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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 The amount deferred is usually not taxable to the employee until it is withdrawn or distributed from the plan.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on an after-tax basis (these accounts are known as Roth 401(k)s), and these amounts are generally tax-free when withdrawn. 401(k) plans are a type of retirement plan known as a qualified plan, which means that this plan is governed by the regulations stipulated in the Employee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)

American Are Wasting Money + How to Become a Smart Saver

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New cars, spacious homes, and morning coffee are some of the top ways Americans waste money, according to financial experts. The criticism comes at a time when 29% of Americans say they have more credit card debt than emergency funds, up 8% from 2018. Young Americans aged 18-29 have a combined debt of $1 trillion, and demographics show steady increases before petering out, with 60-69 year-olds in debt totaling $2 trillion.

So how do you become a smart saver? The best way to do so is to cut your expenses in ways that will bring more money to your bottom line. The following are tips on how to save money:

1- Stop Shopping at Convenience Stores.

Convenience stores are notorious for marking up the price on items significantly compared to grocery stores. If it isn’t worth the hassle to go to a grocery store, you probably don’t need it anyway.

2- Avoid Late Fees When Paying Bills.

Pay your bills on time so that you aren’t charged that unnecessary extra amount. If the problem is a lack of organization and forgetting the dates, use a reminder service like Google’s calendar feature that can send you a text or email to let you know when due dates are approaching. If you are worried about not having enough funds, call ahead and see about changing the due date or getting an extension.

3- Save Your Change.

Make it a habit to keep all that pocket change in a jar. Use cash to pay for most things and instead of trying to give the right change, only use the bills. When you get home, drop that coinage in a jar and let it accumulate. You will be surprised at how quickly it adds up.

4- Carpool as Much as Possible.

You can be doing yourself and others a lot of good when you decide to travel together. It might not be as convenient, but it can help in the long run. Carpooling to work or taking the kids to school are obvious ones to do. You can also get to know your neighbor and coordinate shopping trips.

5- Buy Used or Discounted

You can find a decent collection of clothes and other needs if you will buy used or at discount stores. Shopping at consignment shops or Goodwill will provide you with some good options. Discount stores like TJ Maxx or Marshalls are good places to find good designer clothes at a low price. Yard sales are good places to look for things that you need for the home. Discount food stores will give you the most value on food products. The names of the brands may not be familiar, but you won’t notice much of a difference in taste or quality.

You can find many more ways to save money, but the keys are to get organized, be disciplined, and learn to sacrifice. There won’t be many how to save money tips that will save you much money on their own, but using several together will net you the results that you want.


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Amazon Is Helping People Build Credit + Credit Knowledge to Keep You on the Right Track

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Amazon is opening up its rewards credit cards to people with no or bad credit. The tech giant and Synchrony Financial are launching “Amazon Credit Builder” for people who don’t qualify for the company’s other reward cards. The cards will offer Prime customers 5% cash back on Amazon purchases, with the person’s credit limit equal to the size of the deposit they make before receiving their card. Since 11% of the U.S. population have credit scores below 550, the move could increase Amazon’s customer base, says CNBC.

This seems like a good move for those who are unbanked or underbanked, but without being of how to manage or maintain good credit, this effort might exacerbate the problem. Many people are aware of the important role the credit rating plays in their lives. However, understanding what goes into a credit score (the credit score breakdown) might present some difficulty. There are several different methods of scoring, but most lenders and banks rely on the FICO method that has been in existence since the 1980s when it was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation. The three prominent credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) all worked with Fair Isaac to come up with the FICO algorithm.

Your credit score may be any number from 300 to 850. The average American falls at about 690, which is deemed relatively good credit. However, while this score should secure you a loan, it will not get you the very best interest rates on loan. In fact, 300-640 = Bad Credit, 641-680 = Fair Credit, 681-720 = Good Credit, and 721-850 = Excellent Credit. Excellent credit should be the aim.

Following is the credit score breakdown:

Payment History

The biggest chunk of your score (35%) is derived from your payment history. This score is influenced by how well (or not) you pay your bills on time, how many have been sent to collection agencies, bankruptcies, tax liens, etc. Keep in mind that missing a payment is worse than making a late payment and that being late or especially missing a mortgage payment is a bigger blow to your credit score than missing a credit card or utility payment.

