Financial Tips for the Re-Employed

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The economy seems to be perking up. Many economists were surprised by the recent Labor Department report saying payrolls grew by 290,000 jobs in April. It wasn’t long ago that jobs were disappearing.

So, let’s say you’re one of the newly re-employed. What are the key steps to getting your financial house in order and being on the soundest footing possible should something go wrong in the future?

The key steps fall into three categories.

First, begin the most aggressive saving program you can afford. If your new employer offers a 401(k) or similar program, sign up. Be sure to contribute at least enough to get the maximum matching contribution offered by the company, if there is one. Many firms match on a dollar-for-dollar or 50 cents-per-dollar basis up to 5% or 6% of the employee’s gross pay. Not getting the full match is like turning down a raise.

In past years you often had to wait six months or a year before you could begin participating in a 401(k). Now, many companies enroll new employees automatically in order to increase participation. Even if your new employer does this, take a close look at the program. Chances are the automatic enrollment doesn’t make the maximum contribution allowed, so you might want to boost it.

Also, companies with auto enrollment put employees into “default” investments. Look closely to be sure they are suitable. A default that’s heavy on money-market funds or bonds is probably too conservative if you’re only in your 20s, 30s or 40s.

Many companies put employees into target-date funds that match the employee’s expected retirement date. These can be a good option, as the mix of stocks and bonds gets more conservative as the employee gets older. But take a close look anyway to be sure there’s not an alternative that may suit you better.

Second, once your paychecks start flowing, start paying off debts, beginning with high interest-rate debts like credit cards. Use the Accelerated Debt Payoff and Credit Card Payoff calculators to set priorities.

To avoid accumulating new debt while you’re getting rid of the old ones, use debit cards instead of credit cards. Also look for ways to transfer balances from high-rate cards to ones with lower rates. The credit card search tool can generate a list of cards with 0% rates on balance transfers.

Finally, try to resist the impulse to go on a spending spree to celebrate your return to gainful employment. The labor market is evolving, and job security isn’t what it used to be. It seems possible that more and more people will suffer multiple job losses.

So everyone should build up a good rainy-day fund, enough to pay expenses for six to 12 months. If you need a new set of wheels, think about a used car instead of a new one. If the new job means moving, think about buying the least expensive home that suits your needs, not the most expensive you can afford.

In fact, renting might be a good option until you’re really certain the new job is solid. In today’s shaky housing market, it could be quite risky to buy a home unless you expect to keep it at least seven or eight years.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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