MONEY 401(k)s

How Panicky Retirement Savers Blew It When Stocks Fell

This is long-term money.

As the market was tumbling in late August, retirement account trading spiked, new research shows. Money flowed from stocks to bonds, suggesting a discouraging level of panic on the part of some long-term investors.

Trading was twice the normal pace on Friday, Aug. 21. On Monday, Aug. 24, it increased to seven times the normal pace, according to Aon Hewitt, making Monday one of the busiest trading days on record. Yet trading in 401(k) accounts tapered off as the market regained much of its lost ground, suggesting that those who sold on the two worst days of the 11% market correction made the classic mistake of selling low and missing the rebound.

Certainly, the market may tumble again. But it might also keep moving higher. No one knows, which is why the smart move during swift corrections is to do nothing with the assets in your retirement portfolio. This is long-term money. So stick with a long- term approach.

Now that things have settled down you can look at your portfolio and make carefully considered changes. Is your asset mix appropriate? Have you rebalanced in the past year? Has your risk profile changed? Will you be retiring sooner, or later, than previously planned? These are important questions—and should be tackled while the markets are calm.

Most folks have learned that holding tight and continuing a regular regimen of contributing to retirement accounts through thick and thin is the key to long-term wealth. Consider that the market has tripled since its recession low, which was a scary time to hold tight. But 401(k) savers who stayed the course long ago made back the losses from that vicious downturn.

The trading activity that Aon Hewitt reported represents less than .2% of net 401(k) plan balances that traded on Aug. 24. So, yes, only a small group paid the price for panic. But millions of savers are vulnerable to this kind of thinking. Just 44% of 401(k) investors say they are confident in their ability to make good decisions, according to a Charles Schwab survey.

A similar number say the materials explaining their plan are more difficult to understand than their medical benefits. Seven in 10 are so baffled and frustrated they want retirement savings to surface as a campaign issue in the 2016 presidential race.

Virtually all workers understand the value of their plan. Nine in 10 would be inclined to turn down any job offer that did not include a 401(k) benefit, and 73% would rather have their portfolio grow by 15% this year than lose 15 pounds off their body, Schwab found. So saving may actually be more difficult than dieting, which is why you want to be careful with the money you manage to tuck into a 401(k) plan. That starts with keeping calm while the market gets rough.


MONEY Kids and Money

Do You Give Your Kids an Allowance?

People on the streets of New York tell us how and why—or why not—they give their kids an allowance.

Do you give your kids an allowance? And if you do, how big is it? That’s the question we asked people in Times Square. Some parents do give their kids an allowance, but some don’t. The boiled-down version we got from those who do was that different ages get different amounts. One mom told us she’s teaching her kids the value of being a self-starter. “They have a chore list,” she said, “and if they go above and beyond and do those chores – without even being asked – we give them a little bit more.”

Some parents we talked to decided an allowance wasn’t the route they wanted to take with their kids.

Read next: Why You Need to Give Your Kid an Allowance

MONEY financial advice

The 2 Biggest Money Mistakes

70% of Americans are prone to one or the other. Here's how to correct them.

Imagine coming to America as a young adult with a few hundred dollars in your pocket and, by the time you’re 34, selling your company to a Fortune 500 company for over $100 million.

How do you think you would feel? Ecstatic, jubilant, ready to reward yourself?

The answer for me was none of the above. My wife and I discussed celebrating by taking a multi-month vacation in Greece with our young daughters. Sadly, I was too afraid about the future to spoil myself and our family. The next few years I tracked our net worth regularly and watched our spending like a hawk. I was not behaving the way I would tell any of my friends to act in a similar situation.

I’ve spent my entire career helping people understand their financial lives, and helping them to make smarter choices. I have learned over time that people’s relationship with money is deeply personal. In our internal financial lives we each have a “protector” and a “pleasure seeker” battling it out and one usually wins out. Because of this, we find ourselves repeatedly making the same financial mistakes. Rather than simply learning a lesson and moving on, we keep repeating the same mistakes until we learn to regulate both perspectives.

