Mint Money Audit: Managing Money When You Make Enough

Anna’s email requesting help with her finances began with a unique confession.

“Farnoosh, my money problem garners little sympathy,” the 32-year-old wrote. “My issue is that I make too much of it.”

Now, THIS is interesting, I thought. I immediately followed up with many questions.

Here’s what I learned through our conversation:

The Denver-based Mint user earns $220,000 per year as an engineer. Anna’s also benefited from years of big bonuses and her net worth, not including her home equity, is close to a million dollars.

After paying taxes and health benefits and maxing out her 401(k), Anna takes home between $8,000 and $10,000 each month. Her expenses mainly consist of a $1,200 mortgage payment, car insurance, gas, food and utilities, amounting to maybe a few thousand dollars per month.

The rest either goes into savings where she stashes about $5,000 to $10,000 for unexpected expenses or into a brokerage account where she has roughly $800,000 invested. A wealth management firm manages that portfolio and charges, she says, an annual 1% fee.

Anna has no consumer debt, besides her mortgage, which amounts to about $338,000. It’s a 30-year fixed rate loan with a 2.85% interest rate. The home has appreciated in recent years with about $100,000 in equity (including Anna’s initial 20% down payment).

So, what is the problem, exactly?

“My big worry is that I don’t have the habits to manage money well,” Anna told me. Her sizeable bank balance has her feeling financially free, although she worries about getting carried away with spending sometimes.

“When I see money in my bank account I rationalize that ‘yea, that vacation is doable. I don’t hold back on the things that may seem frivolous,’” she says. But It seems she wants more financial grounding and to be able to evaluate expenditures and price tags more critically.

Anna’s situation may be unique, but I think relatable in the sense that we all would like to feel more thoughtful with how we spend, save and invest. And while some may do well with earning money, it should not be assumed that they can also manage that money well.

I applaud Anna for wanting to be sure that, even with an impressive net worth, she is actually making wise financial decisions.

Here’s my advice.

Take a Deep Breath

No need to panic when spending on things and experiences that you enjoy. From what I can tell Anna’s prioritizing the serious financial stuff first like contributing the max to her 401(k) and saving all of her annual bonuses in a brokerage account. She has no credit card debt and pays all her bills on time. That’s terrific.

Sometimes we just want to hear that we’re on the right track with our money and I have a very simple way to measure this:

If you manage each paycheck by saving, investing and paying all your bills first, then by all means, you’re entitled to have fun with whatever is left without any fear or regret. Am I right?

If you’ve done the good work of taking care of your future with your money, then don’t hesitate treating yourself and others with the remaining funds today. Splurge away and enjoy your hard-earned money. And remember to enjoy the moment.

Ditch Your Money Managers

I do think Anna could find a better home for her investments.

Paying one percent of her managed assets to this firm may not seem that high of an annual fee. But when you think about Anna’s balance of $800,000, that’s $8,000 this year. What about next year and the decades after that as she contributes more to the account? That fee, compounded over the next 30 years, will amount to – conservatively – over one million dollars. Ouch.

That doesn’t even factor in the expense ratios for each mutual fund that’s in her portfolio.

If all Anna seeks is investment assistance, she may be better suited stationing her money with an automated wealth platform or robo-advisor where her money is largely invested in low-fee index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETF) and the portfolio management fee is typically 0.50% or less.

Of course, breaking up with your financial advisor is not always so simple. It’s especially hard for Anna, as she equated her money managers to “father figures.”

If I were Anna, I would just explain to my advisors over email something like, “I want be more conservative with my money and that includes being extra mindful of the various fees that I’m paying. To that end, I’ve decided to manage my money more independently. I’m sure you can understand. I appreciate your help over the years. Please let me know next steps.”

Planners know the drill and are used to having clients end relationships.  Stay strong. Nobody can really argue with the fact that saving money is a good thing!

Establish Short and Long Term Goals

Anna wants to spend and save with more conviction. I think having some concrete, tangible goals can help.

For example, she shared that she’d like to get married, have a family and own two homes – one near her office downtown and another in the mountains as a getaway.

So, the next step is to understand what these goals cost. What are, say, the going prices on a vacation home in her state? How much might she want to stash in a separate account for the future down payment on this property? Knowing the underlying costs of her goals can better direct how much to spend elsewhere.

Next time she’s planning a vacation, she may be more inclined to price compare or hunt down better deals, as opposed to just judge whether the trip is financially “doable” by the amount of money in her bank account. Now she’ll have the image of that second home and its costs and will make a more informed choice.

