3 Best Ways to Save for College

Save for CollegeWhat if you could save enough for your child to go to college debt-free? It might sound impossible, but with dedication, hard work, and careful planning, you can do just that. According to Dave Ramsey, American personal finance advisor, here are the top three tax-favored plans to get started.

The Education Savings Account (ESA)

Otherwise known as the Education IRA, this plan allows you to save $2,000 (after tax) per year, per child. Let’s do that math. If you begin saving when your child is born and put away $2,000 a year until they’re 18, you’ll be investing $36,000. Not too shabby. And the good news is that qualified distributions are tax-free, which means you won’t have to pay anything when you withdraw the funds to pay for college. The other upside is, depending on the rate of growth, you’ll earn more than you would in a regular savings account. However, there are some caveats. You can’t contribute if you make more than $110,000 (single) or $220,000 (married filing jointly); the contribution cap is $2,000 a year; and the money must be used by the time your child is 30.

The 529 Plan

If you want to save more for your child’s education or you don’t qualify for the income limits of the ESA, then this might be a better fit because you can contribute up to $300,000, depending on what state you live in. Ramsey recommends you look for a 529 Plan that allows you to choose your investment funds. Also, he says most of the time there aren’t any income restrictions based on your child’s age; however, there are some limits, so choose wisely. This plan also grows tax-free. One thing to note: restrictions may apply if you want to transfer your funds to another child.

The UTMA or UGMA (Uniform Transfer/Gift to Minors Act)

One of the best things about these plans is they’re not just designed to save for education. For example, if your kiddo wants to take a gap year, this can cover living expenses. The account is set up in your child’s name but it’s controlled by a custodian (usually a parent or grandparent). The custodian manages the account until the child is 21 (18 for the UGMA). One of the pluses of this plan is that since the account is owned by the child, the earnings are usually taxed at the child’s rate, which is generally lower than that of the parents. For some people, the savings can be significant. However, there are two important things to know: (1) once your child is of legal age, she can use the funds however she likes (a trip to Europe, a sports car…or college?) and, (2) the beneficiary can’t be changed after selected.

While setting up a college fund is a smart goal, it’s not the only one. Prior to starting down these paths, Ramsey recommends that you consider paying off your mortgage, credit cards, and your own student loans. He also suggests setting up an emergency fund of three to six months and allocating 15 percent of your salary to retirement through a 401(k) and/or a Roth IRA. For more help, he recommends both parents and children read “Debt-Free Degree.” This book walks you through how to go to college without student loans.

Saving for an education might feel completely overwhelming, but if you start early enough, do your homework and create a solid plan, it’s absolutely possible.

Sources

https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/saving-for-college-is-easier-than-you-think

https://www.troweprice.com/personal-investing/accounts/general-investing/ugma-utma.html#:~:text=Because%20money%20placed%20in%20an,this%20savings%20can%20be%20significant.&text=Up%20to%20%241%2C050%20in%20earnings%20tax%2Dfree.&text=Any%20earnings%20over%20%242%2C100%20are%20taxed%20at%20the%20parent’s%20rate

5 Cities Rank as Ideal Locations for Remote Workers

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, in late spring of 2020 about half of American workers were working from home. Not surprisingly, many researchers believe that this pattern will continue after the pandemic is over. With this in mind, SmartAsset has examined the best cities to work from home in 2021 and evaluated them across seven metrics: percentage of those who worked at home; estimated percentage of those who can work at home; five-year change of percentage of those who worked at home; October 2020 unemployment rate; poverty rate; housing costs as a percentage of earnings; and percentage of residences with two or more bedrooms. Here’s what they learned:

  1. Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2019, Census Bureau data shows that about 18 percent of people worked from home, a 6.7 percent increase from 2014. This sunny city also has the fourth-highest estimated percentage of workforce who can work from home and the third-lowest 2019 poverty rate, which is 6 percent. When you’re not inside at your computer, you can enjoy the desert tranquility of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, restaurants and shops of Old Town Scottsdale, and the largest model train display in North America at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
  2. Raleigh, North Carolina. Even before COVID-19, a large percentage of people worked from home here, much like Scottsdale. In 2019, 10.5 percent of the workforce did so remotely, which is the fourth-highest for this metric. Raleigh also ranks in the top quartile for two other metrics: it has the 18th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate (5.3 percent) and 21st-lowest poverty rate (10.9 percent). Raleigh is known as the “city of oaks,” which makes it a beautiful place to live. Even better, you can celebrate all four seasons and it’s only a few hours from the mountains. Plus, homes are some of the most affordable in the nation.
  3. Plano, Texas. Just north of Dallas, Plano ranks in the top 10 percent for three metrics: percentage of people who worked from home in 2019 (9.6 percent), estimated percentage of people who are able to work from home (35.44 percent) and 2019 poverty rate (7.5 percent). Also, Plano has the 14th-lowest October 2020 unemployment rate, at 5.2 percent. Best thing about Plano: it has all the restaurants, shops and amenities of Dallas without the traffic. And, there are numerous parks for walking, hiking, biking and swimming.
  4. Gilbert, Arizona. This locale ranks as one of the best places to buy an affordable home. In fact, data from the Census Bureau shows that 96.3 percent of apartments and homes in Gilbert have two or more bedrooms, which is the highest percentage for this metric. Additionally, it has a relatively low poverty rate (4.6 percent). Main attractions include bird watching at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, holiday shows at the Hale Centre Theatre, and delicious produce at the Gilbert Farmer’s Market.
  5. St. Petersburg, Florida. As of October 2020, the greater Pinellas County unemployment rate was just 5.2 percent. That’s 1.5 percentage points below the national average. What’s more, the percentage of people working from home grew by 4.6 percent in St. Petersburg from 2014 to 2019, the third-highest increase in the study. If you love sugar-sand beaches, you’re in luck: there are many to fall in love with. But you can also enjoy cultural outings like a visit to the Dali Museum and the Chihuly Collection.

