5 Ways You Could Be Hurting Your Financial Future

03/23/2015 10:05 am ET | Updated Mar 23, 2015
Jupiterimages via Getty Images

Can you chart the smartest financial course? Test your sense of direction.

By Suze Orman

We all know we should live within our means and save for retirement, but the shrewdest financial moves aren't always so obvious. For each scenario below, see if you can determine whether you're heading the right way or veering off track.

Scenario 1: Your fiancé has credit card debt and a lousy credit score, so you've decided to keep your finances separate after you marry.

Suze: Wrong Way

I understand why you want to stay financially independent, but this strategy isn't a permanent solution. There's no such thing as totally separate finances. If you intend to buy a house, his credit score can affect your ability to get a mortgage. Also consider the bigger picture: Money is a critical issue, and left unaddressed, it can strain your relationship. Talk to your fiancé about marrying your approaches to spending and saving before you wed.

Scenario 2: After landing a new job with a great salary, you plan to cash out the $12,000 you've saved in your old 401(k) to pay off your debts and start fresh.

Suze: Wrong Way

I appreciate that you want to get out of debt, but you're forfeiting a valuable opportunity to grow your retirement fund. More than 40 percent of people who left a job in 2013 made the mistake of cashing out their 401(k) accounts. If you take out $12,000 today, you won't pocket the full amount. You'll have to pay income tax, not to mention a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if you're under 55. If you fall into the 25 percent tax bracket, for instance, you'll take home at most $7,800. If you leave $12,000 growing at an annualized return of 6 percent (an estimate based on historical returns for a diversified portfolio) for 25 years, you'll wind up with more than $50,000.

Scenario 3: You rely on a debit card without overdraft coverage, but you also have a credit card that you use a few times a month.

Suze: Right Track

It's great that you live within your means, paying as you go with a debit card, which has only as much spending power as the account it's linked to. Using a credit card means you're also increasing your credit score (since debit card transactions aren't factored in). By making a few purchases and paying off the balance every month, you'll help build a strong credit score, which can make you eligible for the best deals on loans.

Scenario 4: You've set up your withholding allowances so that you always receive a hefty tax refund.

Suze: Wrong Way

You're putting your money at risk. Thieves took billions of dollars in refunds in 2013 by using stolen Social Security numbers and other personal data. If your identity is compromised, you might have difficulty claiming your refund. Adjust your withholding so you pay just enough to meet your tax obligation. Take advantage of your larger paychecks by making monthly deposits into your emergency savings account or Roth IRA.

Scenario 5: Your employer provides free life insurance, but you buy another term-life policy anyway.

Suze: Right Track

Many employers offer a death benefit equal to just one or two years' salary. That's not really enough. If you have dependents who rely on your paycheck, you need a policy that will pay out 25 times your household's annual income needs. You can find affordable options for term-life insurance at SelectQuote.com and AccuQuote.com.

Also on HuffPost:

Personal Finance Tips From Suze Orman
Suggest a correction