What the experts say
Don’t ditch your index fund
“It’s that time of year when financial advice sites issue their lists of the ‘Stocks to Buy for 2017,’” said Damon Darlin in The New York Times. But before you call your broker, let’s consider how these ex perts’ suggestions fared in 2016. The S&P 500 stock index increased 9.5 percent. Forbes’ 2016 list of recommendations, by comparison, grew about 7 percent, Kiplinger’s “about half that.” One suggested portfolio on CNBC did slightly better at 10.6 percent, but still fell short of index funds like Vanguard’s Total Stock index, which returned 12.5 percent to investors last year. “As you can see, even when the stocks are recommended by professional money managers and filtered through some of the best financial journalists, they don’t do as well as the averages.”
The power of saving 1 percent more
Financial New Year’s resolutions need to be concrete if you’re going to succeed, said Sarah Skidmore Sell in the Associated Press. “So if saving more is your aim this year, try this more specific goal on for size—set aside just 1 percent more for retirement.” While the rule of thumb is to save 10 to 15 percent, that is often too much for people just starting out or who are facing an uptick in expenses. But small, automatic withdrawals can still make a big difference down the road. For someone who is 25 and earns $40,000 a year, saving an extra 1 percent monthly in a 401(k) amounts to roughly $33 a month. “But it will mean an added $3,970” each year at retirement. Then, you can build on the goal next year, bumping up your savings another 1 percent.
Time for a debt checkup
With interest rate increases on the horizon, it’s a “good time to size up your borrowings,” said Suzanne Woolley in Bloomberg.com. If your credit card balances are below $16,000, the national mean for households with debt, or your total household debt, including mortgages, is less than $132,500, congratulations— your debt is below average. But even if you are in relatively good shape financially, now is a still good time to aggressively pay down remaining obligations. The Fed looks poised to raise interest rates several times this year. “As interest rates rise, so will monthly payments on revolving debt.” One smart use for a raise or holiday bonus is to buy more financial flexibility by paying down high-interest debt. “Where else can you get a 15.2 percent return—the national average credit card rate, according to CreditCards.com—on your money?”