Not sure what advice works for your specific income and situation? Treat your money like you would shoes, don’t settle for something that doesn’t fit. Here are 3 tips for 4 different income brackets! Find out what you should be doing with your money here!
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If you’ve ever read money advice that didn’t seem to apply to your situation, you may have been right.
So I’ve tailored some tips using five income brackets that correspond, roughly, with the five income quintiles defined by the latest Current Population Survey, conducted jointly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. Each bracket represents about 20% of U.S. households. There’s plenty of overlap, since tips that apply to one bracket often apply to the ones above it as well. But these bits of advice will give you some idea of what you should focus on now
Lower middle income: $20,000 to $40,000
Review the tips for those earning under $20,000, since they probably apply to you as well. Then consider the following advice to help you get by:
- Limit your overhead. If you want to have money enough to pay off debt, save for the future and still have a little fun today, it’s important to limit your overhead. Keeping your “must-have” expenses — the costs for shelter, transportation, food, insurance and minimum loan payments — to 50% of your after-tax income isn’t easy, but doing so can ensure you have money left over for other goals. For more details, read “The 50/30/20 budget fix.”
- Save for retirement. Social Security will provide a good-sized chunk of your income in retirement, since the system is set up to replace more of a lower-income worker’s earnings than those of a higher-earning worker. (Someone earning $20,000 will get Social Security benefits equal to nearly 70% of his or her working income in Social Security, while someone making $40,000 will get a benefit equal to about half of pre-retirement income.) But you’ll still want to put something aside to prevent a big drop in income once you quit work. Take advantage of any available workplace retirement plans. If you don’t have a plan at work, open an individual retirement account at a discount brokerage or mutual fund, and set up automatic transfers to fund it.
|Pre-retirement income||Social Security replacement ratio|
|Source: Aon Consulting, 2008|
- Set up savings buckets. Consider setting up separate savings accounts for irregular and nonmonthly expenses — car repairs, holidays, vacations, property taxes, insurance payments. Online banks make this easy, since they typically don’t have account minimums or monthly fees. You can set up automatic transfers so money is funneled into each account every payday. That way, the cash to cover bigger and unexpected expenses is there when you need it.
Middle income: $40,000 to $60,000
You’re smack in the middle of U.S. incomes, but the tips that apply to the folks in the $20,000 to $40,000 bracket also apply to you. Here are the additional steps you need to take:
- Nuke your credit card debt. The percentage of households with credit card debt really starts to climb as income rises. More than half (54.9%) of middle-income households had credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances, compared with 25.7% in the lowest quintile of income and 39.4% of those in the second-lowest quintile. Credit card debt is a cancer on your finances, since you’re paying interest on stuff that has little or no current value. Getting in the habit of paying off your credit cards in full every month will save you a ton of money and help you reduce your risk of bankruptcy. Read “A debt payoff plan that works” for more.
- Step up your retirement savings. You should be getting your full company 401k match, if a match is offered. Keep boosting your retirement contributions by 1% a year until you’re saving at least 10% of your income (15% is even better). The more you save now, the more options you’ll have later.
- Boost your emergency fund. Once you’re on track for retirement and your credit card debt is paid off, start funneling the money you once dedicated to debt into your emergency savings account. Accumulating an emergency fund equal to three months’ worth of expenses could take you a few years, but that cash can help you sleep better at night.
Upper middle income: $60,000 to $100,000
In high-cost areas, your income may not feel lavish, but you’re now earning more than 60% of your fellow Americans. With higher incomes come new challenges, so follow the tips for middle-income earners and consider the following new ones:
- Add a Roth IRA. Most people will be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, so it makes sense for them to grab tax breaks now by making deductible contributions to 401k’s and other retirement plans. If you have a decent income and are a good saver, though, when you retire you could be in the same or even a higher tax bracket. In that case, it may make sense to contribute to a Roth independent retirement account in addition to funding a 401k. Contributions to Roth IRAs aren’t deductible, but withdrawals in retirement are tax-free. Your future tax bracket is tough to predict, but if you’re young and earning a good income or you expect higher tax rates down the road, contributing to a Roth now can pay off. If it turns out you don’t need the extra money for retirement — a big if — you could use it to pay your kids’ college expenses or leave tax-free money for your heirs.
- Pay cash for luxuries. Your access to credit usually expands as your income rises, which means it’s easier to overdose on debt. Try not to borrow money for anything that will decline in value, and save up to pay cash for luxuries such as vacations, new cars and home improvements.
- Save for college. A college education will be increasingly important if you want your kids to succeed financially. You may qualify for some financial aid, but don’t expect much in the way of “free” money; you’re more likely to get loans than grants. Every dollar you can save for their future education can spare them a dollar or more in debt. For more on where to save, read “The best and worst 529 plans.”
Upper income: Above $100,000
Here’s a bonus tip: If you make six figures, don’t complain in public how strapped you feel. The 80% of Americans who make less than you don’t want to hear the whining.
Of course, you know the reality: that money problems exist at every income level. Here are some tips for coping, in addition to the ones you’ve already read:
- Boost your liability coverage. A six-figure income can make you more of a lawsuit target, so max out your liability coverage on your auto and homeowners or renters policies. If your net worth exceeds those liability limits, consider adding an umbrella or personal liability policy that can offer even more protection. A $1 million policy typically costs between $300 and $400 a year.
- Hire a tax pro. Getting tax help can make sense at any income level if you own a business or have a lot of investments outside of retirement accounts. Once you’re in a higher tax bracket, though, it can make sense to have someone who can not only file your returns but also help you plan to reduce your taxes and answer any tax-related questions you might have.
- Talk to a fee-only financial planner. A session with a financial planner (one who is compensated only by the fees you pay, rather than by commissions on financial investments he or she sells) can be a good idea for anyone. But good advice doesn’t come cheap, which is why many lower-income folks opt for a do-it-yourself approach. At your income level, you should make the investment in someone who can help you make sure you’re on track for retirement, college savings and other goals. Expect to pay a few hundred bucks for a portfolio review and $2,000 or more for a complete financial plan. You can get referrals to fee-only planners from the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors and from the Garrett Planning Network, which represents planners who charge by the hour.
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