Money Management 101 for Single Parents Going it Alone

1. Determine What You Owe

As the head of the household, it’s up to you to make sure that your entire family’s needs are being met. In order to do that, you need to be extremely diligent when it comes to money management basics. This is not something that will happen by accident. Instead, you must plan for it and work toward it.

The first step is to set up your “office.” Gather all of your bills, a calculator, a pencil, and your checkbook.

I would also recommend that you grab an old binder that you can use to keep track of your financial data and a shoebox for storing paid bills.

Now you’re ready to begin:

  • Go through all of your bills, and pay anything that is due within the next week.
  • If you have bills coming due that you cannot pay, notify the company and ask them to set up a payment plan with you.
  • Print a copy of the chart “Paying Down My Debts” or make your own.
  • On the chart, list all of your debts, including any car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.
  • In addition, list the total balance left to be paid on all of these debts, and the percentage rate you are paying.
  • For now, leave the fourth column of the chart blank, and store it in your “Financial Data” binder.

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2. Eliminate Joint Debt

Before we create a plan for paying down your debt, it’s important to consider some special circumstances that may apply to you as a single parent. I asked LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, to share her expertise on handling joint debt:

Wolf: Let’s say a single mom still shares a credit card with her ex. What should she do?

Irby: Ideally, she would want her ex to transfer his portion of any joint balances onto his own credit card. That way, everyone is paying for their own debt.

Wolf: What about leaving both names on the account, and agreeing to pay part of the amount due? Is that ever advisable?

Irby: No. If you’ve made an agreement with your ex to split the debt payments on accounts that include your name, and your ex-misses a payment, it’s going to hurt your credit. If the ex-fails to pay altogether, the creditors and collectors will come after you. Not even a divorce decree can change the terms of a joint credit card agreement. In the credit card issuer’s eyes, you’re just as much responsible for post-divorce accounts as before.

Wolf: What about situations when a couple’s divorce decree mandates that one individual must pay off the joint credit card debt, but that person fails to do it?

Irby: You can always file contempt of court papers against him/her, but in the meantime, your credit score suffers. So I suggest paying off the debt to save your credit. If you can’t afford to pay the debt, at least make minimum payments to keep a positive payment history on your credit report.

Wolf: What about other accounts, such as utilities and cell phones?

Irby: The safest thing to do, if you have a service in your ex’s name, is to turn off the account and reestablish service in your name.

 

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3. Find Money to Pay Down Debt

Another thing we have to do before creating a plan to pay down your existing debt is to find money in your budget each month. To assist in this step, I contacted Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Expert.

Wolf: How much money do you think the average person can uncover just by being more intentional about spending and budgeting?

Huffstetler: The average person could easily uncover an extra $250 a month—and probably much more.

Wolf: What are the top 5 areas that you think people should look to first when they’re trying to cut their expenses?

Huffstetler:

  • Food spending (both groceries and eating out)
  • TV-related expenses (cable/satellite services, certainly; but also movie subscriptions and rentals)
  • Phone services (particularly extras like call waiting, caller id, long distance, and cell phones)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Miscellaneous spending (all those small amounts spent on coffee, vending machine snacks, and other indulgences)

Wolf: How can single parents, specifically, stretch their child support dollars and reduce child-related expenses?

Huffstetler: For single parents looking to stretch their child support dollars, creativity is the key. Look to children’s consignment shops and thrift stores to buy your kids’ clothes instead of department stores; sign them up for Parks and Rec-run activities instead of privately-run activities (which will always cost more); and don’t feel like you have to make up for being a single parent by buying them extra things—it’s you they need, not stuff.

