Looking for a partner in wealth? Your company 401(k) is a smart choice because you defer paying taxes on your contributions, giving you a bigger paycheck now and allowing you to save more. For example, if you contribute $200 per month, your paycheck will drop by just $150 if you’re in the 25 percent tax bracket. (This assumes you’re investing in a traditional 401(k); if your company offers and you’re using a Roth 401(k), you get no tax break up front but all withdrawals can be tax-free in retirement.)
You’ll save even more money if your employer matches your contributions. A 50-cent-per-dollar match, for instance, is like getting an instant 50 percent return on your money.
Here’s a thoughtful gift from Uncle Sam: Any money you put into a Roth IRA grows absolutely tax-free. You won’t owe a dime now, nor when you cash it out in retirement.
If a 25-year-old contributes $5,000 each year until she retires and makes an average annual return of 8 percent on her investment, she’ll have $1.4 million saved by the time she retires at age 65. If she invests that money in a taxable account, however, she’d only have about $1 million if her earnings were taxed at 15 percent—that’s 28 percent less money.
Beating the market’s return consistently is a very hard thing to do—few mutual fund managers can pull it off. So if you can’t beat ’em, why not join ’em? Investing in dirt-cheap index funds and exchange-traded funds can be an inexpensive way to invest wisely.
Index funds simply track broad swaths of the market, and they don’t try to pick the best stocks. Yet investors come out further ahead than when using most actively managed mutual funds.
Full-service brokers can charge pricey commissions each time you trade—around $50 to $150. Or they may offer you “free trades” in exchange for a percentage of your assets. So on an account of $50,000, a 1.5 percent fee costs you $750 per year.
If you don’t rely on your broker’s recommendations and don’t trade often, you can do much better with a discount broker, where transactions cost between $10 and $40 each. You could save hundreds of dollars annually.
Trying to time the market is often a losing game. Instead, employ the simple strategy of dollar-cost averaging. By investing a fixed dollar amount at regular intervals, you smooth out the ups and downs of the market over time.
Take out all the emotion and guesswork, and investing becomes much less stressful, and much more successful.
Working for yourself can be a liberating experience. But don’t forget that it’s up to you to save for your retirement.
The good news is self-employed workers can enjoy tax-sheltered benefits just as their 9-to-5 counterparts do. For example, sole proprietors can generally save the most money in a solo 401(k). Other choices include Keogh plans and Simplified Employee Pensions (SEP).
The right time to unload shares is one of the toughest calls investors have to make. Hold a stock too long and it could become a loser. Sell too early and you could miss out on superior gains.
But if you know the signs to look for, you can boost your chances of making a good decision—and saving (or making) some serious cash. For example, keep an eye out for a change in the company’s fundamentals and how the stock performs relative to its peers.
Bond investors have an escape not available to stock owners. They can buy municipal bonds and pay no federal taxes at all on the interest. And if you buy muni bonds from in-state issuers, you can avoid state and local taxes as well.
A 4 percent yield on a muni is the equivalent of a 5.6 percent payout on a taxable bond if you’re in the 28 percent tax bracket , and 6 percent if you’re in the 33 percent bracket. And these bonds are relatively safe. Muni defaults have been rare over the years.
Now is a great time to open a 529 College Savings Plan. The sooner your money is in an account, the sooner it starts to earn tax-free returns.
Several states and the District of Columbia offer residents a tax deduction or credit for contributing to their state’s own 529 Plan, saving you even more. Kansas, Maine and Pennsylvania even let residents take the deduction for contributions to out-of-state 529 Plans.