What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans?

Investing in your retirement early is the best way to ensure financial stability as you age, especially when it comes to understanding various retirement options. Getting started may feel overwhelming — luckily we’re here to help. We help break down the difference between 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, and how they can impact your financial life.

You may already know the value in adjusting your budget to make saving for a rainy day a priority. But are you also prioritizing your retirement savings? If you’re just getting started in the workforce and looking for ways to invest in yourself, 401(k) and 403(b) plans are great options to know about. And, the main difference between a 401(k) and a 403(b) is the company who’s offering them.

401(k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies and 403(b) accounts are offered by nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university companies. To understand the similarities and differences between plans in depth, skip to the sections below or keep reading for an in-depth explanation.

How a 401(k) Works
How a 403(b) Works
The Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b)
The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)
5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
What is a 401(k) and 403(b)
$19,500 with your employer matches. Plus, most retirement funds have required minimum distributions (RMDs) by the time you turn 70. This essentially means you have to take a minimum amount of money out each month whether you want to or not.

In most cases, employers will offer 401(k) matching to encourage consistent contributions. For example, your employer match may be 50 cents of every dollar you contribute up to six percent of your salary. For example, with this employer match on a $40,000 salary, you would contribute $200 and your employer would contribute an additional $100 each month. This pattern would continue until your annual contributions hit $2,400 and your employer contributes $1,200.

Employee matching is essentially free money. You’re monetarily rewarded for your retirement payments. Be sure to pay attention to vesting periods when setting up your employer match. Vesting periods are an agreed amount of time you need to work at a company before you receive your 401(k) benefits. For example, some companies may require you to work for their team for a year before earning retirement benefits. Other employers may offer retirement benefits starting the day you start working with them.
403(b) accounts include school boards, public schools, churches, hospitals, and more. This type of account is also known as a tax-sheltered annuity plan — they allow pre-tax income to be invested until taken out.

Employers that offer 403(b) retirement plans may offer a pool of provider options that undergo nondiscrimination testing. This allows employers that qualify for this account to shop around for plans that offer the best benefits and don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). For instance, some 403(b) accounts may charge more administrative fees than others.

Employers are able to offer employee matching on 403(b) accounts if they decide to. To cut costs for nonprofit companies, 403(b) retirement plans generally cost less than 401(k) accounts. Costs associated with starting up these accounts may not affect you, but it may affect your employer.

Account Type
401(k)
403(b)
Yearly Contribution Limit
$19,500
$19,500
Employer-Issued Packages
For-profit employers:
Corporations, private establishments, etc. and sole proprietors
Non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employers:
School boards, public schools, hospitals, etc.
Minimum Withdrawal Age
59.5 years old
59.5 years old
Early Withdrawal Fees
10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
Source: IRS.org

 

The Differences Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Both a 401(k) and 403(b) are similar in the way they operate, but they do have a few differences. Here are the biggest contrasts to be aware of:

  • Eligibility: 401(k) retirement plans are issued by for-profit employers and the self employed, 403(b) retirement plans are for tax-exempt, non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. As well as Hospitals and Charities.
  • Investment options: 401(k)s offer more investment opportunities than 403(b)s. 401(k) accounts may include mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds, while 403(b) accounts only offer annuities and mutual funds. Each employer varies in retirement benefits — reach out to a trusted financial advisor if you have questions about your account.
  • Employer expenses: 401(k) accounts are generally more expensive than 403(b) accounts. For-profit 401(k) accounts may pay sales charges, management fees, recordkeeping, and other additional expenses. 403(b) plans may have lower administrative costs to avoid adding a burden for non-profit establishments. These costs vary depending on the employer.
  • Nondiscrimination testing: This form of testing ensures that 403(b) retirement plans are not offered in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). However, 401(k) plans do not require this test.

 

The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Aside from their differences, both accounts are set up to aid employees in retirement savings. Here’s how:

  • Contribution limits: Both accounts cap your annual contributions at $19,500. In the event you contribute over this limit, your earnings will be distributed back to you by April 15th. If you’re under your retirement contributions by the time you’re 50 years old, you’re allowed to make catch-up contributions. This means that, if you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,500 more than the yearly contribution limit.
  • Withdrawal eligibility: You must be at least 59.5 years old before withdrawing your retirement savings. In the case of an emergency, you may be eligible for early withdrawal. However, you may be charged penalties, taxes, and fees for doing so.
  • Employer matching: Both retirement account options allow employers to match your contributions, but are not required to. When starting your retirement fund, ask your HR representative about potential benefits and employer matching.
  • Early withdrawal penalties: If you choose to withdraw your retirement savings early, you may be penalized. In most cases, you need a valid reason to withdraw your funds early. Eligible reasons may include outstanding debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or medical bills. In addition, you may be charged a 10 percent penalty fee, taxes, and other fees. During a downturned economy, as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees may be waived.

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
retirement plan options and their benefits. When employers offer retirement matches, consider contributing as much as you can to meet their match.

