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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Estate Planning Basics: Everyone Needs a Plan

A will

Wills and estate planning are not just for rich people. Everyone needs a strategy for what will happen to the financial assets you leave behind, no matter how much or little you have. Try these estate planning basics:

What is an Estate Plan?

The term “estate” is referring to whatever you own that has value – your home, cars, jewelry, investments, etc. When you pass away, those items will be given away, and an estate plan ensures that it happens the way you would want it to by defining what assets you have, how they’re protected, and how they’ll be distributed.

Wills

The first, and most important, document you need in your estate plan is a will, so your intentions are clearly stated regarding the disposition of your property. They’re not difficult or expensive to create. The important elements include:

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4 Life-Changing Personal Finance Tips

Light Bulb And Brain

You’ve probably gotten a lot of advice about money, and maybe you’ve even taken some of it. If you’re really ready to get control of your financial life, then it’s time to take a look at these personal finance tips:

Take a Financial Snapshot

Your first step is to take a good hard look at where you are today financially.

  • What’s your net worth? That’s the difference between what you have and what you owe.
  • How much debt do you have? Be sure you know the interest rate you’re paying on each outstanding balance. How will you pay them off?
  • Where do you want to be? It’s crucial to set goals. Put everything down on paper, with dollar amounts and what it will take to accomplish them.

Create Good Habits

Next, be sure you spend time regularly paying attention to what’s going on with your money.

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Budgeting for the Holidays Makes Everything Less Stressful

Christmas presents

Yes, you heard that correctly. Budgeting for the holidays doesn’t add stress. In fact, budgeting for these additional expenses actually makes life less stressful because you’re only spending the money you can really afford. So, how about feeling calm and peaceful in January because you made smart decisions instead of experiencing buyer’s remorse?

Where Should You Begin?

Well, first let’s talk about the fact that the holidays are supposed to be fun, and the real satisfaction comes from the act of giving something special, not from giving expensive presents. So, with that in mind, make a list of all the expenses you expect to incur during the holiday season. Try to think of everything that might come up. Your list may include:

  • Family gifts
  • Cards and postage
  • Decorations
  • Christmas tree
  • Other gifts for teachers, gift exchanges, etc.
  • Charity donations
  • Holiday meals

Set Your Limit

Next, take a hard look at the money you have available to cover all your holiday expenses, and decide on your spending limit. Be sure that you’re planning to use only money that you’ve saved up or set aside for Christmas. People often make the big mistake of spending money that’s not truly available.

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