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Wise Money Moves For 2016

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Wise Money Moves For 2016

Get your financial house in order with these monthly tips

 

January

File ASAP. 

The earlier you file your tax return, the less likely a thief will beat

you to the punch, claiming a refund using your stolen Social Security

number. Maryland financial planner Kirk Kinder says three clients

who filed late during the last tax season discovered they were victims

when the IRS rejected their returns — because someone had already

filed using their information. "File as soon as you can. That's the best

way to avoid it," Kinder says. New: The IRS recently changed its policy

so that victims can request a copy of the bogus return to determine the

extent of the identity theft.

 

February

Prep for bigger payments. If you're among the millions who took

out a home equity line of credit before the housing bust, your monthly

payment could soon jump by hundreds of dollars. That's because these

loans usually allow interest-only payments for the first 10 years, then

require borrowers to begin repaying principal, too. About $50 billion in

loans will enter this phase in 2016 — more than double the amount

in 2014. Compounding the problem, variable interest rates on these

loans will likely rise each time the Federal Reserve boosts rates.

Contact your lender to discuss options if you anticipate you'll have

trouble making payments, says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH,

a home loan information service. Or, refinance into a new loan with

interest-only payments, he says.

 

March

Convert to a Roth. Investments down? Consider taking advantage of

falling stock prices to transfer some shares from a traditional IRA into a

tax-friendly Roth IRA, says Tim Steffen, director of financial planning

with Robert W. Baird & Co. You'll owe ordinary income tax on the value

of transferred shares. But with lower stock prices, you'll be able to transfer

more shares into the Roth without paying more in taxes, he says. Ideally,

once in the Roth, those shares will recover, and future gains won't be taxable

to you or your heirs. And don't forget, you have until April 15 to make an

IRA contribution for 2015. Those who are 50 and older can contribute up to

$6,500 annually to an IRA. Also, if you have the cash, why not make your

contribution for 2016 at the same time? The sooner the money is invested,

the bigger your nest egg will eventually be.

 

 

April

Fund a health savings account. More employers offer a high-deductible

health plan combined with this savings account, and you have until April 15 to

contribute to one for 2015. Individuals can invest $3,350 pretax — plus another

$1,000 if age 55 and up — in that account, where it can be withdrawn tax-free to

pay medical expenses. Plus, this income won't trigger higher Medicare premiums

or taxes on Social Security benefits, says Mary Beth Franklin, contributing editor at

Investment News. If you use the money for non-medical expenses, however, you

will owe income taxes and, if under age 65, a 20 percent penalty, too.

 

May

Build an emergency fund. By now you know about setting aside

three to six months' worth of living expenses to pay for unexpected

expenses. It's basic financial planning, yet many people still don't do this.

Nearly 1 out of 5 Americans ages 50 to 64 raided their retirement savings

in the past year to pay for an emergency, according to Bankrate.com, a

website that tracks savings products. Those withdrawals can trigger taxes

and penalties. Avoid this by gradually building a cash reserve to be tapped

when emergencies arise.

 

June

Check those fees. How much of the money in your 401(k), IRAs, and other

retirement accounts is being eaten up by fees? An AARP survey found that

73 percent of 401(k) participants age 50 and older thought they didn't pay

any fees or were unaware of the amount. "If you don't know how much you

are paying, you're probably paying too much," says Yoav Zurel, cofounder

of FeeX.com. This free service provides fee information on several thousand

employer plans, grades retirement accounts and can recommend cheaper

alternatives if you're paying too much.

 

July

Fix your credit card. Most cards have a variable interest rate. But if

you carry a balance, look for a low fixed-rate card that could save you

money in the long run and hedge against future rate hikes by the Federal

Reserve, says Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com. Consumers with

good to excellent credit — a FICO score of 720 or higher — can find cards

with a fixed rate of 10 percent or less from credit unions and community

banks, Arnold says. Or, if you favor a card for its reward program instead

of the interest rate, review the terms to make sure you're getting the best deal.

Some issuers have doubled their rewards in the past year or so, and even

offer $100 to $150 to sign up for their programs.

 

August

Crunch your net worth. It's a simple yet critical checkup to be

done every year to show you where you stand financially. To figure

your net worth, add up the value of all your assets — homes, cars, cash,

retirement accounts, other valuables and investments — and then subtract

liabilities, such as mortgage, auto loans, lingering student loans, credit card

debt and other debt.

Use an online calculator at AARP.org or Bankrate.com to help determine

your net worth. Ideally, your net worth will continue to rise annually as your

investments grow and debts decline. Of course, a stock market crash or

housing bust can cause your net worth to temporarily drop. But if your

net worth falls year after year, maybe something other than the economy

is at fault — something such as overspending, which you can take steps

to control.

 

September

Shop for insurance. Premiums for auto and homeowner insurance

aren't determined just by risk factors. Some companies set premiums

using "price optimization," meaning they charge more — as much as

25 percent — if you're unlikely to shop for coverage elsewhere, says

Bob Hunter, director of insurance with the Consumer Federation of

America. Though about a dozen states ban price optimization and others

will likely follow, it's worth browsing periodically for a better deal. If you

find one, tell your insurer, which will then likely meet or beat that offer,

Hunter says.

 

October

Open enrollment to buy health insurance through one of the

state-sponsored exchanges starts Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7.

The penalty for being uninsured is steep, and rising. In 2016, the

penalty is the greater of 2.5 percent of your income or $695 per adult

and $347.50 per child, though not to exceed $2,085 for a family.

Thereafter, the flat dollar penalty will be adjusted for inflation.

 

November

Break up with your bank. Is your bank taking you for granted?

Charging you for checking? Paying nothing on savings? If so, maybe

it's time to switch. "There are better alternatives. Free checking is

widely available at smaller community banks, credit unions and

online banks," says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst with

Bankrate.com. And many online banks pay more than 1 percent on

savings for little or no minimum deposits, he says. Search for

federally insured online banks at Bankrate.com. Many of these are

established community and regional banks that use the Internet to

market to a national audience or are divisions of other larger financial

institutions, McBride says.

 

 

December

Sell those gift cards. About one quarter of people who receive a gift

card have yet to spend it after one year, according to Consumer Reports.

Don't let cards go to waste. If you're not using them because you don't

like the retailers, sell the cards for a discount at sites such as 

GiftCards.com, GiftCardRescue.com and MonsterGiftCard.com.

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Comment by Jack McLaughlin (JMAC) on January 27, 2016 at 2:03pm

Thanks for the comment Merle & thank you Terri for the share.

Comment by Merle Gibbins on January 27, 2016 at 1:23pm

Very interesting post, thanks for sharing Jack.

Comment by Terri Pattio on January 27, 2016 at 6:59am

Hello Jack it's great to see you in the SE community. Thank you for publishing your post and this is a very good subject too. Liked and shared so more can see it. 

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