Why There’s No Way to Avoid Paperwork When Refinancing

So you’re ready to refinance your mortgage loan to one with a lower interest rate. This could be a good move. Depending on your new interest rate, you could save a good bit of money each month in mortgage payments. … Continue reading →

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Got Cash? What to Do with Extra Money

I received a great email from Magen L., who says:

I no longer have any retirement savings because I cashed it all out to pay my debt. We also sold our home and moved into an apartment just as the pandemic was hitting. With the sale of our house, the fact that my husband is working overtime, and the stimulus money, we've saved nearly $10,000 and should have more by the end of the year. My primary question is, what should we do with it?

Right now, I have our extra money in a low-interest bank savings , and I'm considering moving it to a high-yield savings as our emergency fund. Is that a good idea? For additional money we save, I intend to use it as a down payment on a new house. However, should I be investing in Roth IRAs instead? What is the best option?

Another question comes from Bianca G., who says:

I have zero credit card debt, but I have a car loan and a student loan. I will be receiving a large amount of money sometime next year. If my fiancé and I want to buy a home, is it better to pay off my car first and then my student loan, or should I just pay down a big portion of my student loan?

Thanks Megan and Bianca for your questions. I'll answer them and give you a three-step plan to prioritize your extra money and make your finances more secure. No matter if you're a good saver or you get a cash windfall from a tax refund, an inheritance, or the sale of a home, extra money should never be squandered.

What to do with extra cash

Maybe you're like Magen and have extra cash that could be working harder for you, but you're not sure what to do with it. You may even be paralyzed and do nothing because you have a deep-seated fear of making a big mistake with your cash.

In some cases, having your money sit idle is precisely the right financial move. But it depends on whether or not you've accomplished three fundamental financial goals, which we'll cover.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life. Consider what you're doing right and where you're vulnerable.

Try using a three-pronged approach that I call the PIP plan, which stands for:

  1. Prepare for the unexpected
  2. Invest for the future
  3. Pay off high-interest debt

Let's examine each one to understand how to use the PIP (prepare, invest, and pay off) approach for your situation.

How to prepare for the unexpected

The first fundamental goal you should have is to prepare for the unexpected. As you know, life is full of surprises. Some of them bring happiness, but there's an infinite number of devastating events that could hurt you financially.

In an instant, you could get fired from your job, experience a natural disaster, get a severe illness, or lose a spouse. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we have to be as mentally, physically, and financially prepared as possible for what may be around the corner. 

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Getting equipped for the unexpected is an ongoing challenge. Your approach should change over time because it depends on your income, debt, number of dependents, and breadwinners in a family.

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets—such as an emergency fund and various types of insurance—can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Everyone should accumulate an emergency fund equal to at least three to six months' worth of their living expenses. For instance, if you spend $3,000 a month on essentials—such as housing, utilities, food, and debt payments—make a goal to keep at least $9,000 in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

While keeping that much in savings may sound boring, the goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth. The idea is to have immediate access to your cash when you need it. That's why I don't recommend investing your emergency money unless you have more than a six-month reserve.

The goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth.

If you don't have enough saved, aim to bridge the gap over a reasonable period. For instance, you could save one half of your target over two years or one third over three years. You can put your goal on autopilot by creating an automatic monthly transfer from your checking into your savings account.

Megan mentioned using high-yield savings, which can be a good option because it pays a bit more interest for large balances. However, the higher rate typically comes with limitations, such as applying only to a threshold balance, so be sure to understand the account terms.

Insurance protects your finances

Another critical aspect of preparing for the unexpected is having enough of the right kinds of insurance. Here are some policies you may need:

  • Auto insurance if you drive your own or someone else's vehicle
  • Homeowners insurance, which is typically required when you have a mortgage
  • Renters insurance if you rent a home or apartment
  • Health insurance, which pays a portion of your medical bills
  • Disability insurance replaces a percentage of income if you get sick or injured and can no longer work
  • Life insurance if you have dependents or debt co-signers who would suffer financial hardship if you died

RELATED: How to Create Foolproof Safety Nets

How to invest for your future

Once you get as prepared as possible for the unexpected by building an emergency fund and getting the right kinds of insurance, the next goal I mentioned is investing for retirement. That’s the “I” in PIP, right behind prepare for the unexpected.

Investments can go down in value—you should never invest money you can’t live without.

While many people use the terms saving and investing interchangeably, they’re not the same. Let’s clarify the difference between investing and saving so you can think strategically about them:

Saving is for the money you expect to spend within the next few years and don’t want to risk losing it. In other words, you save money that you want to keep 100% safe because you know you’ll need it or because you could need it. While it won’t earn much interest, you’ll be able to tap it in an instant.

Investing is for the money you expect to spend in the future, such as in five or more years. Purchasing an investment means you’re exposing money to some amount of risk to make it grow. Investments can go down in value; therefore, you should never invest money you can’t live without.

In general, I recommend that you invest through a qualified retirement account, such as a workplace plan or an IRA, which come with tax benefits to boost your growth. My recommendation is to contribute no less than 10% to 15% of your pre-tax income for retirement.

