How to Organize Your Wallet

Man With a Wallet

Let’s talk about how to organize your wallet. What does yours look like? Is it bulging with receipts and scraps? Does it need a little TLC? These questions are designed to get you thinking. Your wallet is an excellent metaphor for the way you handle your personal finances and an expression of your respect for money. Let’s get down to business and get it organized, so you can take a renewed approach to the way you control and spend your cash.

Empty Your Wallet

Open up your wallet, and pull everything out. Chances are, it’s pretty dirty and filled with things you no longer need. If you need a new wallet, now’s the time to replace it with something fresh and new. As for what was inside, file any receipts you might need to save, such as medical or business expenses. Cut up any credit cards that you don’t truly need. Trash anything that’s out of date, like expired identification cards or business cards you don’t want.

Categorize Your Stuff

Next, group your items so you can find them easily. Put credit cards together, cash sorted by denomination and facing the same direction, and gift cards in one place. Medical insurance cards, business cards, library cards, and other things like that can go in a separate area so they don’t get mixed up. Create a designated place to hold business receipts to be expensed, if those are something you need to track.

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What is a CPA?

Certified Public Accountant

If you’ve heard of a CPA, you probably know it means some type of accountant. But what is a CPA, really? Why is it an important distinction from your average accountant at the office? Let’s take a look at who CPAs are and what they do.

Certified Public Accountants

CPAs, or Certified Public Accountants, are more than just traditional accountants. They exist to help businesses of all sizes grow and flourish. CPAs are knowledgeable in all aspects of business finance, so they can help with everything from analysis and financial statements, to complicated forensic accounting and tax planning. Between their education, credentials, and experience, they’re qualified to do a lot more than run reports and balance checking accounts.

CPA Requirements

It’s not easy to become a CPA. Besides a college degree in accounting, they have the real-world business and financial experience it takes to put concepts to work. In order to get a CPA certification, candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination, which is an exhaustive test managed by the American Institute of CPAs. Believe it or not, it’s been around since 1896! The exam includes multiple choice questions, written communication tasks, and simulations of real scenarios on a variety of subjects. Needless to say, it’s highly challenging. The average passing rate in 2015 was a little less than 50%, so it’s a grueling undertaking. The CPA exam takes a lot of preparation, along with the experience and mindset that’s needed to be able to perform in the field. The last step in becoming a CPA is to get licensed by the Boards of Accountancy for the particular geographic location.

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Pick the Right Tax Preparer

Couple With Tax Preparer

Ever-changing tax laws and confusing deductions are just two reasons why you need to pick the right tax preparer. If a professional is involved, you can feel more confident that you’re doing it right and you won’t face an audit anytime soon.

Where to Begin?

Before you just go with your friend’s accountant, consider your options and know this: you’re legally responsible for every piece of information on your tax return, no matter who completes the paperwork. You need to feel 100% comfortable with providing your personal information, financial data, and social security number.

Find a Qualified Professional

  • Certified Public Accountants - A CPA is an accounting professional who has met licensing criteria and passed a professional qualifying exam for your state. CPAs are allowed to represent you in the event of an IRS audit or other conflict. Questions to ask: Do you prepare individual returns? Do you take continuing education classes? What are your fees?
  • Tax Attorneys - If you’re in a unique situation, such as a tax dispute, audit scenario, or need a complex tax shelter, then a tax attorney is the right resource for you. However, this is an expensive option. Questions to ask: What is your specialty? How much do you charge?
  • Enrolled Agents - An EA has passed an exhaustive exam and received a license from the IRS. Although an EA is less expensive than a CPA, be certain the specialty is in the area you need. Questions to ask: What is your focus? What are your tax preparation fees?
  • Voluntary Annual Filing Season Tax Preparers - The IRS allows people to get certified for tax preparation by completing a specified curriculum. Questions to ask: What’s your experience? Do you have references? How much do you charge?
  • PTIN Holders - Some tax preparers don’t maintain a professional license or participate in the Annual Filing Season Program, but they have an active preparer tax identification number through the IRS. As long as this number is active, it’s legal for them to prepare tax returns. Questions to ask: What is your tax preparation background? How long have you been in business? What fees do you charge?

