While December 31st is a day to reflect on the year gone by, January 1st is a time to look forward to 2005. Have you reset your monthly retirement savings to take full advantage of this year's increased tax breaks?
Most working professionals have access to a 401(k) plan or a 403(b) plan at work. Amounts contributed to these plans reduce your taxable earnings and grow tax deferred. This year, you can contribute up to $14,000, or $1,166.67 per month, into a 401(k) or 403(b) plan through salary deferrals.
Will you be 50 or older by December 31st? If so, you can contribute an extra $4,000 into your 401(k) or 403(b) plan this year, for a total of $18,000. To max out this pre-tax opportunity, instruct your employer to withhold $1,500.00 each month from your salary.
Many smaller employers offer SIMPLE/IRAs instead. SIMPLE's work just like 401(k) plans, which means it's up to you to fund your account through salary deferrals. For 2005, the maximum contribution into your SIMPLE is $10,000, or $833.33 per month. Anyone 50 or older by December 31st can sock away an additional $2,000 this year, for a total annual contribution of $12,000, or $1,000 per month.
Are you self-employed? Each year, you can contribute up to 20% of your net self-employment income into a SEP IRA. The maximum contribution for 2005 is $42,000, or $3,500 per month.
Solo 401(k)'s are an attractive alternative to many sole proprietors and business owners with no full time employees (those who work more than 1,000 hours per year) besides a spouse. If you don't have access to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan through another employer, the Solo 401(k) plan makes it easier for you hit the this year's max of $42,000. If you're 50 or older, your maximum contribution into a Solo 401(k) jumps to $46,000, or $3,833.33 per month.
And don't forget about IRA's. Even if you're covered under a retirement plan at work, you and your spouse can each contribute up to $4,000, or $333.33 per month, into a traditional IRA or Roth IRA this year. Anyone 50 or older can contribute an extra $500, increasing the total allowable contribution to $4,500, or $375 per month.
Most people won't be able to max out these tax-advantaged retirement options unless they get on a budget and put away a set amount of money each month. Now's the time to reset your monthly retirement savings for 2005.
2005 Maximum Retirement Account Contributions
When deciding how to invest your money, don't get stuck holding the fad bag. While some people may make oodles of money while an investment fad remains in vogue, most end up losing the bulk of what they invest.
One of the earliest investments fads that you read about is the tulip fad back in Holland. Somehow, people were convinced to pay extraordinary sums of money for a flower.
More recent fads include the Beanie Baby craze of the late 20th century during which time people paid in excess of $2,500 for a stuffed animal. Guess what those stuffed animals are worth today.
Most investment fads don't reach the level of tulips or Beanie Babies. Even so, by recognizing a fad as nothing more than a fraud, many average investors could have significantly cut their losses by not getting caught up in the hype. Let's take a look at some of the signs of an investment fad:
Clue #1: Promises of Quick and Risk-free Investment Returns: Think back to the late 1990s and the high-flying NASDAQ when annual returns of 40% or more were the norm.
Clue #2: It Just Doesn't Feel Right: Beanie Babies selling for $2,500!!!
Clue #3: It's All You Hear: Before the Great Depression, one successful investor sold all his holdings upon hearing taxi drivers giving investment advice. And during the dot-com boom, you couldn't go anywhere without friends and family members bragging about the quick money they made by investing in tech stocks.
Clue #4: It's All You Read About: How many dot-com success stories did we endure during the Internet boom?
Clue #5: New Set of Rules Appear: None of the "new-economy" stocks could be valued using traditional valuation techniques, so new techniques were concocted.
Clue #6: New Crop of Talking Heads: All of a sudden, a plethora of new experts appear touting the latest fad.
Clue #7: Established Experts Become Contrarians: Everyone was questioning why Warren Buffet never purchased any "new-economy" stocks, but ended up seeing the wisdom of his ways.
What should you do if you spot a fad?
Don't let greed and the lure of easy money get the best of you. Stick to your pre-fad asset allocation model, and make sure to systematically rebalance your portfolio. By doing so, you'll be sure to lock in some gains realized from the overpriced sectors.
And be patient. Before long, your willpower will pay huge dividends as the fad turns out to be nothing more than a fraud.
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