According to our own research, 70% of people in the U.S. approach money from a place of abundance (pleasure seeker) or one of scarcity (protector). That has some big implications when it comes to making financial choices, and ultimately how we end up living our entire lives. So let’s discuss the two biggest mistakes, their consequences, and what you can do about it:

1. Spending money too casually: The pleasure seeker

It’s easy to spend money and it’s hard to save it, because spending provides instant gratification and saving is a deferred reward. Many people would rather have the certainty of feeling good now than the possibility of feeling good later. The early warning signs of this pattern are high credit balances on your credit cards, low savings for retirement, and inadequate saving for your kid’s education or your rainy-day fund. More subtle but important markers are whether you avoid looking at your credit card bills, or if you don’t have a net worth summary that you update at least twice a year. We all have pleasure seekers inside us, but perhaps you are allowing this trait to overwhelm your need to save and protect.

2. Spending money too carefully: The protector

This might seem like a very strange bad habit. But despite what you might pick up from the media, a large portion of society uses money for security and doesn’t enjoy success enough. These protectors feel so good seeing their net worth increase that they would rather defer any spending for as long as possible. This might maximize their net worth but lead to an under-optimized life. The following are early warning signs: updating and reviewing your net worth summary all the time, feeling guilty after shopping, and seldom feeling like you can spoil yourself. While we all need money to keep us safe from bad outcomes, some folks let their protector take too dominant a role.

As in all things, balance is the key to a stable and healthy relationship with money. That often comes with time and experience, but first you need to be aware that the choices you make are harming you. Here’s a three-step plan to taking control of your bad money habits, whichever camp you fall into:

  • Step 1: Identify if you have a bad habit that has to change. How often do you regret your financial choices? If you feel trapped by money rather than in control of it, it might be time to acknowledge you have to change something.
  • Step 2: Identify whether you are primarily a pleasure seeker or a protector. No doubt you have largely justified why you act the way you do. But if you have not learned how to control your inner pleasure seeker or protector then you will keep repeating a pattern that is hurting you financially.
  • Step 3: Take action. The easiest way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.

After determining if you are a pleasure seeker or a protector, here’s what to do next.

If you spend too casually:

  • Review your net worth. Take all your assets and then subtract all your debt. Create a simple way to update this regularly. Set realistic goals of how much you would like to have in savings five, 10 and 15 years from now. Create a specific list of what those savings would provide you. Take pictures, link articles or write down specifics in order to make what you’re saving for tangible and rewarding.
  • Establish a realistic monthly budget that takes into account your habits but establishes a monthly amount to deferred responsibilities like building an emergency fund or amassing a down payment on a house. Match the savings to your targets for those longer-term goals.
  • Do something that forces you to think about what you are giving up every time you are about to spend money. Some folks wrap a rubber band or a piece of bright tape around their credit cards. Some wear a reminder wristband. Do something that will remind you every time you are about to spend that you are taking away from your long-term savings and what your savings will get you. This habit of thinking about the consequence of what you are spending will train your protector to become more dominant.

If you are too careful with spending:

  • Establish your priorities. You no doubt have a very good understanding of your net worth, but have you clearly articulated what you are saving the money for? If you had free rein to spend all your money over the coming 12 months, guilt free, what would you choose to do? Create a list of things you buy that bring you the most joy: vacations, dinners out, a nice car, new shoes—whatever makes you feel good.
  • Establish a reasonable budget for guilt-free spending that doesn’t compromise your longer-term goals. Have an annual number to spend for some of the things that bring you joy. Rewarding yourself in the here and now matters a lot and relieves some of the pressure you place on building your net worth.
  • Limit yourself to reviewing your net worth on a pre-set schedule. For most people, four times a year is more than enough. Also, create a simple reminder on your phone every week to see what you did with your “spoiling budget.” And once you’ve spent the money, take time to think about, and appreciate, what you got. Do not focus on what you spent!

