Estate planning can help you pass on assets to your heirs while potentially minimizing taxes. When gifting assets, itâs important to consider when and how the generation-skipping tax transfer (GSTT) may apply. Also called the generation-skipping tax, this federal tax can apply when a grandparent leaves assets to a grandchild while skipping over their parents in the line of inheritance. It can also be triggered when leaving assets to someone whoâs at least 37.5 years younger than you. If youâre considering âskippingâ any of your heirs when passing on assets, itâs important to understand what that means from a tax perspective and how to fill out the requisite form. A financial advisor can also give you valuable guidance on how best to pass along your estate to your beneficiaries.
Generation-Skipping Tax, Definition
The Internal Revenue Code imposes both gift and estate taxes on transfers of assets above certain limits. For 2020, you can exclude gifts of up to $15,000 per person from the gift tax, with the limit doubling for married couples who file a joint return. Estate tax applies to estates larger than $11,580,000 for 2020, increasing to $11,700,000 in 2021. Again, these exemption limits double for married couples filing a joint return.
The gift tax rate can be as high as 40%, while the estate tax also maxes out at 40%. The IRS uses the generation-skipping transfer tax to collect its share of any wealth that moves across families when assets arenât passed directly from parent to child. Assets subject to the generation-skipping tax are taxed at a flat 40% rate.
This tax can apply to both direct transfers of assets to your chosen beneficiaries as well as assets passed through a trust. A trust can be subject to the GSTT if all the beneficiaries of the trust are considered to be skip persons who have a direct interest in the trust.
How Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Works
Generation-skipping tax rules cover the transfer of assets to people who at least one generation apart. A common scenario where the GSTT can apply is the transfer of assets from a grandparent to a grandchild when one or both of the grandchildâs parents are still alive. If youâre transferring assets to a grandchild because your child has predeceased you, then the transfer tax wouldnât apply.
The generation-skipping tax is a separate tax from the estate tax and it applies alongside it. Similar to estate tax, this tax kicks in when an estateâs value exceeds the annual exemption limits. The 40% GSTT would be applied to any transfers of assets above the exempt amount, in addition to the regular 40% estate tax.
This is how the IRS covers its bases in collecting taxes on wealth as it moves from one person to another. If you were to pass your estate from your child, who then passes it to their child then no GSTT would apply. The IRS could simply collect estate taxes from each successive generation. But if you skip your child and leave assets to your grandchild instead, that removes a link from the taxation chain. The GSTT essentially allows the IRS to replace that link.
You do have the ability to take advantage of lifetime estate and gift tax exemption limits, which can help to offset how much is owed for the generation-skipping tax. But any unused portion of the exemption counted toward the generation-skipping tax is lost when you die.
How to Avoid Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax
If youâd like to minimize estate and gift taxes as much as possible, talking to a financial advisor can be a good place to start. An advisor whoâs well-versed in gift and estate taxes can help you create a plan for transferring assets. For example, that plan might include gifting assets to your grandchildren or another generation-skipping person annually, rather than at the end of your life. Remember, you can gift up to $15,000 per person each year without incurring gift tax, or up to $30,000 per person if youâre married and file a joint return. Youâd just need to keep the lifetime exemption limits in mind when scheduling gifts.
You could also make payments on behalf of a beneficiary to avoid tax. Say you want to help your granddaughter with college costs, for example. Any direct payments you make to the school to cover tuition would generally be tax-free. The same is true for direct payments made to healthcare providers if youâre paying medical expenses on behalf of someone else.
Setting up a trust may be another option worth exploring to minimize generation-skipping taxes. A generation-skipping trust allows you to transfer assets to the trust and pay estate taxes at the time of the transfer. The assets you put into the trust have to remain there during the skipped generationâs lifetime. Once they pass away, the assets in the trust could be passed on tax-free to the next generation.
This strategy requires some planning and some patience on the part of the generation that stands to inherit. But the upside is that members of the skipped generation and the generation that follows can benefit from any income the assets in the trust generates in the meantime. Trusts can also yield another benefit, in that they can offer asset protection against creditors who may file legal claims against you or your estate.
Another type of trust you might consider is a dynasty trust. This type of trust can allow you to pass assets on to future generations without triggering estate, gift or generation-skipping taxes. The caveat is that these are designed to be long-term trusts.
You can name your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and subsequent generations as beneficiaries and the transfer of assets to the trust is irrevocable. That means once you place the assets in the trust, you wonât be able to take them back out again so itâs important to understand the implications before creating this type of trust.
The Bottom Line
The generation-skipping tax could take a significant bite out of the assets youâre able to leave behind to grandchildren or another eligible person. If youâre considering using this type of trust to pass on assets or youâre interested in exploring other ways to transfer assets while minimizing taxes, itâs wise to consult an estate planning lawyer or tax attorney first.
Tips for Estate Planning
Consider talking to your financial advisor about how to best shape your estate plan to minimize taxation. If you donât have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesnât have to be complicated. SmartAssetâs financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations for advisors online. If youâre ready, get started now.
Creating a trust can yield some advantages in your estate plan. In addition to helping you minimize tax liability, the assets in a trust are not subject to probate. Thatâs different from assets you leave behind in a will.
Deia Schlosberg had been working as an environmental educator, teaching students about issues concerning conservation and sustainability. While she loved teaching, she wanted to reach people on a larger scale about the importance of protecting the environment. So she decided to follow her dream of becoming a filmmakerâa dream that would require her to return to school for a graduate degree. She had no idea at the time that it would lead to becoming an award-winning documentarian.
While Schlosberg’s choice may have paid off, learning how to pay for grad school as a working adult can be a challenge. There are various benefits to getting an advanced degree: You can learn more, you can earn more, you can further advance in your current job or prepare for a career change. However, you might also find yourself stressed by the expense and resulting debt of it all, especially if you have kids, a home or other financial commitments. So a big question on your mind could be, “How much should I save for grad school?”
Below are some lessons on how to financially prepare for grad school to help you determine if and when you should go back to school. If you haven’t yet decided if graduate school is right for you, see section 1 for tips on how to decide. If you already know you want to go back to school, skip to section 2.
1. Decide if going back to school is right for you
Getting an advanced degree may seem like a ticket to success, but depending on your chosen area of study, the outcome may vary. For Schlosberg, it was a bit of a risk. It can be difficult to get a break in the film industry, and going to grad school could mean carrying around debt for a long time. Is this the type of outcome you would be willing to accept?
According to Emma Johnson, best-selling author, career consultant and founder of Wealthysinglemommy.com, there are a few things you can do to help you decide whether or not going back to school is right for you:
Do your homework. When considering how to pay for grad school as a working adult, research your degree options and the jobs to which they might lead. Compare cost and compatibilityâfor instance, will classes for the program align with your work schedule? Once you’ve determined what kind of occupation you may pursue after grad school, search online for information about that occupation’s average earnings.
Solidify your goals. You may find clarity in writing out your goals for going back to school. Some benefits are tangible, like earning more money, building a professional network and gaining skills. Others might be less tangible, such as finding personal fulfillment. Once you know your goals, it will be easier to determine if a graduate degree makes personal and professional sense.
“Your savings should not only depend on tuition but also what the degree isâi.e., how easy it will be to repay once you are working in the desired field.”
Give your degree program a test run. Consider taking classes that relate to the degree you are interested in getting in grad school. These classes can give you a taste of the subject matter you’ll be studying and help you meet people involved in the field. Also, if prerequisites are required for your advanced degree, they often cost less online or at a community college, which is important to remember when thinking about how to prepare your finances before grad school. Make sure the course credits will be accepted at the graduate school you plan to attend.
Take a hands-on approach. To level up in your existing career or find out what it’s like in a new field before making the change, get some work-related experience first. For instance, to learn more about moving up in your own field, get out and meet those higher level professionals by attending conferences and networking events. The same tactic applies if you want to change careers.
