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Saving Too Much Can Sometimes Be Expensive

When it comes to money topics, you’re always hearing how to save more. But even with the best of intentions, you can run into trouble when you try to save too much. Here are four ways that savings can get in your way and how you can correct them.

Savings that turns into spending. Buying something on sale to save money is still spending. Focus on the amount of money you have to part with, instead of focusing on the great deal. These deals use the human emotion of the fear of losing out, causing you to spend money you did not plan on spending in the first place.

What you can do: Plan your purchases. If something on your list of planned purchases is then on sale, you will truly be saving money. So instead of saving 50% on a new lawn mower, save 100% because you already have one that works just fine.

Savings that turns into hoarding. This could happen if you have a hard time parting with things for fear you might be able to use it in the future. This could be as simple as buying a new set of dishes or a new pair of shoes and hanging on to the old ones just in case. Each time you acquire something new without throwing out the old, your house gets stuffed with items you don’t need.

What you can do: When you need to replace something, try to sell the old item right after bringing in the new item(s). Not only will this keep the clutter out of your home, it will effectively lower the cost of the replacement. And periodically review the contents of your household. Have you used it in the last 12 months? If not, chances are good that you won’t need it in the foreseeable future.

Not replacing things when you should. This savings behavior might actually be costing you money. For example, that old water heater still works, but it could be so inefficient that it is costing a ton in excess electricity or gas. The same could be true with an old car’s maintenance bills or even wearing clothes even though you’ve worn holes in them.

What you can do: Consider replacements as investments. For instance, replacing the old brakes in your car is an investment in your safety. Replacing your worn out shoes is an investment in your comfort. Replacing your toothbrush that is falling apart is an investment in your health.

Risking damages or dangers. It’s great to save money by doing something by yourself, but know your limits. Sure, cutting down that old tree by yourself can save you a ton of money. But the emergency room is full of do-it-yourself savers who lack the experience to do it safely. The same can be true with making financial decisions or even wading through the tax code on your own.

What you can do: Know your limits and ask for help. Sometimes paying a little more is worth it if it means avoiding a potentially dangerous or financially negative situation.

AB 2257 – New Changes to California’s AB5

QUICK BACKGROUND

California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), went into effect on January 1, 2020 and requires companies that hire independent contractors to reclassify them as employees, with a few exceptions. The biggest question regarding AB5 was how to differentiate between an employee and a contractor. The California Supreme Court created a three-way test to help, commonly called the ABC Test:

  1. The worker can perform services free of the company’s control and/or direction.
  2. The worker performs tasks that are outside of the company’s regular activities.
  3. The worker is also engaged in an independently established trade or business.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) extends employee classification status to gig workers.
  • Companies must use a three-pronged test to prove workers are independent contractors, not employees.
  • AB5 is designed to regulate companies that hire gig workers in large numbers, such as Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash.
  • On Aug. 10, 2020, a California judge ruled against Uber and Lyft for failing to comply with the law.
  • And on Sept. 4, 2020, the Calif. legislature passed—and Governor Gavin Newsom signed—Assembly Bill 2257, which exempts a long list of job categories from AB5 strictures. It went into effect immediately.

Among those exempted from the strictures are still and video photographers and editors, freelance writers, content contributors, editors, translators, fine artists, and musicians. One key change was the removal of caps for categories of freelancers that had limited the number of contributions they could make to an outlet, such as a website, without having to be reclassified as employees. Not exempted: Workers for gig-economy companies such as Lyft and Uber.

As usual, navigating the constantly changing legal landscape for independent contractor status can be very complicated. If your business uses, or is thinking of using, independent contractors to assist with any business functions, make sure you contact a legal professional to make sure you are staying compliant with the latest legal developments.

Don’t Make These Business Website Mistakes

Your company’s online presence leaves a lasting impression—positive or negative. When people check out your homepage, will they stick around? Will they buy? Will they return? Make your website easy to use and current, and new orders may be just a click away. Annoy visitors and they’ll flee to a competitor.

Steer clear of the following website mistakes:

Designing the website for you—not the customer. Studies have shown that online visitors form an opinion of a company’s brand in about three seconds. If your home page is well designed, they may stick around for another ten to twenty seconds. Don’t waste these precious moments spouting details about the firm’s stellar history and the owner’s credentials. Consumers are visiting your website to get answers. Provide these answers quickly or they’ll click elsewhere.