Life is short. I have seen people struggle financially in their later years and have to be supported by their children. I have also seen parents sacrifice their entire lives to build a comfortable nest egg, only to watch their kids spend the money buying the things the parents never bought themselves. The good news is that learning from past experiences can start right now. Thanks to my mistake a decade ago, I take every opportunity to spend time with my family, max out my vacation time, and relish our time together. I’m not sure I would have gotten there without the lessons of the past.


Joe Duran, CFA, is CEO and founder of United Capital. He believes that the only way to improve people’s lives is to design a disciplined process that offers investors a true understanding about how the choices they make affect their financial lives. Duran is a three-time author; his latest book is The Money Code: Improve Your Entire Financial Life Right Now.

MONEY Wealth

How Do You Get Wealthy in America?

We hit the streets of New York City to find out what people think is the key.

Folks in Times Square seem to think hard work is the key to getting wealthy in America. Some said starting a small business or working for yourself was the way to go, while some seem to think working your way up in one company from the bottom to the top is the key to wealth. But perhaps the most enlightened answer was compound interest. Starting to save in your 20s—whether in a 401(k), an IRA or another investment account—gives your money the opportunity to grow exponentially by the time you retire.

MONEY Saving

8 Ways Your Savings Account Is Costing You

H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStoc—Getty Images

Never settle for 0% interest.

A savings account is an essential tool of money management. It’ll enable you to save for emergencies and financial goals, and you might even get a little bit of interest income along the way. But not all savings accounts are the same. Some are extra-stingy on interest. Some have high fees. And some are just terrible all around.

Here’s a look at some ways your savings account may actually be making your financial situation worse, and how to find the best savings account for you.

1. Terrible Interest Rates

No bank has high rates these days. But some are offering practically no interest at all. Don’t hesitate to shop around for higher rates; it’s still possible to get rates higher than 1%, especially on the internet. Online savings accounts such as Discover Bank and CapitalOne360 offer some of the best rates around, so look there first.

2. Fees

Many banks charge fees for a wide range of things, from low balances and overdrafts, to frequent deposits or withdrawals. You might even get dinged if you want a paper statement, or want to use an ATM from another bank. If your bank seems to be bleeding you dry with fees, find a different place to put your money. Many online savings accounts offer no fees or minimums.

3. You’re Putting Too Much Into It

Let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with saving. We love saving! But if you are placing virtually every dollar of surplus cash in a normal savings account, you’re hurting your future self financially. That’s because it’s also important to put as much money as you can retirement accounts, such as your 401(k) or Roth IRA. Putting some money in stocks and other investments will lead to higher returns and more cash in the long run, and these accounts have great tax advantages. Even taxable brokerage accounts are fine if you’re investing in things that generate a higher return than your savings account.

4. A Lack of Sub-Accounts

A savings account is good, but when it’s just a pile of money without a designated purpose, it’s not as effective as it could be in helping you reach your goals. If you have the ability to open sub-accounts for specific purposes, such as a new car, home repairs, or vacation, you’ll find that it’s much easier to be disciplined. If you have an account labeled “new car fund,” for example, you’ll be less tempted to dip into that account until absolutely necessary. Many online savings accounts offer sub-accounts free of charge, so take advantage of them if you can.

5. The Online Security Stinks

It seems like every day, we’re hearing about a company suffering from a major data breach, potentially placing customers’ personal and financial information at risk. Credit card users are often the most vulnerable, but be aware if your bank has also had issues protecting the information of account holders. Be sure you’re comfortable with the security measures in place to prevent criminals from logging in to your accounts. Loyalty to a bank isn’t going to mean much if you spend thousands of dollars getting a case of identity theft resolved.

6. Poor Access to Good CDs

CDs offer terms of varying lengths; the longer the term, the better the rate. But not all banks allow you to easily move cash from a savings account to CDs. And many that do offer them don’t have a great selection. When researching a savings account, also research the CD offerings from the same bank.

7. A Dearth of Online and Mobile Services

In this day and age, you need a bank that allows you to save and manage your money in the same way you live your life. This means having access to online banking and mobile apps that let you check balances, pay bills, and move money around when necessary. It means mobile check cashing. It may even mean the ability to make payments to other people from your account, when necessary. If you are still relying on visits to physical banks and monthly paper statements, you’re wasting time and money.

