RVing on a Budget: The Biggest Costs and How to Save

What you may know about RVing: It’s a great, cheap way to travel, or even a low-cost alternative for living full time.

What you may not know: RVing costs can stack up, and even eclipse the cost of traditional car-and-hotel travel, or living in a sticks-and-bricks home.

Here, we’ll detail the primary expenses associated with the RV lifestyle, with tips to help you reduce them.

How to Go RVing on a Budget

As someone who’s traveled extensively by RV, and even lived in a travel trailer, I know exactly how much of a burden RVing can be on your budget. Here’s what I’ve learned.

The Vehicle Itself

The first thing you need to go RVing … is an RV. And depending on how you source it, this first purchase can be very pricy.

First-timers are more likely to rent than buy, but if you end up falling in love with the lifestyle, you should know that even modest motorhomes cost tens of thousands of dollars. Super luxurious ones go for over $1 million. (Yes, seriously.)

Travel trailers tend to be less expensive than motorcoaches for a comparable level of quality, from entry level all the way up to the top. Keep in mind, though, that you need a vehicle capable of towing the rig around.

A young man sweeps out an RV

But let’s go back to the rental option. Expect to see per-night prices of $250 or more, which can easily outstrip a moderately priced hotel room. Additional fees for mileage and insurance can push your bottom line even higher.

Consider looking at peer-to-peer RV rental marketplaces, like RVshare or Outdoorsy, where you can rent a rig directly from its private owner, which often means lower rental prices. (Think of it like Airbnb for RVs.)

You may also be able to find super-cheap rentals through RV relocation deals, in which you serve as a rental company’s courier, delivering RVs to destinations where they are in demand. In return, you get use of the rig for a steal — but keep in mind you’ll be limited in your ability to personalize your itinerary. You’ll have to stick to the company’s route and timetable.

As far as buying is concerned, shop around — and consider shopping gently used. RV does stand for recreational vehicle, after all, and although the loan you take out might look more like a mortgage than auto financing, you probably aren’t going to be building equity. You don’t want to go too old, because maintenance starts to become a problem, but something three to five years old could save you a nice chunk of change.

A motorhome travels through Arches National Park, Utah.

Fuel

The appeal of RVs is simple: You get to bring everything along with you for the trip, including the kitchen sink.

But all of those accommodations and extras are weighty, which means that all but the smallest RVs are pretty serious gas guzzlers. Case in point: The largest Class A motorhomes get as little as 4-6 miles to the gallon.

If you’re hoping to save at the pump, consider taking a vacation closer to home or narrowing down to a single destination. Not only will you spend less money on gas, you’ll also spend less of your time driving.

Campsite Accommodation Costs

Many people think you can load up into an RV, hit the road and just pull off to the side when you’re ready to catch some sleep.

But in most cases, that’s not true. Although some rest stops and big box store parking lots allow overnight RV parking, many do not. Besides, do you really want to spend your vacation sleeping under the glare of 24/7 floodlights?

The most comfortable campgrounds — the ones where you can hook up to electricity, water, and sewer connections — can cost a pretty penny, especially in highly sought-after destinations. Malibu Beach may be an extreme example, but during peak seasons, you’re looking at about $100 per night for a basic site, and up to $230 for a premium location. (Remember, that’s on top of your rental price. And fuel.)

A woman makes coffee in her travel trailer.

But you can find resort-style accommodations for $35 to $50 per night, often with discounts available for veterans, military members or those staying a week or longer. There are also a variety of camping discount clubs that can help you score lower-cost campground accommodations.

You’ll also want to look into state parks, which often offer RV sites with hookups for prices much lower than privately owned campgrounds (though they may not have a cell signal).

Finally, there are places you can camp for free (or super cheap), but even in an RV, you’ll kind of be roughing it. On BLM-managed land and in certain other wilderness locations, you can do “dispersed” camping, otherwise known as “boondocking” or “dry camping” — basically, camping without any hookups.

But you need to check ahead of time to make sure that cool-looking space is actually okay to park in and not privately owned. There isn’t always appropriate signage, and if you accidentally end up in someone’s backyard, you may be asked to move or even ticketed. Some great resources for finding spots include Campendium and FreeCampsites.net.

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Maintenance and Storage

If you buy an RV, you should be prepared for costs associated with maintenance — and, if you can’t park it on your own property, storage. In Portland, Oregon, I pay $75 a month to keep my travel trailer in an uncovered lot. More desirable, secure storage is almost $200.

Then there are the maintenance costs of both the vehicular and household systems of an RV, which need regular upkeep. Doing it yourself may be time intensive, but even a minor trip to the repair shop can mean a major bill.