2. Know how much you need to save
How to pay for grad school as a working adult can be complicated, but you’ve decided you’re ready for it. Plus, hitting the books at a time when saving for retirement or your child’s education could be at the forefront makes the task of how to prepare your finances before grad school even more critical.
Figuring out how much to save for grad school begins with determining the cost of attendance. Here are a couple ways to do that, according to Johnson:
Do the research. Once you have found a school and degree that you like, visit the school’s web site. Some schools may provide the cost of tuition, fees and estimated costs for books, supplies and transportation. Costs can vary tremendously, depending on various factors: whether you attend full or part time, whether you attend a public or private school, whether you are an in-state or out-of-state resident and the time it takes to get your degree.
Determine your budget. Once you have a handle on the school-related costs, build a spreadsheet that accounts for these costs and projects monthly income and living expenses. Working through a savings plan beforehand can help you financially prepare for grad school by showing just how much you’ll need to budget for monthly on tuition plus living expenses. Once you determine these factors, you’ll get a better idea of what you need to save up.
Create a savings buffer. After you determine your monthly costs, pad that number. “Your savings should not only depend on tuition but also what the degree isâi.e., how easy it will be to repay once you are working in the desired field,” Schlosberg says. She saved a little more than she estimated, giving herself an extra cushion to cover some of the potential risk to her finances.
“You may have to downscale your career and current lifestyle to go back to school, which may be a worthwhile investment of time and resources.”
3. Allow yourself a flexible timeline
One key factor in planning the timeline for earning your graduate degree: Don’t be in a rush. If you need to, create the time to save. It may not be necessary to go back to school full time or finish on a particular schedule, Johnson says. She mentions these possible paths to earning your degree when planning how to pay for grad school as a working adult:
Consider a side hustle. One option is to go to school full time and take on a side hustle. You may not make as much as you did as a full-time employee, but the income can complement your savings. It may also allow you to concentrate more on your degree and finish faster.
Attend part time. Go to school part time (nights and weekends) while working. It will take longer, but it will also minimize your debt, which could be better in the long run.
Take it slowly. Only sign up for a class or twoâwhatever you can affordâand continue to work. This part-time “lite” approach may take even longer, but could help you avoid overextending yourself financially or sliding into debt.
Take online classes. Consider online programs that could lower the cost of tuition and allow you to continue working full time.
4. Take advantage of potential cost-saving benefits
So you’ve done your research on how much you need to save while determining how to prepare your finances before grad school. But there are ways to potentially cut or eliminate some of those costs. What comes next are some solutions that may help pay your grad school bills:
Consider loans, financial aid and scholarships. “I took out some student loans for living expenses, but I tried to pay off my tuition as I went by working through school,” Schlosberg says. Graduate students may also be eligible for different types of scholarships and grants, which is aid that does not need to be paid back. Depending on your area of study, scholarships and grants can also be obtained through federal and state organizations, private foundations, public companies and professional organizations.
Ask your employer to pay the tuition. One way to financially prepare for grad school is to talk to your manager or human resources representative to find out if your current employer would help pay for, or fully fund, your degree through tuition reimbursement. This is most likely if you plan to move up the ladder and use your new skills on behalf of the company.
Take advantage of in-state tuition. Some people move to the same state as their desired school to try to get a break on tuition. “I moved to Montana and worked a couple jobs for a year before applying so I could get in-state tuition,” says Schlosberg. Whether you are already a resident or you move to a new state, be sure to determine how long you need to be a resident to qualify for in-state tuition at your desired university.
Cut back on discretionary expenses. Seemingly small things like adjusting your lifestyle to lower your monthly costs, which could mean fewer lattes and dinners out, might go a long way in resolving how to prepare your finances before grad school. “You may have to downscale your career and current lifestyle to go back to school, which may be a worthwhile investment of time and resources,” Johnson says.
Financially prepare for grad school and get a new start
Answering the question of how to pay for grad school as a working adult requires significant research and preparation, but some say it’s worth it, including Schlosberg. It not only gave her a whole new start, but a wealth of knowledge going forward to nurture her future endeavors. “Getting a graduate degree gave me the confidence to jump into a new career. I met an amazing network of people,” Schlosberg says.
But an advanced degree may not be a necessity. While it could look impressive on a resume, for many employers, a master’s degree is not a requirement. “Whatever you do, don’t go back to school just for the sake of getting a degree,” Johnson says. When thinking about how to financially prepare for graduate school, make sure it fits into your financial picture and that you’re able to âweigh your sacrifices against future gains,” she says.
The post Hitting the Books Again? Here’s How to Financially Prepare for Grad School appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Life in the military offers some distinct experiences compared to civilian life, and that includes your budget and finances. The pre-deployment process can feel overwhelming, especially when youâre organizing your money and bills.Â
Itâs important you provide your family with everything they need to keep you and any dependents comfortable and stable. This means gathering paperwork, making phone calls to service providers, creating new budgets, and organizing your estate. The more you prepare ahead of time, the less you have to worry about the state of your investments and finances when you return home.Â
To help make the process easier, weâve gathered everything you need to know for deployment finances. Read on or jump to a specific category below:
Review Your Estate
Reassign Financial Responsibilities
Update Your Services
Build a Budget
Prepare a Deployment Binder
Protect Yourself From Fraud
Adjust Your Savings
Update Your Budget
Pay Off Debt
Review Legal Documents
Before Your Deployment
Thereâs a lot of paperwork and emotions involved in preparing for deployment. Make sure you take plenty of time for yourself and your loved ones, then schedule time to organize your finances for some peace of mind.Â
investments, and dependents. Itâs an important conversation to have with your partner and establishes:
Power of attorney
Last will and testament
Anyone with property, wealth, or dependents should have some estate planning basics secured. These documents will protect your wishes and your family in the event you suffer serious injury. There are several military resources to help you prepare your estate:
Defense Finance And Accounting Servicesâ Survivor Benefit Plan and Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan
Department Of Defenseâs Military Funeral Honors Pre-arrangementÂ
Service Memberâs Group Life Insurance
Veterans Affairs Survivorâs Benefits
The Importance Of Estate Planning In The Military
Survivor Benefits Calculator
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows you to cancel a housing or auto lease, cancel your phone service, and avoid foreclosure on a home you own without penalties. Additionally, you can reduce your debt interest rates while youâre deployed, giving you a leg up on debt repayment or savings goals. Learn more about the SCRA benefits below:
Terminating Your Lease For Deployment
SCRA Interest Rate Limits
SCRA Benefits And Legal Guidance
Build a Deployment Budget
Your pay may change during and after deployment, which means itâs time to update your budget. Use a deployment calculator to estimate how your pay will change to get a foundation for your budget.Â
Typically, we recommend you put 50 percent of your pay towards needs, like rent and groceries. If you donât have anyone relying on your income, then you should consider splitting this chunk of change between your savings accounts and debt.Â
Make sure you continue to deposit at least 20 percent of your pay into savings, too. Send some of this towards an emergency fund, while the rest can go towards your larger savings goals, like buying a house and retirement.Â
Use these resources to help calculate your goals and budgets, as well as planning for your taxes:
My Army Benefits Deployment Calculator
My Army Benefits Retirement Calculator
Mint Budget Calculator
IRS Deployed Veteran Tax Extension
IRS Military Tax Resources
Combat Zone Tax Exclusions
Prepare a Deployment Binder
Itâs best to organize and arrange all of your documents, information, and needs into a deployment binder for your family. This will hold copies of your estate planning documents, budget information, and additional contacts and documents.Â
Make copies of your personal documents, like birth certificates, contracts, bank information, and more. You also want to list important contacts like family doctors, your petâs veterinarian, household contacts, and your power of attorney.Â
Once you have your book ready, give it to your most trusted friend or family member. Again, this point of contact will have a lot of information about you that needs to stay secure. Finish it off with any instructions or to-dos for while youâre gone, and your finances should be secure for your leave.Â
While Youâre Deployed
Though most of your needs are taken care of before you deploy, there are a few things to settle while youâre away from home.Â
Romance and identity scams are especially popular and can cost you thousands.Â
Social Media Scams To Watch For
Romance Scam Red Flags
Military Scam Warning Signs
Adjust Your SavingsÂ
Since you wonât be responsible for as many bills, and you may have reduced debt interest rates, deployment is the perfect time to build your savings.
