of the old items you have collecting dust might actually be worth money — a lot of money. 

Certain old-school video games, vintage toys and Boy Scout memorabilia, to give a few examples, can all go for thousands of dollars on eBay. Make sure you read Kiplinger’s advice on 7 old things in your home that could be worth a fortune before you donate all those old boxes to your local Goodwill. 

5. Deal with debt

An illustration of a tired woman sitting on top of a credit card holding a long receipt.

It’s time to spring clean your finances, which means it’s time to declutter your debt. It can be tricky to keep up with multiple loans from multiple lenders, all with different payments and interest rates. If this has caused you a great deal of financial stress, you could benefit from consolidating that debt into a single loan with a competitive interest rate. This can help you get a clearer picture of your overall finances, helping you pay down debt and save where you can.  

Additionally, if you’re struggling to pay down credit card debt, consider a balance transfer card. Credit card APRs increased to a record high in 2023, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, jumping from just 12.9% in 2013, to 22.8%. Therefore, it’s likely that your card’s interest rate is making it difficult for you to pay off your balance every month. If this is the case, a balance transfer credit card could help. These cards offer 0% introductory APR periods that can give you some breathing room to pay off credit card balances interest-free. 

6. Put an estate plan in place

File folders, one of which is labeled Estate Plan.

If you’ve been underestimating its importance or simply putting it off until later, now’s a good time to go ahead and put an estate plan in place. In 2024, only 32% of Americans have a will, reports the Caring.com 2024 Wills and Estate Planning Study. This is a 6% decrease from 2023. They reported that 40% of Americans claim they don’t have a will because they don’t have enough assets to leave anyone. 

However, having an estate plan can be beneficial for anyone, despite how wealthy you are. Without one, the state is in charge of distributing your property, which can leave your loved ones to deal with lengthy legal disputes. 

If you already have an estate plan in place, make sure you review it, especially after any significant life changes. Also, make sure the beneficiaries on all your accounts are up to date, not just on your will. Beneficiaries named on documents like life insurance policies and 401(k)s take precedence over those named in a will. 

7. Clean up your budget 

Woman planning budget and calculating expenses while checking her bills with calculator.

This spring, take some time to clean up your budget. Take a closer look at how much you’re earning and how much you’re spending. Identify areas where you can cut back on spending in order to allocate this money elsewhere, like funding a retirement account or paying down debt.  

Also, review your financial goals for the year and make adjustments where necessary. Once you have a solid budget in place — one that prioritizes your specific financial goals for the year — consider setting up automatic payments for monthly bills and savings.

8. Review your insurance policies 

Person holding smartphone with the words car insurance on it

Save money this spring by reviewing your insurance policies and making sure you’re getting the best rate out there. Shop around and get quotes from several companies to compare prices, and if you haven’t already, consider bundling your home and auto insuranceAccording to Progressive, doing so can save you an average of 7% on your auto policy.

 9. Maximize credit card rewards

Person paying with a credit card using a credit card terminal

Also, check what credit cards you have in your wallet. Are you getting the most benefits from your credit card perks? Take a look at where you spend the most money, and see what cards let you maximize cash back in those spending categories. Plus, pay attention to any additional benefits offered by a card, as well as any sign-up bonuses that can help you save some extra cash throughout the rest of the year.

Source: https://www.kiplinger.com/personal-finance/spring-clean-your-finances

401(k) vs Roth 401(k): How Do You Decide?

BY ELLEVEST TEAM

FEBRUARY 28, 2024

Updated for the 2024 tax year.

So your employer offers a 401(k). That’s great news for you — a 401(k) is an A+ tool to help you put money aside for retirement and save you some serious scratch on taxes. But how much to contribute to a 401(k) isn’t necessarily the only decision you need to make. Half of US employers offer both a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k). Both have tax advantages, but they work differently from one another.

So..what actually is a Roth 401(k), and what do you need to know before you can pick?

First question: When do you want to pay taxes — now or later?

Income taxes are a thing. And the money you withdraw from your 401(k) when you retire is, technically, income. But by choosing between a traditional and a Roth, you do get to decide if you want to pay those taxes later or now (or some later and some now).

You might be able to save money in the long term if you pay those taxes now. It all comes down to tax brackets — because you’re probably not going to be in the same one forever.

Maybe you plan to live off less money during retirement than you’re making today. That would mean your tax bracket could be lower in retirement — which means you’d probably save money by waiting to pay your taxes until then.

Or you might expect your income to go up a lot between now and retirement. In that case, your tax bracket could be higher once you retire — which means you’d probably save money by paying taxes now. (Of course, all of this assumes that our general tax bracket structure stays the same. Who even knows.)

With a traditional 401(k), you pay taxes later. With a Roth 401(k), you pay taxes now. So if you think you’ll move down in tax brackets when you retire, you might choose a traditional, and if you think you’ll move up in tax brackets when you retire, you might choose a Roth. Or, if you’re like, “heck if I know,” you might plan for either reality by using both.

Roth vs. Traditional 401(k) Explainer

Traditional vs. Roth 401(k): More things to think about

Still not sure which is right for you? Here’s a rundown of the main ways a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k) are similar and different.

