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When Should You Consult an Accountant for Tax Help?

When people are making plans to file their taxes, they may discover that there is a need for an accountant to help them complete the forms. Those who are uncomfortable with filing should seek an accountant that can help them make sense of the tax rules and what they need to do to file before the deadline. Unusual circumstances, such as changes in marital status and career, may call for additional assistance. In such instances, accountants are a taxpayer’s best friend.

Amended Taxes

Inevitably each year, taxpayers file erroneous forms. There may be mistakes and letters from the IRS that indicate that there is income that has not been accounted for, an incredibly stressful situation for everyone involved. If you’ve dealt with erroneous forms in the past, or if you’ve received notice from the IRS that this year’s submissions contain errors, seek out an accountant to help you readjust and refile. 

Owing Taxes

Anyone who owes taxes can benefit from involving an accountant in the process. After all, taxpayers may take the standard deduction when they could owe less or no money at all, all because they’re unsure how to itemize deductions. It’s an involved process, one that requires an expert eye. For this reason, professional accountants are there to help; by pointing out any overlooked itemized deductions, accountants can provide a better understanding of the deduction process.

Change of Status

Plenty of things can change in a year, not the least of which is household status. A single person that files as head of household may be unaware of changes in deductions when they get married. If you’re unsure about the best way to file taxes when your marital status changes, consider working alongside an accountant. 

First Time Tax Preparation

Filing taxes for the first time can be a confusing process. With all of the paperwork and math required for each form, it’s common for people to struggle to wrap their heads around everything. This situation is precisely what accountants handle regularly. Accountants want to help everyone ensure that all guidelines are followed and numbers are accurate. To pay taxes by the deadline, new taxpayers should schedule early consultations with local accountants. 

Four Easy Ways to Budget This Month

For some, creating and sticking to a budget is a simple task. For others, it’s a strenuous and seemingly impossible task. The temptation to eat out, splurge on clothes, and throw caution and cash to the wind can be huge, so it’s essential to find ways to stay on track. Here are four ways to create a budget that works and stick to it.

Meal Prep

In addition to various forms of outside entertainment, eating out is a considerable expense. Since most restaurants mark food up—sometimes as much as 300 percent—the only sure-fire way to save money on food is to cook meals at home. However, this is a lot more time-consuming and can be difficult for those without much cooking experience.

Take the time to plan meals, including the cost of ingredients, for at least a week’s worth of meals. Also, include the costs of snacks as well. One way to save on food is to buy in bulk. Look for items that can be purchased in larger quantities and divide up for later.

Set Up Autopay

Another way to stick to a budget is by setting up autopay. Instead of having to pay bills and charges every month manually, autopay lets budget-setters know what they pay and when. The same concept can also help track savings. Just have a set amount of money transferred each month into a savings account.

When it comes to paying utilities, look into budget billing. Customers pay a set amount for power and water. After a set time frame, they’re either refunded the difference or charged for any overages.

Entertain at Home

Simply put, going out is expensive. Everything from grabbing drinks to seeing a movie is expensive these days. Instead of breaking the budget, invite friends over and find ways to create a social atmosphere at home. Cocktails made at home cost half the price when ordered out. The same holds true for take-out. If your group wants pizza and a movie, rent a flick and make homemade pizza.

Track Success

Tracking success is a great motivator, so make sure you keep track of how much money you’ve saved over the month. After seeing positive results, you may feel even more motivated to stick to their budgets.

With a little planning, creating and sticking to a budget is easy. Since everyone has different needs, never compare budget planning. Finally, make sure that the budget isn’t so rigid that it’s impossible to follow. Just be sure to leave some wiggle room for the occasional splurge.

Where to Get a Loan Besides the Bank

When it comes to expenses, money can be a point of contention. With the cost of living and the need for appliances and machines on the rise, it’s not always easy for people to come out of expenditures with money in their pockets. For this reason, people often resort to loans to help keep themselves and their families afloat. While many people go straight to their local bank to take out a loan, there are other options that are not considered or even well-known. These are some of those lesser-known places to acquire loans.

A Credit Union

Acquiring a loan from a credit union is sometimes considered a better alternative to getting one from a bank. Credit unions can offer recipients lower fees and interest rates than a bank, which makes paying back the loan a lot easier on the wallet. However, there is a slight drawback to using a credit union. In order to qualify for a loan, people must be a member and meet their requirements. If you’re a member of a credit union such as Members 1st or PSECU, give customer service a call to learn more about how to qualify and what loans are offered.

A Payday Lender

A payday loan is a type of short-term loan amounting to, at most, $500. Often, these loans are taken out to cover unexpected expenses and late bills. Applying for one of these loans is simple; all you have to do is apply online or at a payday loan facility. 

