Tag: Personal Finance (page 1 of 3)

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.

Tips for Starting a College Fund

For many industries, a decent college education is a requirement. However, college isn’t exactly easy; from picking a major and career path to writing detailed term papers and theses, plenty of challenges stand in a student’s way. One of the greatest obstacles is the cost. Similar to buying a house or car, investing in a college education is one of the biggest financial moves that anyone will make.

College may be rewarding in terms of education, but it can destroy someone financially. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you establish a college fund, you can get the ball rolling and enjoy less debt.

Here are a few tips to start a college fund.

Determine the Best Way to Save

Starting a college fund isn’t as simple as it may seem. Most people can’t just throw over $60,000 in a bank account and call it a day. They need to have a savings plan in place if they want to keep things simple.

There are multiple types of saving plans to choose from including:

  • 529 Plans
  • Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) Accounts
  • IRA Accounts
  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts

It’s important to remember that not every savings plan is for everyone. For instance, one might have an easier time having a 529 plan than an IRA. Do your research before investing in any of these plans. 

Apply for a Scholarship

Because college can be so financially demanding, scholarships are the way to go. Scholarships are essentially how people can pay for college without going into debt. Furthermore, a scholarship can range from anything such as math and gymnastics.

For parents, it’s crucial to encourage a child to apply for a scholarship, so they don’t have to worry about the hardships that come with debt. With all the options out there, you’ll be hard-pressed to not find a scholarship that fits your interests.

Put in Time for Work

Getting a job is a surefire way to make money to put towards college. Aside from paying for tuition, a job also gives a person experience in a specific field that they can put on a resume later on. This is a great starting point for those looking to get hands-on experience for their dream job as well.

Being able to afford a college education isn’t always easy, but it is possible with a little advanced planning and strategic thinking.

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.

How To Plan For Student Loan Payments

Many students get out of college and realize that they need to pay off their loans. With colleges sticker prices on the rise each year, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by student debt. However, if by applying these tips, students can plan for debt and pay off their loans as quickly as possible. 

Consider Refinancing Your Student Loans

Some people may not know where to start, especially if their student debt is going to be quite high. If you fall into that camp, you could look into refinancing your loans. Refinancing your loans means that you use another loan to pay off your student loans.

If you have a stable job and you can find loans with lower interest, then you may want to refinance. This way, you pay off the student loans and then don’t have to pay as much money over time when you work on the other loan.

Set Money Aside Each Paycheck For Your Loans

You should focus on budgeting your money so that you can set aside some of that income from each paycheck. This way, you can always pay off that set amount with each paycheck. Such a consistent system will go a long way in helping you pay off those loans.

Some people may worry that it would take too long to use this approach, but consistent payments do offer a tremendous benefit. Yes, it may take some time, but this method helps you calculate when you’ll have that debt paid off by. As your financial situation changes, you can accurately pivot and recalculate to get a clear picture of your debt payment schedule.

Prioritize Your Student Loan Payments

People tend to push their loans to the side, but you need to prioritize your loan payments. Sure, you can buy a new phone or gourmet coffee, but you should consider putting that extra money towards your loans. If you prioritize your payments, then you can put all your extra money towards your loans. This will help you to pay them off sooner and reduce interest.

Conclusion

While student loans are scary to think about, keep in mind that you can pay them off with careful planning. Look at how much money you make, set aside specific amounts and continue to prioritize your loans until you pay them off. This way, you can overcome your loans and start saving money for life’s next big adventure.

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.

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. 

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.