The Internet is Your Friend

Once you’ve identified a potential tax preparer, use online resources like the IRS’s website, your state’s Bar Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy to make sure your provider is listed and doesn’t have any disciplinary actions or license issues.

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Surprising Tax Deductions

Goverment Taxes Payday

It’s that time of year again - tax time! These surprising tax deductions can help reduce your taxable income and cut your bill to the IRS. If you’re savvy about your taxes, you can save money and avoid cash flow issues.

Family Expenditures

  • Health Insurance - If you’re self-employed and buy your own private health insurance, you’ve noticed the skyrocketing premiums. You can deduct up to 100% of these costs off of your total gross income, and, if your medical expenses add up to more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income, you can itemize those, too.
  • Sales Tax - Did you know you have the option of deducting either sales taxes or state income taxes from your federal income tax? So, if you’re lucky enough to live in a state that doesn’t have its own income tax, you can itemize sales tax as a deduction.
  • Babysitters - If your babysitter is working while you volunteer for a known charity, you can list the cost as a charitable contribution.
  • Charity - Speaking of charities, you may be able to itemize out-of-pocket expenses related to any charity work, like food and drinks served at a fundraiser, in addition to money or goods donated.
  • Education - The Lifetime Learning credit offers deductions of up to $2,000 per year on education expenses after high school. There are specific requirements based on income level, but it’s open to people of all ages.

Work-Related Expenditures

  • Social Security - If you’re self-employed, you already know you have to pay 15.3 percent of your income to the U.S. Government for social security and medicare taxes. The good news is you can deduct 7.65 percent off your income taxes, the amount typically covered by an employer.
  • Business Expenses - All business expenses, no matter how off the wall, can be deducted from your business income as long as you can document how they benefit your company. So make sure you account for every single business expense you make.
  • Teaching Expenses - It’s a well-known fact that teachers spend a lot of their own money on classroom supplies. If you’re a K-12 teacher, you can deduct up to $250 from your income for expenditures on materials.
  • Job Search - Finding a job can get expensive, between the cost of printing resumes, posting on job search websites, and driving to interviews. If you lose your job and are looking for one in the same field, you can deduct any expenses over 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.
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Learn the Latest Tax Scams to Avoid

Thief Robbing US Dollars

Even if you've heard about tax scams of the past, you may want to pay attention to the latest tax scams to avoid. Scammers constantly come up with brand new ways to part you and your hard-earned dollar, but just a little research can keep you from making a costly mistake. Learn the current tax scams to avoid, and spread the word!

Telephone Scams

If you receive a phone call from an angry IRS agent, what should you do? Remain calm, and be skeptical. Many scammers have found ways to manipulate caller ID services, so the call appears to come from an IRS office. They threaten the caller with arrest or deportation, adding insults and hostility for maximum emotional effect. Some scammers even use video relay services (VRS) to take advantage of the deaf and hard of hearing. This unprofessional behavior is not protocol for the IRS, and you should not give out your personal information over the phone.

Email and Malware

While there are many legitimate tax services online, it's important to do your research to avoid a scam. Here are just a few of the common online tax scams to avoid:

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Learn How to Pay Off Holiday Debt

Young Family Having Debts

The holidays are times of great joy, but what happens after the festivities are over? You may find yourself staring at your credit card bill while wondering just what happened. Luckily, it's not hard to figure out how to pay off holiday debt. We'll walk you through some of the most effective strategies to eliminate your debt, so you can start the new year with a plan for success.

Smart Budgeting

When debt is looming, it's time to budget! Nowadays, it's easier than ever to budget effectively. Of course, you can always try the tried-and-true paper and pencil method. Write out all of your monthly expenses, write out your monthly income, and look for places to cut. But, you can also try free budgeting apps to manage your money with just a click. You might find that you just need to cut luxuries like take-out or shopping trips for a few months, but you may need to make other adjustments to pay off holiday debt faster. Consider canceling some recurring monthly subscriptions to free up extra space in the budget.

