Tag: money (page 1 of 3)

The Best Holiday Shopping Budget Tips

Holidays are a time for giving, but giving too much can also put you in a huge financial hole. If you don’t want to end up having to dig yourself out of a shopping deficit at the end of December, follow these holiday shopping budget tips.

1. Set an overall budget.

Think about what you’re really able to spend overall and stick to that amount. What you’ll spend on each individual can fluctuate within that amount, but the overall budget should remain the same to avoid overspending.

2. Make a list of gift recipients, then trim it down.

Your second cousin whom you haven’t seen in 10 years probably doesn’t need a new set of dinner plates. Stick to the closest family members and friends for gift giving. If you still want to send something to long-lost relatives and acquaintances, a holiday photo card is a nice, inexpensive idea.

3. Use cash for purchases.

Credit cards can make it much easier to overspend. Instead, put cash aside at the beginning of the holiday shopping season and use that money to make purchases. If you prefer online shopping, create a separate account for your holiday shopping money, or be extremely disciplined in sticking to your budget.

4. Take advantage of free shipping.

Online shopping is convenient, but the shipping costs can really add up. Take advantage of free shipping days by making several gift purchases at once. Most retailers offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount.

5. Start shopping early.

Waiting until the last minute can cause you to overspend. Starting your holiday shopping as early as September or October is a good idea because you can shop a little bit at a time. Everyday deals are often better than Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals anyway, and you’ll be more likely to score the big-ticket items that might sell out on these busy shopping days.

6. Think quality, not quantity.

One thoughtful gift is more appreciated than several random items. Homemade gifts are also a good idea as they come from the heart. The best part is, they’re also less expensive.

Stay on budget with these holiday shopping tips and enjoy the season!

Estate Planning Simplified

Nobody likes thinking about dying, but, if you die without a plan in place, you’ll be leaving your assets and your family in a difficult position. In that case, you’ll be taking the chance that the state’s probate laws will work in your family’s favor. It’s much more advantageous to develop a simple estate plan.

Start With a Will

Above all, you need a will to ensure certain arrangements will meet with your approval. Even if you don’t have many assets, you should use your will to identify your heirs and determine how assets will be divided up among them. More importantly, a will is the only way you can choose guardians for your minor children and make arrangements for their care.

Add a Living Trust

Your estate plan should also include a living trust. If you have significant assets, or if you want to make sure a loved one receives a specific piece of property, a living trust will serve this purpose better than a will. Since a trust is a private document, it typically won’t be included in the probate process. This means any property transferred via the trust will also be kept out of the probate process.

Care for Yourself With Powers of Attorney

An estate plan can also help you take care of yourself in the future by helping you choose people to make medical care and financial decisions for you. A healthcare proxy allows you to choose someone you trust to make decisions regarding your healthcare if you’re ever in a situation in which you can’t communicate your wishes. Under those same circumstances, a financial power of attorney will appoint someone of your choosing to take care of your finances until you’re able to act on your own behalf.

While you could probably create a simple will that’s legally binding, it’s a smarter move to consult an estate planning attorney. An experienced lawyer can help you draft the other documents you’ll need for your estate plan, and they can explain how the laws in your state will affect your final wishes. Creating a simple plan for the future may seem bothersome, but you’ll be surprised by the peace of mind it provides once it’s done.

How to Start Building Your Emergency Fund

As the name implies, emergency funds offer some degree of comfort and peace of mind during times of crisis. Alarmingly, 45 percent of people in the U.S. claim that they do not have enough money to cover three months’ worth of expenses if they suddenly lost their source of income. To avoid being included in this statistic, here are four tips on how to start building an emergency fund:

Start Small

You don’t need to go from zero to sixty when building an emergency fund. Starting small by putting $5 a day in your fund can help your fund grow to a significant size over time. It’s also easier to build habits if you make it effortless to perform said habits every day. Start with a $500 emergency fund and then gradually increment it every time you hit your target amount.

Keep Your Emergency Fund Separate

An emergency fund should be easily accessible in tough times, but it should not be mixed in with your checking or savings accounts. These everyday money accounts put your funds at risk of impulse withdrawals. You can put your emergency funds in a separate high-interest savings account, money market account, or certificate of deposit or a mix of these three investment products.

Make Automatic Payments

Just as you would a 401k or any retirement account, it’s essential to deposit money into your emergency fund first before spending the money on other purchases. Allocate a monthly percentage of your income to your emergency fund. If the funds are stored in a savings account, you can set scheduled automatic deposits, so you don’t have to manually transfer the money to your fund every month.

