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Money Tips At Midlife:
Multi-Tasking in Your 30s, 40s & 50s

Managing for today and saving for tomorrow, including college expenses and retirement

If you're "living in the middle ages," you're 35 to 55 (or thereabouts), the years between young adulthood and senior status — you've got a lot to think about when it comes to managing money.

Among the issues you face: how to maximize your income during your remaining work years so you're better positioned to retire when, where and how you want. Here are some suggestions for minimizing stress and maximizing results.

Save as much as you can for your retirement. Tax-advantaged savings vehicles, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 401(k)s, are solid choices. And once you reach age 50, you can also make "catch-up" (extra) contributions to these retirement savings accounts.

Consider speaking with a financial planner or other personal advisor about a recommended investment strategy for your age and stage of life — especially the mix of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and lower-risk alternatives such as U.S. Savings Bonds and bank deposits.

Explore tax-preferred ways to save money for a child. State-sponsored "529-plan" savings accounts and Coverdell educational savings accounts carry tax advantages and help families and individuals save for higher education expenses.

Also, many families may be able to qualify for a tax break on earnings from certain U.S. Savings Bonds used for educational purposes.

Do your homework if you need a loan to pay for a child's education. Among the many options are government-guaranteed loan programs for parents and students, and loans from private financial institutions. There often are big differences between government and private loans, though, and private lenders could offer both types. So ask questions and fully understand the fees, the interest rate, and when loan payments and interest charges will begin.

"Teenagers are solicited by direct mail for very large student loans that would put a heavy debt burden on them when they graduate from college," said Deirdre Foley, an FDIC Senior Policy Analyst on consumer issues. "My recommendations to parents and students are to shop around at multiple lenders, read all the fine print, and borrow only what you need for school-related expenses that are not covered by grants, scholarships or other sources."

Also be on guard against scams that begin with a "guarantee" or promise of scholarships, grants or fantastic financial aid packages.

Make the best use of a financial "windfall." Many people receive a large sum of money from an inheritance, a home sale or an insurance payment, and they aren't sure how to use or protect it. Consider asking a financial or tax advisor about the best options, which may include starting or adding to a rainy-day fund for emergency expenses or putting money into your retirement accounts.

If you deposit a large amount of money in a bank account, make sure it is fully protected by FDIC insurance. Also consider paying off high-interest debt, such as the outstanding balances on your credit cards.

Plan a strategy for having a home and a mortgage. If you don't own a house, consider if it makes sense to buy one, especially if you don't plan to move in two or three years. Homeownership can offer tax advantages and a stable place to live, but don't take on more of a mortgage than you can afford to pay each month.

If you do have a mortgage, periodically compare your interest rate to current market rates and, if rates have declined, calculate whether refinancing makes sense.

"Just because you can get a new mortgage at a better interest rate than what you already have, you've still got to be careful before refinancing," said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC's Community Affairs Outreach Section.

"First," he added, "if you only have a few years left on your mortgage, refinancing doesn't make sense if the costs to refinance are greater than the cost savings from the lower monthly payments. Second, remember that if you stretch out the number of years you have to repay the new mortgage, you will pay more in interest over the total life of the loan."

So, if you have 15 years left on your 30-year mortgage and you want to refinance, in the long run, you're usually better off with a 15-year loan instead of refinancing into another 30-year loan.

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