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Retirement

This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked

Social Security recipients who have lost a spouse may be eligible for a higher monthly payout if they switch to survivor’s benefits. But many recipients are unaware of this fact. That ignorance could cost them tens of thousands of dollars over the course of their retirement, according to an audit by the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. The audit found that of 100…

Source: moneytalksnews.com



What Are Mutual Funds? Understanding The Basics

If you’re one of those investors with very little time to research and invest in individual stocks, it might be a good idea to look into investing in mutual funds.

Whether your goal is to save money for retirement, or for a down payment to buy a house, mutual funds are low-cost and effective way to invest your money.

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What is a mutual fund?

A mutual fund is an investment vehicle in which investors, like you ad me, pool their money together. They use the money to invest in securities such as stocks and bonds. A professional manages the funds.

In addition, mutual funds are cost efficient. They offer diversification to your portfolio. They have low minimum investment requirements.

These factors make mutual funds among the best investment vehicles to use. If you’re a beginner investor, you should consider investing in mutual funds or index funds.

Investing in the stock market in general, can be intimidating. If you are just starting out and don’t feel confident in your investing knowledge, you may value the advice of a financial advisor.

Types of mutual funds

There are different types of mutual funds. They are stock funds, bond funds, and money market funds.

Which funds you choose depends on your risk tolerance. While mutual funds in general are less risky than investing in individual stocks, some funds are riskier than others.

However, you can choose a combination of these three types of funds to diversify your portfolio.

  • Stock funds: a stock fund is a fund that invests heavily in stocks. However, that does not mean stock funds do not have other securities, i.e., bonds. It’s just that the majority of the money invested is in stocks.
  • Bond funds: if you don’t want your portfolio to fluctuate in value as stocks do, then you should consider bond funds.
  • Money market funds: money market funds are funds that you invest in if you tend to tap into your investment in the short term.
  • Sector funds. As the name suggests, sector funds are funds that invests in one particular sector or industry. For example, a fund that invests only in the health care industry is a sector fund. These mutual funds lack diversification. Therefore, you should avoid them or use them in conjunction to another mutual fund.

Additional funds

  • Index funds. Index funds seek to track the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of 500 large U.S. company stocks or the CRSP US Small Cap Index. When you invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund, you’re essentially buying a piece of the 500 largest publicly traded US companies. Index funds don’t jump around. They stay invested in the market. 
  • Income funds: These funds focus invest primarily in corporate bonds. They also invest in some high-dividend stocks.
  • Balance funds: The portfolio of these funds have a mixed of stocks and bonds. Those funds enjoy capital growth and income dividend.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Protect Your Portfolio from the Volatile Stock Market

The advantages of mutual funds

Diversification. You’ve probably heard the popular saying “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Well, it applies to mutual funds. Mutual funds invest in stocks or bonds from dozens of companies in several industries.

Thus, your risk is spread. If a stock of a company is not doing well, a stock from another company can balance it out. While most funds are diversified, some are not.

For example, sector funds which invest in a specific industry such as real estate can be risky if that industry is not doing well.

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Professional Management.

Mutual funds are professionally managed. These fund managers are well educated and experienced. Their job is to analyze data, research companies and find the best investments for the fund.

Thus, investing in mutual funds can be a huge time saver for those who have very little time and those who lack expertise in the matter.

Cost Efficiency. The operating expenses and the cost that you pay to sell or buy a fund are cheaper than trading in individual securities on your own. For example, the best Vanguard mutual funds have operating expenses as low as 0.04%. So by keeping expenses low, these funds can help boost your returns.

Low or Reasonable Minimum Investment. The majority of mutual funds, Vanguard mutual funds, for example, have a reasonable minimum requirement. Some funds even have a minimum of $1,000 and provide a monthly investment plan where you can start with as little as $50 a month.

Related Article: 7 Secrets Smart Professionals Use to Choose Financial Advisors

The disadvantage of mutual funds.

While there are several benefits to investing in mutual funds, there are some disadvantages as well. 

Active Fund Management. Mutual funds are actively managed. That means fund mangers are always on the look out for the best securities to purchase. That also means they can easily make mistakes.

Cost/expenses. While cost and expenses of investing in individual stocks are significantly higher than mutual funds, cost of a mutual fund can nonetheless be significant.

High cost can have a negative effect on your investment return. These fees are deducted from your mutual fund’s balance every year. Other fees can apply as well. So always find a company with a low cost. 

How you make money with mutual funds.

