Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

Should everyone contribute to a Roth IRA? November 10, 2011

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 5:26 pm
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The short answer?  No.  It’s not perfect for everyone.  And actually, depending on your income level, you might not be eligible for it.

Roth IRAs are the Big Thing these days for younger people looking to save for retirement.   We’re all encouraged to open one, and contribute to it.  Seems like it doesn’t matter what fund you buy.  Your mission (from the personal finance gurus) is to put money in there.  Put all $5k in there if you can.  If you’re doing that and contributing to a 401(k) up to at least any employer match, you are on the right track (according to gurus, and to be honest, according to me, too!)

My younger sister is currently in grad school.  She sent me a message the other day, with the basic question:  Should I open a Roth IRA?  What are your thoughts on this?

My response?  A combination of advice and general information.  Read on:

They’re a good idea.  It’s good to start saving for your retirement now.  Plus with the stock market down, you buy funds “on sale” 😛

I maybe sound like a salesperson.  Ooops.

You can contribute up to $5000, or your income (what shows up on your W-2s), whichever is lower.  But I’m assuming your stipend is more than $5000!

Also, not sure what your stipend is, but if you make less than $27,750, you can get up to $1000 tax credit if you contribute to a retirement fund.

(Edit for 5-7-2018:  Here’s the new information for the saver’s credit)

The benefit of contributing to a Roth IRA right now is, of course, “The Power of Compounding”.  There’s a common example that if you contribute now and for only a few years, you’ll have more money than if you start later and contribute longer.  Magic.  Assuming the markets go up!

With a Roth IRA, you’re paying in money that was already taxed (through your employer), so when you contribute to your Roth, it can now grow tax-free (and be withdrawn tax-free when you retire).  And since your income level isn’t super high right now, your tax rate is relatively low.  Presumably, in the future, your tax rate will be higher, so if you had used a traditional IRA, while you don’t pay tax now (or you get a tax refund now, depending on how you do the IRA), you’d have to pay taxes on the money you take out of the account (when you retire).  So taxes might be higher then.  It’s a bit of a hedge, because it’s hard to know for certain what rates will be.

Lastly, if you’re mildly freaked out by the idea of putting a lot of money into an account, don’t worry.  Two parts make it less scary:  1.  You are able to withdraw your CONTRIBUTIONS at any time without penalty.  So, you can take out that money.  2.  You don’t have to put the whole $5000 (or however much you decide to contribute) all at once.  I contribute 1/12th of the total amount every month, and buy into a fund every month.  The idea of “dollar cost averaging” will work in your favor, here.  The basic idea is that you buy some of the fund every month, and you buy more when it’s “cheaper” (when the stock price is down), and less when it’s more expensive.  That way you don’t have to worry so much about putting all your eggs in one basket and trying to time the market perfectly.  Because that’s basically impossible.

As for what fund to invest in, most companies offer a fund geared at your particular retirement year.  So you can just contribute to the 2055 fund or something like that, and it’ll start out being more aggressive, then transition to being more conservative as you get older.  Another good option (often with much lower fees) is an index fund.  You’ll want to put your money in a fund with a low expense ratio (read:  cost) so that more of your investment goes to you and less to fees.  Usually it’s hard to buy certain other funds or individual stocks/bonds when you’re just starting out, because you need to have a pretty large minimum amount.  So you can build up your retirement fund until you have enough money to diversify, or you can just keep it in the lifecycle fund that fits your age or an index fund.

So.  If you want to start saving for your retirement (and you should!) I think Roth IRAs are a really good way to start, and it’s good to start now when you make less money (you can’t contribute if your AGI is over $107k…you know, SOMEDAY you might make that much!) and while you’re in a relatively low tax bracket.  It’s hard to know where the markets or tax rates will go, but I’ve found my Roth IRA to be a great balance to my employer’s 401k plan.