Contribute to a Cause

Last but not least, when you feel you make more than enough, like Anna does, this is a great opportunity to be extra charitable. If she’s seeking a way to give her money more meaning and feel purposeful in her financial life, this is a truly wonderful way to go about it. Discover a cause that you’re passionate about and make an impact as a volunteer and donor.

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Mint Money Audit: Managing Money When You Make Enough appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

3 Reasons to Set Up a Donor-Advised Fund to Maximize Your Charitable Tax Deductions

Using donor-advised funds is a more advanced tax strategy that has gotten more popular recently with the introduction of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in February 2020. The TCJA nearly doubled the amount of the standard deduction, which makes it less advantageous to itemize deductions such as charitable contributions. For people with a lot of charitable contributions, donor-advised funds are one option to still get a deduction for charitable contributions.

What is a donor-advised fund?

A donor-advised fund (DAF) is a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization that accepts contributions and generally funds other charitable organizations. While the concept of a donor-advised fund has been around for nearly 100 years, they were typically only used by the ua-wealthy. And while it is true that donor-advised funds are still not going to be useful for the vast majority of people, recent tax law changes have made their use more prevalent.

You can set up a donor-advised fund with most brokerages, including Fidelity, Vanguard, and Bank of America. You can donate cash, securities, or other types of assets to the DAF. The exact list of assets eligible for donation depends on the brokerage. After you have contributed, you can then make charitable contributions from the balance of your account.

You can maximize your charitable tax deductions in one year

One common reason that people set up donor-advised funds is to maximize their charitable tax deductions in a particular tax year. To show why this can be beneficial, I’ll use an example:

Our example family files their taxes married filing jointly and has regular charitable contributions of $20,000 per year. The standard deduction in 2020 for married filing jointly is $24,800. Because their amount of charitable deductions is less than the standard deduction, they may not see any tax benefit from their charitable contributions (depending on their amount of other itemized deductions). In 2021 they again plan to contribute $20,000 to charitable organizations and again are unlikely to see any tax benefit from doing so.

Now consider this same family now decides to set up a donor-advised fund in 2020. They have extra money sitting around in low-interest savings or checking account or in a taxable investment account. So they set up a donor-advised fund in 2020 and fund it with $40,000 in cash, stocks, or other assets. They are eligible to take the full $40,000 as an itemized deduction, even if they only use $20,000 to donate to the charity of their choice. Then in 2021, they can donate the remaining $20,000 to their preferred charity. They will not be able to deduct any charitable contributions in 2021 but can instead take the raised standard deduction amount.

You may be able to deduct the full value of stocks or other investments

Another reason you might want to set up a donor-advised fund is that you may be able to deduct the full value of stocks or other investments. Again, I’ll use an example to help illustrate the point.

Let’s say that you have shares that you purchased for $20,000 that are now worth $50,000. Many charities, especially smaller organizations, are not set up to accept donations of stocks or other investments. So if you want to donate that $50,000 to charity, you may have to liquidate your shares. This will mean that you will have to pay tax on the proceeds.

With a donor-advised fund, you can donate the shares to your fund and deduct the full fair market value of your shares. Then the fund can make the contribution to the charity of your choice.

Donate a wide range of assets

Another benefit to setting up a donor-advised fund is the ability to donate a wide range of different classes of assets. As we mentioned earlier, many charities are not set up in such a way to be able to accept non-cash donations. While the exact list of assets that a donor-advised fund can accept varies by the firm running the fund, it generally will include more types of assets than a typical charity.

Why you might not want to set up a donor-advised fund

While there are plenty of advantages to setting up a donor-advised fund, there are a few things that you might want to watch out for.

  • It’s definitely more complicated than just making charitable contributions on your own. You may find that the tax savings are not worth the extra hassle.
  • On top of the added layer of complexity, most firms with DAFs charge administrative fees that can cut into your rate of return.
  • You may be limited on the charities that you can donate to. Each donor-advised fund typically will have a list of eligible charities. So you may find that a charity that you want to donate to is not available.
  • You also lose control over the funds that you donate – the donation to the fund is irrevocable, meaning once you’ve donated to the fund you cannot get the donation back. While most advisors state that they will donate the money as you direct, they are not legally required to do so.
  • The money in a DAF is invested, so it may lose value. That means that the amount you were hoping to donate may be less than you were anticipating. You also typically have a limited range of investments available for your investment, and those funds also often come with fees.

It’s also important to keep in mind, the annual income tax deduction limits for gifts to donor-advised funds, are 60% of Adjusted Gross Income for contributions of cash, 30% of AGI for contributions of property that would qualify for capital gains tax treatment; 50% of AGI for blended contributions of cash and non-cash assets.

