Allowance

April marks National Financial Literacy Month in the US, so why not take this time to learn (and teach) about money? It can be difficult to understand money at a young age because children cannot make money through employment like adults do. By the time children reach an age where they can work for money, they have already witnessed many financial transactions and have pre-determined values and practices around money. There is a void between when children form money habits and when they can start to earn money of their own. That is the case for an allowance — to fill in this gap.

Once children are old enough to start helping around the house (usually by age 3), it’s time to consider an allowance.

Just like money doesn’t come free for adults, children should “work” for their allowance, doing things like household chores or achieving good grades. Once children are old enough to start helping around the house (usually by age 3), it’s time to consider an allowance. Other than money that is gifted and the occasional lemonade stand (or passion project), an allowance gives children money of their own to manage.

Deciding on all the rules around an allowance requires some planning ahead. Here are some questions to think about.

  • Does the amount change every year based on bills or obligations that the child assumes, such as a cell phone, or school lunch, or gas? Or does allowance simply increase by a pre-determined amount each year?
  • What frequency makes the most sense — weekly, bi-weekly, monthly?
  • Would it be easier for you and your child to handle allowance in cash or through direct deposit or cashless transfer (Venmo, Zelle, etc.)?
  • What situations warrant a partial or zero allowance?
  • Does paying allowance rely on task completion? If so, how do you measure and monitor on an ongoing basis?

Ideally, the requirements are the same for each child and do not stray from the plan over time, but you can certainly make exceptions if financial circumstances change. Pay reductions and unemployment happen in real life, so the allowance may have to be lowered or paused at times. On the flip side, when times are good, consider adding a bonus for a job well done or starting a matching contribution when certain savings milestones are met. An allowance should teach about both the good and bad times.

If you’re puzzled on where to begin with an allowance, stick to this simple plan. Base the amount of allowance on the age of the child, and pay on a weekly basis. For a child who is 3, the allowance would be $3 per week. For a teenager who is 15, allowance is $15 per week. This continues until your child starts working or graduates from high school, whichever comes first. Lean towards paying allowance in cash, so that your child can hold the true fruits of their labor.

Once an allowance is in place, then all the other lessons about money become easier to learn. A good first lesson is Share, Save, Spend. From there, help children understand taxes by automatically deducting a household tax. Instead of paying $4 per week, the household tax reduces allowance to $3 per week. Set up an auto-savings for one-third (1/3) of the allowance to deposit directly into a bank account for long-term savings. If children need to borrow money, ask them to come up with a payment plan, and reduce allowance by the amount of the payment plan accordingly. These are the lessons that will mentally prepare children for a future of managing their own money.

Happy Financial Literacy Month!

Homework: There’s no such thing as free money! Before starting an allowance or making the next allowance payment, parents and children can collaborate together on a chores chart or achievement chart to earn that allowance.

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The Rhyme And Reason For A Roth IRA

Rap Ode To Roth IRA

Here's the thing about Roth IRAs.
Pay taxes now, no delays.
You won't owe any more while your investments grow.
Once you're ready to retire, it's ALL your money to sow!
Add contributions up to the annual max, 
Then pick the investment(s), and see how it stacks!
Don't touch the money before age 59 1/2,
'Cuz taking earnings early costs a penalty and tax.
Don't wait! Start a Roth soon as you can,
Earn that compound interest -- That is the plan! 

The topic of retirement savings is especially pertinent right now for two reasons: either people are considering tapping into retirement savings as cash runs short or on the opposite end, they are looking to invest more money while market prices are low. One type of retirement savings account, the Roth IRA, caters to both. Let’s dive deeper into both scenarios.

Roth IRA – Taking Money Out

Contributions to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn with no penalty and no tax at any time, as they were taxed once already. This is one retirement savings vehicle that offers more withdrawal flexibility than others. However, earnings, or how much your money grows, are subject to both tax and a penalty if taken before age 59 1/2. There are some exceptions to this rule, but a Roth IRA is largely meant to be used for retirement savings.

In response to financial hardships caused by COVID-19, the CARES Act changed a few rules this year. For those in financial need, the early withdrawal penalty on Roth IRA earnings is waived for 2020, and distributions up to $100,000 are allowed before age 59 1/2. These distributions of earnings are considered income and will be taxed as such, but there is the option to spread the tax burden over 3 years or pay back the “loan” within 3 years to avoid paying taxes. Before you withdraw from your Roth IRA, carefully consider what this means for your retirement. In addition, taking money out of any investments could mean selling at a loss. Consult your financial advisor and tax advisor if you are contemplating a withdrawal of retirement savings.

Roth IRA – Adding Money In

For those in a position to invest right now, adding money to a Roth IRA (up to the max) not only takes advantage of stock market lows, but also yields more tax savings down the road if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the future. The Roth IRA works especially well when investments have a long time horizon for growth because you get to keep every penny gained without sharing a cut of the profits with taxes.

An attractive option this year may be a Roth conversion, which converts an existing IRA to a Roth IRA by paying taxes on the amount converted. If your income is lower this year than most years, you may fall in a lower tax bracket and therefore, pay less tax on that Roth conversion than you normally would. Furthermore, as a result of the market downturn, your investments may be worth less than previously, so less taxes would be owed. It’s a good idea to check with a financial advisor and tax advisor before making these financial decisions.