(Reminder, I’m not a financial advisor…I’m just a girl who likes talking about money!  But if you have any questions, I’ll answer them!)

Do you have a Roth IRA?  Traditional IRA?  Do you max out your contributions every year?


Paying attention to my retirement accounts May 4, 2010

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:23 pm
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In the past few days, I’ve paid attention to my retirement accounts.  Not sure what came over me, but I’d been debating making some changes, weighing short-term financial plans vs. retirement plans.  So what have I done these past few days?

I examined (and modified) the asset allocation mix of my retirement portfolio.  I have my rollover IRA, Roth IRA, and 401(k) all at Fidelity; with all my accounts with one firm, they could easily show me a nice pie chart of my asset mix.  And it was definitely not what my goal mix was supposed to be!  I am far enough away from retirement that I should have a pretty aggressive portfolio.

When I rolled over my old 401(k) to a rollover IRA, I didn’t really do much with the money.  I invested some of the money in a target fund, and left the rest in “cash”, i.e. a really low returns money market account.  It wasn’t until the other day, when I looked online and realized that my entire portfolio was way too heavy in short-term (i.e. cash) that I knew I had to do something to rebalance my portfolio.  So I used some of the money in “cash” to buy more of the target fund.  I’ll probably buy more of that later.  I figure I can use a little dollar cost averaging to my favor! 😛

I also decided that I might as well contribute more to my 401(k).  I had said that I was going to hold off increasing my contribution amount until I reached a goal amount in my savings accounts.  But then I realized that was kind of a silly plan.  I have enough extra cash in my checking account that I’ll still be able to continue my automatic savings plan even with a reduced net income.  I also realized raising my contribution by just one percent doesn’t really impact my cashflow, and I know that the more I contribute now, the better!  So, as of now, I’m contributing 5%, and getting matched on 4%.  I might be increasing the amount even more in the near future, once I finish doing a few more calculations.

Have you checked on your retirement accounts recently?


Notes from Suze Orman January 12, 2010

As I mentioned in my recap of the Massachusetts Conference for Women, I was going to go into further detail about what Suze Orman said in her keynote speech.  I figured that, what with it being pretty good advice, as well as this being a personal finance blog, it would only be right to include it here for others to check out.

Suze Orman has written plenty of books.  In fact, she’s the author of one of the  books I read early on in my quest to learn about personal finance.  I remember reading Young, Fabulous & Broke, which was a good start into the personal financed world.  I also read The Wealthy Barber, which conveys the importance of paying yourself first and starting early (and other advice) through a story.  And most recently, I’ve finished reading Ramit Sethi’s book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.  All pretty good books for getting yourself started on your way towards financial freedom!

I’ve heard most of what she said before, but it was good to be reminded to continue doing what needs to be done.  I’ve sorted out her advice into the separate topics she covered.

Opening Remarks:

  • To be powerful, you need a solid platform, which includes an 8 month emergency fund and no credit card debt (Debt=bondage)
  • If you have credit card debt, get a balance transfer to a credit union credit card.  She encouraged us to get away from “Big Banks”.  She recommends checking out credit unions here.  I’ve heard discussion recently on the topic.  The last thing I saw about it was at the Move Your Money project.


