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Retirement Account Balances Increase + The Basics of a 401(k) Plan

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It isn’t a secret that social security may not be enough for folks to retire when they are ready, and as a result, we are starting to see people take matters into their own hands. The average retirement account balances held by Americans surged to record highs in the last quarter. Workers hold an average $106,500 in their 401(k) plans, a 2.4% uptick from the previous quarter, says Fidelity Investments. Individual retirement accounts averaged $111,000, a jump of 3.8%. Both figures are nearly double where savers sat a decade ago. Employee contribution rates are also soaring, with the average American worker now contributing 8.7% of their salary to retirement accounts — the highest percentage since 2006. But for those who are not sure of their options what is a 401(k)? Investopedia has created this guide below:

What Is a 401(k) Plan?

By definition, a 401(k) plan is an arrangement that allows an employee to choose between taking compensation in cash or deferring a percentage of it to a 401(k) account under the plan. The amount deferred is usually not taxable to the employee until it is withdrawn or distributed from the plan. However, if the plan permits, an employee can make 401(k) contributions on an after-tax basis (these accounts are known as Roth 401(k)s), and these amounts are generally tax-free when withdrawn. 401(k) plans are a type of retirement plan known as a qualified plan, which means that this plan is governed by the regulations stipulated in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (or ERISA) and the tax code.

Qualified plans can be divided into two different ways: they can be either defined-contribution or defined-benefit (pension) plans. 401(k) plans are a type of defined-contribution plan, which means that a participant’s balance is determined by contributions made to the plan and the performance of plan investments. The employer is usually not required to make contributions to the plan, as is usually the case with a pension plan (which is one reason such plans are on the decline). However, many employers choose to match their employees’ contributions up to a certain percentage, and/or make contributions under a profit-sharing feature.

Contribution Limits

For 2019, the maximum amount of compensation that an employee can defer to a 401(k) plan is $19,000 (up by $500 from 2018). Employees aged 50 by the end of the year and older can also make additional catch-up contributions of up to $6,000. The maximum allowable employer/employee joint contribution limit is $56,000 for 2019 (up by $1,000 from 2018)  – $62,000 in 2019 for those aged 50 and older. The employer component includes matching contributions, nonelective contributions and/or profit-sharing contributions.

Investments

Typically, plan contributions are invested in a portfolio of mutual funds but can include stocks, bonds and other investment vehicles as permitted under the provisions of the governing plan document.

“Many 401k plans have index fund options which are inexpensive ways to invest in a diversified mix of assets. A U.S. large capitalization (cap) growth and value option is a good place to start. Then add a mid-cap choice, followed by a small-cap choice. Both could be growth,” says Elyse Foster, CFP®, founder of Harbor Financial Group, Boulder, Colo. “Then choose a foreign index; large-cap choices are usually offered. Bonds can be added via an index as well – a broad U.S. corporate bond fund is a good idea. Many 401(k)s are now offering a real estate option in the form of a REIT. This is an excellent way to diversify. If the plan offers a foreign REIT, buy both. This diversified mix will, over time, perform well.”

Distribution Rules

The distribution rules for 401(k) plans differ from those that apply to IRAs. The money inside the plan grows tax-deferred as with IRAs. But whereas IRA distributions can be made at any time, a triggering event must be satisfied in order for distributions to occur from a 401(k) plan. As a result, 401(k) assets can usually be withdrawn only under the following conditions:

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) must begin at age 70½, unless the participant is still employed and the plan allows RMDs to be deferred until retirement. “If you still enjoy working in your golden years and reach that most important 70½ where RMDs are required, you do not have to take them from the 401(k) where you are still working. You will, however, have to take RMDs from any IRAs or other retirement accounts (excluding Roth IRAs). But you could roll your IRAs or old 401(k)s into your existing 401(k) where you are still working and avoid RMDs while employed. Avoidance of the RMDs over 70½ while still working always assumes you do not own more than 5% of the company that sponsors the plan; otherwise, you will have to take RMDs even if still working,” says Dan Stewart, CFA®, president and chief investment officer, Revere Asset Management, Inc., Dallas.

Distributions will be counted as ordinary income and assessed a 10% early distribution penalty if the distribution occurs before age 59½, unless an exceptions applies. Exceptions include the following:

  • The distributions occur after the death or disability of the employee;
  • The distributions occur after the employee separates from service, providing the separation occurs during or after the calendar year that the employee attains age 55;
  • The distribution is made to an alternate payee under a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) as a part of a divorce or legal separation;
  • The employee has deductible medical expenses exceeding 10% of adjusted gross income;
  • The distributions are taken as a series of substantially equal periodic payments over the participant’s life or the joint lives of the participant and beneficiary;
  • The distribution represents a timely correction of excess contributions or deferrals;
  • The distribution is as a result of an IRS levy on the employee’s account;
  • The distribution is not taxable.