Magen mentioned Roth IRAs, and it may be a good option for her to rebuild her retirement savings. For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over age 50, to a traditional or a Roth IRA. You typically must have income to qualify for an IRA. However, if you’re married and file taxes jointly, a non-working spouse can max out an IRA based on household income.

For workplace retirement plans, such as a 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over 50 for 2020. Some employers match a certain percent of contributions, which turbocharges your account. That’s why it’s wise to invest enough to max out any free retirement matching at work. If your employer kicks in matching funds, you can exceed the annual contribution limits that I mentioned.

RELATED: A 5-Point Checklist for How to Invest Money Wisely

How to pay off high-interest debt

Once you're working on the first two parts of my PIP plan by preparing for the unexpected and investing for the future, you're in a perfect position also to pay off high-interest debt, the final "P."

Always tackle your high-interest debts before any other debts because they cost you the most. They usually include credit cards, car loans, personal loans, and payday loans with double-digit interest rates. Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Typical low-interest loans include student loans, mortgages, and home equity lines of credit. These types of debt also come with tax breaks for some of the interest you pay, making them cost even less. So, don't even think about paying them down before implementing your PIP plan.

Getting back to Bianca's situation, she didn't mention having emergency savings or regularly investing for retirement. I recommend using her upcoming cash windfall to set these up before paying off a low-rate student loan.

Let's say Bianca sets aside enough for her emergency fund, purchases any missing insurance, and still has cash left over. She could use some or all of it to pay down her auto loan. Since the auto loan probably has a higher interest rate than her student loan and doesn't come with any tax advantages, it's wise to pay it down first. 

Once you've put your PIP plan into motion, you can work on other goals, such as saving for a house, vacation, college, or any other dream you have. 

Questions to ask when you have extra money

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you have a cash windfall or accumulate savings and aren’t sure what to do with it.

1. Do I have emergency savings?

Having some emergency money is critical for a healthy financial life because no one can predict the future. You might have a considerable unexpected expense or lose income.  

Without emergency money to fall back on, you're living on the edge, financially speaking. So never turn down the opportunity to build a cash reserve before spending money on anything else.

2. Do I contribute to a retirement account at work?

Getting a windfall could be the ticket to getting started with a retirement plan or increasing contributions. It's wise to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Investing in a workplace retirement plan is an excellent way to set aside small amounts of money regularly. You'll build wealth for the future, cut your taxes, and maybe even get some employer matching.

3. Do I have an IRA?

Don't have a job with a retirement plan? Not a problem. If you (or a spouse when you file taxes jointly) have some amount of earned income, you can contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA. Even if you contribute to a retirement plan at work, you can still max out an IRA in the same year—which is a great way to use a cash windfall.

4. Do I have high-interest debt?

If you have expensive debt, such as credit cards or payday loans, paying them down is the next best way to spend extra money. Take the opportunity to use a windfall to get rid of high-interest debt and stay out of debt in the future. 

5. Do I have other financial goals?

After you’ve built up your emergency fund, have money flowing into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and are whittling down high-interest debt, start thinking about other financial goals. Do you want to buy a house? Go to graduate school? Send your kids to college?

How to manage a cash windfall

Review your financial situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track.

When it comes to managing extra money, always consider the big picture of your financial life and choose strategies that follow my PIP plan in order: prepare for the unexpected, invest for the future, and pay off high-interest debt.

Review your situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track. As your life changes, you may need more or less emergency money or insurance coverage.

When your income increases, take the opportunity to bump up your retirement contribution—even increasing it one percent per year can make a huge difference.

And here's another important quick and dirty tip: when you make more money, don't let your cost of living increase as well. If you earn more but maintain or even decrease your expenses, you'll be able to reach your financial goals faster.

Easy Guide to Cheap Business Currency Transfers

There might be many reasons why your small business isn’t thriving. One of them is the global economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for all that this recession is hitting all businesses hard, it also kicked e-commerce into high gear. Also, going global has become a necessity for businesses. After all, this gives you an opportunity to both cut costs and grow your customer pools.

But doing any kind of business internationally means you will need to send and receive money transfers from abroad. This itself is a costly endeavor. It’s costly enough that the cost of the transfer might eat up all your profit margin.

While you are developing a strategy for going global, you need to find a way to cut your currency costs. The good news is that today there are companies that allow you to reduce the cost of both the transfer and foreign currency exchange (FX or forex). But you’ll need to think carefully to pick the one that will benefit your business most in the long term.

How expensive are international money transfers?

The costs of foreign currency exchange and international money transfer fees are not the only issues you need to consider if you want to avoid being ripped off while traveling. As a business, making payments to suppliers or accepting them from customers also come with an FX price tag. And that price might be over 10 percent of the transfer volume.

Any small business trying to go global will know that the profit margin for this venture might be so small that 10 percent makes it unviable. But of course, the actual cost of international money transfers depends on many factors. The foremost is what financial institution you are using to make the transfer.

