When –and why—to Cash Out Your 401k

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 25, 2013

401k401(k) plans are a great vehicle for saving for retirement. Typically, an employee can choose to allow an employer to contribute a portion of his or her salary to the plan. Some employers might even match those contributions. The 401(k) contributions are invested in funds that might include money-market, mutual, or bond funds.

You are not taxed on 401(k) funds until you withdraw money from your plan. And, while it is your money, there are consequences to withdrawing money from your 401(k) before you reach age 59 and ½.

Just in time for 5/29: 529 College Savings Plans

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 29, 2013

529 Savings PlansDuring the past 10 years, the cost of tuition and room and board at 4-year public universities has risen by nearly 49%. To offset this sticker shock, simple investments specifically designated for college planning are a good way to go. A Section 529 college savings plan allows you to save for the upcoming higher-education expenses of a beneficiary of your choosing.

When the beneficiary withdraws funds from 529 plans for qualified education expenses, those withdrawals remain free from federal income tax. Such qualified expenses include:

Sequestration: So Much For The Tired & The Poor

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 13, 2013

Budget CutsWhen sequestration’s automatic budget cuts went into effect on March 1 of this year, many were unclear as to how these cuts would affect daily life and social programs. We were told that although the sequester would reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars over 10 years —as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was enacted in part to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis— the cuts would not go into effect immediately.

Well, it’s two months later and few people seem to be talking about where these cuts are headed, so Wallet Blog did some investigation.

Our Wealth Disparity & What it Means For Future Generations

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 2, 2013

Money and JusticeLast week, the Pew Research Center announced that between 2009 and 2011, the mean net worth of the wealthiest 7% of U.S. households increased by an estimated 28%. Meanwhile, the rest of us saw our net worth fall 4%.

This makes sense, right? After all, the richest people typically invest the bulk of their wealth in the stock and bond markets (and can afford to ride out economic valleys), while the less affluent are more likely to call their homes  their primary investments.

Laid off = Back to School? Not so fast…

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 12, 2013

Back to SchoolGoing to school is a typical fallback position when you’ve lost a job. My dad always says, “Time spent pursuing education is never wasted.” And a few new initials after your name will make you more desirable once you’re back on the job market, right?

Maybe, maybe not.

Surviving the Sequester: Quick Tips for Laid-Off or Limited-Hours Workers

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 6, 2013

Budget CutsIf you are one of the many government workers who has been laid off, might be laid off, or has had your hours slashed, you need to be thinking of a new plan, pronto. The U.S. economy added 741,000 jobs between September 2012 and January 1, 2013. The CBO estimate of jobs that will be lost due to sequestration is 750,000. That means you’re going to have a lot of company in the unemployment line.

Unemployment Benefits

MOOCs: Worth a look for free higher education

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 13, 2013

With the rising cost of higher education, my husband and I joke that we’re going to homeschool our children for college. With the advent and rise in popularity of Massive Open Online Courses —MOOCs— we might not have to.

ABOUT MOOCs

Hey Investors, You Up for a Dip in a Dark Pool?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 31, 2013

They’re three of the most tried-and-true, commonplace expressions:  1) Look before you leap; 2) Don’t swim within 30 minutes of eating; and 3) Buy Low, Sell high.

While decidedly trite, we were raised on such sayings, and they typically don’t lead us astray.  But do they hold true in the post-Great Recession world of finance, which is marked by things like “shadow banking,” “floating-rate demand notes,” and “dark pools” that are not only unclear to most consumers, but could also get you in over your head and ultimately eat your lunch if you aren’t careful?  That remains to be seen.

CD Rates on Steroids (and With Some Risk, Of Course)

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 23, 2013

corporate bondIt can be difficult to find an investment vehicle that gives you a safe, yet lucrative return on your deposit these days.  Rates on savings accounts, Money Market Accounts (MMAs), and Certificates of Deposit (CDs) have remained low since the Great Recession began; the stock market is doing its best Yo-Yo impression; and commodities like gold have left many scratching their heads.

