Nobody knows for sure what will happen in the financial markets in 2013. “But that’s no excuse for sitting on your hands or staying on the sidelines,” says Jonathan Clements, Director of Financial Education at Citi Personal Wealth Management. So what should you be doing? Here are Jonathan’s top five financial ideas for the year ahead:
1. Get tax smart. With federal taxes rising for many Americans in 2013, there’s an even bigger incentive to pay close attention to taxes. Some good news: The annual contribution limit for an Individual Retirement Account climbs to $5,500 in 2013 from 2012′s $5,000, while the 401(k) plan limit will be $17,500, up from 2012′s $17,000. That means you may be able to defer more retirement money from taxes.
2. No rate relief in sight. The Federal Reserve has said it will likely keep short-term interest rates low through at least mid-2015. The upshot: Payouts on savings accounts and certificates of deposit could be modest for another two years or more, so you may want to explore higher-yielding alternatives that could offer better returns, but are typically more volatile and entail greater risk.
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3. Two cheers for home buyers. Looking to buy a home in 2013? You have two things going for you. First, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are available at less than 4%. Second, home prices remain some 30% below their mid-2006 peak, as measured by S&P/Case-Shiller’s 20-city composite. To be sure, that doesn’t mean real-estate prices couldn’t fall further. But at least you can take comfort in knowing that houses are significantly cheaper than they were.
4. Rig up a strong safety net. According to the Labor Department, December’s unemployment rate was 7.8%, among the lowest levels in the past four years. Despite the improving job market, layoffs remain a constant threat, so you should make sure your finances are prepared. To that end, consider building up your emergency fund, holding down your fixed monthly expenses and setting up credit lines, so you’ll have easy access to borrowed money if you find yourself in a cash crunch.
5. Don’t leave tomorrow to chance. Many people think they are either too young or not wealthy enough to reap the benefits of estate planning. Regardless of your age or what you own, there’s a simple question that can help you determine if you should have a plan: “Do I want to control what happens to my children and my assets, or do I want the state to decide for me?” If you want to decide what happens, you’d be well served to consult with your financial, legal, and tax advisors about developing an estate plan. And, remember; while estates below $5 million are exempt from federal estate taxes, state estate and inheritance taxes often kick in at much lower levels. For example, in New Jersey, state taxes apply for estates valued at $675,000 and above.
Jonathan adds that, as always, you shouldn’t lose sight of what you can control: the amount you save, the degree of investment risk you take, and the amount you pay in investment fees and taxes.
Linda Descano, CFA®, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Women & Co., Citibank’s complimentary online resource that provides expert content and commentary for women who want to enhance their financial acumen. Linda is a noted authority on wealth management and personal finance.
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