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5 New Starwood Hotels You Can Visit for Free

As we move into spring break season, a lot of you may have vacation plans. If not, then it might be time to start planning a trip. Deciding where to go can be the hardest part of all, as your bucket list of locations may be pretty long. However, if you have credit card rewards, your travel plans will probably be made based on your points and rewards. (You may also consider these 28 ways to save for this years big adventure.)

If you have a large balance of Starwood Points, you might want to consider one of these five Starwood properties that have recently opened around the world. Take a look.

1. Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel

Located in California’s Napa Valley, this new Luxury Collection hotel is perfect for any wine lover. Most of the hotels’ rooms come with spacious balconies overlooking the vineyards. When not taking advantage of the complementary shuttle, you can indulge yourself at the hotels’ luxury spa. Or you might choose to dine at The Acacia House, the restaurant by Top Chef alum Chris Cosentino.

This is a Category seven property, so it will set you back 30,000 to 35,000 points a night.

2. W Las Vegas

If Las Vegas is more your scene, make sure you check out the new W Las Vegas. Located on the northern end of the Strip, you will find this new property in one of the SLS towers. You will have access to seven different restaurants as well as three entertainment venues and a bar to wind down with a drink. If you want to get out and explore the Las Vegas area, Enterprise Rent-a-Car service is available.

The W Las Vegas is a Category five property, so it will cost 12,000 to 16,000 points a night.

3. Le Méridien Visconti Rome

If you are looking to get out of the U.S., then Rome might be the perfect place to visit this year. This new Starwood property is located in a prime location near the Vatican. If you have ever been to Rome, then you know that most of the city’s hotels were decorated with the renaissance style in mind. The Le Méridien Visconti Rome chose to do things a little differently, going for a sleek contemporary look. Not only does this hotel have the perfect location, you will enjoy its rooftop terrace while you relax after a long day of sightseeing.

The Le Méridien Visconti Rome is a Category five property, meaning rooms cost 12,000 to 16,000 points a night.

4. The St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club

Polo is one of the most popular sports in the United Arab Emirates, and this property sits on a massive equestrian complex. In fact, the St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club is host to the Dubai Polo Gold Cup.

The St. Regis Dubai, Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club is a Category six property, so rooms will cost 20,000 to 25,000 points a night.

5. Four Points by Sheraton Kolasin

If you are looking to hit the slopes this spring, you might want to check out the Four Points by Sheraton Kolasin. This chalet-style hotel, situated near Montenegro’s northern city, Kolašin, feels just like you are in the Rocky Mountains or Swiss Alps. And it has the services you require. You will find two on-site restaurants, a rental car counter, and a spa where you can relax after a long day on the slopes.

The Four Points by Sheraton Kolasin is a Category four hotel, which means rooms will cost 10,000 points a night.

How to Earn Starwood Points With Your Credit Card

The easiest way to earn Starwood points fast is by using the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. When you sign up for this card, you will earn up to 35,000 points. You will earn 25,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You will then earn an additional 10,000 points after spending another $2,000 in the first six months. (This offer expires April 5, 2017.)

When you use the card at Starwood properties, you can earn up to five points. You can also earn two points when you use the card at participating Marriott properties. All other purchases with the card will earn one point. As a cardholder, you will receive a credit for two stays and five nights that count toward SPG Elite status. (You can read more about this card in our American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card review.)

You can choose to redeem your points at any of the 1,000+ Starwood properties, including the five mentioned above. You can also choose to transfer your points to one of many different airlines. When you do this, you will receive a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. This card has an annual fee of $95 that’s waived the first year. It carries a variable APR of 15.74% to 19.74%, based on your creditworthiness. (Not sure where your credit stands? You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

Note: Marriott bought Starwood hotels last year — You can go here to read about how this will impact your credit card rewards.

How to Earn Starwood Points for Your Business

If you are a business owner, then you will have even more options for earning Starwood points. In addition to the personal credit card, you will also be able to get the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. With this card, you will have the chance to earn 35,000 points. You will receive 25,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. You will then earn another 10,000 points after spending an additional $3,000 in the first six months. (This offer ends April 5, 2017.)

