Tag Archives: debt

Five Great Finance Tips Everyone Should Know

Avoid hard-won experience and costly mistakes by taking advantage of these five personal finance tips.

 

Pay yourself first – Paying yourself first means taking a percentage of everything you earn and saving it. Consider it as important as any other bill you pay each month. This is a fundamental rule of personal finance that when used properly can help build an emergency fund and save you from living paycheck to paycheck.

Calculate compound interest by using the Rule of 72 – You can roughly calculate the number of years compound interest will take to double your money using the Rule of 72. Simply divide 72 by the rate of return to rough out how long it takes to double your money. For example, 10 percent compound interest will double a sum in 7.2 years; 8 percent in nine years. It’s a concept that helps us understand the power of saving and investment.

Avoid debt – Unpaid debt is like compound interest, but in reverse. If left unaddressed, it grows exponentially over time as interest and fees add to the original balance due. The result is that you have to work harder and earn more to pay for the items you purchased. Why not save first, then purchase your dream item? When done this way, the purchase price is limited to what you paid for the item, rather than adding the burden of debt over time.

Understand amortization – When a bank loans you money, it gives you a certain interest rate and a set number of years to pay it back. Each payment you make contains interest as well as a reduction of the amount owed, called principal. Most of the interest payments are front-loaded, while the last few payments are virtually all principal. A smart consumer knows this and tries to make additional interest payments at the beginning of the term. This will dramatically reduce the number of payments required to pay back the loan.

Take advantage of tax deductions, credits and capital gains – Tax laws are complicated and made even more complex when the rules change. There are many tax deductions and credits to take advantage of, as well as strategies to minimize capital gains tax. Why leave money on the table just because you don’t know the rules? Ask for help and ask for it early in the year. The power of getting the right tax plan in place every year is definitely something everyone should know about.

Financial Tips for Newlyweds

Know someone getting married?  Here are some quick tips for the newlyweds to start them off on a secure path to financial bliss.

Notify Social Security – Notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) with any name changes. The IRS has a name match program with the SSA and will potentially reject deductions and joint filing status if the name change is not made timely. You do this by filing Form SS-5.

Selling a home? – If selling one or two residences, review the impact of capital gain tax laws and how they apply to your situation. This is important if one of you has only been in a home for a short time or if the home has appreciated in value.

Update your address – Update your address with the IRS if either of you is moving. You do this with IRS form 8822. Also, change your address at the postal service and DMV.

Notify your employers – Change your name and addresses with your employer to ensure your W-2’s are correctly stated. Recalculate your payroll withholdings and file a new Form W-4.

Beware the marriage penalty – If both newlyweds work, your combined income could put you into a higher tax bracket. This phenomenon is referred to as “the marriage penalty”. On the other hand, marriage could also reduce your tax burden. Because of this, now is a good time to conduct a tax forecast.

Review legal documents – Ensure legal titles are as you wish them after you are married. This includes bank accounts, titles on property, credit cards, insurance, and wills.

Beneficiary statement update – Review any retirement savings plans like 401(k)’s and IRA’s. The beneficiaries on these accounts must also be updated.

Review employee benefits – Review your employee benefits and make the necessary changes in health care, insurance, employee retirement accounts, pensions, and tax-preferred spending accounts. Marriage is a qualified event for most employers to allow you to make mid-year changes.

Talk about it – If you have not already done so, spend some time talking about how you will be managing your financial affairs. Who will be paying the bills? Who will be managing retirement accounts and investments? How will spending be managed? What bills and debt exist? Developing a plan and understanding how this will be handled can help reduce misunderstandings and future disagreements.

Tips for a Successful Early Retirement

When would you like to retire? Even if the answer is later versus sooner, most of us would like the freedom to decide. To do this, consider what it would take to create financial independence in retirement. Here are some ideas to help plan for an early retirement.

