What Is Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A)?

What Is Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A)?

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Financial planning and analysis (FP&A) is the process businesses use to prepare budgets, generate forecasts, analyze profitability and otherwise inform senior management decisions of how to implement the company’s strategy most effectively and efficiently. The FP&A functions can be accomplished by an individual or a team working alongside other finance professionals such as the controller and treasurer and reporting to the chief financial officer (CFO). While FP&A is often performed by people with an accounting background, it differs from accounting by focusing primarily on forward-looking information as opposed to historical data.

Typical members of an FP&A team include financial analysts and one or more FP&A managers charged with coordinating the work of the analysts. In larger organizations, a director or vice president of FP&A oversees the overall process and strategic direction and communicates with the CFO, CEO and members of the board of directors.

FP&A Functions

To fulfill its function of providing information and insight connecting corporate strategy and execution, FP&A performs a wide range of activities. These can be divided into a few broad categories including planning and budgeting, forecasting and management reporting.

The central output of the FP&A process consists of long- and short-term plans. The job requires using financial and operational data gathered from throughout the company. A key part of the FP&A process is collecting and combining a wide variety of figures from operations, sales, marketing and accounting departments to produce a unified view of the entire business that can guide strategy decisions by senior executives and board members.

Producing budgets is a big part of the FP&A planning function. Budgets describe expectations for the timing and amounts of arriving income, cash generation, disbursements to pay bills and debt reductions. Budgets may be monthly, quarterly and annually. Often FP&A creates a rolling budget for the following 12-month period that will be reviewed, adjusted and extended at the end of each quarter. FP&A also creates income statements and cash flow statements.

One of the performance reporting functions of FP&A is identifying variances when actual numbers reported by business units don’t match up to the budgeted amounts. In addition to identifying and quantifying variances, FP&A can offer recommendations for strategies that could be used to bring actual results in line with expectations.

Reports and forecasts from FP&A may be presented to the board of directors, to the CEO or other senior executives or to outside stakeholders such as lenders and investors. At a strategic level, decision makers use these analyses to choose how best to allocate the company’s resources.

Public companies reply on FP&A to provide shareholders and analysts with guidance on revenue and profits for upcoming quarters and fiscal years. The accuracy of the guidance supplied to the markets can have a sizable effect on stock prices.

Decision Support

Along with the ongoing responsibility to produce budgets, plans and forecasts, FP&A may also be called upon to support specific management decisions. For instance, it might analyze a merger or acquisition proposal to enable management to decide whether to pursue it or not. Other special projects delegated to FP&A could include analyzing internal incompatibilities and bottlenecks and making recommendations about how to improve the company’s processes.

Initiatives to find ways to trim costs and make a business more efficient are also likely to involve input from FP&A specialists. Because it is in constant communication with all areas of the company in order to gather data for its budgets and plans, FP&A is well suited to optimization efforts.

FP&A’s responsibilities could extend to nearly any department in the company, from operations to marketing to finance. For instance, FP&A may conduct internal audits, research markets or evaluate individual customer profitability. FP&A could also be called upon to provide risk management insights or assess the financial impact of tax policy decisions.

Bottom Line

Financial planning and analysis involves gathering financial and other data from throughout a business’s various departments and using that to generate projections, forecasts and reports to help executives make optimum business decisions. Annual and quarterly budgets and forecasts, profit-and-loss statements, cash flow projections and similar decision-making tools are all produced by FP&A.

Tips for Small Business Owners

  • Financial planning and analysis is a job best handled by an experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • The 80/20 Rule can help businesses gain insight into issues and opportunities so they can respond more effectively and efficiently. By identifying elements contributing most to a given outcome, businesses can better target resources to remove obstacles and exploit openings.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/kali9, ©iStock.com/Maica, ©iStock.com/Korrawin

Mark Henricks Mark Henricks has reported on personal finance, investing, retirement, entrepreneurship and other topics for more than 30 years. His freelance byline has appeared on CNBC.com and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and other leading publications. Mark has written books including, “Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You A Life.” His favorite reporting is the kind that helps ordinary people increase their personal wealth and life satisfaction. A graduate of the University of Texas journalism program, he lives in Austin, Texas. In his spare time he enjoys reading, volunteering, performing in an acoustic music duo, whitewater kayaking, wilderness backpacking and competing in triathlons.
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Source: smartasset.com

The 8 Best Vanguard Funds for Long-Term Investments

If you’re busy and want to invest your money in the long term, you will love the best vanguard funds. They are cheaper.

