Channel Islands Live: Breaking news and local stories

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Health Care ‘Shared Savings’ Off To Slow Start

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — If people are willing to shop for cars and homes to save money, they’d be willing to shop around for their health care, right?

If early results of “shared savings” programs in Florida’s state-employee health insurance program are any indication, the answer actually could be no.

The early results show that despite efforts to publicize the programs, they have had little impact on the $2.6 billion health-care program for current and former state employees.

The idea of the shared-savings programs is to give policyholders an incentive to look for cheaper health services.

State employees receive rewards after the services have been delivered and claims paid.

As of May 21, $63,000 in rewards had been earned by employees who enrolled in what is known as the Healthcare Bluebook program, according to the Florida Department of Management Services, which oversees the employee health insurance.

David Frady, the department’s communications director, did not have the number of employees who used the program but said 428 different services, such as X-rays and MRIs, were booked and paid for.

State employees who want to shop around for surgical care can use a program called SurgeryPlus. The latest available data show that six procedures have been completed through the program and that another three have been scheduled. Files have been opened, Frady said, on another 46 potential surgical procedures.

The less-than-robust performance has occurred despite the Department of Management Services’ efforts to advertise the options. Gov. Ron DeSantis in March ordered the agency to “get as many people plugged into that as possible.”

Frady said the department has been working closely with agency human-resource directors to distribute educational materials to employees on the availability of the programs. The department has also included information about Healthcare Bluebook on its People First website, which is the portal for state employee benefits.

Since March, the department has held 49 in-person presentations, and webinars have been offered “reaching thousands of employees.”

Meanwhile, the state has paid companies involved in the programs far more than what employees have been able to attain in rewards.

Healthcare Bluebook has been paid $1 million since October 2018, according to a state financial website. The contract is worth a total of $3.6 million. Direct Employer Healthcare, which operates as SurgeryPlus, has been paid more than $462,500 for the concierge-type services that help people shop for and procure surgical services. The overall contract with Direct Employer Healthcare is for $4.2 million.

DeSantis has touted shared-savings programs similar to the ones in the state-employee insurance plan as an attractive option to help lower overall health-care costs. Along with House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, DeSantis supported a bill (HB 1113), which seeks to spur insurance companies to begin offering similar options to customers.

DeSantis signed the legislation into law last week. The law, which takes effect July 1, allows insurers to offer shared savings options to their customers. Insurers would have to return at least 25 percent of any generated savings to the customers.

Enrollment in the programs would remain voluntary.

DeSantis expressed confidence that consumers will take advantage of the offerings because they’d be getting back a portion of the savings.

“The transparency is great, but why would I want to go shop online if it makes no difference to me as a consumer?” DeSantis said during an appearance last week in Jacksonville. “If it’s just saving an insurance company money, I think a lot of patients would rather just have their time to themselves rather than doing this.”

(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Christine Sexton contributed to this report.)

How to Choose a High-Yield Savings Account

Photo: Alexas_Fotos (Pixabay)

There are plenty of places worth investing your money for long-term growth. But what about short-term savings? Shouldn’t you be able to earn a little something extra on that, too?

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You might be interested in one of those “high-yield” accounts because they can earn, as many banks will tell you, 20 times the national average. That’s because the national average is 0.10%. Not 10%. 0.10%. If you’ve been storing your money in a regular savings account, you may have noticed this, as your money has not exactly flourished.

For the past few years, newer banks (many of them online only) have been able to attract customers with interest rates that feel high compared to banks with branches on every corner—think, 1.5% to 2.5%. Online banks don’t have to pay tellers and keep branches open, so what they save on overhead, they share with you, in the form of higher interest.

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But this isn’t an interest rate that’s going to change your life. Choose a high-yield account with 2% APY and you will earn $10 on a $500 deposit you leave there for a year. (If you put the same amount in a regular savings account for a year, you’d earn $0.50 on your $500.)

Still, that’s not nothing. So: With all the high-yield savings accounts out there, how do you choose? 

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What to look for in a high-yield savings account

Minimum deposit or balance

While many accounts don’t have a minimum deposit to open an account (remember, they want you to sign up), some charge a monthly fee if your balance is below a certain threshold. For example, Citi Accelerate Savings charges $4.50 per month if you don’t keep a minimum of $500 in your account.

