Here are 5 financial wellness moves you need to master this year!
(BPT) - If you had to grade your financial literacy, what would it be? Are you an A+ saver, investor and planner, or do you think you could do better? If you grade yourself average at best, you’re not alone.
When asked to grade their own financial literacy, more than half of Americans say they’d earn a “C” or lower, according to new data from Prudential Financial. This isn’t surprising, considering data from Prudential’s Financial Wellness Census shows less than half of Americans are on track to meet their financial goals, including planning for retirement.
“Regardless of where you are on your family’s financial wellness journey, the best way forward is through financial literacy,” says Prudential Advisors President Brad Hearn. “Researching, educating yourself and getting advice from a financial professional can help you make the best decisions based on your life stage, risk tolerance and goals.”
Hearn says each family’s situation and goals are unique, and things like life stage and personal preference will impact how they choose to prepare for their financial future. To get started, here are five financial wellness basics every family should master:
Set up an emergency fund
Life is a series of experiences, and sometimes the unexpected can hit your finances hard. Whether it’s a car breaking down, your AC unit on the fritz or even losing a job, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, start saving a little each month until you reach your goal. A good rule of thumb is to have three months’ worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund. So, if your monthly expenses are $2,500, you should have $7,500 saved.
Create a budget
Saving for college? A new car? How about starting that emergency fund? Whatever your family’s financial goals are, it’s important to have a plan in place that helps you achieve those goals. Budget to manage day-to-day expenses, and include in that budget a commitment to save for bigger milestones. For tips on getting started, do some research. There’s no shortage of advice, whether you decide to go it alone or consider using the help of a professional financial advisor.
Plan for the unimaginable
If you have people who count on you for financial support or caregiving, you should have life insurance. A life insurance policy can help give your family financial peace of mind should the worst happen. There is no rule as to how much life insurance you need, but important things to consider are your annual income, mortgage debt, potential college costs for kids and other future financial obligations.
Save for retirement
According to Prudential data, of Americans who have retirement savings and debt, nearly one-quarter have more in total debt than in retirement savings (23%), while 15% of Americans say that they have no debt, but also have nothing saved for retirement. Planning for retirement is something that should start as soon as possible. If your work offers any type of matching program, make sure to take advantage. If you don’t, you’re essentially leaving free money on the table.
Seek professional advice
Retirement, life insurance and savings can be confusing. Information overload is partly to blame. According to Prudential data, two-thirds of Americans agree that the list of things they need to learn to successfully manage their finances keeps growing, not shrinking. That’s where financial literacy programs and professional financial advice can play a key role. Nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t have a financial advisor. They say they cannot afford one (42%) or don’t believe their financial situation warrants needing an advisor’s help (26%). The reality is that advice is more within reach than ever before — and it’s not just for the wealthy. A financial professional can help at various stages in life and work with you to create a strategy based on your timeline, risk tolerance and goals.
“Financial wellness isn’t always a matter of having more money,” says Hearn. “Instead, it’s a journey that takes a combination of proactive effort, dedication and professional guidance.”
Prudential Advisors is a brand name of The Prudential Insurance Company of America and its subsidiaries. Life insurance is issued by The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, NJ and its affiliates.
No matter where you are in life, whether you’re just starting your career or nearing retirement, it’s important to understand the voluntary benefits available to you that can complement traditional health insurance. With the right information about the options available you can make choices that best fit your lifestyle and budget. Consider these common voluntary options.
Understanding Insurance Benefits
(Family Features) No matter where you are in life, whether you’re just starting your career or nearing retirement, it’s important to understand the voluntary benefits available to you that can complement traditional health insurance.
While health insurance can help cover medical costs in the event of injury or illness, sometimes there are additional expenses your health care plan doesn’t cover. Voluntary benefits, such as life insurance, disability insurance and dental insurance, offered by your employer or as portable options through a company like Colonial Life can help bridge the gap should an unexpected event occur.
“Even if an employee has to pay a nominal sum for a voluntary benefit like disability insurance or dental coverage, it can be well worth it,” said Sharlyn Lauby, president of ITM Group Inc., creator of the HR Bartender blog and contributor to Colonial Life’s WorkLife blog. “Think of voluntary benefits as those specialized, personalized extras that make your overall benefits package exactly what you’d like it to be.”
Benefits can be complex, but with the right information about the options available you can make choices that best fit your lifestyle and budget. Consider these common voluntary options:
Critical Illness Insurance
Learn more about how you can live healthier, enjoy more success at work and take full advantage of your benefits at worklife.coloniallife.com.
