Tag Archives: tips

Rent Smarts 101 – Part 2

Renting an apartment or condo, leasing a piece of equipment, renting business property, or leasing a car all involve the common practice of borrowing something that is owned by others. This experience can easily become a nightmare with a bad landlord or if you don’t understand your obligations. In Part 2 of this two-part article, we give you the rest of the tips to becoming a smarter renter.

Proactive disclosure. If you think you will need a temporary exception to part of the lease, try to include it in your upfront negotiations. This could be something like a specific rent schedule or allowances for a pet. If this is not possible, consider proactively disclosing the exception to your property owner. This will help build trust and a reputation as a good tenant.

Keep the property clean. This is especially important if you have a pet in a rental home. When landlords come into your home, you will build confidence if the place looks like you treat it as if you owned it. The same is true with rented equipment. Always return it cleaner than you received it.

Know the owner and neighbors. Building a relationship with the property owner and your neighbors helps. If your neighbor has a problem, wouldn’t you rather have them come to you than your landlord? Establishing a good working relationship with a landlord will help you when you need help with a problem in your apartment or with the equipment you rent.

Leave with a smile. This is especially true for home and vacation rentals. When you leave, have the property cleaned and hassle-free for the landlord. Request a reference from the landlord for future rentals.

Hope you found these tips helpful!

Hotel Safety Travel Tips

As summer vacation season begins, please take a moment to review Traveler Safety Tips provided for those who stay in hotels and public lodging. These tips are provided courtesy of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Be safe out there!

  • Don’t answer the door in a hotel or motel room without verifying who it is. If a person claims to be an employee, call the front desk and ask if someone from their staff is supposed to have access to your room and for what purpose.
  • Keep your room key with you at all times and don’t needlessly display it in public. Should you misplace it, please notify the front desk immediately.
  • Close the door securely whenever you are in your room and use all of the locking devices provided.
  • Check to see that any sliding glass doors or windows and any connecting room doors are locked.
  • Don’t invite strangers to your room.
  • Be aware of potential phone scams and prank calls to your guestroom. Hotel employees will never request credit card or personal information over the phone, nor will they advise a guest to damage hotel property.
  • Place all valuables in the hotel or motel’s safe deposit box.
  • When returning to your hotel or motel late in the evenings, be aware of your surroundings, stay in well-lighted areas, and use the main entrance.
  • Take a few moments and locate the nearest exit that may be used in the event of an emergency.
  • If you see any suspicious activity, notify the hotel operator or a staff member.

Source: American Hotel & Lodging Association

Your First Job: An Intro to Taxes

As school winds down, a number of students will hit the job market for summer employment. When this is a first job, it is often one of the first times you experience the world of taxes. Please use this information to help make the move to the workforce a little more understandable.

Form I-9 – When you get the job, your new employer will have you fill out tax form I-9, Employment Eligibility Information. This is a legal requirement to show you have the right to work and it confirms your tax information. You will be asked to provide proof of identity, including showing your Social Security card.

Form W-4 – You will also be asked to fill out a tax withholding form. This form gives employers instructions on how much they should withhold from your paycheck to send in to taxing authorities like the IRS. By filling out the form correctly, enough will be withheld from your pay to ensure you do not owe too much in tax when you file your tax return.

Other Taxes – You will notice your check amount is also reduced for your contributions to Social Security and Medicare. Your paycheck will be reduced by 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare payments. You are not in this alone. Your employer matches your payments and sends both of them to the government.

Self-employed? – If you start up your own summer business like mowing lawns or providing nanny services you will have tax obligations similar to those as an employee. In addition to income taxes, you will need to file estimated tax statements to cover Social Security and Medicare taxes. These two taxes amount to 15.3% of your net income, so plan accordingly. But also remember to save receipts for your job related expenses. They can help reduce your taxable income.

Tips are taxed – If you receive any tips, these too are taxable. Most employers that have tip-earning employees will help you file the appropriate forms. If they do not, you will need to ask for help to ensure your taxes are paid on your tip income.

Review your pay – Remember to review your initial paycheck. There are often errors in setting up employee records. Should you find an error or need an explanation, feel free to ask your employer for help. Errors not caught early can become expensive surprises later on during the year.

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.

4 Tax Tips for Small Business Owners – Part Two

Since you can’t get away from taxes, the best thing to do is be prepared for them. If you own a small business, taxes become a bit more complicated, but there are several ways to make sure tax time is less stressful. Here are tips 3 and 4 for small business owners.

3. Leverage Tax Preparation Tools and Expertise

Most of the personal income tax preparation software applications include business tax options as well and are typically geared for small business or self-employment. The IRS has also gone to great lengths to provide material on its website that is easy to find and understandable by non-tax professionals.

However, tax laws are complex, and it can take time to become proficient. Hiring a tax professional may be in your best interests since this person could identify tax breaks and deductions you may miss.

Whether you use software or hire a pro, keeping a checklist while you are thinking about taxes throughout the year can help you get ready for tax time. There are online and print resources that show you what records and information you need, any tax guidelines geared toward businesses, and the all-important filing and payment dates.