While youâre deployed, you may be eligible for the Department of Defenseâs Savings Deposit Program (SDP), which offers up to 10 percent interest. This is available to service members deployed to designated combat zones and those receiving hostile fire pay.
Military and federal government employees are also eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan. This is a supplementary retirement savings to your Civil Service Retirement System plan.
Savings Deposit Program
Thrift Savings Plan Calculator
Civil Service Retirement System
Military Saves Resources
Additional Resources for Financial Assistance
Deployment can be a financially and emotionally difficult time for families of service members. Make sure you and your family have easy access to financial aid in case they find themselves in need.Â
Each individual branch of the military offers its own family and financial resources. You can find additional care through local support systems and national organizations, like Military OneSource and the American Legion.Â
Family Readiness System
Navy-marine Corps Relief Society
Air Force Aid Society
Army Emergency Relief
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance
Military Onesourceâs Financial Live Chat
Find Your Military And Family Support Center
Emergency Loans Through Military Heroes Fund Foundation Programs
The American Legion Family Support Network
After You Return Home
Coming home after deployment may be a rush of emotions. Relief, exhaustion, excitement, and lots of celebration are sure to come with it. Thereâs a lot to consider with reintegration after deployment, and that includes taking another look at your finances.Â
Update Your Budget
Just like before deployment, you should update your budget to account for your new spending needs and pay. Itâs time to reinstate your car insurance, find housing, and plan your monthly grocery budget.Â
After a boost in savings while deployed, you may want to treat yourself to something nice â which is totally okay! The key is to decide what you want for yourself or your family, figure if itâs reasonable while maintaining other savings goals, like your rainy day fund, and limit other frivolous purchases. Now is not the time to go on a spending spree â itâs best to invest this money into education savings, retirement, and other long-term plans.
In addition to your savings goals, make sure youâre prepared to take care of yours and your familyâs health. Prioritize your mental health after deployment and speak with a counselor, join support groups, and prepare for reintegration. Your family and children may also have a hard time adjusting, so consider their needs and seek out resources as well.Â
FTC | NFCCÂ
The post Guide to Managing Finances for Deploying Service Members appeared first on MintLife Blog.
Choosing a 401(k) beneficiary ensures that any unused funds in your account are dispersed according to your wishes after you pass away. Whether youâre married, single, or in a domestic partnership, naming a beneficiary simplifies the estate process and makes it easier for your heirs to receive the money.
Thereâs room on 401(k) beneficiary forms for both a primary and contingent beneficiary. Before making any decisions on a beneficiary and a backup, it can help to familiarize yourself with 401(k) beneficiary rules and options.
Why Itâs Important to Name 401(k) Beneficiaries
If you die without a beneficiary listed on your 401(k) account, the distribution of the account may have to go through the probate process. While some plans with unnamed beneficiaries automatically default to a surviving spouse, others do not. If thatâs the caseâor if there is no surviving spouseâthe 401(k) account becomes part of the estate that goes through probate as part of the will review.
401(k) may house a substantial amount of your retirement savings. How you approach choosing a 401(k) beneficiary depends on your personal situation. For married individuals, itâs common to choose a spouse. Some people choose to name a domestic partner or your children as beneficiaries.
Another option is to choose multiple beneficiaries, like multiple children or siblings. In this scenario, you can either elect for all beneficiaries to receive equal portions of your remaining 401(k) account, or assign each individual different percentages.
For example, you could allocate 25% to each of four children, or you could choose to leave 50% to one child, 25% to another, and 12.5% to the other two.
In addition to choosing a primary beneficiary, you must also choose a contingent beneficiary. This individual only receives your 401(k) funds if the primary beneficiary passes away. If the primary beneficiary is still alive, the contingent beneficiary doesnât receive any funds.
401(k) Beneficiary Rules and Restrictions
Really, an individual can choose anyone they want to be a 401(k) beneficiary, with a few limitations. There are only a few restrictions and requirements on who may be named a beneficiary.
• Minor children cannot be direct beneficiaries. They must have a named guardian oversee the inherited funds on their behalf, which will be chosen by a court if not specifically named. Choosing a reliable guardian helps to ensure the childrenâs inheritance is managed well until they reach adulthood.
• A waiver may be required if someone other than a spouse is designated. Accounts that are ruled by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) have 401(k) spouse beneficiary rules. A spousal waiver is required if you designate less than 50% of your account to your spouse. Your plan administrator can tell you whether or not this rule applies to your specific 401(k).
How to Name Multiple 401(k) Beneficiaries
You are allowed to have multiple 401(k) beneficiaries, both for a single account and across multiple accounts. You must name them for each account, which gives you flexibility in how you want to pass on those funds.
When naming multiple beneficiaries, itâs common practice to divide the account by percentage, since the dollar amounts may vary based on what you use during your lifetime and investment performance.
However, also consider how the funds will be taxed for each individual . Spouse and non-spouse beneficiaries have different rules for an inherited 401(k). Spouses usually have more options available, but they differ depending on the spouseâs age and your age at the time of passing. In many cases, the spouse may roll over the funds into a specific spousal or inherited IRA.
Non-spouse beneficiaries may face higher tax consequences, but may be able to extend or stretch any required distributions over their life span to reduce their taxable income. They can also take out the money as a lump sum, which will be subject to income tax, but not the 10% early withdrawal penalty.
What to Do After Naming Beneficiaries
Once youâve selected one or more beneficiaries, take the following steps to notify your heirs and to continually review and update your decisions as you move through various life stages.
Inform Your Beneficiaries
Naming your beneficiaries on your 401(k) plan makes sure your wishes are legally upheld, but youâll make the inheritance process easier by telling your beneficiaries about your accounts. Theyâll need to know where and how to access the account funds, especially since 401(k) accounts can be distributed outside of probate, making the process much faster than other elements of your estate plan.
For all of your accounts, including a 401(k), itâs a good idea to keep a list of financial institutions and account numbers. This makes it easier for your beneficiaries to access the funds quickly after your death. Plus, there may be rules on the pace at which the funds must be dispersed after your deathâin some cases, your beneficiary may need to spread out withdrawals of the entire account over the 10 years following your death.
Revise After Major Life Changes
Managing your 401(k) beneficiaries isnât necessarily a one-time task. Itâs important to regularly review and update your decisions, especially as major life events occur. The most common events include marriage, divorce, birth, and death.
Common Life Stages
Before you get married, you may decide to list a parent or sibling as your beneficiary. But youâll likely want to update that to your spouse or domestic partner, should you have one. At a certain point, you may also wish to add your children, especially once they reach adulthood and can be named as direct beneficiaries.
Itâs particularly important to update your named beneficiaries if you go through a divorce. If you donât revise your 401(k) account, your ex-spouse could end up receiving those benefitsâeven if your will has been changed.
Death of a Beneficiary
Should your primary beneficiary die before you do, your contingent beneficiary will receive your 401(k) funds if you pass away. Any time a major death happens in your family, take the time to see how that impacts your own estate planning wishes. If your spouse passes away, for instance, you may wish to name your children as beneficiaries.
Second Marriages and Blended Families
Also note that the spouse rules apply for second marriages as well, whether following divorce or death of your first spouse. Your 401(k) automatically goes to your spouse if no other beneficiary is named. And if you assign them less than 50%, youâll need that spousal waiver. Financial planning for blended families takes thought and communication, especially if you remarry later in life and want some or all of your assets to go to your children.
Manage Your Account Well
borrow from your 401(k), this can cause issues if you pass away with an outstanding balance. The loan principal will likely be deducted from your estate, which can limit how much your heirs actually receive.
