Retirement – Provident Planning Personal Finance for Life in the Kingdom Mon, 24 Apr 2017 02:39:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Root of Riches: Interview with Chuck Bentley, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries Mon, 04 Jul 2011 10:00:05 +0000        On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Bentley, the CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, about his upcoming book The Root of Riches: What If Everything You Think about Money Is Wrong?. The book will be released in the next week or so, but if you’d like to get a 20% discount you can go to and sign up to pre-order the book and get a free sample chapter.

       I had the chance to read the book before the interview and I highly recommend it to all of you. Chuck does a good job of getting to the heart of our issues with money by highlighting how being rooted in Christ is the only way to receive true riches. The interview below will give you a good overview of the central ideas in the book and help you determine if it’s something you’d want to read.

       I’ve included the audio here which you can listen to on the website or download for later. I’ve also transcribed the interview for those of you who prefer to read. I’d be interested in your feedback on how well you liked this because it’s the first time I’ve tried doing an interview/podcast. (I was quite pleased with how my intro and outro music turned out!) Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments at the bottom of the page, and if you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them.

Download audio file (Root-of-Riches-Interview-with-Chuck-Bentley.mp3)
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Credits: intro and outro music for the audio is from “Bucolique Utopique” by David on Jamendo

Note: I was not paid anything to post this interview. I only agreed to it after reading the book because I believed Chuck’s message in The Root of Riches is excellent and needs to become more prominent in Christian personal finance.

[0:00] Introduction

[Intro Music]

Paul: Hi, everyone! This is Paul Williams from Provident Planning. Today, I’m interviewing Chuck Bentley, the CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, about his upcoming book The Root of Riches: What If Everything You Think about Money Is Wrong?, which will be released on July 11th or at least in early July. Thanks for joining me today, Chuck. It’s great to be talking with you!

Chuck: Well, it’s an honor to be with you, Paul, and thank you for your interest in The Root of Riches and for the opportunity to speak to your audience today.

[0:43] Purpose of the Book

Paul: Well, thank you. Let’s get right to the interview. Here’s my first question for you. What prompted you to write The Root of Riches? What did you see missing in the Christian finance literature that you felt this book could fill?

Chuck: Well, thank you for asking that because I think it’s very important to distinguish this work from other works in the marketplace. I find that most books written about finance, even in Christian finance, deal primarily with the how to’s, the practical application, the principles, and behavioral changes. What I thought was missing was a comprehensive overview of what the Bible says about money and finances from the standpoint of getting rich. It seems to be sort of the silent target for many people.

       And one of the areas of frustration for me was I bought into the world’s definition of getting rich. And what the study of Scripture changed in my life was not so much going from financial failure or hardship to financial success but it changed my heart. And I wanted to write about that transformation and to give a more comprehensive look at what the Bible really does say about getting rich.

Paul: Well, I would definitely agree with you. I think, like the book’s title The Root of Riches, getting to the root of our beliefs about money and how that affects our whole life – not just those financial principles that we apply, but just how we think about money and how we view it and our relationship to it – is really important especially when it comes to getting God’s view and following Christ.

Chuck: Yes, absolutely, Paul.

Paul: And I really appreciated that perspective in your book.

[2:33] Non-Negotiable No. 1

Paul: Alright, in The Root of Riches, you cover three non-negotiables that form the broad structure of the book. And I’d like to give the listeners an overview of what they can expect from the book by reviewing each of these non-negotiables. So Non-Negotiable No. 1 is “I accept that both the cause and the solution to my money problems lie within my own heart.” Tell us more about this non-negotiable. What do you mean by it? What does it encompass? Why is it important?

Chuck: Paul, I realized that the preponderance of the teaching in the Scripture about money deals with our heart. The word “love” is associated with verse after verse after verse when it comes to money. And it seems to me that we typically leave those out, we skip over them, we avoid them.

       And I’ll give you an example. Probably the most famous verse is 1 Timothy 6:10. And I talk about it a lot because that’s the verse that the Lord used to really take me back to review the meaning of it because I had assumed I understood it. I had known it for years and years and years, and I sort of skipped over it because it became too familiar.

       But it says that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. And I went back and looked at the verse and took a hard look at it, and the word that I had skipped was the word “root”. Why did Paul describe this problem as a root problem? And I began to study the characteristics of roots and just realized that primarily they’re pervasive, they give structure to the tree because that’s the foundation of the tree, and they’re also responsible for the fruit of that tree.

       And as I got into it I realized that if our roots are flawed, which they are when we’re born into this world, then we love the wrong things. And when our roots are transformed we love the right things. And I wanted to point out that when we love the correct things then we become rich on God’s terms. So the insight, the big ah-ha for me, was that getting rich according to God’s definition was not about owning things but it was about loving the right things.

       Solomon said it this way “whoever loves money never has enough money, whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their wealth”. He identified this connection of our heart to our very practical circumstances. I found it amazing that we tend to skip over that. It says directly your financial problems are related to what you love.

       So if we will admit that, if we will say, “I’m struggling with a financial issue because of something that’s in my heart.” Then if my heart is changed then the solutions can also flow out of my heart. And that’s a non-negotiable truth in my opinion because if we don’t start there then we just get into the old patterns of just trying to change behavior and not deal with the real root.

Paul: Right, so when you say that this non-negotiable is stated “I accept that both the cause and the solution to my money problems lie within my own heart.” the cause is loving those wrong things and the solution is that transformation to have the heart of Christ and begin loving the right things.

Chuck: The Bible says that in the end times there will be terrible days, the people will be lovers of self, lovers of pleasure, and lovers of money. Paul identified (that’s 2 Timothy 3) the problem with our roots is that we’re in love with ourself, and pleasures, and money. They’re all interlinked.

       And when our heart is changed where we love God with all of our heart and soul and we love people and we love giving and we’re cheerful and excited about giving and serving others, then we experience the liberty that leads us to the correct beliefs and behaviors about money.

       And back to the first question, Paul, the reason I wrote this is because I didn’t see it emphasized in most teaching. The transformation of the heart is such a deep issue and a mysterious issue that I see why it’s easy to skip over it. But the Lord didn’t skip over it! And the reason I wanted to start there is to try to emphasize don’t move past the issue of your heart.

       The Lord weighs the motive of the heart. I think we can have good financial behaviors and still miss the true riches that the Lord promised. Jeremiah 17 talks about those who trust in themselves are blind to prosperity. And it’s because their hearts have not been changed to what true prosperity really means. So that’s the reason that’s the starting point, Paul.

Paul: So we can clarify. When you say the solution to the money problems you don’t mean that once we get our heart transformed we’re suddenly going to be rich and we’re not going to have to worry about our bills any more, right?

