REDMOND, Wash., December 28, 1998 — If you’re like thousands of Americans, chances are one of your top New Year’s resolutions involves getting your finances in shape. Financial tools like Money99 and MSN MoneyCentral can help, by giving you tips to take control of your finances and make smarter financial and investment decisions in the New Year.
And you don’t have to do it alone. Microsoft has compiled a team of some of the best financial minds in the business, focused on helping you get fiscally fit in 1999. From where to invest, to how to save, to what to write off, MSN MoneyCentral experts will point you in the right direction on the road to financial health.
Ginger Applegarth , CFP, CLU, ChFC
MSN MoneyCentral retirement, insurance and estate planning expert Applegarth is a Certified Financial Planner and author of the best-selling book, “The Money Diet,” and co-host of the MoneyCentral radio show. Her newest book, “Wake Up and Smell the Money,” is scheduled for publication in April by Viking Penguin. She is the Personal Finance expert for Boston’s CBS TV affiliate, WBZ, and a former contributing correspondent for CNBC’s “The Money Club” and NBC’s “The Today Show.” She is a Chartered Financial Consultant and Chartered Life Insurance Underwriter.
Ginger’s Top Three Tips for the New Year:
Retirement. Put the maximum amount possible into your employer-sponsored retirement plan contributions in 1999. If you can’t put in the full amount, contribute as much as you can to capture the employer match. Your employer’s contribution is essentially free money if you stay at the company long enough.
Insurance. This year, re-assess your life insurance coverage. If you own a mortgage jointly with someone, make sure you have enough coverage so that each of you could continue to make mortgage payments if the other were to die. Make sure all family members who depend on you for financial support are provided for in case of your death.
Estate Planning. In 1999, make a point of updating your will and other estate-planning documents. Every adult should have a living will, durable power of attorney and a health-care proxy – if you don’t, get them. The few hundred dollars that you’ll spend on an estate-planning attorney will be worth it.
Mary Rowland , MSN MoneyCentral mutual fund and investment expert
A former New York Times personal finance columnist, Rowland is co-host of the MoneyCentral radio show. Her Her articles have been featured in Fortune, Worth, Business Week, Bloomberg Personal, Money, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal and USA Today. She is the author of several books on personal finance, her latest being, “The New Commonsense Guide to Mutual Funds.”
Mary on Your Money in the New Year:
Sharpen your job and career skills. You will need flexibility in your life and your career. You should be ready to go to work for yourself tomorrow, next week, next month if need be. The times they are a changing.
Stuff everything you can into your 401(k) plan. Social Security looks iffy for the baby boomers. Expect lower benefits, higher taxes.
Streamline your mutual fund portfolio. Most people buy too many overlapping funds that under perform index funds. Weed out the so-so performers.
Adriane Berg , MSN MoneyCentral home ownership tuition planning, and family finance expert
Berg is a personal finance author, lawyer, divorce mediation counselor and licensed stockbroker who hosts the WABC radio talk show “Adriane Berg’s Peace of Mind.” She has appeared on several local and national television shows including “Oprah.” Berg is the author of nine books, including “Your Wealth Building Years” and “Financial Planning for Couples.” This month she began hosting Metro Money, a weekly television show on Cablevision’s Metro Learning Channel. (For schedule info, see www.msgmetro.com.) She can also be found as the MoneyMaven for the women’s web site at www.ivillage.com and her financial instant makeovers appear on www.abcnews.com. Her online personal finance Web site is http://www.wealthbuildernews.com/.
Adriane’s Advice for 1999
Buy Real Estate. 1999 is the year to pull out all of the stops for that second home or waterfront lot. Mortgage rates have never been so low, and tax breaks never so good. Get there before 78 million baby boomers are ready to retire.
Take Advantage of Section 529 (Prepaid Tuition Programs). They are a rare gift from the government. You can accelerate your gift tax exclusion and invest as much as $50,000 per student in one year tax deferred. When the children use the money for college it will be taxed a their low rate. The College Board has decided not to count that money in determining aid.
