What’s the real return on your investments?

 
What's the real return on your investments?As an investor, you probably pay attention to nominal return, which is the percentage increase or decrease in the value of an investment over a given period of time, usually expressed as an annual return. However, to estimate actual income or growth potential in order to target financial goals — for example, a certain level of retirement income — it’s important to consider the effects of taxes and inflation. The remaining increase or decrease is your real return.
 

Let’s say you want to purchase a bank-issued certificate of deposit (CD) because you like the lower risk and fixed interest rate that a CD can offer. Rates on CDs have risen, and you might find a two- or three-year CD that offers as much as 3% interest. That could be appealing, but if you’re taxed at the 22% federal income tax rate, roughly 0.66% will be gobbled up by federal income tax on the interest. Continue reading

Charitable Giving After Tax Reform

 
Charitable Giving After Tax ReformTax reform changes to the standard deduction and itemized deductions may affect your ability to obtain an income tax benefit from charitable giving. Projecting how you’ll be affected by these changes while there’s still time to take action is important.
 

Income tax benefit of charitable giving

 

If you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you can generally deduct your gifts to qualified charities. However, many itemized deductions have been eliminated or restricted, and the standard deduction has substantially increased. You can generally choose to take the standard deduction or to itemize deductions. As a result of the changes, far fewer taxpayers will be able to reduce their taxes by itemizing deductions. Continue reading

Managing Your Money in a Gig Economy

 
Managing Your Money in a Gig EconomyAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.5 million people rely on contingent or alternative work arrangements for their income.1 Often referred to as the “gig economy,” these nontraditional or contingent work arrangements include independent contractors, on-call and temp agency workers, and those who sign up for on-demand labor through smartphone apps.
 

If you are a contingent worker, you need to pay close attention to your finances in order to make up for any gaps in earnings that may occur between jobs. In addition, you’ll have to plan ahead for health-care costs, taxes, and saving for retirement, since you will have to shoulder these expenses on your own. The following are some tips for managing your money in a gig economy.
 

Prepare for slower periods between jobs

 

While establishing a cash reserve is an integral part of any financial strategy, it is especially important for contingent workers. You’ll want to set aside enough money to cover unexpected expenses and large bills that may come due during slower months between jobs. A good strategy is to make it a habit to deposit a portion of your income in your cash reserve.
 

Make sure you maintain good credit

 

Even a robust cash reserve might not be able to weather a significant downturn in contingency work. That’s why it’s important for contingent workers to have access to credit to help them get through leaner times. Make sure that you maintain a good history by avoiding late payments on existing loans and paying off your credit card balances whenever possible.
 

Come up with a budget…and stick to it

 

Because your income flow fluctuates, you’ll need to come up with a budget a bit differently than someone with a regular income. Your first step should be to determine your monthly expenses. If it helps, you can break them down into two types of expenses: fixed and discretionary. Fixed expenses are expenses that will not change from month to month, such as housing, transportation, and student loan payments. Discretionary expenses are expenses that are more of a “want” than a “need,” such as dining out or going on a vacation. Once you come up with a number, you should determine how much income you need to keep up with all of your expenses.
 

For a contingent worker, it’s especially important to stick to your budget and keep your discretionary expenses under control. If you are having trouble keeping on track with your budget, consider ways to cut back on spending or find additional sources of income to make up for any shortfalls.
 

Consider your health insurance options

 

Unfortunately, as a contingent worker you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored health plan. However, you do have health insurance options. If you are a recent college graduate and still on your parents’ health insurance plan, you usually can stay on until you turn 26. If you are no longer on your parents’ plan, you may be eligible for a government-sponsored health plan, or you can purchase your own plan through the federal or state-based Health Insurance Marketplace. For more information, visit healthcare.gov.

Plan ahead for taxes

 

In a traditional work arrangement, employers typically withhold taxes from employees’ paychecks. As a self-employed worker, you’ll have to plan ahead for federal and possibly state taxes so you don’t end up with a large bill during tax time. The IRS requires self-employed individuals to make quarterly estimated income tax payments, so make sure you set enough money aside each time you get paid to go toward your tax payments. Because contingency income fluctuates from month to month, the IRS allows you to make unequal quarterly payments. In addition, you’ll be responsible for paying a self-employment tax, so you need to account for that as well. For more information, visit the IRS website at irs.gov.
 

Don’t forget about retirement

 

While being self-employed has benefits, it also comes with tough challenges. In particular, a lack of structured benefits, such as an employer-sponsored retirement plan, can lead contingency workers to end up sacrificing their retirement savings. And even though anyone with earned income can set up an IRA, the contribution limits are relatively low — $6,000 in 2019 ($7,000 if age 50 or older).
 

Fortunately, there are some options that may allow you to make larger retirement contributions. Consider contributing to a solo or individual 401(k) plan (up to $56,000 in 2019, not counting catch-up contributions for those age 50 and over) or a SEP IRA (25% of your net earnings, up to $56,000 in 2019).
 

1U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Contingent and Alternative Arrangements Summary, June 2018

Time for a Mid-Year Investment Check

 
Time for a Mid-Year Investment CheckMany investors may be inclined to review their portfolios only when markets hit a rough patch, but careful planning is essential in all economic climates. So whether the markets are up or down, periodically reviewing your portfolio with your financial professional can be an excellent way to keep your investments on track, and midway through the year is a good time for a checkup. Here are three questions to consider.
 

1. How have my investments performed so far this year?

Continue reading

How much money should a family borrow for college?

 
How much money should a family borrow for college?There is no magic formula to determine how much you or your child should borrow for college. But there is such a thing as borrowing too much. How much is too much? One guideline is for students to borrow no more than their expected first-year starting salary after college, which, in turn, depends on a student’s particular major and/or job prospects.
 

But this guideline is simply that — a guideline. Just as many homeowners got burned in the housing crisis by taking out larger mortgages than they could afford, families can get burned by borrowing amounts for college that seemed reasonable at the time but now, in hindsight, are not. Continue reading

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