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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.

Should You Incorporate Your Business?

You may have started your business as a simple sole proprietorship that files its taxes as a Schedule C on your Form 1040. As your business grows, you may want to change the structure. Here are several scenarios where it may make sense to do just that.

Reasons to Create Business Entities

  • Establishing limited liability. The primary reason businesses form corporations and limited liability companies is to create a separate legal entity that provides legal protection. If your business receives a legal summons for a claim, for example, having limited liability may protect your personal assets like your home and car.
  • Hiring your first employee. Businesses are generally liable for their employees’ actions taken on behalf of the company. If an employee performs an act that causes an outside party to sue your business, the outside party can come after your personal assets to satisfy the lawsuit if you don’t have limited liability. You should, therefore, incorporate your business if you anticipate hiring your first employee in the near future.
  • Establishing credibility. Having LLC or Inc. after your business’s name conveys maturity in your business to customers and vendors.
  • Accessing credit and/or capital. Incorporating can also make it easier for your business to obtain financing through banks or investors. Banks want to see that your business is legitimate and not simply a hobby. Bringing in investors also requires a business form that allows you to do this. Individuals often co-mingle personal funds with business activity, making it hard to consider lending money.

What you need to do

There are several different business entities to consider, including corporations and limited liability companies. There are pros and cons to each entity that must be considered. Added to the complexity are constructing the correct legal filings and related tax obligations for sales tax, income taxes, unemployment and workers’ compensation.

The process of selecting the right structure for your business is not for the faint of heart. Develop connections with professionals that can walk you through this decision-making process.

NEW Tax Rules for 2020!

Here are several new tax laws passed this year to consider as you start planning your 2020 tax obligation.

  • Make up to $300 of charitable contributions. For the 2020 tax year only, an above-the-line deduction of $300 is available to all Americans who want to make a charitable contribution. You can donate to more than one charity, but the total amount of contributions must be $300 or less to be able to take an above-the-line deduction. While you will still need to itemize your deductions if you want a tax break for donations greater than $300, this above-the-line deduction for $300 or less helps alleviate the elimination of the charitable deduction for most taxpayers. (NOTE: $300 is the maximum above-the-line deduction per tax return, regardless of filing status.)

What you need to do. Donate $300 to your favorite charitable organization(s) by December 31, 2020. You must receive a written acknowledgment from the charitable organization(s) to which you made the $300 contribution before filing your 2020 tax return.

  • Donate up to 100% of your income. The normal contribution limit of 60% of your income is suspended for 2020, allowing you to contribute as much of your income as you want to various charities.

What you need to do. While only a tax break for a few taxpayers, this initiative is meant to help struggling charities during the pandemic. If you are considering additional giving, you must make your charitable contributions by December 31, 2020. Remember to obtain written acknowledgment from each charity you made a donation to before filing your 2020 tax return.

  • Use retirement savings to pay for birth or adoption expenses. Adding a child to your family is very expensive. To help with these costs, you can now cash out up to $5,000 per parent from your retirement accounts to pay for birth and/or adoption expenses. While the withdrawal won’t be hit with the 10% early withdrawal penalty, you’ll still have to pay income taxes.

What you need to do. Consult your financial advisor or benefits coordinator to find out how to withdraw the funds from your retirement accounts. Since this withdrawal will deplete your retirement savings, first consider whether you have other sources of cash to cover expenses.

  • No age limit for contributing to IRAs. You can now contribute to an IRA regardless of your age as long as you have earned income. The old rule prevented you from contributing to an IRA past age 70½. The IRA contribution limit for 2020 is $6,000 if you’re under age 50 and $7,000 if you’re over age 50.

What you need to do. Consider getting a part-time job or doing some consulting work if you project that you won’t have earned income by the end of 2020. You can then use this earned income to fund your traditional or Roth IRA.

Small Business Owners Get Good News on PPP Loan Forgiveness

Small business owners, self-employed workers and freelancers received some welcome news when Congress recently passed the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act. This new law clarifies how businesses can qualify to have all or a portion of its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiven.

Here is what you need to know:

December 31, 2020 is the new deadline to spend loan proceeds. When the PPP program was rolled out this spring, businesses were given 8 weeks after loan funding to use the loan’s proceeds if they wanted to qualify for loan forgiveness. That timeline has now moved to 24 weeks. Due to the extended stay-at-home orders and further assessment of the pandemic, the new deadline is now effectively December 31, 2020.

More loan proceeds can be used for non-payroll expenses. The original law required 75% of loan proceeds to be spent on payroll. For businesses with high cost of goods sold or who had trouble convincing furloughed workers to return to work, hitting this 75% threshold was problematic. The new law reduces the amount of loan proceeds required to be spent on payroll to 60%.

More flexibility in fully restoring workforce. Borrowers now have through December 31, 2020 to restore their workforce levels and wages to the pre-pandemic levels required for full forgiveness. There are three exceptions allowed for not having a fully-restored workforce by Dec. 31. Borrowers can adjust their loan forgiveness calculations because of:

  • Employees who turned down good faith offers to be re-hired at the same hours and wages as before the pandemic;
  • Difficulty finding qualified employees;
  • COVID-19 related operating restrictions

Loan terms extended. For loans that do not qualify for forgiveness, borrowers now have up to five years to repay the loan instead of two. The interest rate remains at 1%. Since your bank has 60 days to process your loan forgiveness application and the SBA has 90 days to process the request, your initial payment is now effectively five to six months after your forgiveness application.