Some of the other best cities for working remotely include Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Fremont, California. These days, working from home is the rule, rather than the exception it was years ago. In these challenging, uncertain times, it’s nice to know there are places you can thrive.

Sources

https://smartasset.com/checking-account/best-cities-to-work-from-home-2021

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g31350-Activities-Scottsdale_Arizona.html

https://www.raleighrealtyhomes.com/blog/moving-to-raleigh.html

How to Budget During a Pandemic

Right now with everything that’s going on, navigating your finances might feel overwhelming. However, there are some strategies that will help you manage cash shortfalls. Mariel Beasley of Duke University’s Common Cents Lab offers ways to help you manage during these trying times.

Use Mental Accounting

Translated, this means prioritizing what’s most important and cutting back in those areas that aren’t. While pretty obvious, the finer point according to Beasley is this approach will help you stick to your spending plan by reminding you of your opportunity costs — i.e. what trade-offs you might be making with each purchase. For instance, you might not be able to buy that special something you’ve had your eye on, but you will be able to buy food. Here are the three buckets she recommends for your budget:

  1. Your Bills: Non-negotiable monthly bills like rent, mortgage, utilities, child care, car payment, insurance, phone, and internet.
  2. Weekly Expenses: These costs might vary, but they include groceries, gas, food delivery, and other miscellaneous expenses.
  3. Future Expenses: What’s leftover after you pay your bills and current expenses? Even if you think you don’t have much left, set aside this cash for an emergency fund or retirement savings in high-yield saving accounts like the American Express® High Yield, or Marcus account by Goldman Sachs. Alliant Credit Union even offers a 0.55 percent interest rate on savings accounts. By comparison, the national savings average is 0.05 percent APY. Make sure your money works as hard as it can.

Try Per-Spend vs. Per Month

Instead of budgeting $200 for groceries for the whole month, decide how many times you’ll go to the supermarket during the month (five times), then stick to a per trip budget ($40). You might not spend as much as you think you will. (Tip: Buy store brands, as they’re cheaper and just as good.) Whether you work a job that pays you regularly, you’re on unemployment or you’re living on Social Security, Beasley says that this will help you stretch your money longer between paychecks.

Think Ahead

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Instead of waiting until you’re at a crisis point, act now to protect yourself. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Identify Local Food Pantries. Feeding America is a nationwide network that helps you locate a food bank near you. Organizations such as churches and charities are also pitching in, offering everything from food donations to job search assistance. Government programs such as SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid are options, as well as HEAP (heating your home), should you need something like this.
  2. Have a Plan for Your Rent/Mortgage. If you’re concerned about eviction, understand your rights as a tenant, and most importantly, stay in communication with your landlord. One solution is to get a roommate to share expenses. If you’re running behind on your mortgage, seek out help from your mortgage broker. One way to generate income is to rent out an extra room in your home. If you have family or friends who can help, reach out to them. While the latter might feel like a last resort, you could consider bartering: provide a service to them they might usually pay for like car washes, dog walking, or house cleaning in exchange for the financial help.
  3. Talk to Your Creditors. Contact your creditors to see if you can get a reduced interest rate on any of your payments. You also might ask for discounts and deferment options. Many card issuers are offering financial hardship assistance (waived late fees, flexibility with payments, even skipped payments) during the coronavirus pandemic.

The key to all this is slowing down and focusing on the basics – getting through each week and each day. While the pandemic might feel like it will never end, it will: it’s inevitable. Until then, these tactics can help you take control and stay afloat.