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Limits for deposit or withdrawal

Since you’re probably housing short-term savings in one of these accounts, you’ll want to be sure you can access your money when you want to withdraw it to pay for your next family vacation or the new brakes the car will need this year.

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Across the board, U.S. savings accounts have a limit of six withdrawals per month. That’s because of Regulation D, which ensures banks have enough cash on hand for withdrawal requests—they use a lot of your money for lending. If you try to exceed the six-withdrawal limit, many banks will close your account. Barclays will charge you $5 for each withdrawal or transfer beyond six each month, and if you do so three times in 12 months, it might close your account.

So expect a six-withdrawal limit, but do check for any other restrictions on depositing or withdrawing money. For example, at Marcus, there’s an online transfer limit of $125,000. That’s probably not a deciding factor for you, unless you just won the lottery.

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Interest rate

The national average for regular savings accounts has been hanging out in the 0.10-0.20% range for the past five years, with recent increases in 2019. (The 0.10% APY mentioned above is the national average for the week prior to this article’s date.)

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For high-yield accounts, look for a variable APY around 2%. At the time of this writing, I found rates in the 2.1-2.3% range.

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Remember, these APYs aren’t set in stone. They’re also likely to change if the Federal Reserve raises or lowers rates.

Make sure it’s insured

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures savings accounts offered by banks. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insures savings accounts offered by credit unions. Do a quick look-see to make sure the account you’re considering is insured, OK?

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Most financial institutions are up front about this, noting their FDIC status on the homepage or account features list. A lot of banks put “Member FDIC” right next to their name. The typical limit for this is $250,000.

Are you ready to select it and forget it?

Once you feel settled on a high-yield savings account option, don’t bop around chasing rates. It’s not worth switching savings accounts to go from a 2.1% APY to a 2.3% APY. The whole idea of having a savings account is to let your money work for you, not to have to bust a move to keep up with interest rates. And since rates fluctuate, you may find that your interest rate increases without you having to do a thing.

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I thought I’d open a CD to save up my down payment, but after doing my research I chose an Ally high-yield savings account to earn 20 times more on my money

When my husband and I were saving for a down payment for our first house, we wanted to make sure to stick our savings in a place where it would be relatively safe, yet earn us a bit in interest. While we weren’t sure when we’d find our home, we knew it would be within a couple of years.

When doing some research, I considered opening a CD (certificate of deposit) but ultimately decided to get a high-yield savings account from online bank Ally instead. There’s nothing wrong with CD — in fact, it can be a great tool depending on your needs — but it wasn’t right for mine.

Here’s why.

I wanted to make additional deposits

I wanted an account that would let us put in additional money after we opened it. That way, we could automate some of our savings and add in any additional money when we had extra cash. Unfortunately, CDs don’t allow you to put in additional money until the account matures. That meant whatever we deposited was it.

There are CDs that do allow additional deposits, but those were few and far between.

I didn’t know when I’d need the money

When my husband and I started working with a realtor, we knew we wanted to find a place before our lease ran out, but I also knew that it could take a while before we found something.

Sure, if I had stuck the money in a CD, we could have figured it out. However, if we needed the funds for the house closing and the CD hasn’t matured yet, then taking the money out would have been a bad idea. That’s because in most cases, if you take money out of your CD before maturity, you’ll have to pay a penalty — typically a percentage of what you earned in interest. Doing so would have negated the earnings.

Since I couldn’t be sure when exactly we’d need our down payment, I couldn’t agree to a set maturity period for a CD.

Some of the rates weren’t as good as high-yield savings accounts

Just to be clear: Many CDs have very competitive interest rates and can be higher than high-yield savings accounts. However, these tend to have longer terms — the ones I saw were for a minimum of three to five years. I knew we wanted to purchase a home in less than three years (more like in the next six months) and the rates for CDs weren’t that great for that timeframe.

Ally’s interest rate (2.20% at the time of publishing) is one of the highest we’ve seen. It’s comparable to rates you’d find for CDs, with more immediate access to our cash. A 2.20% interest rate means that money earns 20 — or even 200 — times more than it would in a traditional bank account, which typically pays only .01% to 0.1% interest, if anything.

