5 Promise Keepers

Follow up on that resolution to get your finances in order for '98

Ever since mid-December, that little voice in the back of your head has been telling you to get a move on it. From the moment 1998 started creeping up, you figured it was time to finally act on one long overdue resolution: getting fiscally sound. It’s the year you’ve intended to start saving, to get invested, to cut your debt. Just one question: where in heaven’s name do you start?

As far as financial planning goes, the coming year is a crucial one, whether you’ve been an ace investor or a procrastinator. New tax codes have changed the landscape as far as saving for college or putting away money for retirement. Beginning this year, there are opportunities you’d be wise not to pass up. After talking with American Express financial advisor Deborah P. Breedlove (803-252-4344), BLACK ENTERPRISE has come up with a checklist of five items you should look into. . 1. Make tax projections for the year.

A good first step for any plan starts with an estimate of how much you’ll make in 1998, says Breedlove. That way, you’ll know how much you’re earning, what you can budget toward savings and roughly how much you’ll have to pay in taxes come April 15, 1999. That last point is very important: knowing more or less how much you’ll pay gives you ample time to take steps to save on next year’s tax bite. . 2. Start making 401(k) contributions now.

Early planning can help you make the most of your employer’s 401(k) plan. First, says Breedlove, talk to your benefits department and determine the maximum contribution you can make toward your 401(k). Next, she says, schedule regular payroll deductions to meet that mark. “A lot of times, people realize toward the end of the year that they have this wonderful benefit and then try to rush to save up enough,” she says. “Most often, it’s too late because the government requires that you pay in regular installments.” . 3. Make mutual fund investments early.

Pity the end-of-the-year mutual fund investor. When he or she buys into their favorite fund in November or December, they miss out on whatever gains the fund has made during much of the year. What they do buy into is a right to pay taxes on the profits the fund made trading stocks and bonds during the year. The solution: if you’re leaning toward a mutual fund as a low-risk way to get into the stock market, buy in early in the year, preferably before May, says Breedlove. . 4. Choose an IRA and start saving.

Once you’ve got a notion of your tax burden this year, you might consider opening an individual retirement account, or IRA. Money invested in an IRA grows tax-free, which can add up to a bundle by the time you reach retirement age. Better yet, up to $2,000 of the money you contribute to your IRA is tax-deductible, $4,000 if you’re married. In 1998, however, your IRA decision will become quite a bit more complicated than in past

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