  • If there is a matched 401(k) or 403(b) available to you, you can’t afford not taking advantage of it, as getting matched contributions means you’re immediately getting returns of 50-100% (depending on the match you are receiving).  If your employee-sponsored retirement fund is matched, contribute up to the match.
  • 401(k)s are protected during bankruptcy, so if you are going to declare bankruptcy, don’t take money out of there to pay debts, it will be money you can use later.
  • If your 401(k)/403(b) is unmatched, or if you contribute to the maximum match, your next step is to open up a Roth or Non-deductible/traditional IRA.
  • Her view is that we’ll likely be in a higher tax bracket in the future; we’re currently at a low rate right now at ~35%.  She mentioned this because she wagers that the government is likely to raise tax rates to pay for a lot of what’s going on right now (I guess she threw a little politics into the mix).  Also, if the rates are this low, there’s a good chance they’ll go higher.  But I think the other reasoning is that you’ll be making more money later in life, and presumably have such a large retirement portfolio by the time you retire that you’d also be in a higher tax bracket.  Regardless, she mentioned this because she encourages everyone that is eligible to open a Roth IRA.
  • If your income level is too high for a Roth IRA, she encourages you to open a traditional IRA and then convert it to a Roth.
  • Regarding Roth IRAs:  Give up the tax write-off, so you can grow your money tax-free.  The benefits of Roths include:  You can take out your principle if you need to, you don’t have to start taking distributions when you reach retirement age, and you can leave your Roth to your children, and it remains tax-free for them.
  • NEVER TAKE A LOAN FROM YOUR 401(k)!!! You essentially get taxed twice, you will pay a penalty, you’ll owe income tax, and, you still have to pay it back.  And as mentioned above, your 401(k) is protected during bankruptcy.

Wills and Living Revocable Trusts

  • A will describes where your assets will go upon your death.
  • A living revocable trust will include an incapacity clause.
  • Both are important to have.
  • You can use her Will & Trust Kit to prepare your will/trust.

Life Insurance

  • The only type you should look to get is Term (she was very adamant about this).

The Stock Market

  • “Anything can happen at any time”,  so only invest in the stock market if you don’t need that money for at least 10 years.
  • If you’re young, now is the perfect time to invest.  Take advantage of Dollar Cost Averaging (buy more when the stocks are “on sale”, buy fewer when the stocks are pricier)
  • Other things to invest in:  High yield dividend funds (3-5% returns) and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)
  • Your investment portfolio should be 80% United States, 20% international
  • If you’re older, stay away from bond funds.  Instead, invest in bonds with a specified (and desired) maturity date.

Buying a House:

  • If you have your emergency fund, and are able to afford a 20% down payment, you can buy a house.  Those are the minimum requirements she gives.
  • If the administration gives incentives, and then extend them, they are afraid that ending the incentives will send the markets back down
  • If you are looking to own, but are waiting it out, be careful; it’s very difficult to time the market

Children (specifically, sending them to college):

  • Don’t put yourself on the back burner:  if you love your children, teach them it’s okay to put mom first.  Don’t feel guilty putting yourself first.
  • Your children can always get scholarships/loans/grants for their education; you can’t get those for your retirement.

Gift giving/the holidays:

  • Give the gift of time or money for the less fortunate.

Long Term Care insurance:

  • Speaking from experience with her mother, long term care can be very expensive, so it’s a good idea to look for long term care insurance, either for yourself, or for your aging parents (depending on the age)
  • She recommends getting long term care insurance through Prudential.

So, that’s what she said, in a relatively large nutshell.  I know there are other opinions on these matters (life insurance, investment choices, etc.), but I think this information, along with the info you can get in the books I mentioned and the blogs I link to will get you on the path toward financial independence!

Anything I missed from her speech?  Do you agree or disagree with her advice?


Layoff Survival Guide: What to do with your 401(k) June 19, 2009

Filed under: Careers,Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 8:06 pm
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A good friend of mine recently got laid off.  And, since I went through this about a year ago, I’ve got plenty of advice. 😛

I’ve decided to start a little series, the Layoff Survival Guide.  I’ll be answering questions that she has, and will be more than happy to answer any questions you have.  I’m not a professional financial adviser or career coach, but I’ve learned a lot about surviving a layoff, and the transitions and decisions that come with it.  Plus I might have some advice on finding a new job.  I already have a few posts for some of these topics (linked to in previous sentence), but I don’t mind focusing on a specific question or topic.

So, ask away!  I’ll try my best to find the information you are looking for!

One of the questions my friend sent me was:  What do I do with my 401(k)?

