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I’m lucky because my company fully matches up to 6% of my 401k contributions, with an additional 2% vested after 3 years. So as long as I stay with the company 3 years, I receive a 6% match and a 2% bonus as long as I contribute 6% of my salary. Contributing up to your employer’s match is a no brainer, even if it’s only 2-3%; it’s a guaranteed return. If my company didn’t match my contributions, I’d probably skip to step 2.
If your company doesn’t offer matching, then their investment options are probably pretty lacking too. I’d go straight to a company like Vanguard and open a traditional IRA. There you’ll get great service and some awesome ultra-low cost mutual funds. For those of you that have high fees and limited choices in your 401k, a traditional IRA can be a good choice after you’ve contributed up to the employer’s match. After you collect that free money, there’s no reason you have to stay with your 401k provider. Opening an account with Vanguard will also make things easier if you want to rollover your 401k when you leave your employer. Traditional IRA’s give you a ton of flexibility, you can invest in everything from gold and REIT’s to Lending Club.
If your 401k plan has low fees and a good selection, contribute more! I’ve increased my 401k every time I got a raise over the past three years, and now I’m max’d out. If you have an HSA, I’d also consider contributing here because it’s the only triple tax advantaged account.
I always recommend Roth IRA’s because it allows you to diversify your investments from a tax perspective in addition to reducing volatility. I think tax rates are going up and a Roth IRA allows you to lock in current tax rates unlike a 401k where you will pay taxes at your ordinary income rate when you withdraw after the age of 65. If you read this blog for the next 30 years, you should have a wide array of passive income by then and your income will be much higher than it is now
Unfortunately though, with a Roth IRA you have to contribute your after tax dollars so you don’t get the AGI reduction like with a 401k or a traditional IRA. There are income restrictions for a Roth IRA too but if your AGI is less than $110,000 you can still contribute. Alternatively, for those over the AGI limit, they can explore a backdoor Roth IRA.
Now that I’ve max’d out my 401k, Roth IRA and HSA, I am saving all my after tax money for my next real estate purchase. Real estate prices are still low and the interest rates are at an all time low. Real estate is the only investment where you can put up 20-30% of the investment, but still receive 100% of the returns. Not only will you receive 100% of the returns, but you don’t even have to pay taxes on the capital gains from selling your property up to $250,000.
You should only consider contributing to a taxable account once you’ve exhausted all other options. And trust me there are many! Before you invest in taxable accounts, you can open a 529, buy tax free savings bonds, and more. But I think real estate is the best after tax option since it can help you create steady passive income. But if you’re insistent on after-tax investing make sure to invest in tax efficient stocks like ETF’s or low cost mutual funds.
A good retirement plan involves diversifying your investments in addition to diversifying the way they’ll be taxed. Although I think taxes will be higher in the future, they could easily be lower and that’s why I have a wide array of very different investments in my portfolio. Some of my investments pay tax now, some pay later, and some pay never.
Although every situation is unique, I recommend contributing up to the employer match, starting a Roth IRA, using your raises to increase 401k contribution, then starting tolook at alternative investments like real estate. Although there are a lot of different opinions on this subject, this is the plan I’ve used and what I always recommend. It’s worked great so far, and I’m happy to say I’m on track to retiring early while creating steady sources of passive income.
Readers, do you do some, all or none of this? Are there any types of investments I’ve missed that are a sure thing?
Hi, I'm Harry, the owner and head writer for Your PF Pro. I started this site back in 2011 in order to create a place where young professionals could come and get all of their financial questions answered. On the site, you'll find articles on everything from asset allocation for retirement to saving money at Chipotle! So enjoy..