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Hitting age 40 can be a major wakeup call for a lot of people. The cold, hard fact of the number often throws people into a panic, reminding them that they haven’t got all that long to work for their own future, and the future of their whole family. If you’re approaching this big milestone, or you’ve just passed it, here are some important steps you should be taking to assure a stable future…

Shave Down your Debt

If you still have credit card debt, student loan debt or outstanding debts from medical bills, the next priority on your list should be shaving down and ultimately eliminating that debt, so you can put more towards saving and investing for the future. With credit card debt, the only real option you have is to set a plan for paying it down quickly, and then stick to it. If you still have debt from a student loan, the first thing you should do is see if it’s tax-deductible based on your bracket. If not, you’ll simply have to work at paying it down, but your cards should take priority. Aside from this basic financial planning, you should also check the interest rates on your cards and loans, and see if you can find anything lower.

Save for College

The advice from most financial advisors is that you should start planning to save for your kids’ college education more or less as soon as they’re conceived, even if you’ve only got a small amount to spare. Hopefully, you’ll be able to increase the amount you regularly put away through stocks, real estate, forex or other investments. You can enter a 529 college savings plan in order to shave down the amount you or your kids have to borrow in order to go to college. A lot of state universities run their own paid tuition plans that will allow you to lock down the cost of tuition at current rates. Obviously though, you or your child may have a more prestigious (but less accessible) school. A lot of families will need to sit down and think of realistic ways to minimize the cost of education, like spending a couple of years at a community college before a four-year university.

Max Out your Employee Benefits

As soon as you reach your 40s, you should be putting as much money in your 401(k) as your employer matches as a bare minimum. Even if you aren’t making any profit on this investment, your money will double just from your employer matching it. Retirement plans vary from business to business, so take steps to find out how much you can contribute, and if it’s practical, maximize what you’re putting in up to that limit. There’ll usually be someone at your work who can explain everything you need to know about different investment options. Most importantly, you need to understand why it’s generally better to make proactive investments when you’re in your 40s, rather than when retirement is just around the corner.

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We all know that midlife can be a time of profound challenges as well as great opportunities. Most people in their 50s have to cope with the rising costs of tuition for their kids and they worry about losing their jobs, just in case they can’t afford retirement. But they also have the luxury of not having to pay other costs associated with children, as well as the fact that they are in their peak earning years.

It’s a good idea when you’re making the most money to put as much of it away as possible and build your own wealth fund. According to a study by Hearts and Wallets, the most successful savers, those who built their nest eggs to ten times their pay, did it by saving around 15 percent of their income for 10 years. Here’s how to go about it the smart way.

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Accept Help

You might not think it, but the free advice offered as part of your 401(k) plan might actually be beneficial. It turns out that those who accept advice on their 401(k)s actually end up getting a higher return than those that don’t. A study by Financial Engines and Aon Hewitt found that returns for people getting advice were between 1.9 and 2.9 percent higher.

Become A Landlord

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If you’ve got some spare capital sloshing about, could you get a better return by investing in a rental property? The chances are that you could if you put your money into a house located in an up-and-coming area. Right now prices on properties in booming cities like San Francisco and Dallas are sky high, but there are opportunities elsewhere, especially in areas likely to benefit from working and middle-class rejuvenation. Keep track of trends like demographics, wages rates and employment to predict where rental incomes will grow the fastest.

Transfer Your Assets And Defer Tax

At some point in your 50s, you’ll probably want to convert your assets from one category to another. The problem with doing this, however, is that the taxman will want to take a cut, locking you into certain investment classes. There is a solution, however. A 1031 exchange property allows you to defer taxes you pay to the IRS if you want to convert the assets held in your house into some other form. Of course, you’ll eventually have to pay capital gains when you cash in your investments, but you’ll also avoid paying tax in the interim, potentially saving you a lot of money in the process.