Also try to streamline multiple 401(k) accounts as you change jobs and open new employer-sponsored plans. There are several ways to rollover your 401(k), which makes it easier for you to track and update your beneficiaries. It also simplifies things for your heirs after you pass away, because they donât have to track down multiple accounts.
How to Update 401(k) Beneficiaries
Check with your 401(k) plan administrator to find out how to update your beneficiary information. Usually youâll need to just fill out a form or log into your online retirement account.
Typically, you need the following information for each beneficiary:
• Type of beneficiary
• Full name
• Birth date
• Potentially their Social Security number
Although your named beneficiaries on the account supersede anything written in your will, itâs still smart to update that document as well. This can help circumvent legal challenges for your heirs after you pass away.
A financial plan at any age should include how to distribute your assets should you pass away. The best way to manage your 401(k) is to formally name one or more beneficiaries on the account. This helps speed up the process by avoiding probate.
A named beneficiary trumps anything stated in your will. Thatâs why itâs so important to regularly review these designations to make sure the right people are identified to inherit your 401(k) assets.
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The post How to Choose a 401(k) Beneficiary: Rules & Options appeared first on SoFi.
A pay cut, whether big or small, can catch you off guardâand throw your finances into disarray. While a salary cut is different than a layoff, it can leave you feeling just as uncertain.
How do you deal with a pay cut and deal with this uncertainty?
There are strategies to help you navigate both the emotional and financial challenges of this situation. One key element? A budget. Whether you need to create a budget from scratch or adjust the budget you already have, doing so can help you get back on your feet and set yourself up for success.
Hereâs a rundown of budgeting tips to survive a pay cut to keep your finances intact:
Ask your employer for the parameters of the income reduction or salary cut
First, keep in mind that a pay cut typically isnât personal. According to Scott Bishop, an executive vice president of financial planning at a wealth management firm, businesses often cut salaries to preserve their cash reserves while they stabilize their cash flow or weather some larger economic impact, like the coronavirus pandemic.
Secondly, make sure you understand the full scope of the salary cut. Bishop suggests you ask your employer questions like:
What is the amount of pay being cut?
Why is pay being cut?
When will the reduction begin, and how long will it last?
Will any of the following be affected?
Healthcare or insurance costs
Employer-sponsored training or continuing education opportunities
Hours or job responsibilities
What are the long-term plans to improve the companyâs financial situation?
Once youâve painted the full scope of what and why, you can determine how to handle the pay cut.
âFor some people who are big savers, it might not be a big deal,â Bishop says. âBut for some people who live paycheck to paycheck, itâs going to be significant.â
Settle any anxieties that might come with a salary cut
If you are dealing with financial stress, try settling your mind and emotions so you can make decisions with a clear head.
âThe emotional and mental toll can be one of the hardest parts,â says Lindsay Dell Cook, president and founder of Budget Babble LLC, which provides personal finance and small business financial counseling. âIt gets even harder if there are others depending on your income who are also financially stressed.â
When sharing the news with family members who may also be impacted, Cook suggests the following:
Find the right time. Pick a time of day during which everyone will have the highest mental capacity for the conversation. âFor instance, I am a morning person, so if my husband told me at bedtime about a pay cut, I would have a much harder time processing that information,â Cook says.
Frame it as a brainstorming session. Bring ideas of what you can do to handle the pay cut, such as a list of expenses you can cut or a plan for how you can make extra income.
Empathize with the other person. âReduced income is not easy for anyone. Everyone responds to financial anxiety differently,â Cook says.
“If youâre unable to maintain your previous level of saving after a pay cut, try to save at a smaller scale for goals like retirement and your emergency fund.”
Create or adjust your budget to handle a pay cut
Once you understand the salary cut and have informed your family or roommates, itâs time to crunch the numbers. Thatâs the first step to figuring out how to save money after a pay cut.
If you donât have a budget, find a budgeting system that fits your needs. Learning how to effectively budget takes time and practice, so be patient with yourself if youâre new to this. Cook suggests reading up on how to create a budget.
One system to consider is the 50-20-30 budget rule, which has you break your spending into three simple categories. If you prefer the aid of technology when determining how to handle a pay cut, there are many budgeting and spending apps that can help you manage your money.
Whether youâre handling a pay cut by creating a new plan or modifying an existing budget, Bishop suggests taking the following steps:
Add up your income. Combine your new salary with your partnerâs pay, and factor in any additional income streams like from dividends or savings account interest. Tally up the total.
List your expenses. Be sure to include essential expenses (e.g., housing, food, clothing, transportation) and nonessential expenses (e.g., entertainment, takeout, hobbies).
Look through your bank statement online and your past receipts so all expenses are included.
Account for infrequent expenses such as gifts, car maintenance or home repairs.
Track the amount you save. Note any regular savings contributions you make, such as to an emergency fund or retirement account.
Get your partnerâs buy-in. What needs do they have, and what is nonnegotiable in the budget for each of you?
Cut expenses with budgeting tips to survive a pay cut
If youâve crunched the numbers and found that your expenses add up to more than your new income, youâll need to find ways to cut back. Here are some tips on trimming your spending to survive a salary cut:
Cut back on takeout meals and stick to a strict grocery list or food budget, Cook suggests.
Avoid large discretionary purchases like a car during the duration of your pay cut, Bishop says.
Negotiate with your utility companies or ask if theyâre providing forbearance options, Bankrate suggests. You can also ask your car insurance provider if it has additional savings for customers who are driving less, according to Bankrate.
If you think you might fall behind on rent or mortgage payments as youâre handling a pay cut, both Cook and Bishop agree that early, proactive communication is key. Be honest with your landlord or mortgage company. âDonât wait until youâre past due,â Bishop says.
The same applies for other financial obligations, such as your credit card bill. Youâll likely find those companies are willing to work with you through the rough patch.
Cook also suggests you look into municipal assistance programs as a budgeting tip to survive a pay cut. âMany cities have established rental assistance funds to help taxpayers meet their obligations during the pandemic,â she says.
Continue to save money after a pay cut
As you consider how to cut costs, take time to think about your long-term savings goals and how to save money after a pay cut. By cutting discretionary spending through your new budgetâwhat Bishop calls âcutting the fatââyou may have freed up income to maintain your good saving habits during this time. He says itâs important to do that before slowing down on savings.
If youâre unable to maintain your previous level of saving after a pay cut, Bishop suggests you try to save at a smaller scale for goals like retirement and your emergency fund.
As you work to save money after a pay cut, Cook recommends setting up automatic transfers to your savings account every payday based on the amount youâre able to put towards savings in your new budget.
âIf your savings account is at the same bank as your checking account, you can transfer those funds fairly easily,â she says. âSo the worst-case scenario is that you put too much money in savings and have to bring some back to checking. The hope, however, is that some or all of those funds transferred to savings remain there since that money is no longer in your checking account just waiting to be spent.â
Seek extra income sources after a salary cut
You should explore additional sources of income if you need more cash to cover essential expenses or if youâre looking for ways to save money after a pay cut.
Determine if youâre eligible for benefits based on the reason for your pay cut. Cook recommends applying for unemployment if you think you may qualify. For example, some workers who experienced pay cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic were eligible for unemployment benefits. The details vary by state, so visit your stateâs unemployment insurance program website to learn what benefits may apply to you.
If you or your partner have some extra time on your hands, you can consider bringing in income through a side hustle to help you handle your pay cut. Bishop suggests using free or low-cost online video tutorials to boost your existing skills to make your side hustle more effective.
Cook also recommends getting creative. âAre there things you could sell to make some extra cash?â she says.
If you are unable to find additional sources of income, but you have an emergency fund, consider whether you should dip into that. “Your savings are there for a reason, and sometimes you need to use it,” Cook says. “That is okay.”
Stick to your updated budget to navigate how to handle a pay cut
Making your budget part of your daily routine is a budgeting tip to survive a pay cut, and it will help you save money after a pay cut.