Making The Right Choice

No matter the impact that COVID-19 has on our financial lives, savings are still important. In fact, times like these make us realize that having savings gives us one more safety net when falling on hard times. So regardless of whether you are saving for retirement or saving for a rainy day, the point is to remember to SAVE!

Homework: Pay tax now or pay tax later? One reason to choose a Roth IRA (pay tax now) vs. traditional IRA (pay tax later) is if you believe your tax rate will be higher when you withdraw the money. Use the following math problem to understand the difference.

Say you earn $5,000 this year that you pay 20% tax, or $1,000, and you decide to contribute the remaining $4,000 to a Roth IRA. You add no more money to that investment, and it averages 6% annual growth over the next 36 years — How much will your total investment be? (Hint: Use the Rule of 72 to get $32,000 for the Roth IRA.) Assume instead that you defer paying tax until withdrawal by investing the full $5,000 in a traditional IRA– How much will your total investment be after 36 years of 6% annual growth? ($40,000.) After 36 years, if your tax rate is 20%, your total investment will net the same amount in either the Roth IRA ($32,000) or traditional IRA ($32,000) after taxes. If your tax rate decreases to 15% after 36 years, the traditional IRA ($34,000) nets more than the Roth IRA ($32,000). If your tax rate increases to 25% after 36 years, the traditional IRA loses ($30,000), and the Roth IRA wins ($32,000).

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Back To Basics

As a result of the financial turmoil caused by COVID-19, there is a lot of confusion about what is the best thing to do with your money? Let’s face it. Watching a paycheck disappear or get reduced is scary. And seeing investments bounce up and down daily can be unsettling. During uncertain times like these, it’s important to keep to the basics.

Just as you use a compass to navigate through a storm, use the following basic principles to point you in the right direction.

  • Focus on your rainy day fund. Although you might need to lean into your emergency fund right now, that doesn’t mean squandering it away. Try to preserve cash as best you can, and use a budget to identify where you can reduce expenses. You may already notice your discretionary spending has gone down with shopping malls closed and social outings cancelled, but challenge yourself to find extra ways to cut costs. If you are still receiving a paycheck, devote more cash to your reserves. Getting a tax refund? Put it in your cash reserve. Expecting a stimulus check? Put it in your cash reserve. When you can keep a steady 3- to 6-month emergency fund (amount depending on your level of comfort), then you can shift focus towards other financial goals.
  • Don’t sell your investments in a panic. Despite the stock market taking a bumpy ride, now is not the time to sell all your investments. Doing so could lead to significant losses that you may not recover once the market rebounds. A 401(k) loan or IRA loan may sound tempting, but taking money out of your retirement accounts could mean selling investments at a loss. Keep that in mind when weighing this option.
  • Avoid debt if you have cash. More options have become available to delay bills, like mortgage and rent payments. Be careful to examine what this means for your financial future. Simply put, these are loans, which means they must be paid back someday. Are you certain you can pay back the balance by the imposed deadline? What if, in the post-coronavirus world, wages are lower, and income doesn’t cover regular monthly bills along with what’s owed? For these reasons, it’s best to consider borrowing as a last resort, when all other cash is depleted.
  • If you have money to invest, dollar-cost average. For those who have a comfortable rainy day fund set aside and have spare cash outside of those reserves, you may be wondering what to do with your spare cash? Assuming that you’re not tapping into that emergency fund, there is no need to hoard more cash than you already have. Now that stocks have dipped to lower prices, it’s a great time to buy shares at a discount. But instead of timing the market, divide that investment over a period of time, otherwise known as dollar-cost averaging. As long as you keep a long-term outlook, chances are pretty good that you’ll come out ahead.

Navigating through a financial rough patch may seem complex, but doesn’t have to be with these basic principles in mind. As we go back to normal, these principles shouldn’t go away. Saving for a rainy day fund is always a good idea, as is keeping a long-term outlook on investments and avoiding the cycle of debt. Stick to the basics, and your money will stick with you!

Homework: To emphasize the importance of a rainy day fund and maintaining a comfortable amount, try this game with a deck of playing cards. How does your number do?

How To Play: Once the cards are shuffled, remove half the deck, and place the other half face down. You will draw from this half. Start with a number between 0 and 60; a multiple of 10 works best. As you draw a red card, subtract the number on that card from your original number. As you draw a black card, you have 2 choices: add that number or toss it. For example, drawing a red card with 6 means subtracting 6, and drawing a black card with 5 means adding 5, or 0, depending on how you decide. Royal cards and aces equal 10. If your deck includes jokers, add 10 when you draw a joker, regardless of red or black card. If your number ever dips below zero, game over. If you successfully finish through the half-deck, what number is left?

In this game, each card symbolizes money. The original number and ongoing tally is your rainy day fund. Red cards symbolize unforeseen expenses. Black cards represent income, which you can either save (add) or spend (toss). Joker cards can represent a rare windfall, such as stimulus money. Finding the right number for your “rainy day fund” and maintaining that number is key to winning the game!

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