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What are some tips for organizing financial records?

Organizing your financial records is a cyclical process rather than a one-time event. You'll need to set up a system that helps you organize incoming documents and maintain existing files so that you can easily find what you need. Here are a few tips.

Create your system: Where you should keep your records and documents depends on how quickly you want to be able to access them, how long you plan to keep them, and the number and type of records you have. A simple set of labeled folders in a file cabinet may be fine, but electronic storage is another option for certain records if space is tight or if you generally choose to receive and view records online. No matter which storage option(s) you choose, try to keep your records in a central location.

What is the federal funds rate?

In December 2015, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) raised the federal funds target rate to a range of 0.25% to 0.50%, the first shift from the rock-bottom 0% to 0.25% level where it had remained since December 2008.

The federal funds rate is the interest rate at which banks lend funds to each other from their deposits at the Federal Reserve, usually overnight, in order to meet reserve requirements. The Fed also raised a number of other rates related to funds moving between Federal Reserve banks and other banks. The Fed does not directly control consumer savings or credit rates, but the federal funds rate serves as a benchmark for many short-term rates, such as savings accounts, money market accounts, and short-term bonds.

When Disaster Strikes: Deducting Casualty Losses

Wildfires, tornadoes, storms, landslides, and flooding.... It's almost as if you can't turn on the news without seeing images of a disaster striking somewhere. If you've suffered property loss as the result of these events or other circumstances, you may be able to claim a casualty loss deduction on your federal income tax return.

What's a casualty loss?

A casualty is the destruction, damage, or loss of property caused by an unusual, sudden, or unexpected event. You can experience a casualty loss as the result of something as sweeping as a natural disaster, or as limited in scope as an act of vandalism. You probably don't have a deductible casualty loss, however, if your property is damaged as the result of gradual deterioration (e.g., a long-term termite infestation).

Six Potential 401(k) Rollover Pitfalls

You're about to receive a distribution from your 401(k) plan, and you're considering a rollover to a traditional IRA. While these transactions are normally straightforward and trouble free, there are some pitfalls you'll want to avoid.

1. Consider the pros and cons of a rollover. The first mistake some people make is failing to consider the pros and cons of a rollover to an IRA in the first place. You can leave your money in the 401(k) plan if your balance is over $5,000. And if you're changing jobs, you may also be able to roll your distribution over to your new employer's 401(k) plan.

·         Though IRAs typically offer significantly more investment opportunities and withdrawal flexibility, your 401(k) plan may offer investments that can't be replicated in an IRA (or can't be replicated at an equivalent cost).

Should I loan my child money for a down payment on a house?

For a lot of young people today, it's difficult to purchase a home without at least some financial assistance. As a result, many young adults turn to their parents or other family members for help with a down payment.

If you plan on lending your child money for a down payment on a house, you should try to assume the role of a commercial lender. Setting the terms of the loan in writing will demonstrate to your child that you take both your responsibility as lender and your child's responsibility as borrower seriously.

While having an actual loan contract may seem too businesslike to some parents, doing so can help set expectations between you and your child. The loan contract should spell out the exact loan amount, the interest rate and a repayment schedule. To avoid the uncomfortable situation of having to remind your child that a payment is due, consider asking him or her to set up automatic monthly transfers from his or her bank account to yours.

How long will I have to pay for private mortgage insurance?

It depends. There are generally two ways that private mortgage insurance (PMI) can be removed from your mortgage loan. The first is if you request PMI cancellation directly from your lender. The second is through termination by your lender.

You can request PMI cancellation directly from your lender once you have reached the date when the principal balance of your mortgage is scheduled to fall to 80% of the original value of your home. You can find this date on the PMI disclosure form that was given to you when you first obtained your mortgage. The cancellation request can be made earlier if you have made additional mortgage payments that have reduced your principal balance to 80% at an earlier date. Your lender may also require you to meet certain other criteria in order to cancel your PMI, such as certification that there are no subordinate liens on the home and evidence that the property has not declined below the original value.

Rates on the Rise: Strategies for Fixed-Income Investors

A long period of low yields has been challenging for many fixed-income investors, but owning bond investments in a rising interest-rate environment could become even trickier. When interest rates go up, the prices of existing bonds typically fall. Consequently, the Federal Reserve's rate-setting decisions could affect the entire fixed-income market.

Still, bonds are a mainstay for conservative investors who prioritize the preservation of principal over returns, and for retirees in need of a predictable income stream. Although diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss, owning a diversified mix of bond types and maturities is one way to manage interest-rate and credit risk in your portfolio.