Nov 25 2013

How Much Does it Cost to Retire? (And How Can I Start Saving Today?)

By |November 25th, 2013|General Personal Finance|4 Comments|

My grandfather managed pensions in the accounting department of the same company for 35 years. They said anybody who wanted to retire went straight to him to see if it was possible. A lot of his wisdom about planning for the long run stays with me today.

Show Me the Money

According to lifehappens.org, if you turn 65 this year, you’ll need to have $1,025,600 saved though various IRAs and 401(k)s plus $293,000 to cover future medical expenses. If you have $1.3 million on hand and just turned 65, congratulations, you’re able to retire. The rest of us, however, have a long way to go.

How Much Should I Save Each Year?

Check out this retirement calculator to see exactly how big of a hill you need to climb. With your annual income and age, this calculator takes into account inflation and a salary raise each year and then creates a graph showing what your savings plan should look like between today and when you turn 65.

Naturally, this is a calculator and not a psychic, so it can’t perfectly tailor a plan for you, but it uses your current financial situation to give you a savings base just for this year. It’s hard to think about retirement when you’re still in your 40s, 30s, or even 20s, but the money you put away when you’re young will pay off when you’re finally looking for that condo in Ft. Lauderdale.

Will My Employer Help Me Save?

Yes and no. If you think you’re going to have a pension when you retire, think again. According to BankRate, 24.2 million Americans were enrolled in a traditional pension in 1984. In 2013, only 11 million Americans had a pension through their employer. But fear not, pensions have been replaced by 401(k)s. A company will pull a small percentage of an employee’s salary and partially match it. 401(k)s are easier to roll over, which has benefitted both companies and their employees.

Not to pull the “when I was your age,” card, but it used to be a point of pride to only have one job on your resume in 30+ years. It should that you were loyal to the company you worked for and you trusted that they would be loyal to you in retirement. Today, the average employee stays at a company for fewer than five years – and that’s pushing it for millennials. The latest generation to enter the workforce will have 15-20 jobs between graduation and retirement.

When an employee begins at a new company, the new employer picks up where the old employer left off as soon the benefits kick in. This means that you don’t have to be married to your current job to plan for retirement. The sooner you have a 401(k) the sooner you can start saving and your employer(s) can start contributing.

So Start Saving Today…

There are two steps you can take today to be better prepared for retirement. First, talk to your bank about setting up an IRA or Roth IRA (the difference lies in the taxes) to start pulling from your salary monthly. Even if the company you work for doesn’t offer a 401(k) you can still put your future in your own hands with an individual retirement account. Most banks allow you to choose how much you contribute based on what you can afford, so there’s no excuse for putting off retirement investments another day.

Next, this article isn’t your stopping point for retirement research. Keep reading articles about 401(k)s, participate in forums about expected inflation, and watch videos about variable annuities. If knowledge isn’t power then money is, and you wont have either unless you do your research.

…And Never Stop.

For a few months last year, I cancelled my cable service. I had to choose between watching my favorite shows and continuing to add the same monthly amount to my IRA. It was only a small amount, but I know I’m slowly chipping away towards meeting my retirement goals. I know my grandfather is looking down from heaven and is proud of my financial choices.

Saving for retirement isn’t easy, and it’s extremely tempting to dip into your savings to use the money for things you want now. Have you started saving for retirement? If so, what steps have you taken?

Nov 22 2013

Why Your Facebook Account may be More Secure than your Bank Account

By |November 22nd, 2013|General Personal Finance|2 Comments|

Although social media and personal banking are two very different necessities for a growing number of us these days, they actually have more in common than you would first imagine. Not only are they both essential in organizing our day to day lives, but both are falling victim to a growing number of sophisticated hackers who are coming up with new ways to access your personal data and money.

social media options

Hacking – The $45m Question

Recently, a gang of criminals In the US managed to swipe $45m (£29m) from cash machines by hacking into a prepaid debit card database, an operation executed in a matter of hours. They did this by eliminating withdrawal limits from the prepaid debit cards, and then created access codes. This data was then loaded onto any plastic card with a magnetic strip – expired credit cards and even hotel key cards worked just perfectly.

