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

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

What is a donor-advised fund?

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

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

You can maximize your charitable tax deductions in one year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donate a wide range of assets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: mint.intuit.com

What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans?

Investing in your retirement early is the best way to ensure financial stability as you age, especially when it comes to understanding various retirement options. Getting started may feel overwhelming — luckily we’re here to help. We help break down the difference between 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, and how they can impact your financial life.

You may already know the value in adjusting your budget to make saving for a rainy day a priority. But are you also prioritizing your retirement savings? If you’re just getting started in the workforce and looking for ways to invest in yourself, 401(k) and 403(b) plans are great options to know about. And, the main difference between a 401(k) and a 403(b) is the company who’s offering them.

401(k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies and 403(b) accounts are offered by nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university companies. To understand the similarities and differences between plans in depth, skip to the sections below or keep reading for an in-depth explanation.

How a 401(k) Works
How a 403(b) Works
The Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b)
The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)
5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
What is a 401(k) and 403(b)
$19,500 with your employer matches. Plus, most retirement funds have required minimum distributions (RMDs) by the time you turn 70. This essentially means you have to take a minimum amount of money out each month whether you want to or not.

In most cases, employers will offer 401(k) matching to encourage consistent contributions. For example, your employer match may be 50 cents of every dollar you contribute up to six percent of your salary. For example, with this employer match on a $40,000 salary, you would contribute $200 and your employer would contribute an additional $100 each month. This pattern would continue until your annual contributions hit $2,400 and your employer contributes $1,200.

Employee matching is essentially free money. You’re monetarily rewarded for your retirement payments. Be sure to pay attention to vesting periods when setting up your employer match. Vesting periods are an agreed amount of time you need to work at a company before you receive your 401(k) benefits. For example, some companies may require you to work for their team for a year before earning retirement benefits. Other employers may offer retirement benefits starting the day you start working with them.
403(b) accounts include school boards, public schools, churches, hospitals, and more. This type of account is also known as a tax-sheltered annuity plan — they allow pre-tax income to be invested until taken out.

Employers that offer 403(b) retirement plans may offer a pool of provider options that undergo nondiscrimination testing. This allows employers that qualify for this account to shop around for plans that offer the best benefits and don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). For instance, some 403(b) accounts may charge more administrative fees than others.

Employers are able to offer employee matching on 403(b) accounts if they decide to. To cut costs for nonprofit companies, 403(b) retirement plans generally cost less than 401(k) accounts. Costs associated with starting up these accounts may not affect you, but it may affect your employer.

Account Type 401(k) 403(b)
Yearly Contribution Limit $19,500 $19,500
Employer-Issued Packages For-profit employers:
Corporations, private establishments, etc. and sole proprietors
Non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employers:
School boards, public schools, hospitals, etc.
Minimum Withdrawal Age 59.5 years old 59.5 years old
Early Withdrawal Fees 10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary 10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
Source: IRS.org

 

The Differences Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Both a 401(k) and 403(b) are similar in the way they operate, but they do have a few differences. Here are the biggest contrasts to be aware of:

  • Eligibility: 401(k) retirement plans are issued by for-profit employers and the self employed, 403(b) retirement plans are for tax-exempt, non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. As well as Hospitals and Charities.
  • Investment options: 401(k)s offer more investment opportunities than 403(b)s. 401(k) accounts may include mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds, while 403(b) accounts only offer annuities and mutual funds. Each employer varies in retirement benefits — reach out to a trusted financial advisor if you have questions about your account.
  • Employer expenses: 401(k) accounts are generally more expensive than 403(b) accounts. For-profit 401(k) accounts may pay sales charges, management fees, recordkeeping, and other additional expenses. 403(b) plans may have lower administrative costs to avoid adding a burden for non-profit establishments. These costs vary depending on the employer.
  • Nondiscrimination testing: This form of testing ensures that 403(b) retirement plans are not offered in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). However, 401(k) plans do not require this test.