That’s why private-label corporate bonds – more commonly known as floating-rate demand notes – might seem so attractive.

Planning for and Protecting Your Child’s Financial Future

by Guest on January 11, 2013

college financial aidNo matter the age of your child, as a parent, you will want to set up different financial resources for each stage of life. Your child looks to you as their teacher – from learning how to talk at a young age, to opening their first bank account as they grow older. In addition to putting financial safeguards and assets in place early on, it is also important to directly teach your child about money and how to manage it. Follow these simple tips and be on your way to planning a solid financial future for your child

1.  The First 5 Years of Life – Investing in your child’s financial future early on is the best investment a parent can make. Consider opening a bank account for your child at this crucial stage in life. Setting up a savings account or even a college savings plan at this point allows for many years of growth. And, don’t forget to let your family members know – grandparents, aunts and uncles may want to invest in your child’s bank account or college plan. Additionally, if you have not already done so, this is an opportune time to ensure your family’s financial stability by getting life insurance quotes and purchasing a policy.

AIG Shareholders Give U.S. Taxpayers the Middle Finger (And Other Unbelievably True Stories from the Week in News)

by John Kiernan on January 9, 2013

AIG shareholder suitHold on – is this the news, a dream, or some sort of Oscar Wilde-type satire?  That’s along the lines of what I was thinking last night while watching Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett report a pair of stories seemingly straight out of The Twilight Zone or Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

I mean, could AIG actually be SUING the U.S. government (as well as you, me, and every other taxpayer by extension)?  Are U.S. politics really so flawed that rape is actually LEGAL in California if the victim is single and the perpetrator impersonates her boyfriend?

Impact The U.S. Economy By Embracing Virtual Business Models

by Guest on January 9, 2013

Recent History of Virtualization

The Internet enabled industries to go virtual at the end of the last century. IT and graphic design led the way, with education quickly expanding into the arena. Even industries where a virtual model didn’t seem practical are now embracing the freedom. Healthcare, financial services and product innovation have all begun to realize the benefits.

How Can a U.S.-Made Prescription Drug Cost Hundreds More Domestically Than Abroad?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on December 20, 2012

prescription drug pricesJust a few weeks ago, my wife and I welcomed into the world our first child, Achilles Spiro Papadimitriou.  He obviously takes after his papa when it comes to having an exceedingly Greek name (just check out my byline), and my hope is that he can channel his namesake, Achilles of Greek mythology, when it comes to strength, bravery, leadership, and general badass-ness.  Anyway, that’s beside the point.

You see, Achilles recently had some trouble with his eyes (I know, surprising it wasn’t a leg tendon), and our experience getting him medication raised some very interesting questions about our country’s medical system (I know, U.S. healthcare is flawed, surprise surprise).  To make a long story short, there was some sort of snafu with our insurance and Achilles didn’t show up on our account, so we had to pay for the medicated eye drops he needed out of pocket.  No biggie, right?

Can Campaign Spending Solve All of Our Financial Woes?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 6, 2012

election 2012The idea has been floated more than once over the last few weeks:  How about we take all the money that candidates have spent on advertising time, polls, yard signs, and general campaigning and just use that to pay down the deficit?  While those who suggest this wacky plan do so knowing that it will never actually take effect, there is something to be said for directly allocating our money where we need it most and getting rid of those annoying ads that have dominated the airwaves of late.

This, of course, begs the question of exactly how much has been spent on major political campaigns and what it could fund if appropriated elsewhere.  It can be fun to dream, after all.

Is the Housing Market On Its Way Back?

by John Kiernan on October 31, 2012

mortgage recoveryAmidst all of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, there is actually some good news when it comes to the housing market.  Foreclosures are down in more than 60% of the nation’s largest cities, according to RealtyTrac, and experts are pointing to that as a sign of stabilization in the housing market.