Reasons why you should consider a CD

Just because a CD wasn’t right for my needs doesn’t mean that it won’t be right for you. Maybe you have a short-term savings goal that has a more predictable timeline than buying a house. In that case, if you can find a competitive rate, it could make sense to open a CD, as long as you don’t withdraw it before the maturity date.

Another reason it could make sense to open a CD is if you already have a small chunk of cash you want to stash away. That way you can keep it in a safe place (like savings accounts, CDs are FDIC-insured) and let it grow for the term you chose until it’s time to take it out. Plus, the early withdrawal penalty can be enough of a deterrent for you to leave the money as-is, especially if you’re tempted to withdraw cash even if it’s earmarked for savings.

No matter what your short-term savings goals are, do your research to make sure whatever account you choose is the best for you. There are numerous comparison tools so you can get a comprehensive view of features such as minimum opening deposit, interest rate, fees and any account restrictions.

As for me, I’m happy with my choice. My husband and I do have CDs for other savings goals, but it wasn’t the right one for our house down payment. And as far as my Ally high-yield savings account: I’m obsessed.

Considering a high-yield savings account for your money? Take a look at these offers from our partners:

Everything You Are Being Told About Saving And Investing Is Wrong – Part I

Let me start out by saying that I am all for any piece of advice which suggest individuals should save more. Saving money is a huge problem for the bulk of American’s as noted by numerous statistics. To wit:

“Americans have an average of $6,506 in credit card debt, according to a new Experian report out this week. But which expenses are adding to that balance the most? A full 23% of Americans say that paying for basic necessities such as rent, utilities and food contributes the most to their credit card debt. Another 12% say medical bills are the biggest portion of their debt.”

That $6,500 credit card balance is something we have addressed previously as it relates to the ability of an average family of four in the U.S. to just cover basic living expenses.

“The ‘gap’ between the ‘standard of living’ and real disposable incomes is more clearly shown below. Beginning in 1990, incomes alone were no longer able to meet the standard of living so consumers turned to debt to fill the ‘gap.’ However, following the ‘financial crisis,’ even the combined levels of income and debt no longer fill the gap. Currently, there is a $3200 annual deficit that cannot be filled.”

This is why we continue to see consumer credit hitting all-time records despite an economic boom, rising wage growth, historically low unemployment rates.

Flawed Advice

The media loves to put out “feel good” information like the following:

“If you start at age 23, for instance, you only have to save about $14 a day to be a millionaire by age 67. That’s assuming a 6% average annual investment return.”

Or this one from IBD:

“If you’re earning $75,000, by age 40 you need 2.4 times your income, or $180,000, in retirement savings. Simple as that.” (Assumes 10% annual savings rate and a 6% annual rate of return)

See, it’s easy.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Let’s start with return assumptions.

Markets Don’t Compound

I have written numerous times about this in the past.

Let’s assume an investor wants to compound their investments by 10% a year over a 5-year period.

The ‘power of compounding’ ONLY WORKS when you do not lose money. As shown, after three straight years of 10% returns, a drawdown of just 10% cuts the average annual compound growth rate by 50%. Furthermore, it then requires a 30% return to regain the average rate of return required. In reality, chasing returns is much less important to your long-term investment success than most believe.”

When imputing volatility into returns, the differential between what investors were promised (and this is a huge flaw in financial planning) and what actually happened to their money is substantial over long-term time frames.

Here is another way to look at it.

If you could simply just stick money in the market and it grew by 6% every year, then how is it possible to have 10 and 20-year periods of near ZERO to negative returns?

The level of valuations when you start your investing journey is all you need to know about where you are going to wind up.

$1 Million Sounds Like A Lot – It’s Not

I get it.

$1 million sounds like a whole lot of money. It’s a nice, big, round number with lots of zeros.

In 1980, $1 million would generate between $100,000 and $120,000 per year, while the cost of living for a family of four in the U.S. was approximately $20,000/year.

Today, there is about a $40,000 shortfall between the income $1 million will generate and the cost of living.

This is just a rough calculation based on historical averages. However, the amount of money you need in retirement is based on what you think your income needs will be when you get there and how long you have to reach that goal.

