Q. Can I convert my 401(k) plan from work into a Roth IRA?

A. This question comes up a lot. Have you heard of an "In-Service, Non-Hardship Rollover"? This is an option that allows 401(k) participants to roll over plan assets to an IRA or Roth IRA while still working.

"In-Service" means while you are still working for your employer. You don't have to wait until you retire or leave the company. "Non-Hardship" means you are not claiming a hardship such as paying for medical expenses, or educational expenses, etc.

Many major, larger employer plans allow for In-Service withdrawals (in this area I believe DuPont, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson allow for it). Check with your Human Resources Department at your job and obtain a copy of the Summary Plan Document of your employer sponsored retirement plan to see if your plan allows for In-Service withdrawals, and what the limitations are. Work with your financial planner to complete the rollover correctly, so you do not incur any tax penalties.

Q. We traditionally have a big family Christmas party every year. I have 7 brothers and sisters. But this year has been tough for us. Both my husband and I are out of work and we don't have much money. How can we "save face" and give gifts to everyone without breaking the bank? I don't want to just run up the charge cards.

A. Your situation is shared by many people, so I'm glad you brought it up. The holidays are fun, but they can put extra stress on us. You don't need the financial stress.

We have a big family party every year, too. Instead of getting many gifts, we do a Pollyanna gift exchange for the adults, where everyone buys one gift and everyone gets one at the party. We agree beforehand, on the price limit per gift. You can do a "Secret Santa" and pick names to buy for, or you can do what we do. We draw numbers at the party and everyone takes a turn taking a gift. The first person takes from the pile of gifts, the second person can either take the first person's gift, or from the pile. If your gift is taken, you get to take someone else's gift. The expressions on peoples' faces when they're taking a gift or having a gift taken away is priceless. In a large group, this can be hilarious.

The holidays are a time for family, fun and sharing experiences. You can do this without breaking the bank.

Q. My daughter is a high school senior and will be going to college next year. When should we apply for any financial aid?

A. ASAP. You should complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as early as possible, beginning January 1st. Go to the website, www.FAFSA.ED.GOV, now to see what documents you will need, and sign up for a PIN number. Much of the financial information comes directly from your tax return, so if you have your 2009 taxes completed, that's great. If not (like most of us), then you can use your 2008 tax information temporarily, then make corrections to that information when you finish your 2009 taxes.

It's important to get started immediately. Aid is typically given first come, first served. You don't want to be denied any aid because you were too late.

(Do you have a question about your financial affairs? Financial planning consultant, Robert S. Pennartz, CFP® takes calls at 1-302-654-5556, extension 138 or 1-800-366-0632, extension 138. A selection of these questions and Pennartz's responses are published in this column. Anonymity is assured.)

Robert S. Pennartz is a Certified Financial Planner Practitioner at the Financial House, a Registered Investment Advisor, in Centreville, DE. Bob lives in Pocopson Township with his wife and children. He is a registered representative offering securities through Lincoln Financial Securities Corporation, Member SIPC. Lincoln Financial Securities Corporation and its representatives do not offer tax or legal advice. You should consult your individual tax or legal professional regarding your individual circumstances.

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