Personal Finance Tips to Follow When You Get Your First Job

Personal Finance Tips

Congratulations! You have landed your first job. It is an exciting time full of new experiences and challenges. Even as you are going about your responsibilities in the new job, you are probably looking forward to your first paycheck and have already begun a list of things you want to buy.

This is the right time to exercise some caution and have a concrete financial plan in place which is vital in a rising cost and tax environment because of new policy. Developing sound financial habits from your first job will stand you in good stead as you grow your career. Here are a few tips on how to manage your money right from the first paycheck.

Write down your financial goals

It’s critical to write them down as that will bring you greater clarity. Make a note of both short and long term goals. It is all right if your goals change at some point or when you have met one of your short term goals. You are doing this to help you plan your budget and to know how much to save and how much to spend.

Make a budget

You know what your income is and you know your priorities. Some expenses are unavoidable. Set aside a portion of your income to meet those expenses. With the leftover money, you can exercise a greater level of control and where it goes. Remember, you have a goal. Put aside another portion of your income towards that goal.

Keep track of your accounts

You may want to do it once a month or bi-weekly. It will keep you on track with your spending without running short at the end of the month. Keeping your checking accounts balanced will also ensure that there have been no unauthorized debiting of funds. 

Start saving

It is never too early to start saving. Set up a retirement fund from your first job. If you are only able to set aside a small portion of your income towards a 401K offered by your employer or any other available retirement funds, it is still alright. Ideally, you should plan to invest 15% of your income to this fund but you may want to consider investing more with higher energy prices and other costs that are rising in this new environment. 

Shop wisely

If you must shop, shop wisely. Make a list of things you need and stick to the list instead of getting tempted into impulsive buying. It will help if you make a separate list of things you want to buy and mull over the items for a day or two. You may realize that you can do without some of them, or at least prioritize your shopping list between the things you need and the things you want. 

Find the best deals

Scouring the various deals online would give you an opportunity to compare prices and choose the best deal. This is a smart habit to cultivate. There are plenty of deals on every item in the market from clothes to household articles. You will save quite a bit of money by doing your research before shopping. 

Irregular expenses

If you have a desire to travel, you may choose to set up a holiday fund and start adding to it with each paycheck. You will enjoy the trip more when you know that you are not dipping into your funds set aside for necessities and other savings.  

Incidental expenses

It is always best to be prepared for the odd incidental expenses that may come up. It could be as small as your phone bills or tips to porters. Or, it could be the odd repair work that needs attention. Keeping such expenses in mind will ensure that you do not sway from your original budget.

Watch your credit report

You do not want to be caught unawares when you are building your credit history. It is essential that you keep an eye on the credit report regularly as it will help ensure that you are not slipping to a lower rating because of some oversight in settling your bills. 

Monitor your progress

Every couple of months, you could study your accounts and compare the expenses incurred. It will give you a better idea as to your spending and saving. You can also plan for an improved lifestyle as you grow in your career and your income increases. 

The bottom line

Armed with these tips, you can feel secure and in control of your finances. No one can have a better idea of your needs and wants. Stay focused on growing your wealth as your income grows while you progress in your career. 

9 Worthwhile Ways to Spend Your Money

Spend Your Money

It can be tempting to spend all your money on a fancy new something or a big night out. However, there are several smarter ways of spending the cash you have. You may want to consider the fact that the way you spend your money may affect the level of your happiness. You may think that buying that large screen TV or a bigger car is a worthwhile purchase, but it may not provide you the most smiles for your buck.

These are a few worthwhile ways of spending your money.

1. Pay off Your Debt

The best way to spend your money is often the easiest and something that will help you in the long run. You should pay off your student loans, credit card debt, and other bills which may have increased during the Covid-19 or Wuhan virus pandemic. Debt repayment often offers the best return on money. You need to know that the typical credit card may have a 15% interest in a year. This may not seem like the most exciting way of spending your money, but you would appreciate this in the long run. It is a win-win situation to not think about paying more interest while reducing your debt.

2. Spending on Hobbies

Passive forms of entertainment will only get you so far. You may want to relax in front of the TV (Bosch, 24, Ray Donovan) sometimes, but you shouldn’t be habitual of it. Try spending more on yourself and in developing hobbies. You can always buy board games, tools, or a musical instrument to get the creative juices flowing.

