When A Savings Account Isn’t A Savings Account


For many credit union members, a savings account is a formality. They know, in theory, that saving is important. Maybe they got a bonus at work and stuck $50 in a savings account. Other savings options  that come with higher rates, such as IRAs or 401(k) accounts, took priority and that initial deposit was quickly forgotten.


Tax-advantaged retirement accounts are fantastic, but it’s unlikely that retirement is your only savings goal. When it comes time to put a down payment on a house, buy your next car or plan an exciting vacation, the money in those retirement accounts will be locked up tight. There’s no way to get to it without taking on massive penalties and paying a lot in taxes.

If you want your money to be there when you need it, no matter when “it” is, now might be the time to take another look at the humble savings account. Even if it’s not your primary savings vehicle, a savings account can offer tremendous benefits. Let’s look at some ways to get the most out of it!

1.) Dividend rate isn’t the only consideration

Many experts shun savings accounts, citing low interest/dividend rates as their chief concern. If you’re looking to maximize your returns, putting all your money in a savings account isn’t the smartest plan. It’s unlikely that your financial plans call for maximizing returns on all your investments, though. While it’s true that higher return investments do exist, savings accounts offer unique benefits.

First, savings accounts are NCUA insured up to $250,000. If something unthinkable happens, you’re promised to be reimbursed for your losses. That’s quite a lot of security for your hard-earned cash.

Another benefit of savings accounts is their liquidity. If you need the money in your savings account tomorrow, you could get it. You can withdraw cash in person, at a branch or from an ATM. You also have access by using our online banking or mobile banking to transfer funds to another account to make payments on a loan. You can also transfer funds to your checking account to conveniently use your debit card without worries of overdrafting.

2.) Automate, automate, automate!

You know that exhausted feeling you get after you’ve been shopping? It never seems fair. Sure, there was some walking involved in your day, but the total amount of physical activity was fairly limited. All you did was make a ton of decisions.

That feeling has a name. It’s called decision fatigue. Making a commitment to something takes willpower and energy, and you’ve only got so much in your tank. Waiting until the end of the month to decide what to do with your household surplus can encourage splurging. Thinking about sensible decisions takes willpower, and you’ve already used your allotment for the month.

That’s why it’s great to know your savings account can be automated. You can set up automatic transfers between your checking account and your savings account or even make it part of your employer direct deposit. Make that decision once and then never have to think about it again. You can save your willpower for more important decisions, and let your cash reserve grow.

3.) You need an emergency fund

Even if you have a high-paying job, you’ve only got as much security as the economy allows. Your company could succumb to competition.Your job could be eliminated. You or a loved one could get sick, requiring you to leave your job or cut back to fewer hours.

Other emergencies could happen. Your car could break down. You could face a big medical bill or fall victim to a scam. What would you do to cover your costs in these situations?

Situations like these are among the leading causes of bankruptcy. People find themselves forced to rely on credit to get through such circumstances. With no way to repay those charges, people are stuck in a constant cycle of debt repayment that ruins financial plans for years.

The best way to avoid this calamity is with a strong emergency fund. How much should you have saved? Most experts agree that 6 months of living expenses is a good target, though that number may need to be higher if you work in an industry with a tight labor market. What’s a living expense? Count anything that you couldn’t cut if you absolutely had to do so. For example, your housing, utilities, insurance, debt maintenance and food. Don’t include luxuries like dinners out or monthly subscription costs that you could stop paying if money got tight.

It’s important to keep that emergency fund accessible. If it’s in a brokerage account, you risk needing to access that money when the market is down. A savings account provides the security and flexibility that you need for your rainy day fund.

4.) Keep your funds separate

If you already have an emergency fund, you may have some other savings goals. Suppose you plan to start a business, but need start-up funding to do so. You might want to put away money gradually over time to make your dreams a reality.

If you keep that money in your checking account with the rest of your funds, there can be a real temptation to spend it. Resisting that urge depletes some of that willpower, which makes it easier to make impulsive choices in other areas. Instead of relying on your self-control to keep those savings safe, you can build separate accounts for each specific savings goal. This will let you track your progress while also keeping the money safe from an Amazon splurge.