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With the increasing likelihood that Social Security and Medicare benefits may be reduced in the future, it’s more important than ever to use every technique available to maximize your retirement savings. These three outside-the-box strategies could make an enormous difference in your retirement readiness. The sooner you start, the more you may save.
(BPT) - Individuals who rushed to prepay property taxes after the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act may have saved some money in 2018 — but that’s pennies compared to the long-term tax savings taxpayers should take advantage of before the TCJA’s individual tax provisions are expected to expire in 2026, according to Robert Fishbein, vice president and corporate counsel at Prudential Financial.
Also expected to expire in 2026? According to trustees for Social Security, that’s when Medicare’s main trust fund will run out of money. With the increasing likelihood that Social Security and Medicare benefits may be reduced in the future, it’s more important than ever to use every technique available to maximize your retirement savings.
Three outside-the-box strategies could make an enormous difference in your retirement readiness. The sooner you start, the more you may save.
Fund an HSA for retirement health care
Estimates suggest even a healthy 65-year-old couple will need at least $275,000 to cover retirement health care costs. A Health Savings Account, or HSA, provides a way to save that money without paying a dime in taxes. An HSA account is available to individuals enrolled in a high deductible health insurance plan.
First, these individuals can fund their HSA through a tax-deductible contribution or pre-tax payroll deduction. Second, any interest and investment gains are tax-free. Finally, the funds can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses— a triple tax advantage over a traditional savings account.
The best part? There is no requirement to use HSA funds in the year of contribution, which means funds can grow on a tax-favored basis for future health care expense needs.
For 2018, family contribution limits are $6,900, or $7,900 if you are 55 or older, and those amounts are indexed for inflation in future years. If you start contributing the maximum even as late as age 55, and earn 3 percent per year, you could have more than $90,000 to pay for your retirement health care by age 65. If you start contributing the maximum as early as age 40, you could have saved almost $270,000. These funds will continue to grow tax-free in retirement until you need them.
If you don’t use HSA funds in full before you die, excess funds are subject to income tax, but will be otherwise available for your heirs.
Consider a Roth IRA conversion
The typical dogma says that converting an IRA or traditional 401(k) to a Roth IRA does not make sense if you expect your tax rate in retirement to be lower than at the time of conversion. However, lesser known benefits of a Roth IRA may make it worthwhile to have at least part of your retirement assets in Roth IRA form.
Start with no required minimum distributions. With a Roth you aren’t forced to draw down your funds once you attain age 70½ and can continue to benefit from the tax-free growth, thereby maximizing the after-tax funds eventually available for you or your heirs.
Another significant benefit of a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) is tax diversification. For example, you may choose to take taxable distributions up to a certain amount and then tax-free distributions to avoid a higher income tax bracket.
If you are a high-income taxpayer, Roth IRA distributions are not considered income when determining thresholds for increased Medicare premium charges or the 3.8 percent income tax surcharge on investment gain. If your income is more modest, Roth IRA distributions are not considered income when determining whether you are subject to income tax on Social Security benefits.
If anything, a conversion is more attractive now since you have an opportunity to convert and pay income tax with marginal rates that are generally lower than under prior law. Since individual tax law changes are temporary and tax rates will revert to the former higher amounts starting in 2026, you have an eight-year window to benefit from lower rates.
Make “backdoor” Roth IRA contributions
The tax law prescribes income limits so high-income individuals may not make a direct contribution to a Roth IRA. However, there are no income limits on converting traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA.
Any person under age 70.5 who has earned income by year-end can make an IRA contribution. While income limits may prevent you from making a pre-tax contribution, you can make this contribution even if you have fully funded a 401(k) or another employer plan.
Once you have made your contribution to a traditional IRA, simply convert that amount to your Roth IRA. As long as this is your only traditional IRA and you have made an after-tax contribution, then an immediate conversion will have converted a tax-deferred asset into a potentially tax-free asset. If you have multiple IRAs, the IRAs are aggregated to determine how much is taxable upon conversion.
While we spend much time on our investment strategies to help gain an extra percentage or two of investment yield, these tax planning strategies can be a more reliable way of maximizing your after-tax retirement income and wealth for your family — no matter how Social Security and Medicare turn out.
Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and their financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and legal advisors regarding your personal circumstances.
Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
How to Help Your Family Budget
(Family Features) Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
Many people turn to creating a personalized budget or a spending schedule to help keep track of their expenses. Planning payments on a monthly basis can sometimes be helpful when it comes to setting an appropriate family budget, anticipating short-term expenses and planning ahead for long-term payments.
However, creating a personalized budget is not always enough. Some companies also offer discount and incentive programs for particular customers, so it’s best to do some research when planning your next month’s budget and take advantage of available programs.