It’s best if you already have a place in mind to keep it — and the initiative to learn some DIY mechanics. There’s a YouTube tutorial for most RV repair and maintenance basics.

Overall, the great thing about RVing is that the expenses are easily modified to fit almost any budget — you may just have to rethink which RV you drive, where you’re going and how you’ll be staying once you get there.

Jamie Cattanach’s work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool and other outlets. Learn more at www.jamiecattanach.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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How to Maximize Rewards on Everyday Spending

Woman using credit card on everyday spending

While many rewards enthusiasts focus on signing up for new credit cards to earn signup bonuses, not everyone has the time or desire to play the signup game. There is effort involved in tracking multiple cards, annual fees, and rewards programs, after all, and some people don’t want to spend their time or mental energy this way.

If you’re someone who falls into this category, you may be better off maximizing one or two cards instead of chasing rewards. Fortunately, you can earn plenty of rewards over time if you’re savvy about your card’s benefits and bonus categories.

The key to getting the most out of your rewards cards is understanding how they work and looking for opportunities to earn more points on your everyday spending. Here are some tips that can help.

Brainstorm every bill you could pay with a credit card

Because rewards cards offer points based on each dollar you spend, maximizing the amount you can spend on credit is the best way to boost your rewards haul. The smartest strategy to use here is figuring out how many of your monthly bills you can pay with a credit card.

While you may not be notified or aware, it’s possible that bills you’ve been paying with a check or debit card for years can be paid with a credit card without any fees. While your bills may vary, some expenses you should try to pay with a credit card include:

  • Rent
  • Utility bills like electric or gas
  • Health insurance
  • Cable television and internet
  • Cell phone
  • Taxes
  • Daycare
  • Auto and home insurance
  • Subscription services
  • College tuition or student loans
  • Medical bills
  • Lawn care

Keep in mind that these are just some of the bills you could be paying with credit. Depending on your situation, you could have additional, uncommon expenses to cover that could be paid with credit with ease.

Also, remember that these additional bills should be paid with credit on top of your everyday expenses like groceries, dining out, gas or bus fare, and miscellaneous spending. Every time you buy something in person or online, you should strive to pay with your rewards card if you can.

Leverage your rewards card bonus categories

It’s also important to leverage your favorite card bonus categories, whatever they may be. This is especially important if you have a few cards with different bonus categories since you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right card for bills that let you earn bonus points.

Let’s say you have a travel credit card that earns 3x points on dining and travel and another card that earns 6x points at the grocery store. In that case, you would be smart to use the travel card for dining and travel purchases and your other card when you stock up on food. While the amount of rewards you earn with individual purchases may seem nominal, using the right card for the right purchase can help you earn a lot more rewards over time.

Set up auto-pay bills to be paid with credit

Most of us have bills set up to be paid automatically, whether it’s our Netflix and Hulu subscriptions, gym membership, or utility bills. Make sure each bill you have set up to be paid automatically is set up to be paid with your rewards card and not a debit card. This way, you can earn rewards points on those expenses every month.

Use shopping portals and dining clubs

Many flexible rewards programs, frequent flyer programs, and hotel loyalty programs have shopping portals you can access to earn extra points. Major airlines like American, Delta, and United also have shopping portals that work similarly. (See also: How to Maximize Rewards Through Credit Card Shopping Portals)

Some programs like Southwest and Delta also offer dining clubs. These programs let you earn additional points or miles just for dining at participating restaurants in your area. It’s easy and it’s free to join, so you may as well earn extra miles on your spending if you’re going to dine out anyway. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Airline Dining Rewards Programs)

How much the average family can earn

If you are skeptical the average family can rack up meaningful rewards without signing up for new cards over and over again, look at how this might work in real life. For example, imagine a family of four with two rewards card-toting adults. Across the two of them, they have:

  • A cash back card that earns 2% back
     
  • A travel credit card that earns 3% on dining and travel
     
  • A rewards card that earns 6% cash back at the grocery store on up to $6,000 in spending each year

To figure out how much this family might earn, we used Bureau of Labor Statistics spending averages from 2017. Here’s a rundown of that data for the year plus how much a family could earn in rewards over 12 months based on average expenses:

  • Food at home ($4,363): $261.78 in rewards at 6%
     
  • Food away from home ($3,365): $100.95 at 3%
     
  • Utilities, fuels, and public services ($3,836): $76.72 at 2%
     
  • Household operations ($1,412): $28.24 at 2%
     
  • Household supplies ($755): $45.30 at 6%
     
  • Household furnishings and equipment ($1,987): $39.74 at 2%
     
  • Apparel and services ($1,833): $36.66 at 2%
     
  • Gasoline and motor oil ($1,968): $39.36 at 2%
     
  • Other vehicle expenses ($2,842): $56.84 at 2%
     
  • Healthcare ($4,928): $98.56 at 2%
     
  • Entertainment ($3,203): $64.06 at 2%
     
  • Personal care products ($762): $45.72 at 6%
     
  • Education ($1,491): $29.82 at 2%

Total rewards: $923.75

While $900+ is a lot to earn in rewards within a year, you have the potential to earn a lot more. After all, these are just some of the expenses the average family faces and not all of them. If you could pay some additional big bills with credit each month like daycare or your rent, you could significantly add to your bottom line.

