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10 great ways to maximize your long-term wealth
Leading financial and legal experts offer top tips to help enhance your financial security

BY SUSAN BLOOM

While losing weight is typically the No. 1 New Year’s resolution Americans make each year, surveys show that improving finances often is second on the list. Whether it involves reducing debt, buying a home or car, saving for children’s education or a special event, covering monthly bills or socking away enough for retirement, money concerns rank high among the things that keep Americans up at night.

“Prudent financial planning is something that everyone, regardless of their age or net worth, should pursue,” said Heather G. Suarez, Esq., who specializes in real estate, corporate and commercial matters, and trust and estate law with Milber Makris Plousadis & Seiden LLP in Jersey City.

“It’s helpful to get into good financial habits early,” agreed Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA, CGMA, CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants (NJCPA) in Roseland. “Starting early gives you more options down the road and can help ensure that you achieve your financial goals.”

Following, Thomas, Suarez and Mike Ippoliti, MBA, CFP, vice president at Valley National Financial Advisors in Bethlehem, Pa., share some of their top tips to help you maximize longterm wealth and enhance your financial security:

• Pay Down Debt — “Because it positions you as a riskier candidate and subjects you to higher interest rates, debt is a burden that can impact your financial ability to buy a home, car, business, etc.,” said Thomas, who noted that the average American carries $6,000 in credit card debt alone. “Paying down your debt can reposition you for greater long-term financial security.”

• Prepare a Budget — “Look at where your money is going and challenge yourself by asking, ‘Do I really need that?’ Thomas advised. He recommends eliminating recurring expenses for products or services that are not being used or that don’t add value (such as unused gym memberships, etc.) and redirect resources to other higher-priority goals. “In addition, you should shop around and evaluate your options to ensure that you’re getting the best value on the products and services you use,” he said. “You’d be surprised to see how much you can reduce your costs by being proactive.”

• Save More — With a recent survey by GOBankingRates revealing that over two-thirds of Americans have less than $1,000 stashed away for a rainy day, “It’s important to pay yourself first,” Thomas said. “In other words, put a specified level of savings away first from any money you take in (it can even be automatically deducted through a direct deposit election) and then consider whatever’s left over as available for other things.”

As a starting point, Ippoliti suggested creating “an emergency reserve to cover three months of living expenses; otherwise it’s too easy to spend more than you make and run up credit card bills,” he said. “It’s great to start out by saving 10% of your pay when you’re young because it will grow, and to try to save 25% to 50% of every raise or pay increase you receive. The later you start, the more you’ll have to save to ensure that you have enough for retirement.”

• Participate in 401(k)s — According to a Motley Fool study, less than half of the roughly 80% of Americans who are offered the opportunity to participate in an employer-sponsored 401(k) retirement plan actually take advantage of it. “Perhaps this is because people have debt, are intimidated by the plan, or feel that there’s no room in their paycheck for this ‘discretionary’ deduction, but everyone should capitalize on these opportunities because they represent free money,” Thomas said of 401(k)s, which now allow individuals to put money away tax-free until age 72. “You won’t incur a taxable event until you start to withdraw the money and some companies will even match all or part of what each employee contributes.” With the recent passage of the SECURE Act, he added, small companies can now pool their resources to offer appealing 401(k) plans. Overall, he said, “You can contribute up to $24,000 to a 401(k) plan each year, which can create a nice nest egg for retirement.”

If your company doesn’t offer a retirement plan, Ippoliti said, “It’s still important to contribute to one — preferably a Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account) if you’re at the start of your career, because the money isn’t taxed as it grows, future distributions are generally tax-free, and you can potentially withdraw some of the  

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