3. Spending on People You Love

Money can buy a lot of happiness as long as you know the people you want to spend it on. Satisfying relationships, happiness and gifts are strongly correlated. It can be expensive maintaining relationships with family and friends. For instance, if your family doesn’t live close to you, you could seriously drain your savings visiting them which is not good when energy and food prices are increasing because of current policy. Being invited to an offbeat wedding is another way of losing a lot of money.

4. Spend on Job Training or Education

You are the greatest asset you can invest on. Job training and education are often essential for getting the job you want. This may also help in seeking promotions at your current work. You may find this obvious, but if you are satisfied with your job, you would anyway tend to be happier.

5. Purchase Sporting Goods

Exercise and happiness go hand in hand with one another. It is scientifically proven that exercise releases endorphins and other chemicals in the brain that makes you feel good. Additionally, being physically fit is just going to make you feel better on top of regular prayer.

6. Taking a Vacation

Everybody requires a decent holiday at least once a year. This is to ensure that you break the monotony. However, you should know that holidays can get expensive really quickly. Your financial goals may get messed up if you don’t plan for the vacation. However, holidays are one of the best ways to spend your money on.

7. Eating Healthy

Healthier food is definitely more expensive than regular food. But, this is an expense that makes sense. You would feel better when you eat healthier making the additional payment worthwhile. Health is something you would miss only when you are not longer fit. It is better to be proactive and take care of yourself.

8. Saving for an Emergencies

Another way you can make use of extra cash is by creating an emergency fund. Life doesn’t always work out the way you hoped it would. By creating an emergency fund, you can have access to quick cash whenever you need it. The minimum amount you should put in your emergency fund should be at least $1,000. The average person needs this kind of money if they are without work.

9. House Remodeling

Investing in your home will bring you the same happiness that investing in yourself would. A house is one of the largest financial assets that a person may own. You could use any money you have saved up to beautify the outside of your home. You could also add energy efficient features to your house. Improving your home is a sound investment and will increase the quality of your life. This can improve your financial future by boosting the resale value of your house and perhaps even make a friend or relative a little envious along the way! Nothing wrong with that!

4 Budgeting Tips You Need to Follow

Budgeting tips for beginners

Do you hate budgeting because you think it robs you of your freedom to spend your money?

Well, you are not alone. But this does not mean that you’re right.

By creating a spending plan for each month, you can actually ensure that you’ll always have enough money to spend on things you want. It is the best way to stay out of debt or pay off what’s due on you.    

Here are some practical budgeting tips to help you get started:

1. Start from Zero

If you want to stay on top of your personal finances, creating a zero-based budget is the way to go. This means you should get a big fat zero when you subtract your expenses from your income. Simply put, you must assign each dollar to something before the month even starts.

Start by calculating your monthly expenses and subtract the amount from your income. If you get a negative value, bring your costs down. You can start a side hustle or sell some items if you need extra money. In case you have a few dollars left, they can go into savings.

2. Set Your Priorities Straight!

No month is the same as the last, which means you will have to figure out a spending plan for each month. Some months you’ll be spending more on home and car maintenance and other routine expenses, and other months, you may be saving for special occasions or vacations.

When you set priorities for a month, giving and saving should always come first. Then come food, shelter, utilities, clothing, and transportation. Once these categories are sorted, move on to others.   

3. Pay Your Debt

One of the most important budgeting tips is to set aside your debt amount first. Pay off what’s due as fast as you can so that you can have complete control over your money.   

4. Create a Plan and Stick to It

To eliminate stress from the equation, pick specific dates for your expenses. Follow the plan religiously and track your progress. If you’re afraid of overspending, try the envelope technique and use cash for each category.

Budgeting doesn’t mean you can’t spend as you will. With these budgeting tips, get ready to manage your money in a smarter, more efficient manner!  

Annuity vs. Mutual Fund: Which Makes More Sense For Retirees?

Annuity vs. Mutual Fund

Two of the most prevalent investment options for retirees are mutual funds and annuities. Like all financial and investment products, investing in either of these options comes with a set of benefits and drawbacks.

Let us discuss in detail and try to find out which one of these two investment options makes sense for you if you are about to retire.

What is an Annuity?