For example, Amazon offers a discounted Prime membership for $5.99 per month for customers receiving government assistance. This offer is already available to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cardholders and now Medicaid recipients also qualify. Members have access to a wide selection of more than 100 million items, video and music streaming services, low prices on select items and fast, convenient delivery options, which can ultimately help save both time and money.
In addition to fast, free shipping on millions of items, these benefits come at no additional cost to Prime members:
To help make your budget more manageable, take a close look at your bills, ongoing purchases and opportunities to save where possible.
Find more information to help balance your budget at amazon.com/qualify.
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(BPT) - With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 having been signed into law, here are some of the things you should be thinking about as tax season approaches, according to Robert Fishbein, vice president and corporate counsel, Prudential Financial Inc.
2017 tax returns
The new tax law is generally effective starting in 2018, which means that your 2017 income tax return is largely unaffected. However, there may be actions you can take now to benefit from the change. For example, assuming you are eligible, you could fund a traditional IRA before the due date of your tax return; the income exclusion may be more valuable under higher 2017 tax rates.
Lower tax rates and new withholding
The hallmark of the new tax law is lower marginal tax rates for individuals. The IRS has issued withholding tables employers started using in February to reflect these lower rates. While this could mean lower tax withholding and more take-home pay, you should evaluate your personal income tax position to determine if you will pay more or less under the new law and adjust your withholding accordingly.
If you make estimated tax payments, you should also estimate your tax liability under the new tax law and make necessary adjustments to your quarterly tax payments.
Assuming your withholding or estimated tax payments need no adjustment may create an unpleasant surprise if you are under-withheld and owe penalty tax and interest when you file your 2018 income tax return.
Higher standard deduction
The new higher standard deduction of $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples will greatly reduce the number of taxpayers that itemize deductions. If you did not itemize in 2016, and your tax position is similar now, you will probably not itemize in 2017. The increased standard deduction, combined with lower marginal rates, may mean your tax liability will go down.
If you itemized in 2016, compare your total itemized amount to the new standard deduction. If less, and assuming a similar tax position in 2017, you will likely no longer need to itemize.
For many, this provision will turn out to be the greatest simplification aspect of the new tax law, since they no longer must track itemized deductions or complete multiple associated forms.
No personal exemptions
Some taxpayers will need to look more closely to determine if they will pay less or even more. The new law eliminates personal exemptions and reduces deductible items, such as limiting the total deduction for state and local income taxes to $10,000, reducing the amount of deductible mortgage interest and eliminating the deduction for interest paid on a home equity line of credit. Therefore, if you itemized deductions in 2017 and your deductions were greater than the applicable standard deduction, you will have to consider what deductions are available in 2018 and estimate your tax liability.
In states with higher income taxes and property taxes, it is possible that the loss of itemized deductions will be greater than the benefit of lower rates and your tax liability could increase.
Increased child and dependent credits
The new law increases the child tax credit for children under 17 to $2,000. The income limits to phase out the credit are also significantly increased so more taxpayers will be eligible. In addition, there is a $500 credit for other qualifying dependents. Depending on your tax bracket, this could be better or worse than getting an exemption for each dependent.
Increased AMT exemption
Adding one more layer of complexity to your 2018 planning is the new tax law’s modification of the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT. The AMT is a parallel tax system that requires you to calculate your income tax under the normal rules and then again under AMT rules, paying the higher of the two. The new tax law increases the AMT exemption, or the amount you can earn and not be subject to this alternative tax. If you have been subject to AMT in the past, you should review the new increased exemption and whether that will change.
The bottom line
The bottom line for most is whether they will pay more or less income tax in 2018 than in 2017. While it is likely many will pay less, you need to consider all the above before you know how you will be impacted by the new tax law.
Please consult your legal or tax advisor concerning your particular circumstances. The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark NJ and its affiliates.
(BPT) - Across the nation, thousands of seniors have used a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), commonly called a reverse mortgage loan, as a savvy way to access the equity in their homes as part of their retirement strategy.
Those who are interested in a reverse mortgage loan should know that there are six main phases to the process: 1) educating and qualifying, 2) counseling, 3) approval, 4) funding, 5) using and 6) settling.
1. Educating and qualifying
The HECM process begins by contacting an FHA-approved lender who will review the borrower’s situation, educate them on the HECM program, and determine if they would likely qualify for a reverse mortgage loan.
“Once the lender has determined that the borrower is eligible, they work closely with them to shape the loan so it fits their needs,” says Paul Fiore, Chief Sales Officer for American Advisors Group, the leading reverse mortgage lender in the nation. “At AAG, this is a highly personalized process designed to give the borrower the best outcome for their financial situation.”