 

The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Aside from their differences, both accounts are set up to aid employees in retirement savings. Here’s how:

  • Contribution limits: Both accounts cap your annual contributions at $19,500. In the event you contribute over this limit, your earnings will be distributed back to you by April 15th. If you’re under your retirement contributions by the time you’re 50 years old, you’re allowed to make catch-up contributions. This means that, if you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,500 more than the yearly contribution limit.
  • Withdrawal eligibility: You must be at least 59.5 years old before withdrawing your retirement savings. In the case of an emergency, you may be eligible for early withdrawal. However, you may be charged penalties, taxes, and fees for doing so.
  • Employer matching: Both retirement account options allow employers to match your contributions, but are not required to. When starting your retirement fund, ask your HR representative about potential benefits and employer matching.
  • Early withdrawal penalties: If you choose to withdraw your retirement savings early, you may be penalized. In most cases, you need a valid reason to withdraw your funds early. Eligible reasons may include outstanding debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or medical bills. In addition, you may be charged a 10 percent penalty fee, taxes, and other fees. During a downturned economy, as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees may be waived.

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
retirement plan options and their benefits. When employers offer retirement matches, consider contributing as much as you can to meet their match.

2. Set up Monthly Automatic Contributions

Save time and energy by setting up automatic contributions. You may feel less interested in contributing to your retirement as your payday approaches. Taking time to set up a retirement fund and budgeting for this change may be holding you back. To meet your retirement goals, consider setting up automatic payments through your employer. After a while, you may not even notice the slight budget adjustment.

3. Leverage Employer Matching

Employer matching is essentially free money. Employers may put money towards your future for nothing but your own contribution. This encourages employees to consistently put money towards their retirement savings. Not only are you able to earn extra money each month, but this “free money” will grow with interest over time. If you can, match your employer’s contribution percentage, if not more.

4. Avoid Early Withdrawal

Credit card balances, student loans, and mortgages can be stressful. Instead of withdrawing early from your retirement fund to pay for these, consider other debt payoff methods. If you’re eligible to withdraw from your retirement early, you may face penalty fees, taxes, and administrative expenses. This may hinder your savings potential or push back your desired retirement date.

5. Contribute Your Future Raises and Bonuses

If you’re saving less than $19,500 to your retirement fund this year, consider contributing more. If you earn a bonus or a raise, stick to your current budget and consider increasing your contributions. Ask your employer to increase your retirement payments right before you receive a bonus or raise. The more you contribute, the more interest you’ll accrue over time.

Whether your retirement funds are established through a 401(k) or a 403(b), these accounts offer you the chance to build your financial portfolio. Consistently funding your retirement account may better your financial plan and set you at ease. As your contributions age, so do your interest earnings. You’ll be able to make money on your pre-taxed income and set your future self up for success. Get started by checking in on your budget and carving out a specific amount to put towards your retirement each month.

The post What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Mint Money Audit: Making the Most of a Side Hustle

This week’s Mint audit introduces us to Selena, 48, a mom of two living in San Antonio, Texas. She is a community college director and her husband, 51, is a full-time graphic designer who also manages a booming side hustle in the same industry.

Selena and her husband have already achieved some impressive financial accomplishments, thanks to tracking their finances on Mint, leveraging coupons and shopping at thrift stores. They’ve paid off $52,000 in student loans and invested in a piece of land next door for $26,000, which they believe has appreciated by nearly 40% since purchasing it a few years ago.

But with retirement looming and two children (currently ages 9 and 12) to possibly put through college, Selena wants to learn about additional money moves that could better prepare them for future expenses. She would also love to pay off the family’s 30-year mortgage before she retires in the next 10 to 12 years. Currently they’re on track to pay it down by 2030.