Sources

https://www.cnbc.com/select/how-to-budget-during-coronavirus/

https://www.nerdwallet.com/best/banking/high-yield-online-savings-accounts

Coronavirus: Credit Card Issuers Offer Financial Assistance (cnbc.com)

Deciding if a Roth IRA Conversion is For You

Roth IRAs can be a powerful tax tool, but they are often misunderstood and misused. Investment income in Roth IRAs compound tax-free and most distributions are tax-free as well. Another benefit is that there are no required minimum distributions (RMDs) throughout the original owner’s life. Long-term Roth distributions are tax-free to the beneficiaries who inherit the IRA as long as they fully distribute the Roth within 10 years of inheriting.

As the annual contribution limits are rather small, most Roth IRA contributions are made by converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The downside to conversion is that you’ll have to pay tax on the gross amount converted. Considering this can require a substantial cash outlay and that all the Roth IRA benefits are backloaded, deciding to make a conversion can be a difficult call.

Most people aren’t sure it will pay off in the long term and don’t like the idea of paying taxes now instead of in the future. Consequently, too often people try to make a conversion decision through intuition instead of objectively considering the important factors.

It’s best to use a spreadsheet to do an analysis or work with a tax advisor because you will need to consider many factors, including assumptions about tax rates, investment returns, how long you’ll own the accounts, how much you will convert, etc.

Generally, a conversion becomes more advantageous if tax rates increase and this impact is compounded by higher investment returns. Finally, remember that you can leave the Roth to your heirs who can take distributions tax-free.

Roth IRA conversions are not the right option for everyone, but where it’s appropriate the benefits can be substantial.

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout: Where We Are So Far

While the pandemic is not over, we do have some good news. There are vaccines and they will be available soon. Here’s where we are in terms of an overall plan and where states are with distributing the vaccines.

Operation Warp Speed

The current administration has already purchased hundreds of millions of doses of several vaccine candidates. Two of them are from Moderna and Pfizer and they’ve shown significant efficacy in Phase 3 clinical trials. The incoming Biden administration will take on distribution and has established a COVID-19 Task Force. A limited number of doses may become available as early as December.

The Interim Playbook

This document from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the roadmap for state, territorial, tribal, and local public health programs and their partners. It focuses on how to plan and operationalize a vaccine response to the pandemic within their jurisdictions. It’s quite comprehensive and is a good reference for the coming months.

Phased Approach

In the Interim Playbook, the CDC has given states a set of planning assumptions by which they can develop their distribution plans and explains how the vaccine will likely be administered in phases.

  • Phase 1 – there is an initial limited supply of vaccine doses that will be prioritized for certain groups. The distribution will be more tightly controlled and a limited number of providers will be administering the vaccine.
  • Phase 2 – supply would increase and access will be expanded to include a broader set of the population, with more providers involved.
  • Phase 3 – there would likely be sufficient supply to meet demand and distribution would be integrated into routine vaccination programs.

Common Themes and Concerns from State Plans

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a non-profit organization focusing on national health issues, sought to collect plans from all 50 states and DC. As of Nov. 13, they’ve reviewed 47 of these plans and have singled out key areas contained within each plan.

  • Identifying priority populations for vaccination. Each state will determine who will be first in line, initially; however, every plan highlights the following categories as being the priority during Phase 1: healthcare workers, essential workers, and those at high risk (older people and those with pre-disposing health risk factors). A majority of states (25 of 47, or 53 percent) have at least one mention of incorporating racial and/or ethnic minorities or health equity considerations in their targeting of priority populations. 
  • Identifying the network of providers in their state will be responsible for administering vaccines. Even though states are at different points in the process, providers will likely include hospitals and doctors’ offices, pharmacies, health departments, federally qualified health centers, and other clinics that play a role in administering vaccines today. Given the need to quickly vaccinate most residents, additional partners will be needed, such as long-term care facilities, and will (potentially) set up public locations like schools and community centers for mass vaccinations.
  • Developing the data collection and reporting systems needed to track the vaccine distribution progress. Many states are relying on (and often expanding) existing state-level immunization registries, while other states are developing new systems or using those provided by the federal government. To sum it up, each state is at a different stage in this process.
  • Laying out a communications strategy for the period before and during vaccination. The CDC has asked states to design plans that anticipate and respond to different populations and include the need to address misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. Not surprisingly, some of these states’ plans are detailed while some are not.

All of these things are high-level summations of what is planned so far. For a more detailed explanation, check out the Interim Playbook from the CDC. The COVID-19 situation is ever-changing, but the most important takeaway is that steps are being put in place to help protect us all. Stay safe.

Sources

States Are Getting Ready to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines. What Do Their Plans Tell Us So Far?

https://www.newsweek.com/fauci-optimistic-about-covid-19-vaccine-says-high-risk-could-get-it-december-1546384

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imz-managers/downloads/COVID-19-Vaccination-Program-Interim_Playbook.pdf