While nobody can predict the future, 2008 certainly has all the early signs of a financially tricky year. But even if you knew exactly what was coming in the new year, what’s smart for you isn’t necessarily the same as what’s smart for your nephew or your boss.

Rather than muddle around in the dark, bumping your shins on things you can’t see, Bankrate has assembled a panel of experts who are willing to shed a little light on the upcoming year and tell you just how their predictions affect you. So get out of that fog. Bankrate’s experts will take the guesswork out of 2008 and help you know what to do.

Different stages in life mean different financial paths to take
Young: You’re in the real world now. That means you need to think about credit, retirement and health care.
Middle-aged: We know you’re already overwhelmed, but some things just can’t be ignored any longer.
Senior: You’re running out of all those tomorrows you were counting on. But you’ve got some good times coming.

Meet the experts

Fred Brock, Laura Rowley and Russell Wild have more than one thing in common. Not only are all three best-selling authors of books on personal finance, but they also understand the discipline it takes to make good financial decisions in a world where credit trumps savings and investments take years of patience to pay off.

Brock, a former financial columnist for The New York Times and Kansas State University journalism professor, is the author of “Retire on Less Than You Think,” “Health Care on Less Than You Think” and “Live Well on Less Than You Think.”

He and his wife relocated to Kansas in a move made seamless by the sale of their New Jersey home. Reinvesting their profits in a college town, where the cost of living is lower but there’s plenty to do, paid off for the Brocks. He believes 2008 is the year many retirees will return to college — or at least move near a college or university.

“College towns — and lots of other places for that matter– are actively recruiting seniors,” Brock says.

Rowley, who wrote “Money and Happiness: A Guide to Living the Good Life” and “On Target: How the World’s Hottest Retailer Hit A Bull’s-Eye,” writes as a columnist for Yahoo! Finance.

Previously she held the financial columnist slot for Self magazine and her work has appeared in numerous national publications. Rowley’s guiding philosophy: You can’t spend your way to happiness. She advocates weaving finances and value systems together in the upcoming year.

“The way you handle money — spend it, save it, invest it — should align with your value system. And that means knowing what’s most important to you,” Rowley says.

Author of “Bond Investing for Dummies” and “Exchange-Traded Funds for Dummies,” Wild is a former Rodale editor and one of the founders of Men’s Health Books.

Generally upbeat, he sees gathering storm clouds ahead.

“Health care continues to be a national disgrace,” says Wild. “It is far and away the number one reason for bankruptcies.”

What’s ahead

While all is not doom and gloom, none of our experts see rainbows reflected in the skies. Caution seems the predominant mood with a possible recession ahead in 2008. Here’s a brief look at how they stack up on the issues.

The Housing Market: Rowley says not to buy more home than you can afford. She sees a steady buyer’s market and a deep, dark hole for holders of adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs.

Credit Cards: Get out of credit card debt yesterday. The coming year will only present more opportunities for credit junkies to dig themselves deeper, says Rowley.

Savings and Investments: Wild says it’s impossible to be dead-on when predicting market trends, but saving is always a good idea no matter what the state of the economy.

Health care: Wild and Brock have both authored books about the state of health care and both are less than optimistic that medical expenses will level off. If anything, they predict employer-sponsored health care will become even less common in the coming year.

Retirement: Brock says retirement won’t be an impossible dream in 2008 for those who have done their due diligence, and admonishes youngsters to keep future plans in their sights as they traverse though their working years.

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