The post 3 Reasons to Set Up a Donor-Advised Fund to Maximize Your Charitable Tax Deductions appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life

As the dust slowly begins to settle and we observe businesses putting their action plans in place to recover, we all sit and wonder what this may look like for us. How will I recover from this? How am I going to cover these unexpected expenses? How will I increase my earning potential? Whether you’re navigating the muddy waters of being unemployed, furloughed, return to office plans or continue working remotely – we have many things to consider as time continues to quickly progress. How should we handle debt? Are there any more relief programs or funding? How can we pick up the pieces and properly recuperate what may have been lost? Use the tips below to jumpstart your journey of reclaiming your finances.

Identify your financial focuses

Over the course of this year, many financial goals that were initially set needed to be tweaked or came to a screeching halt altogether. While it would be nice if we could rectify the many financial aspirations we have for ourselves and our families all at once, it’s simply not realistic. To alleviate the impounding pressure many have had to experience for a good chunk of time this year, it’s best to identify two to three key areas of focus. Not only does narrowing your focus help direct where your efforts should lie, it removes unnecessary stress so that a plan of attack can be created and executed upon. For example, if you would like to begin rebuilding your emergency fund, savings or simply get caught up on bills and other overhead expenses – make sure the actionable steps you take align with the overarching goal. This helps create tunnel vision to execute on the goal while quieting the noise of things that can be tackled at a later time. You owe it to yourself and your finances to see these goals through to the finish line.

Revisit your budget and make adjustments as necessary

Many think of budgeting like that pesky chore you put off every single week. It’s that ‘thing’ you know needs to be done, but you always find something else to do instead. However, once it’s done – you’re always glad that you did it. Even if you have to have an adult temper tantrum, pull out the pen and paper (once again) to compare your income with expenses. Has your income increased or decreased? Are there expenses that are no longer on the list? Are there certain wants or luxuries that can be temporarily put on hold until things settle down? Take all of these factors into consideration when recalibrating your budget. Since there’s an increased amount of time indoors, are there any spending habits you’ve noticed that have been on the rise? If these questions are not easily answered, commit to reviewing the last few months of your bank statements. Do you notice more to-go food orders? An increased amount of emotional or impulsive purchases? Be honest with yourself and your habits so that you can address and make changes to healthily rebuild your finances.

Adjust debt payoff plan

If you haven’t taken the opportunity to contact your creditors – consider this as a reminder! It’s imperative you maintain an open line of communication with all lenders. These conversations can potentially lead to various options being available to assist you in your debt payoff process. Remember to keep in mind that you are not the only person experiencing financial hardship, so let pride become a thing of the past and be candid. Are there relief options during the pandemic? Are interest rates being lowered because of the current climate? If I were to miss a payment, what are the consequences? Are negative remarks being reported to the credit bureaus? Be very clear in your delivery. There are thousands and thousands of people attempting to pick up the pieces on their money journey. Take some time to check all creditor accounts for the most recent balances. From there, create (or readjust) your plan based on your personal circumstances. If it’s easier to tackle the smallest debt, shift your attention to those accounts. If catching up and restoring good standing with utilities and other overhead expenses need to be addressed first, do that. There is no right or wrong way to approach your plan; just don’t adopt the spirit of avoidance.

Monitor your credit score regularly

There’s been a huge surge in personal data being compromised due to the pandemic. To protect yourself and your credit score, be sure to obtain a copy of your credit report from at least one of the bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and review regularly. Normally, you are allotted one free credit report every year – however, because of the pandemic you can now request your report weekly at no cost to you until April 2021. We all know there’s a lot on all of our plates, but this can be incorporated in your weekly routine to make sure information stays accurate. During your review if there’s anything that’s false, submit a dispute and be sure to have any supporting documentation that can serve as evidence to support your claim.

Even though we don’t like to admit it, life can present a lot of challenges that we may not be fully prepared for in our ever-changing adulthood journey. This pandemic has shined a light on the areas in our lives that can use some more time, intention and attention. Instead of beating ourselves up about the lack of preparedness, let’s be sure to make adjustments now so no matter what happens with the economy or the state of this country it does not have such a huge, negative impact to our financial goals. Let’s face it – even in the midst of tragedy, this year equipped us with a different level of endurance and resilience. It reminded us what really matters and where our energy should really be dedicated to. Start where you are and do what you can. Refrain from comparing your personal money story to someone else’s. We all have unique situations and obligations that influence our saving and spending plans. Dust yourself off, grant yourself grace and begin a new chapter in your financial journey.