The Snowball Method

Have you heard of the snowball method? This strategy was created by financial expert, Dave Ramsay, to help defeat multiple debts. First, write out all the holiday debts that you need to pay off in order from smallest to largest. This is your list of attack. Pay off your smallest debt completely, and then move onto the next one on the list. This allows you to get the manageable debts out of the way before moving onto the more intimidating sums. Combined with smart budgeting, this can be a great way to systematically pay off multiple debts.

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What is a CD, or a Certificate of Deposit?

Deposit Calculations

You've probably heard of Certificates of Deposit at your local bank, but just what is a CD? Like a savings account, CDs act as a place to store your money while earning interest. But unlike savings accounts, CDs typically have a higher interest rate. So what's the catch? You must leave your money in the CD for a set period of time. In this guide, we'll go over the benefits and drawbacks of Certificates of Deposit, so you can plan your finances wisely!

CDs vs. Savings

While most people have a simple savings account, not everyone has a Certificate of Deposit. Both are fairly simple to open, so what are the main differences between the two?

  • A CD typically has a term length of a few months to a few years. After the CD matures, you can cash out. A savings account can be stored indefinitely.
  • You can withdraw your money from your savings account whenever you'd like, but your money stays in the CD until the term length has been reached.
  • While both savings account and CDs will accrue interest over time, a CD is usually a higher-interest option.

Why Choose a Savings Account?

If you prefer to have very fluid funds, then the savings account is probably the better option. Withdraw your money from a CD prematurely, and you'll face a penalty. Savings accounts may generate far less interest, but they are much more forgiving. You can easily withdraw the money you need for an unexpected emergency, for example.

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Discover Our Top Five Financial New Year's Resolutions for 2018

Our Top Five Financial New Year's Resolutions for 2018

The start of a brand new year is a fresh start for everyone, so why not use this opportunity to get your finances in check? Take a look at our top five financial New Year's resolutions to help you find success in 2018. From setting goals to reducing debt, these small habits and simple strategies can lead to big payoffs in your life. Start planning today!

1. Create Clear Goals

Sure, everyone wants to be rich and successful - but what does that mean to you? Do you want to clear your student debts as soon as possible, or are you trying to grow your portfolio? Think about your dreams for both the short-term and long-term. Write them down in a notebook, and come up with a plan to achieve them. Maybe you want to pay off your student debt by the end of the year, or maybe you want to build your retirement account by $6,000 in the next 12 months. Setting clear goals is the first step toward success.

2. Organize Your Accounts

What kind of saver are you? Do you keep your money in one place, or is it scattered across multiple banks and accounts? It may be time to do a little financial housekeeping.

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Understand the Process: Tips for Buying a Foreclosed Home

Gavel

Buying a house that’s in foreclosure sounds great, right? It can save you big money, but it’s not an easy process. These tips for buying a foreclosed home will help you understand what you’re in for.

A Different Deal

In a typical home sale, there are usually two different agents involved, with an inspection process and negotiations. Pretty standard. With a foreclosure, you only interact with one real estate agent, and because the house is bank-owned, you don’t have any real negotiating power. It’s an as-is sale, which means no inspection, and you’ll have to pay for repairs.

Get Pre-Approved

Foreclosures usually have many competing offers, so if you want to get in on the action, getting pre-approved is the first step you should take. Before you even start looking, have a lender write a letter that clearly states how much money you’re approved to borrow. There’s no time to do this when the offers start coming in.

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Realistic Last-Minute Retirement Planning Strategies

Pig Bank

If you haven’t been able to consistently save for retirement and now it’s looming closer, here are some realistic last-minute retirement planning ideas for you:

Start Saving Now

Saving when you’re young is so important because of the power of compounding interest. If you haven’t been able to consistently save 15% of your income throughout your career, then you need to save at a higher rate, starting now. Good news! The IRS allows people over age 50 to contribute more toward IRAs and 401(k)s. For the 2017 tax year, you can max out your IRA contributions at $6,500 and 401(k) contributions at $24,000. $7,000 a year more than younger workers!

Cut Your Costs

If you can make some changes to your lifestyle spending, that can have a great impact on how long your savings will last. For example: If your cost of living is $80,000 a year and you have $400,000 in the bank, then you have enough savings to last about five years. If you could slash your spending by 50%, then your savings would last you ten years. And, it would be earning interest for longer.

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