2. Set up Monthly Automatic Contributions

Save time and energy by setting up automatic contributions. You may feel less interested in contributing to your retirement as your payday approaches. Taking time to set up a retirement fund and budgeting for this change may be holding you back. To meet your retirement goals, consider setting up automatic payments through your employer. After a while, you may not even notice the slight budget adjustment.

3. Leverage Employer Matching

Employer matching is essentially free money. Employers may put money towards your future for nothing but your own contribution. This encourages employees to consistently put money towards their retirement savings. Not only are you able to earn extra money each month, but this “free money” will grow with interest over time. If you can, match your employer’s contribution percentage, if not more.

4. Avoid Early Withdrawal

Credit card balances, student loans, and mortgages can be stressful. Instead of withdrawing early from your retirement fund to pay for these, consider other debt payoff methods. If you’re eligible to withdraw from your retirement early, you may face penalty fees, taxes, and administrative expenses. This may hinder your savings potential or push back your desired retirement date.

5. Contribute Your Future Raises and Bonuses

If you’re saving less than $19,500 to your retirement fund this year, consider contributing more. If you earn a bonus or a raise, stick to your current budget and consider increasing your contributions. Ask your employer to increase your retirement payments right before you receive a bonus or raise. The more you contribute, the more interest you’ll accrue over time.

Whether your retirement funds are established through a 401(k) or a 403(b), these accounts offer you the chance to build your financial portfolio. Consistently funding your retirement account may better your financial plan and set you at ease. As your contributions age, so do your interest earnings. You’ll be able to make money on your pre-taxed income and set your future self up for success. Get started by checking in on your budget and carving out a specific amount to put towards your retirement each month.

The post What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What Are Mutual Funds? Understanding The Basics

If you’re one of those investors with very little time to research and invest in individual stocks, it might be a good idea to look into investing in mutual funds.

Whether your goal is to save money for retirement, or for a down payment to buy a house, mutual funds are low-cost and effective way to invest your money.

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What is a mutual fund?

A mutual fund is an investment vehicle in which investors, like you ad me, pool their money together. They use the money to invest in securities such as stocks and bonds. A professional manages the funds.

In addition, mutual funds are cost efficient. They offer diversification to your portfolio. They have low minimum investment requirements.

These factors make mutual funds among the best investment vehicles to use. If you’re a beginner investor, you should consider investing in mutual funds or index funds.

Investing in the stock market in general, can be intimidating. If you are just starting out and don’t feel confident in your investing knowledge, you may value the advice of a financial advisor.

Types of mutual funds

There are different types of mutual funds. They are stock funds, bond funds, and money market funds.

Which funds you choose depends on your risk tolerance. While mutual funds in general are less risky than investing in individual stocks, some funds are riskier than others.

However, you can choose a combination of these three types of funds to diversify your portfolio.

  • Stock funds: a stock fund is a fund that invests heavily in stocks. However, that does not mean stock funds do not have other securities, i.e., bonds. It’s just that the majority of the money invested is in stocks.
  • Bond funds: if you don’t want your portfolio to fluctuate in value as stocks do, then you should consider bond funds.
  • Money market funds: money market funds are funds that you invest in if you tend to tap into your investment in the short term.
  • Sector funds. As the name suggests, sector funds are funds that invests in one particular sector or industry. For example, a fund that invests only in the health care industry is a sector fund. These mutual funds lack diversification. Therefore, you should avoid them or use them in conjunction to another mutual fund.

Additional funds

  • Index funds. Index funds seek to track the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of 500 large U.S. company stocks or the CRSP US Small Cap Index. When you invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund, you’re essentially buying a piece of the 500 largest publicly traded US companies. Index funds don’t jump around. They stay invested in the market. 
  • Income funds: These funds focus invest primarily in corporate bonds. They also invest in some high-dividend stocks.
  • Balance funds: The portfolio of these funds have a mixed of stocks and bonds. Those funds enjoy capital growth and income dividend.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Protect Your Portfolio from the Volatile Stock Market

The advantages of mutual funds

Diversification. You’ve probably heard the popular saying “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Well, it applies to mutual funds. Mutual funds invest in stocks or bonds from dozens of companies in several industries.

Thus, your risk is spread. If a stock of a company is not doing well, a stock from another company can balance it out. While most funds are diversified, some are not.

For example, sector funds which invest in a specific industry such as real estate can be risky if that industry is not doing well.

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Professional Management.

Mutual funds are professionally managed. These fund managers are well educated and experienced. Their job is to analyze data, research companies and find the best investments for the fund.

Thus, investing in mutual funds can be a huge time saver for those who have very little time and those who lack expertise in the matter.

Cost Efficiency. The operating expenses and the cost that you pay to sell or buy a fund are cheaper than trading in individual securities on your own. For example, the best Vanguard mutual funds have operating expenses as low as 0.04%. So by keeping expenses low, these funds can help boost your returns.

Low or Reasonable Minimum Investment. The majority of mutual funds, Vanguard mutual funds, for example, have a reasonable minimum requirement. Some funds even have a minimum of $1,000 and provide a monthly investment plan where you can start with as little as $50 a month.

