Glossary

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Fair market value

Fair market value is the price you would have to pay to buy a particular asset or service on the open market. The concept of fair market value assumes that both buyer and seller are reasonably well informed of market conditions, that neither is under undue pressure to buy or sell, and that neither intends to defraud the other.

Finance charge

The finance charge, or total dollar amount you pay to borrow, includes the interest you pay plus any fees for arranging the loan. A finance charge is expressed as an annual percentage rate (APR) of the amount you owe, which allows you to compare the costs of different loans. The Truth-in-Lending Law requires your lender to disclose the APR you'll be paying and the way it is calculated before you agree to the terms of the loan.

Financial planner

A financial planner evaluates your personal finances and helps you develop a financial plan to meet both your immediate needs and your long-term goals. Some, but not all, planners have credentials from professional organizations.Some well-known credentials are Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA), and Personal Financial Specialist (PFS). A PFS is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who has passed an exam on financial planning. Some planners are also licensed to sell certain investment or insurance products.Fee-only financial planners charge by the hour or collect a flat fee for a specific service, but don't sell products or earn sales commissions. Other planners don't charge a fee but earn commissions on the products they sell to you. Still others both charge fees and earn commissions but may offset their fees by the amount of commission they earn.

529 college savings plan

Each 529 college savings plan is sponsored by a particular state, and while each plan is a little different, they share many basic elements. When you invest in a 529 savings plan, any earnings in your account accumulate tax free, and you can make federally tax-free withdrawals to pay for qualified educational expenses, such as college tuition, room and board, and books at any accredited college, university, vocational, or technical program in the United States and a number of institutions overseas.Some states also exempt earnings from state income tax, and may offer additional advantages to state residents, such as tax deductions for contributions.You must name a beneficiary when you open a 529 savings plan account, but you may change beneficiaries if you wish, as long as the new beneficiary is a member of the same extended family as the original beneficiary.In most cases, you may choose any state's plan, even if neither you nor your beneficiary live in that state. There are no income limits restricting who can contribute to a plan, and the lifetime contributions are more than $300,000 in some states. You can make a one-time contribution of $75,000 without incurring potential gift tax, provided you don't make another contribution for five years. Or, you may prefer to add smaller amounts, up to the annual gift exclusion, which is $15,000 per recipient in 2020.

Fixed annuity

A fixed annuity is a contract that allows you to accumulate earnings at a fixed rate during a build-up period. You pay the required premium, either in a lump sum or in installments. The insurance company invests its assets, including your premium, so it will be able to pay the rate of return that it has promised to pay. At a time you select, usually after you turn 59½, you can choose to convert your account value to retirement income. Among the alternatives is receiving a fixed amount of income in regular payments for your lifetime or the lifetimes of yourself and a joint annuitant. That's called annuitization. Or, you may select some other payout method.The contract issuer assumes the risk that you could outlive your life expectancy and therefore collect income over a longer period than it anticipated. You take the risk that the insurance company will be able to meet its obligations to pay.Some variable annuities offer a fixed rate account with a guarantee of principal, such as an interest account.

Fixed-income investment

Fixed-income investments typically pay interest or dividends on a regular schedule and may promise to return your principal at maturity, though that promise is not guaranteed in most cases. Among the examples are government, corporate, and municipal bonds, preferred stock, and guaranteed investment contracts (GICs).The advantage of holding fixed-income securities in an investment portfolio is that they provide regular, predictable income. But a potential disadvantage of holding them over an extended period, or to maturity in the case of bonds, is that they may not increase in value the way equity investments may. As a result, a portfolio overweighted with fixed-income investments may make you more vulnerable to inflation risk. In addition, the issuer of a bond may fail to make interest or principal payments, so there is a risk of loss in fixed income products.

Flexible spending account

Some employers offer flexible spending accounts (FSA), sometimes called cafeteria plans, as part of their employee benefits package. You contribute a percentage of your pretax salary, up to the limit your plan allows, which you can use to pay for qualifying expenses. Qualifying expenses include medical costs that aren't covered by your health insurance, childcare, care for your elderly or disabled dependents, and life insurance.The amount you put into the plan is not reported to the IRS as income, which means your taxable income is reduced. However, you have to estimate correctly the amount you'll spend during the year when you arrange to have amounts deducted from your paycheck. Once you decide on the amount you are going to contribute to an FSA for a year, you cannot change it unless you have a qualifying event, such as marriage or divorce. If you don't spend all that you had withheld within the year, you may be entitled to a two-and-one-half month extension or be able to spend up to $500 of what remains in the following year.

