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Fail-Proof Your New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap — and for good reason. They are wildly unsuccessful. Millions of people have well-intentioned aspirations for the New Year, but only about one in 10 actually accomplish their goal, according to the Statistic Brain Research Center.

If you dig a little deeper into the reasons why they fail, you find it’s usually not the resolution itself, it’s in the execution. Here are four popular New Year’s resolutions and how to avoid messing them up:

  1. Resolution #1: Becoming healthier. The most popular resolution can take on many forms — losing weight, getting in better shape, eating healthier, and so on. This resolution usually fails because to be successful, it takes a major lifestyle change. You’re fighting against months or maybe years of poor behaviors, so expecting wholesale changes right out of the gate is not reasonable.
    Make it fail-proof: Start with smaller, simpler goals like not eating after 8 p.m., or exercising for 20 minutes a day for three times a week. Hitting manageable goals will build momentum and create good habits.
  2. Resolution #2: Spending less money. Depending on how much you spent on Christmas, this one might take care of itself for a few weeks. But if you don’t have a spending plan or budget, old spending habits will re-emerge.
    Make it fail-proof: Take some time at the beginning of the year to jot down some long-term spending and savings goals and then work backwards to figure out how those goals will affect your weekly purchases. As the year goes on, continue to track your progress and evaluate your purchases.
  3. Resolution #3: Getting more organized. Going from being disorganized to organized is not a quick fix. To make the switch, it takes an evaluation of your entire environment. Most people don’t have the time for such an extensive process so they buy some bins, stuff them full and call it good. That’s not going to work and it’ll cost you money.
    Make it fail-proof: Instead, start small. Pick one room in your house or one aspect of your life to focus on, like health care bills or your tax documents. Once you get some traction, you can apply the methods you learned to other things. Incremental improvement is the best long-term approach.
  4. Resolution #4: Spending less time on electronics. If this is a resolution that’s important to you, odds are you’ve had some trouble keeping electronic usage under control. With so many games, social media and streaming options at our fingertips, our brains are now conditioned to be engaged electronically at all times.
    Make it fail-proof: One way to start to break this habit is to change the accessibility you have to your devices. Remove apps from your phone and keep your devices out of reach when you don’t need them. Another way to curb electronic usage is to form a different habit, such as reading.

Resolutions, whether at New Year’s or any other time, are a good thing. To be successful, more planning and attention are required than most people think. And if you slip up, don’t quit! Learn from your mistakes and keeping going.

2020 Retirement Plan Limits

As part of your 2020 planning, now is the time to review funding your retirement accounts. By establishing your contribution goals at the beginning of each year, the financial impact of saving for your future should be more manageable. Here are annual contribution limits:

Take action

If you have not already done so, please consider:

  • Reviewing and adjusting your periodic contributions to your retirement savings accounts to take full advantage of the tax advantaged limits
  • Setting up new accounts for a spouse or dependent(s)
  • Using this time to review the status of your retirement plan
  • Reviewing contributions to other tax-advantaged plans including flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts

There’s Still Time to Fund Your IRA

There is still time to make a contribution to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA for the 2019 tax year. The annual contribution limit is $6,000 or $7,000 if you are age 50 or over.

Prior to making a contribution, if you (or your spouse) are an active participant in an employer’s qualified retirement plan (a 401(k), for example), you will need to make sure your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) does not exceed certain thresholds. There are also income limits to qualify to make Roth IRA contributions.

Maximum 2019 IRA Contribution amounts: $6,000 or $7,000 (with age 50+ catch-up provision)

Note: Married traditional IRA limits depend on whether either you, your spouse or both of you participate in a qualified employer-provided retirement plan. If married filing separate and either spouse participates in an employer’s qualified plan, the income phaseout to contribute is $0-10,000.

If your income is too high to take advantage of these IRAs you can always make a non-deductible contribution to an IRA. While the contributions are not tax-deferred, the earnings are not taxed until they are withdrawn.

Make Your Cash Worth More

Banking tips to help you cash in

Your cash is parked. Do you know if it’s making or losing you money? For instance, letting it sit in a non-interest-bearing account is a waste of earnings potential. It’s actually losing money if you factor in inflation! Here are some ideas to help you make the most of your banked cash:

Understand your bank accounts. Not all bank accounts are created equal. Interest rates, monthly fees, minimum balances, direct deposit requirements, access to ATMs, other fees and customer service all vary from bank to bank and need to be considered. Start by digging into the details of your accounts. There may be some things you’ve been unnecessarily living with like ATM fees or monthly account charges. Once you have a handle on your current bank, conduct research on what other banks have to offer.