The traditional way to go is to use a bank wire transfer. That’s the safest method of international money transfers. However, it’s also one of the most expensive. For example, in the US the average outgoing international transfer fee is $45. Add to that the money lost during foreign currency exchange. Banks always use an unfavorable FX rate due to their high FX margins. Also, the fees (meaning your losses) might increase with the transfer volume.

Also, remember that some currency corridors to developing countries are far more expensive. There are still some African countries where a transfer can cost up to 20 percent!

Western Union and MoneyGram are hardly better in terms of fees—these services are sometimes more expensive than banks. PayPal is better. However, it will cost you about 5 percent of the transfer and it also doesn’t use the best FX rates.

All in all, the most common international transfer methods are expensive. But now there are FX companies created to solve this specific problem.

How to cut the cost of global business money transfers

While outrageous, transfer fees from banks and popular money transfer services don’t seem that bad for small transactions. However, as these losses grow with the transfer volume, a payment to a supplier or some international investment might end up costing you thousands. You need a specialized and affordable solution for large business transfers. Today such a solution comes from FX companies, also called online money transfer companies. These are companies like Moneycorp, WorldFirst, or OFX.

FX companies specialize in offering cheap and fast currency transfer services. Top providers among them have multiple offices in different parts of the world. The platforms are online-based, which means you can manage your account fully using nothing but a smartphone app.

The number of supported currencies varies depending on the provider. However, all these companies operate using the same principles. They all offer:

  • Low or no fees. In the majority of cases, FX companies don’t charge transfer fees at all. If they do, the cost of the transfer rarely rises over 1-3%.
  • Low FX margins. Foreign currency exchange rate margins are where banks make a lot of money. However, as FX companies run off the volume of transferred funds, they strive to keep the margins low. At the moment, WorldFirst has the lowest margins in the industry (0.25-0.15 percent for large business transfers).

FX companies can be used not only to help cut the costs of regular business payments, but they are also a great help to everyone who wants to invest overseas (in property, for example). They can also be used to pay salaries to remote workers.

But bear in mind that not all online money transfer companies are suited for businesses. Only the ones that offer corporate services are capable of handling the paperwork and other requirements that businesses might have.

FX companies: benefits beyond affordability

FX companies not only help you cut the costs of international money transfers, but they can also be used to mitigate currency exposure risk that every international business faces. This type of risk is unavoidable because currency exchange rates are fluid.

However, sometimes this fluidity turns into outright volatility. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a great surge of FX volatility. Tthis volatility will likely last for a while due to the global economic recession. Therefore, FX risks are now extremely high.

FX companies offer their business customers access to hedging tools. This means that you get a chance to minimize these risks with little effort. For example, you can use forward contracts, which allow you to get the FX rate fixed at a certain point for up to a year. So, even if the exchange rate changes unfavorably during this time, you will be protected.

For international business, currency hedging is essential for budgeting. In fact, without hedging against the currency risks in some manner planning a budget becomes almost impossible.

But, of course, one needs to be a financial expert with ample forex experience to use hedging effectively. Otherwise, you will not know exactly when to use which tool to achieve maximum long-term benefits for your company.

FX companies solve this problem as well because they offer not only a wide range of currency services but also guidance. Simply put, they can provide you with advice and information necessary to make good currency decisions. This means that your business won’t have to pay extra to outsource a specialist for this.

How to choose the right FX company for your business

The first thing you should consider when looking for an FX company for your business is its accreditation. These businesses operate within multiple jurisdictions and the industry itself is poorly regulated, so you need to choose companies that are audited by trustworthy authorities. For example, WorldFirst is monitored by the Financial Conduct Authority of the UK.

You should only work with companies that are transparent and certified to work in your country. This will limit your choices somewhat as these companies aren't yet found around the globe.

Another important factor is currency selection on offer. You need to be sure that the company you choose will be able to meet all your needs. However, as you can have more than one account, you can work with several companies simultaneously. But in this case, you will need to exercise extra caution when choosing these services.

Finally, be sure to study detailed reviews of every FX company you consider. Read both customer testimonials and professional reviews that highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of the company. This way, you will be able to make a choice that will help your own business prosper.

Who invented the index fund? A brief (true) history of index funds

Pop quiz! If I asked you, “Who invented the index fund?” what would your answer be? I’ll bet most of you don’t know and don’t care. But those who do care would probably answer, “John Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group.” And that’s what I would have answered too until a few weeks ago.

But, it turns out, this answer is false.

Yes, Bogle founded the first publicly-available index fund. And yes, Bogle is responsible for popularizing and promoting index funds as the “common sense” investment answer for the average person. For this, he deserves much praise.

But Bogle did not invent index funds. In fact, for a long time he was opposed to the very idea of them!

John Bogle did not invent index funds

Recently, while writing the investing lesson for my upcoming Audible course about the basics of financial independence, I found myself deep down a rabbit hole. What started as a simple Google search to verify that Bogle was indeed the creator of index funds led me to a “secret history” of which I’d been completely unaware.

In this article, I’ve done my best to assemble the bits and pieces I discovered while tracking down the origins of index funds. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes here. (If you spot an error or know of additional info that should be included, drop me a line.)

Here then, is a brief history of index funds.