Heavy graphics, poor load time. Many consumers are surfing the web from smart phones and tablets. Don’t make them waste valuable time waiting for a fancy webpage to load. Consider projecting a professional image with text-based content that answers the most pressing questions about your products and services. Graphics can work well, but only if size and load times are fully vetted to ensure a seamless load experience.

Unfriendly navigation. If your homepage looks cluttered, potential customers will become frustrated. Make it easy for users to navigate your site from home page to supplemental pages and back again. Use a handful of clearly-labeled tabs in a top-level menu. Deliberately design each page to have the same look and feel.

Stale data. When you visit a webpage and note that it was last updated five years ago, do you sense a vibrant, cutting-edge enterprise? Keep your site up to date. Consider subscribing to content services that will keep your information fresh. Remember, developing a web presence is not an event, it is an ongoing journey. Your site must display current prices, merchandise that’s available right now, with up-to-date details about new product offerings.

Sloppy content. A website riddled with typos, grammatical mistakes and industry jargon will turn customers away. Visitors may ask themselves if your business doesn’t care about the quality of its website, how can they trust your products and services?

A carefully crafted website can draw customers in, enhance their buying experience and leave a lasting impression of professionalism and quality.

Switching Jobs? Here’s What to Do With Your 401(k)

Suppose you’re switching jobs if you were furloughed because of the pandemic or you’re simply searching for greener pastures. If you have a 401(k) from your soon-to-be former employer, you must decide what to do with your retirement account when you leave. Here are your four options:

  • Leave the money in your previous employer’s pension plan.
  • Roll over the money to your new employer’s pension plan.
  • Roll over the money into an IRA.
  • Take the money and run.

So, which of these options should you choose? Here are some things to consider as you think about what to do with your 401(k) account:

Keep the borrowing option open. If you want to borrow money from your employer-sponsored 401(k) account in the future, consider rolling the money into your new employer’s 401(k) plan. While you can borrow money out of your 401(k), that option is not allowed with an IRA. And if you leave your 401(k) at a former employer, they often will not let you borrow funds if you are not currently employed.

Take the money. This year may be the best time to make a withdrawal from a retirement account. In a normal year, when you make an early withdrawal from a retirement account, you owe income taxes on the amount of the distribution plus a 10% early withdrawal penalty. In 2020, this 10% penalty has been suspended. So while you’ll still pay taxes on the distribution, you may be able to avoid the early withdrawal penalty.

Invest the money. While it might be tempting to borrow or take an early distribution from your retirement account, you’ll also be depleting future earnings intended for your retirement years. So, consider whether you truly need the money now to pay for an emergency or if you’re ok leaving it in your 401(k).

Whatever you decide, it is always best to transfer the funds directly from one retirement account to another. This direct transfer eliminates the possibility of your fund movement being characterized as a distribution subject to income tax. If in doubt, ask your financial advisor for help.

Find a Budget Method That Works

Which unique method of budgeting will work for you?

You have your own unique personality, preferences and lifestyle. Likewise, how you manage and organize your finances can have its own personality, including how you budget. Here are five different methods of budgeting, each with a distinct way of helping you organize your spending and finances.

  • Traditional budget. Use last year’s budget as a base, make any necessary adjustments due to changes in your income or expenses, and create your budget by taking your income minus your expenses to equal the amount you have to spend.
  • Envelope budget. Keep a set amount of cash for the month in envelopes labeled with an expense category like groceries, clothing, eating out, entertainment, etc. Use one envelope per expense category. If you run out of money in one envelope, you can dip into other envelopes, but this will obviously impact spending in those areas.
  • Reverse budget. Instead of stashing away the money left over after you’re done spending for the month, first take out your portion for savings and then spend the amount of money that remains. Reverse budgeting is an effective way to prioritize saving for your future retirement, an emergency or rainy-day fund, or other big expenses like a vacation, a new car, or a down payment on a house.
  • Zero-based budget. Know where each dollar is going and record every single dollar spent. Also called the zero-sum or down-to-the-dollar budget, this method helps you get specific about spending and keeping track of all your dollars. Instead of one amount allotted for food, you know exactly how much you will spend on groceries, lunch while at work, and dining out. Instead of one amount allotted for savings, you know exactly how much you are putting into retirement, loan repayment, and emergency savings.
  • 50/20/30 budget. Stick to three spending categories. Each month, 50% of your take-home income goes toward needs, 20% toward savings, and 30% toward wants. Examples of needs are housing or car payments and groceries. Savings could be retirement money, paying off loans, and emergency funds. Wants include things like shopping, vacation, or entertainment. Less detailed than the zero-based or envelope methods but more detailed than traditional or reverse budgeting, the 50/20/30 method helps you monitor money habits by helping you stick to three categories every month.

