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December 30, 2013

10 easy-to-do steps to lower economic stress in 2014

(Continued)

If your job offers a 401(k) (or a 403(b) for nonprofits), max it out. And if your firm does not, ask why. Get it to take advantage of this huge tax savings.

You should also max out your IRA — $5,500 per year for those under 50, and $6,500 for those over 50.

5. Refinance your debt. The Fed has announced the beginning of the end of quantitative easement, and the end of ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) is coming. In plain English, this means rates should "normalize" sooner rather than later. That means higher — and, in some cases, appreciably higher — credit costs.

Start with your home. Lock in a low rate, refinancing in a fixed (not variable) mortgage. If you can afford to make the higher payments, go for the 15-year note vs. the standard 30-year note, and your rates will be even lower.

You should also carry as little credit card debt as possible; you might negotiate a lower rate with your bank just by asking. Usually the threat of transferring the balance to a zero-rate "teaser" card gets the job done.

6. Review your insurance. Whatever you carry, you probably bought it years ago, and it could be outdated. Review what you have: homeowners, life, even auto may be insufficient relative to your present financial situation.

If your house has appreciated, you may need to update your homeowner's insurance. Look into adding a separate rider for valuables such as jewelry or art. Is your auto insurance sufficient to protect all your assets in the event of a tragic accident? Last, consider a general liability umbrella policy to ensure that your assets are protected in case of a litigation.

7. Save for college. Set up a 529 plan. College, like raising the kids you plan on sending, is not cheap: Open up an account, fund it — and get a deduction off state taxes, which is never a bad thing. And pay for college expenses with tax-free funds.

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