How to open a Roth IRA

My good friend Kimberlyn and I were talking about personal finance at a party (what else? I am a really fun party guest). Kimberlyn told me that when she was in college she had a professor who told everyone they should open up a Roth IRA immediately. Kimberlyn’s amazing response?

I couldn’t even afford crackers, how was I supposed to save for retirement?

I hear ya, Kimberlyn. Not only is it pretty intimidating to open up a new type of money account for the first time, but you were told to do it when you had no ca$h money at all. I worked two jobs in college and I was still super broke- it’s not an easy time, financially, and it is hard to think about saving long term when you are buying store brand saltines.

But Kimberlyn’s professor was right, starting a Roth IRA as early as possible will pay off hugely in the long run (because of compound interest. Do I sound like a broken record yet?)

I opened my Roth IRA in 2010 when I was living in a double wide trailer making about $1200 a month. If I managed to do it, you can do it, too!

Lots of Roth IRAs have a minimum deposit of $1000-$3000 before you can even open an account. I have (to this day) never had $1000-$3000 sitting around, and you better believe that double wide lifestyle was never going to allow me to save up $1000 to get started. Luckily, I found an easier way to get started.

At the time, ING Direct had a program that allowed you to put in  $50 a month as long as you set up automatic deposits. I had $50 a month, I already loved automatic deposits- boom! Roth IRA was set up and my compound interest makes me happy every day! $50 a month= $600 a year, which is not a ton of money, but that cashola has grown quite a bit! I didn’t have time or the money to muck around with trading stocks and paying fees (“um, I would like to buy 1 share of stock X for $14. Oh the fee to trade is $6 per transaction? Huh.”), so I chose to put all of my money into the 2050 retirement fund and I stick to it. The 2050 retirement fund is a plan already set up by ING Direct that invests my money more aggressively (aka, takes more risks) now, because I am young. When I get closer to retirement (in 2050…the year I will be 65) the money will be moved over to more conservative investments. I don’t have to do anything at all!

 

The bad news: ING Direct is now Capital One. And they don’t offer the awesome $50/month sign up deal anymore…so you guys can’t copy what I did exactly.

The good news: I will still tell you how to open a Roth IRA without needing $1000-$3000 in your piggy bank.

TD Ameritrade has no minimum and no annual fees (I HATE fees!) and they have a number of funds that you can trade around for free, if you are into that sort of thing. You can still set up automatic $50 (or $5…whatever you can afford) deposits, so it is kind of like you can do exactly what I did four years later!

It is worth it to give it a whirl. Start with an amount you won’t miss. I like to think of the money I invest as “night out equivalents.” If I went out for dinner and to a movie twice a month, that would cost me (more than) $50. I think it is snugglier (and cheaper) to make homemade (or frozen) pizza, buy a 6 pack, and rent a Redbox to watch with friends on the couch twice a month. Look at that! I saved for retirement!

Remember that unlike savings account it is not risk-free. But, you will have access to the original capital you put in at any time without penalty, so it’s like a secret emergency savings account. However, you will not see your money benefit from compound interest if you don’t take risks with it, and it is nearly impossible for the average Joe to retire if he has not invested his ca$h.

There you go! How to open a Roth IRA (relatively) painlessly. It will pay off tenfold when you are ready to retire, so it is worth it to get started now!

 

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Saving for Retirement without a 401k

So far in my life, I have had some pretty stellar jobs (one year I wrote “shark wrestler” when describing my job to the IRS on my tax forms).

Stellar jobs, yes…but so far no 401k has come my way. I am very aware that investing early will lead to much more wealth in retirement because of the miracle of compound interest. I don’t want to miss out on that extra giant pot of money, but how are you supposed to save for retirement without a job that gives you benefits?

The answer is a Roth IRA. It is named after Senator William Roth (DE), who led the fight to help create this awesome savings tool. IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account. Not so tricky!