What to watch out for

While maximizing rewards cards is a smart idea if you’re using them already anyway, there are always pitfalls to be aware of when you’re using a credit card. Here’s what to watch out for during your quest for more cash back and travel rewards.

Fees for using credit

While there are many bills you can pay with credit without a fee, some vendors, merchants, and service providers charge a fee to use a credit card as payment. Fees are especially prevalent on bills such as utilities, cable or internet, rent, and insurance. Make sure to verify you aren’t being charged a fee to use credit before you proceed.

Annual fees

Don’t forget that some rewards cards charge annual fees. These fees may be worth it depending on your spending and rewards haul, but you should always factor them into the equation to make sure each fee is worth paying. If you’re against paying annual fees, look for rewards cards that don’t charge one.

Budgeting mishaps

Using a credit card for all your expenses may simplify your financial life, but it could also cause your budget to fall out of whack. Make sure you’re only spending on purchases you planned to make anyway, and that you’re tracking your spending and paying off your credit cards regularly.

Debt

Never use credit cards for purchases you can’t afford to repay if you’re pursuing rewards. The interest you’ll pay will always be much more than the rewards you earn. If you’re worried using credit will cause you to rack up debt you can’t afford to repay, you’re better off sticking to cash or debit instead.

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The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing

Refinancing your student loans can make good financial sense, and that’s especially true if your current loans are stuck at a high-interest rate. With a new loan at a lower APR, you could save a bundle of money on interest each month and ultimately pay your student debt off faster. Consolidating several loans into one new one can also simplify your financial life and make keeping up with bills a lot easier.

College Ave and Earnest topped our list, but since student loan refinancing is an incredibly competitive space, you’ll also want to spend time comparing student loan companies to see who offers the best deal. Many lenders in this space offer incredibly low APRs, flexible payment options, borrower incentives, and more. This means it’s more important than ever to shop around so you wind up with the best student loan for your needs.

What You Should Know About Refinancing Federal Student Loans with a Private Lender

The lenders on this list can help you consolidate and refinance both federal student loans and private student loans. However, there are a few details to be aware of before you refinance federal loans with a private lender.

Switching federal loans to private means giving up federal protections like deferment and forbearance. You also give up your chance to qualify for income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) or Income Based Repayment (IBR). Income-driven repayment plans let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income for 20 to 25 years before ultimately forgiving your remaining loan balances, so this perk isn’t one you should give up without careful thought and consideration.

Best Student Loan Refinancing Companies of 2021

As you start your search to find the best student loan for your lifestyle, take the time to compare lenders and all they offer their customers. While there are a ton of reputable companies offering high-quality student loan refinancing products on the market today, there are also companies you should probably steer clear of.

To make your search easier, we took the time to compare most of the top lenders in this space in terms of interest rates offered, fees, borrower benefits, and more. The following student loan companies are the cream of the crop, so you should start your search here.

Our Top Picks:

  1. Splash Financial
  2. College Ave
  3. Earnest
  4. SoFi
  5. CommonBond
  6. LendKey
  7. Wells Fargo
  8. PenFed Credit Union

Student Loan Refinancing Company Reviews

1. Splash Financial

Splash Financial may be a newer company in the student loan refinancing space, but their offerings are competitive. This company lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and their variable rates currently start at just 2.25% APR.

Not only are interest rates offered by Splash Financial industry-leading, but the company has a 95% customer satisfaction rate so far. Their cutting-edge technology also lets you apply for your loan and complete the loan process online, meaning less hassle and stress for you as the borrower.

Check Out Splash Financial’s Low Rates

2. College Ave

College Ave offers student loan refinancing products that can be tailored to your needs. They offer low fixed and variable interest rates, for example, and you’ll never pay an application fee or an origination fee. You can even qualify for a discount if you set your loan up on autopay, and a wide range of repayment schedules are available.

College Ave also offers a wide range of online calculators and tools that can help you figure out how much student loan refinancing could help you save and whether the move would be worth it in the end. Considering their low variable rates start at just 2.74% APR, there’s a good chance you could save money by refinancing if you have excellent credit or a cosigner with great credit.