Know your interest rates. As a general rule, the more liquid an account, the lower the interest rate. Checking accounts offer the lowest rates, then savings accounts, which yield lower rates than CDs. Maximizing your earnings is as simple as keeping your cash in accounts with higher interest rates. The overall interest rate earned between all your accounts should be higher than the inflation rate, which is generally around 2 percent.

Make smart moves. There are a couple of things to take into account when making transfers. First, federal law allows for only six transfers from savings and money market accounts per month. Second, if you invest in longer term investments like CDs or bonds, there are penalties for withdrawing funds before the maturity date. So make sure you can live without the funds for the duration of the term.

Stay diligent. Putting together a cash plan is just the start. The key to success is to be persistent. Besides losing out on potential earnings, mismanaging your cash can result in hefty overdraft fees. The more attention you devote, the more your money will grow.

3 Major Charity Scam Red Flags

You’ve probably already received several letters and phone calls from charities asking for donations. Most requests are from legitimate organizations. Some, however, are bogus charities set up by con artists who use the holiday spirit to their financial advantage.

Last year, Americans gave nearly $428 billion to charities, according to Giving USA 2019: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018. That’s a huge incentive for fraud.

If you’re planning to donate, take some time to learn how to spot a charity scam. Here are a few big red flags:

  • Popup charities. Every legitimate charitable association started sometime, and some are still being formed. But natural disasters, endemics and calamities of every type — from Hurricane Dorian to the Ebola virus — seem to spawn an inordinate share of fake charities. You can avoid these popup scams by donating to charities that you trust, which generally means those with a proven track record. If you’re unsure, check out the organization with the Better Business BureauCharity NavigatorGuideStar or similar watchdog group.
  • Evasive answers to fundraising questions. A legitimate caller should be upfront about their charity, the percentage of funds allocated to administration and marketing, and what target groups will be aided by your donation. Whether you’re giving to provide medical supplies, support research or some other worthy cause, don’t be afraid to ask direct questions and expect direct answers. If the fundraiser seems to hedge their responses or knows little about the supposed cause to which you’re contributing, consider a different charity. Beware of vague claims like “educating the public” or “promoting awareness.”
  • Urgent email requests. Websites made to mimic legitimate charities have conned many otherwise careful contributors. Emails asking for money on a deadline may originate from the backroom computer of a scam artist. Never divulge your financial information via email. Call the charity directly and find out if it’s registered in your state (if required). Ask for written information. When in doubt, check it out.

Many charitable organizations are seeking your aid to address genuine hardships. Avoid the schemes of unethical scammers, and your donations will provide help where it’s needed most.

If you think you’ve been contacted by a bogus charity, let the Federal Trade Commission know by filing a complaint.

Time for a Yearly Credit Report

One way to head off fraud during tax season is to get your free annual credit report now. Credit reports often have errors in them; this quick checkup can be the first indication that some form of identity theft has taken place on your account.

The good news is that each of the major consumer credit reporting agencies is required by law to provide you with a free report once a year. Here’s contact information to help you get your free credit report:

Telephone: 1-877-322-8228
Website: www.AnnualCreditReport.com
Via mail: (fill out the online form and mail it to the following address)
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Listed here are the three major credit agencies and how to contact them directly.

TransUnion
Telephone: 833-395-6938
Web site: www.transunion.com
Via mail: 2 Baldwin Place
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022

Equifax
Telephone: 1-800-685-1111
Web site: www.equifax.com
Via mail: Equifax Credit Information Service
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian
Telephone: 1.888.EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Web site: www.experian.com
Via mail: P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013

Reminder: Each agency may try to upsell you into additional paid services. If you find problems on your credit report, work through the credit bureau’s process to correct the error. Also place fraud alerts on your credit agency account if you experience any kind of identity fraud.

The Power of Cultivating Gratitude

Tips on how to be thankful

It costs nothing to say thank you. Yet cultivating gratitude in your life may be one of the most rewarding moves you can make. Not only does it invoke warm fuzzies in everyone involved, expressing your appreciation may actually improve your health and well-being.

A landmark study by gratitude researcher Robert A. Emmons has shown that gratitude can reduce physical illness symptoms and toxic emotions. It can even help you sleep better and longer, according to a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.