âBuild rewards into your budget, such as ordering out every other week if you successfully saved money after your pay cut.â
âIf youâre checking it daily, there are no surprises,â Cook says. You can do this by logging into your bank account and making sure your spending and expenses align with your digital or written budget document.
âIf you see that your spending is high, your mind will typically start thinking through [future] transactions more thoroughly to vet if those expenses are really necessary,â Cook says.
Donât forget the fun side of accountability: rewards for meeting your goals. Build rewards into your budget, Bishop says, such as ordering out every other week if you successfully saved money after your pay cut.
Lastly, donât try to go it alone. Enlist others in your budgeting journey, Cook suggests. Make up a monthly challenge to cut spending from a specific category in your new budget and ask your partner or a friend to do it with you. For example, see if you and the other participants can go a full month without buying clothes or ordering takeout. Compare notes at the end of the month and see how much youâve saved.
Another idea? Try connecting with a budget-minded community on social media to get inspired.
Take these steps after the salary cut is over
Once youâve handled the pay cut and your regular pay is restored, donât give up on your newfound budgeting discipline. Instead, focus on building up emergency savings before you go back to your normal spending.
Bishop recommends starting with enough savings to cover three to six months of expenses. âIf you spend $3,000 a month, that means you need to have $9,000 to $18,000 saved.â
This might also be the time to revisit your budget and build a more extensive financial plan with a CPA or financial advisor to account for all of your future goals. Bishop says that these can include a target retirement date and lifestyle; your estate planning, such as a will, trust and power of attorney; saving for a childâs college; and purchasing a home.
Bishop says reminding yourself why youâre budgeting and focusing on your financial goals can be similar to motivating yourself to stay physically fit. Goal-based motivation can keep you accountable.
Remember: You can survive a salary cut
Handling a pay cut is never easy, but you can get through this time. While youâre in the thick of it, focus on budgeting tips to survive a pay cut and staying positive. Seek help from others and follow up with your employer to make sure you are aware of any changing details regarding the pay cut.
Most of all, try to keep a long-term outlook. âRemember that it will not always be this way,â Cook says.
If youâre considering whether or not to tap into your savings to handle a pay cut, read on to determine when to use your emergency fund.
The post How to Handle a Pay Cut: Budgeting in Uncertain Times appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Shelter Insurance is a mutual insurance company that was founded in 1946 and operates out of Columbia, Missouri. This highly-rated, award-winning insurance company offers a wealth of insurance products across the states of Colorado, Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Louisiana.
In this Shelter Insurance review, we’ll look at insurance policies, coverage options, customer satisfaction, liability cover, and more, before seeing how Shelter compares to other leading insurance companies.
Shelter Car Insurance Coverage Options
Shelter is a leading auto insurance company in Missouri and other serviced states. It isn’t always the cheapest (more on that below) but it does provide a wealth of coverage options, including:
Liability coverage is the most basic, bare-bones insurance type and one that is required in most states. Liability insurance covers bodily insurance (per person and per accident) and property damage. It essentially covers you for the damage you do to another driver and their property during a car accident.
An optional form of auto insurance that covers you for damage done to your own vehicle, regardless of who was at fault. If you have collision coverage on your auto policy, you will get a payout when you hit a guardrail, wall, tree or building.
However, it’s one of the most expensive add-ons and a lot of the damage you do to your own vehicle may not be severe enough to warrant paying the deductible.
With comprehensive coverage, you will be covered for many of the things that collision insurance doesn’t cover. For instance, it provides protection against vandalism and damage from extreme weather events. It also covers you in the event of an animal collision, which is surprisingly not covered by collision insurance.
Personal Injury Protection
With PIP insurance, you will be covered for some of the personal losses you incur due to an injury sustained in a car accident. For instance, if you’re hit by another driver and suffer severe injuries that cause you to miss work, PIP will pay for the money you lose. It will also cover the money needed to cover traveling for doctor and hospital appointments, as well as childcare costs.
By adding medical payments cover onto your policy you will be protected against hefty medical bills resulting from a car accident. This option is required in just a few states but the coverage limits are often set very low.
Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured motorists are a growing problem on America’s roads. If you’re hit by one of these drivers and don’t have collision insurance, you could be left severely out of pocket. But not if you have underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance.
This coverage option will protect you against bodily injury and property damage resulting from an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver.
Shelter car insurance policies offer optional roadside assistance cover, which gives you up to $100 per claim and covers you for expenses accrued when you are stranded by the roadside.
Roadside assistance is an emergency service designed to help you get back on the road or to tow your car to a nearby garage. It includes everything from lost key replacement to fuel delivery and tire changes.
Rental Car Reimbursement
If your car is stolen or damaged so badly that it needs to spend several days or weeks in a repair shop, rental car reimbursement can help you to stay on the road. It will cover you for the money you spend on rental cars, which means you won’t miss a single important car journey.
Your coverage will be limited to a specific time period and you will not be covered for rentals that extend beyond this period.
A form of life insurance that covers you for accidental deaths, such as car accidents. If you die in an accident, for example, your spouse or family members will receive a payout. There are many more restrictions than you get with term life insurance policies, but the premiums are also much lower.
Disability Income Coverage
PIP can cover you if you suffer serious bodily injuries and miss work as a result, but what happens if you’re forced to miss up to a year of work? That’s where Disability Income Coverage comes in. With Shelter, you will be paid a sum of money every week for up to a year.
If you bought your car on finance and wreck it soon after, the insurance payout may not be enough to cover the losses due to the interest payments and the rapid deprecation that new cars experience. With GAP insurance, you will be covered for that extra amount. As a result, this type of car insurance is often required by auto loan companies.
New Car Replacement
If you have a car that is less than a year old and has fewer than 15,000 miles on the clock, you can apply for the new car replacement program, which gives you a like-for-like replacement. This is an essential addition for anyone driving an expensive new vehicle as the losses could be catastrophic without it.
Other Shelter Insurance Options
Shelter offers multiple additional insurance options, many of which can be bought along with your car insurance, allowing you to save money with a multi-policy discount.
As with Shelter car insurance, we recommend comparing rates to other insurance companies, making sure you’re getting the best coverage for the lowest rates. There are a huge number of insurance companies in the United States offering the same coverage options found at Shelter, and many of them are cheaper:
A homeowners policy from Shelter will protect your property and everything in it. You can get cover for the dwelling, personal property, medical payments, personal liability, living expenses, and more.
Shelter also offers additional coverage options pertaining to electronics, sewer damage, earthquake damage, loss of farming equipment, and more.
If you rent your home, you won’t need property insurance, but you still need to protect your personal property and that’s where renter’s insurance comes. If your flat/house is burgled and you lose expensive items, including heirlooms, jewelry, artwork, and electronics, you will be covered.
With a minimum liability of $1 million, umbrella insurance will step in and provide cover above and beyond what you are offered elsewhere. If you have a lot of personal assets and are worried about being sued above what your liability insurance can pay, this is the policy for you.
A business insurance policy from Shelter will protect your business against property loss, equipment damage, liability claims, and more. This is essential for all businesses and at Shelter you can choose a range of customization options to make sure the policy is perfectly suited to your needs.
Your home insurance policy doesn’t cover you for flood damage and this is true whether you’re with Shelter or not. However, you can add flood insurance to your Shelter insurance policy, with the rates dependent on where you live and how common floods are in your area.
In addition to accidental death cover, Shelter also has term life and whole life insurance policies. These provide payouts to your loved ones in the event of your death.
Your age, activity, medical history, and health will dictate the size of your insurance premiums and your death benefit.
Shelter Car Insurance Cost
We ran some car insurance quotes and found that Shelter was consistently more expensive than providers like GEICO, Allstate, State Farm, and Progressive. In fact, when comparing quotes for young drivers, Shelter car insurance premiums were more than double those offered by GEICO and were also substantially higher than other major carriers.