Some things to keep track of include:

  • Filing payroll tax forms
  • Sending 1099 forms to your contractors
  • Assembling income and expense records
  • Renewal for liability insurance

You can find tax organizers and worksheets online, or your tax professional may have one for you to use.

4. Avoid These Common Mistakes

There are a couple of mistakes small business owners tend to make that can cause trouble down the road.

  • One is thinking your tax professional will assume responsibility for all your tax needs. You cannot assume everything has been done appropriately because, again, you know what they say about “assume.” No matter who prepares the taxes, you are still responsible for all the information on the return and the taxes owed.
  • Another mistake is allowing fear of the IRS to keep you from taking legitimate deductions. If you work with a reputable tax professional or online tax preparation service, you should be given appropriate guidance on your eligibility for each available write-off.

There you have it. Keep taxes in mind all year, keep up with changes and news, leverage reputable tax tools and professionals, and avoid common mistakes and your tax time stress should be reduced significantly. As a bonus, you will save yourself some money, and maybe receive a refund.

4 Tax Tips for Small Business Owners – Part One

Since you can’t get away from taxes, the best thing to do is be prepared for them. If you own a small business, taxes become a bit more complicated, but there are several ways to make sure tax time is less stressful. Here are tips 1 and 2 for small business owners.

  1. Think Taxes Year Around

Thinking about your taxes all year does not seem to be a way to avoid stress, but in reality, tax planning is a year-round activity when you run a small business. If you keep up with documentation and recording requirements throughout the year, you are more likely to arrive at tax time with the right paperwork ready to go.

It is also easier to take advantage of tax savings and deductions over the course of time instead of trying to put together a package of write-offs at the last minute.

  • Keep accurate records all year
  • Save all business related receipts, both paper and electronic, and log them for easy access
  • Keep mileage logs and other expense records so they are accurate

You will find tax time much less stressful, and you will be set up to monitor changes from year to year.

  1. Keep Up with the Tax News

It may seem that the legislature does nothing, but laws do get passed every year. You need to keep an eye on happenings in the federal government that can impact your tax liability and business organization.

For example:

  • The Affordable Care Act is still rolling out. As of 2015 it applied to businesses with 51 to 99 employees and carried stiff penalties for failing to provide health insurance to employees. Penalties also applied if you did not report the type of coverage you provided.
  • Taxation of online sales is still winding its way through Congress. You need to monitor the situation, so you know if it becomes law and how it could affect you if you are an online seller if you gross more than $1 million annually.
  • The Section 179 Property Deduction was extended but not made permanent. It allows business to deduct the full amount of eligible property as expenses in the year the business began using it. “Property” includes any property used in manufacturing, transporting, and producing goods, any facility used for business or research, or any buildings used to hold livestock or horticultural products.

Tax laws change all the time; keep up with the business news for ongoing legislation or last minute tax breaks.

Ten Clever Vacation Tips

Summer often means vacations. And for those who wish to travel light with few surprises, here are ten clever vacation tips.

The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule – Having trouble packing light? Consider using a popular online technique called 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. There are a number of versions of this packing technique. Simply choose one that works best for you. Here is a typical example:

  • 5 socks/underwear
  • 4 shirts
  • 3 pants/slacks
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • 1 hat, toothbrush, brush, sunglasses, toothpaste, razor, shampoo, jewelry, etc.

Dryer sheet in your luggage – As your trip goes by, your luggage is going to start filling with dirty clothing. A separate bag with a dryer sheet enclosed can help mitigate the stale smell of your soiled garments.

Bring old clothes – Bring old t-shirts, underwear, shorts and socks. As they are soiled, leave them behind or donate them. The added space in your luggage can be used for newly found treasures.

Leverage hotel disposables – Use a shower cap to store dirty shoes. Use their plastic laundry bag for your own to keep the dirty away from the clean. Find missing toiletries (like toothbrush, toothpaste, and combs) at the front desk.

Use plastic – Place plastic wrap under the caps of things that can leak. Store toiletries in plastic storage bags. Bring a small trash bag for laundry and to keep wet things away from dry.

Carry on snacks – Place some snacks in your luggage and other pre-packaged snacks in your travel bag. As long as they are sealed and not liquid, these low priced alternatives to airport fare can get through security.

Keep an emergency set of clothes – If checking a bag, keep one set of clothing in your carry-on luggage. It might be just what you need if you end up at a destination different from your baggage.

Keep copies of valuable items – Back up your computer, phone and other electronic devices prior to leaving on your trip. Make copies of your passport, driver’s license, credit card numbers and other valuables. If things are then stolen, you can quickly get the information to those who need it.

Roll rather than fold – Rolled clothing in suitcases have fewer wrinkles than items that are folded.

Worry with priority – Everyone usually forgets something when leaving for vacation. Keep a short list of must haves and then go through a mental checklist of these “few” items prior to walking out the door. They might include:

  • Picture ID (and/or passport for international travel)
  • Cash
  • Credit Card
  • Tickets; confirmation numbers

As long as you don’t forget the kids, most everything else can either be replaced or you can live without.

Enjoy your vacation!