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Mutual Funds

Save Money on Practically Everything, 2011: Investing and Financial Planning

Slash investing costs

Target mutual fund expenses and trading commissions to improve your returns.

Vanguard has made saving on fund fees even easier by lowering the minimum investment for its ultra-low-cost Admiral shares to $10,000 for many index funds. Say you want to put $50,000 into U.S. stocks, the same amount into bonds and $20,000 into emerging-markets stocks. If you invest in funds with the average expense ratio in those categories, you'd pay $1,502 a year in fees. But if you divide your money among Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (symbol VTSAX), Vanguard Intermediate-Term Bond Index (VBILX) and Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index (VEMAX), your annual tab will come to just $149. And you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that with such index funds, you'll beat the return of most investors.

Brokerage commissions have come down dramatically in recent decades. But with a little planning, you could avoid paying trading costs altogether. If you have at least $25,000 in your brokerage account, Zecco will give you ten free stock trades each month -- saving you up to $100 per month compared with the $10 per trade common among other brokers. Don't have that much invested? Just2Trade's $2.50 stock commissions are rock-bottom.

TOTAL ANNUAL SAVINGS: $2,553 (switching to Admiral funds and avoiding fees on ten stock trades per month)


Pump up your 401(k)

Leverage your tax cut.

Most American workers will get a 2% pay hike this year, thanks to the temporary payroll-tax holiday that decreases the Social Security rate from 6.2% to 4.2% on up to $106,800 in earnings. Say you are 30 years old and earn $50,000 a year. Your one-year tax cut amounts to $1,000, or about $19 a week. Stash that found money in your 401(k) and it could be worth $16,000 at age 66, assuming an 8% rate of return. Plus, you'll save $250 in taxes if you're in the 25% bracket.

Try munis

Cut taxes with this simple switch.

These days many tax-exempt bonds and funds pay close to the yield of comparable taxable bonds. For example, Vanguard's Intermediate Term Bond Index fund (symbol VBIIX) yields 4%, but you could switch to Vanguard's Intermediate Term Tax-Exempt Bond fund (VWITX), which is paying 3.7%. In the 25% tax bracket, you'll make $7 more per $1,000 ($37 versus $30) with the tax-exempt fund.
ANNUAL SAVINGS: $140 (assuming $20,000 invested)


Make bank fees disappear

Strategies to nip those nagging charges on credit cards and ATM withdrawals.

Automatic debit is probably offered by your credit-card issuer, utility or loan servicer and is easy to sign up for. Use it to pay your credit-card bill, for example, and eliminate late fees that can cost as much as $35 a month. Or sign up for e-bills via your bank's online bill pay.
ANNUAL SAVINGS: $175 (five fewer late fees a year)

Surcharge-free ATM withdrawals are worth investigating, given that the average cost of an out-of-network withdrawal is now $3.74. Avoid the fee by choosing a checking account such as PNC's Performance Checking, which reimburses all ATM fees, or the free online Electric Orange checking account at ING Direct, which is a member of the surcharge-free Allpoint ATM network.
ANNUAL SAVINGS: $90 (eliminate two fees a month)

Interest-free credit-card debt is still around thanks to 0% balance-transfer deals. Americans owe an average of $14,333 per household in card debt. But you can transfer your balance to, for example, the Citi Platinum Select MasterCard with its 21-month, 0% balance-transfer offer. If your balance is $5,000 and you pay it off in a year, you'll save $484 in interest, less a $150 transfer fee, assuming you're dumping an 18% credit card.



Mortgage refi

Lower your rate, and save on title insurance, too.

Monthly mortgage payments take up the lion's share of most household budgets, so refinancing can produce substantial savings. Sure, you missed out on historically rock-bottom rates near 4% last fall. But with the interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate loan at about 5%, now is still a good time to refinance.

Slashing your rate from 6.5% to 5% on a 30-year loan will save you 15% on your monthly payment. On a $200,000 mortgage, that translates into a savings of almost $190 per month. To see how much you'd save, use the How much will my mortgage payments be? calculator at Of course, for a refi to pay off, you must stay in the house long enough to recoup any closing costs, which typically amount to 3% to 6% of the loan.
SAVINGS: $2,280.


If you're refinancing, you can reap a one-time savings by finding cheaper title insurance. There is room for discounting because as much as 80% of the premium goes to paying a commission to a title agent.

For example, Entitle Direct charges lower premiums because it eliminates the middleman. Homeowners in Chicago, New York and Orlando who refinance a $200,000 mortgage would save at least 35%, or $350, off a $1,000-plus premium charged by Entitle Direct's major competitors. (You could save several hundred dollars more if you're eligible for a reissue discount; you may be eligible if it has been fewer than ten years since you took the original loan.) The company currently operates in 32 states. To get a free rate quote, visit

TOTAL ANNUAL SAVINGS: $2,280 (refinancing a $200,000 mortgage)