You make money with mutual funds the same way you would with individual stocks: dividend, capital gain and appreciation.

Dividend: Dividends are cash distributions from a company to its shareholders. Some companies offer dividends; others do not. And those who do pay out dividends are not obligated to do so. And the amount of dividends can vary from year to year.

As a mutual fund investor, you may receive dividend income on a regular basis.

Mutual funds offer dividend reinvestment plans. This means that instead of receiving a cash payment, you can reinvest your dividend income into buying more shares in the fund.

Capital gain distribution: in addition to receiving dividend income from the fund, you make money with mutual funds when you make a profit by selling a stock. This is called “capital gain.”

Capital gain occurs when the fund manager sells stocks for more he bought them for. The resulting profits can be paid out to the fund’s shareholders. Just as dividend income, you have the choice to reinvest your gains in the fund.

Appreciation: If stocks in your fund have appreciated in value, the price per share of the fund will increase as well. So whether you hold your shares for a short term or long term, you stand to make a profit when the shares rise. 

Best mutual funds.

Now that you know mutual funds make excellent investments, finding the best mutual funds can be overwhelming. 

Vanguard mutual funds.

Vanguard mutual funds are the best out there, because they are relatively cheaper; they are of high quality; a professional manage them; and their operating expenses are relative low. 

Here is a list of the best Vanguard mutual funds that you should invest in:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Funds
  • Vanguard 500 Index (VFIAX)
  • Total International Stock index Fund
  • Vanguard Health Care Investor

Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund 

If you’re looking for a diversified mutual fund, this Vanguard mutual fund is for you. The Vanguard’s VTSAX provides exposure to the entire U.S. stock market which includes stocks from large, medium and small U.S companies.

The top companies include Microsoft, Apple, Amazon. In addition, the expenses are relatively (0.04%). It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000, making it one of the best vanguard stock funds out there.

Vanguard S&P 500 (VFIAX)

The Vanguard 500 Index fund may be appropriate for you if you prefer a mutual fund that focuses on U.S. equities. This fund tracks the performance of the S&P 500, which means it holds about 500 of the largest U.S. stocks.

The largest U.S. companies included in this fund are Facebook, Alphabet/Google, Apple, and Amazon. This index fund has an expense ration of 0.04% and a reasonable minimum initial investment of $3,000.

Vanguard Total International Stock Market

You should consider the Vanguard International Stock Market fund of you prefer a mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks.

This international stock fund exposes its shareholders to over 6,000 non-U.S. stocks from several countries in both developed markets and emerging markets. The minimum investment is also $3,000 with an expense ratio of 0.11%.

Vanguard Health Care Investor

Sector funds are not usually a good idea, because the lack diversification. Sector funds are funds that invest in a specific industry like real estate or health care. However, if you want a fund to complement your portfolio, the Vanguard Health Care Investor is a good choice.

This Vanguard mutual fund offers investors exposure to U.S. and foreign equities focusing in the health care industry. The expense ration is a little bit higher, 0.34%. However, the minimum initial investment is $3,000, making it one of the cheapest Vanguard mutual funds.

Bottom Line

Mutual funds are great options for beginner investors or investors who have little time to research and invest in individual stocks. When you buy into these low cost investments, you’re essentially buying shares from companies.

Your money are pooled together with those of other investors. If you intend to invest in low cost investment funds, you must know which ones are the best. When it comes to saving money on fees and getting a good return on your investment, Vanguard mutual funds are among the best funds out there.

They provide professional management, diversity, low cost, income and price appreciation.

What’s Next: 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard mutual funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
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The post What Are Mutual Funds? Understanding The Basics appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com



A Guide to Estate Planning for Second Marriages

Couple getting married for the second timeGetting married for a second time following a divorce or the death of your first spouse can feel like a fresh start. But it’s important to consider how joining your life with someone else’s may impact your financial plan, including how you manage your estate. What is fair in a second marriage and estate planning? It can be a difficult question to answer, especially when you or your new spouse are bringing children into the marriage or you plan to have children together at some point. Understanding some of the key financial issues surrounding a second marriage can help with reshaping your estate plan. So can consulting a financial advisor, especially one experienced in estate planning for second marriages.

Key Estate Planning Considerations for Second Marriages

Remarriage can bring up a number of important questions for estate planning. Both spouses should be aware of what the central issues are when updating individual estate plans or creating a new joint one.

