• Losing weight and improving one’s finances are almost always at the top of most people’s lists of New Year’s resolutions. It makes sense to look out for your physical and financial health so you can enjoy life to the fullest. Following through on your resolutions is usually the tough part — it takes changes in certain behaviors, discipline and time to experience and maintain the results. This is as true for financial planning as it is for losing weight.

    If improving your finances is one of your New Year’s resolutions, here are five steps you can take starting Jan. 1:

    Immediately Pay Down Holiday Bills and Credit Cards.

    Many people splurge on holiday gifts, parties and travel in December, but the bills will come due in January. Resolve to pay down those debts quickly to avoid large interest charges on your credit cards.

    Set a goal to pay off the total amount on one card within a few months, if not sooner. If you or your spouse expects a bonus check from your employer in early 2018, use at least some amount from this check to pay down debt. Finally, start by paying off the credit card with the smallest balance. Even though this card may not have the highest interest rate, paying off the total amount on one card will provide the motivation to keep paying off the others.

    Build an Emergency Fund.

    Everyone should have at least three to six months of their living expenses set aside in a cash savings account. This number should be higher when you are retired, such as one to three years of spending needs, and should be coordinated with your overall investment mix. In order to accomplish this goal when you are working, set up an automatic draft from your paycheck into a separate savings account. This account can be used for emergency car and household expenses and will help avoid piling up new credit card debt on top of the existing debt from the holidays.

    I personally use an online bank for my savings account. Online financial institutions often pay higher interest rates on cash and CDs than traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. Here’s another tip: Consider using different banks for your savings account and your checking account. It’s a little less tempting to access your savings account when the spending impulse strikes if it’s not at the same place as your checking account.

    Increase 401(k) Retirement Plan Contributions.

    The amount each person can contribute to a 401(k) retirement plan is increasing by $500 in 2018, to $18,500 for individuals under age 50 and $24,500 for people 50 and older. Everyone who is working should resolve to save an extra $500 for retirement this coming year.

    If you are getting a raise going into 2018, increase your 401(k) savings rate by the amount of your raise if you are not funding your 401(k) to the maximum already. This is a discipline I have followed since receiving my first paycheck at age 22 — I kept increasing my 401(k) savings rate each year until I was able to reach the savings limit, and I’ve never looked back.

    Let’s say you are getting a $5,000 raise in 2018. If you save this amount annually over the next 10 years, and at an average annual investment return of 5%, your retirement savings can be over $60,000 higher. That could buy you a shiny new car in retirement.

    Rebalance Existing 401(k) and Retirement Account Investments.

    In addition to adding to your retirement account, review your existing investments in January to ensure a reasonable mix of stocks and bonds. With equity markets at all-time highs, the percentage of your funds in stocks may now be higher than you planned. Over time, an investment account that is overweight in stocks can grow substantially, but during a recession or stock market downturn your balance can suffer, too.

    If retirement is right around the corner for you, it’s especially important to consider the amount of stocks or stock mutual funds you are comfortable owning. Finally, while you are logged into your retirement accounts, check to see that your beneficiary designations are correct and up to date.

    Review Home and Car Insurance Policies.

    Over the last five years, the consumer price index for auto insurance has gone up over 20%, compared with the overall CPI of 4.5% during this period. Many insurance companies raise auto and home insurance premiums each year, and even small increases can add up over time.

    I recommend sitting down with your insurance agent every three years to make certain you are taking advantage of any discounts available, and that you have proper coverage, given changing asset values. Managing risks and protecting your assets is an important part of financial planning. Also, review the deductible amount on each of your auto and home policies. This move can significantly lower premiums now. If you have an adequate emergency fund built up, you should be able to cover a higher deductible in the event of a loss.

    It’s time to make New Year’s resolutions stick. Look out for your personal and financial well-being this coming year. You’ll find that making small progress will empower you, and motivate you to reach your goals. And the following year you may just resolve to keep your 2018 resolutions going!


  • While retirement may not be on your mind currently as an entrepreneur, the sooner you start planning for this milestone, the better. Before anything else, you need to consider the ways that you will be able to save for your retirement while also keeping your business running today. So, what tips or tricks can you employ to ensure that you will be financially able to retire when ready?