They are high quality funds, well diversified, and professionally managed.

Thus, vanguard funds are a favorite for long-term investments and for retirement.

Vanguard mutual funds, like any mutual funds, are money invested by investors. They are pooled together in a single investment portfolio. The mutual fund is then managed by a professional manager who then use the money to buy a bunch of stocks, bonds or other assets.

With Vanguard index funds, they are passively managed. That is, they are managed by a computer with its only job is to track an index, such as the S&P 500.

Nonetheless, both mutual funds and index funds are cost-efficient and a huge time saver for a busy investor. And because of that, the best vanguard funds are superior investment vehicles for long term-investment. 

In this article,  we will discuss the 8 best vanguard funds that offer a high-quality, cost and time-efficient way to invest in the stock market.

Understanding the Advantages of the Best Vanguard Funds

Before jumping into the best vanguard funds, it’s important to go over the main reasons for investing in mutual or index funds rather than individual stocks, bonds, or other securities.

Diversification. You have probably heard of the popular saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Well, if so, it applies well to mutual and index funds. Diversification is when you have a mix of investment to help control the total risk of your investment portfolio.

Unless you have a lot of money, buying individual stocks yourself can be costly. But with a mutual or index fund, you’re able to buy dozens of stocks and invest in different types of stocks in a variety of industries, thus diversifying your portfolio.

Because you invest in multiple stocks across various industries, you are spreading your risk. If one stock plummets, the others can balance it out. Most Vanguard funds, if not all, are diversified.

Low minimum investment. Another benefit of Vanguard funds is that they require a reasonable investment minimum. Some Vanguard mutual funds require a minimum of $3000 to invest. They also offer a monthly investment plan, so you can start with as little as $20 per month.

Cost efficiency. The charges that you pay to buy or sell a fund can be significant. However Vanguard funds are known to cost way less than the average mutual fund.

Professional management. Even if you have a lot and you are an expert in investing, investing your money in a Vanguard mutual fund is a huge time saver. That means once you buy your fund and contribute to it monthly (however you chose), you can just forget about it.

A Vanguard professional manager takes care of it for you. Plus, vanguard fund managers are experienced, well educated. So you don’t have to worry about an inexperienced manager running your money.

These are the reasons why investing in the best vanguard funds is better than investing in individual stocks and/or bonds.

However, one of the drawbacks with vanguard funds, as with all mutual or index funds, is that you don’t have control over your investment portfolio. Leaving your money to someone who decides when and what to invest in can be difficult for you if you’re someone who likes to be in control.

So, if you like to be in control and things yourself, you may want to develop your own investment portfolio and not relying on these Vanguard funds.

Are you a long-term investor?

Think about yourself and your goals before choosing these best Vanguard funds.

What are your investment goals? Do you plan on holding these funds in the long term?

A long term investor is someone who puts money into an investment product for a long period of time.

If you plan on investing money to achieve some goals in 2 years, such as buying a car or going on a vacation, you should not use these Vanguard Funds.

That is because stocks and bonds can rise and fall significantly over a short period of time. That makes it possible to lose some or all of your money. Moreover, if you need cash in a hurry, a Vanguard fund is definitely not the right investment for you.

So you’re better off using short-term investments for these kind of goals.

But if you want to build wealth for the long term or your goal is to retire in 20 or 40 years, these Vanguard funds are for you.

Likewise, what is your appetite for risk?

A long-term investor should be aware of the risks involved in investing in the stock market. They should know their own risk tolerance. Some investors are more cautious than others. Some can take risks and are able to sleep well at night.

These vanguard funds carry different level of risks. Some are more conservative than the others. 

Therefore, before you start buying Vanguard funds, figure out whether you are a long term investor. In other words, don’t keep money in funds unless you plan on holding them for at least 5 years.

