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5 Financial Tips for Recent College Graduates

Robert Ingram Contributed by: Robert Ingram

financial tips for recent college graduates

Congratulations Class of 2019! This is an exciting time for recent college graduates as they begin the next phase in their lives. Some may take their first job or start along their career path, while others may continue their education. Taking this leap into the “real world” also means handling personal finances, a skill not taught often enough in school. Fortunately, by developing good financial habits early and avoiding costly mistakes, new graduates can make time an ally as they set up a solid financial future.

Here are five financial strategies to help get your post-college life on the right path:

1. Have a Spending Plan

The idea of budgeting may not sound like a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have to be a chore that keeps you from enjoying your hard-earned paycheck. Planning a monthly budget helps you control the money coming in and going out. It allows you to prioritize how you spend and save for goals like buying a home, setting up a future college fund for children, and funding your retirement.

Everyone’s budget may be a little different, but two spending categories often consume a large portion of income (especially for younger people early in their careers): housing costs and car expenses. For someone who owns a home, housing costs would include not only a mortgage payment, but also expenses like property taxes and insurance. Someone renting would have the rental cost and any rental insurance.

Consider these general guidelines:

  • A common rule of thumb is that your housing costs should not exceed about 30% of your gross income. In reality, this percentage could be a bit high if you have student loans, or if you want more discretionary income to save and for other spending. Housing costs closer to 20% is ideal.

  • A car payment and other consumer debt, like a credit card payment, can quickly eat into a monthly budget. While you may have unique spending and saving goals, a good guideline is to keep your total housing costs and consumer debt payments all within about 35% of your gross income.

2. Stash Some Cash for Emergencies

We all know that unexpected events may add unplanned expenses or changes to your budget. For example, an expensive car or home repair, a medical bill, or even a temporary loss of income can cause major financial setbacks.

Start setting aside a regular cash reserve or “rainy day” fund for emergencies or even future opportunities. Consider building up to six months’ worth of your most essential expenses. This may seem daunting at first, but make a plan to save this over time (even a few years). Set goals and milestones along the way, such as saving the first $1,000, then one months’ expenses, three months’ expenses, and so on, until you reach your ultimate goal.

3. Build Your Credit and Control Debt

Establishing a good credit history helps you qualify for mortgages and car loans at the favorable interest rates and gets you lower rates on insurance premiums, utilities, or small business loans. Paying your bills on time and limiting the amount of your outstanding debt will go a long way toward building your credit rating. What goes into your credit score? Click here.

  • If you have student loans, plan to pay them down right away. Automated reminders and systematic payments can help keep you organized. To learn how student loans affect your credit score, click here.

  • Use your credit card like a debit card, spending only what you could pay for in cash. Then each month, pay off the accumulated balance.

  • Some credit cards do have great rewards programs, but don’t be tempted to open too many accounts and start filling up those balances. You can easily get overextended and damage your credit.

4. Save Early for the Long Term

Saving for goals like retirement might not seem like a top priority, especially when that could be 30 or 40 years away. Maybe you think you’ll invest for retirement once you pay off your loans, save some cash, or deal with other, more immediate needs. Well, reconsider waiting to start.

In fact, time is your BIG advantage. As an example, let’s say you could put $200 per month in a retirement account, like an employer 401(k), starting at age 25. Assuming a 7% annual return, by age 60 (35 years of saving), you would have just over $360,000. Now, say you waited until age 35 to begin saving. To reach that same $360,000 with 25 years of saving, you would need to more than double your monthly contribution to $445. Starting with even a small amount of savings while tackling other goals can really pay off.

Does your employer offer a company match on your retirement plan? Even better! A typical matching program may offer something like 50 cents for each $1 that you contribute, up to a maximum percentage of your salary (e.g. 6%). So if you contribute up to that 6%, your employer would add an extra 3% of your salary to the plan. This is like getting an immediate 50% return on your contribution. The earlier you can contribute, the more time these matching funds have to compound. 

5. Get a Little More Educated (about money and finances)

Ok, don’t worry. Forming good financial habits doesn’t require an advanced degree or expertise in all money matters. To build your overall knowledge and confidence, spend a little time each week, even just an hour, on an area of your finances and learn about a different topic.

Start with a book or two on general personal finance topics. You can find reference books on specific topics, from mortgages and debt to investments and estate planning. Information offered through news media or internet searches also can provide resources. And you can even find a blog not too far away (Money Centered Blog).

Robert Ingram, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® With more than 15 years of industry experience, he is a trusted source for local media outlets and frequent contributor to The Center’s “Money Centered” blog.

New Year Financial To-Dos Help Keep You on Track

Kali Hassinger Contributed by: Kali Hassinger, CFP®

As we settle into 2019, the fresh calendar year provides an ideal opportunity to make plans and adjustments for your future. Instead of setting lofty resolutions without a game plan in mind, might I suggest that you consider our New Year Financial Checklist? Completing this list of actionable, attainable goals will help you avoid the disappointment of forgotten resolutions in February, and you’ll feel the satisfaction of actually accomplishing something really important!