While these loans are helpful in the short-term, there are a few drawbacks. To start, these loans must be paid back as soon as the recipient gets their next paycheck. Secondly, payday loans can be very expensive in terms of fees and interest. If the loan is not paid by the due date, the lender might extend it, but at the cost of tacking on additional fees. Think carefully about whether or not your situation calls for a payday loan.

A Pawnshop

There is one massive difference that pawnshop loans have over others; the shop won’t check credit scores or require an application. A pawnshop loan works like this; you take an item such as jewelry or an electronic to a pawn shop. Should the pawnbroker be interested in the item, they’ll offer a loan.

How much the recipient will receive varies on the overall value of what’s being pawned. Pawnshop loans are a great way to get money quickly, but this speed comes at the cost of substantially high interest rates. Extra fees may also be included, depending on the pawnshop.

Loans may be a surefire way of obtaining money, but they are a huge responsibility. It’s important that people consider all the factors of taking out and paying off a loan before making the investment. 

The Best Personal Finance Software

In the world of personal finance, there are some software programs that stand out from the rest. These programs make it much easier to manage budget and track spending within your household. If you’re looking for software to manage your personal finance, these are the programs you should check out.

Quick Books

If there is one program that has continued to stand out over the years when it comes to personal finance, it is QuickBooks. This software has become the cornerstone of personal financing for people who want to keep up with their household spending. The program allows people to set budgets and get running totals for their spending during the month. Users can see how much they deviate from the budget each month, and plan accordingly to save more in the next month. QuickBooks even offers the ability to compare previous years and see if a user’s spending has increased or decreased. With quick references and an easy budgeting interface, this is a great program for users who don’t want tons of fancy features.

Microsoft Money

Another program that stands out amongst personal finance software is Microsoft Money. This is a program that tends to work well for those that have already utilized Microsoft Excel spreadsheets over the years. Users have the ability to create formulas, track their spending, and create easy-to-manage documents.

The ability to add different categories of expenses becomes much easier with a program like Microsoft Money. It has a user-friendly interface that makes it easy for people that are not computer savvy to create documents of their personal finances. This program tends to be one of the favorites for people that like to create documents that can be saved in different formats. These documents can be exported to Excel spreadsheet or saved as PDF files, offering plenty of versatility depending on a user’s needs.

Mint

In the growing age of portable personal finance software, Mint is the finance tool that has gained a lot of attention with the younger crowd. Mint has offered the millennial generation a viable personal finance program that gives them access to an online platform that is not limited to their personal computers.

Mint users have the ability to add their credit and debit cards to track purchases without manually typing in everything that they buy. The Mint app for smartphones allows users to access their financial budgets whenever and wherever they want. 

The Differences Between CFAs and CPAs

CFAs and CPAs may sound like the same thing, but their responsibilities differ. For people who are not familiar with the financial and investment industries, the differences between the two may not be that clear. While CFAs and CPAs are both financial professionals, these individuals travel along different educational and professional paths. 

What is a CFA?

A CFA, or chartered financial analyst, analyzes financial reports. Such reports include financial statements revolving around wealth planning and mutual and hedge funds. 

The job of a CFA, or a chartered financial analyst, is to analyze financial reports. These financial reports include financial statements that revolve around wealth planning and mutual and hedge funds. Typically, CFAs find employment with investment management companies, equity firms, and organizations that navigate mutual and hedge funds. In addition, CFAs can work with individuals to plan personal finances and offer advice on investing. 

The path to becoming a CFA involves a slew of experience, including four years of some mix of professional and educational experience. Typically, a bachelor’s degree or four years of professional experience are valid for becoming a CFA, and precede a triumvirate of exams to earn the CFA designation. Such a designation is awarded by the non-profit organization known as the CFA institute. This global organization lays out standards of professionalism and ethics in the investment industry. 

What is a CPA?

A CPA, or certified public accountant, is an individual who has passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. The exam is given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Professionals must also meet their state’s requirements in order to be allowed into the ranks of the Institute.

The job of a CPA is to audit and put together the financial reports that CFAs analyze. They are involved with audits, accounting and taxes; specifically, CPAs keep track of the business dealings of the individuals and companies for whom they work. In addition to putting together this documentation, CPAs also file and officially report them. Outside of formal reports, CPAs are able to give advice about how to pay as little taxes and possible and how to profit as much as possible.

In conclusion, these are the differences between CPAs and CFAs. CFAs are involved in the analysis of financial reports, while CPAs create those reports. They are two very different types of professionals involved in finance that commonly get confused. However, knowing the differences can help you make better decisions when you need financial planning help!