Chuck: Well, I think there’s a…no, I’m not…[laughter]…I’m agreeing with you, Paul. I don’t think that they magically go away. But I am attacking this premise that money solves financial problems. That’s the assumption that most people have and it’s where we get off base. If money solved financial problems, then the wealthy wouldn’t have any problems. Right?

Paul: Right.

Chuck: But I love what a friend told me years ago that God gives every one of us a problem that money can’t solve. And that’s because He wants us to recognize that we need Him more than we need money. And that’s a heart issue. That gets to the real issue of where you place your confidence, where your security, where your significance comes from. How do we define success? Those are issues in the heart. And when we get that straight then we’re ready to go to the next step and start to see our financial problems solved once our hearts have been changed.

Paul: Right. That’s what I like about this non-negotiable. It’s coming to that realization that the solution to your money problems isn’t necessarily money but getting to that point that Christ becomes everything to you. So even if you still have money problems after you get this right view of money and start loving the right things, they’re not going to seem like as big of a problem because you’re keeping your eternal riches in mind. You’re looking at the treasure in heaven that you have stored up. And suddenly, as Paul puts it, the afflictions that we’re experiencing now can’t even compare to our future glory. {Romans 8:18} So that’s what I like about it.

Chuck: Well, Paul, let’s flip it over and look at the other side of the coin. Suppose you’re the rich young ruler. You probably have a pretty good financial situation. I believe he was probably debt free, lived on a budget or at least had plenty of money to cover his needs, maybe had a good savings plan, a good diversified investment portfolio, and a long term plan and strategy to do whatever it was he felt led to do.

       But he had a heart problem. And his heart problem was he was struggling to let go of all of those things to follow Christ and to make Christ preeminent in his life. And the Lord knew that and challenged him on that issue of the heart. And if you apply this to the person like that you see why I say it’s a non-negotiable.

       When I was in China recently, I wasn’t talking to a population of people with debt problems because they haven’t really learned to acquire debt in their culture and they have an average personal savings rate of around 50%. So what would I take to them from the Scripture if it were simply to change their financial behaviors? What they were looking for was what does the Bible say about their attitudes, their beliefs, their affections when it comes to money and possessions. And that’s why I think it’s so important, as you agreed, that we cannot skip over this step.

Paul: Right.

[11:16] Non-Negotiable No. 2

Paul: Alright, let’s go on to Non-Negotiable No. 2 which is “I must align my beliefs with God’s Word to produce behaviors that will make me truly rich.” Tell us more about that.

Chuck: Here’s where I started to get into the real meat of the matter. As you said, after my heart has changed how do I actually start to see financial problems solved as a result of that. The Bible makes it clear that we’re to experience a transformation of our heart, a transfer of our affections to loving the wrong things to loving the right things, and then having our mind renewed that we’re changed not by our learned behaviors but we’re changed by our faith. We’re changed by what we believe.

       Colossians says we can be taken captive by hollow, deceptive philosophies that depend on the tradition of man. And what I see is many people are captive to their philosophies of this world. They’ve been taken hostage by their wrong beliefs. So if you align your belief system with God’s Word, then your behaviors change as a natural outflow to produce the good fruit that the Lord expects of us.

       If you simply tell a person, “Go behave like a good Christian. Go behave like a good Christian should with your money. Go start giving. Go start doing all of the financial practices that will improve your finances.” I think some of that works. I think you can teach behavioralism. But until you get to the belief system it’s not going to be transformative. It’s not going to be consistent with what God expects of us.

       You know we must align our beliefs with God’s Word – not the wisdom of the world. And I found in my own testimony that I share in the book that I was really aligned with what the world’s philosophy said. I knew the Scripture but I never aligned what I believed about money with the Scripture. It was a foreign concept to me. And that was getting down to the root of the issue. Do I believe God’s Word and am I willing to forgo what the world has taught me and to believe what God said?

       I’ll give you a great example of that. My behavior did not change when it came to the area of giving until my beliefs changed. And once I began to believe that what the Lord said was true – that it is more blessed to give than to receive – I actually became a cheerful giver once I believed that. I could not become a cheerful giver until I really believed that was true. I may have changed my behaviors but it wouldn’t have brought joy to my life until my beliefs were changed and aligned with God’s Word.

Paul: Right. Yeah, I’ve talked several times on my blog about that. When I discuss giving, I tend to focus more on what I call New Covenant giving. Which is, like you said, cheerful, generous, and a joyful kind of giving and often sacrificial. But that – you can’t really teach that. You can’t give somebody a standard and say, “Give this much and you’ll be meeting your obligation.” That kind of giving (New Covenant giving) requires that we have God’s love living in us.

       And then once that’s true, once that’s happening – like you said, that’s aligning your beliefs with God’s Word – then the behaviors of generous giving are going to naturally flow out of that. It’ll become a part of your life because that’s the way you think all the time. You don’t have to push yourself to do it. It’s just a natural part of your character at that point because you’re gaining the character of Christ.

Chuck: You know, you’re so right, Paul. We are controlled by our belief system. If that weren’t true, then we couldn’t be taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies of this world. But what we believe controls us. If I believe I should put gasoline in my car to make it operate, I’ll do that. If someone told me, “Hey, you can fill it up with water and it’ll work just as well for a lot less.” and I believe that, I would act upon it. Now in that case it would have been a lie that I believed and I would be suffering the consequences of it.

       But what the Lord wants us to do is to act out of faith. And that faith comes from when we really believe Him. And that verse about that it’s better to give than to receive is so foreign to us. It was foreign to me. I wrestled with that one. I thought, “Is that true? Is that real?” You know the Lord is saying it’s better for you if you’re a giver instead of an acquirer or accumulator. And, Paul, I just didn’t really believe that.

       And that’s why it was non-negotiable in the journey that I experienced that I came to say, “Unless I really believe it, then my behaviors will never be consistent with what God expects.” I may be operating with religious piety, but inside I’m still eaten up with greed which needed to be dealt with.

Paul: Yeah, exactly. And I think that this is probably, of the three non-negotiables, the most challenging because it can take so long to get to the point where we can see where our beliefs are not lining up with God’s Word. Our hearts are so deceptive that we just assume that what we would naturally believe is true. And I think it’s very hard to start challenging that and even to be open – have our eyes open – to where we need to challenge ourselves on that.

       And I think that’s where prayer and studying God’s Word and just having that passion for pursuing God’s ways – His Kingdom and His righteousness first – is the only way that you’re going to open your eyes to have that revelation of God saying, “Look, Paul, or look, Chuck, here is an area where you still need to be transformed. You still have a belief that is from the world and not from God.”

Chuck: You know, Paul, the way you expressed that is the way a wise man learns. I know that you’re much younger than I am and you’ve exhibited that same kind of wisdom where you, through study and prayer, come to learn where you are not aligned with God’s Word. I was not that wise. I learned the way of the fool, which was through pain. I did it my way only to discover I was wrong.