First, a breakdown of their finances:

NET INCOME

  • Hers: $56,000
  • His: $40,000 plus an additional $40,000 in freelance work
  • Total: $136,000 per year

DEBT

  • Just paid off student loans and a property loan (for the lot next door)
  • Credit Card Debt: $0
  • Mortgage: $163,000 (Monthly payment, including real estate tax, is $1,985)
  • Car note: $5,300 (should be paid off within the year)

RETIREMENT SAVINGS

  • Selena’s teacher pension: Roughly $5,000 per month at retirement if she retires in 12 years ($3,800 if she retires in 6 years).
  • Various IRAs between the two of them: $65,000
  • Estimated social security payments: $2,500 to $3,000 (combined)
  • Husband does not have a 401(k)

RAINY DAY SAVINGS

In an emergency, the family has at least six months of expenses saved up or roughly $35,000.

COLLEGE SAVINGS

Selena and her husband haven’t specifically saved for their children’s college education. They’re concerned that a 529-college savings plan might limit their children’s options, if they didn’t choose to attend a traditional college program.

Recommendations

Leverage the Side Hustle

All in all, I think the family’s finances are in solid shape. But if they’re interested in further securing their future, I would suggest investing the annual side hustle income (which currently sits in a bank account earning no interest) to advance retirement savings and carve out an account for their two children.

Starting that side hustle was a very smart money move because it effectively boosted the family’s net income by 40%. And according to Selena, the business, which they operate out of their living room, is only growing, with profits expected to grow another 30% in the future.

Income from side hustles is how I managed to pay off debt in my 20’s and boost savings. Today, it’s more prevalent among working Americans. More than 44 million Americans have a side revenue stream, according to a recent survey by Bankrate. “Having a side hustle is fiscally responsible,” says Susie Moore, founder of the program Side Hustle Made Simple and the new book, “What If It Does Work Out: How a Side Hustle Can Change Your Life.” “It’s an economic hedge that mitigates disruption to wealth building and future planning. There is no such thing as a fixed income,” she says.

So, let’s do some math and see how far this $40,000 per year side revenue stream can go using a compound interest calculator.

Retirement

The couple’s retirement nest egg is not too shabby. Not including their existing IRAs, the couple has about $8,000 a month coming to them in retirement between social security and Selena’s pension. That amount, alone, basically replaces their current full-time income. (And I do recommend Selena wait 12 years before retiring so that she can take advantage of the maximum pension payment.)

But with all the uncertainty around social security and future health care costs, it can’t hurt to save a little more, right? By placing $6,500 in a Roth IRA each year for the next, say, 15 years (Selena’s husband can qualify for the catch-up contribution since he is 5- years old), they’ll have an additional $142,000 for retirement that won’t be subject to taxes. This assumes an average annual return of 4%. They can open a Roth IRA at any bank.

Future Savings for Children

While a 529 plan may not be the best fit for this family, Selena still would like to carve out savings for her kids’ future endeavors, be it to start a business or attend an alternative school. For this, I’d recommend opening a 5-year certificate of deposit or CD and placing $25,000 in it this year. The going yield right now for a 5-year CD at that deposit level is averaging a little more than 2%.

Then, every year, as income rolls in from the side hustle, create a new 5-year CD and deposit $25,000 in it. Do this for the next four or five years. All CDs will have matured by the time her youngest is starting college (or pursuing something else). And they’ll have at least $100,000 plus interest reserved for their kids. If they do choose to go to college, the family’s prepared to help pay for in-state tuition at one of the fine Texas universities.

Mortgage Payoff

After funding the Roth IRA each year ($6,500) and the annual CD contribution ($25,000), the family’s left with $8,500. They could choose to put this toward the mortgage principal to knock a few years off their payoff schedule. Or, they may want to just hold onto it for that annual family vacation. And if I’m being honest, I’d say, go for the vacation! They deserve it!

The post Mint Money Audit: Making the Most of a Side Hustle appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

‘I Bought This House Based on Listing Photos Alone’: Was It Worth the Risk?

Angela Caban

The coronavirus has galvanized many die-hard city dwellers to pack up and flee for the suburbs or beyond. But how easy is it to pull off such a drastic move during a pandemic?