So what are some ways you can make gratitude part of your everyday life? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Write it out. Write out what you’re thankful for in your life. This may mean making a nightly habit of writing in a journal or jotting down a message to a loved one and giving it to them. You could also make some sticky note reminders of what you’re grateful for and hang them on your mirror to read each morning.
  • Share a good memory. Reminiscing often stirs up feelings of gratitude. For instance, think about the time you first met a close friend in grade school. Contact them and tell them how grateful you are that it happened. Send a photo of that family vacation when you all shared a common experience like learning to water ski. When you think about it, you will quickly discover happy memories to share with loved ones.
  • Offer your service. Show your gratitude through your actions. If you appreciate your community, join a group to clean up the park and streets. Provide a positive online review for your favorite local café. Or volunteer at a Veterans Affairs hospital.
  • Lend an ear. Some of the most meaningful moments involve simply being heard. Return the favor. If your sister is usually the one who lets you ramble on about work grievances and family drama, it’s time to give her a turn. Let her know you’re there and ready to listen. Maybe you avoid your chatty (albeit helpful) coworker. When you see them next, give them 5 minutes of your time.
  • Pay it forward. Did your neighbor share a gutter-cleaning hack with you? Next time you see someone on your street cleaning their gutters, offer to lend a hand. See a mom digging for spare change at a check out register? Pay it for her. Let the appreciation of your good deed change someone else’s outlook for the day. When they offer to pay you back, just tell them to pay it forward.

There are opportunities to cultivate gratitude all around us. Refocusing on what you appreciate on regular basis can help you live a healthier, more satisfying life.

Reminder: Major Employment Tax Deadlines

Handling employment taxes can be complicated, especially when you’re required to file important tax documents throughout the year. Here’s a list of key forms and deadline dates to help keep you on track.

Form 941 — Employer’s quarterly federal tax return
This form is used to report income tax withheld from employees’ pay and both the employer’s and employees’ share of Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Employers generally must deposit Form 941 payroll taxes on either a monthly or semiweekly deposit schedule. There are exceptions if you owe $100,000 or more on any day during a deposit period, if you owe $2,500 or less for the calendar quarter, or if your estimated annual payroll tax liability is $1,000 or less.

  • Monthly depositors are required to deposit payroll taxes accumulated within a calendar month by the 15th of the following month.
  • Semiweekly depositors generally must deposit payroll taxes on Wednesdays or Fridays, depending on when wages are paid.

Return filing deadlines:

  • Jan. 31, 2020 –  Due date for filing Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2019. If you deposited your taxes in full and on time, you have until Feb. 10, 2020, to file this return.
  • April 30, 2020 –  Due date for filing Form 941 for the first quarter. If you deposited your taxes in full and on time, you have until May 11, 2020, to file this return.
  • July 31, 2020 –  Due date for filing Form 941 for the second quarter. If you deposited your taxes in full and on time, you have until Aug. 10, 2020, to file this return.
  • Nov. 1, 2020 –  Due date for filing Form 941 for the third quarter. If you deposited your taxes in full and on time, you have until Nov. 10 to file this return.

Form 940 — Employer’s annual federal unemployment tax return (FUTA)
This return is due annually. However, FUTA tax must generally be deposited once a quarter if the accumulated tax exceeds $500.

  • Jan. 31, 2020 –  Due date for filing 2019 Form 940. If you deposited your taxes in full and on time, you have until Feb. 10, 2020, to file this return. This day is also the deadline for depositing federal unemployment tax for October, November and December 2019.
  • April 30, 2020 –  Deadline for depositing federal unemployment tax for January, February and March 2020.
  • July 31, 2020 –  Deadline for depositing federal unemployment tax for April, May and June 2020.
  • Nov. 1, 2020 –  Deadline for depositing federal unemployment tax for July, August and September 2020.

Form W-2 — Wage and tax statement
Employers are required to send this document to each employee and the IRS at the end of the year. It reports employee annual wages and taxes withheld from paychecks.

  • Jan. 31, 2020 –  Due date for employers to provide 2019 Forms W-2 to employees, and for employers to send copies of 2019 W-2s to the Social Security Administration, whether filing electronically or with paper forms.

Tax deadline extensions for disaster areas
For taxpayers living in designated disaster areas, the IRS extends certain filing and tax payment dates. Taxpayers living in the affected areas (and those whose tax professionals are located in those areas) have relief from penalties for filing under the new extended dates. These filing and payment extensions are also available to some relief workers.

Visit the IRS’s Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief for Individuals and Businesses page for up-to-date information.