    A. Set Up a Roth IRA

    You may not have a company 401(k), but you should take advantage of the long-term benefits of a Roth IRA, which will grow and compound over time (tax free) and be removed (again, tax free) when you are at retirement age. - Jeff Epstein, Ambassador

    A. Opt for a Solo 401(k)

    If you are a business with no full-time employees (other than you and your spouse), you are eligible for a Solo 401(k), also known as the self-employed 401(k). The benefit to this is that you can contribute up to $50,000 of business income pre-tax ($100,000 if you set up a plan for yourself and your spouse). In 2016, I was able to cut my tax bill by $19,500 thanks to this benefit. - Bryan Kesler, CPA Exam Guide

    A. Invest in Technology

    Put 10 percent of your annual income into the top performing technology stocks. The compound return rate will give you millions after 20 years, especially if you increase your salary or income over the years. - Duran Inci, Optimum7

    A. Buy Cryptocurrency

    Cryptocurrency is a unique investment opportunity, but make sure you don’t put in money that you can’t afford to lose. It’s risky and volatile, but the payoffs can be great. For example, bitcoin is now trading over $7,000, and a couple years ago it was around $200. But bitcoin isn’t the only one seeing huge returns. Take a look at Ethereum and ICOs as well. - Jared Atchison, WPForms

    A. Get a Pro to Help With the Details

    Protect yourself from noisy amateurs with a clear game plan. There are thousands of strategies within the retirement plan space that allow generous benefits to be tastefully tilted to the entrepreneur or key executives, while providing an excellent employee benefit. Look for a specialist and have a 20-minute chat; you’ll be surprised at the huge tax perks along the road to building wealth. - Krzysztof ‘Kris’ Garlewicz, ProsperiFi, LLC

    A. Include It in the Budget

    Make it a budget line item. Many people don’t add it in as a critical need along with their monthly short-term costs. But it’s just as important, if not more. Putting it in the budget will mean you will have less to spend at Starbucks, the movies or the mall, but it will mean that you have a retirement fund when you need it most. - Andrew O’Connor, American Addiction Centers

    A. Create a Monthly Recurring Income Stream

    Monthly recurring income streams are great because they allow you to generate passive income and live a retired lifestyle without being solely dependent on the fluctuations of the market. You can set up monthly income streams by investing in rental properties, utilizing Airbnb or creating a SaaS business. - Syed Balkhi, OptinMonster

    A. Save 10 Percent of All Your Earnings

    Make this a standard about your approach to saving. Take 10 percent of your finances and place it into savings accounts or low-risk investments. This applies whether you are an entrepreneur or not. The effects are cumulative. As your wealth grows, real estate becomes a very worthy investment. - Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

    A. Use an App to Regularly Contribute Small Amounts

    There are apps that let you save and invest for retirement where you take small amounts and incrementally add and buy into mutual funds that help build that retirement account, from even a little. Doing so can lead to larger amounts that grow even when you think it won’t amount to much. - Zach Binder, Bell + Ivy

    A. Follow Einstein’s Theory

    Albert Einstein is believed to have said that compound interest is “the most powerful force in the universe.” If you start young, that compound interest can work harder than any human ever could. I recommend buying a house as early as possible and putting in at least 10 percent. Don’t look at the account often and remember; that is not your money until you retire. - Tommy Mello, A1 Garage Door Repair

    A. Don’t Bank on an Exit

    While all entrepreneurs secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) dream of a big “exit” down the line, it’s dangerous to bank your retirement on that happening. There are a million reasons why you might not sell your business, so preparing along the way ensures you don’t have an “oh no” moment in your golden years. - Ross Beyeler, Growth Spark

    A. Diversify and Never Retire

    Diversify your activities and most importantly, never retire. A true entrepreneur will never reach a point of full satisfaction. Plus, it’s my personal belief that retirement is really not good for you. Any entrepreneur should diversify and when your financials allow it, invest in real estate for your peace of mind. It is best to invest in a new development and in an area that you believe in. - Adrian Ghila, Luxe RV, Inc.

    A. Don’t Retire Early

    Just step out of the day-to-day jobs and move into advisory or steering committee type positions. Chances are, if you are a successful entrepreneur, you’ll struggle to fully retire. It’s addictive work! Find ways to stay involved that are enjoyable and allow you to invest as much or as little time as you have. That way you can still enjoy retirement! - Baruch Labunski, Rank Secure


  • As the end of the year approaches and investors begin to take stock of their savings, one consideration they may want to take into account is how they should allocate money across 401(k) and IRA plans.

    In a traditional, employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, employees can contribute tax-deferred money that is generally matched by a company up to a certain percentage. Traditional IRAs are accounts individuals set up independently, where earnings grow tax-free until they are withdrawn in retirement. For a Roth IRA, contributions are taxed first and then withdrawn tax-free, and a Rollover IRA allows individuals to transfer money over from employer-sponsored plans.

    Here are some tips to help you navigate the retirement planning process.

    Contribution levels

    The maximum amount an individual can contribute to a 401(k) plan is significantly higher than what is allowed for an IRA. Beginning next year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will increase the contribution threshold for 401(k) plans by another $500 to $18,500 per year. The maximum allowable, cumulative contribution per year across both traditional and Roth IRA plans is $5,500 or $6,500 for those ages 50 and older.

    Uses

    “Most of the time people work for an employer and obviously the easiest way to invest is to make it automatic … [that’s also] typically the most advantageous,” David Hays, president of Comprehensive Financial Consultants, told FOX Business.