In an annuity, you can invest an amount of money, as a lump-sum payment or in parts, as a part of a contract between you and your insurance company. In return, you can choose to receive guaranteed proceeds either for a fixed tenure or for as long as you live. Whether the payments start immediately or after a fixed period, depends on the terms and conditions of the annuity you invest in.

Based on the likely rate of return, annuities broadly fall into two types of categories, namely, fixed annuities and variable annuities.

Fixed Annuity

A fixed annuity, true to its name, provides an assured return for the tenure of the contract. The insurance company guarantees reimbursement in advance, regardless of the market performance.

Variable Annuity

The variable annuity payouts are neither fixed nor assured. They may increase or decrease based on the market performance.

A key advantage of annuities is that investors defer taxes on interest, dividend, or capital gains for the duration of time their money is in the annuity. The taxation, at withdrawal, is only on the capital gains and not on the amount contributed towards the annuity. Also, as their name suggests, the annuities can be annuitized. You can make a guaranteed income stream for a fixed period.

Annuities are basically insurance products and not investment securities and hence the insurance companies provide the guarantees to back them. However, you should keep in mind that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates only the variable annuities and not the fixed ones.

Annuities are a useful means to defer taxes on investments and generate assured regular income in retirement which is even more vital in a rising cost and energy environment because of new policies.

What Is a Mutual Fund?

In a mutual fund, investment companies collect money from investors and invest it on their behalf. The money goes into a mix of investment securities and money market instruments to maximize returns.

You can set up and use a 401(k) account, a brokerage account, or an individual retirement account (IRA) to invest in mutual funds. Investment specialists and money managers run mutual fund portfolios and are responsible to generate the maximum possible returns for their investors consistently.

There are several types of mutual funds, each based on its investment strategy and the nature of securities that it invests in:

  • Equity Funds invest entirely in stocks
  • Index Funds imitate the investment mix of a market index, and their performance is directly linked to that of the index
  • Exchange-Traded Funds trade on stock exchanges
  • Money Market Funds invest in debt instruments
  • Fixed Income Funds invest in bonds
  • Balanced Funds invest in both stocks and bonds
  • Sector Funds invest in a particular sector
  • Global Funds invest in overseas markets

Annuity or Mutual Fund: Factors to Consider Before Investing

Here is a comparison that may help you choose between the two types of investments:

Safety

If you do not foresee having a steady income post-retirement, a fixed annuity may be the best option for you. In a fixed annuity, the insurance company guarantees to pay you a particular amount until the end of your contract period. Variable annuities do not guarantee a specific amount, but some may have a minimum rate of return guaranteed by the insurance provider.

With mutual funds, there is no guaranteed income. The rate of returns on the money you invest varies a great deal depending on the market performance.

Expenses

Annuities have some of the highest associated expenses among the investment products.

Mutual funds, especially index funds, are very low on expenses.

Tax-Deferral

Tax on any income from annuities is deferred until the time of withdrawal. On withdrawal, only the capital gains are taxable.

In mutual funds, you are liable to pay taxes on dividends and capital gains. However, if you invest through an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k) account, you are liable to pay tax only at the time of withdrawal.

Return on Investments

Mutual funds may offer variable returns based on market performance, while annuities offer assured returns. On the other hand, there are many charges and fees associated with the annuities, which, when deducted from your gains, tend to make the returns on investment much lower. 

Liquidity

With mutual funds there is no lock-in period, making it easier for you to sell and exit anytime you wish. 

With annuities, however, there can be a lock-in period, as long as 10 years sometimes. Any early withdrawal can attract high surrender charges which hurts even more in a slow growth or no growth economy.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for absolute safety, annuities are the best option for you. But if you do not mind some added risk with the potential to earn higher returns, you should invest in mutual funds.

Financial Planning And Strategies For Your Elderly Parents

Financial Planning

The 65-and-older population has seen rapid growth since 2010, as baby boomers born in the two decades after the second world war begin to gray. Based on the US Census Bureau reports, the country had more than 54 million residents aged 65 years and older as of July 1st, 2019.

The day may not be far when your aging parents are unable to take care of their own financial duties. Your parents might go through a deterioration of their cognitive abilities as well as a risk of falling prey to scammers looking to swindle them out of their hard-earned savings.

The financial responsibilities of your elderly parents need careful planning on your part.