Usage Ratio

The amount of debt you have (compared to the amount of credit you have not used) accounts for 30 percent of your score. Try not to max your credit cards out. In fact, it is recommended that you only use 25 to 50 of the credit that is available to you. A way to balance this out is to obtain more lines of credit and not use them. However, you do not want to apply for a bunch of credit cards all at once as this is marked against you. If your credit is in good standing, apply for a reputable card every six months or so and save it for a rainy day.

Length of Credit History

Fifteen percent of your credit score is based on how long you’ve established credit. This is common sense. The longer your credit history, the better your overall score will be. More data about your past leads to a more accurate prediction of your future credit worthiness.

Credit Mix

Having several types of credit will actually boost your score if they are managed well. This counts for 10 percent of the overall rating.

New Credit

As mentioned earlier, opening new credit accounts all at once will negatively affect your score in the short term. It’s also important that you are aware that your score can be lowered for too many “hard inquiries” about your status. A “hard inquiry” is one that you have authorized a lender to perform. If you are inquiring about your own score, this will not count against you.

Understanding what goes into the credit score breakdown is the first step in improving your score and what will allow you to design your score and begin you on the journey to financial freedom.

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Job Growth in the U.S. Slows down + How to Use Entrepreneurship as a Plan B

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Job growth across the U.S. took a big hit in May, with private payrolls growing by just 27,000, against the 173,000 estimated. The disappointing figures from ADP and Moody’s Analytics are the worst since March 2010, when the employment market posted a loss of 113,000 jobs. Small businesses with less than 50 employees were the worst hit in the most recent report, posting about 50,000 lost jobs. “Labor shortages are impeding job growth, particularly at small companies,” according to Moody’s Analytics.

With job uncertainty looming, it is time to sharpen up our skills, but it’s always a good idea to get your feet wet first before you fully jump in. As always, we are here to help. Here are some ways to get you started as an entrepreneur:

1. Sell your good-quality, unwanted items.

Since one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, consider selling unwanted items on eBay, Craigslist or other similar sites—it is a great way to begin learning about entrepreneurship. You simply have to take all the stuff that you have laying around the house that you don’t need, and sell it. You’ll learn how to price your items, ship them, and many times how to negotiate.

2. Sell freebies from Craigslist.

Continuing in that same vein…what if you want to keep everything you have? Or what if you just don’t have anything to sell? Well, selling freebies from Craigslist is a great alternative. Just look for free stuff on Craigslist. Some items are in great shape. But if they’re not, spruce them up and resell them either on Craigslist, at a flea market or a garage sale.

3. Sell yourself (not that way).

Fiverr, Elance, Craigslist gives you a platform to sell your skills. Have a beautiful voice? Create personalized phone greetings. Are you a wiz at editing videos? Do it for others. Are you knowledgeable about design? Create a logo for someone. The list is endless.

4. Teach classes online.

Teaching classes online is actually a very lucrative business if you can find your voice and audience. How lucrative? It’s a 100 billion dollar industry! If you are particularly good at something, you can create online courses on Udemy or start your own online school using teachable.com or thinkific.com. Though top experts use this as a worthwhile way to earn residual income, everyday Joes and Janes use this as a way to sell anything from how to knit to their mobile app development expertise. Don’t know where to start? As you can see, there’s a class for that.

5. Offer to watch children.

Another way to start your journey as an entrepreneur is to hit up mom and dad. No, not your mom and dad. I mean parents who are busy professionals with small children. They may have to strain to remember the last time they were able to go to a restaurant or spend some quiet time with their significant other. Offering to watch their children can give you a head start on creating your own business as well as a valuable lesson in patience.

6. Become a brand ambassador.

Lastly, becoming a brand ambassador is a great way to not only get your feet wet in business but your knees and thighs too. Whether you have a small or large social media presence, you can use your influence to promote brands and get paid for it. (Make sure you’re only aligning yourself with brands you believe in). Doing this will give you an inside look into how established businesses (and even start-ups) want to portray themselves to the public.

While there are many other ways, those mentioned above are just some to get you started. What are some ideas that you may have? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let me know how you believe that you can start your journey as a business owner/side-hustler.

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