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Cheat Sheet

Managing Your Money All-In-One For Dummies

Assessing your economic situation and learning to manage your money is key to achieving your financial goals. Follow some guidelines for saving, building your retirement, and investing so you can take charge of your financial situation. Know what to look for when buying health insurance to prevent unwanted medical bills. At bill-paying time, know what to prioritize and pay the necessities first. And if you receive harassing calls from debt collectors, know your rights.

How to Save for Retirement

Once the shock has worn off from realizing how much you need to save for retirement, the question is "How on earth am I going to save enough money by the time I retire?" The key is to start putting money away as soon as possible even if it's only small amounts. Here are some tips for managing and saving your money:

  • Pay off your credit cards as much as possible. You're paying them way more than your investments will pay you.

  • Save in a tax-deferred retirement account as soon as you can, to get more bang for your investment buck.

  • Start by saving just 1 percent of your pay if that's all you can afford.

  • Save for retirement even if you think it's too late. It's never too late.

  • Save at least the amount your employer matches, otherwise you're throwing money away.

  • Aim to put away 10 percent of your income for retirement each year; increase your savings rate each time you get a raise.

  • Aim to build a nest egg that's at least 10 times your annual pay when you retire.

  • Take any company stock your employer gives you, but don't invest your own money in it. Remember Enron.

  • Roll your retirement money directly into a new tax-deferred account when you change jobs. Don't cash it out.

  • Don't take a hardship withdrawal or loan unless absolutely necessary.

Keys to Investing Your Money

Investing your money can help you achieve your short- and long-term financial goals. The key is investing the right way to build wealth and financial independence. Following these simple investing rules can minimize your personal financial risk while maximizing your potential to achieve long-term goals:

  • Come up with a plan. Know what you're doing and why: Don't invest blindly, hoping that it'll all come out well in the end.

  • Establish realistic expectations, and then pick funds that have the potential to meet your goals. Learn from others, but build the portfolio that's right for you.

  • Remember that higher risk doesn't guarantee a higher return.

  • Avoid funds that have dramatic up-and-down swings, particularly if you're nearing retirement.

  • Invest in a mix of asset types, because no one knows which investments will be hot at any point in time.

  • Find a professional to help you choose the best investments.

Managing Your Money: Tips for Buying Health Insurance

Managing your money wisely includes taking a close look at health insurance. Facing serious, life threatening illness is traumatic, and your fear of health insurance coverage can make it worse. To ease your fears about paying the bills, seeing specialists, and possible holes in your coverage that leave you responsible for medical bills, follow these guidelines for finding a solid health-care coverage plan:

  • Buy at least a $2 million policy limit, covering all illnesses and injuries. Avoid dread disease insurance.

  • Don't buy any policy with internal limits such as limits on room and board charges, surgical charges, and so on.

  • Avoid plans that deny you the freedom to choose your own doctor for serious medical conditions.

  • If your group coverage at work is weak, consider buying a major medical policy with high deductibles to plug the gaps.

  • If you're medically uninsurable, see if your state offers guaranteed health insurance.

  • If you're eligible for Medicare, absolutely buy a Medicare supplement policy. Make sure that it covers at least 80 percent of the gap between what doctors actually charge and what Medicare allows.

Managing Your Money: Which Bills to Pay First

If you've done everything you can to cut your budget but you still fall short when it comes to paying the bills and covering your debt, prioritize your bill payments in the following order:

  • Rent (unless you plan to move)

  • Utilities

  • Car (if you need to keep it)

  • Mortgage (if you want to keep your home)

  • Fines

  • Child support and spousal support

  • Income taxes

Things Debt Collectors Can't Do

Getting a call from debt collector can be unnerving, especially when they start pressuring you into paying more than you think you can afford. You have rights as a consumer when debt collectors call as stated in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This act states that a debt collector cannot:

  • Call you early in the morning, late at night, or at any other unreasonable time or place

  • Harass you

  • Contact you at work if your employer prohibits personal calls

  • Threaten you

  • Tell anyone (other than your spouse, lawyer, or cosigner) that you're in debt

  • Bug you once you've told them to bug off

If they break the rules anyway, tell them you know what the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is and how to use it. Then use it by filing a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, Correspondence Branch, 600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington, D.C. 20580.

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