Here we discuss some of the steps you can take to manage your parents’ finances.

Start the Conversation with Your Parents

Your parents may not need your help right now, but that should not stop you from starting a dialogue. As per the National Institute on Aging guidelines, you will need your parents’ written consent in advance to discuss their personal financial and medical matters with financial representatives, doctors, and Medicare executives.

Starting a conversation now will give a better idea of the degree of involvement expected from you, over time. Moreover, privacy laws may inhibit such conversations later.

Make Gradual Changes

They might need your help, but maybe hesitant to ask for it. The onus will be on you to be sensitive and work with them in a manner that takes care of their needs without making them uncomfortable.

Be wary of rushing in to take charge of your parents’ finances. Instead, extend your support only when needed at first, and then increase it gradually, so that it gives them time to be comfortable with the new arrangements.

Compile all the Important Documents

Take inventory of your parent’s account numbers, contacts, and legal documents. Prepare a list of insurance policies, certificates, deeds, and wills; and make sure that everything is up to date, and valid. While compiling this data, ensure the safety of all sensitive information and the security of the storage location.

Execute a Power of Attorney

A capable adult can sign a power of attorney to assign powers to another person to exercise choices and act on their behalf. A power of attorney can have a limited or broad scope, utility, or duration, and cover general, medical, or financial decisions.

A power of attorney on behalf of your parents provides you the legal authority to make the necessary decisions when your parents are not able to do so. An attorney conversant with elder law can help you to draft a power of attorney document according to your needs. These are the three documents you might need, to begin with:

A Durable Power of Attorney

This document appoints someone your parents can trust to look after their financial responsibilities should they be no longer capable to do so themselves.

A Health Care Proxy

Your parents can assign powers to a trusted individual to make medical decisions when they are incapable to do so.

A Will 

This legal document includes your parents’ wishes related to the division of their assets once they pass.

Executing these documents can be emotionally taxing, but you will need legal documentation if there is a sudden deterioration of your parent’s health, making them incapacitated to carry out these tasks.

Separate Your Finances

Avoid mixing your parents’ finances with your own, even if it seems convenient at the time. It is important to keep your funds and assets separate and not put your own financial and retirement goals in jeopardy while helping your parents.

Keep Your Loved Ones Informed

It’s vital to communicate with the other members of the family, especially siblings, yours as well as your parents’. This can reduce any chances of misunderstanding apart from the fact that relatives can extend their support in managing some of the responsibilities. 

Additional Practical Suggestions

  • Try to curtail your parents’ vulnerability to fraudsters by placing their phone number on the Do Not Call registry
  • Ensure the safety and security of all legal and financial documents
  • Keep copies of all financial transactions handled by you on your parents’ behalf
  • Make a budget and open a savings account
  • Consult an investment advisor for the assessment of your parents’ investments
  • Seek advice on when your parents should start withdrawals from their social security payments

5 Things That Differentiate Billionaires From Others

Billionaires

Billionaires are different from the rest of us – clearly in terms of their enormous wealth. Now the big question is this – how did they achieve exceptional financial success? Are they exceptional because they are born that way, or did they consciously develop some habits and best practices that made them so wealthy?

Her are 5 extraordinary traits that are common across billionaires, contributing directly to their incredible success. And the best part, these traits can be consciously developed in any one of us! Let’s take a look.

1. They are unafraid of the grind

Now we all love to work smart. But if you look in, there’s a subtle resistance to working hard, constantly and continuously, in order to achieve our desires. Billionaires are successful because they have crossed this hurdle.

Take the case of Bill Gates, perhaps the most famous billionaire – even despite some hiccups in the last few years. But what you cannot ignore, is the sheer amount of work put in by Mr. Gates himself to create his billion-dollar company.

  • Working after office hours? Always!
  • 60-hour weeks? Huh, this is child’s play, 90-hours is more like it!
  • Working every weekend including all holidays? Absolutely! That’s the American spirit. Take care of yourself – pay your own way! Can I work from home when I am not at work? For sure!

In fact, his own team has shared how they struggle to keep pace with his hours, despite putting in 80+ hours every week at work!

Then there’s General Electric, which still deserves respect after some NBC hiccups many years ago. GE’s own CEO Jeffery Immelt has always lead from the front, as he slogged through 100-hour weeks for 24 straight years. Think about it, many of us don’t even last 40-hour weeks for 24 years!

