In the financial world, there are a lot of rules about what you should be doing. In theory, they sound reasonable. But in practice, it may not be easy, or even possible, to follow them. Let’s look at some common financial maxims and why it can be hard to implement them.
Build an emergency fund worth three to six months of living expenses
Wisdom: Set aside at least three to six months worth of living expenses in an emergency savings account so your overall financial health doesn’t take a hit when an unexpected need arises.
Problem: While you’re trying to save, other needs–both emergencies and non-emergencies–come up that may prevent you from adding to your emergency fund and even cause you to dip into it, resulting in an even greater shortfall. Getting back on track might require many months or years of dedicated contributions, leading you to decrease or possibly stop your contributions to other important goals such as college, retirement, or a down payment on a house.
As part of improving your financial situation, you might consider reducing your debt load. A number of strategies can be used to pay off debt. However, before starting any debt payoff strategy (or combination of strategies), be sure you understand the terms of your debts, including interest rates, terms of payment, and any prepayment or other penalties.
Understand minimum payments (a starting point)
You are generally required to make minimum payments on your debts, based on factors set by the lender. Failure to make the minimum payments can result in penalties, increased interest rates, and default. If you make only the minimum payments, it may take a long time to pay off the debt, and you may have to pay large amounts of interest over the life of the loan. This is especially true of credit card debt.
A 2015 study found that 41% of households headed by someone aged 55 to 64 had no retirement savings, and only about a third of them had a traditional pension. Among households in this age group with savings, the median amount was just $104,000.1
Develop an obtainable savings goal
Your own savings may be more substantial, but in general Americans struggle to meet their savings goals. Even a healthy savings account may not provide as much income as you would like over a long retirement.
Despite the challenges, about 56% of current retirees say they are very satisfied with retirement, and 34% say they are moderately satisfied. Only 9% are dissatisfied.2
Yes, if you qualify. The law authorizing qualified charitable distributions, or QCDs, has recently been made permanent by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015.
You simply instruct your IRA trustee to make a distribution directly from your IRA (other than a SEP or SIMPLE) to a qualified charity. You must be 70½ or older, and the distribution must be one that would otherwise be taxable to you. You can exclude up to $100,000 of QCDs from your gross income in 2016. And if you file a joint return, your spouse (if 70½ or older) can exclude an additional $100,000 of QCDs. But you can’t also deduct these QCDs as a charitable contribution on your federal income tax return–that would be double dipping.