Just ask Angela Caban, a former Broadway dancer and decorative painter who, after 28 years of living in New York City, reached her breaking point in April. Quarantined in a cramped apartment in Queens, hearing sirens wailing all night, she decided to buy a house in Charleston, SC, an area she’d grown to love during her frequent work trips there over the years.

Yet since Caban was on lockdown in New York, she had to shop for homes remotely and make offers without seeing places in person. Here’s what it was like to buy a house sight unseen, and the lessons she learned that might inspire other longtime urbanites and first-time home buyers to make the leap themselves.

Angela Caban bought this South Carolina home online just from this listing photo.

Southern Bell Living

Location: Hanahan, SC
House specs: 1,804 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, separate barn
List price: $234,000
Price paid: $232,000

How did the pandemic play into your decision to leave NYC?

You give up a lot to live in New York because it has a lot to offer, but when those things go away, you start to question why you’re giving up so much.

Once COVID-19 hit in March, April, and May, I was stuck in my apartment for three months straight with no work. I wasn’t getting unemployment because that hadn’t kicked in. I had no outdoor space to speak of. I just wanted to have some room to roam, be in nature, and not feel desperate. That’s what put me over the edge.

Caban’s old apartment building in Astoria, Queens (She lived on the ground floor to the right of the red awning.)

Google Maps

I felt like no matter how difficult New York had been in the past, this was a whole new ball of wax. I was there for 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. When other tragedies had hit New York City, people were saying, “We’re in this together.”

When COVID-19 hit, all of a sudden there was suspicion. Everybody was frightened of everyone else.

___

Watch: Listing Agents Answer Our Burning Questions About the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ House

___

The ambulance sirens were nonstop. Plus, my small apartment was directly on the street, with the garbage cans right outside my window. So when I tried to open the windows during the pandemic, there were roaches coming in. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”

first time home buyer
Caban’s new living room is almost the size of her old apartment.

Angela Caban

What made you choose Charleston as your new home?

I’d have work meetings down here, and I had fallen in love with the area. I liked the sense of history, the weather. And financially it was doable. My mortgage now is less than half my rent for my tiny apartment in New York City.

Caban’s new spacious kitchen makes her want to cook again.

Angela Caban

How did your house hunt go?

I started looking near the end of April. I put an initial offer in on a house that fell through after the home inspector I’d sent to look at it said it would fall down in two years. Then I was in a panic because I’d already given notice on my New York apartment. So basically I had six weeks total to find another house and close on it. 

Caban loves spending time on her new front and back porches.

Angela Caban

What were your biggest challenges?

There was no inventory. Every house I looked at and said, “Oh, that’s a possibility,” would be gone by the time I called. An hour after being listed, the house would no longer be accepting offers!

How did you find the house you eventually bought?

Lucky for me, this house had been on the market for 60 days. I don’t know if it was because the photos were crappy, or the fact that the neighborhood was considered a little dicey. But I’m from New York, so the neighborhood seemed comfortable to me. I put an offer in within 48 hours of losing the other house. 

Wasn’t it scary to buy a house you hadn’t seen in person?

I was emboldened because I could always back out—you have two weeks to do so when bidding on a house. So I got in the car and drove down to look at it two days after my offer was accepted. I literally did it all in one day; it took me 12 hours to drive down. I saw the house and drove around for about two hours, and then I drove back because I had to start packing! I literally didn’t sleep for 26 hours. It’s probably why I have more gray hair now than I should.

first time home buyer
Caban is happy to have a fireplace to decorate for the holidays.

Angela Caban

How did the house look once you saw it, compared with the photos online?

It was much better than I thought. There is a lot of detailing, dental molding, wainscoting, and paneling in the living room, along with 16 windows that let in a lot of light. Plus, there’s the barn in the back that is another 600 square feet or so. My eventual plan is to make a workshop and a place to make art and teach.

Caban’s Charleston, SC, home has a 600-square-foot barn.