  • Start early – Establish your desire to retire early as soon as possible. Have a discussion with your spouse and loved ones to ensure you have the same retirement date goal. With this stated goal, meeting savings targets and establishing spending priorities get much easier.
  • Know what you want to do – Have you always wanted to visit national parks? Do you have a passion for art? If you have a dream that can be fulfilled in retirement, it makes any hardships to get there more tolerable. Once you set retirement goals, creating a plan to get there will have more meaning.
  • Pay yourself first – People who retire early have higher savings rates than most of us. Consider saving in excess of 10% of your earnings. To do this might mean holding off on a big vacation once in a while or delaying a major home improvement or purchase. While a hardship, knowing the long-term dividend makes it worthwhile. The larger your savings become, the more flexible you are in acquiring assets that generate more wealth for you.
  • No debt and credit cards paid in full – It’s hard to retire early if you are making large loan payments. Having a mindset to save money before you buy something versus taking out loans is the way to go for prospective early retirees. Why pay the credit card company interest when you could use that money during your non-working days?
  • Financial independence mindset – Save enough to not have to worry about Social Security or other government programs to take care of you. Said another way, never over-spend your own resources as you will need to depend on yourself and not others for your financial independence.
  • Use common sense when investing – Many investment alternatives may no longer make financial sense when compared to the income potential of the underlying asset or property. For example, if you own rental property, determine if the cash flows create a reasonable rate of return for the price you paid for the property. If you use common sense, more of your investments may help generate income in retirement.
  • Other resources – Go through a retirement planning process with a qualified expert. This exercise can help you understand what your projected financial needs will be during your retirement years. Project your potential savings. Look into other sources of projected income from pension plans and retirement savings accounts. Create an estimate of possible Social Security benefits. Understand what other resources will be available to you during retirement.

While this list is not meant to be all-inclusive, it should help start the conversation toward your early retirement dream. Remember to ask for help to understand your situation and to develop your own personal plan.

Five Smart Uses for Your Tax Refund

So you were fortunate enough to receive a tax refund this year. What are your plans for the money? Here are five ideas worth considering.

Pay down debt – Start with debts that carry the highest interest rates first, then move down the line. This is like savings on savings as you are freeing up future cash needed to pay the interest on this debt.

Ideas: Pay off credit card debt. Lower your student loan debt. Make a principal payment on a mortgage.

Add to savings – Save some of your refund for later use.

Ideas: Add to your emergency fund to have enough to cover at least six months of your every-day expenses. Add to a college savings account or a tax-advantaged retirement account.

Invest in yourself – Spend some money improving yourself or your well-being. Investing in yourself can have long-term benefits.

Ideas: Take a class to develop a hobby into a career. Consider a fitness membership. Take up meditation. Become accredited in your chosen profession.

Spend for permanence – Instead of spending your refund on day-to-day expenses, use some of it for capital purchases. Capital purchases are for items that last longer than one year.

Ideas: Replace a worn out couch. Purchase a replacement bicycle. Upgrade an outdated light fixture. Consider a minor home improvement.

Have some fun – Finally, consider using part of your refund for a well-deserved break. When balanced with using a portion of your refund to improve your financial condition, you can feel better about a little splurging in your life.

Ideas: Shop last minute flight deals for a weekend getaway. Take a road trip to a favorite destination.

The Ten Commandments of Financial Common Sense

Most everyone knows you need to budget, balance and save. However, here’s a list of the ten steps to ensure you walk on stable financial ground.

  1. Set a budget and stick to it – Make financial goals and then create a budget that supports those goals. Account for expenses on a monthly basis and set budget limits for dinner out and other forms of entertainment.
  2. Pay off all debt (except a home mortgage) – Make debt payments a part of your budget until paid off.
  3. Set aside money for future expenses – Plan in advance for both short- and long-term big expenses and create a line item for them in your monthly budget.
  4. Save for emergencies – Set aside funds each month to build a reserve of three months living expenses (eventually build up to six) to guard against job loss or unexpected expenses. Having these savings automatically deducted you’re your income makes it easier.
  5. Take advantage of available plans – Company-sponsored 401(k) plans and/or other retirement plans, 529 savings plans and education funds will help you financially later. A little put away today can mean a lot is available tomorrow.
  6. Spend only what you have – Limit uses of credit vehicles like credit cards and high interest cash advances. Pay off credit cards by due dates each month.
  7. Manage your financial life – Regularly manage and monitor your accounts and statements, including balancing your debit/checking account and investment accounts.
  8. Keep an eye on your credit score – Making timely payments is one of the best ways to maintain good credit for future lending. If used responsibly, automatic payment systems like online banking can be beneficial.
  9. Set up Identity Theft Protection on your financial accounts – Regularly change your online and mobile passwords, and safeguard your financial statements.
  10. Openly communicate with your spouse about your family’s financial position – Make sure you both agree on short- and long-term goals. Teach your children the power of saving and budgeting to put them on the path to a successful financial future.