       And that’s where the subtitle came from that I woke up one day in a new world and said, “Everything I believe about money is upside down. I am absolutely conformed to the image of the world while professing faith in Christ but I really don’t believe the Bible.” And everything I believed was wrong because (A) I didn’t know the Word and (B) I wasn’t willing to apply the Word to my life.

Paul: Right. I want to be respectful of your time. We have five minutes left so I’ll move on to the next one.

[19:05] Non-Negotiable No. 3

Paul: Non-Negotiable No. 3 is “I must act upon and apply spiritual truth in order to receive true riches.” Explain that one to us in more detail.

Chuck: Well, John 13:17 says, “Now that you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” And the Scripture is a book of faith. We experience the blessings of God when we act upon them. It’s a sequence where our hearts are transformed, our affections are transferred to loving the right things, our mind is renewed so that we know the truth.

       And then the third step is to put it into action – to step out by faith and say, “Lord, I not only believe it I’m willing to do it. If you say it’s better to give than to receive, I will become a giver. Because You’re a giver, I’ll be a giver as well and I will begin to do that. Because You say it’s wise for me to save, I will save. Because You say that it is wise to avoid debt and to get out of debt, I will do that because I want to be obedient to You out of my love for You and I will act upon it.”

       And when that happens it’s amazing how quickly everything in your life changes. Because I went from being completely opposite of what God wanted for my life to falling in love with the Lord, immersing myself in the Scripture, committing myself to put it into action and to live it out – not just to be a hearer of the Word but a doer – and everything in my life was transformed. Everything, including my finances. But the finances – that was not the original goal – the financial transformation.

       And that’s where I’m trying to shift our emphasis. The overarching idea is to shift our emphasis from looking at the Bible as a self-help book to get my finances in order to a book that is much more comprehensive to get my entire life ordered around God’s purposes. And if we can do that and our riches are determined by God’s Word and not by man’s philosophy, then I say we will become eternally rich, we’ll experience freedom from the financial pain we’re in now, and we will have this confidence that no matter what happens on Earth that we will have treasures in Heaven. So to me it’s the ultimate win-win-win if we will put these things into practice.

Paul: Right. And you give some great stories in this section of the book. You talk about Oswald Chambers, and William Borden, and Samuel – you’ll have to pronounce his last name for me I don’t know that I would…

Chuck: It’s pronounced Zwemer (zwhim-er, like swimmer but with a ‘z’). A very difficult name…

Paul: Yeah, so those are examples of men who really took God’s Word to heart and followed it at great cost to themselves. Just really good examples of what it means to apply that spiritual truth and receive true riches.

Chuck: Well, they inspired me and I do hope that they inspire readers, Paul. Thank you for referencing that. I have certain heroes in my life that I’ve never met, and I wanted to honor them and let people know those examples that have inspired me to radically conform my life to God’s Word versus the world. And I believe those are examples I want to be more like.

Paul: And just so readers know – er, listeners know – that this book isn’t all philosophical, there is a chapter in this section that goes over the practices of what you call the He Tree. We haven’t talked about the He Tree and the Me Tree much, but that’s a big theme in the book. But this is the financial practices of those that have been transformed and are applying those spiritual truths.

Chuck: Thank you for mentioning that because I do believe it’s a very important section where I give some practical tips and insights of how to apply the truth in this book in a way that will make a difference in your finances. I’ve had the opportunity to teach this a few times in different settings around the world, and I gave sort of a condensed version of what I think will make the most difference in people’s lives if they will actually apply those things.

Paul: Yeah, it is very condensed but I think – like we’ve been talking about the whole time – if you get that transformation in place, you’ll naturally start to follow those behaviors that come from the truth in Scripture.

[23:50] Main Lesson of the Book

Paul: Alright, Chuck – last question. I know I’m pushing the time here but this will be a quick one. What is the one lesson you hope readers take from The Root of Riches? What is it that you most want them to remember after finishing this book?

Chuck: That riches are determined by what we love not by what we own. If the readers will take that to heart and recognize that God’s Word shouts that from beginning to end, then I think that they will be blessed by that discovery. And if they will put that truth into action into their life, they will experience God’s riches beyond measure. I do hope and pray that’s what happens, Paul.

Paul: Alright, I like that. Riches are determined by what we love not by what we own. Right?

Chuck: Absolutely.

Paul: OK.

[24:39] Conclusion

Paul: Well, thank you, Chuck, for taking the time to talk with me today. And thank you all for listening. If you’d like to learn more about Chuck’s new book, The Root of Riches, you can find more at The book will be released in early July, but you can sign up now to pre-order a copy and save 20%. Thanks again, Chuck, and have a great day!

Chuck: Well, Paul, thank you for what you’re doing at Provident Planning and for your interest in this book. I pray God’s blessings on you and your work.

Paul: Thank you.

[Outro Music]

[25:20] End

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Tax Tip: Combine a Traditional IRA Deduction with the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit Mon, 10 Jan 2011 11:00:28 +0000 Uncle Sam says,        With tax time fast approaching, I thought it might be a good idea to share a tax tip with you all that I’ve found useful for my clients. By combining a Traditional IRA deduction with the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit (sometimes called the Retirement Saver’s Credit), you can reduce your taxes by quite a bit after the tax year has ended because you don’t have to make IRA contributions until April 15. You may be able to reduce your taxes (and increase your refund) by up to $2,000 with this tip.

This tip works because the size of the credit increases as you reduce your adjusted gross income (AGI). Making a deductible Traditional IRA contribution lowers your AGI. Depending on your income, you can make yourself eligible for the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit or increase the amount of your credit. Here’s what you need to know.

The Drawbacks

This tip won’t work if you’re under 18, a full-time student, or can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return. Those are basic requirements for the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit. If any one of those apply to you, this won’t work.

Additionally, this tip only works at lower incomes (and it works best at very low incomes). The problem here is that people with low incomes often have a more difficult time contributing to retirement accounts. Here are the adjusted gross income limits for 2010 before counting the IRA deduction:

  • Single or Qualifying Widow(er) – $32,750 ($33,750 if you’re 50 or older)
  • Head of Household – $46,625 ($47,625 if you’re 50 or older)
  • Married Filing Jointly – $65,500 (up to $67,500 if you’re both 50 or older, $66,500 if only one of you is 50 or older)

This tax move doesn’t work if your filing status is married filing separately because the phaseout range for a deductible IRA contribution is so small.

Finally, the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit is not a refundable tax credit. This means it will only reduce your tax liability to $0 – beyond that it won’t get you any extra money. That doesn’t mean it’s useless though. If you have other refundable tax credits, this tax tip could increase the refund you get back from those credits because it reduces your tax first.