How they’re the same

Income limits

Nada. You can contribute to a traditional or Roth 401(k) no matter how much you make. There’s one exception: If you’re considered a “highly compensated employee” (if you make $155,000 per year, are in the top 20% of earners in the firm, or own more than 5% of the company — the limit is called an “HCE threshold”— the limit is called an “HCE threshold”), your contributions may be capped because of the IRS’s non-discrimination requirements. Check with your HR team or 401(k) plan administrator if you think that might apply to you.

Contribution limits

The annual 401(k) contribution limit in 2024 is $23,000 (or $30,500 if you’re over 50). How (and whether) you split that between a traditional and Roth account is up to you.

Age requirement for withdrawals

You can’t take your money out of a 401(k) until you’re 59½ (unless you’re going through a hardship or meet one of the IRS’s other exceptions). Otherwise, you’ll have to pay all the taxes you owe plus a 10% penalty fee. Ouch.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs)

You have to start withdrawing your money in the year you turn 72 (unless you’re still working for that employer or 73 if the account owner reaches age 72 in 2023 or later). If you don’t there are — you guessed it — more hefty fees.

Taxes while your money’s growing

Good news: You won’t pay taxes on any capital gains, dividends, or interest that your contributions earn. (Nice.)

How they’re different

Taxes today

With a traditional 401(k), you don’t pay income taxes on the money you put in today — which is why you might see them called “pre-tax” retirement accounts. Instead, they usually come out of your paycheck before taxes, and they reduce your total taxable income. So if you made $60,000 and put $8,000 into your traditional 401(k), those contributions would cut your taxable income down to $52,000.

With a Roth 401(k), you make contributions “post-tax,” meaning you’ve already paid income tax on that money. You don’t get to deduct them, but that’s OK — the tax benefits of a Roth come later.

Taxes at retirement

Uncle Sam has a long memory. If you use a traditional 401(k), he’ll have been waiting for you to retire so he can finally collect those taxes you didn’t pay yet. So when you make withdrawals during retirement, they’ll be taxed according to your tax bracket at that time.

With a Roth 401(k), your tax bill is already paid, so you’ll get to withdraw your money (and earnings!) tax-free, as long as your account is at least five years old.

FYI: Your employer match won’t go into a Roth

Many employers offer a 401(k) contribution match, meaning if you put money into your 401(k), they’ll put some in, too. (Yes, that means free money.) This is pretty straightforward with a traditional 401(k), because you’ll pay all your taxes later, when you retire.

But with a Roth 401(k), you’re using after-tax dollars, and your employer isn’t going to pay income taxes for you. So they’ll probably deposit your matching contributions into a separate, traditional 401(k), and you’ll pay taxes on them during retirement.

Keep an eye on fees

With a 401(k) — traditional or Roth — your employer selects a range of investment options for you to pick from. Because you don’t have a ton of options, you might have less control over how much you’re paying in fees — and sometimes those fees can be high.

For many people, even if the fees aren’t quite as low as you could get with an IRA, the additional tax benefits of a 401(k) outweigh the cost in fees. That being said, it’s definitely worth making sure just in case.

And if you leave your job, you won’t be able to contribute to that 401(k) (or get all the same tax benefits) anymore. That’s a good time to look into rolling your old 401(k) over into either an IRA or your new employer’s 401(k).

So, which one is right for you?

The whole traditional-vs-Roth 401(k) question has a lot to do with taxes, and everyone’s tax situation is different. Ellevest isn’t a tax pro, so we can’t tell you exactly what’s right for you.

Here’s what we can tell you: If you think your tax rates are going to go up in retirement, consider the Roth. If you think your tax rates are going to go down in retirement, or you need to reduce your taxable income today, then consider the traditional.

Something else to think about: If federal tax rates go up in the future, then the decision to use a traditional will have less of a payoff. If federal tax rates go down, the decision to use a Roth could come back to bite you.

There’s no way of knowing that, so one way to hedge your bets is to use both a traditional and a Roth 401(k). You can divide your contributions between the two any way you want — you just can’t do more than $23,000 ($30,500 if you’re over 50) in total. If your main account is a Roth and your employer gives you a match, as mentioned above, this strategy might come built-in. Either way, it’s a good idea to talk to a tax pro to really understand what’s right for you.

The whole “which type of 401(k)” question isn’t half as important as just getting started. Putting money toward your future regularly and often is step one in going after the retirement you deserve.

Source: https://www.ellevest.com/magazine/retirement/401k-vs-roth-401k

Six Tax Breaks That Get Better With Age

Age plays a pivotal role in several tax credits, deductions, and rules — sometimes for the better.

BY KELLEY R. TAYLOR

Did you know that several tax credits, deductions, and rules hinge on your age? For instance, age might determine how much you can deduct on your federal tax return for long-term care insurance premiums. In other cases, your age dictates when you must begin complying with specific rules that affect your tax liability, such as taking required minimum distributions (RMDs). 

Knowing which tax regulations and benefits link to which ages can aid in tax planning and potentially reduce your tax burden before and during retirement.

To get you started, here is a list of six tax breaks that change as you get older and the associated ages at which you can become eligible. As always, and in any case, if you are unsure whether any tax provision, credit, or deduction applies to you, consult a trusted tax professional or financial advisor.