With this card, you will be able to earn Starwood points the same way you can with the personal card. The business card also comes with a few extra benefits. You will receive unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi at any Boingo hotspot, and you will receive access to Sheraton Club lounges. The Starwood Preferred Guest Business card has a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year. Its variable APR is 15.74%, 17.74% or 19.74% based on your creditworthiness when you apply.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

15 Ways to Save at Bed Bath & Beyond

If you’ve ever walked into Bed Bath & Beyond with five items on your to-get list and walked out with 20 purchases, you’re not alone. Luckily there are plenty of ways to save at this home goods mega-store. Here are 15.

1. Subscribe to Its Emails

Sign up to receive emails from BB&B and you’ll get 20% off one in-store purchase right away, plus plenty more exclusive offers and promotions directly to your inbox on a regular basis.

2. Provide the Store With Your Address

Emails usually come every week or two from BB&B with coupon offers, but if you provide your address you’ll receive offers through snail mail as well. While some of these coupons come with expiration dates printed on them, the store usually accepts coupons past those dates.

3. Stack Multiple Coupons

While most coupons say they’re good for only one purchase (although every now and then you might be lucky enough to get a 20% off your entire purchase option), you can stack your coupons by making multiple purchases, especially if they’re done online (just make sure you qualify for free shipping on your orders, otherwise it doesn’t make much sense to do this).

4. Shop Competitors for Better Offers

Bed Bath & Beyond will match any direct competitor’s price for identical items, as long as they meet these conditions.

5. Use Price-Matching & a Coupon

While it’s not always available, if the competitor with the better price would allow you to apply a coupon as well, Bed Bath & Beyond will allow you to do the same. Otherwise, they apply the best discount — either the coupon or the price-match option.

6. Get a Manufacturer’s Coupon

BB&B also accepts manufacturer’s coupons at their stores, plus you can

7. Cash in on a Manufacturer’s Coupon & a Price Match

Double your savings by doing some research for better prices at a competing store, and then find a manufacturer’s coupon for the item and BB&B will let you use both. (Remember, this must be a manufacturer’s coupon, not a competitor’s coupon.)

8. Hold on to Receipts to Cash in on Coupons Later

Save those receipts for your recently purchased items at BB&B. If you receive a coupon a couple days later, the store will still honor the discount.

9. Ask for Price Adjustments on Sale Items

Even if you don’t get a coupon in the mail, if an item you just purchased goes on sale, bring the item and your receipt in for a price adjustment.

10. Get a Bed Bath & Beyond Credit Card

The brand’s MasterCard gives frequent shoppers 5% back for every $1 spent at its stores, 2% back per $1spent on gas and groceries and 1% back anywhere else. Just be sure to pay your balances off in full; otherwise, you’ll be paying a variable purchase annual percentage rate (APR) of 24.49%, 18.49%, or 14.49%, depending on your creditworthiness. (You can get a sense of where you would fall by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)

Frequent another retailer? Check out our picks for the best shopping credit cards.

11. Get Cash Back

Use sites like Shop at Home to receive cash back on your purchases at Bed Bath & Beyond. (The site has coupon offers, as well.)

12. Check Out the Clearance Section

It’s obvious but worth repeating — don’t forget to shop the clearance section, especially if you’re looking for a particular type of item rather than an actual item (i.e. coffee makers rather than Hamilton Beach coffee makers). The BB&B clearance section has hundreds of items on sale, sometimes at more than half off. Experts say looking early in the week is best, too, because that tends to be when new inventory is available.

13. Wait for Additional Deals to Come via Email

Besides their awesome 20% coupons, BB&B is also known for sending exclusive deals to their email users that might help you save even more. For example, “Any 2 for $10 [regularly $9.99 each] on Taste & Co. Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegars” is sitting in my inbox right now. This is a great way to stock up on gifts for future use.

14. Score Gift Cards Directly From the Store

Besides coupons, clearance items and price matching, BB&B has also been known to provide shopping incentives to their customers by offering gifts cards with your purchases. These gift cards usually don’t expire, so they’re a great way to save. If you haven’t seen a gift card from BB&B lately, you could always do the following instead …

15. Buy Cheap Gift Cards Online

Use sites like Cardpool.com and Gift Card Granny to purchase gift cards for BB&B at less than face value. Keep in mind that most are eGift cards for online use only, and they sometimes take a day or two to arrive.