 

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4. Pay Off Your Debt

The next step is creating a schedule for paying down your debt:

  1. Pay off the debts that charge you the highest interest first.Bob Hammond, author of Life Without Debt, recommends that you pay off the debts that are charging you the highest interest first since borrowing from those creditors is costing you the most money. “Concentrate on paying off the high-cost debts as soon as possible,” Hammond advises. LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, agrees. “Highest interest rate debts cost the most money, especially when those debts have high balances. So you’ll save money on interest charges when you pay off those high-interest rate debts first.”However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Irby notes, “If you’re likely to get discouraged because it’s taking a long time to pay off that high-interest rate debt, you can start with the lowest balance debt. Getting some small debts paid off will motivate you to keep going.”
  2. Pay more than the minimum payment. Aim for paying more than the suggested minimum payment, in order to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.Miriam Caldwell, Money in Your 20’s Expert, shares this advice:
    • Choose one debt to focus on.
    • Increase your payment on that debt by as much as you can.
    • Once you have paid off that debt, move all that you are paying on it to the next debt you want to pay off.
    • You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get out of debt with this plan!
  3. Meanwhile, continue to pay the minimum balance due on all of your other debts.Record what you intend to pay toward each debt on the debt chart you made in Step 1.

 

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5. Budget Your Monthly Expenses

Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.

I know this can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.

Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:

  • Housing: 30%
  • Food: 12%
  • Auto: 14%
  • Insurance: 5%
  • Debt: 5%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Clothing: 6%
  • Savings: 5%
  • Medical/Dental: 4%
  • Miscellaneous: 7%
  • Child Care: 5%
  • Investments: 5%

 

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6. Set Financial Goals

Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.

Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do you need to file for child support?
  • Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
  • Is it time to think about going back to school?
  • Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
  • Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single parent family, that you need to consider at this point?

One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?

So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.

So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.

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7. Increase Your Net Worth

The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.

Determine Your Net Worth:

Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.

You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.

Set Up a Savings Account:

Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.

Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.

Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.

In addition, this regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.

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8. Become Even More Frugal

Unfortunately, all of the work you’ve already done in steps 1-7 will have little lasting value if you don’t change your attitude toward money. Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.

Practice Discipline:

Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.

Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?

Try These Ideas:

  • Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
  • When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
  • Forget trying to keep up with “The Jones’s.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
  • Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
  • Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days–or even a week–to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.

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9. Schedule Your Own Weekly Financial Check-In

Grab your calendar and schedule a weekly financial update meeting with yourself. This is an extremely important step in managing your personal finances, and it’s one that you need to continue each and every week. During your “meeting” time:

  • Pay any bills that are due.
  • If your bank statement has arrived, take the time to balance your checkbook.
  • Check the balances of your checking and savings accounts.
  • Update your debt list to incorporate any recent payments.
  • This is also a good time to write out your grocery shopping list and check what’s on sale at your local grocery store this week (either using the store’s Web site or the sales circular that comes in the newspaper).
  • Finally, also make note of any upcoming expenses you need to anticipate and plan for.

An attitude of gratitude and finances.

 

 

References:
Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008, 
Huffstetler, Erin. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
Sources:
Caldwell, Miriam. Email interview. 27 Oct. 2008, Hammond, Bob. “Debt Free Key: 10 Steps for Coping With Credit Problems.” Life Without Debt. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1995. 31-32, Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
“Spending Plan Online Calculator.” Crown Financial Ministries. 11 Oct. 2008.

Written By: Jennifer Wolf

Source: thebalance

 

 

 

Your Money: Sharing Family Getaways Without Any Cottage Conflicts

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Picture it: 40 picturesque acres nestled in Wisconsin lake country.

That is the ideal getaway the grandfather of Chicago financial planner Tim Obendorf’s wife built around 50 years ago. Then the property passed to the next generation, with ownership shared by four people.

Now they are thinking about the next generation: 11 potential owners.

Without the right planning, that paradise could turn into hell.

As brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents gather this summer at family homes to go hiking, canoeing or swimming, there will also be arguments over schedules, property taxes or mortgage costs, and upkeep duties, along with the thousand other matters that come with shared homeownership.

“Whenever a number of families are under the same roof, conflicts are going to arise,” said Jill Shipley, managing director of family dynamics for Abbot Downing, a division of Wells Fargo that handles high-net-worth families and foundations.

That is why Obendorf’s family has already logged a couple of family meetings. “It’s never going to be perfect, but you have to decide you value the place, more than the hassles of working through family issues,” said Obendorf.

It is not surprising that vacation homes have become a point of contention. Many vacation homeowners are baby boomers: They possess the bulk of the nation’s assets and are projected to hold over 50 percent by 2020, according to a study by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services. They are now beginning to retire as they hit their 60s and 70s.