Choosing Between a 401(k) and Roth IRA

When it comes to retirement savings, two of the more popular vehicles are the 401(k) and the Roth IRA. Both are tax-advantaged retirement accounts, but there are significant differences. Depending upon your specific situation, you may find that one fits your needs better than the other.

What are the savings limits?

For workers who haven’t yet reached age 50, it’s possible to save as much as $19,000 in a 401(k) as of 2019. Those who have passed 50 can save an additional $6,000 as a catch-up contribution. Depending upon their age, those who want to save in a Roth IRA can save $6,000 or $7,000 per year. Both are great savings vehicles, but those who are looking to max out their savings would most benefit from using a 401(k).

What is the tax treatment?

Most 401(k) plans save money on a pre-tax basis. This means that it’s possible to cut your tax bill in the current year. Savings put toward a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars. Both accounts will grow on a tax-free basis as long as the money is left in the account. The difference comes when you decide to withdraw the money. If you wait until age 59 and a half, you’ll pay no taxes on Roth IRA withdrawals. The government treats them as if you’ve already paid the tax due when you made the after-tax contribution. On the other hand, a regular 401(k) withdrawal will be taxed at your marginal tax rate. 

 

An additional benefit of a Roth IRA is the ability to withdraw your contributions at any time. Because you’ve paid the tax on the contributions, there is no tax due. If you withdraw the earnings from a Roth IRA before hitting age 59 and a half, you’ll owe regular income taxes on any growth along with a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

Is using both a good strategy?

Many future retirees wonder if it’s better to save in a Roth or a 401(k). It’s possible to save in both. Many employers offer a 401(k) match, and oftentimes, this match will be on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to 6% of the employee’s salary. Therefore, it’s a good idea to save at least to the full amount of this match. Any additional money could go toward filling up a Roth IRA to maximize tax-free withdrawals upon retirement. After contributing the maximum to a Roth, contributing to a 401(k) up to the maximum is a great next step. Overall, you could save between $25,000 and $32,000 by maxing out both accounts.

Finance Tips for the Holiday Season

The holiday season can get pretty expensive. Starting with candy and costumes for family and neighbors in October, followed by a feast of food in November and all of the gifts, gatherings, and extras around the winter holiday season, bills can really add up. Unfortunately, your wallet may not be able to keep up with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. There are several ways to help you save money while still allowing you to delight in the magic and wonder of the holidays.

Set a budget

It’s easy to spend money when you don’t try to set a cap on how much you’re allowed to spend. Without a budget, you’ll be more likely to overspend. Sit down and work numbers before even setting foot in a store so you know exactly how much you have to spend. On average, people spend around $704 during the holiday season, but that is all dependent on an individual’s personal financial situation.

Do your research

Everyone is going to be advertising that they have the best deal on a specific product during the holiday season. It’s up to you to do your homework and see who’s actually telling the truth. You can comparison shop right from the comfort of your own home by looking up prices online. That way, you’ll know you’re getting the best deal.

Break out your DIY skills

Giving a homemade gift is the perfect way to save money while also expressing how much you care about the recipient. Anyone can go out and buy something from the store, but a homemade gift takes planning, time to make, and a lot of thought. It can also save you a lot of money by making the gift yourself.

Enlist the help of others

If you decide you want to host a holiday gathering, don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own. Most guests expect to bring something to a party—whether it be a dish to pass, a bottle of wine, or even paper products. You’ll be able to throw a great party on a budget that all of your guests will enjoy.

Talk to a financial advisor

If you’re really struggling to keep up with expenses and expectations at the end of the year, it might behoove you to sit down and talk to a financial advisor. Whether you’re dealing with personal finance concerns or family investment issues, a financial advisor can examine all of those complex moving parts and help you develop a plan for keeping the spirit alive during the holidays.

Personal Finance for College Students

You’re finally living on your own, attending classes and joining new clubs and organizations. In college, it’s easy to overlook personal finance when focusing on your studies, but proper money management is vital for a successful future. If you’re new to college and money management, here is some personal finance advice. 

Consider Your Credit

Swiping a card is convenient, but that money has to come from somewhere. If you’ve fallen victim to overspending on your card, try to set up a system to evaluate your spending habits. Perhaps you could limit card spending and use more cash. Or, perhaps you need to change your card limit to dissuade yourself from making unnecessary purchases. In addition, you should keep track of when your credit card payments are due—missing those payments can harm your credit score, which can be difficult to improve later down the line.