Related Article: 7 Secrets Smart Professionals Use to Choose Financial Advisors

The disadvantage of mutual funds.

While there are several benefits to investing in mutual funds, there are some disadvantages as well. 

Active Fund Management. Mutual funds are actively managed. That means fund mangers are always on the look out for the best securities to purchase. That also means they can easily make mistakes.

Cost/expenses. While cost and expenses of investing in individual stocks are significantly higher than mutual funds, cost of a mutual fund can nonetheless be significant.

High cost can have a negative effect on your investment return. These fees are deducted from your mutual fund’s balance every year. Other fees can apply as well. So always find a company with a low cost. 

How you make money with mutual funds.

You make money with mutual funds the same way you would with individual stocks: dividend, capital gain and appreciation.

Dividend: Dividends are cash distributions from a company to its shareholders. Some companies offer dividends; others do not. And those who do pay out dividends are not obligated to do so. And the amount of dividends can vary from year to year.

As a mutual fund investor, you may receive dividend income on a regular basis.

Mutual funds offer dividend reinvestment plans. This means that instead of receiving a cash payment, you can reinvest your dividend income into buying more shares in the fund.

Capital gain distribution: in addition to receiving dividend income from the fund, you make money with mutual funds when you make a profit by selling a stock. This is called “capital gain.”

Capital gain occurs when the fund manager sells stocks for more he bought them for. The resulting profits can be paid out to the fund’s shareholders. Just as dividend income, you have the choice to reinvest your gains in the fund.

Appreciation: If stocks in your fund have appreciated in value, the price per share of the fund will increase as well. So whether you hold your shares for a short term or long term, you stand to make a profit when the shares rise. 

Best mutual funds.

Now that you know mutual funds make excellent investments, finding the best mutual funds can be overwhelming. 

Vanguard mutual funds.

Vanguard mutual funds are the best out there, because they are relatively cheaper; they are of high quality; a professional manage them; and their operating expenses are relative low. 

Here is a list of the best Vanguard mutual funds that you should invest in:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Funds
  • Vanguard 500 Index (VFIAX)
  • Total International Stock index Fund
  • Vanguard Health Care Investor

Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund 

If you’re looking for a diversified mutual fund, this Vanguard mutual fund is for you. The Vanguard’s VTSAX provides exposure to the entire U.S. stock market which includes stocks from large, medium and small U.S companies.

The top companies include Microsoft, Apple, Amazon. In addition, the expenses are relatively (0.04%). It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000, making it one of the best vanguard stock funds out there.

Vanguard S&P 500 (VFIAX)

The Vanguard 500 Index fund may be appropriate for you if you prefer a mutual fund that focuses on U.S. equities. This fund tracks the performance of the S&P 500, which means it holds about 500 of the largest U.S. stocks.

The largest U.S. companies included in this fund are Facebook, Alphabet/Google, Apple, and Amazon. This index fund has an expense ration of 0.04% and a reasonable minimum initial investment of $3,000.

Vanguard Total International Stock Market

You should consider the Vanguard International Stock Market fund of you prefer a mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks.

This international stock fund exposes its shareholders to over 6,000 non-U.S. stocks from several countries in both developed markets and emerging markets. The minimum investment is also $3,000 with an expense ratio of 0.11%.

Vanguard Health Care Investor

Sector funds are not usually a good idea, because the lack diversification. Sector funds are funds that invest in a specific industry like real estate or health care. However, if you want a fund to complement your portfolio, the Vanguard Health Care Investor is a good choice.

This Vanguard mutual fund offers investors exposure to U.S. and foreign equities focusing in the health care industry. The expense ration is a little bit higher, 0.34%. However, the minimum initial investment is $3,000, making it one of the cheapest Vanguard mutual funds.

Bottom Line

Mutual funds are great options for beginner investors or investors who have little time to research and invest in individual stocks. When you buy into these low cost investments, you’re essentially buying shares from companies.

Your money are pooled together with those of other investors. If you intend to invest in low cost investment funds, you must know which ones are the best. When it comes to saving money on fees and getting a good return on your investment, Vanguard mutual funds are among the best funds out there.

They provide professional management, diversity, low cost, income and price appreciation.

What’s Next: 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard mutual funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
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The post What Are Mutual Funds? Understanding The Basics appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

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529 Plans: A Complete Guide to Funding Future Education

Do you have kids? Are there children in your life? Were you once a child? If you plan on helping pay for a child’s future education, then you’ll benefit from this complete guide to 529 plans. We’ll cover every detail of 529 plans, from the what/when/why basics to the more complex tax implications and investing ideas.

This article was 100% inspired by my Patrons. Between Jack, Nathan, Remi, other kiddos in my life (and a few buns in the oven), there are a lot of young Best Interest readers out there. And one day, they’ll probably have some education expenses. That’s why their parents asked me to write about 529 plans this week.

What is a 529 Plan?

The 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged investment account meant specifically for education expenses. As of the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (in 2017), 529 plans can be used for college costs, K-12 public school costs, or private and/or religious school tuition. If you will ever need to pay for your children’s education, then 529 plans are for you.