Want more brand hacks? Check out our roundup of 7 ways to save at Home Depot.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly. Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Family Christian closing all stores nationwide

Christian faith-based book and gift store Family Christian is closing all of its 240 stores nationwide due to "declining sales," according to a Thursday news release from the company.

The closure affects employees in 36 states, including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

>> Read more trending stories

Company President Chuck Bengochea said in the release that the company had two difficult years post-bankruptcy.

"Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline.  In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market. We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization, and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse," Bengochea said.

The nonprofit chain employed more than 3,000 people and sold Christian merchandise, memorabilia and literature.

"We are grateful for all of the millions of lives that have been impacted thanks to our guests' and employees' heart for bringing the light of Jesus to the darkest corners of our world," Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development Steve Biondo said in the release. "Through their efforts there is no question we have transformed lives now and for eternity."

On its website, Family Christian said all merchandise is now being sold for up to 30 percent off.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Capital Gains Taxes

When you turn a profit on the sale of assets, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds or real estate, it’s called a capital gain. It’s generally considered taxable income.

In most cases, however, the tax rate on capital gains is lower than the rate on your regular income. In some cases, you might not owe any taxes on your capital gains. The exact capital gains tax rate you’ll pay depends primarily on two things: how long you hold the asset before selling, and your income.

Two types of capital gains

The tax code divides capital gains into two types: long-term and short-term. When you make a profit on the sale of an asset you’ve held for one year or less, that’s defined as a short-term gain. A long-term capital gain comes from a profitable sale of an asset that you’ve held for more than one year.

In this case, tax law rewards patient investors. The tax rate on a long-term gain is lower than what you pay on your ordinary income, such as wages. Short-term gains, on the other hand, are taxed at your ordinary tax rate. (Not sure about your tax rate? Review this rundown on federal tax brackets.)

To ensure your gain is the long-term type, pay close attention to the calendar when selling your assets. The holding period for a long-term capital gain is at least one year and a day. To reach that mark, begin counting on the date after the day you acquired the asset.

For example, if you bought stock on Jan. 10, 2017, and sell on the 10th day of the following January, your one-year ownership of the stock would mean your profit would be taxed at the higher short-term rate.

If you instead sell on Jan. 11, 2018 — 366 days since your purchase, since the day you dispose of the property is part of your holding period — it will net you the lower long-term capital gains tax rate.

How income affects capital gains taxes

Capital gains tax rates, like income tax rates, are progressive. That means higher earners generally pay a higher capital gains tax rate.

When a gain is short-term, it is taxed at the exact same rate as your ordinary income. A long-term gain, however, can be taxed at 15%, 20% or not taxed at all depending on your regular income tax bracket.

The 20% capital gains tax rate applies to taxpayers whose earnings put them in the highest federal income tax bracket (39.6%). You’ll pay a 15% long-term capital gains tax rate if you’re in the next four lower tax brackets: 35%, 33%, 28% and 25%.

And if your income falls into the two lowest tax brackets — 10% and 15% — some or all of your capital gains may not be taxed at all.

Other capital gains tax rates

The capital gains tax rates described above apply in most scenarios, but there are a few other rates for special investment situations:

  • You’ll face a capital gains rate of 25% when you make a profit on the sale of any real estate for which you have claimed a depreciation allowance.
  • The taxable part of a gain from selling certain small-business stock is taxed at a maximum 28% rate.
  • If you sell a collectible, such as rare coins or art, your profit is taxed at 28%.
Additional cautions for the wealthy

Also be aware of the Net Investment Income Tax, or NIIT.

Technically, this is not a capital gains tax, but if your profit on asset sales is substantial, you could find yourself facing this surtax.

The NIIT is an additional 3.8% tax that applies to individuals, estates and trusts with net investment income that exceeds certain thresholds. It was created to help pay for the Affordable Care Act.

The calculations can get tricky, so it’s best to use a tax software program or consult a tax professional if you’re confronted with this tax. But note that the NIIT typically kicks in when an individual taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (which is your adjusted gross income with some tax breaks added back) is more than:

  • $250,000 for married filing jointly or a qualifying widow/widower with a dependent child
  • $125,000 for spouses filing separately
  • $200,000 for all other filing statuses
Only sales count

Finally, note that increases in the value of assets you still hold do not trigger any capital gains taxes. Capital gains taxes apply only when you have an actual profit from the sale of an asset.