US attorney Loretta Lynch called the operation ‘a massive 21st-century bank heist’; the case highlighted how many banks are not keeping up with modern security technology, and are compromising their customers’ accounts in the process.

Although card fraud has dropped considerably since the introduction of chip and pin in 2006, hackers are always coming up with new ways to siphon cash from our accounts.

With the rise of on-line shopping over recent years, security is a major concern for many of us, and you never feel 100% certain that your account information is immune to being compromised. Many of us are put off using our Credit Cards for shopping on-line, as surcharges apply, however many don’t realize that such purchases are protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

The act means that any purchases you make between £100 and £30,000 are covered by your credit card provider; giving you the right to claim a refund from them should a problem occur with your goods or services. For this reason, it’s recommended to use them for large online purchases, and certainly when abroad where you may be more vulnerable to card fraud.

While debit card protection isn’t a legal obligation, you will find that many banks will give customers the benefit of the doubt, investigate a reported theft and offer a refund. This is still a huge inconvenience for the customer, who may have to wait several days or even weeks to re-claim their money.

“If you haven’t authorized an online payment and claim to be a victim of fraud, the banks should give customers the benefit of the doubt. While debit card protection offered isn’t a legal obligation, it is possible for you to claim a refund if a card is proven to be used fraudulently,” said a spokesperson from Yorkshire Building Society.

Social Media Security Savvy

You may have noticed many social media sites will ask for more than one piece of personal data when accessing your account, and the banking world are catching up and looking at ways to apply this to customer transactions. A future solution currently in the pipeline is a two-tier authentication process, which will ask for an additional piece of information as well as a PIN.

Telephone banking customers will be asked for several pieces of personal info when calling up, but this still doesn’t make it any safer than your average social media account, which is typically less susceptible to hacking attempts. Let’s hope the banking world catches up soon, and we can worry a little less about the safety of our money.

Nov 22 2013

3 Tips To Keep Your Internet, Cable TV and Phone Bill On The Low

By |November 22nd, 2013|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

Gone are the days when you could sneeze at internet, phone and cable TV bills. These subscriptions, considered as necessities by the average American in the information age, can easily add up in monthly expenses and make you struggle to keep down utility bills.

Pew Research Center’s report reveals that the regular household expenses reported by homeowners include internet services (65%), phone services (74%) and cable TV services (78%), and all of them come right after housing costs.

David Cay Johnston, prize winning reporter, said that in the 1970’s, when a single company had a monopoly in phone subscription services, homeowners were told that the increase in competition would bring down the prices, but the reality turned out to be quite the opposite.

Web television content is also creating confusion among consumers. Their initial subscription cost is quite low, but subscribers are then presented with add-on costs later on.

Senior analyst at SNL, Kagan Robin Flynn, says that nobody generally wants prices to increase, but consumers don’t think about the investment companies make in their plans to get HD quality in households.  And companies do offer incentives to retain and attract new customers.

Despite the trends, it’s possible for you to keep the bill of all these services on the low with these tips:

1. Negotiate with the company

Sometimes being a long-term customer of a particular company can get you a discount (just like banks give out a better interest rate to their loyal customers). Editor of MoneyCrashers, David Bakke got a discount on his cable bill for 6 months only after being with AT&T U-verse for a year.

You can also try talking it out with the company to see if you can get a discount for a few months. Also, companies like AT&T, Verizon etc. also offer other ways to save money as ATT U-verse coupon codes are still out on the Internet. Apart from searching online, you may find such offers and promos in local magazines and newspapers.

2. Ask the neighborhood

Internet, phone and television cable providers have a variety of plans, and they vary from customer to customer. It can turn out that your neighbor is paying half of what you currently pay for the same subscriptions, just because he/she opted for a slightly lower internet speed or cable channel.

You can do a bit of research and collect the figures to see if you can cut down on the bill. However, make sure that you compare the subscription charges in packages rather than between different companies.