 

The post How to Financially Prepare for Post-Pandemic Life appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Check-In: Expecting Couple Struggling with Debt, But Future Looks Bright

When I first connected with Julia and John, the Queens, NY couple was expecting their first child and grappling with some debt, a lack of savings and income prior to the baby’s arrival. The couple was basically living paycheck to paycheck and in need of some advice to break through that cycle.

We reconnected this month to see how they’ve been doing. Julia is now nearing the end of her third trimester. The baby is due to arrive in two months.

I was hoping that with a baby on the way the couple would have found some ways to chisel away their debt or bulk up savings. Unfortunately, fie months later, they’re more or less still in the same money boat.

But they did act upon a couple of my tips and are benefiting from the goodness of New York and their parents, which has their futures looking brighter.

First, John, who lacks a college degree and was struggling to find full-time work, is going back to school. Not to a college or university, but to a 9-month software boot camp in New York that’s going to give him the skills and network to become a software developer. His potential earnings in the first year in the market could be as much as $75,000 (based on some people I know who’ve gone through similar programs in New York.)

The program will be about $15,000, a fraction of what it would cost to earn a bachelor’s degree. John’s parents have agreed to loan him the money. The couple’s decided to place that $15,000 family loan in savings and, instead, take out a small student loan to pay for John’s school. I agree with that strategy, given that their family is about to increase in size and having some cash on hand will be very important.

Once John completes school and finds work, I’d recommend the couple prioritize the credit card debt by paying at least double the minimums each month. Be most aggressive with the highest interest credit card debt first. Their student loan will likely have a smaller interest rate and can be paid over a 10-year period, making the monthly minimums relatively manageable. Automate those payments as soon as possible and benefit from a 0.25% interest rate reduction when they do.

While they’re taking on more debt, I’m okay with it. Investing in John’s education is one of the best ways this couple can get ahead and better secure their finances in the future – so long as they commit to earning more and paying it down.

Ahead of that program starting, John’s also taken on a side hustle (per my advice). He’s been working a few shifts here and there at Julia’s company, working with special needs patients as a social aide, taking them to community and outdoor events.

Some other good news that’s developed since we last spoke is that New York State has enhanced its Family and Medical Leave Act by implementing Paid Family Leave. In the past, certain employers were only required to provide workers with their jobs back after taking a leave of absence for up to 12 weeks. Now, qualifying private employers must provide paid time off and a continuation of health insurance for 8 weeks in 2018.

This came as a surprise bonus for Julia, who was preparing for zero paid time off from her employer.

It would be my recommendation to use part or all of that extra money to pay down their high-interest credit card debt.

Once Julia returns to work after her maternity leave, her mother-in-law will be the go-to caretaker during the day, another huge help.

They’re fortunate to have free childcare from a trusted, loved one. With that very big expense covered and John’s schooling about to start, I feel confident that the couple’s future is a financially bright one.

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Source: mint.intuit.com

5 Financial Goals to Start in 2021

 

Although many people start New Year’s resolutions in January, there’s nothing magical about January with regards to self-improvement. Still, the best time to make a change or set a goal is today, so if you’re ready to level up in your life, there’s no time like the present. Here are five financial habits that you might consider starting this year. 

Commit to a written budget (and review it often)

The very first thing that you’ll want to do is commit to a budget. Having a budget is the cornerstone and foundation for financial success. Knowing where your money is going (and not going) can help you understand where you’re at. If you’ve had trouble making or keeping a budget, resolve to start a budget this year. A tool like Mint can be a great way to put your budget on autopilot.

Remember that a budget is just a tool to help you to not spend money on the things you don’t find important so that you have money to spend on the things that you do find important. If you already have a budget, make it a habit to review your budget, at least monthly. That can help you identify where you might be able to make improvements.

As you start or recommit to your budget, make sure that it is written down. Budgets that are not written down, like goals, tend to fall by the wayside easily.

Start (or build) your emergency fund

Another great habit to get into in 2021 is starting an emergency fund. An emergency fund should be one of the very first things you do with any extra money you have in your budget. Even before working on eliminating your debt or saving for retirement, it makes a lot of sense to set aside money for emergencies.

A good rule of thumb is to start with a $1,000 emergency fund. It may not cover catastrophic emergencies, but it can help you to avoid having to spend on your credit cards when the unexpected happens. After you’ve started that basic emergency fund, then you can continue to build it up while also starting to pay off debt or invest for the future. If you can, it’s a good idea to have a couple of months of expenses in your emergency fund. That way you’re covered for a while in case you lose an income source or have a major emergency.