Look for ways to increase your dividends

At Destinations Credit Union, we have an easy way to increase your dividend rate – it’s our Kasasa® Cash Rewards Checking Account.  By doing easy things that you probably already do, you can earn a really high rate on your checking account and attach a high rate Kasasa Saver to that account.  Then, at the end of the month, your rewards are automatically swept into the savings account.


Your Tax Refund – Why Is It So Small?


This time of year, W-2 forms are coming in, shoe-boxes are coming out and kitchen tables are disappearing under a pile of documents.  It’s tax time, and the most common set of questions we hear revolve around the same issue: Why is my refund so small? How can I make it bigger? While we are not tax professionals, here are some observations we’ve had while serving our members over the years. You may want to discuss them in further detail with your tax advisor. 

Question:  Why is my refund so small?

Answer: There’s no secret to withholding. You tell the IRS factors about your life, your employer holds money back to “guess” at how much you’ll pay in income taxes, and then whatever has been withheld is paid to the IRS for covering your annual income tax burden. If, in fact, you’ve withheld more during the year than you need to pay, the IRS will pay you back any extra income you’ve withheld.

If your tax refund is smaller than you expect, then you didn’t withhold enough money to cover your tax bill. If the amount is surprising because it doesn’t look like last year’s refund, then you probably had something different happen this year. Did you pick up extra income? Did a child move out? Did you stop paying the interest on your mortgage or student loans? Knowing this, if you’re looking for a reason why your refund was smaller, start with the changes in your life.

If you still can’t figure it out, look at how much you made this year as well as your total withholding.  If you made significantly more than last year while withholding the same amount, that could be the reason.  If you want better, more specific answers, take your information to a tax preparation professional. 

Question:  So, should I withhold more?

Answer:  We hear this one a lot. Many of our members were raised on “the IRS savings plan,” particularly if they came from poorer or lower middle-class backgrounds. Families that had trouble getting ahead would plan on tax refunds for a once-a-year spending spree. Now, as the children of those families have grown up, they want to have that type of spree as well.

It’s not a good idea to withhold more money so you can have a bigger refund. In fact, it’s about the worst investment you can make, because you get paid no interest on it. Your money will even lose value due to inflation while the government holds it, so it’s like you paid someone for the privilege of not accessing your money while it earned zero interest. Imagine a free checking and savings account, except the exact opposite in every way: It’s not free, you can’t access it like a checking account, and you don’t earn interest on it like a savings account. It’s a free checking and savings account you set up for someone else. 

Question:  How can I get more money back?

Answer:  The obvious way to get more money back is to find more deductions or withhold more during the year. However, there are other ways to make tax time more profitable. 

Imagine that, instead of withholding an extra $100 every month, you invested it in a savings certificate, money market, or Christmas club account.  Over the course of the year, you’d accumulate $1,200 in principle, just like you’d have an extra $1,200 coming from the IRS. In other words, this method is just as good as the IRS savings plan: If something crazy happens on your tax return or you have some money to avoid a big tax bill, you can have a big annual spending spree.

But it’s better than withholding for a variety of reasons. First, you can access it if you’re putting that money into a money market or other savings program. (Try the high yields on our Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking account with a Saver attached.)  Second, your money will be protected from inflation, and then it will grow. Earnings on different programs vary based upon what you choose to invest in, along with other factors. But even earning a couple of percentage points above inflation could lead to another $100 in your pocket on top of the principle, and save you $100 that you would have lost to inflation. $200 isn’t chump change, particularly on a modest investment, and it could even be more depending upon how much you invest and the program you choose.  Even if you don’t earn much, though, it’s still better than giving that money away.


Even better, you can use that money to double dip.  If you withhold that extra $100 every month, then deposit it into one of our tax-exempt college or retirement savings funds, you can have a big payday while building deductions for next year, so you’ll get even more back.  Obviously, your specific situation will vary and there are limits to how much you can put into each of your tax-exempt accounts, but if you’re interested in starting the snowball effect of compound interest, tax deductions and long-term savings, give Destinations Credit Union a call at 410-663-2500 and we’ll get you set up in no time.  