I realize that  plenty of people have posted about what to do with your 401(k) after you leave your job (either voluntarily or involuntarily).  A really good guest post by The Working Dollar at  Get Rich Slowly describing  your options can be found here.

Still, here’s my own view of your options:

Keep your money where it is.  This isn’t the option for everyone.  In fact, it depends on the rules of your company and the firm they run the 401(k) through.  There’s usually a certain amount of money you need to have in the account in order to keep it there.  If you’re happy with your portfolio there, and you are allowed to keep your money there, then you can go ahead and keep it around.  If you aren’t able to keep your money there, or you don’t like how your money is invested, or if they’ll start charging a fee or impose other rules you’re not comfortable with, then you might want to consider the other options.  The benefit to keeping it (if you can) would be that you wouldn’t have to “sell” your funds, and could hope to make back the losses from the crummy stock market performance.  When my boyfriend left his last job, he just kept all his investments at the old company, since he actually had really good investment options there, whereas I was not happy with my options after I got laid off, so I rolled my 401(k) over.

Roll over to an IRA (or Roth IRA).  If you can’t (or don’t want to) keep your money where it is, you can roll it over to an IRA.  Most investment companies (like Fidelity, Vanguard, or T. Rowe Price) (click those to go directly to their rollover sites) have an option to roll your money over from your 401(k) into an IRA.  The important thing to remember here is that you should check with both the organization that has your old 401(k) and the company that you want to roll over your money with, to see how you can move the money without incurring fees or taxes.  They’ll tell you what to do!  You can now also roll over your money into a Roth IRA, but will need to deal with the taxes there (pre-tax money to post-tax money).  The benefit of having an IRA is that you have more choices on what to do with your money.  It’s an investment vehicle, where you can buy all sorts of different investments…not just the 10 or so mutual funds that your company lists for you.  Another good post about IRAs (from Get Rich Slowly) can be found here.

You also have the option to Roll over your old 401(k) into a new employer sponsored plan.  I don’t know as much about this option, but it seems that it would require you to have your new job already.  You’d need to be able to keep your retirement savings somewhere (i.e. the old 401(k)) while you wait for your new plan to take effect.

And, finally, my least favorite option, Cash it out.  I don’t recommend this unless you have a really good reason to.  You’ll be hit with taxes all at once, and will likely have to face fees as well, quickly dwindling down the actual amount you will get.

What did I do?  Since I was not happy with my investments in my old 401(k), I decided to roll my money over to an IRA.  And since I already had a Roth IRA at Fidelity, I decided to open a rollover IRA there.  It was pretty darn easy, and they answered all the questions and concerns I had.  Plus they have a lot of investment options, many of which don’t require fees.  I’ve heard good things of lots of the other investment companies, so take a look around your options before committing to a specific company.

Vanguard also lays out the pros and cons of each option (as does Fidelity).  Like I said before, this information is everywhere.  But I just figured I’d lay it out again for anyone looking for some guidance.

Have any questions about what I wrote?  Suggestions?  Corrections?  I don’t claim to be a financial adviser or expert, so hopefully you’ll take what I’ve written and run with it (and if there are mistakes, I’ll be sure to edit it to reflect corrections you submit).

Also, what other questions do you have about the transition from employment to unemployment?  I’ll be answering them here!  Leave a comment or email me the question at


Filed my taxes March 28, 2009

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:53 am
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I finally filed my taxes.  Well, I e-filed my Massachusetts return, and will have to mail out my Federal returns soon (I have a form that has to get sent in with my Federal return).

I used TurboTax, which was pretty easy to use.  There are also lots of discounts available online for TurboTax (though I think some of them expired yesterday, which is partially why I finally filed yesterday!)

But here’s the newest discounts as I’ve seen this morning:

Going through Bank of America, you can get a 35% discount on Federal.

Going through Fidelity, you can get a 25% discount on Federal and State.

Going through Chase, you can get a 30% discount on Federal.