Make a plan to eliminate your debt

The next habit to start or continue this year is to eliminate your debt. Depending on how much debt you currently have, it may not be realistic to pay off all of your debt in 2021. But no matter what, you should have a plan in place. There are a variety of different debt repayment strategies – the debt snowball and the debt avalanche among many. It’s important to pick a debt payoff approach that works for you, and that you can stick to. Make it a habit to spend less than you earn and work towards becoming debt-free.

Spend with a purpose

Another great habit that can help you live within your means is to spend with a purpose. Spending with a purpose means that you are conscious with your spending. If you ever find yourself wondering where all your money has gone, you may benefit from being more deliberate with your spending.

Many people find success by setting a rule about any non-essential spending. For example, before you make any purchases besides essentials like rent, utilities, and debt payments, you must write it down. Just the act of writing it down (or taking a picture of it) is enough for many people to be more deliberate and conscious about what they choose to spend their money on.

Pay yourself first, and make sure to give yourself a raise

If you’re like many people, you may have good intentions of saving money each month, but at the end of the month, you find there’s nothing left over after all the bills are paid. One habit that people who are successful financially have is to pay themselves first. Put your savings money aside at the BEGINNING of the month. It’s a bit of a mental trick, but many people find that having that money out of sight helps them to save more.

Another financial habit to start is to always give yourself a raise. Whenever you get a raise at work or come across any “extra” money, IMMEDIATELY put it either in your emergency fund or use it to pay down your debt. Putting any raise or extra money towards your savings (instead of increasing your standard of living) is a great habit to start. 

This is a great habit to start, especially if you are young or just starting out in your professional life.  Of course, paying yourself first and giving yourself a raise, doesn’t mean that you have to only eat ramen or can’t have nice things. But thanks to the magic of compound interest, the sooner you start to save and invest, the better off you’ll be.

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Source: mint.intuit.com

7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to take stock of your financial situation as you head into 2021. 2020 has been a strange year, and a difficult year for many people. With many people’s health and/or economic livelihoods affected by COVID-19, many people’s situation looks very different than it did back in January. As we head into a new year, here are a few things that you can do to improve your finances before the end of 2020.

#1 Put at least $1000 into an emergency fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund set up to handle unexpected expenses, that is a good first step to putting yourself on a solid financial footing. $1000 may not be enough to handle every possible thing that could go wrong, but it can be enough to handle your car breaking down or an unexpected home expense. If you don’t have at least a minimal emergency fund in place, make a plan for how you can start one before the end of the year.

#2 Fully fund your retirement accounts

401k, IRAs, and other retirement accounts have an annual contribution limit that caps the amount that you’re able to contribute each year. Before the end of the year, set aside some time to go through each of your accounts that have an annual contribution limit. Decide for which of those accounts it makes sense to fund before the end of the year.

#3 Consider donating to charity

With the increased standard deduction available in recent tax years, not as many people itemize their deductions. But if you do itemize your deductions, then remember that your charitable contribution may be tax-deductible. If you make that charitable contribution before the end of the year, you may be able to deduct it in this tax year — otherwise, you’ll have to wait an entire year before you’re able to deduct it.

READ MORE: 5 Best Credit Cards When You Make Charitable Donations

If you’ve already made charitable contributions in 2020, make sure that you have them documented and ready to include on your tax return.

#4 Make sure you have a financial security plan in place

Still, using the same username and password on every internet site? It may be time to get a financial security plan in place. With data breaches always a possibility now’s as good a time as any to take some steps to minimize your risk in case of a data breach or a hacker accessing your financial information. One thing that you can do before the end of the year is to set up a password manager to put some variety into your passwords. Another thing is to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on your important financial accounts.

#5 Review your credit report

Each year you are entitled to a free three-bureau credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com, and the end of the year can be a good time to do that. If you already have a Mint account, you have access to your credit score at any time, but reviewing your actual credit report can make a big difference to your credit report. Between 10 and 21 percent of people have errors on their credit report, and clearing up incorrect or inaccurate information can raise your credit score.

#6 Use up any money in your FSA

Flexible spending accounts can be a great way to save money on health expenses. An FSA is typically set up through your employer and allows you to make pre-tax contributions. Any money that you contribute to your FSA is not subject to tax, and you can use that money to get reimbursed for many different types of health expenses. The only downside is that most FSA plans are use-it or lose-it plans. So any money that is left in the FSA at the end of the year is forfeited. Check the details of your plan, and make sure that you use all the money in your FSA before the end of the year.

#7 Set your financial goals for 2021

Finally, the end of the year can be a great time to set up your financial goals for 2021. You don’t have to wait until January to start up a new resolution. Meet and talk with your spouse, family, or trusted friends and advisors. Decide where you want to be in one year, in five years and beyond, and start taking the steps to get yourself there.

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Source: mint.intuit.com