Cut Monthly Expenses

An imbalance between monthly expenses and income is the most common cause of why people can’t build their emergency fund. By cutting down your monthly fees, you’ll have more money to invest in appreciating assets as well as savings. Trim the monthly content subscription services and the costly name brand clothing.

Final Thoughts

Building an emergency fund starts with awareness of one’s finances. Many people underestimate the likelihood of an emergency that costs them money; hence they don’t realize the importance of having a rainy day fund.

Four Questions Prospective Homebuyers Should Ask

It could be argued that owning a home is the American dream. But that dream can rapidly become a nightmare if you buy before you’re ready. Are you prepared to buy a home? These four questions will help you decide.

How’s Your Credit Score?

If it’s below the mid-750s, you have some work to do before you’re ready to buy a home. One of the first things lenders research is a prospective homebuyer’s credit score. They like numbers in the mid-750s or higher.

While you can get a loan if your score is lower, you won’t be allowed to borrow as much money, and your interest rate will be higher. That will make your monthly payments higher; over the life of your loan, you may spend thousands of dollars in extra interest.

Before you apply for a mortgage, bring your credit score up, even if that takes a couple of years.

Can you afford the down payment?

Take a look at your savings account. Do you have enough money for a down payment, closing costs, and insurance? Will there be enough money left for repairs and renovations you want to do right away? If there’s not, amp up your savings practices before you start looking for a house.

Can you afford the monthly obligations?

Predictions are difficult in these uncertain times. But you’ll be ready to buy a home when you’re confident you can make the monthly mortgage and interest payments and pay for homeowners’ insurance, property taxes, homeowner association fees, utilities, trash pickup, and water and sewer charges. Your car payments and insurance need to enter into these calculations, too.

Also, think about your lifestyle. If you love traveling, dining at pricey restaurants, or have an expensive hobby, make sure there’s room in your monthly budget for those, too.

Are you ready to stay put?

Experts suggest living in a home for at least four years before selling it. It can take that long to recoup the upfront costs of buying the house. Of course, you could rent it. But being a landlord isn’t easy. And if your tenant can’t pay the rent, you’re stuck with two mortgages.

If you’re thinking about changing jobs or leaving the area where you live now within a few years, you’re not ready to buy a home just yet.

How to Choose a Credit Card

There are hundreds of credit cards on the market today. Some of these are tied to regional banks, but the most popular come from some of the biggest banks in the United States. With so many options, it’s important to know which card will provide the most benefit before applying.

Check Your Credit

Before researching credit cards, it’s a good idea to get a credit report. A credit report will provide a record of any open accounts and usually includes a credit score. Banks will run a credit check before extending credit to consumers. Those with a low score will be limited in the types of cards they’ll be able to access.

Decide What The Card Will Be Used For

Will the card be used for everyday spending? Is it intended to transfer an outstanding balance on another card for an interest-free introductory period? Does a card pay out a hefty signup bonus? The reason a person needs a card should influence the final choice they make. If a person is looking for a card that provides cash back on everyday spending, a card without an annual fee that pays out at least 1.5% per dollar spent would likely be best. When getting a card for a cache of travel points, it’s a good idea to identify a card that has vendors that operate in the intended vacation destination.

Consider The Annual Fee

Many cards come with an annual fee. The high-end cards can come with a fee of $500 or more each year. It’s important to assess whether the card provides enough benefit to justify paying the fee. It might be a good idea to get a card and hold it for a year if the bank waives the fee for the first year. Those looking for cash-back cards can opt for a card that charges no annual fee. There are plenty available.

Getting a credit card is a big financial step to take. It provides credit, but it also requires a great deal of discipline to avoid going into debt. Credit cards come with high interest rates, but those who pay off their cards each month will avoid these charges. For those who have the discipline to avoid spending more than they can pay off, credit cards can provide some impressive rewards.

Debunking Common Myths about Personal Finance

It’s possible that the only obstacle to reaching your financial dream is your lack of financial knowledge. Having a job and paying taxes and rent doesn’t qualify you as financially literate. Like many of us in the United States, you’re bound to encounter repeated mistakes with money—many of which are based on false preconceived notions. It’s time to debunk some common financial myths.

That Finance is Corrupt

Start building your financial literacy by accepting the fact that money, itself, isn’t reserved for the corrupt. You need to stay true to yourself as you build your wealth, and if you find yourself in trouble due to money, a closer look will reveal that you got yourself into that trouble. At the same time, though, you can always get yourself out!