Angela Caban

How was the mortgage process?

It was a nightmare. Nobody wants to give mortgages to a single, female, sole proprietor who does not have pay stubs—especially during COVID-19, when they’re afraid people may default on their loan. They had also enacted new COVID-19 regulations that meant I had a boatload more paperwork. I had to submit letters from clients, proposals for work that was going to happen, invoices for work that I was still waiting to be paid for. … It was insane. I joked with them that I had to give them everything except a bone scan.

Caban’s new bedroom—one of four in her Charleston home

Angela Caban

How did you finally secure the loan?

Thanks to the help of my real estate agent, John Bell of Southern Bell Living, and his mortgage broker, Ethan Lane at Mortgage Network. They were amazing, and I was an absolute basket case: “What else do you want from me? I have no place to go. I’m going to be homeless!”

I look forward to giving them both a hug someday after COVID-19 is under control.

How did you close on the house during the pandemic?

That is a whole additional saga. I was finishing up a painting job in New York when all of a sudden on Friday they said, “You’re closing on Monday,” so I had to get an attorney to attend the closing for me. To get that, I had to get a statement notarized. In the middle of COVID-19! I met the notary on the street, but then I had to have two witnesses! It took me asking 18 strangers to find two people who said they’d help.

Caban painted her new door red and added the bumblebee knocker.

Angela Caban

How did you pull off a move during the pandemic?

I couldn’t get a truck in New York. So I packed my car and drove down to Charleston, where I dropped off my cats in the new house. Then I rented a U-Haul and drove it back to New York, hired two guys who then met me at my old apartment, packed the truck. Drove it back down to South Carolina, where I hired two more guys to help me unload the truck, and voilà.

Caban’s cats adjusting to their new home

Angela Caban

Was leaving New York hard after living there for 28 years?

Leaving was difficult because you almost feel like it’s a badge of honor that you’re a survivor in New York City. But down here, I finally feel like I can actually live my life instead of just trying to make it from one month to the next. I can think big thoughts and make big things happen, for which I simply didn’t have the energy in New York.

A formal dining room is a luxury that few New Yorkers can afford.

Angela Caban

Now that you’ve lived in Charleston for a few months, how are you feeling?

It’s like I can finally breathe, and I absolutely love it. I sit every morning out on my back patio and watch woodpeckers, blue jays, and cardinals. I have roses that are blooming that I planted.

Caban now loves starting her days watching birds on her back patio instead of exterminating roaches in her New York apartment.

Angela Caban

What advice would you give first-time home buyers and others looking to move now?

When you’re looking at homes online, don’t immediately discount a property just by how it looks in its photos. It’s like online dating that way. You need to see how it feels once you’re face to face and interacting with the space. Luckily, though, the minute I saw it in person, I knew I would be very happy here.

first time home buyer
Caban says she can finally breathe since leaving New York.

Angela Caban

The post ‘I Bought This House Based on Listing Photos Alone’: Was It Worth the Risk? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

How to Create a Financial Plan in 11 Steps

Structure is the key to growth. Without a solid foundation — and a road map for the future — it’s easy to spin your wheels and float through life without making any headway. Good planning allows you to prioritize your time and measure the progress you’ve made.

That’s especially true for your finances. A financial plan is a document that helps you track your monetary goals to measure your progress towards financial literacy. A good plan allows you to grow and improve your standing to focus on achieving your goals. As long as your plan is solid, your money can do the work for you.

Thankfully, a sound financial plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create a financial plan. 

What Is a Financial Plan?

Financial planning is a tangible way to organize your financial situation and goals by making a roadmap to achieve them. When determining where to start, you should consider what you currently possess, your long-term goals, and what opportunity costs you’re willing to take on to meet your money goals.

Financial planning is a great strategy for everyone — whether you’re a budding millionaire or still in college, creating a plan now can help you get ahead in the long run. If you want to make a roadmap to a successful future, here’s how to create a financial plan in 11 steps. 