Don’t listen to the bad news bears. If you are the family financial planner, be sure everyone contributes to their pensions and IRAs regularly. Stay in the stock market and diversify into European mutual funds as well. 1999 is the year of Europe’s grand opening with the Economic Union.
Jeff Schnepper , MSN MoneyCentral tax expert
Schnepper is the author of the best-selling, “How to Pay Zero Taxes,” which is now in its 16th edition and has appeared as part of “TurboTax Deluxe.” He has written several other books on finance and taxation including “How Much is it Worth? Asset and Business Valuation,” “The New Bankruptcy Law: A Professional Handbook,” and “Inside the IRS, How it Works (You Over)”, and is now writing another book titled, “How To Pay Zero Estate Taxes.” A former professor of taxation, accounting and finance, Schnepper has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and has appeared on numerous national and local television programs.
Jeff’s Tax Tips for 1999
Know the tax you have to pay. If you pay estimated tax, January 15, 1999 is the due date for your final payment for 1998. Your first 1999 estimated payment isn’t due until April 15, 1999. You don’t want to pay any more than you have to, so base your estimated tax payment on your 1998 total tax – which you should know by April 15th. If you pay at least 100% (105% if your 1998 adjusted gross income is more than $150,000) of your 1998 total tax, even if you owe more, there will be no interest or penalty.
Start Bunching. If you itemize your deductions, there are many expenses that are not allowed unless they exceed a specified floor level. For example, your medical expenses are only allowed to the extent they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. If your adjusted gross income is $100,000, then the first $7,500 of your medical expenses doesn’t count. Alternatively, your miscellaneous itemized deductions, such as your unreimbursed business expenses, investment expenses, etc., are only allowed to the extent they exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. In the example above, the first $2,000 of those expenses would not be allowed.
To Roth, or not to Roth? That is the Question. You can’t get better than tax free. If you qualify, (income limits phase out from $95,000 – $110,000 for singles and from $150,000 – $160,000 for joint returns) open a ROTH IRA. If held for five years, all income comes back to you, or to your heirs, completely tax free. The earlier you open the account, the more tax free accumulation time you have.
Jon Markman , MSN MoneyCentral investment expert
Markman is the managing editor of MSN Investor and creator of the Investor SuperModels stock portfolios. He’s a former executive news editor, investments columnist and investigative reporter at the Los Angeles Times. He’s currently writing about momentum investing. Markman’s main SuperModel — a portfolio of 10 momentum stocks called Flare-Out Growth — closed the year with a gain of 151 percent — about seven times better than the broad market indexes. He also created CNBC’s Top 100, a long list of value and growth stocks intended to beat the market from Sept. 4 through Dec. 31. That portfolio has beat the market by 10 percentage points, 33.9 percent to 23.9 percent.
Markman’s Moves for 1999:
His top three tips for investors in 1999 are to invest strategically, methodically and bravely.
Broadband access and electronic commerce are going to be even more important next year than this year, as the Internet ramps up to be the fastest growing mass-communications and retailing mechanism in world history. Investors with an adventuresome spirit should consider focusing on stocks that either facilitate or benefit from broadband e-commerce and communications. Look for best-of-breed companies with good momentum. They include new-age telecom providers COLT Telecom (COLTY) and Metromedia Fiber Network (MFNX); communications semiconductor makers HI/FN (HIFN), PMC Sierra (PMCS) and Broadcom (BRCM); data storage specialists EMC (EMC) and Network Appliances (NTAP); and Web-tailers America Online (AOL), Yahoo! (YHOO), Amazon.com (AMZN), Dell Computer (DELL) and Onsale (ONSL).
New! MSN MoneyCentral Radio Show
For more financial tips and advice from the MSN MoneyCentral experts throughout the New Year, be sure to check out the new, nationally syndicated MoneyCentral radio show, with hosts Ginger Applegarth and Mary Rowland. Each Saturday, (1:00 – 3:00 EST and 10:00 – Noon PST) Ginger, Mary and a variety of guests will offer useful personal finance information, tips and advice on the Talk Radio Network. Call in with your own questions or log on to the MSN MoneyCentral newsgroups and ask an expert for advice on the Web.