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3 Financial Tools We Should All Be Thankful For

By Maurie Backman - Nov 28, 2019 at 6:04AM

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It's never a bad thing to show a little gratitude.

The holidays are a great time to take stock of the things that make life worth living -- family, friends, and the hobbies we enjoy. They're also an ideal time to express gratitude for the tools that make our financial lives easier. Here are a few in particular that are really worth celebrating.

1. 401(k) plans

Saving for retirement independently is crucial if you want to avoid money troubles when you're older, since Social Security won't suffice in covering your retirement costs by itself. And in this regard, the 401(k) is particularly useful.

Currently, you can contribute up to $19,000 annually to a 401(k) if you're under 50, or up to $25,000 if you're 50 or older. And these limits are rising in 2020 to $19,500 and $26,000, respectively.

Notepad with the words give thanks sitting on a pile of leaves

Image source: Getty Images.

If you contribute to a traditional 401(k), the money you put into that account goes in on a pre-tax basis, which means the IRS can't touch that portion of your earnings. The result? Instant tax savings.

Roth 401(k)s offer a world of benefits, too. Though you don't get an immediate tax break for funding one, any withdrawals you take in retirement are tax-free (whereas traditional 401(k) withdrawals are taxed). And, the money you invest in a Roth 401(k) gets to grow completely tax-free, too.

Another bonus? If you work for a company that sponsors a 401(k), you may be entitled to free money in that account via an employer match. And if you're self-employed, you can open a solo 401(k), which has a much higher annual contribution limit than its employer-sponsored counterpart.

2. IRAs

IRAs are a great choice for workers who don't have access to a 401(k) despite their lower annual contribution limits, which are staying the same going into 2020: $6,000 for workers under 50, and $7,000 for those 50 and over. With a traditional IRA, contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, so you're able to shield some of your income from the IRS. With a Roth IRA, contributions are made with after-tax dollars, but you get tax-free growth on your invested savings and tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

Not only that, but a Roth IRA is the only tax-advantaged retirement plan that doesn't force you to take required minimum distributions during retirement. This means you get more flexibility with your money; you can even leave some or all of it to your heirs if you so choose. And while higher earners are barred from funding a Roth IRA directly, there's always the option to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth down the line.

In addition to the traditional and Roth IRA, SEP-IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs are available to small-business owners and self-employed workers looking to sock away funds for the future. And both of these accounts come with higher annual contribution limits than traditional and Roth IRAs allow for.

3. HSAs

Healthcare is a giant expense for working Americans and retirees alike, but health savings accounts, or HSAs, let you pay for your medical costs with pre-tax dollars, thereby letting you reap the same benefits as a traditional IRA or 401(k). Not only that, but HSA funds don't expire -- you can carry your money from year to year, all the way into retirement. And whatever funds you don't need immediately can be invested for added tax-free growth. Finally, HSA withdrawals are tax-free as long as they're used for qualified medical expenses.

To qualify for an HSA, you need to be on a high-deductible health plan, which, for 2020, means an individual deductible of $1,400 or more, or a family deductible of at least $2,800. Your annual out-of-pocket maximum also can't exceed $6,900 as an individual, or $13,800 at the family level. But if you're eligible for an HSA, you'll have the option to contribute up to $3,550 next year as an individual, or up to $7,100 as a family. And if you're 50 or older, you get to put in an extra $1,000 on top of whichever limit applies to you.

As you gear up to enjoy the holidays this year, think about the extent to which you're taking advantage of the tools above, and make some changes if none of them are on your radar. It's never too late to fund an IRA, 401(k), or HSA, and the sooner you do, the more financial benefits you stand to reap.

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