How to Do It

Assuming you meet the requirements, your income isn’t too high, and you have some tax due, the next thing you’d want to figure out is how much you should contribute to an IRA to get the most benefit from the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit. You’re going to need to do a little math to figure this out, including considering ira rates. Alternatively, you can just do your tax return several times using different IRA contributions to see how things work out.

If you’re going to figure it out manually, you’ll need to first look at your tax due to figure out how big of a credit you need. On Form 1040, you’ll find your tax due on line 60. As I said before, the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit isn’t refundable, so you only need a credit as large as your tax due. Any more than that is useless.

Once you know the maximum amount you’d need from your credit, you’ll want to figure out how much of a credit you can get. There are two things you need to keep in mind. First, the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit is calculated as a percentage of your retirement contributions. But the credit is only calculated on up to $2,000 in contributions (or $4,000 if you’re married filing jointly – $2,000 for each of you). Second, the percentage depends on your adjusted gross income (after your IRA deduction) according to the table below. You can also find this information on Form 8880 – Retirement Savings Contribution Credit.

Filing Status 50% Credit 20% Credit 10% Credit
Single or Qualifying Widow(er) up to $16,750 $16,751 to $18,000 $18,001 to $27,750
Head of Household up to $25,125 $25,126 to $27,000 $27,001 to $41,625
Married Filing Jointly up to $33,500 $33,501 to $36,000 $36,001 to $55,500

So let’s say you’re single and your AGI is $30,000. You wouldn’t qualify for the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit unless you make a deductible IRA contribution of at least $2,250 to bring your AGI down to $27,750. That would get you down to the 10% credit range. Your credit would then be $200 (10% of $2,000). It doesn’t matter that you contributed $2,250. The credit is only calculated on the first $2,000 of your retirement contributions. But you might have to contribute more than $2,000 to make yourself eligible.

Want to see a more exciting example? Let’s say you’re married filing a joint return and your AGI is $37,500. As you stand now, you’d be eligible for the 10% credit on any retirement contributions you’ve made (this credit includes 401(k) plan contributions and similar accounts). But by making two deductible IRA contributions – $2,000 for you and $2,000 for your spouse – you can bring your AGI down to $33,500. This makes you eligible for the 50% credit and would lower your taxes by $2,000 ($4,000 * 50%). You just made a $4,000 contribution to your retirement accounts at a net cost of $2,000! I’d say that’s a good deal.

I like this tax tip because I’ve seen it work for myself and many others quite well. There are a few other aspects of this tip that I didn’t cover here, but I’ve given you enough info to get started on it. It’s a great way to boost your retirement savings while reducing your taxes – sometimes by quite a bit!

Want More Tax Tips?

If you want more tax tips that will help you keep more money in your pocket, make sure you’ve signed up for free updates to Provident Planning!

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The 80% or 90% of Income for Retirement Rule Is Stupid Wed, 03 Nov 2010 10:00:30 +0000 Using Rules of Thumb for Retirement Planning?  FAIL       In my post on why the save 10% of your income for retirement rule is stupid I mentioned that expecting you’ll need 80% (or 90% or any other %…) of your pre-retirement income in retirement is stupid as well. How much income you’ll need in retirement is one of the major variables in calculating what you should save for retirement, so it’s important to use the most accurate estimate you can. Relying on a percentage rule of thumb is likely to steer you in the wrong direction for several reasons. Here are a few.


       Do you plan on downsizing in retirement? Or maybe you’re thinking about upgrading. Planning to move? That’s going to change more than just your housing costs. If you’re going to be renting or still paying a mortgage in retirement, you’ll need to figure that in as well.

       Consider maintenance costs as well. If you’re a handyman now and do most of your own repairs, how long will you be able to keep that up in retirement? Eventually, your physical abilities are likely to become limited and then you’ll need to hire others to do those repairs.

       You can’t plan for every possible variable in your housing costs, but these are the kinds of things you need to consider when figuring out how much income you’ll need in retirement. Housing is the highest cost for most people, so it’s even more important you get this one as accurate as you can.


       Have you thought about how your transportation and travel costs might change in retirement? I’m guessing they’re probably not going to mirror your pre-retirement spending. The lack of a commute and the desire to travel more may offset each other for some people but not for most. This one might be difficult to figure out all at once, but if you take each aspect at a time you can come up with a reasonable estimate.


       Will you be more likely to eat out in retirement, or do you want to improve your culinary skills and cook more at home? You’ll have an excellent opportunity to lower your food costs in retirement by cooking more from scratch, but many retirees look to eating out as a way to engage in social life and get out of the house. Depending on your preferences, skills, and plans, this could be another area that you’ll need to consider carefully.


       During retirement, you’re going to be shouldering more of your health insurance expenses. Your health will also be at a higher risk of declining as you age, so you’ll have to expect more health costs overall. This is one area where many retirees experience a large increase in spending – especially as retirement goes on.

Income Taxes

       Depending on your personal situation and how you decided to save for retirement, your taxes in retirement could look quite different than before retirement. This is especially true if the income you’ll need in retirement is very different from your pre-retirement income. There are a number of variables that affect income taxes and they change from person to person. Assuming you can count on an average to help you might the right decision for your retirement is foolish.


       This is at least one area where the percentage rules directly account for some changes in retirement. But there’s still a problem. Maybe you waited until 10 years before retirement and had to save 30%, 40%, or 50% of your income to catch up. That’s going to drastically change once you enter retirement, so you need to look at your unique circumstances. Or maybe you hit a windfall sometime in your life and haven’t been saving anything for retirement. Following one of these rules of thumb won’t work for your situation either.

       It doesn’t matter if you don’t fit into one of the examples I shared above. The point is that your situation is different and unique to you, and you need to plan accordingly.

So How Should You Figure Out How Much Income You’ll Need in Retirement?

       I think it should be clear by now that the only prudent way to figure out your retirement income needs is to carefully consider your own situation by looking at your circumstances and expenses alongside your goals. When I was creating my free retirement calculator, I wrote an article specifically designed to help you start thinking about how much income you’ll need in retirement based on your situation. It doesn’t cover every possibility, but it will help you get started.

       My goal in pointing out how stupid these rules of thumb are is not to make things difficult for you or to make fun of others who give this kind of advice. I want you to see that your financial decisions involve factors that are unique to you. You shouldn’t risk making a wrong decision because you followed an easy rule of thumb. Take the time to really think about your situation, learn what you need to know so you can make a smart choice, and use that knowledge to manage your money well.

photo credit: (Hans Gerwitz on Flickr)

This article was included in the Best of Money Carnival.

This article was included in the Carnival of Financial Planning.