Once qualified, borrowers are referred to reverse mortgage counseling, an important consumer safeguard mandated by the government. During counseling, a HUD-approved HECM counselor reviews the borrower’s needs and circumstances. They consider how the funds might best be distributed, the financial and tax implications, and whether a HECM is right for them. If so, an application is submitted to the lender.
Next, the property will be appraised, and after that the approval process will begin. Before closing on the loan, borrowers will choose between several loan disbursement options, from taking it all out in a lump sum, receiving fixed monthly payments, opening a line of credit or any combination.
After the closing papers are signed, the homeowner has three business days to change their mind and cancel the loan (except if the loan is being used to purchase a new home). After the rescission period has passed, the funds are ready to be paid out through the payment option selected, subject to an initial disbursement limit that is determined by HUD.
5. Using your loan
The loan servicer will generally disburse funds via direct deposit or mail on the first business day of the month, following the funding of the loan. The borrower can live in the home as long as they like without making monthly mortgage payments, as long as they continue to pay property taxes and insurance on the home, maintain it in good condition and comply with any other loan terms.
6. Settling your loan
If the last surviving borrower sells or transfers the property, passes away, or does not use the property as a principal residence for more than 12 months, the loan has reached a “maturity event,” meaning that the loan comes due and no further funds can be disbursed. Borrowers also have the option of paying off their loan in full at any time without penalty.
Following a maturity event, an appraisal will be ordered by the loan servicer to determine the property’s current market value. The heirs can sell the property to repay the loan, or purchase the property for 95 percent of its appraised value. Since HECMs are non-recourse loans, the proceeds from the sale of the home are the only asset that can be taken to pay the loan’s balance, even if the loan amount exceeds the value of the home.
A home equity conversion mortgage can be shaped to fit an individual’s needs. With new consumer safeguards in place, many seniors are discovering that it is an important part of their retirement strategy.
(BPT) - As many Americans know, fall is the season when we must select our health benefits for the upcoming year. Choosing a health plan can be a daunting task, but selecting the right coverage protects you and your family's general health needs and can prepare you for an unexpected medical crisis. While no one plans on receiving a blood cancer diagnosis, for example, an estimated 173,000 Americans were diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2017. As there are no means of preventing or early screening for most blood cancers, a diagnosis can often appear without warning. Well-planned health insurance coverage can make an important difference in how patients can fare in fighting the disease.
This year's open enrollment season, which runs approximately from October to December, is your opportunity to consider your health benefits and plan ahead. With the cost of care for major health events and severe illnesses increasing every year, you will want to select a health plan that ensures you and your family are prepared in the case of a health emergency. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) offers three tips to consider when selecting your 2018 health plan.
Compare physician and hospital networks: Be diligent when choosing a plan. While it is important to compare plan prices, including co-payments, deductibles and premiums, it is equally important that your primary care doctor and any specialists you visit are part of the plan's network. Not all plans cover every doctor, hospital or comprehensive cancer center near you, so review the plan's network list carefully. You also can call your doctors and hospitals to ask if they are in the plan's network. If your spouse or children are on your plan, you will need to consider their physicians as well.
Prepare for the unexpected: No one expects to receive a serious diagnosis like blood cancer, but it helps to be prepared. The cost of cancer care is rising at an alarming rate and these costs include more than drugs and doctor visits. From diagnostic tests to hospitalizations to special home health equipment, there are many hidden costs to having a serious illness. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Russell Research on behalf of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society found that 84 percent of adults are not sure how they would cover all medical costs if they were diagnosed with cancer. That's why it's important to ensure that you have the coverage you'll need at an affordable cost.
Pay close attention to the numbers: As you evaluate your coverage options - whether through an employer, Medicare, spouse or your parents - it's important to estimate your health care costs for the following year carefully. Understand what your deductible and co-pays will be and take stock of where coinsurance will be required; review your health bills from the previous year to guide your choice, but make sure you are covered for unexpected health issues as well.
If you purchase health insurance from the federal or state marketplace, the plans you are offered will depend on your location and income. It is very important to make sure your personal information is accurate and up-to-date on the federal website, HealthCare.gov, or on your state's website. Depending on your income, you could qualify to save on your insurance through advance premium tax credits. In fact, 8 out of 10 people who purchase insurance through the marketplace are eligible for lower premiums. Open enrollment in the marketplace will run this year from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.
If you or a family member had or has cancer, or are at risk for cancer, there is a checklist available at www.cancerinsurancechecklist.org that can help you choose the right plan when shopping on the health insurance marketplace. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also provides free information and resources about health insurance coverage for people living with cancer at www.lls.org.
(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.
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