When it comes to building a life you love, a host of choices can play a role. If you take care of your body through regular exercise and healthy nutrition, for example, it’s more likely you’ll enjoy good health. If you strive to do your best work your job, you have a better shot at a raise or a promotion.
But when it comes to money, the “right” thing isn’t always cut and dry. Many financial questions have more than one good answer. You’ll likely need to make some tough choices. Here are four of the biggest financial decisions you’ll have to make in life — whether you want to or not.
Roth vs. traditional IRA
While traditional workers typically save for retirement in an employer-sponsored account like a 401(k), most people have the option to invest more money in a traditional individual retirement account or Roth IRA. In 2018, you can invest up to $5,500 across both types of accounts (or $6,500 if you’re ages 50 and older). (Want a bigger nest egg? Try these five ways to save more for retirement.)
Which should you choose? According to financial adviser and retirement podcast host Benjamin Brandt, you should consider two factors — time in the market and future taxable income.
Brandt says a Roth IRA can be appealing for young investors since funds invested have tremendous potential for compounding growth. And since funds invested in a Roth IRA are after-tax dollars, retirees can take withdrawals tax-free starting at age 59 ½.
Some investors deduct contributions to a traditional IRA may be better off with this option, particularly if they are older and believe they will earn less in retirement than in their working years, says Brandt.
With a Roth IRA or traditional IRA, you’re either paying taxes on your contributions now or later. The right option can vary, so consider the pros and cons before you decide.
Buy or lease a car
Another important financial decision has to do with one of the most popular depreciating assets Americans buy — their automobiles. You can buy a car if you want, but you also have the option to lease a car. While leasing doesn’t allow you to build equity, it protects you from paying for major car repairs that can destroy your budget or decimate your emergency fund.
Still, leasing is typically a poor financial decision, says San Diego financial planner Taylor Schulte.
“Although it's nice to have a new car every few years and potentially deduct a portion of the payment through a business, leasing a car means you will forever have a car payment dragging down your monthly savings rate,” he said. “If you want the best deal, spend time finding a reliable used car that fits your needs or attempt to ditch the car altogether.”
Schulte says that, between public transportation, ride-sharing programs, and ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, there are more alternatives to owning a car than ever.
Credit or debit
Another financial decision you’ll need to make can have a lifelong impact on your finances. Should you use credit cards for convenience, rewards and consumer protections? Or should you stick to debit and avoid the temptation of overspending and debt?
Schulte says credit cards can be a solid choice for consumers who have proven they can actively use a credit card and pay off the balance each month. But the opposite is also true.
“If you miss payments and pay interest and penalties, you will quickly offset any benefits the card might be providing,” he says.
If you’re prone to take on debt, miss payments or overspend when you use credit cards, you’re better off skipping them and sticking to cash or debit instead.
Term life or whole life
Chances are, you need a certain level of life insurance to cover your final expenses and debts when you die. If you have kids, you’re the breadwinner in your home, or you have considerable debts, you may need 10 times your annual income or more in coverage to feel secure.
You need to choose which type of life insurance to buy. While there are many different variations to choose from, most people buy either term life insurance or whole life insurance. While term life insurance lasts for a specific term (usually 10 to 30 years), whole life lasts, as you might guess, your whole life
While whole life insurance may seem like a good idea, these policies are often expensive. That’s why most people are better off with a high-quality term life insurance policy that replaces their income in the event of their death.
On the flip side, a whole life insurance policy could make sense in some situations. Make sure to weigh the pros and cons and compare costs (and the opportunity costs of buying expensive whole life instead of term) before you decide.