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The Save 10% for Retirement Rule Is Stupid Wed, 06 Oct 2010 10:00:43 +0000 Cracked Nest Egg Because of Stupid Retirement Rules       The “save 10% for retirement” rule is absolutely stupid. And so is “save 15% for retirement” (sorry, Dave Ramsey) or “save 20% for retirement” and any other “save #% for retirement” rule you’ll come across. Now I don’t doubt that the people giving this advice meant no harm. They probably just want to get you to start saving for retirement, and offering a simple % of your income solution is a quick, easy answer for a difficult question.

       But they’re all absurd, useless rules for one simple reason: they completely ignore your situation. For most people, a simple rule like “save 10% of your income for retirement” is likely to be wrong (and blindly following dumb advice like that can have nasty results). The right answer depends on seven major factors that are specific to you and your situation. Specifically, they are:

  1. Your Current Age
  2. Your Retirement Age
  3. Your Life Expectancy
  4. Your Current Savings
  5. Your Investments
  6. How Much Income You Need for Retirement
  7. Your Current Income

       All of these factors work together to determine how much you should be saving for retirement each year. Let’s break them down.

Your Current Age & Retirement Age

       The difference between your retirement age and current age determines how long you have to save and invest. If you’re 25 now and don’t plan on retiring until you’re 70, then you’ve got 45 years until retirement. But if you’re 50 and want to retire at 65, well then you’ve only got 15 years. That’s a huge difference!

       The longer you have until retirement, the less you’re going to have to save. But these simplistic rules ignore this completely. If you’re young and just starting out, these rules might be OK for you. But if you’re older and haven’t done so well with saving for retirement, you’re not going to be happy when you realize you can’t retire because you didn’t save enough.

Your Life Expectancy

       Trying to guess your life expectancy can be a shot in the dark. You don’t really know when you’re going to die. But your health, your habits, and your family history do affect how long you can expect to live. Obviously, the longer you’re likely to live, the more you should save for retirement. But these dumbed-down % rules don’t account for this at all.

Your Current Savings

       If you’ve been wise and have already been saving a lot for retirement, you may not need to save 10% of your income. But if you’re 50 years old and haven’t saved a dime, then even 15% or 20% are unlikely to cut it unless you’re willing to make some major changes to your life and retirement plans. How much you already have saved can drastically affect how much you should save for retirement, but once again these % of your income rules won’t help.

Your Investments

       Are you so afraid of risk that you’ve vowed only to use CDs to save for retirement? Well, I can tell you that you’re going to need to save a whole lot more than 10% of your income even if you’re starting at 18 and don’t plan to retire until you’re 75. Your investment returns (which are connected to the risk you’re willing to take) will drastically affect how much you need to save. Based on what I can figure, the % rules assume you’re going to invest in a moderately aggressive mix of stocks and bonds that you tone down as you get closer to retirement. So if your risk tolerance is higher or lower, these rules won’t work for you.

How Much Income You Need for Retirement

       How much income you need for retirement is also a huge factor in figuring out how much you should be saving. Are you going to get a pension? Well, you’ll need less income from your own savings (lucky you). Do you plan to downsize and cut way back on some major expenses? Then you probably won’t need to save as much. Want to travel the world extensively? You might have to plan on saving more if your retirement expenses are going to drastically exceed your current income.

       You see, these % rules assume you’re going to need about 80% or so of your income in retirement. (That’s a stupid assumption for some other reasons, but I’m saving that for a different post.) So if you’re going to be different, these rules just won’t work for you.

Your Current Income

       Finally, and this should be obvious, your current income will affect the % you should be saving. Once you consider all these other factors I mentioned above, you can figure out exactly how many dollars you should save for retirement this year. But depending on what you make now, that could be 5% or 25% of your current income. (Or even more!)

The Solution

       So how, exactly, should you calculate how much you need to save for retirement? Well, I’d like to say that my handy little retirement calculator is the perfect answer, but it’s not. (It’s free by the way!)

       My calculator assumes you’re going to invest using a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds (also a free calculator) with a moderate-slightly aggressive stock/bond mix. It also simplifies the taxes and doesn’t allow for “lumpy expenses” or significant changes in your retirement spending. Finally, it’s based on some other assumptions that I just can’t know will be absolutely correct. I did my best, but I know it’s not perfect.

       My free retirement calculator is certainly an improvement over these stupid % of income rules, but it’s still no replacement for sitting down with a good fee-only financial planner and working it out. So definitely try it out, but do yourself a favor and find a qualified professional to help you as well. And you need to do this more than once. Every few years you should revisit this plan with your advisor and update it as needed.

       I know that’s not an easy answer, but at least you’ll have a better chance of actually meeting your goals! Plus, I tried to make my calculator as simple as possible without making it too simple. And trust me, it’s better than most of the other free retirement calculators you’ll find out there because I used hundreds of thousands of Monte Carlo simulations to develop it. So it’s based on assumptions that mimic real market returns (which vary from year to year) instead of assuming a straight % return every single year (like 8%, 8%, 8%, …).

       Try it out, let me know what you think, and feel free to share your results here! What % of your income should you actually be saving to reach your retirement goals?

(photo credit: Nina Matthews)

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Carnival of Personal Finance #271 – The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook Edition Mon, 23 Aug 2010 10:00:33 +0000 The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook
       Welcome to the Carnival of Personal Finance #271 – The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook Edition! My friend Craig Ford at Money Help for Christians is launching a new eBook today. It’s designed to help you discover the secrets to successful budgeting.

       I think it’s a great resource for anyone who’s ever struggled with budgeting, so I’ve included some quotes from his eBook throughout this carnival. You can get the book for 30% off if you buy before midnight (EDT) August 31st, 2010. Be sure to read through to the end of this carnival because I’ll be giving away two FREE copies to two lucky winners!

Editor’s Choice

       Here are my top picks from the submissions this week:

  • Mike Piper from Oblivious Investor presents Dealing with Investment Confusion, and says, “What’s the best approach to dealing with the confusion that comes from being a new investor?” – [Mike shares some good advice for people who are confused about investing. It won’t immediately cure your confusion, but applying this strategy over and over will help you make informed decisions you can stick to.]
  • Briana Ford from Go Banking Rates presents Why Americans Can’t Afford to Die [Infographic], and says, “If you never thought about this problem before, take a look at how expensive funerals really are. You may discover you, like many Americans, simply can’t afford to die.” – [What can I say? I’m a sucker for infographics.]
  • Len from Len Penzo dot Com presents A Simple Trick to Get Your Credit Card Interest Charges Waived. – [I wish more people realized the power of Len’s simple trick!]
  • Lauren from Richly Reasonable presents 4 Bad Deals, and says, “The term “Bad Deal” is relative. Not only is Necessity the mother of Invention, she is also the mother of many a Bad Deal. Necessity has a TON of children.” – [Funny, smart, and witty – and likely to open a few eyes at least!]
  • Jacob A. Irwin from My Personal Finance Journey presents Adjusting My Monthly Budget to Account for Home Ownership, and says, “A look at the steps I have recently taken to adjust my personal budget to account for the various elements of home ownership.” – [At our current rent rate owning a home just doesn’t make sense. Just look at all the costs involved!]