Get Started with College Ave

3. Earnest

Earnest is another online lender that focuses most of its efforts on offering high-quality student loans. This company lets you consolidate debt at a lower interest rate than you might find elsewhere, and you get the option to pick a monthly payment and repayment period that works with your budget and your lifestyle.

While you’ll need excellent credit to qualify for the lowest interest rates, loans from Earnest come with variable APRs starting at 1.81% and low fixed rates starting at just 3.45%. To qualify for student loan refinancing with Earnest, you’ll need a minimum credit score of 650 and a strong employment and income history. You also need to be current on all your bills and cannot have a bankruptcy on your credit profile.

Refinance and Save with Earnest

4. SoFi

Also make sure to check out student loan refinancing company SoFi as you continue your search. This online lender offers some of the best student loan refinancing products available today, including loans with no application fee, origination fee, or hidden fees.

SoFi lets you apply for and complete the entire loan process online, and they offer live customer support 7 days a week. You can also check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, which makes it easier to see how much you could save before you commit.

Get Pre-Approved with SoFi in Less than 2 Minutes

5. Commonbond

Commonbond is another online student lender who lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. With student loan refinancing from Commonbond, you could easily save thousands of dollars on interest with a new fixed interest rate as low as 3.21%. Repayment terms are offered for 5 to 20 years as well, letting you choose a new monthly payment and repayment timeline that works for your needs.

You can apply for your new loan online and note that these loans don’t come with an origination fee or any prepayment penalties. Your loan could also qualify for forbearance, which means having up to 24 months without payments during times of financial hardship.

Apply Online with Commonbond

6. LendKey

LendKey offers private student loans and flexible student loan refinancing options to serve a variety of needs. You can repay your loan between 5 and 20 years, and their refinance loans don’t charge an origination fee.

You can use this company’s online interface to check your rate without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and variable APRs start at just 2.01% for graduates with excellent credit. LendKey loans also receive 9.3 out of 10 possible stars in recent reviews, meaning their customers are mostly happy with their decision to go with this company.

Save Thousands by Refinancing with LendKey

7. Wells Fargo

While Wells Fargo is mostly popular for their banking products, home mortgage products, and personal loans, this bank also offers student loan refinancing products. These loans let you consolidate student debts into a new loan with a low variable or fixed interest rate, and you can even score a discount for setting your loan up on autopay.

Terms for Wells Fargo loans are available anywhere from 5 to 20 years, meaning you can choose a repayment schedule and monthly payment that suits your needs. Wells Fargo also lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Get Started with Wells Fargo

8. PenFed Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union offers unique student loan products powered by Purefy. You might be able to qualify for a lower interest rate that could lead to enormous interest savings over time, and PenFed lets you choose a repayment term and monthly payment that fits with your budget and lifestyle.

You can apply for student loan refinancing on your own, but PenFed Credit Union also allows cosigners. Low fixed interest rates start at just 3.48% APR, and you can check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Learn More about PenFed Credit Union

What To Look For When Refinancing

If you decide you want to refinance your student loans, you’ll be happy to know the refinancing market is more robust than ever. A variety of lenders offer insanely attractive loan options for those who can qualify, although you should know that student loan companies tend to be very finicky about your credit score. Some also won’t let you refinance if you didn’t graduate from college, or even if you graduated from an “unapproved” school.

While you should be aware of any lender-specific eligibility requirements before you apply with any student loan company, there are plenty of other factors to look out for. Here’s everything you should look for in a student loan refinancing company before you decide to trust them with your loans.

Low Interest Rate

Obviously, the main reason you’re probably thinking of refinancing your loans is the potential to save money on interest. Lenders who offer the lowest rates available today can potentially help you save more, although it’s important to consider that you may not qualify for the lowest rates available if you don’t have excellent credit.

Cosigner Requirements

Also consider that most lenders will offer better rates and loan terms if you have a cosigner with better credit than you have. This is especially true if your credit isn’t great, so make sure to ask family members if they’re willing to cosign on your new student loan if you hope to get the best rate. Just remember that your cosigner will be jointly liable for repayment, meaning you could quickly damage your relationship if you default on your loan and leave them holding the bag.

Low Fees or No Fees

Student loans are like any other loan in the fact that some charge higher fees or more fees than others. Since many student loans come with an application fee or an origination fee, you’ll want to look for lenders that don’t charge these fees. Also check for hidden fees like prepayment penalties.

Discounts Available

Some student loan companies let you qualify for discounts, the most popular of which is a discount for using autopay. If you’re able and willing to set up automatic payments on your credit card, you could save .25% or .50% off your interest rate depending on the lender you go with.