It looks like the discount for filing before March 27th has been removed (because, well, today’s the 28th!), though that discount was the same as the Fidelity discount, so that’s not too big of a deal.  And I’m pretty sure you can get all those discounts even if you don’t have an account with them.

I’m sure there are other discount codes out there, I’m just not aware of them.  Also, it looks like, only using Fidelity, you can get “Basic” which is a nice compromise between the “Free” and “Deluxe” versions.  So that’s slightly cheaper than the Deluxe.  I actually was using Basic for a bit, but wondered what it would be like to use the Deluxe version, so I clicked the button that said to upgrade.  BIG MISTAKE.  Once you upgrade, you can’t downgrade using the account you have.  So I lost ~$11 in the process.  Not a big deal, but I’m guessing if you did that and upgraded to the big fancy versions, you might be kicking yourself.

Also, if you have an AGI less than $56k, the IRS can help you file for free.  Hmmm, it looks like, including deductions, I might have been able to use that…but oh well…too late now!

Anyway, as for my taxes, I’ll be getting a total of ~$660 (combining Federal and State).  I don’t think that’s too bad.  With so many changes in 2008 (lose one job, collect unemployment, get a new job), it would have been hard to get a good prediction on my taxes.  Had I adjusted my withholding or something like that, I might have owed a bit too much (I don’t want to pay a penalty!)  So, I think that once my financial situation stabilizes, I might be more willing to change things so I don’t “give Uncle Sam an interest free loan” as many say.

Oh, and don’t forget.  There’s still time to open and fund an IRA for 2008.  You have until tax day to do it!  And since you’re limited to $5000 (or $6000 if you’re 50 years old or older) per year, you could miss out on hitting that limit for 2008.  Check out this post from Get Rich Slowly, I think it’s pretty helpful.  Yes, it’s for Roth IRAs in particular, but the advice applies to traditional IRAs.  He also has a good comparison of the two types here and here.

Have you filed your taxes yet?  Do it! Do it now! 🙂


How do YOU choose your investments? August 2, 2008

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 9:20 am
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So, after my post the other day about my 401(k) portfolio decisions, I got some really great input about what to look for when selecting investments. I got some great advice, including to look out for the expense ratio, since that’s going to be costing you quite a bit over the long run.

And so I’m opening up the comments to hear from you. What sort of decisions do you make when you’re picking investments…does it depend on the sort of account (IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k)/403(b), plain old brokerage account, etc.)? What’s important to you? Historical performance, volatility, size, growth/value/blend, actual investments? In the category of “actual investments”, are you concerned about “socially concious mutual funds? I may have shared this before, but I found a neat tool that helps you to find out if there are investments within your funds that don’t jive with your social/economic/environmental goals.

I feel like some of these factors will depend on how open to risk you are, what amounts of money you’re investing, what time frame you’re looking at, and what your goals are with your investment.  But really, I’d love to hear from you on what impacts your decisions on investments.  In a way, this post is a bit self-serving, since I’m looking for the advice.  But I hope others that come here can read through the comments and get some ideas themselves.

Thanks in advance for all your advice!


Enrolling in my new 401(k) July 27, 2008

As I mentioned before, I got a new job!  And with that job came a 401(k) that the company matches up to 4%.  So, as any personal finance person knows, I’m going to definitely contribute at least 4% to my 401(k).  Hello!  Free Money!  Always a good perk.

The difficult part is deciding what to invest in.  I have to consider my whole retirement portfolio, not just my 401(k), as I’ve got a Roth IRA that I’ve been trying to fully fund each year, plus a rollover IRA for my last job’s 401(k).  It also sounds like I am allowed to roll money from the rollover IRA into my new 401(k) (according to the paperwork I got from work), so I’ll need to decide if I should do that.  It seems a bit like it’s a draw either way, as they’re both from pre-tax contributions, so there isn’t an obvious advantage either way.  It would probably just help to get a better idea of my portfolio if I have fewer separate accounts to consider.  I’ll think about it a little more before I decide.