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529 plans are named in a similar fashion as the famous 401(k). That is, the name comes from the specific U.S. tax code where the plan was written into law. It’s in Section 529 of Internal Revenue Code 26. Wow—that’s boring!

But it turns out that 529 plans are strange amalgam of federal rules and state rules. Let’s start breaking that down.

Tax Advantages

Taxes are important! 529 college savings plans provide tax advantages in a manner similar to Roth accounts (i.e. different than traditional 401(k) accounts). In a 529 plan, you pay all your normal taxes today. Your contributions to the 529 plan, therefore, are made with after-tax dollars.

Any investment you make within your 529 plan is then allowed to grow tax-free. Future withdrawals—used for qualified education expenses—are also tax-free. Pay now, save later.

But wait! Those are just the federal income tax benefits. Many individual states offer state tax benefits to people participating in 529 plans. As of this writing, 34 states and Washington D.C. offer these benefits. Of the 16 states not participating, nine of those don’t have any state income tax. The seven remaining states—California, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, and North Carolina—all have state income taxes, yet do not offer income tax benefits to their 529 plan participants. Boo!

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This makes 529 plans an oddity. There’s a Federal-level tax advantage that applies to everyone. And then there might be a state-level tax advantage depending on which state you use to setup your plan.

Two Types of 529 Plans

The most common 529 plan is the college savings program. The less common 529 is the prepaid tuition program.

The savings program can be thought of as a parallel to common retirement investing accounts. A person can put money into their 529 plan today. They can invest that money in a few different ways (details further in the article). At a later date, they can then use the full value of their account at any eligible institution—in state or out of state. The value of their 529 plan will be dependent on their investing choices and how those investments perform.

The prepaid program is a little different. This plan is only offered by certain states (currently only 10 are accepting new applicants) and even by some individual colleges/universities. The prepaid program permits citizens to buy tuition credits at today’s tuition rates. Those credits can then be used in the future at in-state universities. However, using these credits outside of the state they were bought in can result in not getting full value.

You don’t choose investments in the prepaid program. You just buy credit’s today that can be redeemed in the future.

The savings program is universal, flexible, and grows based on your investments.

The prepaid program is not offered everywhere, works best at in-state universities, and grows based on how quickly tuition is changing (i.e. the difference between today’s tuition rate and the future tuition rate when you use the credit.)

Example: a prepaid credit would have cost ~$13,000 for one year of tuition in 2000. That credit would have been worth ~$24,000 of value if used in 2018. (Source)

What are “Qualified Education Expenses?”

You can only spend your 529 plan dollars on “qualified education expenses.” Turns out, just about anything associated with education costs can be paid for using 529 plan funds. Qualified education expenses include:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Room and board (as long as the beneficiary attends school at least half-time). Off-campus housing is even covered, as long as it’s less than on-campus housing.

Student loans and student loan interest were added to this list in 2019, but there’s a lifetime limit of $10,000 per person.

How Do You “Invest” Your 529 Plan Funds?

529 savings plans do more than save. Their real power is as a college investment plan. So, how can you “invest” this tax-advantaged money?

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There’s a two-part answer to how your 529 plan funds are invested. The first part is that only savings plans can be invested, not prepaid plans. The second part is that it depends on what state you’re in.

For example, let’s look at my state: New York. It offers both age-based options and individual portfolios.

The age-based option places your 529 plan on one of three tracks: aggressive, moderate, or conservative. As your child ages, the portfolio will automatically re-balance based on the track you’ve chosen.

The aggressive option will hold more stocks for longer into your child’s life—higher risk, higher rewards. The conservative option will skew towards bonds and short-term reserves. In all cases, the goal is to provide some level of growth in early years, and some level of stability in later years.

The individual portfolios are similar to the age-based option, but do not automatically re-balance. There are aggressive and conservative and middle-ground choices. Thankfully, you can move funds from one portfolio to another up to twice per year. This allowed rebalancing is how you can achieve the correct risk posture.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Using a 529 Plan

The advantages of using the 529 as a college investing plan are clear. First, there’s the tax-advantaged nature of it, likely saving you tens of thousands of dollars. Another benefit is the aforementioned ease of investing using a low-maintenance, age-based investing accounts. Most states offer them.

Other advantages include the high maximum contribution limit (ranging by state, from a low of $235K to a high of $529K), the reasonable financial aid treatment, and, of course, the flexibility.

If your child doesn’t end up using their 529 plan, you can transfer it to another relative. If you don’t like your state’s 529 offering, you can open an account in a different state. You can even use your 529 plan to pay for primary education at a private school or a religious school.

But the 529 plan isn’t perfect. There are disadvantages too.

For example, the prepaid 529 plan involves a considerable up-front cost—in the realm of $100,000 over four years. That’s a lot of money. Also, your proactive saving today ends up affecting your child’s financial aid package in the future. It feels a bit like a punishment for being responsible. That ain’t right!

