The Top Three Money Mistakes You Might Be Making And How to Correct Them

August 7, 2012  |  

The research released this week finding that nearly half of Americans die with less than $10,000 in assets should be enough to scare us all straight. We need to get our personal finances in shape.

So we asked the folks at Mint.com for their help. Mint.com is an online tool that helps you budget and track your personal finances. Below, Janet Al-Saad, editor of the MintLife and Quicken blogs (both Mint and Quicken are Intuit companies that help with financial planning), has outlined three financial issues and their solutions. Are you guilty any of these things?

Mistake #1: Not taking advantage of an employer-matched 401(K). When money’s tight, a smaller paycheck seems too high a price for investing in a 401(K). But some employees don’t realize that companies often offer a match for a percentage of your 401(K) contribution.

That’s right: Many companies will offer you free money just for doing something you already should — saving for retirement. For example, say you make $50,000 per year and you deposit 10 percent of your pre-tax income — $5,000 — into a 401(K). If your employer matches that by 50 percent, it’s an additional free $2,500 in your pocket. And since it’s a 401(K), this free money comes on top of the tax-advantaged nature of your account, meaning it can grow without paying any taxes until you begin withdrawing. Heck, even if your company didn’t offer a match, a 401(K) is almost always of benefit to your bottom line, since it reduces your taxable income.

The solution: Your HR department is there for good reason. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to sign up for your 401(K) or if you’re unsure about your company’s matching policy, just ask them. The sign-up process is usually less difficult than you’d think. Many experts recommend saving between 10 and 15 percent of your income toward retirement, but if this sounds too big a number, start with a lower percentage, aiming for at least the amount that your company will match. Remember, it’s free money, and saving for retirement isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.

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