       Congratulations to the editor’s choice picks! Here are the rest of the articles from this week’s submissions.

Money Management

  • MD from Studenomics presents Quick College Students Guide To Personal Finance.
  • Jason from One Money Design presents How Do You Live Well on Less Pay?, and says, “There are plenty of people that don’t make a lot of money and have trouble covering basic expenses each month. There are 5 essential tips to follow to live well on less pay.”
  • Revanche from A Gai Shan Life presents Shopping for the single life .
  • ispf from Grad Money Matters presents The American Dream of Home Ownership: 10 Things You Can Do as a Student.
  • Jim from Wanderlust Journey presents Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Shareholder Benefits.
  • Jason from Live Real, Now presents Check Your Bills, and says, “Can you automate your finances too far?”
  • Elle from Couple Money presents Financial Tips for College Success, and says, “Many college students are surprised to see how easy it is to build a financial foundation for themselves. Learn how to set up bank accounts, pay your bills, and start a graduation fund.”
  • DE(a)BTh from Murder Your Debt presents Your Wasted Life, and says, “You thought financing a house and a fast car meant freedom. That an expensive education would lead you to a rewarding career where you could earn lots of money. You were wrong, weren’t you? You hate your career but you’re stuck. You’re stuck because you swallowed the lies you were sold. The lies that material possessions bring success. The lies that more money means more happiness. And now what? You’ve got it all; the cars, the house with the huge yard, the sexy outfits and shiny shoes. But you’re STILL not happy!”
  • vh from Funny about Money presents Social Security’s Bizarre Rules, and says, “Social Security’s restrictive rules make it impossible to get out of poverty when unemployment forces one into early retirement and stock-market losses militate against retirement fund drawdowns.”
  • J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy presents What would you do with an extra $1,000?, and says, “Montel Williams wants to know ;)”
  • Bob from Christian Finances presents How to spend unexpected income: 3 questions to ask, and says, “It can be tough to know what to do when you receive a large sum of cash – this article will give you some questions to help you figure out what to do with it…”
  • Mr. GoTo from Go To Retirement presents How Much Long Term Care Insurance Should You Have?, and says, “Insuring against a long term care event is part of personal risk management. Estimating the amount of long term care coverage to obtain requires careful consideration of several factors.”

If you are working 40 or more hours a week to earn your money, don’t you think it is worth an hour or two to set up a budget?

Isn’t it worth spending about an hour every week to manage the money you work so hard to earn? It is always better to manage what you have than to work yourself crazy trying to get more money.

– from page 21 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford



  • Dividend Growth Investor from Dividend Growth Investor presents 33 Dividend Champions to Consider, and says, “Dividend investor David Fish has created a list of dividend stocks which have raised distributions for 25 consecutive years and has named it the dividend champions list. His list includes 100 companies, which is more than twice the size of the Dividend Aristocrats. I ran a screen on the list in order to identify stocks for further research.”
  • Mike from The Financial Blogger presents Use the Loonie’s Strength to Invest in the Eagle Market, and says, “Canadian dollar is strong compared to the US dollar at this time. Use this as an opportunity to invest in US stocks.”
  • Div Guy from The Dividend Guy Blog presents Dividend Investing with Less Than $1,000 Part 3: How to Pick Your ETFs and/or Dividend Funds, and says, “Starting to invest is quite motivating but as a young investor, you must put greed and hype aside and start by looking for sound investments.”
  • Squirrelers presents Small Stocks = High Return and High Volatility, and says, “Small stocks, particularly those in the lowest deciles, have performed very well over the long-term. They can be an important part of your asset allocation, provided you can stomach the associated risks.”
  • D4L from Dividends Value presents My Top 6 Performing Dividend Stocks Just Might Surprise You, and says, “As I have stated many times, my goal is to create an ever growing income stream from dividend stocks. Secondarily, it is my desire to beat the S&P 500 over time. With that said, I rarely look at the capital performance of individual stocks. However, I recently sorted my portfolio by Total Gain % (total gain/basis) and was mildly surprised at the top performers.”
  • ElizabethG (Modern Gal) from Modern Gal presents Investing for Inflation in 2010.
  • DSO from High Dividend Stocks presents Big GE and it’s big dividend, and says, “One of America’s oldest and most prestigious companies has become an accidental high yielder.”

Budgeting in and of itself is useless.

Budgeting is part of a larger financial plan.

– from page 9 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford




You need to focus your finances on accomplishing one major task at a time.

If you don’t, the danger is that every dollar will be diluted to a point that it makes little impact helping you reach your goals.

– from page 9 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford



The goal of the budget is to help you spend less than you earn.

Therefore, this becomes the single criteria for an effective budget – does it help you spend less than you earn?

– from page 12 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


  • PT from PT Money presents Free Prepaid Credit Cards, and says, “A thorough, original review of the best free prepaid credit cards, including those that are free of activation and monthly fees. These cards are great for those who need to avoid debt, or those that can’t get a traditional bank account.”
  • Silicon Valley Blogger from The Digerati Life presents Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard Review, and says, “Here’s a review of a credit card I actually like.”

Real Estate

  • FMF from Free Money Finance presents How to Hire a Home Inspector, and says, “When you buy a home, you need to be sure you hire a good home inspector to identify any potential problems. This post gives tips on how to do this.”
  • Jeff Rose from Good Financial Cents presents Should You Upgrade to a Larger Home”, and says, ”
    In many markets, home owners are looking at homes in the next price range up as good buys, since foreclosures and a slow market are resulting in good deals. But, as tempting as it is to upgrade to a larger home, is it really a good idea? Here are some things to consider before upgrading to a larger home.”
  • Rob from Two Wise Acres presents 3 Things to Avoid When Buying a Home, and says, “When buying a home, it’s critical that you avoid these three credit mistakes.”
  • ctreit from Money Obedience presents Do renters really save money in the end?.


  • pkamp3 from Don’t Quit Your Day Job… presents Tax Incidence, and says, “Who really pays for a tax when it is enacted? If the government enacts a new tax on washing machines, is the entire tax on Maytag? The consumer? Cameron Daniels breaks down the details.”

A budget lets your spouse see your values and priorities in a tangible way.

A budget forces you to communicate not just about your life goals, but also about your daily financial preferences.