    IRAs can be useful for a variety of purposes, however, including higher education expenses for yourself or your children or a down payment for a first-time homebuyer. If funds are withdrawn for these purposes when an investor is under the age of 59.5, they can generally be exempt from the 10% distribution penalty.

    401(k) plans don’t provide those options, but Hays said the plans do offer loans for up to 50% of the vested account balance, or $50,000, whichever is less. Not all plans include this allowance.

    Investment options and fees

    While a traditional 401(k) usually offers limited investment options, IRA choices tend to be limitless, offering investors more flexibility to curate a unique portfolio.

    In terms of fees, Hays said IRAs, which tend to be more on the retail side, sometimes comes with higher fees. With 401(k) plans, big companies can offer really low, competitive fees.

    Withdrawal

    For a 401(k), if you are no longer working with an employer, you can generally withdraw funds if you are age 59.5 or older. In some cases, you only need to be over the age of 55. If you withdraw early, you will pay income taxes and a 10% penalty.

    On the other hand, you can rollover your 401(k) savings into an IRA plan, should you choose to continue stashing cash away.

    For IRA plans, the age 59.5 rule applies, and early withdrawal would also result in a 10% penalty on top of income taxes.


  • There is a wealth of ways to invest your money, but let’s face it: you probably don’t have endless time to figure them all out. And with time at a premium, using energy to keep abreast of the ins and outs of your investment portfolio can seem impossible. Although Singaporeans are on average earning more each year, the global market hasn’t been as successful recently — and that’s enough to give anyone pause before approaching today’s complex investment landscape.

    One way to get to grips with the investment climate is to take advantage of a smart investment tool, which can help to identify investment opportunities. Standard Chartered Bank now offers Personalized Investment Ideas (PII), the latest tool to give investors the info they need to grow their wealth. Thanks to technological advancements like this, you can invest wisely, and without giving up your valuable time.

    When it comes to your investments, you have three potential options:

    Buy

    Taking risks with your money is not only daunting, but can keep you up at night if you’re not confident in your choices. Which investment is right for you? There is such a huge range of investment opportunities available that opting for a select few that compliment your needs can seem difficult.

    Know this: There are times to invest aggressively and times to invest conservatively. If you’re just starting to build your portfolio, conventional wisdom tells you to take lots of risks since you have plenty of time for the market to right itself in the event of a downturn. If you are approaching retirement, however, now’s the time to stay safe with your investments and ensure you have plenty of funds to sufficiently support you later in life.

    Hold

    When all is said and done, investing money is not only about accumulating wealth. Your investment is where your heart is — whether that is making a better life for your family, establishing a solid future, or funding a business idea. That’s when holding your stocks could be your safest bet, but only if you feel confident in where your money is invested.

    The global market is anything but predictable, so be aware of the current climate. Uncertain times can produce huge gains and huge losses, but without an intimate knowledge of where the market is headed, a fork in your investment road can be dangerous.

    Although it is a passive investment strategy, holding can still produce gains in the long run — but that only works if time is on your side. With a 2016 average annual growth rate of 5.5% in South Asia, the market is showing positive numbers, but holding for too long could prevent you from significantly growing your portfolio.

    Sell

    Knowing when to let go of your investments can be tough, but there are signs out there that will alert you when it’s time. Big life changes can impact your investment goals, and your perfectly balanced portfolio can be thrown out of whack in an instant — perhaps by a marriage, retirement, or the birth of a child.

    Knowing when to let go of your investments is just as important as knowing when to buy. Treat your portfolio like a living, breathing organism: when one part gets too big, it’s time to reallocate to avoid an uneven balance.

    You may also need to sell to create liquidity. Perhaps there’s a property you’d like to invest in, or a business venture that is too good to miss. Whatever the case, selling your investments isn’t always a bad choice — but it must be done at the right time, in the right way, and with a vast breadth of market knowledge behind it.

    Technology is working to make investing smarter, easier, and more profitable.

    Technology-driven solutions can be the roadmap you need to know when to buy, sell, or hold — and exactly how to go about it. Software that offers bespoke solutions for each individual is essential.

    The benefit of having smart investment tool crunch numbers for you, as well as a team of real people with real investment knowledge keeping an eye on things puts you in a strong position to make the decisions that work best for you. The market can change quickly, and your investment software should adapt just as fast, ensuring you’re well equipped to grow your wealth effectively.


  • How will I know when it's the right tie to retire? Is there a barometer that experts rely on to know when it's the right time to go?--B.K.

    I don't know of any generally recognized gauge or barometer for calling it a career, but I can tell you that the decision to retire definitely isn't just about reaching a certain age. I recently took personal finance guru Suze Orman to task for suggesting as much when she recently asserted in no uncertain terms that "70 is the new retirement age -- not a month or year before."