So don’t worry about owing taxes immediately as you watch your portfolio increase in value. Just make sure that when you do cash in some of those holdings, you do so in a way that guarantees the lowest possible capital gains tax rate. You can learn more about current rates in this roundup of capital gains tax rates.

11 Ways to Get the Lowest Mortgage Refinance Rate

In the hunt for the lowest mortgage refinance rate, there are some things you can control and some you can’t. Rates moving up just when you’re about to refi? Can’t control that.

But there are at least 11 things you can do to get the best mortgage refinance rate.

Get the credit you deserve

The best way to earn the lowest rate on a mortgage refinance is to knock out the dents in your credit score and polish it up. Some steps can be as simple as making timely payments on your existing debt and perhaps paying down some balances. Other moves, like these three, take a bit more effort:

1. Look for errors in your credit report

“The other day, I ran credit for someone who had a state tax lien and a charge-off,” says Mary Anne Daly, senior mortgage advisor for Sindeo. “They said, ‘This isn’t mine. I don’t know anything about this.'” Daly says credit report errors happen more often than you might imagine.

Daly also cites clients who had a 623 credit score. Their credit report had mistakes, and the customers wondered if the improvement in their score would be worth all the effort to correct them. By wiping the errors from their history, their credit score improved to 660, and the borrowers saved $95 a month on their home loan.

2. Keep credit card balances below 25% of your available credit

Daly also says to consider asking your credit card providers to increase your available credit. Using a smaller percentage of your available credit lowers your credit utilization ratio and can earn you a better interest rate.

3. Don’t quit using consumer credit

Paying off consumer credit can be liberating, but continue making small purchases on your credit cards from time to time. Even if you pay the balances off each month, it shows you manage debt responsibly, which can actually improve your credit score, she adds.

Choosing the right refi loan

Another way to get the best refinance rate is to select the right loan product:

4. Be wary of “no-cost loans”

“That always tickles me,” Daly says of such loan gimmicks. “There are no free lunches.” All lenders will charge fees, whether they are paid upfront, rolled into the loan balance or built into the loan’s interest rate.

In fact, Joe Burke, a loan officer with Guaranteed Rate in Chicago, says paying closing costs out of pocket can lower your interest rate.

5. Resist the urge to take cash out

A cash-out refinance will raise your interest rate, Daly says.

6. Consider a shorter loan term

Burke notes that expanding your loan term may not be in your best interest.

“If you’ve already paid seven years into a 30-year fixed, for instance, putting you into a new 30-year fixed may not be the best financial decision,” he says.

Moving from a 30-year mortgage to a 20-year or even a 15-year term can earn you a lower mortgage interest rate.

“A lot of people don’t know that,” Daly adds. She tells of customers who were considering several options on a mortgage. They had 10 years left on their loan, and they thought it wouldn’t make sense to refinance. Daly showed them that refinancing to a 10-year loan term with a lower mortgage rate would save $45,000 in interest, without significantly changing their monthly payments.

“They were just thrilled,” Daly says, “paying a little bit more [each month] but saving all of that money.”

» MORE: Calculate your refinance savings

Time is money

And there are occasions when saving money can be a matter of good timing:

7. Huddle with your loan officer about when to lock in your refi rate

“Sometimes, believe it or not, we have a little bit of a crystal ball” about how mortgage rates may behave in the very short term, Daly says. That can be tied to major economic news, policy announcements or government reports.

8. Respond quickly to document and information requests

Quick answers can save you the cost of paying for an extended rate lock period if the paperwork process bogs down. It might even be a good idea to stay available and in town during a refi, Daly adds.

9. Consider the future

“One of the questions that we’re always asking people is, ‘How long do you plan on staying in the home?’” Burke says. “I think that’s a very important question that a lot of people don’t ask.”

For example, if you know you are going to be selling your home in five to 10 years, an adjustable rate mortgage, with an introductory rate lower than that of a fixed-rate loan, may be the right choice, Daly adds.