– from page 16 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


  • Kristina from Dinks Finance presents A DINK in The Office, and says, “As a married or unmarried employee with no children, are you treated differently than your colleagues with kids?”
  • Nicole from Nicole and Maggie: Grumpy Rumblings presents Why did you go to graduate school?, and says, “Nicole and Maggie discuss reasons for graduate school and how sometimes we’re directed into a career for the right reasons and sometimes we fall into it for the wrong reasons. But it turns out OK anyway (or maybe it doesn’t, but you can always change your mind).”


  • Bret from Hope to Prosper presents Trillion Dollar Public Pension Shortfall, and says, “An article in the New York Times stated that there is a $1 Trillion dollar public pension shortfall. Despite repeated denials from PERS and public employee unions, public pensions are in big trouble.”
  • JLP from presents Democrats, Republicans, and the Federal Debt Since 1979, and says, “Though the title may suggest it, this is not a “political” post.”

Budgeting is a process, not an event.

You won’t wake up tomorrow with an effective budget. Instead, you will start with a decent budget that later becomes a good budget. Eventually, it is a great budget.

– from page 16 of The Secret to a Successful Budget by Craig Ford


The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook Giveaway!

       As promised, I’m giving away two free copies of The Secret to a Successful Budget courtesy of Craig. To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me how budgeting has helped you OR your biggest struggle with budgeting. I’ll use to select two winners tomorrow evening (August 24, 2010) at 5:00 PM EDT so be sure to enter by then!!! I’ll update this post to announce the winners, but use a valid email address when you comment so I can reach you if you win. Good luck!

[Update: Laura has won a free copy of The Secret to a Successful Budget! Congratulations!!!]

The Secret to a Successful Budget eBook

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Conformed or Transformed? Tue, 15 Jun 2010 10:00:12 +0000        If someone were to look at your bank or credit card statement, would they see a Christian? Are the choices you make still following the pattern of the world? Or have you been transformed by the renewing of your mind and presented your body (and your money) as a sacrifice to God?

       1 Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. 2 Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:1-2 (WEB)

       These verses encourage us to live changed lives in light of God’s overflowing mercy toward us. I would not begin to imply that it relates specifically to finances. However, the choices you make with the money God has given you can clearly reflect where your heart is focused. When you make your money decisions are you thinking in terms of God’s will, or are you continuing in the patterns of the world?

       This doesn’t mean that you are perfectly holy and good if your account statements show that you give all your money away (or even live on very little and give the rest away). Outward appearances are not necessarily an indication of the heart. Jesus spent most of His time teaching this exact idea. If you do not have God’s love and your actions are not motivated by that same love, then your pious actions will help you in no way.

       The challenge I want to present to you (and myself) is simply this: In your earning, spending, and managing money, how are you presenting yourself as a sacrifice to God and seeking His will? In other words, are your money decisions in alignment with God’s principles and values?

       It’s very easy to live just as the rest of the world does. In many ways, Christians are indistinguishable from non-Christians. But we are called to live differently. This doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting everything the world does, but it will often look that way. Rather, we must give everything over to God (as a response to the gift of salvation) and seek His will.

       A transformed life may not look very different from the world. Much personal finance advice is good regardless of your faith (though the motivations may be quite different). On the other hand, it may be the exact opposite of the world’s ways. Giving is one example. It simply doesn’t make sense if you look only at the numbers.

       How your life will look is not the point. A transformed life could look different from one Christian to another (though there will be some similarities). The point is whether or not you are seeking that transformed life, seeking God’s will, and striving to persevere until the end. A life of following Jesus is not marked by the absence of sin. It is marked by striving against sin, by denying your own will, by giving up those things that keep you from God, and by taking up your cross each day. If you’re willing to do that (you’ve counted the cost), then God will transform your mind and your life as you grow in the likeness of Christ.

       So take time (at least each month, if not more frequently) to ask yourself this question as you review your finances: Am I following Jesus, or am I following the world?

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Extreme Early Retirement or Extreme Generosity? Thu, 29 Apr 2010 10:00:19 +0000        I recently discovered Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme. I’m not sure how I got there – maybe from this post at Monevator – but I’m glad I did.

       Jacob is a bit of an anomaly in our culture – he’s a retired 34 year old, but he’s not rich (based on typical standards). He was able to retire early by saving 70-80% of his income for five years. He did not make a ton of money during that time. I think his salary was around $40,000-50,000/year while he was saving. He simply lived very frugally and saved the rest. Now, he still lives frugally but no longer needs to work to cover his expenses. Despite the fact that he doesn’t need to work, he does – and he makes enough to cover his expenses.

Cheap Living

       Jacob lives on about $7,000 per year. He’s able to do this because he’s learned to live cheaply – especially when it comes to the major areas of most budgets (housing, transportation, food, etc.). He doesn’t have a car, finds cheap/free forms of entertainment, and eats healthy meals with little to no meat. He currently lives in an RV with his wife, but he admits it’s not a necessary choice to duplicate his results.

Should We Retire Extremely Early?

       I don’t highlight Jacob as an example to be followed for extreme early retirement. I don’t think early retirement as a goal in and of itself as admirable or desirable for a Christian. (I also don’t dismiss it as a goal because I can see how God could use a person in this situation for full-time volunteer work or missionary work – a self-funded missionary if you will.) I’m highlighting Jacob and his choices because he offers insights that Christians can use to question the cultural norms and make choices that can lead to extreme generosity.

       For example, Jacob’s views on housing, insurance, and “sacrifice” greatly coincide with my own. (I don’t really agree with him on investing, but that’s irrelevant.) He doesn’t see money as necessary to have fun or live comfortably. He avoids waste. He learns new skills so he can make and do more stuff himself. His approach to living cheaply so he could retire extremely early can be adapted by Christians who want to give generously.

       If you want to get a better feeling for what Jacob did and why, check out his frequently asked questions, about himself page, and about Early Retirement Extreme. You can also see his best posts of 2008 and 2009.

How Can We Use Jacob’s Examples to Honor God?

       What I ask is that you read his articles from the perspective of how they can help you better serve God in your finances. Unless God has a specific purpose for you retiring early, that’s probably not a goal that will glorify Him. But we can use the same ideas Jacob used to enable extreme generosity in our lives by reducing our expenses and questioning the cultural norms. If you find something particularly insightful or helpful on his website, please feel free to share it in the comments below.

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You Don’t Need to Be an Expert to Be Successful Tue, 20 Apr 2010 10:00:15 +0000        While knowledge isn’t really a hindrance to success, you don’t need to know everything to accomplish your goals. After you reach a basic understanding of an area you want to be successful in, you need to start taking action. Continuing your learning after that point is wise, too. But if you never act on what you learn, you’ll never be successful.

