(BPT) - It's happened to almost everyone: you leave a job and have a retirement account that you are no longer actively contributing to. It sits there for months — maybe years — because you're not sure exactly where to move it or what the process is like to roll it over. You know that money could probably be better invested, but moving accounts is intimidating, so it sits.
"It's common for people to be nervous about transferring retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s," says Nick Holeman, a financial planning expert at Betterment.com. "Moving accounts shouldn't be something you fear or put off because you think it's too complicated."
Holeman says three main causes for concern are potential taxes, excessive fees and process complexity. However, these concerns are often based on misconceptions, and he wants to set the record straight to empower investors to take control of rogue retirement accounts.
Many people worry about potential tax concerns when moving retirement accounts. They've heard about the high penalties for early withdrawal and figure the best way to avoid them is to let the account be.
"A rollover is not equivalent to a withdrawal," says Holeman. "When you transfer retirement accounts through the appropriate processes, you're still keeping it in the same categorization. It just now lives in a different place."
A rollover can also help facilitate better control of your money. For example, if you roll over an old 401(k) into an IRA account, you are no longer limited to the investment options selected by your employer. This freedom of choice can help you make more customized investment decisions based on your personal goals. Of course, it's important to remember that investing in securities always involves risk and there is the potential to lose money.
A rollover means closing an old account and opening a new account. This process can incur fees that will be unique to each provider. Many people worry about the potential cost, which causes them to leave accounts untouched.
"Research account closing fees but be sure to keep in mind the big picture," Holeman says. "It's like ripping off a bandage. For example, a one-time $20 closing fee is better than a $100 annual fee that could be reduced when you move your account."
Holeman's advice: always know what fees you're paying. Before selecting a new financial organization for your retirement savings, research fees and consider selecting a new account with no trading costs, commission fees, or rebalancing fees. For example, Betterment’s Digital plan charges just 0.25 percent per year and that covers goal-based financial advice, tax-efficient investing, automatic rebalancing, and other smart features that help you keep more of your money.
"People tend to treat rolling over a retirement account like going to the dentist," Holeman says. "It's important but usually not urgent, so people tend to put it off."
What's more, people are intimidated by all the paperwork, lengthy forms and seemingly complex steps, so they delay rollovers. Holeman says moving accounts is typically easier than most people think, and in fact, after the process is complete, many people regret not doing it sooner.
"Often, moving retirement accounts can be done completely online thanks to advanced technology," says Holeman. "Betterment offers a '60 second rollover' for certain accounts from supported companies, and there's someone available to help should you have any questions. Moving accounts is typically easier than people imagine."
You should carefully consider whether a rollover is right for your own personal situation, including the specific fees and services associated with your 401(k). Visit betterment.com/rollover to learn more about factors you should consider when deciding whether a rollover might be right for you.
Betterment LLC distributed this article through Brandpoint.
(BPT) - The banking and credit union worlds are as much the same as they are different. Both are eager to earn your business and to provide you with loans, mortgages, savings and checking accounts. With that said, there are some significant differences between the two financial institutions. In today’s world, with cutthroat competition for your money, it’s worth understanding the advantages of both, and perhaps making a switch to one or the other to put yourself in a better financial position.
Credit union and banks: The differences
The primary difference between a credit union and a bank is that a credit union is a not-for-profit cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its members or customers. Profits made by credit unions are returned back to members in the form of reduced fees, higher savings rates and lower loan rates. A bank, on the other hand, is for-profit, owned by shareholders and focused on its stock value.
Joining a credit union is fairly simple, and membership is inexpensive — typically a one-time fee of between $5 and $25. Depending on where you live, many credit unions serve a geographic area, such as a state or metropolitan area, and are open to anyone who lives in that area. Some credit unions are employer-sponsored, so that anyone (including family members) who works for that organization can join.
There is no membership fee to “join” a bank. All you need to provide is some money to open a checking or savings account, a government-issued ID card, and some personal information (address, Social Security number, etc.).
Credit union advantages
Credit unions, by and large, are able to provide better rates to their members. Unlike a for-profit bank, credit unions return their "profits" to members in the form of lower rates on loans, higher interest on deposits and more personalized services. Other advantages of a credit union are that they tend to have lower fees on checks, withdrawals and electronic transactions, and many offer checking accounts with no minimum balance and without a monthly service charge. Finally, because credit unions are smaller and have a focus on member service, they may be more flexible when it comes to working with someone with financial challenges.
Banks, because of their size and scale, tend to offer more financial products than credit unions. For example, a credit union may have two or three different types of checking and savings accounts, whereas a bank may have dozens to choose from. Depending on where you live, banks will most likely have more locations for convenient access and more advanced online and mobile banking capabilities. Because of their geographic reach and wider range of offerings, a large bank could be a better fit for someone who wants specialized financial products (annuities, trusts) and needs access to nationwide locations.
Credit unions catching up
Depending on where you live, you may have numerous options for selecting a credit union. Some credit unions may have only one location and offer basic financial services like auto loans, checking and savings accounts. Other credit unions may have a large footprint in a market or state and offer the breadth of services you’d find in a bank. Most offer free, nationwide ATM access, and since many credit unions belong to cooperatives, members can access accounts across the country through other credit union branches. Bellco, for example, offers a full range of financial products and services, including mortgages, auto loans and checking accounts. Today, Bellco has more than 300,000 members who benefit from the advantages of a credit union, including lower interest rates on loans, higher yields on savings and access to thousands of ATMs nationwide.
Choosing a bank or credit union
Depending on where you live — urban vs. suburban vs. rural — your banking and credit union options will vary considerably. If you are in an area that offers both, there are several features to weigh and consider:
Services: Compare the basic banking services and access to specialized financial products, including advanced online services and mobile banking.