401(k)

You participate in a 401(k) retirement savings plan by deferring part of your salary into an account set up in your name. Any earnings in the account are federal income tax deferred. If you change jobs, 401(k) plans are portable, which means that you can move your accumulated assets to a new employer's plan, if the plan allows transfers, or to a rollover IRA.With a traditional 401(k), you defer pretax income, which reduces the income tax you owe in the year you made the contribution. You pay tax on all withdrawals at your regular rate. With the newer Roth 401(k), which is offered in some but not all plans, you contribute after-tax income. Earnings accumulate tax deferred, but your withdrawals are completely tax free if your account has been open at least five years and you're at least 59½.In either type of 401(k), you can defer up to the federal cap, plus an annual catch-up contribution if you're 50 or older. However, you may be able to contribute less than the cap if you're a highly compensated employee or if your employer limits contributions to a percentage of your salary. Your employer may match some or all of your contributions, based on the terms of the plan you participate in, but matching isn't required.With a 401(k), you are responsible for making your own investment decisions by choosing from among investment alternatives offered by the plan. Those alternatives typically include separate accounts, mutual funds, annuities, fixed-income investments, and sometimes company stock.You may owe an additional 10% federal tax penalty if you withdraw from a 401(k) before you reach 59½. You must begin to take required minimum distributions by April 1 of the year following the year you turn 72 unless you're still working. But if you prefer you can roll over your traditional 401(k) assets into a traditional IRA and your Roth 401(k) assets into a Roth IRA.

403(b)

A 403(b) plan, sometimes known as a tax-sheltered annuity (TSA) or a tax-deferred annuity (TDA), is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan for employees of not-for-profit organizations, such as colleges, hospitals, foundations, and cultural institutions. Some employers offer 403(b) plans as a supplement to - rather than a replacement for - defined benefit pensions. Others offer them as the organization's only retirement plan.Your contributions to a traditional 403(b) are tax deductible, and any earnings are tax deferred. Contributions to a Roth 403(b) are made with after-tax dollars, but the withdrawals are tax free if the account has been open at least five years and you're 59½ or older. There's an annual contribution limit, but you can add an additional catch-up contribution if you're 50 or older.With a 403(b), you are responsible for making your own investment decisions by choosing from among investment alternatives offered by the plan. You can roll over your assets to another employer's plan or an IRA when you leave your job, or to an IRA when you retire. You may withdraw without penalty once you reach 59 1/2, or sometimes earlier if you retire. You must begin required withdrawals by April 1 of the year following the year you turn 70½ unless you are still working. In that case, you can postpone withdrawals until April 1 following the year you retire.

457

These tax-deferred retirement savings plans are available to state and municipal employees. Like 401(k) and 403(b) plans, the money you contribute and any earnings that accumulate in your name are not taxed until you withdraw the money, usually after retirement. The contribution levels are also the same, though 457s may allow larger catch-up contributions. You also have the right to roll your plan assets over into another employer's plan, including a 401(k) or 403(b), or an individual retirement account (IRA) when you leave your job.

Futures contract

Futures contracts, when they trade on regulated futures exchanges, obligate you to buy or sell a specified quantity of the underlying product for a specific price on a specific date. The underlying product could be a commodity, stock index, security, or currency. Because all the terms of a listed futures contract are structured by the exchange, you can offset your contract and get out of your obligation by buying or selling an opposing contract before the settlement date.Futures contracts provide some investors, called hedgers, a measure of protection from price volatility on the open market. For example, wine manufacturers are protected when a bad crop pushes grape prices up on the spot market if they hold a futures contract to buy the grapes at a lower price. Grape growers are also protected if prices drop dramatically - if, for example, there's a surplus caused by a bumper crop - provided they have a contract to sell at a higher price.Unlike hedgers, speculators use futures contracts to seek profits on price changes. For example, speculators can make (or lose) money, no matter what happens to the grapes, depending on what they paid for the futures contract and what they must pay to offset it.
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