Ideas to Manage the Burden of Student Debt

Each year a new crop of graduating high school seniors begin their collegiate careers while college graduates consider the opportunities that graduate school provides. As a result, the mountain of student debt continues to build. While this debt is unavoidable, here are some ideas to help make that mountain a little less insurmountable.

Know the note – Not all student debt is created equal. Understanding the terms of all your student loans is important. With this knowledge, select the correct loan option and know which loan to pay first. Things you should know about each loan include:

  • The interest rate
  • The term of the loan
  • Amount of any up-front fees
  • Pre-payment penalties (if any)
  • When interest and payments start
  • Payment amounts
  • Payment flexibility
  • How interest is calculated

Suggestion: Create a spreadsheet with a student loan in each column. Then note the variables from this list under each note. It will create a strong visual of your student loan situation.

Pay the interest – Some student loans accrue interest while you are in school. With the compounding of this interest, your student loan amount continues to grow with each passing year before repayment begins. Banks love this. You should not.

Suggestion: Figure out how to make the interest payments while in school. This will not only lock the amount you owe, it will reduce the amount of interest payments you will be paying on your interest.

Pay a little extra in the early days – The math of loans benefits banks in the early years of the note. This is because the vast majority of interest is paid by you in the first years of repayment. The last year of your loan repayment is primarily principal payments.

Suggestion: Pay extra every month as soon as payments start. While this seems impossible as you enter the workforce, even $10 extra a month can dramatically reduce the amount of total payments you make over the life of your loan.

 While student debt is an unavoidable outcome of getting a great education, it can be minimized if actively managed. Remember small changes can yield results if planned for in advance.

Financial Skills Every Parent Needs to Teach Their Child – Part 1

In the race to get our kids through high school and on to life beyond, I’ve seen a breakdown in the education system to explain basic financial skills.  Here’s the first half of a list of essential economic concepts that every high school student should understand.

How bank accounts work – Provide your child with a basic understanding of checking and savings accounts. Show them how to use checks and debit cards to pay for goods. Teach them how to access their accounts and reconcile their statements each month.

How credit cards work – Help your child understand that credit card spending actually creates a loan. Emphasize the importance of not carrying a balance by paying off credit card debt each month.

Tax basics – Prepare your child to anticipate taxes on not just purchases but on their wages as well.  Assist them to fill out their first W-4 and explain how it will affect their paycheck. When your child receives their first paycheck, walk them through their paystub to explain Social Security, Medicare, and federal and state tax withholdings.

The power of a retirement account – It might seem a little early for this, and it’s a hard concept for a young person to grasp, but explain to them the advantages of long-term savings tools like a Roth IRA.

How credit scores work – While no one but a credit reporting service actually understands all the aspects that go into creating a credit score, it’s still important to teach your child what can impact their credit and how that can affect their ability to get a car or house loan in the future. Everyone has access to a free credit report each year. Walk your child through their report.

Spending within your means – Save then spend.  This is a simple concept that is hard to accomplish. By teaching your child good habits early, you give your child a stable financial foundation for the future.

The art of saving – Part of spending within your means and saving go hand-in-hand. Teach your child healthy savings habits. Perhaps it’s setting up a separate savings account, setting aside a set amount each month or even a percentage of what they earn.

Look for the second part of this article next week!

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft and Fraud

Imagine this – you’ve given us all your documents early, we’ve prepped and processed your tax return, you’ve reviewed it and signed the eFile forms… then we call you and advise you that your tax return rejected eFiling because someone has already filed using your social security number! Sadly, this can happen if you become one of the growing number of victims of tax return identity theft. At least one estimate shows tax-related identity theft cases have increased 650% since 2008. Identity theft can delay your tax refund, but other consequences could be credit card debt or loans taken out in your name.

To avoid becoming a victim, we recommend the following:

  • Safeguard your social security number and other financial information. Don’t send financial documents via email unless you use an encryption program. To send documents to us, use our LeapFile application to securely send us documentation.
  • Check your bank and credit card transactions regularly and monitor your credit ratings.
  • Don’t give out your information on the phone, even if the caller identifies themselves as an agent of the IRS or other authorities.