The potential problems are plentiful: Is the place big enough for everybody? Who gets it on July 4th weekend? Do they split costs equally? Who cleans up, handles repairs, or stocks the fridge?

And the big one: When the owners eventually pass on – who gets the place?

How can families get the most out of shared vacation properties this summer, without either going broke or killing each other? Some tips from the experts:

Draw Up a Calendar

Just like season tickets for a sports team, some dates will be in high demand. So if the property is not big enough to handle multiple families at once – or, let’s face it, you just do not get along – pick your spots. “Establish a rotating lottery each year, and allow each family member to pick their respective dates,” suggests Kevin Reardon, a financial planner in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

Write Down a Policy

Everyone has different opinions of what a getaway should be, so hash it out and put it all down on paper. One key item: Whether ongoing costs like property taxes, homeowner’s association dues and repairs are split equally, or allocated based on usage.

Create an Opt-out

A sure way to guarantee family resentment: One member being forced into an arrangement they do not want. If a family cottage is being passed to the next generation, allow an escape hatch that permits one member’s share to be bought out by their siblings. After all, not everyone might be able to use the property to the same extent, especially if they have moved far away.

Bring in a Pro

Siblings, of course, do not always get along. In fact, 15 percent of adult siblings report arguing over money, according to a new survey from Ameriprise Financial. To make sure everyone is heard, bringing in a trained facilitator is probably your best bet, advises Shipley.

Have the Discussion Now

“I have been in many family meetings where the kids ask, ‘I wonder what mom and dad would have wanted?'” says Shipley. So if you are fortunate enough that the family matriarch and patriarch are still around, arrange a family meeting and find out what they envision for the property in the decades to come.

Maybe they want it to stay in the family, as a legacy for the grandkids. Or maybe, because of family circumstances like far-flung siblings, it would be wiser to just sell the property and split the proceeds.

Set up a Trust

One way to take future financial squabbles out of the equation altogether: If families have the resources, they should create a trust to “fund the maintenance and ongoing use of the property in perpetuity,” says Shipley. “That is one solution to reduce conflict, and keep the property in the family for generations.”

 

 

 

Written By: Chris Taylor
Source: Reuters

Raising Kids to Be Smart About Money

Young minds are programmed to absorb and copy the behaviors around them, which means the sooner you instill proper money management skills, the more prone your kids are to become mature and responsible stewards of their own cash-flow in the future.
“Becoming financially literate early in life is fundamentally important to your financial well-being as an adult,” says Micah Fraim, award-winning CPA and best-selling author.

“I was pinching pennies at five years old, calculating the cost of grocery items per ounce, refusing to buy expensive clothes unless they were on-sale and foregoing scoops of ice cream from the ice cream shop, so I could buy multiple gallons at the grocery store,” Fraim says. “Now as an adult, I still have that same mindset and live well below my means.”

The following kid-approved strategies help you teach the core tenets of being financially savvy; in terms they’ll understand and appreciate. Consider how you can use them to teach your little ones to be smart about money.

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Find Opportunities for Lessons

At some point, your child will inevitably deplete their allowance on impulse purchases, rather than holding out for the more expensive item they’ve been asking for. Instead of giving them more money, or buying it for them, use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that money is a finite resource, which must be allocated over an extended period. Once you spend, it’s gone until you can make more.

Have a conversation about what else they could have done with that money, or how much longer they would have needed to save to get the big-ticket item they wanted. Perhaps give an example of when you spent foolishly, or better yet, saved enough money to buy something important, like your house or car.

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Demonstrate that Income Is Earned

Chores are an easy way to teach children that money must be earned. This tangible incentive for contributing to your household shows them that have to work for what they want, and even do things they may not want to do—i.e. vacuuming and doing the dishes.

The concept of having to earn your money is a positive outcome of rewarding children financially for completing chores. However, some parents find that this method doesn’t necessarily teach money management, making it a bad way to teach children how to be smart about money. The key to avoiding the latter is the set-up.

Susan Borowski, mother and author for Money Crashers, shares how she set this up with her teenage son:

“As a contributing member of the family, my 13-year-old son is expected to do certain chores around the house for free. He can earn money for tackling larger tasks, many of which he can choose, some of which he cannot; the amount he earns depends on the difficulty of the task or how long it takes. This forces us to discuss money each time he takes on a larger task.”