Here are some of the most important questions to ask for estate planning in a second marriage:

  • What assets will be left to each of your children?
  • Do you plan to have additional children together and if so, what assets will be preserved for them?
  • Which assets will you each continue to hold individually?
  • Are there any assets that will be retitled in both of your names, such as a first home, vacation home or bank accounts?
  • Are either of you bringing any debts into the marriage or will you incur new debts after the marriage?
  • Do each of you have a will in place that needs to be updated?
  • Or will you establish a new joint will?
  • Besides a will, what other estate planning tools may be necessary, i.e. a trust, advance healthcare directive or power of attorney?
  • Will you continue working with your current financial advisors or choose a new advisor to help you manage your financial plan together?

Asking these kinds of questions can help you each get a sense of the other’s perspective on estate planning. Ideally, you should be having these types of discussions before the marriage takes place to minimize potential conflicts later. This can also help you decide if a prenuptial agreement may be necessary to protect your individual financial interests. But if you’ve already remarried, it may be a good idea to have this discussion sooner, rather than later.

At the same time, it can also help to complete an inventory of your assets and liabilities so you both know what you’re bringing into the marriage. This can help with managing the distribution side of your estate plan later as well as planning for how any debts may need to be handled should one of you pass away.

Estate Planning for Second Marriages With Children

Having kids can add a wrinkle to your estate planning efforts when you’re getting remarried. For example, you may wish to leave certain assets to your children while your new spouse may want your assets to be equally distributed among his or her children as well as yours. Or there may be questions over who would assume control over assets on behalf of minor children should one of you die.

When there are children in the picture, it’s important to consider any provisions you’ve already made for them in a will or trust and how that might affect any assets your spouse stands to inherit. You may need to update your will or set up a separate marital trust, for example, to ensure that your spouse receives the share of your assets you wish them to have while still preserving your children’s inheritance. Provisions may also need to be made for any children you plan to have if you’re still relatively young when a second marriage occurs.

It’s important to consider the age of your children when deciding what is fair in a second marriage and estate planning. If you have adult children, for example, it could make sense to gift some of their inheritance to them during your lifetime. But if you have minor children, you and your new spouse would need to decide who should be in charge of managing their inheritance on their behalf if one of you dies prematurely.

Check Beneficiary Designations

Estate planning documentsAssets that already have a named beneficiary may need to be updated if you’re remarrying. For example, if you named your previous spouse as beneficiary to your 401(k), individual retirement account or life insurance policy, you’d likely want to change the beneficiary to your new spouse or to a trust you’ve set up so that your former spouse can’t collect on those assets.

You should also consider other assets, such as bank accounts or real estate, should be titled. Adding your new spouse to your home as a joint tenant with right of survivorship may seem like the right move for keeping things simple in your estate plan. But doing so means that if something happens to you, your spouse will automatically assume full ownership of the home. They could then do with it as they wish, regardless of what you might have specified in a will or trust.

Look for Gaps in Your Estate Plan

When deciding what is fair in a second marriage and estate planning, consider where the gaps might exist that could leave your assets in jeopardy. Not having a will, for example, could be problematic if you pass away. Without a will, your state’s inheritance laws would be applied – not your wishes. That means your assets may not go to your children or other heirs as you’d like them to.

A trust can also be a useful tool in estate planning for passing on assets to your spouse or children as well as managing estate and inheritance taxes. If either of you are bringing considerable assets into a second marriage or you want to minimize the potential for conflicts over asset distribution later, setting up one or more trusts could be a good idea. Talking to an estate planning attorney can help you decide whether a trust is necessary and if so, which type of trust to set up.

Also, consider whether you have sufficient life insurance coverage to provide for the surviving spouse and any children associated with the marriage. Both spouses in a second marriage may need to have life insurance coverage, particularly if one person is the primary breadwinner while the other is the primary caregiver for children. Checking your existing life insurance policies and talking to your insurance agent can help you determine whether what you have is enough or if more coverage is necessary.

Finally, think about what you may need in terms of end-of-life planning. Long-term care insurance, for instance, can help pay for nursing home costs so that your spouse or either of your children aren’t left in the lurch financially. An advance healthcare directive and a power of attorney can ensure that your wishes are carried out in end-of-life situations where you’re unable to make financial or medical care decisions on your own behalf.

