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This Week In Your Wallet: #StartTODAY Is Back For 2016!

Happy 2016! I hope everyone had a fantastic (and safe) time ringing in the New Year. If you’re one of the 45% of Americans who made a resolution this year, then here’s some good news.

Whether you want to lose weight, get organized or – my personal favorite – spend less and save more in 2016, “The J Team” has you covered. For the entire month of January, I’m joining my pals – nutritionist Joy Bauer, organizing guru Jill Martin and new mom (who is looking to stop making excuses and start working out) Jenna Bush Hager – on the Today Show for our second annual #StartTODAY series, in which we offer advice and tips for starting and sticking to the changes you’d like to make for yourself.

We had the initial kick-off on Friday, and every Thursday, I’ll be on with segments devoted to earning more, spending less, investing what you can and protecting your financial life. Then, on Fridays, we’ll be on air answering questions on Facebook and Twitter. I hope you’ll join us!
Do You Need A Financial Planner?

In addition to #StartTODAY, perhaps your financial goals for 2016 could benefit from the guidance of a financial planner. Have you thought about hiring one before? People ask me all of the time if (or when) one is necessary. That’s why I put together a list of scenarios – a cheat sheet, even – to help determine the best answer for you. Here, a few to get you started:

  1. You’re about to walk down the aisle and don’t know how to merge your finances with your soon-to-be spouse. Consult a financial planner.
  2. You’re crafting your first, basic budget…ever. Hey, better late than never – and no need to hire a financial planner. You can DIY.
  3. You’re about to add to the family and need to baby-proof your budget. Oh, and also figure out how to toggle your retirement savings with saving for college. It’s worth hiring a planner to create a game plan for you.
  4. You’re looking to pay down some debt. Don’t spend more. Save money and pass on the planner.

See the full list on Bankrate.com.

Turn Clutter Into Cash

Those 20-plus exercise DVDs were a great investment – until you got your blu-ray player. Now they’re collecting dust and taking up space, much like those clothes in your closet that haven’t seen the light of day in years and those gift cards in your wallet that you know you’ll never use. So instead of letting them go to waste, why not try turning the clutter into cash? There’s a resale site for just about anything these days. Here are a few of the ones I listed on Today.com to put on your radar:

New Rules For 529 Plans

Before President Obama said “aloha” to 2015 and went on his Hawaiian vacation with the family last month, he signed a tax bill into law that included favorable additions to 529 plans. As MONEY reports, the bill penciled in more qualified expenses to better reflect the needs of students in the 21st century. Most notably, you can now use your savings to purchase computers and software – and to cover the cost of Internet. (In order for a computer to be considered an eligible expense before the bill, you had to provide adequate evidence that the school required it.) The bill also increased 529 plans’ flexibility. If a student becomes ill and has to withdraw after the start of the semester, he or she can redeposit the tuition refund into a 529 without being taxed.

New Questions For Interest Rates

After months of speculation, last month – for the first time in nearly a decade – the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates from a range of 0% to 0.25% to a range of 0.25% to 0.5%. Now the question has become, how far and how fast will the hikes go? And for the most part, it’s still a big TBD with much depending on the strength (or lack of it) in the economy, but many economists are predicting as many as four rate hikes in 2016 alone. What does this mean for your savings, credit cards, auto loans and other types of consumer financing that the Fed doesn’t directly set rates for, but certainly affects with each hike? Let’s do a brief recap. (ICYMI: I broke down what the Fed rate hike means for you on NBC NEWS.)

For starters, savers can look forward to better returns in 2016, but not until the back half of the year, says Greg McBride, CFA and chief financial analyst at Bankrate. He says the same goes for your certificates of deposit (or CDs): “No improvement in the near term,” says McBride. “And even when we do see it, it’s going to be a hollow victory, because you’re still going to be chasing inflation.” That’s why if you’re buying CDs, buy short-term so you can roll them into ones with higher interest rates as they become available.

With your credit cards, it’s time to insulate yourself from rising rates. McBride predicts interest rates on credit cards will move higher with the Fed, increasing by three-quarters of a percentage point by the end of the year. “Now’s the time to grab one of those 0% offers and put yourself on a schedule to knock down debt,” he says. Something you don’t need to sweat is your auto loan. While loan rates will go up – on a $25,000 car loan, for example – it’ll be a difference of about $3 a month.

Have a great week,


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