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Good News on Tax-Advantaged Investing Plans -- and You May Need It

By Motley Fool Staff – Nov 18, 2018 at 11:10PM

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You’ll be able to save more -- if you can afford to. Turns out most of us don't feel as if our personal financial situations have improved since 2016.

If you've been maxing out the funds you route into tax-advantaged nest-egg enhancers such as IRAs and 401(k)s -- first of all, well done on your wise long-term planning! But second, you're about to get a bit more room under the annual ceiling. The federal government is raising the yearly contribution limits on contributions to retirement-investing vehicles in 2019.

In the "What's Up, Bro?" segment for the Motley Fool Answers podcast, hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp will provide you with a quick rundown of the details, and then they jump to a second area of government-promoted investing interest. The latest ratings on 529 college savings plans by investment research giant Morningstar are out, and you'll want to know how your state's offering ranked. But if there's good news for you on either of those first two fronts, you're probably among the luckier ones: According to a recent Bankrate survey, only 38% of Americans see their financial situations as having improved under President Trump.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Nov. 13, 2018.

Alison Southwick: Hey, Bro, what's up?

Robert Brokamp: Well, Alison, as I did last week I'm going to highlight three news items this time, plus one weird fun fact, although this one is weirder and maybe a little sad. Are you ready?

Southwick: Sad fact with Robert Brokamp.

Brokamp: You've got that to look forward to. No. 1! The IRS announces the retirement account contribution limits for 2019. In our Oct. 17 episode, when we had Megan Brinsfield, one of our Foolish CPAs here, we had mentioned that a few experts were predicting that retirement limits would go up next year. Well, on Nov. 1 the IRS made it official.

So the contribution limits -- IRAs will go up for the first time in six years, increasing from $5,500 a year to $6,000, and then the so-called catch-up contribution for workers 50 and older will remain at $1,000. So for 401(k)s, 403(b)s, most types of 457s and the federal Thrift Savings Plan, that limit will also go up. That's going up $500 to a total of $19,000, and the 50-and-older catch-up contribution remains at $6,000.

And a note to all my fellow babies of 1969, like me who will be turning 50 next year, you don't have to wait until you turn 50. You can start on Jan. 1. You just have to be 50 by Dec. 31 to be putting in that extra money into your retirement accounts.

Also next year, the income limits that determine whether you can contribute to a Roth are going up. They're going up $2,000 for individuals, $4,000 for those who are married and filing jointly. Higher contribution limits are a good thing. It's important to remember that they have nothing to do with how much you should personally be saving for your retirement. A lot of people anchor on these and are like, "Well, if I can put that much in my IRA, I'll do that and I must be doing enough." That may not be the case; so regardless of the contribution limits, get either a high-quality retirement calculator or go see a qualified financial planner to find out and make sure you're saving up for retirement.

Item No. 2. Morningstar releases its latest ratings on 529 college savings plans.

Southwick: Come on, Virginia! Come on, Virginia! Come on, Virginia!

Brokamp: OK, you wait. So using a process that rates plans according to five pillars -- process, people, parent, price, and performance -- Morningstar awards each plan with an Olympic-style medal or a neutral rating or a negative rating. So of the 62 plans that they evaluated, only four took home the gold -- Illinois, Virginia, Nevada, and Utah. Now I should say that those are particular plans. Many states have multiple plans, so it's the Bright Start College Savings for Illinois and Invest529 for Virginia, The Vanguard 529 for Nevada, and My529 for Utah. Nine plans were awarded silver medals. Eighteen, bronze. About half won a medal. Most got neutral ratings, and five got negative ratings. It's important to remember that you don't have to participate in your own state's plan.

Southwick: Come to Virginia!

Brokamp: You can come to Virginia!

Southwick: It's for lovers. Of 529s.

Brokamp: That's right. Now you might get a benefit by participating in your own state's plan, often in the form of a deduction on the state income tax return, but for most people that's not a good-enough benefit to outweigh being part of a lousy plan. So go read the Morningstar report and also go visit, which is also a great resource. Both of those will rate your state's plan. You can evaluate whether you should stick with your state or maybe move to another state.

No. 3. The majority of Americans don't feel they're benefiting from the strong economy. Leading up to the midterm elections, Bankrate did a survey and asked people if they felt like they were doing better since the election of Donald Trump. Only 38% of people thought that they were doing better, 45% said they're about the same, and the rest said that they were doing worse. As you could expect, politics played a part of this, so 60% of Republicans thought they were doing better. Since Donald Trump was elected president, only 29% of Democrats believe that they're doing better.

There's definitely some evidence why people, despite the strong economy, may not feel like they're doing all that much better. Wages have begun moving up, but so has inflation, so while you're getting paid more, you're also spending more on various things. Also, the tax cuts were not evenly distributed. In fact, some people will hear about this new tax-cut law, but in fact they're actually ending up paying more in taxes.

But what was most fascinating to me is that politics played a part in this. There is a bottom-line answer to this. You're either doing better or you are not. So hopefully if you don't really know whether you're doing better or not, figure it out. Either use something like Mint, Personal Capital, create your own spreadsheet, or something. It is important to know how your finances are doing and whether they're getting better or not.

And then finally, the fun/weird fact comes straight from a headline of Bloomberg Businessweek. Crash-test dummies are getting fatter because we are, too. It was actually a long, fascinating article about a company called Humanetics Innovative Solutions that makes crash-test dummies. It turns out they're pretty pricey. They range in price from $250,000 each to $1 million.

Southwick: What?

Brokamp: Yeah! And the article went into the history of testing. So back in the '50s they would have to use cadavers or, like, hogs and things like that. Some people started to use live human test subjects until their blood vessels would burst in their eyes and stuff like that. It's a fascinating article. But the point being back in the day, they would make what would be the size of a typical man, which was 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds. Now the typical man is 200 pounds, so they have to make bigger crash-test dummies, and this relatedly comes on the heels of another report from Scienmag -- which, surprisingly, is a science magazine -- which highlighted a report that put a dollar figure on the cost of the U.S. economy of excess weight. That figure: more than $1.7 trillion, according to the Milken Institute.

So in previous episodes we have discussed the evidence that healthier people actually are wealthier. So Fools, take care of yourselves, eat right, and exercise regularly, and your bottom line will be better off because of it.

Southwick: Bottom line and waistline.

Brokamp: That's right.

Southwick: Why haven't we made that pun already?

Alison Southwick has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Robert Brokamp, CFP has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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