The Bottom Line

Wedding decorationsDeciding what’s fair in a second marriage and estate planning can be tricky and it’s important to get the conversation started early. Understanding what the biggest challenges of estate planning in a second marriage are can help you work together to shape a plan that you can both be satisfied with. And if you have adult children, it’s important to keep them in the loop so they understand how a second marriage may impact their inheritance.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about the implications of a second marriage and what it might mean for your portfolio. You and your spouse may choose to maintain your current advisors or find a new advisor to work with together. In either case, finding the right professional to work with doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can offer personalized recommendations for professional advisors in your local area, in just minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Trusts can be a useful estate planning tool for couples, including those who are getting married for a second time. A marital trust, for example, goes into effect when the first spouse dies. This can be helpful for passing assets on to a surviving spouse while minimizing estate taxes. You may want to create this type of trust, along with a second living trust set up specifically for your children, to manage assets more efficiently while also protecting them from creditors.

©iStock.com/Image Source, ©iStock.com/DNY59, ©iStock.com/cunfek

The post A Guide to Estate Planning for Second Marriages appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com



5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes

5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes

One of the lessons I’ve learned as I continue to work my way out of debt is that you need to treat yourself and celebrate your little successes along the way so you can avoid debt fatigue down the road. Celebrating small milestones, like getting another $1,000 knocked off your debt total, starting to put money aside for retirement or paying off a credit card balance, is important for both your sanity and your family’s sanity.

Find out now: How much money do I need to save for retirement?

I don’t have kids, but several of my personal finance blogger friends do, and they have talked about how kids don’t always understand how they can contribute to the family financial goals since they don’t earn any money. Plus, sometimes kids don’t understand why there is a sudden need to cut back on expenses they have come to know as normal- things like going out to eat or having a night out at the movies with friends. Allowing yourself and your family to celebrate your financial wins as you work your way out of debt will help them understand that while your family is now living on a different budget, it’s still okay to enjoy the present.

With that in mind, here are five frugal ways you can celebrate your financial successes, so you don’t erase all your progress!

1. Go out for Dessert

As a kid, whenever we’d go out for dessert after a home-cooked meal, it felt like a real fancy treat. Now I know that this was mom and dad’s way of having a celebration without spending a lot of money on paying for a whole meal.

2. Rent a Movie

5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes

This may not seem like a treat if you rent movies all the time, but if you are living on a very strict budget and don’t often rent movies, this could be a treat for you and your family. Make it the full experience – popcorn, candy, etc. Renting a movie and making popcorn at home is a fun way to celebrate, and it’s still a lot cheaper than going to the theater.

12 Affordable Ways to Have Fun on a Tight Budget

3. Hit a Matinee

Wait, didn’t I just say to avoid the theater to save money? Yes, but sometimes movie theaters offer cheaper matinee movies earlier in the day. Often showings before noon can be as little as half price. This is a more budget-friendly way to enjoy a new movie.

4. Buy a Book or Magazine

One of the first things that got cut from my budget when I started focusing on financial goals was my magazine subscription. Most of the time I don’t miss it as I have plenty of things to keep me busy, but sometimes it’s nice to somewhat mindlessly flip through a magazine in the evenings. Buying yourself a new book – maybe one of these investing books – or magazine is a fairly cheap way to entertain yourself and if it’s a rare occasion, it can serve as a reward too.

Frugal Summer Fun for Adults

5. Go on a Day Trip

5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes

If you aren’t traveling too far, the most expensive part of the trip is usually the overnight accommodations. By taking a day trip instead to the beach or somewhere else, you can get out of town and away from the norm without having to shell out for an expensive hotel room.

What other frugal ways can you think of to celebrate your debt successes?

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/andresr, Â©iStock.com/sdominick, Â©iStock.com/AleksandarNakic

The post 5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com



Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You.

Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You

It wasn’t until a few months after my husband and I got married that I decided to check both our credit scores. While my husband’s credit score wasn’t horrible, it certainly didn’t qualify as “excellent.” This got me thinking about how newlyweds’ financial histories can affect both spouses’ finances moving forward, and how critical it is to acknowledge this reality—ideally before getting hitched.

Why It’s Important to Have a Good Credit Score

Manisha Thakor cuts right to the chase in her book On My Own Two Feet: “Your credit score is essentially your financial reputation in numeric form.”

Aiming for an excellent credit score—generally defined as 750 or more—is a worthy goal, owing to the range of ways in which it can save you money. Credit scores are critical when applying for loans—for instance, car loans and mortgages. In addition, many employers consider prospective employees’ credit scores during the hiring process.