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New Year Financial Checklist

  • Measure your progress by reviewing your net worth as compared to one year ago. Even when markets are down, it's important to evaluate your net worth annually. Did your savings still move you forward? If you're slightly down from last year, was spending a factor? There is no better way to evaluate than by taking a look at the numbers!

  • Speaking of spending and numbers, review your cash flow! How much came in last year and how much went out? Ideally, we want more income than spending.

  • Now, let's focus on the dreaded budget. Sure, budgeting can be a grind, so call it a “spending plan”. Do you have any significant expenses coming up this year? Make sure you're prepared and have enough saved.

  • Be sure you review and update beneficiaries on IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, life insurance, etc. You'd be surprised at how many people don't have beneficiaries listed on retirement accounts (or have forgotten to remove their ex-spouse)!

  • Revisit your portfolio's asset allocation. Make sure your investments and risk are still aligned with your stage in life, your goals, and your comfort level. I'm not at all suggesting that you make changes based on market headlines. Just be sure that the retirement or investment account you opened 20 years ago is still working for you.

  • Review your Social Security Statement. If you're not yet retired, you will need to go online to review your estimated benefit. Social Security is one of the most critical pieces of your retirement, so make sure your income record is accurate.

Of course, this list isn't exhaustive. The final step to ensure your financial wellbeing is a review with your advisor. Even if you don't work with a financial planner, at a minimum set aside time on your own, with your spouse or a trusted friend, to plan on improving your financial health. Do it even if you only get to the gym the first few weeks of January!

Kali Hassinger, CFP® is an Associate Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

IRS Announces Increases to Retirement Plan Contributions for 2019

Josh Bitel Contributed by: Josh Bitel

Several weeks ago, the IRS released updated figures for 2019 retirement account contribution and income limits. 

IRS Increases Retirement Plan Contributions for 2019

Employer Retirement Plans (401k, 403b, 457, and Thrift Savings Plans)

  • $19,000 annual contribution limit, up from $18,500 in 2018.

  • $6,000 “catch-up” contribution for those over age 50 remains the same for 2019.

  • An increase in the total amount that can be contributed to a defined contribution plan, including all contribution types (employee deferrals, employer matching and profit sharing), from $55,000 to $56,000, or $62,000 for those over age 50 with the $6,000 “catch-up” contribution.

In addition to increased contribution limits for employer-sponsored retirement plans, the IRS adjustments provide some other increases that can help savers in 2019. A couple of highlights include:

Traditional IRA and ROTH IRA Limits

  • $6,000 annual contribution limit, up from $5,500 in 2018 – the first raise since 2013!

  • $1,000 “catch-up” contribution for those over age 50 remains the same for 2019.

Social Security Increase Announced

As we enter 2019, keep these updated figures on the forefront when updating your financial game plan. As always, if you have any questions surrounding these changes, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team!

Josh Bitel is a Client Service Associate at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

Webinar in Review: Year-End Tax and Planning Strategies

Josh Bitel Contributed by: Josh Bitel

In November of 2017, the Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2018 passed with numerous changes to our tax code. This year we provided a refresher on some of those changes as well as some planning opportunities to think about as 2018 wraps up.

If you weren’t able to attend the webinar live, we encourage you to check out the recording below. 

Check out the time stamps below to listen to the topics you’re most interested in:

  • (04:20): New 2018 Marginal Tax Brackets

  • (06:30): Highlights of the 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) – comparing 2017 with 2018

  • (14:24): Planning charitable gifts under the new tax law

  • (19:15): Healthcare coverage overview – Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Medicare

  • (25:30): Roth IRA conversions as an attractive planning opportunity

  • (33:20): How to utilize your employer retirement plan most effectively

  • (36:30): How we help mitigate taxes & tax efficient investing

  • (41:30): Updates to gifting and intra-family gifting for 2018

Webinar in Review: The Big Four - Understanding Estate Documents

Tim Wyman Contributed by: Timothy Wyman, CFP®, JD

Missed the webinar? Don’t worry, there’s a recording!

See the below time stamps to listen to the topics you’re most interested in:

  • What is estate planning? (Minute 0:30)
  • Current Estate Tax Environment: (1:40)
  • Last Will & Testament: (5:20)
  • Revocable Living Trust (11:30)
  • Durable Power of Attorney- Finances/ Property (12:10)
  • Durable Power of Attorney- Healthcare (13:20)
  • Asset Titling & Beneficiary Designations (14:30)
  • Resources (15:50)

Timothy Wyman, CFP®, JD is the Managing Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® and is a contributor to national media and publications such as Forbes and The Wall Street Journal and has appeared on Good Morning America Weekend Edition and WDIV Channel 4. A leader in his profession, Tim served on the National Board of Directors for the 28,000 member Financial Planning Association™ (FPA®), mentored many CFP® practitioners and is a frequent speaker to organizations and businesses on various financial planning topics.