Rate Check Option

Many of the top student loan refinancing companies on this list make it possible to check your interest rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. This is a huge benefit since knowing your rate can help you figure out if refinancing is even worth it before you take the time to fill out a full loan application.

Flexible Repayment Plan

Also make sure any lender you go with offers some flexibility in your repayment plan and your monthly payment. You’ll want to make sure refinancing aligns with your long-term financial goals and your monthly budget, and it’s crucial to choose a new loan with a monthly payment you can live with.

Most lenders in this space offer repayment timelines of up to 20 years, which means you could spread your payments over several decades to get a monthly payment that makes sense with your income. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll pay more interest over the life of your loan when you take a long time to pay it off, so you may want to consider prioritizing a faster payment plan.

The Bottom Line

Student loan refinancing may not sound like a lot of fun. However, taking the time to consider all your loan options could easily save you thousands of dollars. This is especially true if you have a lot of debt at a high interest rate. By consolidating all your student loans into a new one with a lower APR, you could make loan repayment easier with a single payment and save a ton of money that would otherwise go to straight to interest without helping you pay off your loans.

The first step of the loan process is the hardest, however, and that’s choosing a student loan refinancing company that you trust. The lenders on this list are highly rated, but they also offer some of the best loan products on the market today.

  • Work with College Ave, our top pick, to refinance your student loan.

Start your search here and you’re bound to wind up with a student loan you can live with. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of the loans that are available and how much you might save if you decide to refinance later on.

The post The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

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How to Save for Retirement in Your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s

You probably don’t need us to tell you that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the better. But let’s face it: For a lot of people, the problem isn’t that they don’t understand how compounding works. They start saving late because their paychecks will only stretch so far.

Whether you’re in your 20s or your golden years are fast-approaching, saving and investing whatever you can will help make your retirement more comfortable. We’ll discuss how to save for retirement during each decade, along with the hurdles you may face at different stages of life.

How Much Should You Save for Retirement?

A good rule of thumb is to save between 10% and 20% of pre-tax income for retirement. But the truth is, the actual amount you need to save for retirement depends on a lot of factors, including:

  • Your age. If you get a late start, you’ll need to save more.
  • Whether your employer matches contributions. The 10% to 20% guideline includes your employer’s match. So if your employer matches your contributions dollar-for-dollar, you may be able to get away with less.
  • How aggressively you invest. Taking more risk usually leads to larger returns, but your losses will be steeper if the stock market tanks.
  • How long you plan to spend in retirement. It’s impossible to predict how long you’ll be able to work or how long you’ll live. But if you plan to retire early or people in your family often live into their mid-90s, you’ll want to save more.

How to Save for Retirement at Every Age

Now that you’re ready to start saving, here’s a decade-by-decade breakdown of savings strategies and how to make your retirement a priority.

Saving for Retirement in Your 20s

A dollar invested in your 20s is worth more than a dollar invested in your 30s or 40s. The problem: When you’re living on an entry-level salary, you just don’t have that many dollars to invest, particularly if you have student loan debt.

Prioritize Your 401(k) Match

If your company offers a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) plan or any retirement account with matching contributions, contribute enough to get the full match — unless of course you wouldn’t be able to pay bills as a result. The stock market delivers annual returns of about 8% on average. But if your employer gives you a 50% match, you’re getting a 50% return on your contribution before your money is even invested. That’s free money no investor would ever pass up.

Pay off High-Interest Debt

After getting that employer match, focus on tackling any high-interest debt. Those 8% average annual stock market returns pale in comparison to the average 16% interest rate for people who have credit card debt. In a typical year, you’d expect a  $100 investment could earn you $8. Put that $100 toward your balance? You’re guaranteed to save $16.

Take More Risks

Look, we’re not telling you to throw your money into risky investments like bitcoin or the penny stock your cousin won’t shut up about. But when you start investing, you’ll probably answer some questions to assess your risk tolerance. Take on as much risk as you can mentally handle, which means you’ll invest mostly in stocks with a small percentage in bonds. Don’t worry too much about a stock market crash. Missing out on growth is a bigger concern right now.

Build Your Emergency Fund

Building an emergency fund that could cover your expenses for three to six months is a great way to safeguard your retirement savings. That way you won’t need to tap your growing nest egg in a cash crunch. This isn’t money you should have invested, though. Keep it in a high-yield savings account, a money market account or a certificate of deposit (CD).

Tame Lifestyle Inflation

We want you to enjoy those much-deserved raises ahead of you — but keep lifestyle inflation in check. Don’t spend every dollar each time your paycheck gets higher. Commit to investing a certain percentage of each raise and then use the rest as you please.