The 8 Best Vanguard Funds to Buy Now for Long-Term Investments

Now that you have a pretty good idea of why a Vanguard fund is a good long-term investment, and you are aware of your risk tolerance, below is 8 of the top and best Vanguard funds to buy now for the long term. If you have questions beyond Vanguard funds, it may make sense to work with a financial planner or financial advisor near you.

Vanguard Total Stock Market Admiral (VTSAX)

  • Minimum initial investment:$3000
  • Expenses:0.04%

The biggest and perhaps one of the best Vanguard funds is the Vanguard Total Stock Market. The fund was created in 1992. It gives long term investors a broad exposure to the entire US equity market, including large, mid, and small cap growth stocks. Some of the largest stocks include Apple, Facebook, Johnson And Johnson, Alphabet, Berkshire Hathaway, etc…

This Vanguard fund has all of the attributes mentioned above, i.e., diversification and low costs. Note this fund invests exclusively in stock. So it’s the most aggressive Vanguard fund around.You need a minimum of $3000 to invest in this fund. The expenses are 0.04%, which is extremely low. Note this is also available as an ETF, with an expense ratio of 0.03%.

Vanguard 500 Index (VFIAX)

  • Minimum initial investment:$3,000
  • Expenses: 0.04%

If you want to have your money invested only in American assets, this Vanguard fund is the right one for you. The Vanguard 500 Index, as the name suggests tracks the S&P 500 index.

This index funds gives you exposure to 500 of the largest U.S. companies, spreading across different industries, making it one of the best Vanguard funds to have. Some of the largest companies you might already know include Microsoft, Apple, Visa, JP Morgan Chase, Facebook, etc. It has a minimum investment of $3,000 with an expense ratio of 0.04&, making it one of the best Vanguard funds to have. 

Vanguard Wellington Income Investor Share (VWINX)

  • Minimum initial investment:
  • Expenses:

If you’re aware of risks involved in investing in stocks and you have a low tolerance for risk, the Vanguard wellington Income is for you. This fund allocates about one third to stocks and two thirds to bonds, making it very conservative.

Another good thing about this Vanguard fund is that it invests in stocks that have a strong track record of providing dividend income to its investors. So, if you are one of those long term investors who has a low appetite for risks and who likes to receive a steady dividend payment without a lot of volatility in the share price, you should consider this fund.

Vanguard Star (VGSTX)

  • Minimum initial investment: $1,000
  • Expenses: 0.31%

The great thing about this Vanguard fund is that the minimum investment is relatively low ($1000), making it a good choice among new investors. Plus, it’s well balanced.

It is invested 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds. For those investors looking for a broad diversification in both domestic and international stocks and bonds, this fund should not be overlooked.

Vanguard Dividend Growth (VDIGX)

  • Minimum initial investment:$3000
  • Expenses:0.22%

Vanguard Dividend Growth, as the name suggests, focuses on companies that pay dividends and have the ability to grow their dividends over time.

If you’re an investor with a long term focus and likes to receive a steady dividend income, you may want to consider this fund. The minimum investment is $3000 with an expense ratio of 0.22%.

Vanguard Health Care (VGHCX)

  • Minimum initial investment: $3,000
  • Expenses: 0.34%

As the name suggests, Vanguard Health Care only invests in the Health Care Section. That’s the only downside. Apart from that, it gives investors a great exposure to various domestic and international companies within the health care sector, such as pharmaceutical firms, research firms, and medical supply and equipment companies.

If you’re considering this Vanguard fund, you should also have another and more diversified fund to reduce your risk.

Vanguard International Growth (VWIGX)

  • Minimum initial investment: $3000
  • Expenses: 0.43%

If you’re looking to build a complete investment portfolio and want to have more exposure to foreign stocks, the Vanguard International Growth is the one of the best Vanguard Funds to accomplish that goal. The fund focuses on non-U.S. stocks in developed and emerging markets with a high growth potential.

However, one thing to consider is the high volatility of this fund. Because it also invests in developed countries, the share price can rise and fall significantly. So you should consider this fund if you want more exposure to foreign stocks. But you also want to have another fund as well to balance it out. The minimum initial investment is $3,000 with an expense ratio of 0.43%.