If you are part of the F.I.R.E. movement and want to live in a tiny house, sacrifice luxuries, and eat lots of rice and beans, like this couple, that is certainly an option.

For most, there is a desire to live a similar, or better, lifestyle in retirement. However, over time, our standard of living will increase with respect to our life-cycle stages. Children, bigger houses to accommodate those children, education, travel, etc. all require higher incomes. (Which is the reason the U.S. has the largest retirement savings gap in the world.)

If you are in the latter camp, like me, a “million dollars ain’t gonna cut it.”

Don’t Forget The Inflation

The problem with all of these “It’s so simple a caveman could do it” articles about “save and invest your way to wealth” is not only the variable rates of returns discussed above, but impact of inflation on future living standards.

Let’s set up an example.

  • John is 23 years old and earns $40,000 a year.
  • He saves $14 a day.
  • At 67, he will have $1 million saved up (assuming he actually gets that 6% annual rate of return).
  • He then withdraws 4% of the balance to live on matching his $40,000 annual income.

That pretty straightforward math.

IT’S ENTIRELY WRONG.

The living requirement in 44 years is based on today’s income level, not the future income level required to maintain the current living standard.

Look at the chart below and select your current level of income. The number on the left is your income level today and the number on the right is the amount of income you will need in 30 years to live the same lifestyle you are living today.

This is based on the average inflation rate over the last two decades of 2.1%. However, if inflation runs hotter in the future, these numbers become materially larger.

Here is the same chart lined out.

The chart above exposes two problems with the entire premise:

  1. The required income is not adjusted for inflation over the savings time-frame, and;

  2. The shortfall between the levels of current income and what is actually required at 4% to generate the income level needed.

The chart below takes the inflation-adjusted level of income for each bracket and calculates the asset level necessary to generate that income assuming a 4% withdrawal rate. This is compared to common recommendations of 25x current income.

If you need to fund a lifestyle of $100,000 or more today, you are going to need $5 million at retirement in 30 years.

Not accounting for the future cost of living is going to leave most individuals living in tiny houses and eating lots of rice and beans.

Things You Can Do To Succeed

The analysis reveals the important points young investors should consider, given current valuation levels and the reality of investing over the long term:

  • Pay yourself first, aggressively. Saving money is how you pay yourself for working. 30% is the real magic number.
  • It’s all about “cash flow.” – you can’t save if you spend more than you make and rack up debt. #Logic
  • Budget – it’s a four-letter word for most Americans, but you can’t have positive cash flow without it.
  • Get off social media – one of the biggest impacts to over-spending is “social media” and “keeping up with the friends.” If advertisers were not getting your money from social media ads, they wouldn’t advertise there. (Side benefit is that you will be mentally healthier and more productive by doing so.)
  • Pick up a side hustle, or two, or threeOnce you drop social media, it will free up 4-6 hours a week, or more, with which you can increase your income. There are tons of apps today to let you earn extra money and “No” it’s not beneath you to do so.
  • Get out of debt and stay that way. No, you do not need a credit card to build credit.
  • If you can’t pay cash for it, you can’t afford it. Do I really need to explain that?
  • Future inflation expectations must be carefully considered.
  • Expectations for compounded annual rates of returns should be dismissed.

Don’t misunderstand me… I love ANY program that encourages individuals to get out of debt, save money, and invest.

Period. No caveats.

There is one sure-fire way to go from “being broke” to being “rich” – write a book on how to do it and sell it to broke people. (See “Broke Millennial” and “Millennial Money.”- but hey that’s capitalism and you can do it too.)

But, if investing were as easy as just sticking your money in the market, wouldn’t “everyone” be rich?

Editor’s Note: The summary bullets for this article were chosen by Seeking Alpha editors.

Saving Money Through Online Casino Welcome Bonuses

Proposed 34-cent property tax increase receives mixed reviews from citizens at Hamilton County Commission meeting

The 34-cent property tax increase included in Mayor Jim Coppinger’s proposed 2020 budget drew a plethora of residents to speak to the Hamilton County Commission for the second week in a row.

