Here’s a good question for the new year: Is 2021 a good time to invest in stocks?
In turbulent times like these, it’s hard to know the right financial moves to make. A lot of the tried-and-true advice we’ve always relied on doesn’t seem relevant anymore. Is now a good time to invest? Should I focus on paying off debt? Or saving?
It’s helpful to consult with a pro. So we asked Robin Hartill, a certified financial planner, as well as an editor and financial advice columnist for The Penny Hoarder, for advice.
Here are six financial questions we’ve been getting from readers lately:
1. ‘The Cost of Waiting is High’
Question: “Is 2021 a good time to invest, or should I wait the market out?”
Hartill’s advice: Take the long view. The stock market will grow your money over time, so you might as well get started sooner rather than later.
“The timing of your investment matters much less than how much time you have to invest,” Hartill says. “The S&P 500 has delivered inflation-adjusted returns of about 7% per year on average for the past 50 years. The cost of waiting for the perfect time to invest is high. You’re missing out on long-term growth.”
Profitable investing is all about taking the long view. Not sure how to get started? With an app called Stash, you can get started with as little as $1.* It lets you choose from hundreds of stocks and funds to build your own investment portfolio. It makes it simple by breaking them down into categories based on your personal goals.
“If you were hoping to make a quick buck off the stock market, now may not be a great time,” Hartill said. “We’re still in a recession, but the stock market has recovered. But true investing isn’t about making a quick buck. It’s about growing your money over time.”
She recommends budgeting a certain amount of money to invest each month, no matter what.
If you sign up for Stash now (it takes two minutes), Stash will give you $5 after you add $5 to your investment account. Subscription plans start at $1 a month.**
2. ‘There’s Only So Much Fat You Can Cut’
Question: “My monthly expenses keep going up. Anything I can do?”
“There’s only so much fat you can cut from your budget. Eventually, you start chipping away at muscle and bone,” Hartill said. “Cutting costs is often a good way to meet your shorter-term goals, like saving for a vacation or a down payment. But for the really big long-term goals like retirement and protecting your family from a worst-case scenario, cutting back only goes so far.”
If you need to cut back, though, take a hard look at your mandatory monthly bills — like car insurance. When’s the last time you checked prices? You should shop around your options every six months or so.
And if you look through a digital marketplace called SmartFinancial, you could be getting rates as low as $22 a month — and saving yourself more than $700 a year.
It takes one minute to get quotes from multiple insurers, so you can see all the best rates side-by-side. Yep — in just one minute you could save yourself $715 this year. That’s some major cash back in your pocket.
So if you haven’t checked car insurance rates in a while, see how much you can save with a new policy.
3. ‘If You Have Your Spending in Check… ’
Question: “My budget is tight. What debt should I focus on paying off?”
“The only way to get out of debt is by spending less than you earn,” Hartill said. “But if you have your spending in check, a debt-consolidation loan can help you shed your debt faster.”
She added a caveat: “This option only makes sense if it lowers your interest payments. Many people who don’t have good credit actually find that the interest rate they’re approved for is even higher than what they’re currently paying.”
There’s a quick way to find out if this would work out for you. It takes just a couple of minutes to check out your options on a website called AmOne. If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, it’ll match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.
The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.
It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online.
4. ‘You Don’t Have to Settle for Nothing’
Question: “My savings account bottomed out. Any other ways to make passive income right now?”
“Although interest rates will stay low until at least 2023, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for earning nothing on your savings,” Hartill said.
Most banks are paying account holders virtually no interest on their savings these days. Try switching to an Aspiration account. It lets you earn up to 5% cash back every time you swipe the card and up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account. Plus, you’ll never pay a monthly account maintenance fee.
To see how much you could earn, enter your email address here, link your bank account and add at least $10 to your account. And don’t worry. Your money is FDIC insured and under a military-grade encryption. That’s nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”
5. ‘Most of Us Don’t Earn Enough’
Question: “How can I possibly earn enough to ever retire?”
Hartill shared a brutal truth with us: “The overwhelming majority of us don’t earn enough to get to save our way to retirement.”
Ouch, that hurts. But wait, she offers a solution: “Spending money by investing it in the stock market and earning returns that compound into even more money.”
“If you need a $500,000 nest egg to retire, you’d have to trim $10,000 from your budget for 50 years straight to get there through savings alone. But if you invested just $5,000 a year and earned 6% returns, you’d get there in less than 34 years.”
6. ‘The Only Practical Way to Give Your Family Security’
Question: “I have a family. How can I make sure they’re protected in these uncertain times?”
“Spending money on life insurance is the only practical way to give your family the security they deserve,” Hartill said. “Your life insurance needs are greatest when you have young children. Fortunately, this is often a time when you’re still young enough that life insurance is relatively inexpensive.”
Maybe you’re thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But this takes minutes — and you could leave your family up to $1 million with a company called Bestow.
We hear people are paying as little as $8 a month. (But every year you wait, this gets more expensive.)
It takes just minutes to get a free quote and see how much life insurance you can leave your loved ones — even if you don’t have seven figures in your bank account.
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He is not a certified financial planner, but he has stayed in a Holiday Inn Express.
*For Securities priced over $1,000, purchase of fractional shares starts at $0.05.
**You’ll also bear the standard fees and expenses reflected in the pricing of the ETFs in your account, plus fees for various ancillary services charged by Stash and the custodian.