The best budget approach? One that works for you and one that you will continue to use. So pick an approach and try it. It can really change how you spend your money.

As always, should you have any questions or concerns regarding your tax situation please feel free to call.

 

Great Tips to Improve Your Credit Score

You’re ready to take out a loan to buy a house, a car or get a credit card. You fill out the application and wait to hear back from your bank on its decision whether to loan you the money.

And then you get the dreaded phone call. Your credit score wasn’t high enough to approve the loan! Was there anything you could have done to get a higher credit score?

Getting and maintaining a high credit score is just like playing a game. But just like any game, you first need to understand the rules so you can create a winning game plan. Here are the rules of the credit score game you need to understand so you can get the highest score possible.

  • Rule 1 – Pay your bills on time (Comprises 35% of your credit score equation). Payment history is the most important component of your credit score and is pretty straightforward – it’s a record of whether or not you’ve paid your bills on time.

    Action: Don’t be late paying your bills! A one-time late payment may not affect your score, but multiple late payments will drag down your score. Even better, understand what vendors report your payment history and which ones do not.

  • Rule 2 – Refrain from maxing out your credit (30%). Just because you have a $10,000 credit limit doesn’t mean you should use it all. Using close to or all of your credit limit signals to lenders that you may be a high-risk borrower. Insurance companies also love to use high-limit spending as a reason to increase your home and auto insurance, so be forewarned!

    Action: Don’t use more than 25% of your available revolving credit, and pay the outstanding credit card balance in full each month.

  • Rule 3 – Build a long history of using credit responsibly (15%). Lenders want to see a track record that you can handle being entrusted with a credit limit. If you have old credit accounts that are still open and in good standing, that signals your trustworthiness, which is reflected in a higher credit score.

    Action: When you open a credit account, keep it active for as long as possible. If you stop using an account, consider leaving that account open, but only if it will help your score and not hurt you in obtaining new credit.

  • Rule 4 – Use multiple types of credit (10%). Lenders like to see you with both revolving debt (credit cards) and installment debt (car and house loans).

    Action: If you have a low credit limit, request a limit increase. Many banks will honor the request, especially if you’ve had a history of making on-time payments. If you don’t have a history of using installment loans, consider making a small purchase (such as an appliance or electronic device) using an installment loan.

  • Rule 5 – Avoid too many credit inquiries (10%). Applying for many loans or credit cards in a short period of time tells lenders you may be attempting to acquire more credit than you can handle.

    Action: Apply for only one type of credit at a time. Multiple inquiries for the same type of credit, for example a mortgage loan, within a short period of time will only count as one inquiry.

You can improve your credit score by understanding these rules and putting them into practice.

IRS Announces Common Tax Scams

The IRS recently announced its 2020 edition of its annual Dirty Dozen list of tax scams with a special emphasis on aggressive and evolving schemes related to COVID-19 tax relief, including Economic Impact Payments. Here are six of the more common scams.

Phishing. Phishing refers to potential fake emails or websites looking to steal your personal information. Remember the IRS will never initiate contact with you via email about an outstanding tax bill, refund or Economic Impact Payment.

What you can do. If you receive any suspicious phishing emails, forward them to phishing@irs.gov.

Fake charities. Criminals frequently exploit natural disasters and other crisis situations such as this year’s pandemic by setting up fake charities to steal donations. Fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, text, social media, e-mail or even in person.

What you can do. Verify the charity’s existence by searching for it using the IRS’s search tool.

Threatening phone calls from IRS impersonators. IRS impersonation scams include phone calls threatening arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay a bogus tax bill. The IRS will never demand immediate payment or ask for financial information over the phone.

What you can do. If you received a phone call, contact your local IRS office to verify whether you owe any taxes.

Social media scams. A scammer will use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to obtain personal information from you, then use that information to trick you into providing them with confidential information. For example, the scammer could impersonate a family member, friend or co-worker in an attempt to obtain financial information.

What you can do. Be careful of publishing confidential information on social media. Verify the identity of any person or organization that asks you for confidential information.

Economic impact payment or tax refund theft. Criminals file false tax returns or supply other bogus information to the IRS to divert refunds or Economic Impact Payments to wrong addresses or bank accounts.

What you can do. Contact a qualified professional to help walk you through how to report identity theft to the IRS.