You have to apply yourself

And finally, snagging the best refinance rate takes finding the right lender and the right mortgage professional:

10. Shop rates —  and know what they mean

Advertised rates that seem unusually low may have discount points built in — that’s when you pay upfront to get a lower interest rate. For the lender, factoring in discount points may be a ploy to drive business, but for borrowers, the points can be a part of a loan strategy.

“Most of the time, we find that the buy-down doesn’t make sense,” Daly says. To see if discount points work in your situation, consider your monthly payment savings against how long it will take to recoup the fees — and how long you expect to stay in a home.

Burke says borrowers often fixate on a low rate but miss important details in loan terms disclosed in the fine print.

“Looking at APR is absolutely one of the best ways to go,” he says. The stated annual percentage rate of a loan includes the interest rate you’ll pay on the loan, plus all fees. You’ll have to complete an application with each lender you’re considering to get all the information that impacts your offered APR.

11. Find a savvy mortgage pro

That means “making sure you’re working with somebody that’s reputable and isn’t just hanging teaser rates out there for you,” Burke says.

And you want a knowledgeable loan professional who’s willing to help you find your best rate. As an example, Daly points to government-backed loan programs that are offered in some regions.

“The mortgage professional has to know to look for that,” she adds. Daly says she’s had clients who would have ended up with a higher mortgage interest rate if their loans hadn’t been flagged as being in an eligible area for one of these programs.

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.

Why Your Tax Refund Is Ideal for Paying Credit Card Debt

If you’ve ever promised to pay off your credit card debt “when you have more money,” now’s your chance. The Internal Revenue Service estimates that 70% of taxpayers will get refunds this year. Last year, the average refund was $2,860, according to the IRS.

If you’re in the red, using the bulk of your tax refund to pay down your high-interest credit card debt can give you some fast financial relief, with almost no effort on your part. Maybe that’s why the idea is so popular: In a 2016 National Retail Federation survey, about 39% of American adults said they planned to use their refund to pay down debt.

To be sure, simply paying off credit card debt doesn’t address the underlying causes of that debt, so it might not keep you from winding up in the same position down the road. It also isn’t necessarily everyone’s No. 1 priority. You may want to spend your refund elsewhere if:

  • You don’t have an emergency fund. Sock away at least $500 in your bank account before tackling your credit card debt.
  • Your debt is out of control. If your debt is more than half your annual income and you see no way to pay it off within five years, bankruptcy might be your best option.
  • Your credit card debt is interest-free. If you have debt on a 0% APR credit card, you’ll save more money by tackling higher-interest debts first. Just be sure to pay down your balance before the 0% period ends.

But if your credit card debt is gnawing away at your monthly budget, here’s why tackling it now is your best call.

You’ll save money on interest

When you have a mountain of credit card debt, interest charges slowly drain you of cash.

Credit card issuers charged an average annual percentage rate of 13.61% on accounts that incurred interest last quarter, according to the Federal Reserve. At that rate, if you carried an average balance of $5,000 for a full year, you’d pay almost $700 in interest. And since credit cards are open-ended lines of credit, you can carry that debt virtually forever, as long as you keep making the minimum payments. You don’t want to let that happen.

The easiest way to lower interest costs is to transfer your credit card debt to a 0% APR credit card, and doing so is a smart idea. But these cards often aren’t available when you need them most. If your credit is so-so and your debt-to-income ratio is high, you might not be able to qualify for one.

If getting a 0% APR card isn’t an option, paying down your debt more quickly might be your best bet for saving on interest. Your tax refund can help you do just that.

It could boost your credit

If your credit is a little “meh” lately, it might be due in part to all the credit card debt you’re carrying.

“Amounts owed” — that is, how high your balances are — accounts for 30% of your FICO score and is a “highly influential” factor in your VantageScore. Credit utilization ratio, or the percentage of available credit you’re using, is a major factor in amounts owed. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to keep your balances below 30% of your credit limit at all times. The lower you can keep your balances, the better.

Applying your refund to your credit card debt can help you reduce both your overall debt and your credit utilization ratio quickly. This can help your credit score, making it easier to qualify for more affordable credit products and even potentially helping you save on car insurance.

» MORE: Check your credit score for free

It’s a painless path to a fresh start

Sometimes, the most difficult thing about paying down debt is the “paying” part.