At Wednesday’s agenda planning meeting, 10 citizens spoke to the commission during public comments, pleading for or against the tax, which will be voted on in two weeks. The crowd, which consisted of educators, members of the clergy and property owners from the county, had varied responses, with seven in favor of the tax and three opposed.

Passionate pleas came from principals of three area schools, a former teacher, a pastor and concerned parents, including Suann West, the parent of a Soddy Elementary School student with autism.

“My son has flourished because of special education staff and through being integrated in a general education classroom,” West said through tears, describing how the integration program at Soddy had helped her son communicate and even sign a Mother’s Day card for her for the first time.

“Currently children with special needs are being bused long distances because their home school does not offer a trained special education staff. The budget increase will ensure that all special education students can attend a home zone school and their needs will be met through a trained special needs staff and integration in a general ed classroom.”

As fervently as some community members advocated for the tax, others opposed it, claiming government waste as a primary reason.

Elgin Gray, a property owner, has come to the commission two weeks in a row to implore the county to find other ways to fund schools.

“Let’s look for other ways to save these tax dollars. I think the money is here for us to spend, but we have to find other ways to reallocate the money,” Gray said, recommending buying used cars, repairing old equipment and other cost-saving ideas. “We need to look at reallocating the funds that are here, spreading the tax burden across the whole base, not just one segment, and I know that you’ll have the money to do what you need to in the school system.”

Since the budget rollout last week, developers, business leaders and 18 out of 23 community members at meetings have been in support of the tax, but the actual leaning of the commissioners is a closer call.

As of last Wednesday, the commission was in a deadlock with three commissioners in favor of the increase, three opposed and three unknown/undecided.

The school district’s $443 million proposed general purpose budget reflects a $60 million increase over this year, or a 13.6% boost. The $60 million increase includes $34 million from the county that would be funded by the tax hike. The remainder of the $60 million increase comes from federal and state funding.

Though the proposed county budget is up 8.7% overall from this year’s budget, Coppinger said it reflects about $13.5 million in cuts to prioritize public education as well as Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond’s $59 million budget to improve public safety.

The commission will vote on the budget for the first time on June 26 at 9:30 a.m. in the county commission chambers of the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.

Get A Short Stack of IHOP Buttermilk Pancakes For 58¢

Don’t you just love it when companies celebrate their anniversaries by giving you a deal? Free ice cream, discounts on pizza … whatever it is, it’s glorious and should never be stopped.

IHOP often offers amazing deals, such as letting

kids eat free

and even giving away

entire stacks of pancakes

for a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network.

In a matter of weeks, their latest deal will get you some cheap pancakes with a side of nostalgia.

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 16, participating IHOP restaurants will be celebrating the founding of their restaurant in 1958 by offering 1950s prices, which includes a

short stack of buttermilk pancakes for just 58 cents

!

There is a limit of one 58-cent stack of pancakes per person and the “Panniversary” offer is valid for dine-in only, so cruise in anytime during those 12 hours and the pancakes are yours for less than a dollar.

The 2019 price of a short stack of pancakes, by the way, is $4.59, so you’ll be saving $4.01. Talk about the cat’s pajamas!

figcaptioncite class=”op-vertical-below credits-overlay-new”

IHOP

Don’t have an IHOP near you? No worries! There’s a

secret to making perfectly fluffy pancakes

, and it has to do with separating the egg whites from the yolks. According to

Kitchn

, if you first mix the yolk in and then add unwhipped egg whites, the pancakes will be delicate on the inside, but crisp on the outside. Yum! 

Of course, you’ll need some non-stick cookware if you want perfect pancakes, so

check out our list of the best sets

to buy. Or, if waffles are your thing, here’s

our list of the best waffle makers

.

And next time you’re making a big breakfast at home, take a page from IHOP’s book and use some leftover pancake batter to make a delicious omelet!

Yup, IHOP

adds their famous pancake batter right into the eggs

before the eggs turn into an omelet, giving the omelet a full texture just like the pancakes themselves.

figcaptioncite class=”op-vertical-below credits-overlay-new”

IHOP

Pancakes with a side of omelets (with pancakes)? Sounds perfect to me! Will you be heading to your local IHOP on July 16 for 58-cent pancakes?

