Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Worst Savings Mistakes You're Making

Many Americans have been making terrible savings mistakes, according to the Federal Reserve's newly released Survey of Consumer Finances for 2010.

The savings mistakes range from directly buying company stock to not saving for retirement.

Here are the worst savings mistakes that you may be making:

You don't have a savings account. Just 51 percent of American families have a savings account, according to the Fed's survey. Having a savings account is critical for being able to save over the long term.

You aren't saving for retirement. Only 35 percent of families have an employer retirement plan, 28 percent of them have an individual retirement account (IRA), and 13 percent have both types of accounts, according to the Fed's survey. The median white family's retirement account is more than twice as large as the median minority family's retirement account.

You may not be participating in your employer's 401(k) retirement plan. Unfortunately, the less income you're making, the less likely you are to be participating in a 401(k) plan, according to the Fed's survey. 55 percent of the bottom income quintile and 27 percent of the second bottom quintile are not participating in their employer's 401(k) plan. The highest-earning 10 percent of households are the most likely to be participating, with a participation rate of nearly 95 percent. Not contributing to a 401(k) plan typically is a mistake, since it's important to start saving for retirement early, and your employer will match your 401(k) contribution up to a certain point.

You have bought a few stocks directly from the stock market. 29 percent of families directly hold one stock, and 53 percent of families directly hold 2 to 9 stocks, according to the Fed's survey. People that aren't investing for a living are likely to lose money by buying individual stocks because they are being outsmarted by professional traders, high-frequency traders (that is, computers), and professional investors that have studied companies' fundamentals closely. Diversification, on the other hand, insulates you from individual companies' mistakes and allows you to benefit from the economy's general growth. You should try to be part of the 18 percent of families that hold 10 or more stocks -- ideally through a mutual fund.

You chose your bank because it is close to you, not because of what it has to offer. 46 percent of households said they chose the location of their checking account because of the "location of their offices," according to the Fed's survey. Convenience is good, but it's even better to not have to pay crazy fees. Only 14 percent of households said they chose their bank because it had the lowest fees or minimum balance requirement.

You don't have a checking account. 10 percent of families do not have a checking account, 59 percent of whom are in the bottom income quintile, 51 percent are headed by someone younger than age 45, and 66 percent of whom were minorities, according to the Fed's survey. Having a checking account is important for keeping track of your finances.


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