First, Learn the Basics

       This is especially true in personal finance. You don’t have to be a seasoned financial planner to begin finding success. You don’t even need to spend a ton of time to understand the basics. They’re simple. Spend less. Earn more. Save and invest. Be wise and cautious when making purchases (goods, services, or investments). Plan ahead. Don’t pay things you don’t have to (like extra taxes). And so on. A basic education is all you need to start finding success in your personal finances.

       You don’t need an accounting degree to make a budget. You don’t have to be Warren Buffet to start investing. You don’t have to go to law school to get your estate documents in place.

Then, Take Action

       Success in personal finance is not necessarily about knowing all the right answers. It’s about taking action. Those who only read about the benefits of budgeting will never be as successful as those who actually try to make a budget and stick to it. This is true even if the doers are not successful the first time.

       You can learn by reading about the experiences of others – but only so much. Until you start creating your own experiences, the information will just be knowledge in your head. You must start using it yourself!

       Don’t think I’m discounting the value of learning, education, and research. To be truly successful, you’ll have to keep learning. But you can’t get started on the road to success unless you follow a pattern of learning, doing, learning, doing, and so on.

Avoid Danger Areas!

       I’ll end with a few cautions especially true in personal finance. In some areas of personal finance, there are unscrupulous people who will try to take advantage of your lack of education. Insurance, investing, and debt are the most common places you’ll run into this, but you can really find it anywhere. Here’s the key: Before doing something, make sure you’re aware of the possible problems/pitfalls and educate yourself on how to avoid them.

       Here’s an example. In investing and insurance, you must be aware of how advisors and salesmen get paid. If it’s commissions, know what conflicts of interest might exist. In other words, learn how people might try to rip you off and be on the lookout for those techniques.

       Even though there are risks to the learn, do, learn method, you can avoid most major mistakes by learning first about the danger areas and how to avoid them. In personal finance, be aware of those who earn commissions, learn the math of debt, and read the academic research on investing.

Now Do Something!!!

       So get out there and start doing the needed things to achieve success. Stop reading about budgeting and do it! Stop worrying about having enough for retirement and start saving! Stop dreaming of starting your own business and do it! You’re never going to get anywhere until you take action.

P.S. I think I wrote this as much for me as for anyone else. I have the curse of perfectionism, and I must battle it every day. There is no such thing as perfect in this world. Only God is perfect. So I need to stop worrying about doing everything perfectly and just start doing. What about you?

Tired of Paying Social Security and Medicare Taxes? Here’s How You Can Opt Out. Tue, 13 Apr 2010 10:00:20 +0000        A couple weeks ago a friend asked me how he could get out of paying Social Security taxes. He feels like there won’t be any Social Security for him when he retires, so he’d rather just save up the money himself. I had done some research on the same topic a couple years ago and I brushed up on it again recently. Here’s how you can get out of paying Social Security and Medicare taxes.

IRS Form 4029

       IRS Form 4029 is an application for exemption from Social Security and Medicare taxes and a waiver of benefits from those programs. However, there are a few catches:

  1. You must be a member of a religious group that teaches against insurance (for conscientious reasons – not because they believe it won’t be around to pay you benefits). This group must also provide a reasonable level of living for its dependent members. Finally, it must have existed continuously since December 31, 1950. It doesn’t matter if you think your group fits the description. It must be approved by the Social Security Administration. Generally, only the Amish and very conservative Mennonite groups will qualify for this specific form. I’m part of a Mennonite church and I don’t think we’d even qualify (unless the SSA knows little about the differences among Mennonites).

  3. You’re giving up all rights to any benefits you’d be entitled to under Social Security or Medicare. So you better be ready to replace its purpose in terms of life insurance, retirement income, disability insurance, and medical insurance. While that’s no small task, my rough calculations show you’d probably be better off doing those things yourself if you’re young and make more than $30,000/year.

  5. This exemption only applies to your self-employment earnings and earnings from employers who also qualify for this exemption. Qualifying employers will be limited to individuals, partnerships, some LLCs, and religious organizations. If you work for a corporation (C or S), this won’t do you much good. Unless, of course, you’re paid as an independent contractor and issued a Form 1099-MISC, in which case you’d be filing Schedule C and be subject to self-employment taxes.

  7. As soon as you are no longer eligible, this exemption ends. So if you leave your religious group or if the SSA determines your group no longer qualifies, you’re back to square one. However, you can become eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits once the exemption no longer applies.

       Basically, not many people will qualify and the exemption is fairly limited (in terms of compensation affected). However, there is another form that serves a similar purpose, but it is even more limited than this one.

IRS Form 4361

       IRS Form 4361 is an application for exemption from self-employment taxes for ministers, members of religious orders, and christian science practitioners. Again, there are quite a few limitations:

  1. You must be an ordained, commissioned, or licensed minister for a church, a christian science practitioner, or a member of a religious order who has not taken a vow of poverty (like people who work for a monastery or convent but are not monks or nuns). That’s a narrow list.

  3. You have to be conscientiously opposed or have religious beliefs that are opposed to receiving benefits from public insurance based on the performance of your duties as a minister, christian science practitioner, or member of a religious order.

  5. This exemption only applies to your earnings in that role. If you have another job, you’ll still have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on those earnings and you’ll be eligible for benefits based on those earnings.

       Again, this exemption is very limited in terms of who qualifies and in its scope.

The Rest of Us Will Just Have to Deal with It

       There are no other ways to remain a U.S. Citizen and not pay Social Security and Medicare taxes unless you’re willing to move out of the country. But the real question is whether Social Security will actually run out of benefits by the time today’s young people retire. Everyone bases the idea that Social Security won’t be around on the intermediate projection in the 2008 Trustees Report. But you need to realize three things:

  1. These are projections based on assumptions. There are no guarantees. People are estimating what they think will happen and running scenarios based on numerous variables. There is much room for error in these calculations.

  3. Even under these projects, Social Security can still pay 75-78% of scheduled benefits. That’s not great news, but it’s not the end of Social Security either.

  5. The “fixes” needed are relatively simple and not very drastic either. An increase in the Social Security tax, delay in retirement age, reduction in benefits, or a combination of all three could easily change the projections. In fact, a combination of all three solutions would probably be quite beneficial and have only a slight impact on individual situations.

       With that said, I’m still not a huge proponent of the system and I’d gladly save on my own if I had the option. But Social Security was put into place partly because people don’t save on their own. If the current state of personal finances in America is any indication, we’d likely have millions of poverty-stricken elderly due to a lack of financial discipline.

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Retirement Plan Contribution Limits Tue, 06 Apr 2010 19:00:31 +0000        This is just a simple one-stop resource to help you find out the contribution limits for various retirement plans. Click any of the following links to find the contribution limits for the corresponding retirement plan.

       To my regular readers: Thanks for putting up with these posts as I’ve been adding this information to the website!