8. It’s Not Even Your Account

Imagine having an account in which a bank takes your money and places it in its own savings account. Imagine having to ask the bank to transfer money back to you when you need it. Seems absurd, right? But that’s exactly what happens if you sign on with the online banking service known as Digit. The service is designed to move money from your checking account to savings when money is available, theoretically encouraging people to save. But the customer doesn’t actually own the savings account, and worst of all, Digit offers absolutely no interest to customers, but it makes money by generating interest on your savings. Get it? Me neither. Stay away from banks and services like this one.

More from Wise Bread:




TIME Money

The 8 Smartest Things To Do With Your Money in Your 30s

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Buy the insurance you need

After a decade of experimenting, failing, learning from those failures, and “figuring things out,” you might find yourself in a more secure financial position once you hit your 30s.

What do you do with excess money when you’re no longer living paycheck to paycheck? And how do you prepare for big expenses you’re bound to face in your 30s?

We spoke to Michael Solari, a certified financial planner at Solari Financial Planning, about the smartest things 30-somethings can do with their money to set themselves up for a prosperous future.

Here are eight smart places to start:

1. Increase your 401(k) contributions

“In your 30s, the most important thing that you have is time, and the more money you can save now is going to pay huge dividends down the road,” says Solari.

You should already be contributing towards your employer’s 401(k) retirement account, but if you get a pay raise, increase that contribution, Solari says.

Also, get in the habit of upping your contribution at the end of each year, even if it’s just 0.5%, he advises. Check online to see if you can set up “auto-increase,” which will automatically increase your contributions every year.

2. Make a contribution to a Roth IRA

If you’re maxing out your 401(k) plan, the next step is to put money towards a Roth IRA, a retirement savings vehicle that offers tax benefits and is particularly well-suited to younger people who earn less than the income cap ($116,000 a year or less for individuals; $183,000 or less for married couples filing jointly).

Contributions to this type of fund are taxed when they’re made, so you can withdraw the contributions and earnings tax-free once you reach age 59 1/2.

Solari recommends directing your tax refund, bonuses, or any other extra money to a Roth IRA.

3. Contribute to a dependent care flexible spending account

This applies to those with younger children looking to save on child care. Typically, larger companies will offer a slew of benefits, one of them being dependent care flexible spending accounts (also known as FSAs) into which you can put pre-tax money. In some cases, you’ll receive a debit card from the company to use towards services such as daycare and summer camp. If you’re paying a nanny or babysitter, you can pay them with cash and then apply for reimbursement from the FSA.

“If you have children in daycare and your company offers a flexible spending account, contribute to it,” Solari says. “The tax deduction will give you a 15 to 30% discount on your daycare. It’s a great way to save money.”

Check with your human resources department to see if you’re offered this benefit.

4. Create a health savings account if you have a high-deductible health care plan

Another employee benefit to tap into is the health savings account (HSA) into which you can put pre-tax money and use towards medical costs whenever you want. You can also grow that money in an investment brokerage account, Solari explains.

To qualify for a HSA, the IRS requires you to be on a high-deductible health care plan (HDHP) — a plan that offers a lower health insurance premium and a high deductible. “They are encouraging people who have high deductibles to save money into these accounts,” explains Solari.

“I usually recommend my clients to have their total out-of-pocket expense saved in a savings account portion, and then the remaining in a mutual fund,” he tells us. “The savings can be withdrawn for immediate health care, and the mutual funds can be left alone and invested for a long time. ”

This option is particularly advantageous for those who are generally healthy and don’t have to go to the doctor’s office or hospital that often, such as 30-somes without children who are looking to save for future health care expenses.

5. Buy the insurance you need

Insurance in general — health, life, home, and disability — often gets put on the back burner, but it’s important to put in time to research insurance plans, or talk to a trusted adviser, and purchase the right insurance for you.

One type of insurance that gets neglected more so than others is long-term disability insurance, but not having it can be extremely risky. Disability insurance is meant to provide income should you be disabled and unable to work, which is more likely to happen that many of us may think. It’s estimated by the Social Security Administration that over 25% of today’s 20-year-olds will be disabled before retirement.