Not only did foreclosure rates fall by more than 25% in major cities such as San Francisco, Detroit, and Los Angeles during the third quarter of the year, but they actually dipped below 2007 levels for 58% of the country’s major metropolitan areas.  That’s undoubtedly good news for the economy in general and those of us who work in fields tied to the housing market, but things aren’t quite so peachy everywhere.

Does the US Aid Foreign Tax Evaders?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 26, 2012

internal revenue serviceThe financial upheaval of the last few years, a growing national debt, and the recent crackdown on Americans using offshore accounts to evade taxes, have all brought more and more scrutiny to the issue of international banking secrecy of late.  But while this has naturally resulted in growing frustration over the stubbornness of tax havens like Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Bermuda, one important question remains:  Are we hypocrites?

Could the United States be withholding information about bank accounts held by foreign nationals from their own governments – the exact thing we rail against other nations for doing?  Are we therefore party to tax evasion in nations around the world?

Why are Small Businesses Still Paying for the War of 1812?

by John Kiernan on September 19, 2012

As a small business owner, it’s easy to use a given state’s low corporate tax rate as a reason to base your operations there.  By doing so, however, you’ll be failing to take into account taxes assessed on a local level, which can cost you big time.

Take Virginia, for example, which has a tax rate of 6% that the state proudly showcases on its website as being one of the lowest in the nation.  What you won’t find in this glowing write-up is information about how you’ll also be footing the bill for a war long since concluded.  You see, the Virginia Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax started as a way to raise money for the War of 1812, but now this tax on the gross receipts of Virginia-based companies serves primarily as a thorn in the side of small businesses and a way to fill the coffers of local municipalities.

How Foodborne Illness Impacts the Economy

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 12, 2012

foodborne illness and the economyEver see the movie Contagion?  If so, you’ve got a sense for how a chef failing to wash his hands after touching some contaminated pork and then shaking hands with a customer can end up making people sick clear across the world.  Sure, the events in the film might be a bit sensationalized, but foodborne illness is a real threat, both to our health and that of the economy.  And interestingly enough, modern media actually both exacerbates the problem and could help provide a solution.

When an outbreak occurs in this the era of Facebook, Twitter, and streaming news on cell phones, millions of consumers know about it immediately and are likely to swear off the product involved for the foreseeable future.  Therefore, not only will the farm at which it originated almost certainly go bankrupt as a result, but the entire industry will suffer as well.

Is Mortgage Tax Relief On Its Way Out?

by John Kiernan on September 5, 2012

The Republican National Convention is now behind us and the Democratic version is set to conclude Thursday, and while this might have you thinking there will be an entertainment void in the coming weeks, the truth is that the real fun starts when these idealistic celebrations are in the rear-view mirror.  I’m referring to the beginning of the debate season (though I would have accepted the start of the NFL regular season as well), when we can hear the candidates mix it up and offer retorts to each other’s grandiose claims.

The debates usually give ordinary citizens like you and me a chance to ask the candidates questions as well, and one question that I’m sure a lot of people would like answered is what will become of the mortgage forgiveness tax break that has helped lower the financial burden on so many people since 2007.

Next Man (Or Woman) Up: New Fed Chairman Will Face Long, Hard Road

by John Kiernan on August 29, 2012

federal reserve sealA couple of things occurred to me while watching coverage of the Republican National Convention this week (I’m an Independent, if you’re wondering): 1) What would Will McEvoy make of all this? and 2) The impending election season means forthcoming political turnover, and that could have a significant effect on our finances.

Quickly, I answered that first question for myself (he’d probably yell at everybody) and moved on to my second notion. Soon thereafter I realized that elected officials aren’t the only ones that will have some measure of control over our wallets in the near future. I mean, has anyone thought about the role Ben Bernanke’s successor will play in shaping financial policy as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, an appointed position.

