1. Grab all the tax-free money you can. If your company matches your 401(k) contributions, sock away at least as much as it takes to get your employer's full contribution. Otherwise, it's like walking away from free money.
2. Expect tax rates to rise. If it makes sense to dump a stock or other long-term investment, sell before the tax bite gets bigger than today's low capital-gains rates.
3. Tax-deferred investments aren't always the best option. A mutual fund with low costs and smart management of its gains should beat a tax-deferred annuity with similar performance but high fees because the annuity turns its profits into ordinary income.
4. Paying some tax now can save you far more later. The obvious example is converting from a regular IRA to a Roth IRA. You'll pay income taxes now on the amount you convert but nothing after you've retired on the earnings your Roth generates.
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