A Roth IRA is the best choice for twentysomethings. A Roth IRA is a diversified set of investments (similar to a 401k in this way), but the biggest difference between a Roth IRA and a 401k is that a 401k is funded with pre-tax money, and then you are taxed when you take the funds out. A Roth IRA is funded with money you have already paid taxes on. You let the ca$h money sit in there for at least 5 years, and when you take the money out (as long as you are older than 59 1/2) YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PAY ANY TAXES ON IT. NONE. You don’t even have to pay taxes on the compound interest that you have earned. This is an awesome deal!

There is also something called a traditional IRA, but if you are young and expect to make a ton in compound interest (which you do)- then go for a Roth IRA. A traditional IRA is funded by money that is not taxed when you put it in, but when you take the money out you pay normal income tax.

I am a full-fledged Roth IRA fan but there are (very few) reasons why you would choose a traditional IRA instead.

  • Roth IRAs have income limits. If you make over $95k individually or $150k as a couple, you can’t get a Roth IRA. So go with traditional.
  • If you are making a lot of ca$h money now, but you expect to be in a lower income bracket when you retire, you can save on your tax bill by not paying taxes on your investment now (in the higher bracket) and paying them later (when you retire). If you are in your 20s, however, your interest should be massive and you will pay a lot of taxes on that interest (and also can you say for certain what kind of money you will be making when you retire? Please. Just go for the Roth IRA)

Are you convinced a Roth IRA is an excellent choice? Me too. Here are some things to know:

  • In 2014, you can contribute up to $5,500 to your Roth IRA each year. The more you invest at an early age, the better your compound interest will treat you!
  • If you are married, both you and your spouse can have a Roth IRA even if you only have one income (which means double the potential for investing!)
  • You can always take out the initial contribution that you had invested without penalty. This makes the Roth IRA kind of like a secret savings account for yourself- except compound interest is so good I do not recommend that you do this except in extreme emergencies (you have already tapped out all of your other savings accounts)
  • You can set up your Roth IRA to automatically reduce the risk in your portfolio as you get closer to retirement, so you don’t even have to worry about anything. I just picked that option when I opened my Roth IRA and I don’t ever have to fiddle with it (unless I want to, of course!). Extremely low maintenance.

If you want to take out more than your initial contribution (the interest that your money has earned) you will pay a 10% penalty if you are not 59 1/2 yet unless you are taking it out for any of the following reasons:

  • Educational expenses
  • Medical expenses that are over 7.5% of your adjusted gross income
  • First time homebuyers can take out up to $10,000
  • Costs of a sudden disability

So you still have access to all of this money in case of a big emergency. However, if you spend your retirement what will you do when you retire? Also, remember that each $1000 you put in today could be worth over $10k when it is time to retire. I don’t want to rob my future self of that easy money! I pretend that the money is GONE and I have promised myself that I am not touching it. It does make me feel better, though, to have a source of backup funds just in case all of my other financial strategies get tapped out.

Stay tuned for next time- we can talk about HOW you actually set one of these suckers up.

Even Lower Maintenance Budget Planning

My friend Marisa said some lovely things about my blog the other day. This is what she emailed me:

Kate- I LOVE your blog. I forwarded it to my sister and my mom and told them to join. You are saving my financial life right now (and Willow too since she sent me her budget spreadsheet), and you’re doing it in a way that makes it funny, easy, and I dont get anxiety about it!

Thank you, Marisa! I really hope that this blog is helping my readers get over any financial-planning anxiety they have. The goal is to make you feel awesome about how you manage your money, instead of guilty and/or anxious and/or head-in-the-sand about finances.

I couldn’t help but notice what Marisa included in the parenthesis, though. Willow’s budget spreadsheet? Willow is our mutual friend (also the best roommate I have ever had) and Willow is an extremely practical person who will put infinite extra effort into things she cares about, but does not like spending time on things she doesn’t give a crap about.

You know what Willow doesn’t give a crap about? Money. But she lives in reality and not in the poorhouse, so she has to do some financial planning just like the rest of us. But she and Marisa don’t want to spend hours on Mint. While I (obviously) love Mint because of its automatic tracking, graphing capabilities and goal-setting, some of my readers might find Mint overwhelming (it is kind of a bear to sign up for Mint) and some of my readers just might not be interested. That’s ok, but it doesn’t excuse you from sticking to a budget.