Extra tax breaks for people 50 or older

Note: The following is a short list of some common tax changes and amounts that depend, at least in part, on your age. This list is not exhaustive, meaning it does not include all tax provisions triggered by age nor all tax credits and deductions available for (or rules applicable to) people 50 and older.


Contribution limits over 50

If you are 50 or older, you can take advantage of catch-up contributions to retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s. These contributions allow additional savings beyond standard annual contribution limits, which can help bolster your retirement funds. 

According to the IRS, the limit on annual contributions to an IRA increased to $7,000 for 2024, up from $6,500 for the 2023 tax year. The SECURE 2.0 Act changed the IRA catch‑up contribution limit for individuals age 50 and over to include an annual cost‑of‑living adjustment but remains $1,000 for 2024. (So, the total annual IRA contribution if you are 50 and older is up to $8,000.)

The 401(k) catch-up contribution limit for employees age 50 and older and those participating in 403(b) and most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans is $7,500 for 2024. 

  • Participants in 401(k), 403(b), and most 457 plans, as well as the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan who are 50 and older, can contribute up to $30,500 in 2024. (That’s the $23,000 limit plus the catch-up of $7,500.)
  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees 50 and over participating in SIMPLE plans is $3,500 for 2024.

Note on a catch-up contributions change for high earners: Under the SECURE 2.0 Act, passed a couple of years ago, if you are at least 50 and earned $145,000 or more in the previous year, you can make catch-up contributions to your employer-sponsored 401(k) account. But there’ is a catch. Beginning in 2026, you must make those extra contributions on a Roth basis, using after-tax money. 

  • When the IRS implements the rule, you won’t be able to get tax deductions on those catch-up contributions as you would with typical 401(k) contributions.
  • But you could withdraw the money tax-free when you retire. 
  • The SECURE 2.0 Roth catch-up contribution rule won’t apply to taxpayers making $144,999 or less in a tax year.

What about HSA contribution limits? If you are 55 or older by the end of the tax year, the IRS says you can increase your annual HSA contribution by up to $1,000 a year. As Kiplinger has reported, the IRS announced record-high HSA contribution limits for 2024. Individuals can contribute up to $4,150 to their HSA accounts for 2024, and families can contribute up to $8,300.


Early withdrawal penalty

People age 59½ and older can make penalty-free withdrawals from traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, avoiding the usual 10% early withdrawal penalty. Penalty-free withdrawals can give you more flexibility in accessing retirement savings and managing finances.

  • Qualified distributions (i.e., from a Roth account at least five years old since you first contributed and when you are 59½ years or older) are tax-exempt. 

Additionally, if you are 65 and older, you can withdraw HSA funds for non-medical expenses without paying the additional tax penalty. However, ordinary income tax rates apply to distributions for medical expenses other than qualified ones. 


Free tax help

The IRS offers tax counseling for people age 60 and older. (If you have a joint tax return, only one spouse must meet the age threshold.) This counseling program, known as TCE, or Tax Counseling for the Elderly, operates in partnership with the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program. It utilizes IRS-certified volunteers specializing in pensions and other retirement-related concerns unique to older adults. The IRS provides an online lookup tool to find a TCE provider. 

There are also several other ways to file taxes for free this tax season, not tied to age. For more information, see Ways to Free File Your Taxes This Year.


Extra standard deduction: 65 and older

Once you turn 65, you become eligible for an additional standard deduction on top of the regular standard deduction. This extra deduction reduces taxable income, potentially lowering overall tax liabilities and allowing retirees to keep more of their hard-earned money.

However, the amount of this extra standard deduction can vary based on factors like filing status and whether you or your spouse are 65 or older. Another factor is whether you or your spouse is blind.

birthday cake with lit 65 candle on top
  • If you have yet to file your 2023 tax return, the additional standard deduction for the 2023 tax year is $1,850 if you are single or file as head of household. If you are married, filing jointly or separately, the extra standard deduction amount is $1,500 per qualifying individual. 
  • If you are 65 or older and blind, the 2023 extra standard deduction is $3,700 if you are single or filing as head of household. It’s $3,000 per qualifying individual if you are married, filing jointly or separately.
  • For information on the extra standard deduction amounts for 2024 (tax returns you’ll file in 2025), see Kiplinger’s report: The Extra Standard Deduction for 65 and Older.

Charitable IRA rollover: QCDs

If you are 70½ or older, you can make qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) directly from your IRA to eligible charitable organizations. These distributions can be helpful for retirees who want to support charitable causes while minimizing their tax liability. QCDs fulfill required minimum distributions (RMDs) without being included in adjusted gross income (AGI).

  • QCDs are not subject to tax.
  • You can benefit from a QCD even if you claim the standard deduction. (However, a QCD is not deductible as a charitable contribution.)
  • There are other rules to follow and a limit: For 2024, the IRA QCD limit is $105,000. For the 2023 tax year (if you haven’t yet filed), the limit is $100,000. For married couples, each spouse can exclude up to the limit for a total, for the 2023 tax year, of up to $200,000 and for 2024, up to $210,000.

A note on RMDs: Due to changes brought about by the SECURE 2.0 Act, 73 is the age at which you must start taking distributions from retirement savings accounts (other than Roth IRAs). You have until April 1 of the following year to take your first required minimum distribution. Different RMD rules may apply to inherited IRAs.

