Kevin Hunt: Pre-Pay Mortgage? Buy New Or Used Car? MyRA or Roth?

We know where the time has gone, so stop asking. Where has the money gone?

Let's try to minimize regret, and maximize assets, in 2014 with some basic guidance from Don Taylor, a financial columnist for who is also a financial planner with a doctorate in finance.

You'll find financial truth in the numbers.

Q: Should I start pre-paying the mortgage on our house or invest savings?

A: Several things to consider, but The Bottom Line often relies on a simple formula: Can you earn a higher return rate on your savings than the interest rate you're now paying on your mortgage?

Why put the money in an account earning 2 percent when you could use it to reduce a loan costing you 4 percent a year? And why pay down a 4 percent loan when you can earn 8 percent with the money?

Taylor: "If you think you can earn more after tax on your investments than you pay after tax on your mortgage then you shouldn't be paying down your mortgage.

"For the person that's deciding whether or not they're gong to keep their money invested in the stock market versus paying down their mortgage, the expectation would be that over time they'd make more in the market than they would in interest savings.

"So it's pretty easy to come up with the effective rate on your mortgage. Can you take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction? If if you can't, it's the stated rate on your mortgage. If you can, it's reduced by the amount of the tax savings."

The numbers: You have a $150,000 mortgage at 4 percent interest with $1,000 in monthly payments. If you pre-pay at $500 a month, the loan essentially would be paid off — less than $3 left — after 10 years (and one month).

If you instead invested the $500 monthly in an account earning 2 percent, you'd have $69,456 after 10 years. But you'd also have $75,630 remaining on your mortgage. The winner: Pre-pay.

If you invested the $500 monthly in an account averaging an 8 percent return, however, you'd have $85,956 — enough to pay off the remaining mortgage and leave you with $10,326. Winner: Invest.

Do It Yourself: Pre-pay Vs. Invest The Difference calculator; Mortgage Tax Deduction calculator.

Q: The company I work for offers a 401(k) with a 3 percent match, but I have rent to pay, credit-card bills, student loans and I need a new car. What should I do?

A: Whatever it takes to put at least 3 percent of your salary into the 401(k) to get the company match. Don't be like so many Americans who neglect to save for retirement: Forty-six percent of all workers, and an astounding 36 percent over age 55, have less than $10,000 in total savings and investments, according to the 2013 Retirement Confidence Survey.

Taylor: "If your company has a match on your 401(k) savings, that's free money. You just can't afford to leave that on the table. Most programs give 50 cents on the dollar up to 6 percent of salary.

"Your employer is offering you a 3 percent raise if you're willing to put that money toward your retirement. Or, said differently, you instantly get a 50 percent return on your money. Where else in life can you get a 50 percent return on your money before you even decide where to invest it?"

The numbers: You're making $50,000 a year. You put 6 percent ($3,000) a year into your 401(k) and your employer matches 3 percent. The money appreciates at 8 percent a year, which approximates the S&P 500 Index return the past decade. You do not get a raise in those 10 years. (Sorry.)

After those 10 years, though, your 401(k) would be worth $69,062.

Total amount invested: $30,000.

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