2. They embrace renunciation

Don’t let this word scare you away. Renunciation is not about giving up on your family or your personal wellbeing. But can you renounce the need for frequent vacations, like Mark Cuban of Dallas Mavericks did, as he stubbornly chose to work through every vacation for 7 supremely productive years? This is also true of many a young Billionaire who’s doggedly worked through his/ her entire 20’s.

If you aren’t ready to take this plunge yet, you can still make significant progress with tiny steps. Defer settling down with your favorite bestseller book and choose to work instead. Give up a few hours of TV every week, so you can spend this time amplifying your productivity. Spend less time partying in the 20’s, so you can sit rich and pretty in the 30’s.

Like that old adage goes, “A little pain can go a long way in creating tremendous long-term gain”. True that!

3. The buck stops with them, especially during failure

In order to be successful, it is key that we learn to be successful at failure. Yes failure, that terrifying possibility that most of us deny. Ironically, billionaires welcome this possibility, proactively planning for it, so they know how to gracefully address it.

We try to work forwards, towards our goal. So, we end up getting frustrated and disheartened when we’re surprised with failure.

Billionaires work backwards, from their ultimate goal, including the possibility of failure, so they feel less confronted when they inevitably have to deal with it. Here, financial investor Charlie Munger offers a brilliant suggestion. If we understand all the possible ways we could fail, we could create a fool-proof plain to avoid them. Nice!

4. They don’t give up, ever

Here’s a secret that billionaires know: failure isn’t as devastating when you decide not to give up. They decide, again and again, to keep going. So, should everybody who desires wealth and financial success.

A classic illustration of this is the extremely resourceful Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and present owner of Tesla who’s expanding his empire into Texas after having some issues with California’s polices. Furthermore, he did not become a billionaire or a household name by accident, and faced many a hurdle in his journey to success.

For instance, when his team failed in their 2008 attempt to launch their first rocket, obviously costing him millions of dollars, he did not get overwhelmed or blame anyone else. He hit the grindstone, inspired his team with the promise of additional funds required to try again, and ultimately made it successful.

Having a resilient leader who can inspire even during failure is a boon to any company. Billionaires consciously seek to become that worthy.

5. They pick their battles

This may be shocking, but billionaires cannot afford to engage in pointless ego-driven battles. They consciously pick their battles, and for this, they are unafraid to respond with an “NO” – to pleasant yet time-consuming habits, to every-day distractions, to self-victimization, to blaming others. They are unapologetic in their quest for success, and thus undoubtedly blessed with it.

Some people want to bash billionaires but that right to pursue success helps elevate so many other people. The countries with the most billionaires seem to have the highest quality of life.

In closing, remember these words of soccer legend Pele: “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, LOVE of what you are doing or learning to do”. Touché!

Checklist For a Perfect Year-End Financial Planning

Financial Planning

An unprecedented year with far-reaching economic consequences is coming to an end. It has had an impact on everyone’s personal finances in one way or another, and you need to reassess goals and firm up your year-end financial strategy more than ever before. Here are some useful tips and a checklist to assist you with that.

Managing Income and Investments

  • To offset capital gains, it is prudent to sell losing investment positions near the end of the year. But it may be sensible to wait this year, with the prospect of higher taxes in 2021.
  • Short-term losses are best at offsetting capital gains. Wait a minimum of 31 days before buying back a holding sold for a loss to avoid the IRS wash sale rule.
  • It may also make sense to accumulate and declare income in 2020 and defer declaring expenses into 2021, with the prospect of higher taxes in 2021.
  • Appraise if you need to defer buying mutual fund shares until 2021 to avert capital gains on brand new investments.
  • Bunch your itemized medical expenses within the same year so as to meet the required maximum percentage of your adjusted gross income in order to claim deductions.
  • In December, make your January mortgage payment (i.e., the payment due no later than January 15th) so you can claim deduction of the interest on your 2020 income tax return.
  • If possible, make sure that you maximize contributions to 401Ks, IRAs (not due until April 15th), SEPs (due April 15th or extension deadline), Simple IRAs (April 15th deadline), or other qualified accounts.