3. Go for bundled services

Usually, taking each of the subscriptions from a different service is going to cost you more because companies normally don’t offer reasonable rates on single service packages. But if you go for all of the subscriptions all together from a single company, it can get you good rates.

Going all together translates into searching for a company that provides cable, internet and phone services in a single package/bundle. Bundles may also include other money-saving benefits such as free phone minutes, internet bandwidth, etc.

How do you save on these bills? Feel free to share your own tips in the comments section below.

Nov 19 2013

3 Things to Consider When Purchasing Life Insurance

By |November 19th, 2013|Blog, Personal Finance Tips|4 Comments|

I have a confession to make: I have probably searched for life insurance quotes at least 5 or 6 times in my life, but I’ve never pulled the trigger.

The reason I have never decided to purchase a policy is because I’m having a really hard time determining how much insurance I actually need. There is no right answer, but there are definitely things to consider.

First of all, you obviously have to consider the price. It’s good to get quotes from a lot of different companies and to make sure you get the best price. I’ve looked at places like State Farm, GEICO, Liberty Mutual and others. If you live in Australia you might look at Lifebroker or other Australian companies.

As I am thinking about life insurance to protect my fiancee financially if I were to pass away, here are a few considerations I’ve been throwing around.

Does Your Employer Offer Life Insurance?

One of the benefits at my job is a life insurance policy equal to one year of my current salary. Let’s pretend I make $60,000 a year. In that case, if I pass away my fiancee would get a $60,000 check from my work.

family

photo credit: andrewmalone

While I would eventually like to raise this to a higher number, it is nice to have this fallback option that doesn’t cost me a dime. As long as I stay with this company, I have a fairly decent life insurance policy already.

It’s important to remember that this is only available to me as long as I remain employed with this company, so it’s not something I can necessarily count on in the future. They could fire me at any time, or I could quit if I find a new job.

The main benefit of this policy is that it allows me to wait until I finish my research and settle on a policy, while still having a little bit of insurance to fall back on.

What Will Your Family Look Like in a Few Years?

At first I thought, I can just get a small policy that my fiancee could use to pay off our house and all her student loans. That would be more than enough to give her a comfortable life. Then I remembered that it won’t just be me and her for long.

When you are looking at a term life insurance policy for 10, 20, or 30 years, it’s important to buy a policy that will support any family you may have over that time period. If you are going to have or adopt children, the amount of insurance you purchase will need to go up, especially if you are planning to pay for your kids’ college.

What Do You Want for Your Surviving Family?

Finally you have to ask yourself the most important question: what do you want for your family if you pass away. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and this is what I’m starting to settle on:

  • Enough money to pay off all debts, including our mortgage. This is about $200,000 at the moment, but this isn’t our forever home. Our next home will probably more expensive, so I should probably look at about $300,000.
  • $100,000 for my fiancee as a cushion to help her transition to life without me. She could use this money to go back to school if she wanted, or she could just use it to supplement the income she gets from her job. Her expenses will be lower because the mortgage and all debts would be paid off, so this should last a long time. It could also help pay for a nanny or daycare so she can work without worrying about caring for our kids (that we hope to have one day).
  • Another $100,000 to put in a trust for my kids. I’d probably have to set up some rules that restrict them from accessing the money until they reach a certain age and/or meet certain conditions. I haven’t put much thought into this yet, but I could basically just trust my fiancee to decide when the kids deserve to withdraw from the account.

Based on this assessment, it looks like I’d need a $500,000 policy. I’d probably look at a 20 or 30 year term, because in the next 20 or 30 years I expect to have a net worth over $500,000 and at that point I would have enough money saved up where I wouldn’t need an insurance payment to provide for my family.

Readers: Do you have life insurance? How did you determine how much you needed?

Nov 18 2013

Simple Ways for Small Businesses to Cut their Media Costs

By |November 18th, 2013|General Personal Finance|Comments Off|

In today’s global economic climate, staying in touch with clients, suppliers, and contacts is extremely important for a business of any size. As a small business owner, your network may be spread far and wide, particularly if you work in new media or run an online business. The cost of international phone calls and high speed internet to reach this network can really add up over time.  If you’re looking for a way to cut your communication costs both at home and abroad, you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind.