The exceptions for higher-education expenses and first-time home purchases only apply to IRAs.

The majority of retirees who draw income from their 401(k)s choose to roll over the amounts to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. A rollover allows them to escape the limited investment choices that are often presented in 401(k) accounts. Employees who have employer stock in their plans are also eligible to take advantage of the “net unrealized appreciation” rule (NUA) and receive capital gains treatment on the earnings.

Loans

Plan loans are another way that employees can access their plan balances, but several restrictions apply. First, the loan option is available at the employer’s discretion – if the employer chooses not to allow plan loans, no loans will be available. If this option is allowed, then up to 50% of the employee’s vested balance can be accessed, providing the amount does not exceed $50,000, and it must usually be repaid within five years. However, 401(k) loans used for primary home purchases can be repaid over longer periods.

The interest rate must be comparable to the rate charged by lending institutions for similar loans. Any unpaid balance left at the end of the term may be considered a distribution and will be taxed and penalized accordingly.

Limits for High-Income Earners

For most rank-and-file employees, the dollar contribution limits are high enough to allow for adequate levels of income deferral. But the dollar contribution limits imposed on 401(k) plans can be a handicap for employees who earn several hundred thousand dollars a year. An employee who earns $750,000 in 2019 can only include the first $280,000 of income when computing the maximum possible contributions to a 401(k) plan. Employers have the option of providing nonqualified plans, such as deferred compensation or executive bonus plans for these employees in order to allow them to save additional income for retirement. “Annuities would offer tax deferral of growth, but not a deduction,” says Allan Katz, president of Comprehensive Wealth Management Group, LLC in Staten Island, N.Y.

The Bottom Line

401(k) plans will continue to play a major role in the retirement planning industry for years to come. In this article, we have only touched on the major provisions of 401(k) plans. For more specific information on the options available to you, check with your employer and plan provider.

Ash Exantus aka Ash Cash is one of the nation’s top personal finance experts. Dubbed as the Financial Motivator, he uses a culturally responsive approach in teaching financial literacy. He is the Head of Financial Education at BankMobile and Editor-in-Chief at Paradigm Money. The views and opinions expressed are those of Ash Cash and not the views of BankMobile and/or its affiliates.

The Daily Digm (News)

America’s Richest Families make $4 Million Every Hour + Things Not to Do If You Ever Strike it Rich

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The fortune of America’s richest dynasty is growing by $4 million every hour, according to Bloomberg’s annual list of the world’s wealthiest families. Those are the stats for the Walton family, which draws its $190.5 billion fortune from Walmart. The Mars family (of candy fame) comes in second on the list, with $126.5 billion, while the Kochs round out the top three with wealth valued at $124.5 billion. Collectively, the 25 families on the list are worth nearly $1.4 trillion — a 24% increase from 2018.

$4 Million every hour is a lot of money! What would you do with that type of bank? You might think you’ll be fine with managing your money but that may not be the case. When winning a large sum of money you do not win the financial education that needs to go with it so many unintentionally squander the funds away. Check out the following 10 storys from PennyHoarders.com article of 21 Lottery Winners Who Lost Everything:

1. A Typical Story?

Lisa Arcand won $1 million in the Massachusetts lottery in 2004. She bought a house and went on vacations like many winners.

Of course, a million dollars isn’t much after taxes, so she also opened a restaurant to make some additional income. Sadly, within a few years she ran out of money and closed the failing restaurant. In 2007, she said of her lottery experience, “Actually, it’s been very depressing.”

2. From Millionaire to Factory Worker

Michael Carroll was a garbage man in England when, at age 19, he won £9.7 million (about $14.4 million at the time) in the lottery in 2002. A mansion, drugs and gold jewelry ate up the money quickly.

By 2012, Carroll was broke and living off unemployment checks. Now he works in a slaughterhouse, making £400 (about $511) per week.

3. Party Down… and Down, and Down

Gerald Muswagon, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, won $10 million in 1998. He bought cars for friends and family, and made his new house into a “party pad.”

Eventually, he’d spent all his money and he took a minimum-wage job to support his six children and his girlfriend. In 2005, just seven years after his big win, he took his own life.