Of course, a 529 plan is not a normal investing account. If you don’t use the money for educational purposes, you will face a penalty. And if you want to hand-pick your 529 investments? Well, you can’t do that. Similar to many 401(k) programs, your state’s 529 program probably only offers a few different fund choices.

529 Plan FAQ

Here are some of the most common questions about 529 education savings plans. And I even provide answers!

How do I open a 529 plan?

Virtually all states now have online portals that allow you to open 529 plans from the comfort of your home. A few online forms and email messages is all it takes.

Can I contribute to someone else’s 529?

You sure can! If you have a niece or nephew or grandchild or simply a friend, you can make a third-party contribution to their 529 plan. You don’t have to be their parent, their relative, or the person who opened the account.

Investing in someone else’s knowledge is a terrific gift.

Does a 529 plan affect financial aid?

Short answer: yes, but it’s better than how many other assets affect financial aid.

Longer answer: yes, having a 529 plan will likely reduce the amount of financial aid a student receives. The first $10,000 in a 529 plan is not part of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) equation. It’s not “counted against you.” After that $10,000, remaining 529 plan funds are counted in the EFC equation, but cap at 5.46% of the parental assets (many other assets are capped higher, e.g. at 20%).

Similarly, 529 plan distributions are not included in the “base year income” calculations in the FAFSA application. This is another benefit in terms of financial aid.

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Finally, 529 plan funds owned by non-parents (e.g. grandparents) are not part of the FAFSA EFC equation. This is great! The downside occurs when the non-parent actually withdraws the funds on behalf of the student. At that time, 50% of those funds count as “student income,” thus lowering the student’s eligibility for aid.

Are there contribution limits?

Kinda sorta. It’s a little complicated.

There is no official annual contribution limit into a 529 plan. But, you should know that 529 contributions are considered “completed gifts” in federal tax law, and that those gifts are capped at $15,000 per year in 2020 and 2021.

After $15,000 of contributions in one year, the remainder must be reported to the IRS against the taxpayer’s (not the student’s) lifetime estate and gift tax exemption.

Additionally, each state has the option of limiting the total 529 plan balances for a particular beneficiary. My state (NY) caps this limit at $520,000. That’s easily high enough to pay for 4 years of college at current prices.

Another state-based limit involves how much income tax savings a contributor can claim per year. In New York, for example, only the first $5,000 (or $10,000 if a married couple) are eligible for income tax savings.

Can I use my state’s 529 plan in another state? Do I need to create 529 plans in multiple states?

Yes, you can use your state’s 529 plan in another state. And mostly likely no, you do not need to create 529 plans in multiple states.

First, I recommend scrolling up to the savings program vs. prepaid program description. Savings programs are universal and transferrable. My 529 savings plan could pay for tuition in any other state, and even some other countries.

But prepaid tuition accounts typically have limitations in how they transfer. Prepaid accounts typically apply in full to in-state, state-sponsored schools. They might not apply in full to out-of-state and/or private schools.

What if my kid is Lebron James and doesn’t go to college? Can I get my money back?

It’s a great question. And the answer is yes, there are multiple ways to recoup your money if the beneficiary doesn’t end up using it for education savings.

First, you can avoid all penalties by changing the beneficiary of the funds. You can switch to another qualifying family member. Instead of paying for Lebron’s college, you can switch those funds to his siblings, to a future grandchild, or even to yourself (if you wanted to go back to school).

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What if you just want you money back? The contributions that you initially made come back to you tax-free and penalty-free. After all, you already paid taxes on those. Any earnings you’ve made on those contributions are subject to normal income tax, and then a 10% federal penalty tax.

The 10% penalty is waived in certain situations, such as the beneficiary receiving a tax-free scholarship or attending a U.S. military academy.

And remember those state income tax breaks we discussed earlier? Those tax breaks might get recaptured (oh no!) if you end up taking non-qualified distributions from your 529 plan.

Long story short: try to the keep the funds in a 529 plan, especially is someone in your family might benefit from them someday. Otherwise, you’ll pay some taxes and penalties.

Graduation

It’s time to don my robe and give a speech. Keep on learning, you readers, for:

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

-Ben Franklin

Oh snap! Yes, that is how the blog got its name. Giving others the gift of education is a wonderful thing, and 529 plans are one way the U.S. government allows you to do so.

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

Source: bestinterest.blog

7 Best Short-Term Bonds Funds to Buy in 2020

For investors with short-term saving goals, short-term bonds can be appropriate investments for your money.

They are stable and they certainly provide a higher return than a money market fund.

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However, even with the best short term bond funds, there’s also a risk of losing a percent or two in principal value if interest rates rise.

There are many options available to you, but your best option is to invest in taxable short-term bond funds, U.S. Treasury short-term bond funds and federally tax-free bond funds.

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What are short-term bonds?

Short-term bonds, or any bonds for that matter, are debts instruments that companies and the government issue. They typically mature in 1 to 3 years.

When you buy a bond, you are essentially lending money to the issuing company or government agency.

They are obligated  to pay back the full purchase price at a particular time, which is called the “maturity date.” 