Source: https://www.kiplinger.com/taxes/tax-breaks-that-come-with-age

How to withdraw retirement funds: Learn 9 smart ways

By DARIA UHLIG

Published March 4th, 2024

Retirement planning is a confusing but necessary financial step. There are many retirement account types that may be good for you, depending on a few key factors, like your employer and how you prefer to be taxed. Here’s a look at the top nine types of retirement plans.

What Are the Top 9 Retirement Plans?

Some retirement plans are designed for people with full-time jobs. Some are meant exclusively for business owners. Others are adaptable to anyone, no matter their situation. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

  1. Traditional IRA
  2. Roth IRA
  3. SEP-IRA
  4. SIMPLE IRA
  5. 401(k)
  6. Solo 401(k)
  7. 403(b)
  8. Annuity
  9. Defined benefit plan

1. Traditional IRA

An individual retirement account is a savings plan that any individual with a taxable income can open and manage themselves. An IRA offers a tax advantage because once you contribute, your money will grow and you won’t pay taxes until you withdraw it.

Different financial service companies offer different IRA plans. This makes them adaptable for anyone, no matter the income, because you have the freedom to choose the investment options you can afford.

2. Roth IRA

Roth IRA is similar to a traditional IRA. The primary difference between them is that with a traditional IRA, you pay taxes when you withdraw your contributions. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on contributions as you make them, but you don’t pay when you withdraw the money upon retirement.

Also, unlike some of the alternatives, a Roth IRA will allow you to start withdrawing money early under certain circumstances.

3. SEP-IRA

A Simplified Employee Pension IRA is an IRA specifically designed for people who are self-employed or run their own businesses.

A SEP-IRA plan has a similar structure to a traditional IRA. The main difference is that an employer can contribute more than a traditional IRA would allow. As of 2024, the employer is allowed to contribute 25% of an employee’s income up to a maximum amount of $69,000.

Given that the contribution is dependent on income, in years when the business makes less money, you can make smaller contributions. This is beneficial if you are the employer, but less so if you are the employee.

4. SIMPLE IRA

A Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees IRA is also intended for use by small-business owners. To qualify for a SIMPLE IRA, a business must have 100 employees or fewer.

Under this plan, the employer matches up to 3% of an employee’s salary per year. If an employee leaves the company, they keep the contributions that the employer has already made.

5. 401(k)

401(k) is the most common retirement plan offered by employers. A 401(k) is tax-free until you are ready to withdraw the money, at which point you pay income tax on the amount you take out. Generally, with some exceptions, you must be at least 59 1/2 to start withdrawing funds without incurring an early withdrawal tax penalty.

Many employers match contributions that you make into a 401(k). You may not be allowed to keep all of your employer’s contributions if you leave the company before you are fully vested. However, you can roll over contributions into your new employer’s 401(k) plan or into an IRA.

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6. Solo 401(k)

solo 401(k) is similar to a standard 401(k), but it’s for self-employed individuals with no employees. This type of retirement plan treats you as both an employer and an employee. That means you can make contributions as both — which translates to potentially more tax-deferred savings than you’re allowed with a standard 401(k).

You can contribute as much as 100% of your earned income from self-employment, up to contribution limits. The limit on contributions you can make as an employee is $23,000 in 2024, plus a catch-up contribution of $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older. The limit on your contributions as an employer is 25% of your employee compensation from the business, up to $69,000, plus a catch-up contribution of $7,500 if you’re age 50 or older.

The IRS has a formula for calculating earned income for the purpose of determining your contribution limits. The formula can be tricky and mistakes can be costly, so consider talking with a financial advisor or accountant before you begin contributing to a solo 401(k) account.

7. 403(b)

403(b) plan is similar to a 401(k), but it’s offered to employees of public schools and certain nonprofits, such as churches and 501(c)(3) organizations.

As with 401(k) contributions, 403(b) contributions are tax-deferred, and so is the growth of funds in your account. You’re not taxed until you withdraw the money.

Some employers offer Roth versions in addition to standard 403(b)s. With a Roth 403(b) account, you make contributions from after-tax income and withdraw funds tax-free in retirement.

8. Annuity

Annuities are contracts between you and an insurance company. In exchange for your purchase, whether you pay a lump sum or in installments, the insurance company agrees to make one or more payments, and perhaps pay a death benefit, to you. You can take the payout as a lump sum or as a series of payments.

There are three primary types of annuities:

  • Indexed annuity: Returns are tied to an index, such as the S&P 500
  • Fixed annuity: Offers a fixed interest rate on your funds and periodic payments of a predetermined dollar amount
  • Variable annuity: Allows you to invest funds, which grow tax-free at a variable interest rate

Annuities have fees and risks you should be aware of before you purchase one. While only variable annuities are considered securities, a fee-only investment advisor might be the best person to help you determine whether any kind of annuity you’re considering is the right choice for you.

9. Defined Benefit Plan

A defined benefit plan is the type of retirement plan most people probably associate with employee pensions. Recipients receive a fixed, predetermined benefit when they retire. The benefit can be a set dollar amount or a percentage of your salary, set according to your years of service. The benefits of defined benefit plans are that your employer contributes most of the funds, and you know in advance how much you’ll receive — your employer can’t retroactively decrease the amount, according to the IRS.

Most defined benefit plans are annuities that pay out for the rest of your life or your and your spouse’s lives.