1. Evaluate Where You Stand

Building your financial plan is similar to creating a fitness program. If you don’t have exact steps to reach your goals, you could end up doing random exercises without making progress. To create a successful plan, you first need to understand where you’re starting so you can candidly address any weak points and create specific goals. 

Determine Your Net Worth

One way to figure out your financial status is to determine your net worth. To do this, subtract your liabilities (what you owe) from your assets (what you own). Assets include things like the money in your accounts and your home and car equity, while liabilities can include any debt, loans, or mortgages. Here’s how to calculate your net worth using your assets and liabilities.

Determine your net worth by subtracting your liabilities from your assets.

Your ratio of assets to liabilities may change over time — especially if you pay off debt and put money into savings accounts. Generally, a positive net worth (your assets being greater than your liabilities) is a monetary health signal. You should regularly keep track of your net worth to monitor the trajectory of your financial plan.

Track Your Spending

Another way to evaluate your financial planning process is by measuring your cash flow, or how much you spend compared to how much you earn. Net worth is a great way to understand where you stand financially, but measuring cash flow is how you might ensure you’re heading in the right direction.

Negative cash flow means that you’re spending more than you make, leading to things like credit card debt and bankruptcy. Conversely, positive cash flow means you’re earning more than you’re spending — which is an excellent step towards achieving your money goals. 

Now that you have an idea of your net worth and cash flow, it’s time to set your financial goals. 

2. Set SMART Financial Goals

By setting SMART financial goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound), you can put your money to work towards your future. Think about what you ultimately want to do with your money — do you want to pay off loans? What about buying a rental property? Or are you aiming to retire before 50?

Start by putting together a list of your goals and dreams, from running a doggy daycare to living in Paris. Even if it feels outrageous, your financial plans should help you work towards your long-term goals.

SMART goals help you break down your more extensive financial planning process into actionable pieces. Remember that dream to move to Paris? Using SMART goals, you may make your dream to live on the Seine a reality. Here’s how to get started creating your SMART goals:

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Setting concrete goals may keep you motivated and accountable, so you spend less money and stick to your budget. Reminding yourself of your monetary goals may help you make smarter short-term decisions to invest in your long-term goals. 

It’s important to understand that your goals aren’t static. When your life goals change, your financial plans should follow suit.

3. Update Your Budget

Creating a budget may help you determine how to create a financial plan and achieve your long-term monetary goals. When you create a budget and stick to it, you can understand what areas you might afford to spend and where you should be saving. 

An excellent method of budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule, popularized by Senator Elizabeth Warren. To use this rule, you divide your after-tax income into three categories: 

  • Essentials (50 percent)
  • Wants (30 percent)
  • Savings (20 percent)

Pie graph shows how you can break down your budget with the 50/30/20 rule.

The 50/30/20 rule is a great and simple way to achieve your financial goals. With this rule, you can incorporate your goals into your budget to stay on track for monetary success. 

No matter what financial goal you’re working towards, it’s essential to have an updated budget and plan to achieve it. For example, if you’re planning for a wedding, you might eat out less to reduce your grocery budget each month.

What to Include in Your Budget

If you’ve ever tried to put together a budget, you’ve likely considered the basics like rent, loans, and groceries. But what other expenses should you consider? Over time, those daily lattes may start to add up — which is why it’s crucial to think about the many different costs you could incur during the month. When updating your budget, here are some of the most common items to include:

  • Rent
  • Groceries
  • Dining out
  • Household maintenance
  • Emergency fund
  • Subscriptions and memberships
  • Travel and transportation
  • Prescriptions
  • Bank account fees
  • Car registration or lease
  • Pet costs
  • Entertainment
  • Clothing
  • Personal care
  • Charity

So you know what you need to include in your budget. Now what? Check out our budgeting tips to get smart about creating your budget in line with your financial plan. If you’re ready to get the ball rolling on your future, try using a spreadsheet, a piece of paper, or a budgeting app to create your financial plan today. 