4. Generous to a Fault

Janite Lee won $18 million in 1993. Although her gambling habit reportedly cost her more than $300,000 per year, she may have spent more on charitable and political donations. Her generosity included $1 million for Washington University to build a new library. In 2001, she filed for bankruptcy.

5. Millionaire or Murderer?

Willie Hurt won $3.1 million in the Michigan lottery in 1989. The money didn’t last long. Within two years Hurt wrecked his marriage, lost custody of his kids and was charged with attempted murder. He spent his winnings on his divorce and drugs, according to his attorney.

6. Big Winner Goes Deep in Debt

Suzanne Mullins won $4.2 million in 1993 in the Virginia lottery. She split the prize with her husband and was supposed to receive 20 annual after-tax payments of $47,778.

But when money got tight, she borrowed from a company that lends cash to lottery winners. In 2000, the lottery rules changed, allowing Mullins to collect the rest of her money all at once. She apparently spent the money rather than pay back what she owed to the lottery lender, and in 2004 a court ruled she still owed the company $154,147.

7. $31 Million Gone in Two Years

Billie Bob Harrell Jr. won $31 million in the Lotto Texas game in 1997, and he no longer had to stock shelves at Home Depot.

He bought a ranch and a few homes, gave money to his church and made loans to friends. Everyone wanted a piece of his money, and soon his marriage was in trouble as he lent and spent all of his winnings. In 1999, less than two years after his big win, Harrell took his own life.

8. Big Spending

Sharon Tirabassi, of Hamilton, Ontario, won $10.5 million in 2004. She treated friends to vacations in Cancun, Las Vegas, California, Florida and the Caribbean. She got married and bought a house for $515,000 — and got a $360,000 mortgage loan rather than paying all cash. She bought numerous cars, including one that cost more than $200,000, and gave millions of dollars to family and friends.

By 2007, half of her money was gone. By 2008, with her husband in jail for a DUI, Tiribassi lost their home. Now, to pay the rent and support her kids, she takes the bus to her part-time job.

9. Living for the Moment

Lou Eisenberg won $5 million in 1981, which at the time was the largest lottery win ever. After taxes, he received payments of $120,000 annually for 20 years. He bought a condo in Florida, took trips to Europe and Hawaii, and gambled. He also gave cash to whoever he figured needed it. Of his spending, he says, “I lived for the day.”

Shortly after cashing his last check in 2001, Eisenberg was broke. Now 81 years old, he lives in a mobile home on social security and pension income that amounts to about $1,000 a month.

10. Elderly Lottery Winner Looking for a Job

Vivian Nicholson, of Castleford, England, won £152,300 in 1961, the equivalent of about £3 million today ($3.5 million). She famously vowed to “spend, spend, spend!” She bought expensive designer dresses, vacations, and a new car every six months.

By the 1970s, Nicholson was broke. In 1998, she received money from “Spend, Spend, Spend,” a musical about her life, and spent it all quickly. By 2007, at age 71, she was living on a pension of £87 weekly ($102), and was looking for a job. After sending out 25 resumes, she still hadn’t found one. She died in 2015.

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Apple Is Officially in the Credit Card Game

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Apple has officially started accepting applications for its new credit card offer, issued by Goldman Sachs. They’re not the first tech company to have its own credit card so what’s the big deal?

Experts from the personal-finance website WalletHub have the answers to burning questions like: Is the new Apple Credit Card any good, who should get it, and what does the launch mean for the credit card business overall? After doing a thorough review of the Apple Card’s publicly available terms, here are a few highlights from WalletHub’s analysis:

  • Not a Good Financing Option: Apple previously said its “goal is to provide interest rates that are among the lowest in the industry.” But now that the terms are official, it’s clear the card should be avoided by anyone who doesn’t pay their bill in full every month. It doesn’t offer 0% introductory rates, and it has a regular APR of 12.99% to 23.99%, which is unfavorable compared to the average APR on a credit card, 15.09%.
     
  • Strong Apple Pay Rewards: The Apple Card is most rewarding when used through Apple Pay. Cardholders earn 3% back when buying Apple products using Apple Pay. Other Apple Pay purchases earn cardholders 2% back.
     
  • Average Physical-Card Rewards: Apple Card purchases made with the physical credit card, rather than via Apple Pay, earn just 1% back. The average cash rewards card gives 1.06% back on all purchases, according to WalletHub data. In contrast, the best rewards credit cards offer the equivalent of at least 2% back on all purchases.
     