Short-term bonds are low risk investments and you can have access to your money fairly quickly.

As with all bond funds, one of the risk of short term bond funds is that when interest rates rise, the prices of the bonds in the fund decrease.

But short term bond funds have a reduced risk of default, because the bond funds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

Moreover, because the term is short, you will earn less money on it than on an immediate-term or long term bond fund.

Nonetheless, they are still competitive and produce higher returns than money market funds, Certificate of Deposits (CDs), and banks savings accounts. And short-term bonds are more stable in value than stocks.

At a minimum, don’t buy a short-term bond fund if you’re saving for retirement or if you want to hold your money longer.

If you’re looking to invest your money for the long term and are still looking for safety, consider investing in Vanguard index funds. 

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Short-term bonds: why do you need to invest in them?

You should invest in short-bonds if you intend to use the money in a few years or so. However, don’t push your emergency cash into bonds. That is what a bank savings account is for.

Also, you should not put too much of your long term investment money into bonds, either. If you have a long term goal for your money, it’s best to invest in mutual funds such as Vanguard mutual funds, real estate, or your own business.

Here are some situations where you should invest in short term bonds.

  • You want to stabilize your investment portfolio. If you have other aggressive investments, you may need to balance it out with short term bond funds. The reason is because short term bonds are safer comparing to stocks.
  • Buying a house.
  • Retirement. If you’re thinking of retiring in a few years, short-term bonds are appropriate.
  • Purchasing a car.
  • You’re a conservative investor. Not all investors can stomach the risk of losing all of their money due to the market volatility. So instead of investing in stocks, which falls on the riskier end of the securities spectrum, you should invest in short term bond funds.

Best short-term bond funds to consider:

Most people prefer to buy bonds through a broker such as Vanguard or Fidelity.

If you’re looking for the best short-term bond funds to buy now, consider these options:

  • Vanguard Short-Term Treasury Index Fund Admiral Shares (VSBSX)
  • Vanguard Limited-Term Tax Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VMLTX)
  • The Fidelity Short Term Bond Fund (FSHBX)
  • Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Share (VWSTX)
  • Vanguard Short-Term Investment Grade fund (VFSTX)
  • T. Rowe Price Short-Term Bond Fund (PRWBX)
  • Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index Fund (VBIRX)

Tax free short-term bonds

There are some short-term bond funds that are both state and federally tax free. But there are not too many out there.

However, the ones that are available are good investments. So, if you are in a low state bracket and in a high federal bracket, consider investing in these Vanguard bond funds.These are federally tax free bond funds:

Vanguard Limited-Term Tax Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VMLTX)

This Vanguard bond fund seeks to provide investors current income exempt from federal taxes. The fund invests in high-quality short-term municipal bonds.

This bond fund has a maturity of 2 years. So, if you are looking for a fund that provides modest income and is federal tax-exempt, the Vanguard Limited-Term Tax Exempt Fund is for you.

The fund has an expense ratio of 0.17% and a minimum investment of $3,000. This makes it one of the best short term bonds to buy.

Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Share (VWSTX)

Like the Vanguard Limited Short Term fund, this fund also provides investors with current income that is exempt from federal income taxes.

The majority of the fund invests in municipal bonds in the top three credit ratings categories. It also invests in medium grade quality bonds.

This fund too has an expense ratio of 0.17% and a minimum investment of $3,000, making it one of the best short term bond funds.

U.S Treasury Short-term Bond Funds: Vanguard Short-Term Treasury

If you’re interested in a bond fund that invests in U.S. Treasuries, then U.S.Treasury bond funds are a great choice for you. One of the best U.S.Treasury bond funds is the Vanguard Short-Term Treasury.

This bond fund seeks to track the performance of the Bloomberg Barclays US Treasury 1-3 Year Bond Index. The Vanguard Short-Term Treasury invests in fixed income securities with a maturity between 1 to 3 years.

This bond fund has an expense ratio of 0.07% and an initial minimum investment of $3,000. Currently, this short term bond fund has a 1-year yield of 4.51%, making it one of the best short term bond funds.

Of note, this fund is also available as an ETF, starting at the price of one share.

The Fidelity Short-Term Bond Fund (FSHBX)

The Fidelity Short Term Bond Fund is one of the best out there for those investors who want to preserve their capital. This fund was established in March of 1986 and seeks to provides investors with current income.

The fund managers invests in corporate bonds, U.S. Treasury bonds, and assets backed securities. Over the last 10 years, this bond fund has a yield of 1.98% and a 30-day yield of 1.98%. This Fidelity bond fund as an expense ratio of 0.45%. There is no minimum investment requirement.

Taxable short-term bond funds: Vanguard Short-Term Investment Grade fund (VFSTX)

If you are not in a high tax bracket, then you should consider investing in a taxable short term bond fund. One of the best out there is the Vanguard Short-Term Investment Grade fund.

This bond fund provides investors exposure to high and medium quality investment grade bonds, such as corporate bonds and US government bonds. This fund has an expense ratio of 0.20% and an initial minimum investment of $3,000, making it one of the best short term bond funds out there. 