Vanguard Total Bond Market Index (VTBLX)

  • Minimum initial investment: $3000
  • Expenses: 0.05%

Bond funds may be appropriate and advantageous for long term investors who want a bond fund that invests US and Corporate bonds. If that’s your goal then the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index is the right one for you.

Just as any Vanguard funds, it’s cost efficient, safe and high quality. It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000 and an expense ration of 0.05%. Also note that this fund is also available as an ETF.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking to invest in mutual or index funds, those are the best Vanguard funds to buy now and hold for the long term. They are high quality, low-cost, and are safe. 

Related:

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).

Source: growthrapidly.com

What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans?

Investing in your retirement early is the best way to ensure financial stability as you age, especially when it comes to understanding various retirement options. Getting started may feel overwhelming — luckily we’re here to help. We help break down the difference between 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, and how they can impact your financial life.

You may already know the value in adjusting your budget to make saving for a rainy day a priority. But are you also prioritizing your retirement savings? If you’re just getting started in the workforce and looking for ways to invest in yourself, 401(k) and 403(b) plans are great options to know about. And, the main difference between a 401(k) and a 403(b) is the company who’s offering them.

401(k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies and 403(b) accounts are offered by nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university companies. To understand the similarities and differences between plans in depth, skip to the sections below or keep reading for an in-depth explanation.

How a 401(k) Works
How a 403(b) Works
The Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b)
The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)
5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
What is a 401(k) and 403(b)

How a 401(k) Works

A 401(k) is a retirement account set up by for-profit employers for employees to contribute before-tax earnings. Employer-sponsored 401(k) accounts give employees the opportunity to build retirement savings in different forms — including company stocks, before-tax earnings, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Each company’s retirement plans may vary on benefits like employee matching, stock options, and more. In addition, you’re able to choose how much you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis. Keep in mind, both 401(k) and 403(b) plans have a yearly limit of $19,500 with your employer matches. Plus, most retirement funds have required minimum distributions (RMDs) by the time you turn 70. This essentially means you have to take a minimum amount of money out each month whether you want to or not.

In most cases, employers will offer 401(k) matching to encourage consistent contributions. For example, your employer match may be 50 cents of every dollar you contribute up to six percent of your salary. For example, with this employer match on a $40,000 salary, you would contribute $200 and your employer would contribute an additional $100 each month. This pattern would continue until your annual contributions hit $2,400 and your employer contributes $1,200.

Employee matching is essentially free money. You’re monetarily rewarded for your retirement payments. Be sure to pay attention to vesting periods when setting up your employer match. Vesting periods are an agreed amount of time you need to work at a company before you receive your 401(k) benefits. For example, some companies may require you to work for their team for a year before earning retirement benefits. Other employers may offer retirement benefits starting the day you start working with them.

How a 403(b) Works

A 403(b) is a retirement account made by employers for tax-exempt, charitable nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. Organizations that qualify for 403(b) accounts include school boards, public schools, churches, hospitals, and more. This type of account is also known as a tax-sheltered annuity plan — they allow pre-tax income to be invested until taken out.

Employers that offer 403(b) retirement plans may offer a pool of provider options that undergo nondiscrimination testing. This allows employers that qualify for this account to shop around for plans that offer the best benefits and don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). For instance, some 403(b) accounts may charge more administrative fees than others.

Employers are able to offer employee matching on 403(b) accounts if they decide to. To cut costs for nonprofit companies, 403(b) retirement plans generally cost less than 401(k) accounts. Costs associated with starting up these accounts may not affect you, but it may affect your employer.