The products and services mentioned below were selected independent of sales and advertising. However, Don’t Waste Your Money may receive a small commission from the purchase of any products or services through an affiliate link to the retailer’s website.

This story originally appeared on

Don’t Waste Your Money

. Checkout

Don’t Waste Your Money

for product reviews and other great ideas to save and make money.

Want to Become Wealthy? Do This One Thing.

Most of us would love to be rich, but achieving meaningful wealth generally takes significant effort. Yes, you might get there with a very lucky lottery ticket, but don’t count on that. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are about 1 in 292 million. (The odds of winning just $100 are worse than 1 in 14,000.)

So chase that dream in a more realistic manner, using a tried-and-true route: living below your means.

Image source: Getty Images.

Those four words are a critical key to achieving all kinds of financial goals, such as saving a down payment for a home, sending a kid to college, or being able to retire comfortably, with minimal worries about your financial security. The words can even help you become wealthy.

The power of living below your means

It’s all a matter of simple math, really: Spend less money than you take in. That leaves you with a surplus regularly, which can be saved and invested to help you reach your financial goals.

For example, if you collect a paycheck of $5,000 each month, aim to save at least $500 of it — that’s 10%. That may not get you to what you need to retire with, though, if you haven’t been saving and investing for much of your working life and if you’re not too young anymore. For many people, a 15% or even 20% savings rate is more necessary.

The idea of socking away that much might be extremely unappealing, but consider what it might achieve for you: The table below shows what you might accumulate over various periods if you sock away various large sums and your investments grow by an average of 8% annually. (The stock market has averaged annual gains of close to 10% over long periods, but over your specific period, it could be much less, or more.)

Data source: author.

A little deprivation now can yield massive dividends later. Better still, you needn’t suffer while saving a significant chunk of your income. There are lots of relatively painless ways to save.

How to live below your means

Here are a handful of ways you might save money regularly:

  • Eat out less often. Sure, you can save a lot if you stop going to restaurants entirely. But just cutting your dining-out habit in half might make a big difference, too. If you eat dinner out twice a week, spending an average of $50 each time, that’s about $5,200 annually! Cutting that in half can yield $2,600.
  • Cut that cable cord. You don’t have to wince every month, paying a cable bill that keeps rising and often costs you more than $100 for a host of TV channels (many of which you never even watch!). Switch to just streaming and you might save half of that. Popular streaming options include Netflix, which recently cost between $9 and $16 per month, Hulu, which recently cost between $6 and $12 per month, and Amazon’s Prime Video, available to Prime members, most of whom pay $119 per year (that comes to about $10 monthly).
  • Shed one vehicle. This won’t work for everyone, but if your household can manage to get by with one fewer car or truck, you could save a bundle — on gas, repairs, maintenance, and insurance — not to mention parking, tolls, and even traffic tickets.
  • Take on a side hustle to generate extra income. If you think creatively, you may hit upon some ideas that are actually attractive to you, such as trying to sell photos through online sites or doing freelance editing or selling sweaters you knit.

Millions of Americans are living beyond their means, which leads to debt and lots of financial stress and struggling. Don’t be one of them. Live below your means — and if you do so aggressively, you can amass significant wealth.

401(k) vs. IRA: Which One Is Right for You?

There are dozens of factors to consider as you’re planning for retirement. How much should you be saving? What age should you retire? How much will you be receiving in Social Security benefits? One factor that’s probably not among your top concerns, however, is where to stash your cash.

Not all retirement accounts are created equal, and choosing the right one could help you save more and spend less on fees and other costs. Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and 401(k)s are some of the most common types of retirement accounts, and although they’re similar in many ways, there are a few key differences between them. And understanding these differences can help you choose the right account for your needs.

Image source: Getty Images

Similar but not the same: Understanding retirement account options

Roughly 60% of workers have access to a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) through work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With a 401(k), you can contribute tax-deductible dollars, let your money grow over time, and then pay income tax on withdrawals during retirement.

The primary benefit with a 401(k), though, is the potential employer matching contributions. If your employer offers them, your organization will match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain percentage of your salary. So, for instance, if you earn $50,000 per year and your employer will match your contributions up to 3% of your salary, that means you could be receiving $1,500 per year in what’s essentially free money.