The Shoulds Of Retirement


When it comes to retirement, the variety of ways to save money can be so confusing that even the most diligent investors might wonder if they are looking at the right information, doing the right thing or if they’re even on the right track. Would you know if you should be using a fancy savings plan?  Should you put more in? Less?  Should you panic?  While we’ll get to the rest of the questions, the answer to the last one is no, you should not panic.  There is no retirement plan anywhere that does better when you panic.

For anyone confused about retirement, there are lots of sources that explain who, what, how, when and why, but very few places to turn for one of the most important questions – should.  This guide is meant as a quick reference to that really tricky word, with some of the most common “should” questions answered. Like any other guide, though, it can’t be as specific as you’d like, so if you have more questions, get in touch with us at 410-663-2500, or ask questions our Facebook pageAsk us your shoulds or see what shoulds other people are asking.  If you’ve got a question, it’s a safe bet you’re not alone. 
Question:  How much money should I have when I retire?
Answer:  This is the most common “should” question in America right now, probably because of its importance.  The answer that most experts give, “as much as you’ll need” isn’t particularly helpful.  A better, although still maddeningly incomplete answer involves some simple math you can do on the back of a napkin: take your annual income the year before you plan to retire and subtract your annual retirement income (Social Security, pension, trust, etc.) from it. Whatever that difference is, multiply it by the number of years you expect to live after retirement, probably 15-20.  That’s how much you need, give or take a bit.
For example, if your Social Security and pension pays you around $50,000 per year and you’re making around $150,000 before you retire, the difference is $100,000.  Multiply that by 20, and you’ll probably need around $2 million.  If that sounds like a whole lot of money, that’s because it is a whole lot of money.
Question:  How much should I be saving now?
Answer:  Another question that all-too-often results in a frustrating answer. You should save as much as you can, but not more than you can.  A better answer is that retirement should be your savings priority, ahead of college funds or other long-term savings simply because you can’t get a loan to retire, but you can for virtually everything else.  If you feel like your monthly contributions are just drops in the bucket, stop focusing on the bucket.  Instead, take a look at your monthly picture.  Make a pie chart with five big slices:  Bills, debt, spending, short-term savings and long-term savings.  This isn’t yet the time to go through and figure out how to trim your bills or refocus your spending, just look at those five. How much of your long-term savings is being used for retirement?  Could that number be higher?  If so, put more into retirement.  If you want to find ways to reduce your costs so you can save more money for retirement, look at those categories again and start making cuts from right to left.  First, cut some spending from other long-term savings.  Then short-term savings, spending, debt and finally bills.
Question:  When should I start saving?
Answer:  If you read the last two questions and have sharp pattern recognition skills, you might expect a frustrating answer, but this one is actually easy.  If you haven’t started, start today.  Like, right now. Seriously, either click this link for information on our IRA programs. It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll feel so much better.  Remember the motivational cliché: the best day to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best day is today.
 
Question:  What kind of retirement account should I get (or get next)?
Answer:  There are three major considerations when selecting a retirement account.  First, how many years do you have until you retire?  The answer to that question should help determine your risk.  The second question is how much money do you make?  The answer to that question determines whether you’d like to be taxed on the income now or in retirement.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay taxes on it at least once.  Finally, have you maximized the benefits of another account?  If you’re past the point of getting your employer to match your 401k, look at all of your options.  If not, put in as much as you can that your employer will match. You’re not going to find a lot of retirement plans that pay more than the 100% rate of return your employer is offering by matching funds, and if you do find one that can consistently outpace your employer’s contributions, it’s probably illegal.

Once you have the answers to those questions, check the link above or drop us a line at info@destinationscu.org and we’ll set you up with the best plan we can.

There are a lot of retirement guides out there, but most of them aren’t very good at those “shoulds” that matter so much in our daily lives. Hopefully, this guide has given you enough information to know what questions to ask.  We’d love the opportunity to talk about these shoulds or any others you might have. For now, check out our Facebook Page and join in the conversation!

Sources:

http://www.savingforcollege.com/articles/coverdell-ESA-versus-529-Plan
http://money.cnn.com/retirement/guide/basics_basics.moneymag/index7.htm

http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/12/19/7-retirement-savings-accounts-you-should-consider