Because of a psychological effect called loss aversion, losses can loom larger in our minds than gains. That’s why it’s painful to see money leave your bank account — even if you know those extra payments are helping you save on interest.

When you pay down your credit card debt with your tax refund check, though, you get to pay down that credit card debt with “found money,” instead dipping into your savings. That makes it a little less painful.

It also gives you a chance to build new credit card habits that can make paying a little less daunting. You might decide to make payments on your credit card balance once a week, for example, so it’s more manageable. Or you could start a new budget to keep your spending down. Wiping out your credit card debt with a tax refund may be a quick fix, but changing these fundamental spending habits can help you save for years to come.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

Prevent Identity Theft From Affecting Your Taxes

MoneyTips

When your identity is stolen, you have so many potential issues to deal with — changing passwords, closing accounts, dealing with fraudulent charges, and placing fraud alerts with the credit bureaus — that you may forget about potential tax fraud. Armed with your personal information, identity thieves can file a fraudulent tax return in your name and receive a refund before you realize your information has been compromised. Sometimes taxpayers are unaware of the breach until they have problems filing their taxes. What do you do if you fall victim to tax-related identity theft? Start by responding to any IRS notice as instructed. Your first hint that there is an issue could be a notice from the IRS asking you to verify your identity beca...

A Financial Advisor’s Top 10 Investment Lessons Learned

By Mike Eklund

Learn more about Mike at NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor.

Have you made investing decisions you regret?

I know I have. I recently turned 40 and thought it was a good time to reflect on my own investing mistakes and lessons learned from my 17-plus years of experience.

1. Don’t follow the herd

I started investing in June 1999, right near the top of the technology bubble, and made the same mistakes as many others by buying hot tech stocks. Everyone was making money; why not just invest in a handful of technology stocks and watch them go up 20% to 30% per year?

Obviously, this did not happen for me — or many others — as the Nasdaq 100 dropped almost 80% from peak to trough.

Lesson learned: Following the crowd is not a recipe for investment success. It’s OK to be different.

2. The best investment may be the one you don’t make

My decision to not invest in a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, condo in the mid-2000s was a smart decision. Many “experts” were saying real estate never loses money, but I couldn’t get the numbers to work.

Twelve years later, those same condos sell for 25% less than their long-ago sale price, not even mentioning the ongoing property taxes and maintenance costs. Many investors struggle with the fear of missing out, but resist the temptation.

Lesson learned: Sometimes saying no is the best decision.

3. Invest in your own human capital

In 2003, I decided to go back to school and get my MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. This investment took time and money, but the result was additional knowledge, a lifelong network and a higher-paying job with greater earnings potential. A lot of people try to find the perfect investment, but sometimes the best investment is themselves.

Lesson learned: Making yourself more marketable and attractive to employers through personal development will only help you in the long term through increased earnings and job security.

4. Avoid large holdings of your company stock

Before the financial crisis, I worked for a financial services firm in New York that compensated employees via stock options and employer stock in their 401(k). Financial stocks in the mid-2000s were a lot like technology stocks in the late 1990s; they only went up. Then the financial crisis occurred, and the stock price declined over 90%. In addition, there were massive layoffs at the firm. Fortunately, I survived the layoffs, but many employees lost their jobs and a significant part of their nest eggs.

Lesson learned: Limit your employer’s stock to no more than 5% to 10% of your portfolio.

5. Don’t try to time the market

It’s really hard to time the stock market. Every day you’ll hear or read about one person saying to buy stocks and another urging you to sell stocks. I’ve found the easiest way to invest is to make scheduled monthly contributions to your various accounts — 401(k), IRA accounts, 529 plans or investment accounts.

This is called dollar cost averaging. The benefit is that if stocks drop, you’ll buy more shares because they’re less expensive, and if stocks rise you’ll buy fewer because they’re pricier.

Lesson learned: Take the emotion out of investing by setting up an automated investing schedule.

6. Avoid the noise

Early in my career, I’d watch popular cable business news programs that would provide “stock tips.” I learned pretty quickly that their goal was to make money selling advertisements, not to boost my long-term portfolio wealth. I’ve stopped watching these kinds of shows and focus on things I can control, such as my savings, life insurance, taxes, estate planning, and so on.