Take a look at the types of insurance you should buy at every age.

6. Set savings goals

You can’t just go through the motions. “If there are no savings goals, then there won’t be any progress,” says Solari, and your 30s are bound to be filled with bigger expenses — such as a home, car, and children — that require diligent saving.

Mint and You Need A Budget are online tools that allow you to create savings goals and see your progress.

7. Save for a home

If you plan to buy a home, it should be one of your savings goals. Ideally, you’ll want to have saved enough to make a 20% down payment — anything lower and you will have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is a safety net for the bank in case you fail to make your payments.

If you’re thinking about purchasing a home in a major metro area, take a look at how much you need to save per day to put 20% down on a house in major US cities, and see how to make sure you’re buying a home you can afford.

8. Save for children

Kids are pricey. The average cost to raise a child is about $245,000, and that doesn’t include college expenses. If you plan to have children, it’s time to start saving. To get an idea of what you might need to cover, read about the costs new parents didn’t see coming.

The best way to prepare for these expenses is to start setting aside money as early as possible. The dependent care flexible savings account could help with daycare; as for the additional costs of college, start by looking into a 529 savings plan.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider

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MONEY Budgeting

12 Things You Wish You’d Never Bought

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Among readers' biggest regrets: a $1500 plane ticket, designer shoes and 6 months rent at a coworking space.

Some big purchases leave you feeling elated: that new car, or the couch you’ve been saving up for. But what about when that splurge turns into a mistake you wish you could immediately take back? We asked DailyWorth readers to tell us about their most regrettable purchases. And oh, did they spill.

1. “I regret spending $1,500 on a plane ticket to meet my then-boyfriend in Southeast Asia on the last leg of a backpacking summer trip. I thought we were going to spend two weeks catching up, being in love, and exploring a new country together. But instead, I found out halfway through our vacation that he had been cheating on me the whole time he was away. The rest of the trip was spent feeling like a fool, hiding out from him, and being completely livid about the whole situation. We broke up on the plane ride home.”
—Lulu, 40

2. “I once purchased a gorgeous $500 white silk jumpsuit because I thought it made me look like Beyoncé. In truth, it kind of did. But I consequently learned that even looking like Beyoncé wasn’t worth the $500 plus tax I had dropped. I felt so ill spending that amount of money on something as singular as a jumpsuit (as opposed to, say, a winter coat), that I couldn’t even enjoy it. I returned it the next day much to the perplexity of the sales associates who said the jumpsuit was clearly made for me. Or Beyoncé.”
—Lydia, 28

3. “I was living in London and saw a carpet beetle, which is harmless and very common — it’s like a moth. But it sort of vaguely looks like a bed bug. So I spent six hours Googling bed bugs, and then had a complete breakdown in front of my roommates. I ended up paying £150 to an exterminator to tell me I didn’t have bed bugs. It was crazy embarrassing, and my roommates still tease me about it to this day.”
—Hannah, 42

4. “Throughout college, I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching, purchasing, and reselling designer bags. I got my first job when I was 18 and, for some reason, thought blowing every paycheck on expensive stuff was a good idea. I ended up dropping around $700 on a Louis Vuitton Speedy. I was never happy with the bag itself and I ended up selling it a few weeks later. Whenever I think about that particular purchase, I cringe.”
—Aimee, 28

5. “Private college. I was 17 and stupid and had no concept of the fact that I’d be paying for my visual arts degree forever. Lest you think I’ve wised up: I’m heading to another private university for a graduate degree. Help.”
—Julia, 26

Read next: 8 Retail Loyalty Programs With Big Rewards

6. “Small impulse buys, like clothes that are made of synthetic fibers and are cheaply made — all of which add up to an absurd amount of money that I don’t want to think about.”
—Hailey, 24