Search For Perks

Many colleges and surrounding businesses offer benefits to students. From dining halls to student discounts, you’re bound to find ways to save money. For instance, shops close to your school may offer student discounts, allowing you to pay a set percentage less for meals and clothes. In the same vein, your school may offer textbook rentals as opposed to purchases, which can save money. Or, if you can find those books online at Amazon or from other e-commerce sites, you may be able to save bundles. 

Build a Budget

Understanding and implementing a budget can have positive long-term effects. If you’ve struggled with overspending or other money-related issues, budgeting can be a huge benefit. Calculate the amount of income you’ll make in a given month, including rates for on-campus jobs, and figure out your expenses. You’ll want to save a percentage of that income and avoid going over it. The sooner you establish a budget and learn to stick to it, the sooner you’ll save money and build your personal finances.

Find a Job

Colleges often have part-time jobs available for even the busiest of students. From cooking in the dining hall to operating an office desk to providing prospective students with campus tours, student jobs abound in academia. Taking on a job for just a few hours each week can help you better understand time management while generating income. If you want to earn academic credit while you work, internships and work-studies can be a great use of your time. Plus, any campus job is a terrific resume-builder for your post-grad job search. 

Why You’re Overspending (And How to Stop)

Compare your monthly income with your monthly spending. Do you notice a glaring discrepancy? Are your earnings in the red? Can’t figure out how you spent hundreds on groceries? You aren’t alone. Overspending is easy to do, and purchases can accumulate in the blink of an eye. Here are some reasons why you’re overspending and advice on how to stop.

You’ve fallen into a bad habit

Do you buy lunch at the deli down the street every day? This is just one example of a bad spending habit. It may be comfortable and convenient to make a daily or weekly purchase, but ten dollars per day, five days a week, four weeks a month equals $200 each month just for lunch. 

The best way to remedy a bad spending habit is to ease yourself out of the habit. For the lunch example, try packing a meal most days each week, and only go out once a week or so as a special treat. You don’t have to quit anything cold-turkey, and easing yourself towards a better spending habit might inspire you to be more mindful of what you buy.

You ignore automatic payments

This one is easy to notice, especially if you subscribe to magazines and newspapers that clog your mailbox. Still, with the rise of streaming services and other digital subscriptions, you may not be keeping track of all the services you subscribe to. It’s easy to let automatic monthly payments slip through the cracks, but those payments are also an easy way to lose money.

Each month, carefully study your credit card statement. Write down the names of subscriptions you used during the month, whether that means watching a movie on Netflix or flipping through a copy of Sports Illustrated. Next to that list, write down the subscriptions you didn’t use. Unsubscribe from the ones that you didn’t touch. You’d be surprised how much money you can save annually just by paring down your subscriptions.

You haven’t disciplined your spending habits

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t disciplined their spending habits. Whether you fall victim to impulse buys at the checkout line or fill your gas tank before it hits the halfway mark, everyone has a spending vice. 

No two people have the same income, interests, and habits, which can make disciplining your spending habits difficult. The key is to figure out what you’re buying and why you’re buying it. It helps to break purchases up into categories, such as “loans,” “food,” and “entertainment.” Not only will this show how much you’re spending, but it will also reveal what exactly you’re spending your money on.

4 Ways to Make Money During Your Morning Commute

It’s normal to dread your morning commute as you spend time in traffic before arriving at the office for a long day of work. Although it may seem like a waste of time sitting on the bus or train, there are ways that you can earn extra money before arriving at the workplace. If you want to make cash during your commute, there are a few different methods to consider to occupy your time each morning.

Sell Items on eBay

Selling items on eBay.com or Amazon.com is an excellent way to supplement your income and enjoy a fun hobby. You can create a seller’s account and list items that are sitting in your attic or that you find at yard sales. Drop shipping is also available where you purchase items for lower prices on other websites and list them for a higher price. Drop shipping is convenient because you don’t have to worry about having the items in your possession and manually shipping everything.

Sell Your Handmade Goods

Whether you enjoy making knitted scarves or jewelry items, you can sell your handmade goods on Etsy.com without worrying about having to get a business license. Take high-quality photos of each product and write a thorough description that engages the reader to attract more customers.

Write

If you’re good with words, you can make extra cash by writing articles and selling them to clients online. Creating your own blog is also a great way to earn money by attracting traffic to your website when you write posts based on topics that you enjoy and are knowledgable about, which can include cooking or fashion. You can integrate SEO tools to increase your ranking on search engines and make it easier for people to find your blog online.

Take Surveys

According to lovemoney.com, many websites offer gift cards and cash to individuals who take surveys. The websites will also pay you to watch commercials and ads. Each activity that you perform will allow you to earn points, which can be redeemed for money over a period of time. You can use the money to save for an upcoming trip or use for Christmas gifts, which can allow more wiggle room in your budget for your daily expenses.