In many states, including Kentucky and Louisiana, Shelter ranked as one of the most expensive providers. The rates were a little more promising in Missouri, but you’ll probably still get better offers elsewhere.
Regardless of what you think about Shelter Insurance and whether or not you have had good experiences with them in the past, we recommend getting quotes from other providers first.
Of course, it isn’t all about price, but it takes some incredibly impressive customer support and benefits for a $3,000 policy to take precedent over one that costs $1,500 or less, and we’re not convinced Shelter has that level of support or those benefits.
Bottom Line: Shelter Insurance Review
Shelter is a dedicated, capable, and financially strong insurance provider that offers extensive coverage for both drivers and homeowners. It has good reviews from policyholders, has high ratings from AM Best, JD Power and the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and there are very few complaints when compared to other providers.
Shelter serves a number of states and if you reside in one of these, it’s worth getting a quote. Just don’t forget to check other providers and don’t assume Shelter will offer the best rates. In our experience, it’s more likely to be one of the most expensive providers in your state, but you won’t know until you check.
Visit www.ShelterInsurance.com to learn more and to discuss an auto policy and/or home insurance policy with one of their representatives.
Shelter Insurance Review: Car, Home, and More is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.
I messed up! Despite trying to make this article as fact-based as possible, I botched it. I’ve made corrections but if you read the comments, early responses may be confusing in light of my changes.
For the most part, the world of personal finance is calm and collected. There’s not a lot of bickering. Writers (and readers) agree on most concepts and most solutions. And when we do disagree, it’s generally because we’re coming from different places.
Take getting out of debt, for instance. This is one of those topics where people do disagree — but they disagree politely.
Hardcore numbers nerds insist that if you’re in debt, you ought to repay high-interest obligations first. The math says this is the smartest path. Other folks, including me, argue that other approaches are valid. You might pay off debts with emotional baggage first. And many people would benefit from repaying debt from smallest balance to highest balance — the Dave Ramsey approach — rather than focusing on interest rates.
That said, some money topics can be very, very contentious.
Any time I write about money and relationships (especially divorce), I know the debate will get lively. Should you rent a home or should you buy? That question gets people fired up too. What’s the definition of retirement? Should you give up your car and find another way to get around?
But out of all the topics I’ve ever covered at Get Rich Slowly, perhaps the most incendiary has been taxes. People have a lot of deeply-held beliefs about taxes, and they don’t appreciate when they read info that contradicts these beliefs. Chaos ensues.
When I do write about taxes — which isn’t often — I try to stick to facts and steer clear of opinions. Examples:
The U.S. tax burden is relatively low when compared to other countries.
The U.S. tax burden is relatively low when compared to U.S. tax burdens in the past.
Overall, the U.S. has a progressive tax system. People who earn more pay more. That said, certain taxes are regressive (meaning that, as a percentage of income, low earners pay more).
A large number of Americans (roughly one-third) pay no federal income tax at all.
Despite fiery rhetoric, no one political party is better with taxing and spending than the other. The only period during the past fifty years in which the U.S. government had a budget surplus was 1998-2001 under President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress.
Even when I state these facts, there are people who disagree with me. They don’t agree that these are facts. Or they don’t agree these facts are relevant.
Also, I sometimes read complaints that the wealthy are taxed too much. To make their argument, writers make statements like, “The top 50% of taxpayers pay 97% of all federal income taxes.” While this statement is true, I don’t feel like it’s a true measure of where tax burdens fall.
I believe there’s a better, more accurate way to analyze tax burdens.
Effective Tax Burden
To me, what matters more than nominal tax dollars paid is each individual’s effective tax burden.
Your effective tax burden is usually defined as your total tax paid as a percentage of your income. If you take every tax dollar you pay — federal income tax, state income tax, property tax, sales tax, and so on — then divide this total by how much you’ve earned, what is that percentage?
This morning, while curating links for Apex Money — my second personal-finance site, which is devoted to sharing top money stories from around the web — I found an interesting infographic from Visual Capitalist. (VC is a great site, by the way. Love it.) They’ve created a graphic that visualizes effective tax rates by state.
Here’s a summary graph (not the main visualization):
As you can see, on average the top 1% of income earners in the U.S. have a state effective tax rate of 7.4%. The middle 60% of U.S. workers have a state effective tax rate of around 10%. And the bottom 20% of income earners (which Visual Capitalist incorrectly labels “poorest Americans” — wealth and income are not the same thing) have a state effective tax rate of 11.4%.
Tangent: This conflation of wealth with income continues to grate on my nerves. I’ll grant that there’s probably a correlation between the two, but they are not the same thing. For the past few years, I’ve had a low income. I’m in the bottom 20% of income earners. But I am not poor. I have a net worth of $1.5 million. And I know plenty of people — hey, brother! — with high incomes and low net worths.
It’s important to note — and this caused me confusion, which meant I had to revise this article — that the Visual Capital numbers are for state and local taxes only. They don’t include federal income taxes. (Coincidentally, I made a similar mistake a decade ago when writing about marginal tax rates. I had to make corrections to that article too. Sigh.)
GRS readers quickly helped me remedy my mistake, pointing to the nonprofit Tax Foundation’s summary of federal income tax data. With a bit of detective work, I uncovered this graph of federal effective tax rates by income from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. (Come on. What parent names their kid Peter Peterson? That’s mean.)
Let’s put this all together! According to the Institute on Taxation on Economic Policy, this graph represents total effective tax rates for folks of various income levels. Note that this graph is explicitly comparing projected numbers in 2018 for a) the existing tax laws (in blue) and b) the previous tax laws (in grey).
Total Tax Burden vs. Total Income
Here’s one final graph, also from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. This is the graph that I personally find the most interesting. It compares the share of total taxes paid by each income group to their share of the country’s total income.
Collectively, the bottom 20% of income earners in the United States earned 3.5% of total income. They paid 1.9% of the total tax bill. The top 1% of income earners in the U.S. earned one-fifth of the nation’s total personal income. They paid 22.9% of total taxes.
Is the U.S. tax system fair? Should people with high incomes pay more? Do they pay more than their fair share? Should low-income workers pay more? Are we talking about numbers that are so close together that it doesn’t matter? I don’t know and, truthfully, I don’t care. I’m concerned with personal finance not politics. But I do care about facts. And civility.
The problem with discussions about taxation is that people talk about different things. When some folks argue, they’re talking about marginal tax rates. Others are talking about effective tax rates. Still others are talking about actual, nominal numbers. When some people talk about wealth, they mean income. Others — correctly — mean net worth. It’s all very confusing, even to smart people who mean well.
Under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, the U.S. Department of the Treasury was required to establish a website â USASpending.gov â to provide the American public with info on how the federal government spends its money. While the usability of the site could use some work, it does provide a lot of information, and I’m sure it’ll become one of my go-to tools when writing about taxes. (I intend to update a couple of my older articles this year.)
The USA Spending site has a Data Lab that’s currently in public beta-testing. This subsite provides even more ways to explore how the government spends your money. (I also found another simple budget-visualization tool from Brad Flyon at Learn Forever Learn.)
Okay, that’s all I have for today. Let the bickering begin!
This page may include affiliate links. Please see theÂ disclosure pageÂ for more information. How do many wealthy people get that way? They invest in real estate. It is a proven way to build wealth. 90% of millionaires became so through owning real estate. So said famous industrialist (and billionaire) Andrew Carnegie. Yet only 15% of Americans…
The post 7 Ways to Invest in Real Estate Without Buying Property appeared first on Debt Discipline.
I love making things automatic. Whether it is bill-paying, direct deposit, prescription renewals, or investing, making things automatic makes life easier, and that is where our Betterment investing review comes in.
When it comes to retirement planning, an overwhelming number of online tools and websites promise to help you create a dynamic and profitable portfolio while minimizing fees.
This growing list of services includes robo-advisors, a class of financial websites that offer to manage your portfolio with minimal in-person interaction and a heavy reliance on the latest investing tools and software.