Retirement Planning

  • A Roth IRA allows for assets to grow tax-free and also for distribution to be taken that aren’t subject to taxation (certain restrictions apply). At times, when either your income or the value of your account is lower, are especially good for converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.
  • Roll over unspecified 401(k) accounts from a previous employer.
  • 2020 was an RMD (Required Minimum Distribution) holiday. You can re-contribute any RMDs taken in this calendar year and save on taxes if you plough it back.

Charitable Gifting Strategy

  • A DAF (Donor Advised Fund) is a low-cost, effective strategy that provides the opportunity for annual charitable gifting and allows the donor to take a full tax deduction in a single year. For tax filers who file an itemized return, the normal maximum deduction for a cash charitable donation is limited to 60% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), yet the CARES Act allows for a deduction of up to 100% of AGI in 2020.
  • You can still do Qualified Charitable Contributions (QCDs) from IRAs if you’re over age 70½, up to $100,000.
  • Money already in the DAF can be used to make gifts, in case there are cash flow constraints this year due to issues related to the pandemic. You can also use your IRA to make QCDs.

Estate Planning

  • Beneficiary designations on IRAs and 401k accounts supersede your will, so confirm to review and update appropriately but we know that surviving this Wuhan virus situation is paramount as well.
  • The annual gift tax exclusion is $15,000 for 2020. Those with large estates might want to revisit their estate planning tax strategy keeping in mind that the higher than normal exclusion for estate, gift, and generation-skipping taxes is set to expire in 2026, or possibly earlier.

Review the Basics

  • April is the tax deadline to make an HSA (Health Savings Account) contribution, which is strongly recommended, given the account’s triple tax benefits.
  • Consume the Flexible Savings Account (FSA) remaining balances. If you don’t utilize the balance in the account by December 31st, you lose out on the chance to spend that money.
  • If you got a partial refund for tuition owing to an extended spring break, and if that money came from a 529 plan, you need to put it back in there or be prepared to pay penalties and tax on that non-qualified distribution.
  • Check with your CPA to see if you’re on track with your payroll withholding. If you didn’t withhold enough throughout the year from your paycheck, you’ll be subject to an underpayment penalty.

Lessons Learned from 2020

Save money to fund your emergency account and put aside more for the future. Invest in insurance to protect your and your family’s financial future. Ensure that you have medical and financial power of attorney in place. Finally, work on building alternative income streams even in a lower tax environment.

Six Strategies to Attain a Credit Score of 800+

credit score

Credit scores are used by landlords, employers, phone service providers, mortgage lenders, insurance companies, and everyone else in between to determine an individual’s financial status and creditworthiness. Credit scores are rated from 300 to 850. An average credit score is 687 in the US.

You would be seen as a high-risk consumer if your credit score is around 300 to 500. Low risk consumers are those with credit scores above 700. Loan applications tend to get approved quickly with 800+ credit scores. You could also qualify for a lower mortgage rate.

Achieving 800+ Credit Score

These strategies should help you achieve 800+ credit score and maintain it.

1. Always Pay Bills on Time

One of the most important factors determining your credit score is your payment history. Your score could be affected horribly if you are in the habit of making late payments. No bill amount is too small when it comes to improving your credit score.

You need to clear all bills, whether they are for magazine subscriptions, utility, or cable. It doesn’t matter whether the bill is a $10 subscription fee or a $1,000 mortgage payment you need to make sure you are never late on settling dues.

2. Focus on Creating a Long Credit History

Another important factor contributing to your overall credit score is the length of your credit history. Longer credit histories usually translate to higher credit scores.

People with a short credit history are viewed as high-risk. Most lenders are antsy dealing with people that don’t have a financial history to show. It is recommended that you keep your old accounts open for as long as you can and to use them as much as possible.

3. Never Max Out Credit Cards

Maxing out credit cards is a rookie mistake in credit score 101. This is especially true if you use the card to pay all your bills in full. There are two reasons why carrying over a large credit balance to the next month is a bad idea. Your credit score will be negatively affected which can be disastrous in the long run. Also, you may have to pay thousands in interest.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to always maintain your credit utilization ratio at 30% or less. This is a healthy figure which can be calculated by dividing the complete debt by available credit limit. Multiply it with 100 to achieve a percentage figure.