Final Take

Choosing from the retirement account types that are available can be overwhelming, but it is important. If your employer offers a specific plan, that may take the choice out of your hands. If they don’t, then consider what you want out of your plan now in terms of investments and taxation, and what you expect out of it once you retire.

FAQ

  • What are the most common types of retirement plans?
    • 401(k) is the most common type of retirement plan offered by employers, edging out defined benefit plans, according to an IBISWorld analysis. However, an IRA is the most common retirement plan chosen by individuals.
  • What is the simplest retirement plan?
    • A traditional IRA is the most straightforward retirement plan. Anyone who earns an income can open one, so there are fewer hoops to jump through to see if you qualify.
  • What is better than a 401(k) for retirement?
    • A retirement plan is a personal choice, dependent on when you would rather be taxed and what kind of employer contributions you expect. The best plan for a business owner is not the best plan for an employee, so deciding if a 401(k) or another retirement account type is best requires research or the advice of a professional.
  • What is the difference between a 403(b) and a 401(k)?
    • The primary difference between a 403(b) and a 401(k) is the type of employer that offers them. Public schools and certain charitable organizations sponsor 403(b) plans, while for-profit companies sponsor 401(k)s.
  • Is a Roth IRA better than a 401(k)?
    • They’re different products, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Roth IRAs have the benefit of being individual plans — you don’t need an employer to sponsor one. In addition, you withdraw money tax-free in retirement. The main benefits of a 401(k) are the higher contribution limits and your employer’s ability to contribute funds on your behalf.

Source: https://www.aol.com/types-retirement-plans-choose-one-223307908.html?guccounter=1

Tax Breaks After 50 You Can’t Afford to Miss

By Patricia Amend, AARP

Published January 19, 2024

The rate of inflation fell in 2023. The Consumer Price Index, the government’s main gauge of inflation, rose 3.4 percent for the 12 months that ended in December, compared with 6.5 percent in December 2022. But that doesn’t mean that the cost of living has gone down; it’s just rising at a slower rate. What to do?

Paying less in taxes is a good start. 

Americans are dealing with inflation in many ways.  People have created budgets, reduced spending, and started taking part-time side jobs for extra income, according to a study by the financial services company Empower. And that helps: The study indicates that 68% of those surveyed said they’ll be ready for retirement when the time comes.

But don’t forget that big chunk of change you send to Uncle Sam every year. And at age 50, you become eligible for some considerable tax benefits, which can help if you’re behind on your retirement savings goals. 

Estimate Your 2023 Taxes

AARP’s tax calculator can help you predict what you’re likely to pay for the 2023 tax year.

Now you can contribute more to your traditional individual retirement account (IRA), Roth IRA or to your employer-sponsored plan or to your health savings account (HSA).

“It is enough to pick up your pace if you’re feeling behind, especially if you’ve got more disposable income and fewer expenses,” says Jacqueline Koski, a certified financial planner (CFP) in Dayton, Ohio, who serves on the board of the Financial Planning Association (FPA).

Here’s how to take advantage of the tax laws to catch up, if needed. If you’re already retired, or close to it, these laws can enable you to reduce your tax bill. That’s too good to pass up.

1. Contribute more to your retirement plan

“The most important ‘kicker’ when one is over 50, is the additional deductible contribution to a 401k or IRA,” says John Power, a CFP at Power Plans in Walpole, Massachusetts. “These are often the highest earning years, and they often synchronize with children becoming independent.” If this is your case, and your expenses are lower, then Power encourages maximizing your retirement savings.

For 2024, the contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k) and 403(b) programs, most 457 retirement saving plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan has been increased to $23,000, up from $22,500 in 2023. Employees 50 and older can contribute an additional $7,500, the same as for 2023, for a total of $30,500.

The contribution limit for a traditional or Roth IRA is $7,000, up from $6,500 for tax year 2023. The catch-up amount is $1,000, the same as 2023. The 2024 catch-up contribution limit for a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) plan is $3,500, unchanged from 2023.

Unfortunately, attractive as these catch-up provisions are for folks 50 and older, a mere 16% of those who are eligible have been making these contributions, according to “How America Saves 2023,” a report by Vanguard.

At the same time, data from the National Retirement Risk Index compiled by the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, indicates that about half of American households are at risk of being unable to maintain their preretirement standard of living in retirement. 

In addition to making your retirement more secure, contributing to a tax-deferred retirement plan, such as an IRA or a 401(k), will also reduce your taxable income—which, in turn, reduces the taxes that you’ll be required to pay. Increasing your contribution won’t reduce the amount of your paycheck as you might think, thanks to the reduction in taxes.

Let’s assume your salary is $35,000 and your tax bracket is 25%. Contribute 6%—$2,100—and your taxable income will be reduced to $32,900. The income tax you’ll pay on $32,900 will be $525 less than on $35,000, according to figures from Intuit TurboTax.

To be clear: Retirement contributions made to a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) are made on an after-tax basis. That is, you get no up-front tax break for these contributions, but the qualifying withdrawals that you take in retirement will be tax-free. However, when you contribute pretax money to a traditional IRA or a 401(k), it will grow tax-free. But you’ll be liable for taxes once you start making withdrawals in retirement.