7. “I went to Paris for two weeks when I graduated college. I really wanted to splurge on a French fashion item, thinking it would be a special memento from my trip, and who knew the next time I’d be in Paris, and I’m an adult now so I should dress fancy (and every other reason or excuse possible). Well, I spent $400 on a pair of shoes that I never wore. Even now, in my thirties, I’d never spend that much on shoes. I can’t believe I spent that when I was younger (and poorer) — I could have used that money for a weekend trip to the French countryside, or French opera tickets, or an amazing meal, or a hotel upgrade … or, you know, just saved it. Such a waste.”
—Vera, 39

8. “A $90 book on Aristotle to impress my friends. An expensive collection of DVDs by director Pierre Perrault that I haven’t watched and accidentally scratched. They haunt me.”
—Eric, 35

9. “I impulsively purchased a $500 leather jacket in the middle of June. I haven’t been able to wear it because it’s been consistently 90 degrees. Go figure.”
—Caroline, 23

10. “Anything I ever bought because I wanted to make myself feel better about something else. You know what will never, ever lift a bad mood? Trying on jeans. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way many times. Just go home and do a kickboxing workout until the endorphins are flowing. You save money AND you get to uppercut your frustration away.”
—Katie, 32

11. “When I first moved to New York, I joined a co-working space. I paid for, like, six months and maybe went twice. I kept thinking I’d go and be so productive and make connections. But, predictably, that didn’t happen.”
—Camilla, 35

12. “I spent well over $2,000 on an Yves Saint Laurent jacket when I was 20. I was living in New York City for a summer and wanted something to commemorate the experience. That jacket is still hanging in the back of my closet, too expensive for me to wear in public and too sentimental to be sold.”
—Stephen, 29

Read next: Rich People’s Biggest Money Regrets

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MONEY Spending

When It’s Okay to Splurge on Yourself

Dave and Les Jacobs/Kolostock—Getty Images

"It's a shame to work so hard all the best years of your life, just so you can afford to survive in the worst years of your life."

When Stan Calow was growing up, frugality was a way of life: “You spend as little as you need to, and then save everything else.” So, the 58-year-old engineer and U.S. Army veteran from Kansas City, Missouri always hated spending money.

It took his financial planner, Cindy Richey, to drill the point into him that it was actually okay to enjoy his savings once in a while.

After much prodding, the message finally got through. Calow and his wife just returned from a trip to France, touring the chateaux of the Loire Valley, just like they had always dreamed.

Says Calow, who learned about the fragility of life by serving in Kosovo: “I wanted to live life while I’m still young enough to enjoy it.”

It’s a tricky dilemma for many of us. As much as pundits tell us to scrimp, and save, and sacrifice for the future, when is it actually okay to spend a little on yourself and enjoy this life that passes all too quickly?

Indeed, according to a new survey, many of us are not enjoying it enough.

When Wells Fargo asked affluent Americans about what they regretted most about their finances, 15% said “not having enjoyed their money more”.

It is an honest answer that you do not often encounter in financial surveys. After all, splurging on yourself is typically seen as selfish and gauche.

But as some planners point out, it’s your money, and you should not be made to feel bad about enjoying it occasionally.

“People are so nervous about outliving their money, and sometimes they shoot too far in their saving,” says Joe Nadreau, director of innovation and strategy for Wells Fargo Advisors. “You don’t want to come to the end with $3 million saved, but having sacrificed your whole life along the way.”

Of course, leaving an inheritance is still an important consideration, according to 57% of affluent Americans in the Wells Fargo survey.

But just remember that once the will is read, you are six feet under, and no longer around to witness your family enjoy that wealth.

A Bank of Memories

So try thinking of the concept of ‘inheritance’ a little differently: Instead of purely in terms of dollar bills, consider it as a set of memories, which you can create together as a family while you are still alive.

“We have recently noticed a sizable uptick in clients who are more interested in sharing their wealth in the form of experiential gifts,” says John Fowler, a planner in Keller, Texas.

“It might mean taking the entire family on a cruise, or paying the airfare to fly in to see grandma and grandpa in Arizona, Colorado, or Florida. At the end of the day our clients realize stuff is just stuff, but with a little effort, they can create a memory for their families that will last a lifetime.”