T. Rowe Price Short-Term Bond Fund (PRWBX)

The T. Rowe Price Short-Term Bond Fund invests in diversified portfolio of short term investment-grade corporate, government, asset and mortgage-backed securities. This bond fund also invests in some bank mortgages and foreign securities. This fund produce a higher return than a money market fund, but less return than a long-term bond fund. The T. Rowe Price Short-Term Bond Fund has a minimum investment requirement of $2500, making it one the most favorite short term bond funds out there.

Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index Fund (VBIRX)

The Vanguard Short-Term bond is a good choice for the conservative investor. It offers a low cost, diversified exposure to U.S. investment-grade bonds. This has fund has a maturity date between 1 to 5 years. Moreover, the fund invests about 70% in US government bonds and 30% in corporate bonds. The bond fund as an expense ratio of 0.07% and a minimum investment requirement of $3,000.

How to Invest in Short-Term Bonds

If you’re considering in investing in these or any of Vanguard bond funds, you need to do your due diligence.

First, think about what you need the bond fund in the first place. Is it to diversify your investment portfolio?

Are you a conservative investor who need a minimize risk at all cost? Or, do you want to invest in a short term bond fund because you need the money to use in a few years for a vacation, buying a house, or planning for a wedding?

Once, you have come up with answers to this question, the next step is to do your research about the best bond fund available to you.

Use this list to start. If it’s not enough, do your own research.

Look into how much the initial minimum investment is to buy a bond fund. Most Vanguard short term bond funds require a $3,000 minimum deposit.

Some Fidelity bond funds, however, have a 0$ minimum deposit requirement.

Next compare expense rations, performance for different funds to see if they match your investment goals. But you have to remember that past performance is not an indication of future performance.

Your final step is to open an account to buy your bond funds. If you choose Vanguard, you can do so at their website.

How do you make money with short-term bonds?

You can make money with short-term bonds the same ways you make money with a mutual fund (i.e., dividends, capital gains, and appreciation). But most of your returns in a bond fund comes from dividends.

The bottom line

In brief, short-term bonds are great investment choices if you have short term saving goals. You may be interested in buying these bonds because you expect to tap into your investment within a few years or so. Or, you want a more conservative investment portfolio.

Short term bonds produce higher yields than money market funds.

The only problem is that the share prices can fluctuate. So, if you don’t mind market volatility, you may wish to consider short-term bonds.

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond short-term bonds, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
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The post 7 Best Short-Term Bonds Funds to Buy in 2020 appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

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How to Invest in Gold

Confusion and uncertainty will always be a part of investing’s rollercoaster ride. Whenever the market experiences a downward trend, the demand for gold increases as people seek out “safe” investments. According to the World Gold Council, the price for gold during the first quarter of 2020 shot up to almost its highest point in the past 10 years. 

Gold is a different beast from most other investments. Generally, when there’s a lot of fear about where the future is heading — when stocks do poorly and gold does well.

However, gold is also a physical product that you own completely. But it also doesn’t produce anything of value on its own. For these reasons, it’s a riskier investment and requires special considerations.

Why Invest in Gold?

If you’re worried about the economy (and even society) tanking, gold is an touted investment option. It’s considered a “safe-haven investment” because when the stock market sinks, the gold market sails steadily on, often even increasing in value. When the stock market rises, though, gold doesn’t gain much value. 

This likely occurs because of the unique nature of gold compared to more traditional investments. Unlike a share in a company (i.e., a stock), gold doesn’t produce anything. It doesn’t hire employees, pay taxes, or contribute anything aside from being a shiny object that people like. 

Its value comes from what we give it, and when we’re afraid of economic factors, we value it a lot. After all, in a post-apocalyptic world you might be able to trade gold for things you need to survive, whereas a stock share would be useless.

Generally, when there’s a lot of fear about where the future is heading — when stocks do poorly and gold does well.

That’s not to say that we should all be investing in gold, however. It’s far more likely that things will chug along as normal, in which case, gold is a bit of a hassle at best. Your money likely won’t grow as fast if you hold gold versus stocks. 

If you own physical gold, you’ll have to professionally store it and insure it. And if you don’t want to bother with physical gold, you’ll need to suss out the pros and cons of other gold alternatives, like gold ETFs and gold cryptocurrencies. 

Pros Cons
-Holds value (or grows) during a recession
-Gives you real, tangible wealth
-Might be able to barter gold for goods and services in difficult times
-Gold alternatives allow you to invest in gold without actually storing it
-Doesn’t grow much wealth in a robust economy
-Requires storage and safety solutions
-Can be lost or stolen
-Gold alternatives can be confusing and complicated
-Doesn’t produce anything of value on its own

How to Invest in Gold

There are actually a lot of different ways to invest in gold. Depending on your goals, some are better than others. 

Gold IRAs

Since gold is primarily a wealth-preservation tool you might be interested in investing in it as a part of your retirement strategy. The good news is you’re not the first person to have this idea and there are ways to do it. The bad news is it’s not as simple as plopping some money in your brokerage account, and there are only a few places to do it.

