Three Significant Changes to Your Retirement Plans in 2009 and 2010

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

1. No required minimum distribution in 2009 for IRA, 401k, 403b, 457b, 401k and profit sharing plans. This does not apply to annuitized defined benefit plans.

2. If you are older than 70 ½, in 2009 you can make charitable gifts from your IRA without the payment being included in your adjusted gross income. The distribution must be a “qualified charitable distribution”, which means it must be made directly from the IRA owner to the charitable institution. This is especially beneficial if you claim a standard deduction and were unable to deduct charitable contributions by itemizing.

3. Beginning in 2010 individuals earning over $100,000 in modified adjusted gross income will be able to convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. Modified adjusted gross income is the bottom line on the first page of the 1040 tax form. Income from a conversion in 2010 may be reported equally over 2011 and 2012.

While there are many benefits to converting from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA the conversion will increase your adjusted gross income (AGI) which can have some unintended consequences. An increase in AGI may impact the taxability of your social security, phase-outs on itemized deductions, education and your tax bracket.

I will write more about Roth IRA conversions in a future blog.

How to Save Money on European Travel

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

I have decided to focus on a topic that is near to my heart and for which I have a great deal of first hand experience. Although in some cases you should do as I say and not as I do. I have a terrible weakness for European cafés and therefore spend too much money on meals and wine. We must choose our battles.

1.) Take the time to research air fares; it helps to be flexible on dates, times and locations. On my last trip we were able to save about $500 by trying a wide variety of routes and destinations – all within southern France. It is generally much cheaper to travel in and out of the same city and to book round trip tickets. If you need to travel one way within Europe there are several low cost, regional, airlines. If you don’t have too much luggage, consider a high speed train. I found train travel to be easy, fun, inexpensive and reliable. However, it can be difficult with a lot of luggage. It’s great for a day trip!

2.) Avoid travel during peak season, June through August. I usually travel in May or September to avoid the huge summer crowds and get better prices. Most hotels charge higher rates during the peak summer months. The service is also much better when there are fewer people to deal with. I also found that several historical sites don’t charge admission until June 1st.

3.) Save money by eating fewer meals in restaurants. Buy some bread, wine and cheese at the local grocery store and have a picnic in the park or at the beach. Reserve a hotel with a refrigerator to keep food fresh for breakfast and snacks. Most hotels offer breakfast but it can be very expensive, pick-up a baguette or a sandwich on the go and eat it as you stroll through the city. If you are limited for time, eating all your meals in a restaurant can use up a lot of valuable time.

4.) Save money when eating in restaurants by ordering the special of the day, sharing a meal or eating the seasonal local specialties. You can also save money by ordering the fixed price menu. If you are traveling to several towns in a region eat in the smaller less touristy villages. In addition to being less expensive, the food is better and the proprietors are more open. Seek out restaurants that are off the beaten path or ask a local for a restaurant recommendation. The prices will be lower, the food will be better and the ambiance will be nicer. You can eat with the Americans at home.

Save on wine by ordering a half liter or small pitcher of house wine. Most restaurants in France and Italy serve a half liter of house wine for about 5 euros; it’s the best deal going. The house wine is usually produced locally, many restaurants serve only regional wines. As they say, when in Rome….

5.) Take the time to research your lodging. You can save on lodging by staying in lesser know towns and staying in small locally owned Inns or Hotels. If you have the time, book an apartment for a week or two and take days trips from your base location. Another great way to save money is booking a business hotel over the weekend or a holiday; this can be especially helpful for airport locations.

There are several internet sites that can help you select good quality, inexpensive hotels such as Tripadvisor.com and Hotels.com. You can read reviews written by the people who have recently stayed there. A good guidebook on the region you are visiting can also be very helpful in selecting a hotel. Check out your selection with several sources to make sure the reviews are consistent.

6.) Think about what site-seeing you plan to do and what is really important to you. Admission into museums and various historical sites can be very expensive. When you visit cities with several sites that you want to see ask the tourist office if there is a museum pass or some kind of package deal that you can purchase. Be selective on what you pay to see – the inside of one mid-evil castle looks about the same as the next. You have limited time and there is so much beautiful scenery and architecture available to see absolutely free.