Rates and incentives: Look at the current rates, fees, and incentives — as well as overall benefits to being a customer or a member of the bank or credit union. Are there good reasons for joining one over the other?
Location: Evaluate options to access your accounts, whether it’s branch locations or ATMs or mobile banking services, and decide whether a national footprint is a requirement for your banking.
Finally, it’s important to note that both banks and credit unions insure your money up to $250,000 per person, across a group of accounts (checking, savings, and CDs would be considered one group). The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures banks, and credit unions are backed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
(BPT) - Your most valuable asset is around you all the time. It’s above you, it’s below you and in many cases you don’t realize how much it can do for you.
According to the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., “Americans have a staggering amount of untapped equity in their homes.” How much? Altogether, $11,030,000,000,000. That’s 11 trillion, 30 billion dollars.
Yet despite this huge wealth possessed by homeowners, using it isn’t as simple as writing a check. You have to capitalize on your home’s equity.
What Is Home Equity?
Your home’s equity represents the difference between its current market value and the money that you owe on it.
Let’s say, for example, your home has a market value of $200,000, you made a down payment of $40,000 and you took out a $160,000 mortgage. At that point your equity is $40,000. You can always calculate this number by taking your home’s initial price and subtracting the amount you still owe.
Now, let’s say 10 years later you have paid off $60,000 of your $160,000 mortgage. At this point you still owe $100,000 on your home’s initial price of $200,000 so your equity is $100,000, assuming the home's value has remained the same.
A little at a time
Each month when you make a mortgage payment, some of your money goes toward interest, some goes toward real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance (if the lender is collecting for these and making the payments on your behalf), and some goes toward paying off the mortgage itself. This last portion grows your equity because it subtracts from the amount you still owe.
Your home equity can also grow if your home increases in value because the amount you still owe has not changed. A rise in value may be due to increased home prices in your area and/or improvements you make to the home.
Market home prices may rise and fall from one year to the next but given enough time, most real estate tends to increase in value. For example, current economic forecasts from CoreLogic project a 4.8 percent increase in home prices year over year in 2017.
Gaining access to your equity
Now that you understand what equity is and how much equity you have, your next question may be “How do I use it?”
Your first step is to contact a knowledgeable mortgage professional. They will be able to answer your questions as well as show you loans that use your home as collateral. You’ll want to do your research to determine which type of loan is best for you. You should also take the time to compare interest rates, offers and loan features.
And if you are age 62 or older, you are also eligible for additional home equity options such as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), which is an FHA-insured Reverse Mortgage loan. This loan may be taken as a lump sum, a line of credit, through fixed monthly payments or a combination and the loan can never be frozen or reduced.
The equity in your home empowers you with several financing options and the specifics of each loan may vary from lender to lender, so ask questions and do your own research. Once you understand all your options you’ll be able to determine which loan offering allows you to make the most of your most valuable asset.
To learn about HECM Reverse Mortgage loans and other special home-equity options available to homeowners 62 and older, visit www.reversemortgage.org/HomeEquity.
(BPT) - As our nation seeks solutions to help improve the health care system, there is at least one goal we can all agree on: the importance of making health care quality and cost information more accessible to all Americans.
This is an important effort that has the potential to help improve health outcomes and make care more affordable — laudable goals considering the nation’s health care system ranks among the least efficient in the world, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis.
More widespread use of health quality and cost resources may be part of the solution. Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.
That is in part because there are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet a study by Families U.S.A. concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.
Fortunately, there are many new online and mobile resources that help enable people to access health care quality and cost information, helping them to comparison shop for health care as they would with other consumer products and services. And people are starting to take action: nearly one third of Americans have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.
These resources are far more accurate and useful than those of past generations, and in some cases provide people with estimates based on actual contracted rates with physicians and hospitals, including likely out-of-pocket costs based on their current health plan benefits. Some resources also include quality information about specific physicians, as determined by independent standards.
There are many resources people can consider when shopping for health care. In addition to online and mobile resources, people can call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, as well as talk with their health care professional about alternative treatment settings, including urgent care and telehealth options. Public websites, such as www.uhc.com/transparency and www.guroo.com, also can help enable access to market-average prices for hundreds of medical services in cities nationwide.
These resources can help people save money and select health care professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select health care providers rated on quality and cost-efficiency across all specialties, including for primary care (7 percent more likely) and orthopedics (9 percent more likely). In addition, the analysis found that people who use the transparency resources before receiving health care services pay 36 percent less than non-users.
As people take greater responsibility for their health care decisions and the cost of medical treatments, transparency resources are becoming important tools to help consumers access quality care and avoid surprise medical bills.
Research suggests that most Americans turning age 65 will need some form of assistance with everyday activities, known as long-term care, as they grow older. The amount of care needed will depend on many variables, including overall health, cognitive functioning and home environment. Three simple steps can help you start planning for care you may need as you age.
Why Everyone Should Plan for Long-Term Care
(Family Features) Research suggests that most Americans turning age 65 will need some form of assistance with everyday activities, known as long-term care, as they grow older. The amount of care needed will depend on many variables, including overall health, cognitive functioning and home environment.
Age is a strong predictor of the need for help, and because women live longer on average, they are more likely than men to require long-term care. Factors such as a disability, injury or chronic illness also increase the chance that long-term care will be needed.
Three simple steps can help you start planning for care you may need as you age.
1. Know what to expect
Understanding long-term care is the first step in creating a plan. Key things to know include:
2. It’s not just about you
Take the time to make clear your preferences for what kind of help you value most and where you want to receive it. Family and friends will feel better knowing that you are thinking about your needs – and theirs – by planning for long-term care.
3. Better active than reactive
For more information and resources to develop a care plan, visit longtermcare.gov.
Administration for Community Living
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