A high credit score means you can access lower interest rates when borrowing, because creditors will view you as reliable. The perceived risk that you’ll default on your loan is lower compared to those with poor credit scores. Lower interest rates, especially on large amounts borrowed over significant timeframes, can save you thousands and thousands of dollars!

A poor credit score can indirectly hurt your financial efforts as well; consider the fact that when you’re paying over the odds in debt repayments, you’re committing fewer dollars to saving and retirement planning.

photo credit: LendingMemo via photopin cc

Till Debt Do Us Part

Marriage makes you one combined financial unit.

However, that doesn’t mean your credit scores are merged; your credit history continues to be maintained on an individual basis. One spouse’s poor credit cannot directly damage the individual score of the other spouse.

That being said, if you apply for a loan as a married couple, creditors look at both your credit scores to determine your eligibility and terms. So, if one of you has the credit of an angel whereas the other’s credit history is limited or even littered with missed payments and liens, you may find your application is denied.

But, this is not just about loan applications—poor credit can belie more than just a few bad credit card habits. Other financial follies, like paying taxes late, not focusing on saving, and day-to-day overspending, could be lurking in the closet.

What Do You Do After You’ve Said I Do?

While bad credit isn’t good news, it’s not necessarily a reason not to get married. And, it’s not necessarily the precursor to divorce! It is, however, an alarm signaling that it is time to get clear on your joint financial situation and start communicating. Make sure you do this respectfully and compassionately to minimize blame and financial stress. (If you’re the type of person who’d like to know this information from prospective partners before things get serious, there are now dating sites catering just to you.)

Once you’ve identified that one of you has less-than-optimal credit, it’s time to take action. Here are four top tips for taking immediate action:

1. Check your credit report for mistakes: Errors are, unfortunately, pretty common and can be really detrimental. Check your report at least once per year.

2. Make payments on time: Yes, this is stating the obvious, but it needs to be said! Mary Beth Storjohann of Workable Wealth says, “35% of your credit score is based on how you pay your bills (making this the biggest determining factor for your score)! Are you often late of missing payments? The impact of just one 90-day late payment goes way beyond the three months you took to pay, so set up automatic bill payments.”

3. Lower your debt-to-credit ratio: This is how much debt you have as a proportion of your overall credit limits. 30% of your credit score is based on the amount of money you owe versus the amount of credit available to you. The higher the amount of credit you’re utilizing, the more negative the impact on your score. Keep the debt level as low as possible (30% of your limits, or less).

4. Pay down your debt faster: Make more than the minimum payments wherever possible by utilizing the snowball method or targeting the balance with the highest interest rate to pay down first.

photo credit: natloans via photopin cc

Alongside these tips, it’s super important to remember that improving your credit score won’t happen overnight. The length of time it takes for your score to improve is directly related to reasons for the drop. It can take anywhere from a few months to several years for your credit report to reflect the positive changes you’re making. As Mary Beth notes, “The most important thing is to be proactive in clearing up any issues.” In addition, two of the criteria factored into your score are the length of your overall credit history and the average age of your accounts.

So, don’t be discouraged—be patient and give it time.

And, Finally, Some Tips on What Not to Do!

There are always two sides to every coin so, while you’re following the tips above, make sure that you’re not unwittingly hurting your score and negating your good work.

Be mindful of the following ways that you could be hurting your credit score:

1. Opening too many new accounts: This comes back to the point that the average age of your accounts is a key factor. Opening lots of new accounts reduces that average.

2. Closing too many old accounts: Older accounts indicate that you have managed payments for a long time and increase the average age of your accounts. When you close credit card accounts, this also decreases the amount of credit available to you, which can reflect negatively if you have other accounts that are still carrying high balances (it essentially increases your debt to credit ratio).

3. Signing up for lots of retail incentive programs: Every time you apply for credit, the company issuing the credit will request information about you from the credit bureaus. Too many of these requests can reduce your score.

4. Over-utilizing your credit. Mary Beth advises, “If you’re depending on your credit cards to fund your daily expenses and lifestyle needs, but aren’t able to pay them off in full at the end of each month, something needs to change. Start tracking your spending and get a handle on your expenses.”

In summary, start taking positive steps, be aware of actions that can hurt your credit, and focus on building solid financial foundations for the future.

This post was written by Erika Torres of GoGirl Finance. GoGirl Finance is a fast-growing community of women seeking and providing financial wisdom across money management, lifestyle, family and career. For more finance tips, follow GoGirl Finance on Twitter @GoGirlFinance

The post Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You. appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com




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