What you need to do

  • Download EZ Application Form. If you are a self-employed worker, independent contractor or sole proprietor who has no employees, you may be eligible to use the EZ Loan Forgiveness Application. Click here to download the EZ form. Click here to download instructions for the EZ form.
  • Download Regular Application Form. If you aren’t eligible to use the EZ Loan Forgiveness Application, then you’ll need to complete the regular loan forgiveness application. Click here to download the regular application.
  • Stay in contact with your lending institution about when and how to complete the loan forgiveness application.
  • Consider reaching out to your legislators to let your voice be heard on how you were impacted and to share your story on your PPP loan experience as several U.S. Senators indicated that there will be more changes in the future regarding the program.

Help! My Stimulus Payment is Wrong or Missing!

Millions of Americans already received their economic impact payment. But what if you’re still waiting or your payment was for an incorrect amount?

Here are some common scenarios why you may not have received your payment, or the payment you did receive was for an incorrect amount, and what you can do.

  • Your payment was sent to a closed bank account. If you didn’t update your banking information or mailing address before your payment was processed, your money will probably end up in the wrong location.

What you can do: You probably must wait. If your bank account on file with the IRS is closed or no longer active, the bank will reject the stimulus payment deposit and you will be issued a physical check to the address the IRS has on file for you.

  • Your check was sent to a wrong address. The IRS will send stimulus checks to the mailing address listed on your most recently-filed tax return. The IRS will also mail a letter with information about how and where the stimulus payment was made, but this letter will go to the most recent address on file.

What you can do: Change your address on file with the IRS by filing Form 8822. While it won’t solve your immediate problem, your change will correct future issues. In the meantime, keep tracking the status of your payment by visiting the website Get My Payment. You can also try and contact the new people who live at your old address.

  • You didn’t get paid for your dependents or you think your check amount is incorrect. You are certain that you should have received a full $500 payment for each qualifying dependent and the payment was either not received or was for an incorrect amount.

What you can do: If you did not get the full amount you think you should have received, you will be able to claim the additional amount when you file your 2020 tax return.

  • You received a check for a deceased relative. With more than 300 million people living in the U.S., it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that some of the stimulus checks were mailed to deceased individuals. Unfortunately for living family members, you can’t keep this money.

What you need to do: You should open the check, write VOID on the check and then return it to the IRS. If the payment was via direct deposit or a check received from the IRS was already cashed, you should write a personal check to the IRS to return the money.

Receiving the wrong amount of money in your stimulus check or not receiving a check at all can be very frustrating. But be reassured the IRS is doing everything it can to help you get the correct amount of money that you deserve.

More information: If you have other questions or concerns, the IRS has a question and answer resource. Click here to read through the IRS Q&A.

IMPORTANT! You May Owe a Tax Payment This Month

Find out if you owe the IRS an estimated tax payment

You may owe the IRS a tax payment for your 2020 tax return and not know it.

Most Americans have income taxes withheld from their paychecks, with their employer sending a tax payment to the IRS on their behalf. This year, however, many more Americans will have to write Uncle Sam a check to pay a portion of their 2020 taxes on or before July 15. You may be one of these people!

Who needs to pay now!

You may need to make a payment if one of the following situations applies to you:

  • Paychecks are under-withheld. Your employer withholds a portion of your paychecks for income tax purposes, then submits a payment to the IRS on your behalf. The amount that is withheld from your paychecks, however, may not cover your entire tax liability, resulting in you needing to write the IRS a check. If you’re not withholding enough, ask your employer to increase the withholding amount from your future paychecks so you don’t come up short again in the future.
  • Unemployment compensation paychecks are under-withheld. Unemployment compensation is subject to federal income tax and subject to income taxes in several states. While some unemployment benefit checks withhold a percentage of your payment for income tax purposes, you may need to pay more in taxes than is being withheld.
  • Self-employed workers. Unlike employees, self-employed workers don’t have income tax withheld from pay and must make four estimated tax payments over a period of 12 months. Self-employed workers include gig economy workers, freelancers, S corporation shareholders and partners in a partnership.
  • Retirees. You may owe tax on Social Security benefits, as well as income from investments distributed to you or other unearned income. A portion of pension plan distributions may be withheld, but many times the amount withheld does not cover your entire tax liability, resulting in an underpayment.
  • Sold a major asset. You may owe tax after selling an asset that results in a large capital gain, such as a house, or from the sale of securities.
  • Receive alimony. If you’re being paid alimony under a divorce decree entered into before 2019, the payments constitute taxable income to you. Alimony from post-2018 agreements, however, are not taxable.

What you need to do

Estimate your total income for 2020, then calculate your total 2020 tax bill and divide it by 2. Compare this amount to how much has been withheld from your paychecks, unemployment benefits and any other payments you’ve made to the IRS. If you’re short, consider making an estimated payment by July 15 to make up the difference. This payment is made with Form 1040-ES.

If you do not make this payment on time, the IRS may impose a penalty plus interest on top of the underpaid taxes. Fortunately, you can avoid a penalty by paying at least 90% of the current year’s tax liability or 100% of the prior year’s tax liability (110% if your adjusted gross income for the prior year exceeds $150,000).