Bundle your Services

Do you have separate bills for your business’s mobile phones, landlines, and internet service? Not only does this create a bigger headache for the accounting department, but it also might mean that you’re overpaying for your media services. Using a single provider and bundling your services into one package may yield you a greater discount. Shop around and ask about media packages to find the best carrier for your small business’s needs.

Use Communication Apps

Using technology can save small businesses a great deal of money, whether it’s through paperless banking, open source software, or teleconference services. Another way to use technology to cut costs is by downloading today’s top communication apps. You may already use tools like Skype on your computer to save money on teleconferencing, but services like these are also available in an app form that allows you to place lower cost international calls to your overseas contacts. Some of these will allow you to place free calls within the same network, while others will charge subscription costs or a per-minute fee. In addition to Skype, you’ll find that WhatsApp, Rebtel, and Viber are a few of the top choices.

Get Rid of your Landline

Is your business still using a landline? For retail operations this may be necessary, but if you work from a variety of locations or don’t handle a heavy volume of calls each day there might be better solutions that could eliminate the cost of a landline entirely. Virtual phones, mobile phones, and VoIP services might be more suited to your business model.

Explore Prepaid Phones for Employees

If you find yourself paying overage fees or that you don’t even come close to using all of the minutes in your wireless plan, you might want to consider purchasing prepaid phones or SIM cards instead. A SIM card with Lebara or other similar providers can be loaded up with minutes and then used in your phone, allowing you to control your media budget more effectively. Some options require you to use a monthly minimum, while others can simply be paid in advance. Prepaid options can also be used to cut costs when travelling. For example, if your employees are travelling on a business trip, you could give them a prepaid global SIM card allowing them to make cheap calls with Lebara back home to check in. This helps your business avoid costly roaming fees.

Many businesses are paying far too much for their media bills. By exploring these alternative options, you can whittle down your monthly media costs and save money to invest back into your business. Be sure to compare terms and conditions carefully and shop around to benefit from the best rates.

Nov 11 2013

Minimum Car Insurance Requirements Aren’t Always Enough

By |November 11th, 2013|General Personal Finance|1 Comment|

There are many instances where there is a government requirement to purchase some amount of car insurance. Minimum insurance requirements can vary based on where you live and what insurance you are considering.

For example, most states in the USA require some level of car insurance, but New Hampshire does not require auto insurance for all citizens. In New South Wales, Australia drivers are required to purchase a Green Slip, or compulsory third party (CTP) insurance.

However, the minimum required insurance may not cover enough to protect your financial interests. A green slip only covers compensation for people killed or injured in an accident; it does not cover damage to any vehicle in an accident.

If your vehicle insurance does not cover damages to your vehicle or other people’s vehicles, then every time you get into your car you are potentially risking tens of thousands of dollars.

Imagine if you find yourself in an accident with someone driving a BMW M6. That car costs over $100,000 and y0u could be liable for buying the owner a new one if you are at fault in the accident.

A $100,000 debt can wipe out years or even decades of savings, and it’s simply not worth it to take a chance on ruining years of savings just to save a few bucks on your monthly insurance premiums.

How Much Insurance is Enough?

The most important thing to make sure car insurance costs is medical costs for all injured parties. There are very few cars that cost more than $75,000, but medical costs can be well into the hundreds of thousands or even millions depending on how many people are hurt and what injuries they have.

There is no rule that can tell you how much insurance you should buy, but it is important to consider that the more money you have, you more you have to lose. In America, if you have little to nothing saved, you have the option to declare bankruptcy if a debt is too big for you to pay, but that will wipe out your savings. The more you have saved, the more insurance you need to protect those assets.

It is important consider how much insurance is right for you, and then get multiple quotes to make sure you find the best deal on the insurance you need. There are many websites that compare car insurance quotes in America and Green Slips in Australia.