One of the most popular robo-advisors by far is Betterment. Conceptualized by its founders in 2008, Betterment has since grown to help its customers invest billions of dollars of their hard-earned dollars. This is an investment platform that puts your investing on cruise control, and even allows you to make money watching TV! You can open an account with no money at all, and get the benefit of professional, low-cost investment management that enables you to invest in thousands of securities with as little as a few hundred dollars.
It hasnât been easy. With other competitors like Wealthfront and Personal Capital always a few steps behind them, Betterment has struggled to find a way to stand out. Even with the competition, Betterment has emerged as one of the top online brokerage accounts and continues to grow its market share.
Open an account
0.25% to 0.40% annual management fee, depending on the plan
No trade, transfer or rebalancing fees
No minimum balance
Hands-off investing tailored to your goals and risk preference
Betterment is an online, automated investment manager that uses advanced algorithms and software to find the perfect investment strategy for your portfolio and individual needs.
The main difference between investing your money with a traditional financial advisor and Betterment is that there is minimal human interaction. Unless you email or call in, your communication with an individual advisor will be very minimal.
But, there is some good news to counteract the lack of individual service. Because of lower operating costs, Betterment is able to charge lower fees than traditional financial advisors. This can be huge for individuals who want to take a hands-off approach to their retirement accounts, yet donât want to pay top dollar for access to a top-tier financial advisor in their area.
Using complex investment software, Betterment allocates your investment portfolio based on your individual circumstances, investment time horizon, and thirst for risk.
In the meantime, they keep fees at a minimum by using ETFs (exchange-traded fund) that let you have a diversified portfolio, like mutual funds, but are tradeable much like stocks.
Since ETFs come with very low expense ratios, Betterment is able to pass those savings along to the consumer. Although the program already manages over $16 billion for their clients, they are still growing at a rapid pace.
Because the service is able and willing to deal with investors at all stages of wealth accumulation, it has become a go-to for both experienced and novice investors with various investing goals.
Further, Bettermentâs portfolio strategy isnât geared just for retirement savings; the service can also improve your returns on dollars you invest for short-term and medium-term goals like saving for college, taking an annual vacation, or building up a cash reserve.
How Betterment Works
Like post other robo-advisors, Betterment provides complete, automated investment management of your portfolio. When you sign up for the service, youâll complete a questionnaire that will determine your risk tolerance, investment goals, and time horizon. From that information, Betterment determines your portfolio will be designed as conservatives, aggressive, or some level in between.
Over time however, Betterment may adjust your portfolio to become gradually more conservative. For example, as you move closer to retirement, your asset allocation will be gradually shifted more heavily in favor of safe investments, like bonds.
Your portfolio will be constructed of exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are low-cost investment funds designed to track the performance of an underlying index. In this way, Betterment attempts to match the performance of the underlying indexes, rather than to outperform them. For this reason, investing with Betterment â and most other robo-advisors â is considered to be passive investing. (Active investing involves frequent trading of stocks and other securities in an attempt to outperform the market.)
Betterment also uses allocations based on broad investment categories. There are three in total:
Safety Net â These are funds allocated for near-term needs, such as an emergency fund.
Retirement â This will naturally be your long-term investment account and held in tax-sheltered IRAs.
General Investing â This allocation is dedicated to intermediate goals, maybe saving for the down payment on a house or even for your childrenâs education.
Given that each of the three broad goals has a different time horizon, the specific portfolio allocation in each will be a little bit different. For example, the Safety Net will be invested in cash type accounts for safety and liquidity.
Betterment Advantages And Disadvantages
Thereâs no minimum investment required.
The low annual fee of 0.25% on the Digital plan can allow you to have a $20,000 account managed for just $50 per year, or a $100,000 account for just $250.
Tax-loss harvesting is available at all taxable accounts.
Betterment Premium provides unlimited access to certified financial planners, providing a service similar to traditional investment advisors, but at a fraction of the cost.
The No-fee Checking and Cash Reserve give you cash management options to go with your investing activities.
Betterment offers several portfolio options, including Smart Beta, Socially Responsible Investing, and the BlackRock Targeted Income Portfolio.
The use of value funds also adds the potential for your investment accounts to outperform the general market, since value stocks tend to be underpriced relative to their competitors.
Flexible Portfolio will give you some control over your investment allocations, which is a feature absent from most robo-advisors.
Bettermentâs annual advisory fee is on the low end of the robo-advisor range. But there are some robo-advisors charging no fees at all.
Betterment doesnât offer alternative investments. These include natural resources and real estate, which are offered by some of their competitors.
External account syncing is available only with Betterment Premium.
The Betterment Investment Methodology
Like most other robo-advisors, Betterment manages your investment account using Modern Portfolio Theory, or MPT. The theory emphasizes proper allocations into various asset classes over individual security selection.
Your portfolio is divided between six stock asset allocations and eight bond asset allocations. Each allocation is represented by a single ETF thatâs tied to an index specific to that asset class. The single ETF will provide exposure to scores or even hundreds of securities in each asset class. That means collectively your investment will be spread across thousands of securities in the US and internationally.
The six stock asset allocations are as follows:
US Total Stock Market
US Value Stocks â Large Cap
US Value Stocks â Mid Cap
US Value Stocks â Small Cap
International Developed Market Stocks
International Emerging Markets Stocks
The eight bond asset allocations are as follows:
US High Quality Bonds
US Municipal Bonds (will be held in taxable investment accounts only)
US Inflation-Protected Bonds
US High-Yield Corporate Bonds
US Short-Term Treasury Bonds
US Short-Term Investment Grade Bonds
International Developed Market Bonds
International Emerging Markets Bonds
Since Betterment offers tax-loss harvesting with taxable investment accounts, most asset classes will have two or three very similar ETFs. This will enable Betterment to sell a losing position in one ETF to reduce capital gains in winning asset classes. Alternative ETFs are then purchased to replace the sold funds to maintain the target asset allocations in your account.
Tax-loss harvesting is becoming an increasingly popular investment strategy because it effectively defers capital gains taxes into future years. Itâs available only for taxable accounts, since tax-sheltered accounts have no immediate tax consequences.
How Betterment Compares
Here’s how Betterment compares to the previously mentioned companies, Wealthfront and Personal Capital.
Minimum Initial Investment
0.25% on Digital; 0.40% on Premium (account balance over $100k)
0.25% on all account balances
0.89% on most account balances; reduced fee on balances > $1 million
On Premium Plan only
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on Premium Plan only
Betterment Accounts and Options
For the first few years of Bettermentâs existence they offered a single investment account serving as a one-size-fits-all plan. But thatâs all changed. They still offer basic investment accounts, but they now give you a choice of multiple investment options.
This is Bettermentâs basic investment plan. There is no minimum initial investment required, nor is there a minimum ongoing balance requirement. Betterment charges a single fee of 0.25% on all account balances.
You can also add any other portfolio variations, except the Goldman Sachs Smart Beta portfolio, which has a $100,000 minimum account balance requirement.
Betterment Premium works similar to the Digital plan, but it delivers a higher level of service. The plan provides external account synching, giving Betterment a high altitude view of you your entire financial situation. External investment accounts can help in enabling Betterment to better coordinate your portfolio allocations with assets held in outside accounts. They can also make recommendations out to better manage those external accounts.
And perhaps the biggest advantage of the Premium plan is that it comes with unlimited access to Bettermentâs certified financial planners. In this way, Betterment is competing more directly with traditional investment advisors, but doing it with a robo-advisor component.
Youâll need a minimum of $100,000 to invest in the Premium plan, and the annual advisory fee is 0.40%. Thatâs just a fraction of the usual 1% to 2% typically charged by traditional investment advisory services.
Betterment Cash Reserve
The account pays a variable interest rate, currently set at 0.40% APY. Betterment doesnât actually hold these funds directly, but rather invest them through participating program banks.