    She's right that many people may need to stay on the job longer these days to accumulate a large enough nest egg to support them in retirement. But to say that 70 -- or any single age, for that matter -- is the right age to retire? That's far too simplistic. The decision to retire involves too many subjective factors that can vary significantly from person to person to be boiled down a single number.

    So how can you tell when it's the right time for you, given your specific situation, to make the transition from the work-a-day world to post-career life?

    One place to start is by assessing whether you're financially capable of leaving the workforce. One major question: Do you have enough saved so that draws from your nest egg plus income from guaranteed income sources like Social Security, pensions and annuities will allow you to maintain an acceptable standard of living throughout a retirement that could last 30 or more years?

    It's difficult to answer that question with absolute certainty because of a variety of uncertainties, including how long you might live, the rate of return your investments will earn, what your expenses will be during your post-career life. And, indeed, research shows that many people don't have an accurate sense of whether they're on track to a secure retirement. Still, without too much effort you can come up with a pretty decent estimate of whether you've got the financial resources necessary to pull the trigger.

    Start by doing a retirement budget so you'll have a realistic idea of the amount of income you'll need to cover your expenses once the paychecks stop. You can do a budget the old-school way with paper and pencil, but I think you'll find it a lot easier to use an online tool like BlackRock's Retirement Expense Worksheet, which lists more than four dozen different expenses, including both essential living costs (housing costs, transportation, food, health care, taxes, etc.) and discretionary expenditures (travel and entertainment, charitable donations, dining out, etc.). You won't be able to predict your costs down to the penny, but you can update and refine your estimate annually after retiring.

    Once you have a decent handle on expenses, you can plug that figure, along with such information as your age, current retirement savings balance, the amount you'll collect from Social Security any other guaranteed income sources, into a good retirement income calculator that uses Monte Carlo analysis to estimate the probability that your resources will be able to generate the income you'll need for the rest of your life.

    Again, we're dealing with approximations here; no tool can predict the future. But if after going through this sort of analysis you find that your chances of being able to generate the income you'll need are uncomfortably low -- say, less than 80% or so -- then you may want to postpone retirement until they improve or find other ways of tilting the odds in your favor, such as downsizing, taking out a reverse mortgage or paring your discretionary expenses.

    As you're going through this financial review, you'll also want to take a look at your retirement investments. The single most important thing you want to do is ensure you're properly balancing risk and reward. During your career you have plenty of time to rebound from severe market setbacks, so you can afford to tilt your portfolio mix heavily toward stocks to generate higher long-term returns. In retirement, however, the combination of big losses plus withdrawals from your portfolio can increase the risk you'll outlive your nest egg.

    So as you near and enter retirement, you'll likely want to scale back your stock holdings to prevent a market downturn from decimating your nest egg.

    Just as there's no single retirement age that's right for everyone, neither is there a stocks-bonds mix that suits retirees and near-retirees. But you can get a decent idea of how to divvy up your portfolio between stocks, bonds and cash by completing this risk tolerance-asset allocation questionnaire.

    But deciding the appropriate time to retire isn't just a numbers game. To make a smooth transition into retirement, you also want to consider how you actually want to live and whether you're socially and emotionally prepared to leave the work-a-day world. Do you have activities that will keep you occupied -- and better yet, make your time in retirement fulfilling and meaningful -- now that you won't have the structure of a job to plan your days? Do you have a solid network of friends and family to help you stay socially connected? Will you spend most of your time close to home or do you plan to travel? Do you expect to seek part-time or occasional work for pay or volunteer?

    These are the sorts of issues I put under the general heading of lifestyle planning, and it's better that you look into them before you leave your job than after. That's especially true if you're thinking of working in retirement, as finding a job you'll enjoy and that pays an acceptable wage may be more challenging than you think.

    It would be nice if after going through the process I've described, you could be sure to arrive at firm yea or nay on retiring. But things aren't always so clear. For example, you may find that you've got all the resources you need to call it a career, but you enjoy working too much to give it up now, which is fine. Conversely, you could come up short on financial readiness but because you feel you're simply unable to go on with your job you figure you're better off retiring anyway, even if that means scaling back your retirement vision.

    And sometimes you may not have much of a choice. Almost half of retirees left their jobs earlier than they planned, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute's 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey, often due to health problems, being laid off by their employer or because they had to take care of a spouse or other family member. Faced with such a situation, one person could decide to try to find work, any work, and postpone retirement. Another person may decide to retire and fashion the best post-career life as possible, given the circumstances. There's no one correct response.

    Ultimately, deciding when to retire is really about deciding how you want to spend whatever time you have left in this life. So while I recommend that you weigh the issues I've raised above, recognize that neither I nor anyone else can know what the right decision is for you. This is a call you'll have to make as best you can give the circumstances you face.





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