4. Save for an Emergency

Did you know that four in 10 adults wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense? With so many people living paycheck to paycheck without any savings, unexpected expenses might seriously throw off someone’s life if they aren’t prepared for the emergency. 

It’s important to save money during the good times to account for the bad ones. This rings especially true these days, where so many people are facing unexpected monetary challenges. Whether you’re just starting on your path to financial literacy or have been saving for years, it’s good practice to review your emergency finances to ensure they would adequately cover your current needs. 

You already know you should be storing away money in case something goes wrong. But did you know that you should be saving for both a rainy day and emergency fund? It’s important to have multiple backup funds to hold you over in case of an unexpected crisis. 

5. Pay Down Your Debt

It can be frustrating to allocate your hard-earned money towards savings and paying off debt, but prioritizing these payments can set you up for success in the long run. With two significant methods of paying off debt, it’s essential to understand the difference between them so you can make the smartest decisions for your financial future. 

A chart shows the differences between debt snowball and debt avalanche repayment. Debt snowballs start with the smallest, while the avalanche method targets the highest interest loans.

No matter the debt repayment option you choose, the key to successfully paying down debt is to be disciplined with your budget. Skipping even one or two months of debt repayments may throw a wrench in your financial plans, so it’s essential to create a realistic budget that you can stick to. 

6. Organize Your Investments

Investing may seem like a difficult topic to navigate, but you can put your money to work and passively grow your wealth when you understand the basics. To start investing, you should first figure out the initial amount you want to deposit. No matter if you invest $50 or $5,000, putting your money into investments now is a great way to plan for financial success later on. 

When deciding how to create a financial plan, you should consider budgeting a set amount each month to go directly into your investment portfolio — this will be your contribution amount. Over time, those small bits of money may begin to grow into increasingly larger sums. However, it’s important to note that investing is a long game. If you want to see serious results, you’re going to have to wait for at least five or more years. 

Ready to get started on your path towards long-term financial success? Check out our investment calculator to create goals, forecast metrics, and find opportunities to grow your wealth even further. 

7. Prepare for Retirement

When thinking about how to create a financial plan, it’s crucial to consider your goals far in the future. Although retirement may feel a world away, planning for it now is the difference between a prosperous retirement income and just scraping by. 

The earlier you can start saving for retirement, the better. If you start saving for retirement in your 20s, you’ll have 30+ years of consistent contributions to your funds by the time you retire. Generally, the older you are, the more you should try to contribute to your retirement fund. However, a good rule of thumb is to save around 10–15 percent of your post-tax income annually in a retirement savings account.

Retirement Plan Types

There are several types of retirement savings, the most common being an IRA, a Roth IRA, and a 401(k):

  • IRA: An IRA is an individual retirement account that you personally open and fund with no tie to an employer. The money you put into this type of retirement account is tax-deductible. It’s important to note that this is tax-deferred, meaning you will be taxed at the time of withdrawal.
  • Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is also an individual retirement account opened and funded by you. However, with a Roth IRA, you are taxed on the money you put in now — meaning that you won’t be taxed at the time of withdrawal.
  • 401(k): A 401(k) is a retirement account offered by a company to its employees. Depending on your employer, with a 401(k), you can choose to make pre-tax or post-tax (Roth 401(k)) contributions. 

A chart shows the difference between IRA, Roth IRA, and 401K retirement options.

8. Start Your Estate Planning

Thinking about estate planning isn’t fun — but it is important. When figuring out how to create a financial plan, it’s crucial to start estate planning to outline what happens to your assets when you’re gone. 

To create an estate plan, you should list your assets, write your will, and determine who will have access to the information. Estate taxes can run up to a steep 40 percent, so having a plan for how to set up your estate may ease the financial burden of your passing on your loved ones. 