Senior fraud. Senior citizens have become more comfortable with various technologies such as social media. This has opened the door for scammers to take advantage of senior citizens by using fake emails, text messages and fake websites to steal personal information.

What you can do. Be the eyes and ears for the senior citizens you come in contact with. According to the IRS, anecdotal evidence indicates that senior fraud decreases substantially when a trusted friend or family member takes an interest in the senior’s affairs.

Building a Fortress Defense for PPP Loan Forgiveness

More than 70% of small businesses in America now have loan proceeds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help retain employees during the current pandemic. The entire amount of a PPP loan is eligible to be forgiven if the funds are used for qualified expenses. Recent legislation liberalizes the terms of loan forgiveness for funds used for payroll, utilities and rent. It is now based on a 24-week period, not just eight weeks.

But how can you best position your company to fully benefit from PPP loan forgiveness? Here are five tips to help meet the challenge.

  • Restore your staff. If possible, restore the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to previous levels by the safe-harbor due date of December 31 (extended from June 30). Bring back furloughed FTEs as soon as you can. Of course, this should fit into your overall business plan. If an employee does not return, document the refusal. All these actions will help when the forgiveness formula is applied to your loan.
  • Pile on payroll costs. Run payroll and other remaining qualified expenses—including mortgage interest, rent and utilities—on the last day of the 24-week period. This will enable your business to maximize the amount of loan forgiveness allowed under the calculation.
  • Reward employees. Consider paying out reasonable incentive amounts to maximize the forgiveness of payroll costs. The bonuses can even go to family members like your spouse or children. But remember that you can only count up to $100,000 of wages per person, pro-rated for the covered year, and you must be able to defend these payments as reasonable.
  • Use the simplified application form. There are two loan forgiveness forms – the regular form (Form 3508) and a simplified version called Form 3508EZ. Review both forms before deciding which one is right for your situation. For instance, there are fewer calculations on the simplified form with less documentation required. To qualify for the simplified form, you must meet at least one of these requirements:
    • You’re self-employed and have no other employees.
    • You didn’t reduce employee hours or reduce their wages and salaries by more than 25%.
    • You lost business due to health directives relating to COVID-19 and didn’t reduce employee wages and salaries by more than 25%.
  • Document everything. Once you receive PPP loan funds, keep supporting documentation on everything related to the loan. Document when you receive the loan, each time you spend part of the loan and accrued interest expense on the loan. Also keep copies of receipts and invoices to document all loan expenditures, including bank account statements and journal entries.

Don’t Make These Mortgage Refinancing Mistakes

With 30-year fixed rate mortgages approaching historical lows of 3%, you may be thinking about refinancing an existing mortgage. But you better read the fine print before signing on the dotted line to avoid paying too much money. Here are some common mistakes homeowners make when refinancing their mortgage.

  • Not shopping around. When looking to refinance a mortgage, many homeowners simply check a couple advertised rates and pick the lowest one. But there are many factors affecting the total cost of refinancing, so it pays to carefully look at not just rates but also terms and fees offered by different lenders. Remember that a mortgage with a lower rate and higher closing costs from one lender can ultimately cost more overall than a mortgage with a higher rate but lower closing costs from another lender.
  • Saying yes to current mortgage loan forbearance. Loan forbearance occurs when your current lender allows you to delay making a payment or allows you to lower your payments. This is a common offer during the current pandemic. If you are considering refinancing in the future, think twice before taking advantage of this offer. Accepting a bank’s offer to skip a couple payments, even during a pandemic, may signal cash flow problems that could negatively affect your mortgage refinancing options.
  • Not improving your credit score. The willingness of banks to lend you money at favorable rates is often contingent on your credit score. You must therefore know your current score and actively work to improve it. So don’t take out a new loan or credit card in the months leading up to refinancing. Also pay your bills on time and never use more than 15% to 20% of your available credit line on credit cards. By doing this you can vastly improve your interest rates and related closing fees.
  • Not looking over the good faith estimate. Origination fees, points, credit reports and other fees are all included with closing costs when refinancing a mortgage. These fees aren’t finalized until you receive a good faith estimate (GFE). Any changes you notice to fees on the GFE compared to what you were originally told is a red flag. Compare the final refinancing document you’re about to sign with the rates and fees originally presented to you. Challenge any increases.

By being aware of refinancing pitfalls, you can actively eliminate any surprises and create a situation where multiple lenders are fighting for the right to lend you funds.