Saving for Retirement in Your 30s

If you’re just starting to save in your 30s, the picture isn’t too dire. You still have about three decades left until retirement, but it’s essential not to delay any further. Saving may be a challenge now, though, if you’ve added kids and homeownership to the mix.

Invest in an IRA

Opening a Roth IRA is a great way to supplement your savings if you’ve only been investing in your 401(k) thus far. A Roth IRA is a solid bet because you’ll get tax-free money in retirement.

In both 2020 and 2021, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over 50. The deadline to contribute isn’t until tax day for any given year, so you can still make 2020 contributions until April 15, 2021. If you earn too much to fund a Roth IRA, or you want the tax break now (even though it means paying taxes in retirement), you can contribute to a traditional IRA.

Your investment options with a 401(k) are limited. But with an IRA, you can invest in whatever stocks, bonds, mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) you choose.

Pro Tip

If you or your spouse isn’t working but you can afford to save for retirement, consider a spousal IRA. It’s a regular IRA, but the working spouse funds it for the non-earning spouse. 

Avoid Mixing Retirement Money With Other Savings

You’re allowed to take a 401(k) loan for a home purchase. The Roth IRA rules give you the flexibility to use your investment money for a first-time home purchase or college tuition. You’re also allowed to withdraw your contributions whenever you want. Wait, though. That doesn’t mean you should.

The obvious drawback is that you’re taking money out of the market before it’s had time to compound. But there’s another downside. It’s hard to figure out if you’re on track for your retirement goals when your Roth IRA is doing double duty as a college savings account or down payment fund.

Start a 529 Plan While Your Kids Are Young

Saving for your own future takes higher priority than saving for your kids’ college. But if your retirement funds are in shipshape, opening a 529 plan to save for your children’s education is a smart move. Not only will you keep the money separate from your nest egg, but by planning for their education early, you’ll avoid having to tap your savings for their needs later on.

Keep Investing When the Stock Market Crashes

The stock market has a major meltdown like the March 2020 COVID-19 crash about once a decade. But when a crash happens in your 30s, it’s often the first time you have enough invested to see your net worth take a hit. Don’t let panic take over. No cashing out. Commit to dollar-cost averaging and keep investing as usual, even when you’re terrified.

Saving for Retirement in Your 40s

If you’re in your 40s and started saving early, you may have a healthy nest egg by now. But if you’re behind on your retirement goals, now is the time to ramp things up. You still have plenty of time to save, but you’ve missed out on those early years of compounding.

Continue Taking Enough Risk

You may feel like you can afford less investment risk in your 40s, but you still realistically have another two decades left until retirement. Your money still has — and needs — plenty of time to grow. Stay invested mostly in stocks, even if it’s more unnerving than ever when you see the stock market tank.

Put Your Retirement Above Your Kids’ College Fund

You can only afford to pay for your kids’ college if you’re on track for retirement. Talk to your kids early on about what you can afford, as well their options for avoiding massive student loan debt, including attending a cheaper school, getting financial aid, and working while going to school. Your options for funding your retirement are much more limited.

Keep Your Mortgage

Mortgage rates are historically low — well below 3% as of December 2020. Your potential returns are much higher for investing, so you’re better off putting extra money into your retirement accounts. If you haven’t already done so, consider refinancing your mortgage to get the lowest rate.

Invest Even More

Now is the time to invest even more if you can afford to. Keep getting that full employer 401(k) match. Beyond that, try to max out your IRA contributions. If you have extra money to invest on top of that, consider allocating more to your 401(k). Or you could invest in a taxable brokerage account if you want more flexibility on how to invest.

Meet With a Financial Adviser

You’re about halfway through your working years when you’re in your 40s. Now is a good time to meet with a financial adviser. If you can’t afford one, a financial counselor is typically less expensive. They’ll focus on fundamentals like budgeting and paying off debt, rather than giving investment advice.

A woman waves her hands in the air as she overlooks a mountainous view in Alaska.

Saving for Retirement in Your 50s

By your 50s, those retirement years that once seemed like they were an eternity away are getting closer. Maybe that’s an exciting prospect — or perhaps it fills you with dread. Whether you want to keep working forever or retirement can’t come soon enough, now is the perfect time to start setting goals for when you want to retire and what you want your retirement to look like.

Review Your Asset Allocation

In your 50s, you may want to start shifting more into safe assets, like bonds or CDs. Your money has less time to recover from a stock market crash. Be careful, though. You still want to be invested in stocks so you can earn returns that will keep your money growing. With interest rates likely to stay low through 2023, bonds and CDs probably won’t earn enough to keep pace with inflation.