Orion Metal Exchange is one example of a place where you can invest in gold within an IRA.You can even roll over funds from an existing IRA into a Gold IRA. 

Another place you can invest in gold within an IRA is Patriot.

You do get actual gold with this strategy so you’ll need to store it inside of an independent third-party vault. Orion Metal Exchange offers suggestions for where to store it, and can help walk you through the process of opening a gold IRA. 

Gold Futures Options

As a rule, trading in futures of anything isn’t a strategy for new investors, and that’s true for gold too. When you invest in gold futures contracts, you’re betting on whether the market will go up or down rather than buying the actual gold itself — and that requires a deep level of knowledge about how the gold market works. 

You agree to buy a certain amount of gold at a predetermined time in the future for a predetermined price. Most investors sell the contracts themselves before it actually comes time to buy the gold, however. 

If you thoroughly understand the process — and that’s not an easy feat — you could rake in a lot of money. You can also leverage your existing cash to magnify your returns far beyond your initial investment amount.

Since this is such an advanced and risky strategy, there aren’t that many markets where you can buy and sell contracts in gold futures. 

Physical Gold 

The most obvious and probably most popular way to invest in gold is simply to buy it. But you need to buy the right kind of gold. 

Many people think that buying jewelry is a good investment, but this is usually not the case.The additional labor and materials involved in making jewelry can actually result in a melted-down gold value that isn’t as high as the cost of the jewelry itself. To the untrained eye most collectable coins are also poor investments, because they’re often made of a gold veneer or alloy material. 

Instead, most gold investors recommend buying gold bullion, which is a defined amount of pure gold with its weight stamped right on it. Bullion can come as a gold bar or as coins. Bullion coins are easier to store, parcel apart, sell (how would you sell half a brick of gold?), and they’re easier to buy over time with a dollar-cost averaging approach. 

Some things that are important to remember when investing in gold:

  • Know what you’re buying — is it pure gold? What’s its weight? What’s its value?
  • Insure your gold in case of fire, theft, or some other disaster
  • Buy gold from a reputable dealer like Oxford Gold Group, Lear Capital or Goldco
  • Use safe storage, either in a safe deposit box at the bank, or an off-site vault like with Norman Sellers

Gold Mining Stocks

Aside from melting down family heirlooms, the only way more gold is being put into production is by mining it. By investing in gold mining stocks, you don’t have to worry about physically storing and securing your own gold. But you can still own a share of the companies that mine gold. 

Gold mining stocks are a risk on their own, too. Mining, in general, isn’t great for the environment, so many gold mines are located in countries with lax environmental regulations. These tend to be less-developed countries, where wars and civil unrest are more widespread. This can be a big risk for your stock strategy; if you get unlucky and the company you invested in has a major mine collapse with negative PR, for example, your stock value could tank. 

Gold ETFs

If you still want to invest in gold extraction, but don’t want the hassle of vetting individual companies, investing in a gold ETF can be a good option. 

Like investing in regular ETFs, gold ETFs are essentially a basket of different gold mining stocks rather than individual mining companies. This also spreads your risk across multiple companies so that you’re not betting on a single horse. SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) is one of the most popular gold ETFs on the market today. 

Invest in Gold Through Crypto 

You can actually blend old-world investment strategies with new-world ones by investing in the PAX Gold (PAXG) cryptocurrency. Gold is notoriously expensive to even start purchasing (the current price as of this writing is $1,913 per ounce), and PAXG offers a big advantage because you can get started for just a hundredth of a troy ounce, or about $20. 

You don’t get your own pieces of gold when you buy PAXG but it is linked to “allocated” gold. This means that each PAXG token is linked to a physical piece of gold, with your name on it, in a storage vault. In this way it’s similar to how the U.S. dollar was originally backed by gold before becoming fiat currency (i.e., not linked to actual gold in a vault). 

One of the general disadvantages of investing in gold is that you can’t earn any interest on it like with a bank account. Unless, of course, you open a Blockfi account to store your PAXG, which pays out interest and even lets you borrow against your digital wallet. 

The Bottom Line

Gold is a specialized investment that’s often overhyped. Still, it might still have a legitimate (if small) place in your portfolio. To know if investing in gold is right for you — and if so, which option — we recommend speaking with a financial advisor. 

Even if you’re a pro and feel ready for complicated gold futures contracts, it’s still a good idea to sit down for a chat with an impartial third party. It’s a good way to double-check your investment plans, lest you catch a case of shiny-object syndrome and get too carried away. 

The post How to Invest in Gold appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

How To Buy Stocks As Gifts (And Why They’re The Perfect Present)

This holiday season, don’t give a traditional gift. Instead, learn how to buy stocks as gifts and reward your recipients financially.This holiday season, don’t give a traditional gift. Instead, learn how to buy stocks as gifts and reward your recipients financially.

The post How To Buy Stocks As Gifts (And Why They’re The Perfect Present) appeared first on Money Under 30.

Source: moneyunder30.com