That Budgeting Alone is What Saves Money

You can’t save money just by organizing your fixed and variable costs. Your discipline, as you live according to your budget, means nothing if the influences of spending later deter you. One of the largest expenses that people fail to account for is the fact that sellers invest time and money into convincing you to casually give your money away. You won’t save money “if you keep falling into spending sprees.”

That Your Savings Equals Wealth

Money is what you earn, but wealth is only obtained from assets that create an income. Savings won’t make you wealthy, since cash is exposed to inflation, taxes, and spending. Building wealth is about positioning your money to duplicate itself without your direct effort. Your savings, though valuable and necessary, are only useful if used to acquire assets that generate more income for you.

That Retirement is the Goal

Another mistake that promising Americans make with their finances is in organizing them solely for retirement.

Retirement is paradoxical since wealth, which is money that doesn’t deplete, must come from multiple assets that produce an income. If you, at this very moment, hope to reach a point in life where you do nothing, then this mindset will reflect in and limit your personal finances. You should expect to retire, but shouldn’t sacrifice your potential for financial improvement. 

Basic Budgeting Tips

Many Americans have trouble with their finances. For some, it’s due to a lack of income. For others, it’s difficult to figure out how to divvy up money each month. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a budget. Budgets give households permission to spend a specific amount of money during a given month. A budget is a good way to track spending, and many millionaires claim that this step was an important key to their financial success.

Start With A Zero Balance

A family should account for every dollar when setting up a budget. Having a zero-based budget simply means that every dollar is accounted for at the beginning of the month. It does not mean that every dollar gets spent. Some of the money should go toward savings, but it should not be left without a home in the savings portion of the budget.

Save Automatically

That money that gets saved should get automatically deducted at the beginning of the month. Ideally, this will be the result of an automatic draw from a direct deposit. By saving automatically, there will be less of a temptation to spend the money on frivolities. Any cash that gets saved should be put toward an emergency fund, a long-term savings goal like a mortgage down payment or investments.

Prioritize Debt Repayment

Any money that’s left over after accounting for all necessary expenses should go toward paying off debt. One of the biggest drains on the average family’s finances is interest expense. By cutting out interest expenses and debt payments, many people who have financial stress could breathe much easier. Making more money and cutting expenses are the best way to accelerate debt repayment. Fewer payments going to debtors leaves more money for more enjoyable purposes.

Allow for Miscellaneous Spending

Setting aside some petty cash for small and unexpected expenses is a good way to avoid going into debt or dipping into an emergency fund. Few months are alike when it comes to expenses, so having a little cash on hand to deal with unusual expenses is a great step to take.

Budgeting is an important key to financial success. Rather than constraining a family, a budget can actually be a very freeing process. A budget allows for an easy assessment of where a family’s money is going. By gaining an understanding of where a household’s income is going, it’s possible to make adjustments to provide for more efficient use of that money.

How to Correct Tax Return Errors

No matter how many times you check or how accurate you believe your information to be, mistakes happen. When mistakes happen, it is not the end of the world, but mistakes on tax forms can become headaches.

You may use a tax professional, some form of tax software, or complete taxes the old fashioned way; however you do your taxes, you should check them thoroughly before filing. While there are ways to make corrections once you’ve submitted, most of them do entail waiting additional time for a refund and increased time and paperwork. Here are some of the ways to amend those mistakes as quickly as possible.

Let the IRS Fix It

Sometimes, calculations are off by just a few dollars. If you’ve made a small error that does not greatly impact your return, the IRS may fix it for you. If this is the case, the IRS will send a letter explaining the adjustments and offering advice on next steps, should there be any. This is the easiest solution and is actually commonplace for simple and easily-corrected mistakes. 

Send an Amended Return

If the IRS does not fix the mistake that you know you made, an amended return can be used for correcting the large majority of mistakes. Simply download and fill out a 1040x form from the IRS website. This is the best blanket solution on the list, as it covers errors great and small.

Have a Copy of the Initial Return Handy

If you are correcting a mistake, you must have a copy of the initial return that you filed. This return will be used to spot the mistake and any subsequent issue that would need to be changed.

Check Your Math While Making Corrections

When filing your taxes, one incorrect line on your return can affect the outcome of everything else. You cannot just go in and change the error that you made and move on. You must also go through the rest of the return and make necessary corrections based on the initial error. 

Avoid e-Filing Amended Returns

The ability to electronically file your taxes is one of the best things to come from the Internet age. Refunds come more quickly, and there is a lot less paperwork to be mailed. This, however, is not an option for an amended return, so have envelopes and stamps ready. It may help to gauge the estimated time period between your mailing of the return and the IRS’s receipt of it.

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.