Take Advantage of Catch-up Contributions

If you’re behind on retirement savings, give your funds a boost using catch-up contributions. In 2020 and 2021, you can contribute:

  • $1,000 extra to a Roth or traditional IRA (or split the money between the two) once you’re 50
  • $6,500 extra to your 401(k) once you’re 50
  • $1,000 extra to a health savings account (HSA) once you’re 55.

Work More if You’re Behind

Your window for catching up on retirement savings is getting smaller now. So if you’re behind, consider your options for earning extra money to put into your nest egg. You could take on a side hustle, take on freelance work or work overtime if that’s a possibility to bring in extra cash. Even if you intend to work for another decade or two, many people are forced to retire earlier than they planned. It’s essential that you earn as much as possible while you can.

Pay off Your Remaining Debt

Since your 50s is often when you start shifting away from high-growth mode and into safer investments, now is a good time to use extra money to pay off lower-interest debt, including your mortgage. Retirement will be much more relaxing if you can enjoy it debt-free.

FROM THE RETIREMENT FORUM
Military pension & SS
1/5/21 @ 2:55 PM
D
Re-locating
1/5/21 @ 2:53 PM
Trish Young
TSP and mortgage
12/23/20 @ 2:41 PM
J
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Saving for Retirement in Your 60s

Hooray, you’ve made it! Hopefully your retirement goals are looking attainable by now after working for decades to get here. But you still have some big decisions to make. Someone in their 60s in 2021 could easily spend another two to three decades in retirement. Your challenge now is to make that hard-earned money last as long as possible.

Make a Retirement Budget

Start planning your retirement budget at least a couple years before you actually retire. Financial planners generally recommend replacing about 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income. Common income sources for seniors include:

  • Social Security benefits. Monthly benefits replace about 40% of pre-retirement income for the average senior.
  • Retirement account withdrawals. Money you take out from your retirement accounts, like your 401(k) and IRA.
  • Defined-benefit pensions. These are increasingly rare in the private sector, but still somewhat common for those retiring from a career in public service.
  • Annuities. Though controversial in the personal finance world, an annuity could make sense if you’re worried about outliving your savings.
  • Other investment income. Some seniors supplement their retirement and Social Security income with earnings from real estate investments or dividend stocks, for example.
  • Part-time work. A part-time job can help you delay dipping into your retirement savings account, giving your money more time to grow.

You can plan on some expenses going away. You won’t be paying payroll taxes or making retirement contributions, for example, and maybe your mortgage will be paid off. But you generally don’t want to plan for any budget cuts that are too drastic.

Even though some of your expenses will decrease, health care costs eat up a large chunk of senior income, even once you’re eligible for Medicare coverage — and they usually increase much faster than inflation.

Develop Your Social Security Strategy

You can take your Social Security benefits as early as 62 or as late as age 70. But the earlier you take benefits, the lower your monthly benefits will be. If your retirement funds are lacking, delaying as long as you can is usually the best solution. Taking your benefit at 70 vs. 62 will result in monthly checks that are about 76% higher. However, if you have significant health problems, taking benefits earlier may pay off.

Pro Tip

Use Social Security’s Retirement Estimator to estimate what your monthly benefit will be.

Figure Out How Much You Can Afford to Withdraw

Once you’ve made your retirement budget and estimated how much Social Security you’ll receive, you can estimate how much you’ll be able to safely withdraw from your retirement accounts. A common retirement planning guideline is the 4% rule: You withdraw no more than 4% of your retirement savings in the first year, then adjust the amount for inflation.

If you have a Roth IRA, you can let that money grow as long as you want and then enjoy it tax-free. But you’ll have to take required minimum distributions, or RMDs, beginning at age 72 if you have a 401(k) or a traditional IRA. These are mandatory distributions based on your life expectancy. The penalties for not taking them are stiff: You’ll owe the IRS 50% of the amount you were supposed to withdraw.

Keep Investing While You’re Working

Avoid taking money out of your retirement accounts while you’re still working. Once you’re over age 59 ½, you won’t pay an early withdrawal penalty, but you want to avoid touching your retirement funds for as long as possible.

Instead, continue to invest in your retirement plans as long as you’re still earning money. But do so cautiously. Keep money out of the stock market if you’ll need it in the next five years or so, since your money doesn’t have much time to recover from a stock market crash in your 60s.

A Final Thought: Make Your Retirement About You

Whether you’re still working or you’re already enjoying your golden years, this part is essential: You need to prioritize you. That means your retirement savings goals need to come before bailing out family members, or paying for college for your children and grandchildren. After all, no one else is going to come to the rescue if you get to retirement with no savings.

If you’re like most people, you’ll work for decades to get to retirement. The earlier you start planning for it, the more stress-free it will be.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

9 Financial Strategies for Padding Your Bank Account in Case 2021 Goes Sideways

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So, you thought 2020 was bad? Just wait!