Lesson learned: Don’t get caught up in the short-term noise; focus on the things you can control.

7. Equities are for growth, and bonds help you sleep at night

I started my investing career in 1999, and during the first 10 years I witnessed two of the worst stock market crashes in history with a peak-to-trough decline of over 50% each time. Take your portfolio and divide it by two, and how does that make you feel?

How did high-quality bonds do during this time? They increased in price or stayed flat, which allowed me to rebalance my portfolio. They also helped me sleep better at night.

Lesson learned: A diversified mix of stocks and bonds gives you a better chance of sticking with your investment plan than a 100% stock portfolio. Stocks may provide a greater long-term return, but if you sell at the bottom it doesn’t matter.

8. Implement a disciplined investment strategy and stick with it

There are many investment strategies, and there are times when one strategy will work better than others, but over the long term the returns shouldn’t be materially different. The problem is most people jump to what has done well lately when they should be doing the opposite.

Lesson learned: Implement and follow an investment strategy and stick with it in good times and bad. If you don’t have a strategy, implement one or have a financial planner help you.

9. Control your behavior

Controlling costs is the current fad, which is a good thing for investors, but investors controlling themselves is much more important. Right now that’s easy to say, because the U.S. stock market has done very well the past seven years, but how you feel and act when the market drops 50% will have a big impact on your long-term investing results. Buying high and selling low is not a recipe for investing success.

Lesson learned: If you can avoid pouring too much money into equities when the market is riding high (March 2009) or too little when it’s sinking low (October 2007), you’ll be better off. Studies by Vanguard, Morningstar and Dalbar show the average investor trails the market by 1.5% to 3% per year due to poor decisions caused by wanting to jump on the latest fad.

10. Time is your best friend

I’ve invested for over 17 years and remain amazed by the power of compound interest. I’ve invested through Y2K, 9/11, the ’01-’03 recession, SARS, a real estate bubble, the great financial crisis, Greece’s potential exit from the eurozone, the debt ceiling debate, ebola and four presidents. The global equity markets have marched on.

For example, a portfolio of $500,000 17 years ago with a 5% annualized return would have grown to over $1.1 million assuming no contributions or withdrawals.

Lesson learned: Implement a disciplined investment strategy, be patient, focus on what you can control (savings, taxes, and so on) and avoid a big mistake. If you can’t do this, hire a fee-only financial planner to help you stay on track.

Mike Eklund is a financial planner at Financial Symmetry in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Retirement Can Be a Drag. Here’s How to Fix That

We spend decades dreaming of the day when life won’t be dictated by alarm clocks, commute times, meeting schedules and office politics.

Then reality sets in: Retirement can be kind of a drag. And there may be 20-plus years of it ahead of you.

While traditional retirement planning covers financial essentials — expected returns, inflation, withdrawal rates, portfolio rebalancing, tax planning — most plans won’t prepare you for the emotional challenges of post-work life.

What’s missing from retirement? Work

You may dread the drudgery of employment, but there’s something to be said for the structure it provides.

Work is where many people derive their sense of purpose. It can also provide framework for your days (projects, meetings, deadlines) and a sense of community (thanks to water coolers, slow elevators and happy hours).

Then one day you wake up and it’s all gone.

“I’ve had a number of clients who retire and feel a little adrift at sea, and it happens to people regardless of means,” says Lisa Kirchenbauer, president of Omega Wealth Management in Arlington, Virginia.

A good predictor of retirement dissatisfaction, she says, is if a person views retirement as an escape hatch. “It’s better to be retiring to something and not from something,” Kirchenbauer says. “Being intentional and having a game plan in place helps with the mental transition into retirement.”

Here are steps you can take to help protect your golden years from being tarnished by dissatisfaction.

Find a reason to set your alarm

After you’ve taken those cruises, spoiled the grandkids, organized the sock drawer and descaled the coffee maker, what’s going to inspire you to get out of bed each morning in the decades ahead?

People who have pursuits outside of their professional life tend to fare better in retirement. If you’re not interested in taking up a new hobby, consider ways to use the professional expertise you’ve cultivated over the years. It’s even better for the psyche to apply your talents to serve a cause that you care about.