For instance, if your credit balance is $1,800 and your credit limit is set at $10,000, your credit utilization ratio is 18%. This is a healthy credit utilization ratio which should ideally be between 10% and 30% of the total credit limit. You should also make it a point to pay off all your bills every month in full without any leftover balance.

4. Don’t Keep Several Credit Cards

While it’s okay to keep two credit cards, you need to stop at five. Having several credit cards makes it difficult to keep track of your spending. You may inadvertently end up carrying a large balance rollover. Also, when you apply for several credit cards in a short span of time, it adversely impacts your credit score.

5. Practice Diversification

Accounts diversification can help in improving your credit rating to some extent. You should consider products, such as credit cards, retail accounts, student loans, auto loans, and mortgage. However, don’t take out unnecessary loans for the purpose of diversifying. The only time you should get a loan is if you need it and know that you can pay it back.

6. Avoid Adding to Your Liability Burden

Co-signing for other people and becoming liable for their debt is a bad idea. You are already liable for your own bills. Nobody needs the additional burden of liability. You become responsible as the co-signor to pay off the loan if the primary borrower manages to default.

Your credit score can be severely affected if you become a guarantor or a co-signor to someone’s loan and they are unable to repay it. This is especially true if the amount is large.

Importance of Protecting Your Credit Score

You need to understand that your credit rating is fluid and tends to change depending on the financial decisions you take. Until we adopt a better way in determining someone’s financial responsibility this is the system we are stuck with. Moreover, your payment history, spending habits, and numerous other factors account for your present credit score.

You should give serious consideration to hiring a credit score monitoring service to consistently maintain a credit score of 800+. The monitoring service can keep a check on your credit rating and notify you immediately when things begin to slip. This will give you enough time to take steps to get your score back on track.

There are risks to having a perfect credit score too. You are at a serious risk of identity theft. Identity protection service can help you secure your identity and send alerts in case of any suspicious activity.

Should You Invest Your Money or Save it?

Invest Your Money

It can be difficult to pick between investing your surplus income and saving it. This is true for people that have just started working on their finances and those that have been investing for years. Ultimately, you need to decide the best course of action that will help you attain your financial goals. This can be through saving tools, investing options, or a combination of both.

Saving vs. Investing

Saving is generally regarded the safer route since your deposits do not decrease unless you make a withdrawal. This cannot be said for investments that depend on market fluctuations. Your stock option may go up today only to decline tomorrow.

However, savings will not allow your money to grow as you would like. In some cases, the interest offered barely matches the inflation rate.

This means that money parked in savings options tend to lose purchasing power over a longer period of time. Investing is a great option when you want to beat inflation and receive higher returns. However, you should know that investments are subject to market risks and you may not always get the return you hoped for. Sometimes, investments end up being worthless after a market crash.

Pros and Cons of Savings

There are several advantages of parking your money in a savings tool, such as savings accounts, savings bonds, certificates of deposits, or money market accounts. The biggest advantage is that there is no immediate risk to your dollar amount in the savings option.

Your money won’t reduce as long as you don’t make a withdrawal. You can reach your goals in time with minimal risk. You can also plan your finances better since you know exactly the kind of money you need to save each month to hit the goal.

However, that doesn’t mean that savings is not without its drawbacks. For instance, your money may not increase in value at par with the inflation rate. Basically, the amount of money you have parked in your savings option may lose value each year even if the dollar amount is not reduced.

Another downside to this is a decrease in purchasing power which may be possible in 2021 if there are more tax cuts but this is another topic. You need to set aside a higher percentage of your income each month than what you would need to if you got higher returns by investing.

Pros and Cons of Investing

Investing is an excellent option if you want to save money and see it grow. However, you need to be ready to bear the risks of market fluctuations. The potential of interest in investing is far greater than savings. Whether you invest in traditional stock options or use smart options, like investing apps and robo-advisors, you could stand to receive higher returns.

Another benefit of investing is that returns generally compound. This means that your investment earnings are put to work earning more money for you. You may enjoy better purchasing power since you won’t have to set aside nearly as much as you would need to do in the case of savings.

However, investing is not always the right option. You could find yourself in a financial bind if the investment rates bottom out right before you need the money. You may need to put off your plans for a better market day in such a scenario.

Follow Your Goals

It can be difficult deciding whether to invest or save. You should start by determining your goals before you decide. Goals are usually short term or long term and require being planned for differently.