How High Fees and Conflicts of Interest Are Hurting Your 401(k)

by John Kiernan on August 1, 2012

401k feesWhether you love or hate your job, the freedom to retire is inescapably appealing. In fact, it’s the American Dream – work hard in order to attain the requisite financial freedom to retire to a comfy home with a white picket fence, pursue your interests irrespective of earning potential, and provide for your family. Unfortunately, the changing dynamics of retirement accounts, Social Security, and the economy at large may be making this dream harder to realize, if not turning it into a nightmare for many folks.

Not only does the aging American populous put Social Security in jeopardy, but the increasing reliance on 401(k)s instead of pension plans has also made many Americans’ safety nets less reliable, especially since a lot of people do not fully understand these plans or their true effectiveness.

It’s Time to Bring Shadow Banking into the Light

by John Kiernan on July 11, 2012

shadow bankingThey exist in the shadows, operating outside the law and making monumental moves with the fate of society resting in their hands. They are thrust into the headlines only during times of trouble, yet are unquestionably a major part of history. Their importance must not be overlooked by politicians and regulators any longer. No, I’m not referring to the Illuminati, Batman, or even the CIA, but rather the entities that comprise the so-called shadow banking system, which played a significant role in causing the Great Recession and are finally on Washington’s radar.

For those of you who don’t know, the shadow banking system is the collection of financial institutions and investment vehicles that are not subject to the same laws and regulations as traditional banks and bank accounts given that they do not allow you to make deposits. It includes hedge funds, money market funds, and many securities. It’s also common for investment banks to engage in shadow banking practices in order to keep certain transactions off their balance sheets and therefore hidden from regulators and investors alike.

Why We Need a Return to Direct Democracy This Independence Day

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 3, 2012

athenian-democracyBy now, I think we’re all a little sick of the stagnate politics in Washington, where politicians on both sides of the isle seem unwilling or unable to compromise and appear more concerned with electability and party reputation than the true good of their constituencies. That’s why we as Americans need to get back to the basics – the basics of democracy, that is – and take back a measure of control over the decisions that are made on our behalf. At the end of the day, inefficient decision making leads to wasted money and resources, which is the last thing our wallets need right now.

I’m sure you would have never guessed it, but I am Greek. In fact, I hail from Athens – the birthplace of Democracy. Democracy looked a bit different back in 507 BC, when a wise man by the name of Cleisthenes first introduced a political system called “demokratia,” which translates to “rule by the people.”

How Old is Too Old for Hands-On Financial Management?

by John Kiernan on June 28, 2012

RetirementEver pull up to a stoplight and glance over to see an elderly driver beside you hunched over the steering wheel, peering through goggle-like glasses and express concern over their ability to continue driving safely? Perhaps, but I bet you haven’t given much thought to their ability to manage their finances into old age. That’s a big mistake.

People are becoming increasingly reliant on their 401(k) as a source of retirement income, and while that might not seem like too big of a deal on the face of things, a 401(k) is inherently volatile and requires consistent maintenance in order to provide maximum value. This can prove problematic no matter how old you are.

Are Austria & Luxembourg Hurting American Taxpayers?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on May 23, 2012

austria and luxembourg tax evasionHow do you say “wrench” in German, French, and Luxembourgish because those are the primary languages spoken in Austria and Luxembourg, and a wrench is exactly what these two nations recently threw in European Union plans to increase national budgets by cracking down on tax evaders.

Tax evasion has long been problematic in the EU and around the world due to a combination of the EU’s lack of authority to tax its member states and the secret banking policies that allow foreign nationals to anonymously stash cash in countries like Switzerland with no questions asked. To compensate, the EU in 2005 enacted a law that requires all EU members and a number of non-EU countries to withhold taxes on the interest gleaned from foreign nationals’ savings accounts and then distribute the funds to the account holders’ respective governments. Most countries are also required to share information identifying the individuals behind the accounts, but there are a few notable exceptions, including Switzerland, Austria, and Luxembourg.

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