To build real wealth, you need specific wealth management tools. One of these is opening the right accounts and using them correctly. Most families have less than half of the accounts they really need, and young newlyweds often only have a checking account.
Here is a description of each wealth-building account, roughly in the order a young couple would need them.
Joint checking account: This account should only hold money you need to maintain your lifestyle. Keep the balance between two and three times your monthly spending. Save and invest any additional. Bank managers always encourage you to open a savings account along with your checking account. Resist. You aren’t just trying to save money. You need to save and invest. Bank savings accounts are not investment accounts. Pick a bank with the lowest fees, and don’t worry about the interest rate.
Taxable investment account: Many couples mistakenly believe that wealth is built only in qualified retirement accounts. But the government limits how much money you can put into retirement accounts. The excess has to go somewhere. You don’t want to spend it, and accumulating cash won’t grow your wealth. Saving and investing is the way to build significant wealth. This is the most important and overlooked account.
Investment accounts are best opened with a broker, not a bank. Pick a discount broker with relatively low trading fees. I’ve written previously about “Getting Started with Investing,” available on our website.
Here is a short list of discount firms to consider: E*Trade (www.etrade.com), TD Ameritrade (www.tdameritrade.com), Scottrade (www.scottrade.com), Charles Schwab (www.schwab.com) and Fidelity (www.fidelity.com). Competition changes charges regularly. Avoid brokers with anything more than a small trading fee. Each broker has special promotions that may offer free trades, cash or electronic goods. Taking the best promotion is tempting, but first evaluate brokers without considering the promotion.
401(k) or 403(b) retirement accounts: If your employer offers a match in its retirement plan, take it. A safe-harbor match protects the plan against the claim that it only benefits the highest paid employees. With safe-harbor match your employer typically matches the first 3% you put in dollar for dollar, and the next 2% you put in is matched 50 cents on the dollar. For example, if you contribute 5% of your salary to the plan, your employer will match it with an additional 4% of your salary. This is an immediate 80% return on your money! Unfortunately, many employees fail to take advantage of this opportunity.
Your contributions always belong to you, and you can take them with you if you change employers. Sometimes what the company puts in requires you to continue working there for a number of years before you receive the full amount, which is called being vested. Learn the vesting rules, but some portion of the match will probably be yours even if you leave early, so go ahead and take advantage of the full match.
You will need two accounts, one for each spouse, through your employment. Each account can be subdivided into three subaccounts: One account is your contributions, one is the employer match that may or may not be fully vested and a third might exist for any corporate profit sharing or bonuses.
A 401(k) is more common in the private sector, whereas 403(b) accounts are for education or nonprofits. The principles are the same for each. Their names refer to the section of the IRS tax code that makes provisions for the account.
Roth IRA accounts: Unlike a traditional IRA, a Roth account does not get you a tax deduction, but there is no tax due when you take money out in retirement. Additionally, you can withdraw the amount you put in tax free after five years or more. There are limits on how much you can put into your Roth account. Put in the maximum each year.
Consider it this way. Imagine your taxable investment account has built up $100,000. Every year the government will allow each of you to move $5,000 from your taxable investment account into your Roth accounts where it will never be taxed again. Move the maximum each year. Your tax bracket will never be as low as it is right now. As you grow in wealth, your tax rate will grow considerably. Take advantage of your low rate now, and fund your Roth IRAs with the maximum allowed each year.
To fund a Roth IRA you must have earned income, but a spouse’s earned income can count toward funding your own Roth. Therefore a couple needs two Roth accounts, one in each person’s name.
Health Savings Account (HSA): You need health insurance to limit catastrophic medical risk, not to pool everyday expenses. This is especially true for relatively healthy young families. The best coverage to consider is a High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). The deductible is thousands of dollars. For everyday expenses within the deductible, consider a Health Savings Account (HSA).
An HSA is the only account where you get a tax deduction for putting the money in and you are not taxed when you use the money for a qualified medical expense. The money in the account can also be invested, and all interest, dividends and capital gains in the account are not taxed. And HSAs come complete with debit cards and checks. Your employer may provide you with an easy method of payroll deduction for your HDHP and HSA. Alternatively, you can sign up for an individual plan.
IRA rollover accounts: When you leave an employer you will want to roll your 401(k) or 403(b) accounts into an IRA rollover account where you can manage it yourself. Although the matching aspect is wonderful, a 401(k) account has limited choices and higher fees. Moving that money into an IRA is nearly always the right decision. Both you and your spouse will ultimately need IRA rollover accounts.
Living trust accounts: Estate plans can be written in many different ways. Some estate plans set up a bypass trust only after one spouse has died. Other estate plans prefer to set up a living trust each for husband and wife while they are still alive and fund it with investments. Make sure you understand your will and estate plan well enough to structure your investment accounts in accordance with your wishes.
Inherited IRA accounts: If your parents or grandparents have died they may have left you money outright or they may have left you their traditional or Roth IRA account. If they have left you an IRA account, leave the IRA account as a qualified account where the interest, dividends and capital gains grow tax deferred. Taking the money out gradually, only the amount of required minimum distributions, provides the greatest tax benefit.
Segregated Roth conversion accounts: Tax law allows you to take the money in your IRA or IRA rollover account, pay the tax and convert those assets to a Roth account. Before you pay the tax, you even have the opportunity to recharacterize and unconvert the conversion. An additional tax-planning technique suggests dividing the portion you convert into separate accounts. Segregating the assets into different accounts allows you to invest them differently, keep the one that does the best and recharacterize the ones that underperform.
Charitable gift account (or donor-advised funds): To facilitate your charitable giving, you are allowed to transfer appreciated securities to the account. As you transfer them, you receive a tax deduction for the full value. They are sold and may be reinvested in a limited number of choices. And at any time you can direct that donations be made to qualified charities. This is an easy way to get the tax write-off for donating large blocks of appreciated securities and then subsequently give smaller amounts to individual charities.
More than a dozen different accounts are listed here, but you may not have them all until you are well on your way to becoming a millionaire.
Photo by Megan Marotta