1. Save for short term goals

You should not hesitate to open a savings account or purchase a CD if you want money by a certain date. There is zero risk of your money amount decreasing in this option.

2. Investing works in the long term

Investments tend to grow better and offer higher returns. You should consider investing if you don’t need the money by a specific date and are flexible in your approach. You should choose this option only if can afford to delay your monetary need by a few years in case the market takes a downward turn.

3. Comprehensive approach

You can follow a customized plan that combines investing with saving. You can divide any surplus cash you have each month in savings for short term goals and investments for the rest.

Six Strategies That Can Help You Emerge a Winner in a Bear Market

Bear Market

New or inexperienced retail investors often believe that a bull market means an opportunity to make money and a bear market is synonymous with losing money. Although the market’s trajectory can make your investment fluctuate in value, it does not necessarily mean that you cannot make profits during a bear market.

In fact, for the discerning investor, there can be excellent potential opportunities to invest during a bear market. Astute investment choices during a bear phase can bring enormous profits after the market rebounds.

This post discusses six useful strategies that you can employ during a bear market to make profits.

Maximize your Roth IRA and 401(k)

Consistently purchasing index funds through your Roth IRA and 401(k) can be a smart way to develop an investment portfolio with a high potential for profit. The stocks you purchase during a bear market would then get back up in value as the market recovers.

In the long run, maximizing your 401(k) contributions is highly profitable, especially if your contributions are matched in part or full by your employer. The money in your account can then be used to invest in a large variety of stocks and you can enjoy the rewards after the market climbs up.

Choose Dividend-Paying Stocks

Dividend-paying stocks can keep a steady income stream coming during recessionary economic conditions. This is one of many reasons why they can be a prudent investment choice during a bear market. While stock valuations of a company can be decided mostly by market buying and selling trends, the company profits usually determine the dividend payments.

Large businesses that are strong in their fundamentals are more likely to be immune to market conditions and will keep paying dividends to shareholders consistently. This means that your income stream is maintained even if a downturn causes the stock market values to plummet. The stock price increases after the market recovery, thereby also increasing the value of your portfolio.

Invest in Businesses that are Profitable and Reliable

When a recession or market downturn causes the stock valuations of highly profitable companies to go down due to high levels of selling, it can present a compelling investment opportunity for you.

Panic can cause many casual investors to quickly sell their stocks when a recession seems impending. The selling frenzy that results can drastically bring down the value of companies, including the financially stable ones with robust potential for growth. These stocks can then be purchased at very low prices and you can wait for the market to recover for your rewards.

So, how do you find the right stocks to purchase during a bear market? Here are some important factors you can look at:

  • Good financial ratings (rated A or above by independent agencies)
  • Good bond ratings (rated A, AA, and AAA)
  • Excellent sales figures
  • A strong growth outlook
  • Optimum debt-to-assets ratio

Choose Stocks that Historically Perform in Bear Markets

Bull and bear markets do not have the same kind of effect on all sectors of the economy. Quite a few sectors, including automobile, home improvement, machinery, and technology industries, tend to perform well in bull periods. However, some sectors show healthy performance during bear periods as well. These usually consist of industries that support basic human needs, including utilities, food and beverages, and pharmaceuticals.

Buy Top-Rated Bonds

Equity investments can go down in value during a recession or downturn. Bonds and bond funds present an investment that can be safer than equities and can provide guaranteed returns, allowing a means to offset your short-term losses. Municipal bonds, treasury bonds, and other corporate bonds rated AA or AAA can be stellar options. Exchange-traded funds that invest in these bonds and fixed-income investments of different kinds can also be viable options.

Purchase Stocks on Margin

Your brokerage firm can provide you a margin loan to purchase depreciated stocks. After the recovery, you can sell these stocks, pay the loan back, and still end up with a profit. Seasoned investors use this strategy frequently in bear markets.

However, it is important to exercise caution. If the stock value does not appreciate after recovery, you would have to take a loss and repay the loan out of pocket. Only stocks with a notable decline in value and a high chance of appreciation post-recovery should be considered.

Final Considerations

With these tips, short and long-term gains can be possible during a recession or downturn. Trying to “time the market” can be disastrous. Instead, invest regularly and treat market crashes as a unique investment opportunity if you have the financial capacity to ‘buy and hold’ for the long term.