Find Out How Much Your Investments Are Costing You

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Something like 60 percent of investors never takes the time to calculate how much their advisers are paid, thinking that their advice is free. It’s not, of course, meaning that it pays to shop around, especially over the long term. Even an adviser charge of 1 percent digs into your interest payments substantially and could end up costing you thousands of dollars over the long term. Find out exactly how much money is being taken out of your investments to see whether you could get a better deal.

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Before you invest your money, you need to think about what the wisest investment to make is. Here are some of the best investment options this year.

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are good for beginners because you don’t have to take any big risks or decisions for yourself. Mutual funds pool together the money of many different investors and then the manager running the operation will invest that cash in bonds and different stocks. It takes out a lot of the risk involved in investing.

You should make sure you check out the experience and track record of the manager before you invest though. Some mutual funds are managed passively and other actively. Actively managed funds are the best option because the manager reacts to trends in the market to find the best results.

Gold

Gold is like a port in the storm. It’s the best investment option for people who don’t like the risks of investing but still want the rewards. Gold goes up and down in value the same as other types of investment. But it’s nowhere near as volatile as other types of investment. This means you won’t lose huge amounts of money if you invest in gold.

Other types of precious metals like silver and platinum are good for investing in as well. If you’re going to invest in silver, make sure it’s 90% Silver. That is the best form of silver to invest in at the moment. Platinum is doing very well on the market at the moment, so don’t rule out that option either.

Stocks

Buying stocks and shares is the most conventional and straightforward form of investment. Playing the stock market isn’t for everyone. You have to be attentive and on the ball at all times. You need to monitor the market and adjust your investments accordingly. This can make it a lot of fun as well though.

When you’re starting out, it’s important to remain cautious. Don’t be tempted to put all your money into one company. You should spread your investments so that you don’t run the risk of losing your cash if they company fails. By spreading your investments across various companies, you’ll be able to handle setbacks.

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Real Estate

Investing in property takes time and effort, but it can be hugely rewarding as well. You have to start by finding the right property to buy. It should be something with a lot of potential and pulling power on the market. Having said that, it doesn’t need to be in great shape. Look for rough diamonds that you can improve and sell on at a profit.

Once you have your first home bought and renovated, you can rent it out, or you can sell it on immediately. When you have the taste for it, you’ll probably want to go back for more. As your confidence grows, you’ll be able to build up a solid portfolio and make a lot of money in the process.

These options are the best forms of investment in 2015, so think about which one is best for you.

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Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company run by Warren Buffett, has reported a record $19.5 billion profit for 2013, up from $14.8 billion in 2012.

Warren Buffett wrote to shareholders: “On the operating front, just about everything turned out well for us last year – in some cases very well.”

However, Berkshire Hathaway underperformed the S&P 500 share index for the fifth year in a row.

The growth in the company’s book value – the company’s assets minus its liabilities and Warren Buffett’s preferred measure of Berkshire’s performance – was 18.2% in 2013, while the S&P 500 rose 32.4%.

Warren Buffett said that was to be expected when the S&P performed well.

“We have underperformed in 10 of our 49 years, with all but one of our shortfalls occurring when the S&P gain exceeded 15%.”

Warren Buffett’s investment company Berkshire Hathaway has reported a record $19.5 billion profit for 2013

Warren Buffett’s investment company Berkshire Hathaway has reported a record $19.5 billion profit for 2013

He added that the fund had outperformed the stock market between 2007 and 2013 and that through a full six year cycle he expected to do that again.

“If we fail to do so, we will not have earned our pay,” he wrote.

Warren Buffett, ranked fourth on the Forbes rich list, pointed to a strong performance in the firm’s insurance, rail and energy businesses for the increase in profit.

These include the auto insurer Geico, General Reinsurance, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and the electric utility MidAmerican Energy.

Berkshire Hathaway increased its stake in the US companies Coca-Cola, American Express, IBM and Wells Fargo but reduced its ownership in the UK retailer Tesco – to 3.7% from 5.2%.

Warren Buffett did acknowledge he had made mistakes in some of his investments in the manufacturing, service and retail industries, some of which saw “very poor returns”.

“I was not misled: I simply was wrong in my evaluation of the economic dynamics of the company or the industry in which it operated,” he said.

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