Keep in mind that the tax deduction you receive may be limited if you are (or your spouse is) covered by a workplace retirement plan and your income exceeds certain limits. According to the IRS, for 2024, IRA deductions for singles covered by a retirement plan at work aren’t allowed after modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) reaches between $77,000 and $87,000. MAGI is your adjusted gross income, minus certain deductions, such as student loan interest.

For married couples filing jointly, if the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is increased to between $123,000 and $143,000. If an IRA contributor is not covered by a workplace retirement plan, and is married to someone who is covered, the phase-out range is between $230,000 and $240,000.

Roth IRAs also have income limits. For 2024, the income phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is increased to between $146,000 and $161,000 for singles and heads of households. For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is increased to between $230,000 and $240,000.

When it comes to catch-up contributions for a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, you still have time to do so for the 2023 tax year. The deadline is April 15, the filing date for your tax return, unless you file for an extension. However, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Thrift Savings Plans and most 457 plans go by the calendar year, so you’ll be investing for 2024, and will have until the end of the year to do so.

2. Ease the pain of RMDs

Obviously, the longer you tap your retirement savings, the less you’ll have over your lifetime, and the greater the odds of outliving your money. Nevertheless, you can’t leave it untouched forever. You’ll probably have to face required minimum distributions (RMDs), the minimum amount you must withdraw from a tax-deferred retirement plan, such as a traditional IRA. Roth IRAs don’t require distributions while the owner is alive.

Under rules that kicked in 2023 under the Secure Act 2.0, you can wait until the year in which you reach age 73 before you start taking RMDs. Previously, the age was 72. For your first RMD payment, you can delay it until April 1 of the following year, but you’ll also have to pay another RMD in December of that year.

If you don’t need the RMD, consider donating it to charity. Donate your RMD to a qualified charity directly from your retirement account, up to $100,000, and you won’t owe income tax on the distribution.

3. Max out your HSA

Another often overlooked opportunity lies in Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) that employers offer, says Brenna Baucum, a CFP at Collective Wealth Planning in Salem, Oregon: “For those in their 50s, HSAs offer a unique advantage. By contributing to your HSA, you prepare for future health care expenses and enjoy a triple tax benefit—tax-deductible contributions [from your gross income], tax-free growth, and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses.”

Also, there’s a small catchup on the health savings account, $1,000, that Sandi Weaver, a CFP at Weaver Financial in Mission, Kansas, reminds her clients to make use of once they reach 55:  “We get an immediate tax deduction for that catchup, plus for the basic HSA contribution itself, of course.”

Plus, the account is yours: You can take it with you to a new job and use the funds in retirement.

For 2024, you can contribute up to $4,150 if you have coverage for yourself, or up to $8,300 for family coverage, plus the additional $1,000 catchup if you reach 55 during the year. However, your contribution limit will be reduced by any amount your employer contributed that has been excluded from your income.

4. Enjoy a larger standard deduction at 65

You can look ahead to an additional tax benefit down the road. The standard deduction, which reduces your taxable income and, in turn, lowers your tax bill, will be larger once you reach 65.

In 2024, when you fill out your federal income tax forms for income earned in 2023, if you’re married and filing jointly, you’ll get a standard deduction of $27,700. If you’re a single taxpayer, or a married and filing separately, the standard deduction rises to $13,850.

However, if you are 65 or older and file as a single taxpayer, you get an extra $1,850 deduction for tax year 2023. Married and filing jointly or separately? The extra standard deduction is $1,500 for each person who is qualified.  For taxpayers who are both 65-plus and blind, the extra deduction is $3,700. If you are married, filing jointly or separately, it’s $3,000 for each person who qualifies.

There is one drawback for some taxpayers with the higher standard deduction: It sets a high bar for itemizing deductions. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to go to the trouble of itemizing if your deductions aren’t higher than the standard deduction. Nevertheless, getting a larger standard deduction is a good thing.

Other deductions

What about cash gifts to qualified charities? Back in tax year 2021, single individuals could take a $300 deduction for cash gifts to qualified charities. Married couples could take $600. You could take this deduction if you took the standard deduction and didn’t itemize. But those days are gone. This charitable deduction disappeared in the 2022 tax year.

The high standard deduction means that for most people, it’s not worthwhile to itemize tax returns. But you can deduct some expenses without itemizing, thanks to above-the-line deductions, which are deductible from your gross income before calculating your adjusted gross income (AGI). For example, you can deduct student loan interest that you paid in the 2023 tax year. Other above-the-line deductions:

Teacher expenses. Individuals can deduct up to $300 in unreimbursed teaching expenses, and married couples can deduct $600, assuming both are educators.

Self-employed health insurance. If you’re self-employed, you can deduct the premiums for medical, dental, vision and long-term care insurance.

Alimony paid. The law used to allow those who paid alimony to deduct their payments. No longer. But there’s one loophole: If your divorce or separation agreement was signed before Dec. 31, 2018, you can deduct alimony paid.

Military moving expenses. Active-duty members of the military can deduct their moving expenses when they move because of a permanent change of station.

Patricia Amend has been a lifestyle writer and editor for 30 years. She was a staff writer at Inc. magazine; a reporter at the Fidelity Publishing Group; and a senior editor at Published Image, a financial education company that was acquired by Standard & Poor’s.

