Friday, November 8, 2013

3 Smart Investments

One of the major contributing factors to the economic crisis of 2008 was the lack of personal savings. Easy credit was a way of life through the early 2000's up until the crash, and consumers used that credit to fuel consumption. When the market tanked, wages dropped and jobs were cut, leading to a nasty decline in consumer purchases. Many of the newly-unemployed had no savings upon which to draw in order to maintain their level of spending. For those with adequate savings, however, the situation was much less dire. While you cannot prevent a widespread economic disaster, you can organize a plan to be prepared no matter the situation.

Traditional IRA or Roth IRA

An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a legal construct of the Internal Revenue Code that allows investors to shield their savings from taxes. There are two forms of the IRA. The first form is a Traditional IRA, which allows savers to fund their retirement account with pre-tax dollars. Essentially, if you put money into a Traditional IRA, you can deduct that amount from your taxes. You can continue making annual contributions to your account and you won’t pay taxes on it until you start withdrawing from the account in retirement. The second type of IRA is the Roth IRA, which takes contributions of after-tax dollars. This means that when you withdraw from your Roth IRA in retirement, you will not pay any taxes on it. Also, the Roth IRA has more flexible rules for pre-retirement withdrawals from the principal. One of the great things about both types of IRA's is that you can put whatever investments you want in the accounts: stocks, bonds, real estate, baseball cards, etc.

Index Funds

Many investors think that stocks are the best way to make money over time. While that can be true, this strategy only works if you pick the correct stocks; if you pick the wrong stocks, you can lose your entire portfolio overnight. Unfortunately, many experts believe that it is impossible to reliably pick the correct stocks over time. Even if you do pick the right stocks, you have to buy them and sell them at the right time. One commonly-used strategy is to invest in mutual funds, which are managed by professionals who charge a fee and take a cut of the earnings. The problem is that most mutual funds do not consistently beat the market. Even those funds that do outperform the market will eat away at your gains with their fees. A good alternative is to invest in an index fund. An index fund is a fund that consists of stocks from a stock index, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard & Poor's 500. These funds are meant to track the economy as a whole, which consistently outperforms most mutual funds. Even better, index funds have much lower fees than a typical mutual fund, preventing the erosion of your investment.

401(k) Matching

One very common financial mistake happens when employees who are eligible for 401(k) matching by their employers do not contribute up to the full match. For example, imagine a 401(k) match of 50% of employee contribution on up to 6% of the employee’s salary. This means that your employer will put fifty cents in your 401(k) for every dollar you put in on up to 6% of your salary. If you make $100,000 per year, 6% of your salary is $6,000 and your employer will contribute up to half of that, which comes out to $3,000. If you do not contribute at least $6,000, you are literally turning down free money from your employer!

Investments can be confusing and dangerous. A few wrong moves and you can delay or even eliminate your retirement. There are no guarantees in life, and even fewer in investing. However, if you invest in IRA's, index funds and 401(k) matching, you are definitely giving yourself a major advantage.

Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.

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