Account Type 401(k) 403(b)
Yearly Contribution Limit $19,500 $19,500
Employer-Issued Packages For-profit employers:
Corporations, private establishments, etc. and sole proprietors
Non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employers:
School boards, public schools, hospitals, etc.
Minimum Withdrawal Age 59.5 years old 59.5 years old
Early Withdrawal Fees 10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary 10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
Source: IRS.org

The Differences Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Both a 401(k) and 403(b) are similar in the way they operate, but they do have a few differences. Here are the biggest contrasts to be aware of:

  • Eligibility: 401(k) retirement plans are issued by for-profit employers and the self employed, 403(b) retirement plans are for tax-exempt, non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. As well as Hospitals and Charities.
  • Investment options: 401(k)s offer more investment opportunities than 403(b)s. 401(k) accounts may include mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds, while 403(b) accounts only offer annuities and mutual funds. Each employer varies in retirement benefits — reach out to a trusted financial advisor if you have questions about your account.
  • Employer expenses: 401(k) accounts are generally more expensive than 403(b) accounts. For-profit 401(k) accounts may pay sales charges, management fees, recordkeeping, and other additional expenses. 403(b) plans may have lower administrative costs to avoid adding a burden for non-profit establishments. These costs vary depending on the employer.
  • Nondiscrimination testing: This form of testing ensures that 403(b) retirement plans are not offered in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). However, 401(k) plans do not require this test.

The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Aside from their differences, both accounts are set up to aid employees in retirement savings. Here’s how:

  • Contribution limits: Both accounts cap your annual contributions at $19,500. In the event you contribute over this limit, your earnings will be distributed back to you by April 15th. If you’re under your retirement contributions by the time you’re 50 years old, you’re allowed to make catch-up contributions. This means that, if you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,500 more than the yearly contribution limit.
  • Withdrawal eligibility: You must be at least 59.5 years old before withdrawing your retirement savings. In the case of an emergency, you may be eligible for early withdrawal. However, you may be charged penalties, taxes, and fees for doing so.
  • Employer matching: Both retirement account options allow employers to match your contributions, but are not required to. When starting your retirement fund, ask your HR representative about potential benefits and employer matching.
  • Early withdrawal penalties: If you choose to withdraw your retirement savings early, you may be penalized. In most cases, you need a valid reason to withdraw your funds early. Eligible reasons may include outstanding debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or medical bills. In addition, you may be charged a 10 percent penalty fee, taxes, and other fees. During a downturned economy, as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees may be waived.

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings

Contributing to a 401(k) or 403(b) can help grow your investments at a reduced risk. You’re able to grow your non-taxed income to put towards your future goals. The more you contribute, the more you may have by the time you retire. Here are a few tips to get ahead of the game and invest in your financial future.

1. Create a Retirement Account Early

It’s never too late to start a retirement account. If you’re currently employed, but haven’t set up your retirement account, reach out to your HR representative. Ask about retirement plan options and their benefits. When employers offer retirement matches, consider contributing as much as you can to meet their match.

2. Set up Monthly Automatic Contributions

Save time and energy by setting up automatic contributions. You may feel less interested in contributing to your retirement as your payday approaches. Taking time to set up a retirement fund and budgeting for this change may be holding you back. To meet your retirement goals, consider setting up automatic payments through your employer. After a while, you may not even notice the slight budget adjustment.

3. Leverage Employer Matching

Employer matching is essentially free money. Employers may put money towards your future for nothing but your own contribution. This encourages employees to consistently put money towards their retirement savings. Not only are you able to earn extra money each month, but this “free money” will grow with interest over time. If you can, match your employer’s contribution percentage, if not more.

4. Avoid Early Withdrawal

Credit card balances, student loans, and mortgages can be stressful. Instead of withdrawing early from your retirement fund to pay for these, consider other debt payoff methods. If you’re eligible to withdraw from your retirement early, you may face penalty fees, taxes, and administrative expenses. This may hinder your savings potential or push back your desired retirement date.

5. Contribute Your Future Raises and Bonuses

If you’re saving less than $19,500 to your retirement fund this year, consider contributing more. If you earn a bonus or a raise, stick to your current budget and consider increasing your contributions. Ask your employer to increase your retirement payments right before you receive a bonus or raise. The more you contribute, the more interest you’ll accrue over time.

Whether your retirement funds are established through a 401(k) or a 403(b), these accounts offer you the chance to build your financial portfolio. Consistently funding your retirement account may better your financial plan and set you at ease. As your contributions age, so do your interest earnings. You’ll be able to make money on your pre-taxed income and set your future self up for success. Get started by checking in on your budget and carving out a specific amount to put towards your retirement each month.

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