Source: https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/info-2024/tax-breaks-after-50.html

A guide to long-term care insurance

BY: JORDAN RAU, KFF HEALTH NEWS – JANUARY 2, 2024 5:30 AM

If you’re wealthy, you’ll be able to afford help in your home or care in an assisted living facility or a nursing home. If you’re poor, you can turn to Medicaid for nursing homes or aides at home. But if you’re middle class, you’ll have a thorny decision to make: whether to buy long-term care insurance. It’s a more complex decision than for other types of insurance because it’s very difficult to accurately predict your finances or health decades into the future.

What’s the difference between long-term care insurance and medical insurance?

Long-term care insurance is for people who may develop permanent cognitive problems like Alzheimer’s disease or who will need help with basic daily tasks like bathing or dressing. It can help pay for personal aides, adult day care, or institutional housing in an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Medicare does not cover such costs for the chronically ill.

How does it work?

Policies generally pay a set rate per day, week, or month — say, up to $1,400 a week for home care aides. Before buying a policy, ask which services it covers and how much it pays out for each kind of care, such as a nursing home, an assisted living facility, a home personal care service, or adult day care. Some policies will pay family members who are providing the care; ask who qualifies as a family member and whether the policy pays for their training.

You should check to see if benefits are increased to take inflation into account, and by how much. Ask about the maximum amount the policy will pay out and if the benefits can be shared by a domestic partner or spouse.

How much does it cost?

In 2023, a 60-year-old man buying a $165,000 policy would typically pay about $2,585 annually for a policy that grew at 3% a year to take inflation into account, according to a survey by the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, a nonprofit that tracks insurance rates. A woman of the same age would pay $4,450 for the same policy because women tend to live longer and are more likely to use it. The higher the inflation adjustment, the more the policy will cost.

If a company has been paying out more than it anticipated, it’s more likely to raise rates. Companies need the approval of your state’s regulators, so you should find out if the insurer is asking the state insurance department to increase rates for the next few years — and, if so, by how much — since companies can’t raise premiums without permission. You can find contacts for your state’s insurance department through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ directory.

Should I buy it?

It’s probably not worth the cost if you don’t own your home or have a significant amount of money saved and won’t have a sizable pension beyond Social Security. If that describes you, you’ll probably qualify for Medicaid once you spend what you have. But insurance may be worth it if the value of all your savings and possessions, excluding your primary home, is at least $75,000, according to a consumer guide from the insurance commissioners’ association.

Even if you have savings and valuable things that you can sell, you should think about whether you can afford the premiums. While insurers can’t cancel a policy once they’ve sold it to you, they can — and often do — raise the premium rate each year. The insurance commissioners’ group says you probably should consider coverage only if it’s less than 7% of your current income and if you can still pay it without pain if the premium were raised by 25%.

Many insurers are selling hybrid policies that combine life insurance and long-term care insurance. Those are popular because if you don’t use the long-term care benefit, the policy pays out to a beneficiary after you die. But compared with long-term care policies, hybrid policies “are even more expensive, and the coverage is not great,” said Howard Bedlin, government relations and advocacy principal at the National Council on Aging.

When should I buy a policy?

Wait too long and you may have developed medical conditions that make you too risky for any insurer. Buy too early and you may be diverting money that would be better invested in your retirement account, your children’s tuition, or other financial prioritiesJesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, says the “sweet spot” is when you’re between ages 55 and 65. People younger than that often have other financial priorities, he said, that make the premiums more painful.

When can I tap the benefits?

Make sure you know which circumstances allow you to draw benefits. That’s known as the “trigger.” Policies often require proof that you need help with at least two of the six “activities of daily living,” which are: bathing, dressing, eating, being able to get out of bed and move, continence, and being able to get to and use the toilet. You can also tap your policy if you have a diagnosis of dementia or some other kind of cognitive impairment. Insurance companies will generally send a representative to do an evaluation, or require a doctor’s assessment.

Many policies won’t start paying until after you’ve paid out of your own pocket for a set period, such as 20 days or 100 days. This is known as the “elimination period.”

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.

Source: https://oregoncapitalchronicle.com/2024/01/02/a-guide-to-long-term-care-insurance/

9 ways to get healthier in 2024 without trying very hard

JANUARY 2, 20241:21 PM ET

By Carmel Wroth

Sometimes trying to be healthy feels like just another item on your endless, exhausting to-do list. Here on NPR’s health team, we don’t want to add to anyone’s stress. The good news is that it doesn’t take great feats of fitness or a heroic commitment to good habits to stay well. Often small changes can make a significant difference.

In 2023, our reporters turned up the latest research on how to stay well without stressing out about it. We highlighted these in our series Living Better, on what it takes to get healthy in America.

Below are some of our best wellness tips from 2023.

1. Get healthier without even going to a gym

Hate the gym? That’s cool. Scientists now say you can get a lot of the health benefits associated with exercise just by increasing how active you are in your daily life. Think of low-effort movements like sweeping the floor, strolling through the grocery aisle, climbing the stairs, bobbing your leg up and down at your desk or stirring the pot while you cook. Researchers have studied this kind of movement and given it the moniker NEAT, which stands for this mouthful: non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Learn how NEAT can keep you healthier and how to get more of it.