Here is Willow’s (and Marisa’s, now) budgeting method:

  1. Willow made a spreadsheet on googledocs that she can access from anywhere because it lives online. She is the only one with access to it so the world can’t see her financial information (although even if they could it’s still pretty safe because she isn’t including bank account numbers in there).
  2. For the first three months, Willow compared her estimated spending with her credit card/ checking account spending to make sure the numbers line up and adjusted them when they weren’t working.
  3. She uses her credit card for all of her purchases so that all of her spending is in one place and she can easily compile categories. (And she gets rewards. She just cashed in her rewards for $100. Nice.)
  4. This is not that much work for her because she is not a big shopper (so for example, she only goes to the grocery once a week, so that is four trips a month, just four numbers to add).
  5. She pays off her credit card in full each month.
  6. If she spent too much in one category one month, (her words: “like if I spend too much on socks one month”) she cools it the next month on that category.
  7. It’s a general estimate. She doesn’t give a crap about tracking each penny.
  8. She has an automatic transfer into savings so she doesn’t have to worry about saving money. Ditto into retirement.
  9. She has a “free money” category. This is for miscellaneous purchases, and anything left over in the “free money” category gets transferred into savings at the end of the month.
  10. She has emergency savings, savings for trips and big purchases. She knows when she will be spending a lot of money that is not normal for her budget, and she can plan accordingly to make sure she has enough to cover it.

Want to see how her budget works? I have recreated a template with example amounts for you all to use. Please use it, but I have made it so you have to copy and paste it make your own version in googledocs or Excel so that everyone can use it without overwriting their own personal information.

Hope this method helps you!

Relationships and Money, Couple 1: Juan y Catalina

Subjects:

Juan (37) and Catalina (29)

Juan has two children from a previous marriage and makes twice what Catalina makes.

Juan pays child support and alimony directly from his paycheck. After that, Juan and Catalina put all of their money into a joint checking account. From that account, they pay their bills, save for mid-term goals and they save for retirement. They have a  budget that they have planned out together. They are aggressive savers and they are both on the same page about their long term goals of early retirement.

To deal with buying things they each want but don’t want to have to discuss, Juan and Catalina give themselves equal “allowances” each month from the joint checking account to their own private checking accounts. The amount is enough for both Juan and Catalina to feel like they can take care of their personal purchases. If Juan wants to buy one of these for every day of the week, he totally can without even talking to Catalina about it. But Catalina might pretend she doesn’t know him anymore. Such is life, Juan.

This system seems to work for them because:

  1. Juan and Catalina have agreed upon long term savings goals and both spend their money according to their shared goals. Neither of them have run out to buy a new road bike or a pair of Jimmy Choos just because they felt like it. They are committed to their goals and follow the rules they have made for themselves.
  2. Juan and Catalina have mutually decided on their “allowance” amount, and they both agree it is sufficient for their personal needs. Neither of them are forced to buy work clothes at Goodwill to stick to their allowance (although they can if they want).
  3. Juan and Catalina never have to have arguments over whether they spend too much on clothes, or haircuts, or stupid crap*
  4. Juan and Catalina pay their bills before they pay themselves their allowance. If they stray from their budget on a joint purchase or want to go on a joint vacation- they just lower their allowance and they are still on track for their savings targets.
  5. Mainly, Juan and Catalina are an example of a successful financial couple because they have taken the time to figure out a system that works for them. They have agreed on goals, budgets, and how to deal with personal purchases- but they had to sit down and have discussions about it before they could get to la felicidad financiera (financial happiness, it sounds nicer in Spanish, eh?)

* Is it worrisome that I actually own one of the items on this list of stupid crap? Maybe. But I also happen to think item #10 (baby mop outfit) and item #1 (send poop anonymously in the mail) are brilliant ideas.

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