Don’t wait until you retire to explore new pursuits. Test-drive volunteer opportunities in your community before retirement to plant seeds for future endeavors.

Pretend you’re still living off a paycheck

The transition from building savings to drawing from savings can be stressful. Instead of receiving a regular paycheck, you’re sitting on one giant paycheck — a pile of money you’ve amassed by saving diligently in your 401(k)s and IRAs — that’s supposed to sustain you for the rest of your life.

“Psychologically it feels scary, even though you logically know that you’ve saved so you can live off your investments,” Kirchenbauer says.

Planning can help you transition to spend-down mode. Start by creating a post-retirement budget around anticipated expenses (including quarterly taxes, health care and potential emergencies). Also think about which accounts you’ll draw from (Roth or traditional IRA, taxable brokerage account, cash savings?) in order to minimize the tax hit when you start taking income from your investments.

Kirchenbauer recommends simulating a paycheck-based cash-flow system in retirement by setting up monthly transfers from an IRA (or other retirement account) into a checking account. This also helps prevent a retirement rookie error: blowing through your cash too quickly during the initial stages of retirement.

Discuss the transition with loved ones

Retirement can be a major relationship disruptor. All that “me time” you and your partner had when one or both of you were at work is now potentially “we time.”

Kirchenbauer says it’s important to have a series of conversations with your spouse about whether you will retire at the same time. Retirement can be especially stressful if one partner retires before the other.

Expect that there will be an adjustment period, and perhaps spats over household duties (“You were home all day; why didn’t you mow the lawn?”) and scheduling conflicts (“I can’t take that week off work for a road trip”). But if you’re prepared to be flexible, respectful and understanding of the other person’s perspective, you can achieve peaceful coexistence in retirement.

More about mastering retirement

Dayana Yochim is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website: Email: dyochim@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @DayanaYochim.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Say Goodbye to Money Stress

By Kurt Smith, Psy.D.

Learn more about Kurt on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Money-related stress doesn’t discriminate. Whether individuals are financially well off or not, most still worry about their finances: A 2016 survey by the American Psychological Association found that 61% of Americans were either somewhat or very stressed about money.

Many of us get sucked into the mindset that if we just had more money, we wouldn’t worry so much — but that wouldn’t necessarily be the case. So how can you have less money stress within your current financial situation? Here are five ways.

1. Monitor your accounts less often

Logging into your checking or savings account every day isn’t necessary or healthy. Getting a text message every time there’s a change in your account isn’t either — it just adds unnecessary stress. It’s important to keep tabs on your financial situation, but doing so a little less often can make you much happier.

2. Focus on your needs

We may believe we need the newest smartphone or a new vehicle, but these are truly luxury items we could live without. And when we pause and think about our true needs — food, shelter, water, clothing, love — and how abundantly they’re already met, we realize how commercialized our thinking can be. It can feel good to discover how much you can live without.

3. Set spending limits

It might sound counterintuitive, but having appropriate boundaries can actually be freeing. Try designating an amount to spend each month on discretionary purchases such as eating out and entertainment. You can then spend guilt-free within your boundaries. When the allotted money runs out, you’ll know you have to wait until next month to spend more. This simple step can help you live within your means and take away the stress of wondering what you can afford.

4. Remember, money is a tool

Money is understandably an emotional issue, but it’s useful to remember that at its core, money is a tool used to purchase goods or services. Assuming one already lives reasonably comfortably, more money doesn’t truly provide more security or comfort, as we sometimes want to believe. When we accept that it essentially allows us to trade with others, we can let go of the emotions we’ve attached to it and think of it just as a means of exchange.

5. Find other sources of joy

No matter how much money you have, it won’t necessarily bring you happiness or change the overall quality of your life. Some of the most joyful people have very little money, and some of the wealthiest people are still very unhappy. Try finding joy and happiness in the life you live right now. What blessings do you already have? What are you grateful for that money didn’t provide? The sooner you can find contentment in the life you already live, the quicker you’ll be able to experience lasting happiness and joy.

Don’t let money dominate your thoughts or raise your stress level. Instead, create a lifestyle that helps you live within your means and recognizes that money alone won’t provide happiness.

Kurt Smith, Psy. D., is a financial and relationship counselor at Guy Stuff Counseling and Coaching.

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