As for the portfolio decisions, I’m thinking I want to select a wide variety of funds.  The options available in this plan are pretty good, as they encompass all sorts of investment strategies and comfort levels.  They have funds that fit any combination of the Morningstar style categories (Small, Mid, Large; Value, Blend, Growth).  There are also funds with certain sectors of stocks:  Technology, Healthcare, Real Estate.  They also have a fund that helps you buy stock in the company.  I know in terms of the company stock, I wont put too much in that one.  I don’t have anything against the company, I just know it’s a bit risky to have too much of your portfolio invested in one stock, especially if the stock is for your own company.  You’re that much more dependent on the success of your company.  Plenty of former Enron employees were in horrible financial situations after the company went down the tubes because they not only lost their jobs, but they also had been heavily invested in the Enron stock (I believe the company match in their case was company stock).  When a large part of your portfolio ceases to exist, you’re in for trouble!  All that aside, I have confidence that my employer is going to be around for a while, so I’m not too worried about that sort of thing happening.  But it always could.  So, like I said, I wont be investing too much into their stock.

I think I realized something weird.  My investment strategy is a bit weak.  At my old company’s 401(k) plan, I basically looked for funds with high Morningstar ratings (4 or 5 stars) and that fit in the “growth” category.  I figured that I should go for the growth funds, as I was under the impression that those were the best ones for young people like me who can handle short term instability in favor of long term gains.  I’m now not quite sure I should have had most of my money in Growth funds, as Value funds take on a different approach, but could still be just as risky.  As this article states, Growth funds depend on the fact that the funds have a lot of momentum, and so they can increase fairly quickly.  The downside is that the momentum works in both directions, which means you could end up with a considerable loss.  So that’s why those are considered good for long term investments.  The Value funds, they explained, look for cheaper investments with the hope that they’ll increase in value.  It’s that whole basic idea of “buy low, sell high”.  And Blend funds, as they state, are the funds that don’t fit on either side.  They may either have a combination of the Growth and Value funds, or they may just have a wide variety of investments that act as a good portfolio diversification.  So, I think I had used the fact that Growth is volatile to mean it was okay for young investors, as most investment guides say that younger investors can handle the short term troubles that can arise.

So, I guess all this discussion, and I’m still not quite sure what to do.  I’m interested in putting a little bit towards the company stock, and a little bit in the Technology fund, but other than that, I’m a bit in the dark.  They have life-cycle funds available, but I figured I’m too heavily invested in those as it is with my Roth and rollover IRAs.  I’ll just enter a tentative portfolio initially to get myself enrolled in the 401(k) and start getting the matched contributions.  I’ll just have to adjust my portfolio once I actually take a little more time to do the research on the individual options available.

I’ll probably also increase my contribution after a while.  Right now the plan is to contribute up to the match.  I did sign up with the option they have available through the 401(k) to increase your contribution by a 1-3% each year.  I set it to increase by 1% every year.  I’m not sure when exactly it will stop increasing, but I’m okay with it for now.  I guess the idea with it, in part, might be that you intend to get raises at certain times of the year, and so you can keep a similar take-home pay as before, but start contributing more to your account.  It’s also helpful so that you can start off with a minimal amount coming out of your paycheck, and as you go, you’ll be more comfortable with it as you build up emergency savings and other investments.

Oh, one thing I noticed, I mentioned Morningstar a good amount in this post.  This isn’t a sponsored post or anything.  It’s more of what I first heard about when I was setting up my portfolio for my last 401(k).

Well, I’d better get to bed soon.  I’ve found that I can get a heck of a lot more tired these days, now that I’ve started working, which includes waking up a lot earlier than I’d been getting used to.

Next step in determining what to do with all the company benefits:  select a medical insurance plan.  They have 5 options available, and I’ve got to sort through all the pros and cons of each.  More on this later!


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