Thereâs no fee for this account, and you can move money as often as you want. And for those with very high cash balances, the account is FDIC insured for up to $1 million through the program banks.
Betterment Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)
SRI portfolios are becoming increasingly popular in the robo-advisor space. It involves investing in companies that meet certain standards for social, environmental, and governance guidelines. Betterment indicates that the ETFs they use in their SRI portfolio have produced a 42% increase in their social responsibility scores.
SRI portfolios work with both the Digital and Premium plans, using a similar investment methodology. But they make certain modifications, holding ETFs based on SRI in place of the ETFs used in non-SRI portfolios.
SRI portfolios do not require a minimum balance and charge no additional fees. And like their Digital and Premium plans, taxable SRI investment accounts take advantage of tax-loss harvesting.
Betterment Flexible Portfolios
The key word in the name is âflexibleâ because the main feature is adding personal options to your portfolio allocations.
This is done by adjusting the individual asset class weights in your portfolio. For example, if you have a 7% allocation in emerging markets, you may choose to increase it to 10% if you believe that sector is likely to outperform others. But you can also decrease the allocation if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Betterment Tax-Coordinated Portfolio
This is less of a formal portfolio and more of an investment strategy. It must be used in combination with a taxable investment account and a tax-sheltered retirement account. Betterment will then allocate investments based on their tax impact.
For example, income generating assets â that produce high dividend and interest income â are held in a tax-sheltered account. Investments likely to generate long-term capital gains are held in a taxable investment account, since you will be able to take advantage of lower long-term capital gains tax rates.
Goldman Sachs Smart Beta
This option is for more sophisticated investors, and requires a minimum account balance of $100,000. And since it is a high risk/high reward type of investing, it also requires a higher risk tolerance.
Betterment uses the same basic investment strategy as they do in other portfolios. But itâs an actively managed portfolio that will be adjusted in an attempt to outperform the general market. Securities will be bought and sold within the portfolio and can include either individual securities or Smart Beta ETFs.
The portfolio has many variations, including a wide range of allocations. Stocks are chosen based on four qualities: good value, strong momentum, high quality, and low volatility.
And like other portfolio variations Betterment offers, there is no additional fee for this option.
BlackRock Target Income Portfolio
Betterment recognizes that some investors are more interested in income than growth. This will particularly apply to retirees. The BlackRock Target Income Portfolio invests in portfolios based on your risk tolerance. This can mean low, moderate, high, or even aggressive.
Those categories may seem unusual for an income generating portfolio. But while the portfolio attempts to minimize risk of principal, it also recognizes that some investors are willing to add risk to their portfolio in exchange for higher returns.
A low-risk portfolio may have a higher allocation in US Treasury securities. An aggressive portfolio may center primarily on high-yield corporate bonds or even emerging-market bonds that have higher interest rates due to greater risk.
Betterment No-fee Checking
Provided by Betterment Financial LLC in partnership with NBKC Bank, this is a true no-fee checking account. Not only are there no monthly maintenance fees, but there are also no overdraft or other fees. Theyâll even reimburse all ATM fees and foreign transaction fees you incur. And thereâs not even a minimum balance requirement.
Youâll be provided with a Betterment Visa Debit Card with tap-to-pay technology, that you can use anywhere Visa is accepted. All account balances are FDIC insured for up to $250,000. And as you might expect from a company on the technological cutting edge, you can deposit checks into the account using your smartphone.
Check out our full Betterment checking review.
Betterment Key Features
Minimum initial investment: Betterment requires no funds to open an account. But you can begin funding your account with monthly deposits, like $100 per month. This method will make it easier to use dollar-cost averaging to gradually move into your portfolio positions.
Available account types: Joint and individual taxable investment accounts, as well as traditional, Roth, rollover and SEP IRAs. Betterment can also accommodate trusts and nonprofit accounts.
Portfolio rebalancing: Comes with all account types. Your portfolio will be rebalanced when your asset allocations significantly depart from their targets.
Automatic dividend reinvestment: Betterment will reinvest dividends received in your portfolio according to your target asset allocations.
Betterment Mobile App: You can access your Betterment account on your smartphone. The app is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Customer contact: Available by phone and email, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm, Eastern time.
Account protection: All Betterment accounts are protected by SIPC insurance for up to $500,000 in cash and securities, including up to $250,000 in cash. SIPC covers losses due to broker failure, not those caused by market value declines.
Financial Advice packages: Betterment offers one-hour phone conferences with live financial advisors on various personal financial topics. Five topics are covered:
Getting Started package: This package gives new users the professional vote of confidence they need as a professional will assess their account setup. $199
Financial Checkup package: This package takes it a step further, providing the customer with a professional opinion on their portfolio and financial circumstances. $299
College Planning package: As its name implies, this package helps parents who are investing with the goal of paying for their childrenâs college education in the next 5-18 years. $299
Marriage Planning package: Merging finances can be tricky, so Betterment created this plan to help engaged couples and newlyweds to succeed as they unite their lives and assets. $299
Retirement Planning package: Your investment goals and strategies change as you near retirement. This particular package helps keep you on target to meet them. $299
Retirement Savings Calculator: Robo-advisors are popular choices for retirement accounts. For this reason, Betterment offers the Calculator to help you project your retirement needs. By entering basic information in the calculator (it will sync external accounts if you have a Premium account â including employer-sponsored retirement plans) it will let you know if you are on track to meet your goals or if you need to make adjustments.
How To Sign Up For A Betterment Account
The Betterment sign up process is one of the most user-friendly out there for any brokerage. It comes with easy-to-follow instructions and as streamlined registration process which users can navigate through in a matter of minutes.
First get the process started by clicking the button below.
Sign up for a Betterment Account
After the initial sign up process, users can expect a simple transaction as they transfer funds into the account, much like moving money from a checking to savings account.
When you begin the sign-up process, youâll be given a choice of four different investment goals:
I chose âInvest for retirementâ. It will ask your current age, your annual income, then give you a choice of accounts to use. That includes a traditional, Roth, or SEP IRA, or even an individual taxable account. I selected a traditional IRA.
Based on a 30-year-old with a $100,000 income, Betterment return the following recommendation:
You even have the option to have the specific asset allocations listed. After clicking âContinueâ, youâll be asked to provide your email address and create a password. Youâll then be taken to the application, which will ask for general information, including your name, address, phone number, and how you heard about Betterment.
Once your account has been set up, you can fund it immediately, by connecting your bank account, or by setting up recurring deposits.
You can also set up other accounts, such as âManage spending with Checkingâ or âInvest for a long-term goalâ.
Why You Should Open An Account With Betterment
While nearly anyone who invests could benefit from the online portfolio management and advising, this service is definitely geared to certain types of investors. In most cases, Betterment will work best for:
Hands-off investors who have some investing knowledge â Since it takes care of the heavy lifting for you, it works best for investors who want to take a hands-off approach to their investment portfolio. Passive investors can let Betterment handle the logistics while using online account management to keep a close eye on their accounts.
Novice investors who need help â Beginning investors who are just learning the ropes can turn to Betterment for online portfolio management with low fees. The many online tools and user-friendly interface make it easy for beginners to get a grasp on basic financial concepts and investing strategies.
Robo-advisors are growing in popularity and could easily replace in-person advisors in the near future. With lower fees and advanced software that can maximize results, online investing is certainly gaining an edge.
Whether Betterment is right for you depends on your individual needs and investing goals. If youâre a hands-off investor who wants to grow your retirement funds without paying a lot of fees, then Betterment might be ideal. Additionally, beginning investors can benefit handsomely from the online tools and investing education offered through the Betterment website.
If you think Betterment investing might be exactly what your portfolio needs, sign up for a new account today.
However, if you determine that you would be better served by a more hands-on approach, check out the other online brokerage account options. Being a certified financial planner, I have had a chance to work with several of these platforms and have done the following reviews:
Motif Investing Review
Lending Club Review
Ally Invest Review
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