Using a Lawyer for Estate Planning

Using a lawyer for estate planning can solidify financial plans that you don’t want to leave to chance. By clearly outlining your estate plan, you can protect against potential legal battles or missteps that could occur when sorting out your estate. If you plan to use a lawyer for estate planning, here’s what you need to know:

  • Find an estate planning specialist: Just like doctors, lawyers specialize in all different fields. You wouldn’t expect a dermatologist to be performing knee surgery, so why would you expect a lawyer with a different specialty to create your estate plan?
  • Clarify legal fees: Estate planning fees may vary dramatically depending on the lawyer and your specific needs. Some lawyers charge based on the complexity of the plan; others charge a flat or hourly fee. There is no right or wrong with estate planning fees, but you should have an upfront conversation with your lawyer to determine which method would work best for you.
  • Find a lawyer you trust: Estate planning is a very personal matter, so you should find a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable sharing personal matters. 

9. Insure Your Assets

As your wealth grows over time, you should start thinking about ways to protect it in case of an emergency. Although insurance may not be as exciting as investing, it’s just as important. 

Insuring your assets is more of a defensive financial move than an offensive one. When determining how to create a financial plan, you want to have insurance to protect yourself from any unforeseen difficulties that could hinder your success. 

Types of Insurance

There are several types of insurance you might get to protect your assets. Here are some of the most important ones to get when planning for your financial future. 

  • Life insurance: Life insurance goes hand in hand with estate planning to provide your beneficiaries with the necessary funds after your passing.
  • Homeowners insurance: As a homeowner, it’s crucial to protect your home against disasters or crime. Many people’s homes are the most valuable asset they own, so it makes sense to pay a premium to ensure it is protected.
  • Health insurance: Health insurance is protection for your most important asset: Your life. Health insurance covers your medical expenses for you to get the care you need. 
  • Auto insurance: Auto insurance protects you from costs incurred due to theft or damage to your car.
  • Disability insurance: Disability insurance is a reimbursement of lost income due to an injury or illness that prevented you from working. 

10. Plan for Taxes

Taxes can be a drag, but understanding how they work can make all the difference for your long-term financial goals. While taxes are a given, you might be able to reduce the burden by being efficient with your tax planning. When planning for taxes, it’s important to consider:

  • How to reduce your taxable income: You can capitalize on tax savings investment options like a 401(k) or 403(b) to help you save money by reducing your taxable income (while putting more money away for your future). 
  • How to itemize your deductions: Tax deductions are a way to lower taxable income as a full- or part-time self-employed taxpayer. You can deduct incurred expenses from doing business to reduce your taxable income. 

11. Review Your Plans Regularly

Figuring out how to create a financial plan isn’t a one-time thing. Your goals (and your financial standing) aren’t stagnant, so your plan shouldn’t be either. It’s essential to reevaluate your plan periodically and adjust your goals to continue setting yourself up for success. 

As you progress in your career, you may want to take a more aggressive approach to your retirement plan or insurance. For example, a young 20-something in their first few years of work likely has less money to put into their retirement and savings accounts than a person in their mid-30s who has an established career.

Staying updated with your financial plan also ensures that you hold yourself accountable to your goals. Over time, it may become easy to skip one payment here or there, but having concrete metrics might give you the push you need for achieving a future of financial literacy. 

After you figure out how to create a monetary plan, it’s good practice to review it around once a year. However, this is just a baseline metric, so checking it more often may be necessary if a significant life event occurs. 

It’s always a good idea to reevaluate your financial plan if you get married, have kids, or quit your job. Every few months or so, take some time to look at your progress and assess problem areas. Take the time to celebrate milestones — it may help motivate you going forward.

Ask for feedback on your financial plan from people who know you. Your best friend might point out some things you’d forgotten about, like your desire to get a dog or live in a downtown loft. You can also run it by a professional, who can provide some objective insight and professional wisdom on how to create a financial plan.

It’s important to remember that the journey to financial success is a personal one, and should be taken at your own pace. However, the earlier you get started, the more prepared you may be for a strong financial future. Download Mint to get started taking control of your finances today.

Sources: CNBC | Federal Reserve | IRS | IRS

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