OK, we’re kidding. Obviously, 2021 should turn out way better than 2020 did, right?

There’s no way it could be worse, right?

Right?

Welllllllll… we hate to sound like pessimists, but if there’s one thing life has taught us, it’s that things can always get worse.

Maybe COVID’s sequel shows up. Maybe the economy crashes again. Maybe our weird politics get even weirder. Maybe aliens land in Times Square.

Just in case, we’ve got some proactive moves you should make to protect your bank account in case things go south. Before the next crisis gets going, let’s get started with the protective measures:

1. Save Up An Emergency Fund

This past year has taught us the hard way that everyone should have an emergency fund. You need a place where you can safely stash your savings away — but still earn money on it.

Under your mattress or in a safe will get you nothing. And a typical savings account won’t do you much better. (Ahem, 0.06% is nothing these days.)

But a debit card called Aspiration lets you earn up to 5% cash back and up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account.

Not too shabby!

Enter your email address here to get a free Aspiration Spend and Save account. After you confirm your email, securely link your bank account so they can start helping you get extra cash. Your money is FDIC insured and they use a military-grade encryption which is nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

2. Stop Overpaying for Stuff

Your bank account will be in better shape in 2021 if you stop overpaying for things. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice if you got an alert any time you’re shopping on Walmart and are about to get ripped off?

That’s exactly what a free service called Capital One Shopping does. (No need to be a Capital One customer to use it!)

Capital One Shopping’s free alerts can be added to your browser. Before you check out, it’ll check other websites, including Amazon, Target, eBay and others to see if your item is available for cheaper. It will also show you coupon codes, set up price-drop alerts and even let you see the item’s price history.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new TV. You’re ready to check out, and you assume you’re getting the best price. Here’s when Capital One Shopping will pop up and let you know if you’re about to overpay. It will even automatically apply any known coupon codes to your order.

So far, Capital One Shopping has saved users more than $70 million.

You can get started with Capital One Shopping in just a few minutes to see if you’re overpaying online.

3. Get Paid Every Time You Buy Toilet Paper

Grocery shopping was never exactly pleasant. But these days, it’s a downright struggle. Fighting crowds; keeping six feet of space — just buying toilet paper is a feat. Shouldn’t you have something to show for it?

A free app called Fetch Rewards will reward you with gift cards just for buying toilet paper and more than 250 other items at the grocery store.

Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased an item from one of the brands listed in Fetch. For your efforts, you’ll earn gift cards to places like Amazon or Walmart.

You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards. Over a million people already have, so they must be onto something…

4. Knock $540/Year From Your Car Insurance in Minutes

Car insurance is another thing you shouldn’t overpay for in 2021. When’s the last time you checked car insurance prices?

You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called Insure.com makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

Using Insure.com, people have saved an average of $540 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

5. Stop Paying Your Credit Card Company

If things go south financially, the last thing you want to be saddled with is credit card debt. And the truth is, your credit card company doesn’t really care. It’s just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

6. Cut Your Food Budget by Planning Ahead

Even if you’re gainfully employed and not in imminent danger of being evicted, you’re probably struggling with bills like most of us are. Groceries are a huge part of everyone’s budget these days, so they’re a big target for savings.

Try preparing for the week ahead with some meal planning. This goes beyond just making a shopping list. Real meal planning helps you save money because it helps you use what you buy, preventing food and money waste. It also prevents you from spending extra cash on emergency lunches or late-night takeout.

First, figure out how many meals you’re responsible for making every week. If it’s just you, your answer might be 21: seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners. If you have a family, count meals per person — a dinner for three people counts as three dinners, even if you all eat the same thing.

Now figure out how much food you’ll need to buy to make it until your next grocery trip. If you buy the same items repeatedly, you know which ones to stock up on when they go on sale. Stocking up on sale items also helps you freeze meals for the future. If there’s a way to buy in bulk and prep the foods you eat the most often, do it!

7. Add $225 to Your Wallet Just for Watching the News

It’s been a historic time for news, and we’re all constantly refreshing for the latest updates. You probably know more than one news-junkie who fancies themselves an expert in respiratory illness or a political mastermind.

And research companies want to pay you to keep watching. You could add up to $225 a month to your pocket by signing up for a free account with InboxDollars. They’ll present you with short news clips to choose from every day, then ask you a few questions about them.

You just have to answer honestly, and InboxDollars will continue to pay you every month. This might sound too good to be true, but it’s already paid its users more than $56 million.

It takes about one minute to sign up, and start getting paid to watch the news.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s got his game face on and is ready for 2021, come hell or high water.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com