2. Flip hunger into satisfaction with this cheap superfood

Weight-loss drugs like Ozempic mimic a hormone that our bodies make naturally to curb food cravings. What if we could increase levels of this hormone (called GLP-1) through our diet? Whether or not we’re trying to lose weight, many of us would like to feel sated longer after we eat and be a little less beholden to our sweet (or salt) tooth.

It turns out that, yes, you can increase satiety hormones by eating more foods with fiber — especially what’s known as fermentable fiber, which is found in foods such as oats, rye, whole wheat and many legumes. Read the full story on your body’s satiety hormones.

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Plus, there’s a host of other reasons to eat more fiber — it helps control blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol and inflammation. And it’s linked to a lower risk of issues like obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that foods with fiber are often cheap. And adding more fiber to your meals isn’t as hard as it sounds — we’ve got tips.

3. Little acts of joy can have a big payoff

Small moments add up. From chatting up a stranger, to taking time to reframe a bad day and find the silver lining, to noticing the beauty of nature, science shows that moments like these make a difference to your well-being. Even petting other people’s dogs can give you a boost. The recently launched Big Joy Project from the University of California, Berkeley is gathering data that shows that we can change our emotional state by embracing these “micro-acts” of happiness.

Learn more about how to up your joy quotient — plus how to participate in the ongoing citizen science project.

4. Outsmart dopamine and screens

Over the past few years, neuroscientists have started to better understand what’s going on in our brains when we can’t stop scrolling through social media or stop shopping online, eating junk food or playing video games. These types of activities trigger surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine. And it’s now becoming clear that rather than giving us pleasure, dopamine drives craving, the urge for more. It has a strong, though short-term, hold on our willpower. Understanding how this works can help shift how you manage your own or your kids’ behavior.

Here are four ways to outsmart dopamine and ease off compulsive cravings for screens or sweets.

5. Learn from the Japanese way of life

When NPR’s Yuki Noguchi visited her parents in Japan recently, she logged an average of 6 miles a day running errands with her folks by foot. That’s because Japanese cities are designed for walkability and most people take public transport and walk wherever they need to go. And that’s not all: Fresh food is highly prized there, so even convenience store meals to-go are nutritious and not packed with additives. The country has a “default design” that supports wellness, making healthy choices automatic. It’s not so easy, in many cases, to re-create that in the U.S., but there are ways to adopt parts of the lifestyle — walk whenever you can, choose fresh over packaged — and live more like the Japanese.

6. Combat loneliness through creativity

Loneliness is linked to all kinds of health problems, including increased risk of heart attacks and dementia. And forging new social connections — even with casual acquaintances — can counter that. But how do you break out of an isolated rut?

Jeremy Nobel, a primary care physician and the author of the new book Project UnLonely, has an idea: get artsy. Research shows that making art or even viewing it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases levels of the feel-good hormones, like endorphins and oxytocin. In other words, it can put you in a relaxed mood, which can help create an inviting vibe to connect.

And you don’t have to be Picasso; almost any creative act will do, including cooking, gardening, even doodling. Here are five tips from Noble’s new book for how to connect, via creativity.

7. Find a therapist you can afford

You could compare finding a therapist to apartment hunting in a crowded housing market. Demand is high; availability is limited. It requires persistence, flexibility and the knowledge that you may not be able to check every one of your boxes. Some people feel so daunted by the prospect that they give up, especially if they’re trying to find someone who is covered by their insurance or is low cost. At the same time, you may have more options available than you know. Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding a therapist who fits your needs and your budget.

8. Cut back on the ultraprocessed foods in your diet

Read the ingredients list of your favorite packaged snack, and you’ll find some things you’ve surely never stocked in your kitchen pantry, like additives that thicken, emulsify, stabilize or preserve. And that’s not to mention high levels of sugar, fat and sodium. Eating a lot of ultraprocessed foods like sodas, TV dinners and packaged sweets is linked to health problems like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

And most of us are likely eating more of these foods than we realize: Ultraprocessed foods make up nearly 60% of what the typical U.S. adult eats and nearly 70% of what kids eat.

So do you need to completely overhaul your family’s diet? Researchers say to start by cutting back. After all, there’s a reason why busy families like packaged foods: They’re convenient, tasty and affordable. So how can you make healthier choices without breaking the bank or cooking late into the night? Start by learning to recognize ultraprocessed foods and then try these easy ways to cut back, plus some smart swaps for kids’ favorite junk foods.

9. Manage back and neck pain

If you suffer from back or neck pain, you probably know that hunching over screens isn’t helping. You might have tried improving your ergonomic setup and posture, but exercise research points to another strategy: taking short spurts of movement throughout the day to release tension and stress in the body.

When the brain senses physical or emotional stress, the body releases hormones that trigger muscles to become guarded and tight. Movement breaks counter that stress response by increasing blood flow to muscles, tendons and ligaments and sending nutrients to the spine.

Here are five exercises to prevent pain, developed by fitness specialists at NASA, an agency where people work in high-stress seated positions.

And sometimes living better with back pain is a matter of making adaptations to how you do the things you love — we’ve got smart hacks for cooking with back pain and adjustments to make so you can get out and garden.

Making Sense of Medicare

Enrolling in Medicare presents itself with plenty of questions – Join Shane and Colin to learn how to Make Sense of Medicare!