  • No Fees: The Apple Card has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, and no late fee. The average credit card charges a $18.61 annual fee, a 1.49% foreign fee and a late fee of up to $32.94, according to WalletHub’s Credit Card Landscape Report.

Q&A with WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitrious

Who should apply for the Apple Card?

“The only people who should consider applying for the Apple Card are those who pay their bills in full every month and spend a lot via Apple Pay,” said WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou. “Everyone else is better off with one of the best rewards credit cards or one of the best 0% APR credit cards.”

Does the Apple Card improve privacy and security?

“Apple Pay is a more secure way to pay, but you can use any credit card with it. The seemingly unique aspect of the Apple Card is the access it gives users to virtual card numbers, but most credit card companies allow users to request virtual card numbers these days. So that alone isn’t a reason to get a specific card,” said WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou. “Most importantly, at the end of the day, all credit cards give $0 fraud liability guarantees, so consumers are protected from having to pay for unauthorized charges no matter which card they use.”

Should Apple investors be happy about the Apple Card?

“I think Apple investors should actually be angry about Apple going into the credit card business,” said WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou. “The move is simply more evidence for anti-trust investigators that Apple is exercising an unfair competitive advantage in an attempt to enter adjacent industries in a meaningful way. Similarly, credit card companies will be concerned and may start rethinking their support of the Apple ecosystem altogether.”


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Retail Worker Pay Hits 15-Year High + What to do with that extra cash in your paycheck!

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Minimum wage increases by states and across major chains, like Walmart Inc. and Target Corp., have created substantial income gains for retail workers. Average hourly earnings for 13.4 million non-supervisory retail workers surged 5.1% last year for the biggest advance since 1981, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The good news is that they’ve kept rising, hitting $16.65 an hour in July. When adjusted for inflation, that’s the highest level since December 2003.

However, the bad news is that while retail associates have made recent gains, they still earn much less than hourly workers other sectors. They are now making 29% less than the average for all non-supervisory employees, just a small improvement from 30% a decade ago. But let’s focus on the positive and anticipate greater improvement in the future and celebrate this small win!

So now that people will receive extra money in their paychecks, what should they do with the extra funds? Here are seven ideas:

1. Start (or contribute more to) a financial freedom fund.

It is a good practice to have at least six to eight months’ worth of expenses in a savings account as an emergency fund or, as I like to call it, a financial freedom fund. Use your bonus as an opportunity to either start your own financial freedom fund or put more into it. Having this money in an account will help you weather any financial storm and give you the strength to walk away from a toxic working environment.

2. Put more money into your 401(k).

A 401(k) is a great way to save for retirement. Even more so, if your employer provides a matching program, it gives you even more of a reason to start participating. Your bonus can give you the cash flow you need to increase your 401(k) contributions. While tax laws may not allow you to deposit your bonus into your 401(k) directly, having access to the extra cash will allow you to increase what you normally contribute from your check without the fear of not having enough money to meet your budget.

3. Put money aside for a big purchase.

Many of us would love to buy a new car, fancy furniture, trendy electronics, or upgrade our wardrobe, but may not have had the funds to do so. If your bonus is big enough, this may be the time to set aside money to make a big purchase. While I don’t suggest that you use all of your bonus, this can give you a head start on achieving your dreams.

4. Start investing in the markets.

Many people do not invest their money outside of retirement savings plans. But now may be the time you take a shot at it. Investing money outside of your retirement account can give you some good returns in the long run and diversify assets to mitigate risk. Instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket, spread them out to increase your chance of reaching true financial freedom.

5. Invest in yourself.

Author Robin S. Sharma said, “Investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make. It will not only improve your life; it will improve the lives of all those around you.” Take this opportunity to invest in a certificate program, buy some books, hire a coach, or take an exciting online course (like the ones they offer on Udemy.com). Invest in yourself and allow your value to go up in the long term.

6. Give to charity.

Not only is giving to a good cause a noble thing to do, but it can also help increase your blessings. There is a universal law that says, “The more you, give the more you get.” Use this blessing to be a blessing to others.

7. Have some fun!

If you have been following your budget strictly and have been diligent with prioritizing finances, then this might be a good time to let your hair loose. Have some fun—use some of your bonus to simply enjoy yourself! Buy an expensive dinner, purchase a piece of jewelry you’ve always wanted, or go on a two-week excursion that’s on your bucket list. You only live once, so if you’ve been doing so responsibly, then it’s about time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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