Another advantage of 401(k)s is that they have high contribution limits. In 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 to your 401(k) — compared to just $6,000 for a traditional or Roth IRA. And if you’re age 50 or over, you can contribute an additional $6,000 per year to a 401(k), or just $1,000 extra to an IRA.

One downside to 401(k) plans, however, is the limited investment options. You’re typically limited to just a few choices that are pre-determined by your plan administrator, and you could also be subject to high fees. Because you don’t have any control over these factors, you may simply be stuck with less-than-stellar investment options and high fees if you want to invest your money in your 401(k).

With either a traditional or Roth IRA, you have much more control over where to invest your money. These types of accounts are highly customizable to fit your individual needs, and you can do some research to find accounts with the lowest fees — so you can keep as much of your savings as possible.

IRAs also offer flexibility in how you prefer to be taxed. With a traditional IRA, your money is tax-deductible upfront, but you’ll have to pay income taxes on withdrawals. Roth IRA contributions, on the other hand, are taxed upfront, but are tax-free when you withdraw your money. Because you’re not taxed on Roth IRA withdrawals, you can keep your money in your account for the rest of your life — unlike with traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, where you’re required to start taking required minimum distributions at age 70-1/2 or face tax penalties (because the IRS wants its money eventually, after all).

The age at which you’re allowed to make withdrawals without facing penalties also differs between accounts. With traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, you’re subject to a 10% penalty plus income tax on any withdrawals you make before age 59-1/2. With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw the amounts you originally contributed at any time. However, you may have to pay a penalty for withdrawing any of the earnings you’ve made on those contributions if you’re under age 59-1/2.

Choosing the type of account that’s right for you

There are so many nuances to each type of retirement account, and it can be tough to decide which one to choose. There is one easy way to make a decision, however. If your employer offers a 401(k) with matching contributions, contribute at least enough to that account to earn the full match. Even if your plan has not-so-great investment options and high fees, the free money you’re receiving more than makes up for it.

If you don’t have access to a 401(k) or employer match (or if you’ve contributed enough to your 401(k) to earn the full match and want to invest the rest of your savings in a different account), there are a few key considerations when deciding between different accounts.

First, take a look at what you’re paying in fees. Every account has fees (even though 37% of Americans mistakenly believe they don’t pay any fees, according to a survey from TD Ameritrade), and choosing a retirement account with lower fees can save you thousands of dollars. The average person paying 1% in annual fees will spend around $138,000 in fees alone over a lifetime, according to research from the Center for American Progress, while fees of 1.3% will cause that number to jump to around $166,000. The Center for American Progress also found that average retirement account has fees of 1% of total assets managed, so if your 401(k) has a higher-than-average fee, it may be a good idea to look at other options.

If you’re deciding between a traditional and Roth IRA, one thing to consider is what age you plan to retire. If you want to retire earlier than age 59-1/2, it may be best to choose a Roth IRA because you won’t be hit with penalties by withdrawing your contributions. On the other side of the coin, a Roth IRA may also be a good choice if you’re planning on working into your 70s and don’t want to start taking required minimum distributions at age 70-1/2.

Your tax situation can be another deciding factor. If you’re earning a high income now, the tax deduction with a traditional IRA may play in your favor if you’re in a lower tax bracket come retirement time. That’s because you’ll end up paying less in taxes on your withdrawals than you would if you’re taxed upfront with a Roth IRA.

To recap…

There’s a lot of information to consider when choosing a retirement account, but it all boils down to a few factors.

If your employer offers a 401(k) with matching contributions, make that account your first priority. Once you’ve maxed out the employer match, you can stick to your 401(k) if you’re paying a reasonable amount in fees or if you plan to save more than the $6,000 per year you’re allowed with an IRA.

If you don’t have access to a 401(k) or if you choose to invest part of your savings in a different account, a Roth IRA is a good choice if you’re planning on an extra early or extra late retirement (before age 59-1/2 or after age 70-1/2). Finally, a traditional IRA may be a solid option if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket than you are now once you start making withdrawals.

Choosing the right retirement account may seem like a difficult and confusing decision, but the most important thing you can do is to simply get started. Regardless of which type of account you choose, the earlier you start saving, the easier your retirement journey will be.