Keep in mind that splurging on yourself doesn’t mean you become miserly with others. It is not an either/or proposition; You can treat yourself once in a while, and also be generous with charitable causes that are meaningful to you.

“People call me all the time to get permission to enjoy their money, which I heartily give them,” says Dave Ramsey, a popular radio host and author of “The Legacy Journey.”

“Often the thing that breaks it loose for people is to increase their giving. Because the more generous you are, the more you get permission to spend on yourselves.”

As for Kansas City’s Stan Calow, he looks forward to traveling the world with his wife, and enjoying future grandchildren. It was hard to get him to enjoy those savings, but now he’s making up for lost time.

This thought, in particular, came to mind when he was walking the streets of Paris recently:

“It’s a shame to work so hard all the best years of your life, just so you can afford to survive in the worst years of your life.”

Read next: When It’s Okay to Splurge on Yourself

MONEY Saving

4 Quick Phone Calls You Can Make Right Now to Save Money

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Want to lower you bills? Speak up.

With late fees, penalty interest rates and complex credit-scoring algorithms, it often feels like the world of personal finance is designed to be unfavorable to the consumer. As challenging as it may be to keep everything in order, there are plenty of things about your finances you can control, even when it seems like someone else is calling the shots.

If you’re looking for ways to save money, start asking questions. Can you qualify for a credit card with better rewards than the one you have? Would a different cellphone carrier give you the same service for a lower price than what you’re paying now? Researching alternatives is always a good idea if you want to change your expenses, but you may be surprised how much power you have in your existing relationships. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call to save money.

1. When You Get Hit With a Late Fee

Even the most organized consumers miss a deadline now and then. With many bills, that results in a late fee, but you might be able to get out of it. Often, if you put in the effort to contest a fee (particularly if you have an otherwise great track record of paying things on time), you can get it waived. After paying your bill, call to see if the customer service department will reverse the fee. The worst that can happen is you get turned down and have to pay the fee, but you’ll definitely have to pay if you never ask for an exception. If you’re regularly late with payments, you might want to also shop for a credit card that doesn’t have late fees or forgives late fees for good customers. For example, the winner of the Best Simple Credit Cards in America this year has no late fee.

2. When Your Insurance Premium Seems High

Shopping around for insurance is an important part of managing your finances, because you can often get comparable coverage for varying price points. Before you decide to jump ship on your current provider, call and ask about any discounts for which you may be eligible. The insurer probably wants to keep you as a customer and may be willing to help you save money in order to do so.

3. When Your Monthly Bill Goes Up

Promotional offers are great — until they expire. Internet services commonly provide an introductory rate but increase their prices after you’ve been a customer for a year. Before you decide to suck it up and pay the higher bill (or go through the hassle of changing service providers), call to ask about any deals going on that could add value to your subscription or keep your monthly expenses down.

4. When You Get Charged for Something You Didn’t Buy

Whether it’s a mistake or an instance of fraud, you may sometimes find charges on your credit or debit card statements that don’t reflect a purchase you’ve made. That’s one of the reasons checking your account activity is so important. As soon as you find a transaction you didn’t make, call your financial institution to dispute it. It helps if little time has passed between the transaction’s occurrence and your report.

The same thing goes for errors on your credit report. Inaccurate, negative information could cause you problems when trying to get a loan (or a variety of other things), potentially costing you a lot of money if the errors hurt your credit score. To avoid a problem like that, regularly review your credit history, and immediately dispute any inaccuracies. You can get your free annual credit reports from each of the three credit reporting agencies.

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MONEY financial advice

The Painful Secret to Retirement Success

The co-founders of retirement and investment analytics firm BrightScope share the secret of a well-funded retirement.

BrightScope co-founders (and brothers) Mike and Ryan Alfred say saving is the most important thing you can do for your retirement. Start saving early and start saving a lot—way more than the 5% or 6% that workers put in their 401(k) to get an employer match. Ryan, president and chief operating officer, said he knows it can be hard to start saving when you’re young and just started a career, but he thinks you should start saving a little bit and try to increase how much you save each year.

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