This shows them that they have control over how much they earn, rather than it being a given.

Secondly, keep chores focused on money management with an app like Chore Monster so children can track what they’ve done and earned. This is an easy way to establish a record-keeping system, for both chores and allowance, seeing increases or decreases in money earned over time.

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Establish a Record-Keeping System

When your child is consistently earning allowance or money for chores, it’s important that they’re able to account for what happens with that money. The more emphasis you put on this piece of the earning, the more they’ll see the value of managing their funds. They’ll start to notice wasteful spending habits and identify which pitfalls to avoid during their next allowance payout.

Designate a folder where they can stockpile receipts and a notebook where they can track all purchases. This simple method of financial reporting is an ideal precursor to balancing a checkbook, analyzing bank statements, or creating a monthly budget.

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Use Visual Aids to Your Advantage

Although the “piggy bank” is a time-honored childhood favorite, this approach to money management doesn’t allow your child to see the positive outcome of their coin stashing. For a more functional alternative, use a transparent mason jar or clear plastic Tupperware container, both of which gives them an unobstructed view of the progressive financial increase that comes from diligent and habitual saving. This tool makes the abstract concept of saving easy to see and understand.

You can also open a bank account for older children. This gives them a chance to become familiar with bank statements, which act as a visual aid. Each time a new statement comes in, they can sit down and look at how much money was put into the bank account and how that’s changed month-over-month. Many banks now offer online portals, as well, where your children can see progress represented in bar and pie graphs; these may be easier to understand and digest.

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Encourage Them to Set a Savings Goal

There’s a sense of accomplishment and empowerment in reaching a goal with no shortcuts taken or assistance received. Channel this mindset when encouraging your child to practice economical behaviors. Next time they express interest in the latest gadget, suggest they purchase it themselves and develop a step-by-step plan together, so they feel equipped for the undertaking. This process of setting aside money with a specific goal in mind reinforces the gratification gained from being smart about money and purchasing the item without any help.

It’s never too early to start teaching your kids about how to be financially savvy. Too many people don’t learn about personal finance until it’s too late — like when they’re buried in student loans — so teaching these skills early on is important for setting your children up for success later in life.

 

 

 

Written By: Jessica Thiefels
Source: PBS

Tax Changes for 2017: A Checklist

Welcome, 2017! As the New Year rolls around, it’s always a sure bet that there will be changes to current tax law and 2017 is no different. From health savings accounts to tax rate schedules and standard deductions, here’s a checklist of tax changes to help you plan the year ahead.

Individuals

For 2017, more than 50 tax provisions are affected by inflation adjustments, including personal exemptions, AMT exemption amounts, and foreign earned income exclusion.

While the tax rate structure, which ranges from 10 to 39.6 percent, remains the same as in 2016, tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. Standard deductions and the personal exemption have also been adjusted upward to reflect inflation. For details see the article, “Tax Brackets, Deductions, and Exemptions for 2017,” below.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

Exemption amounts for the AMT, which was made permanent by the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) are indexed for inflation and allow the use of nonrefundable personal credits against the AMT. For 2017, the exemption amounts are $54,300 for individuals ($53,900 in 2016) and $84,500 for married couples filing jointly ($83,800 in 2016).

“Kiddie Tax”

For taxable years beginning in 2017, the amount that can be used to reduce the net unearned income reported on the child’s return that is subject to the “kiddie tax,” is $1,050 (same as 2016). The same $1,050 amount is used to determine whether a parent may elect to include a child’s gross income in the parent’s gross income and to calculate the “kiddie tax.” For example, one of the requirements for the parental election is that a child’s gross income for 2017 must be more than $1,050 but less than $10,500.

For 2017, the net unearned income for a child under the age of 19 (or a full-time student under the age of 24) that is not subject to “kiddie tax” is $2,100.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

Contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) are used to pay current or future medical expenses of the account owner, his or her spouse, and any qualified dependent. Medical expenses must not be reimbursable by insurance or other sources and do not qualify for the medical expense deduction on a federal income tax return.

A qualified individual must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and not be covered by other health insurance with the exception of insurance for accidents, disability, dental care, vision care, or long-term care.

For calendar year 2017, a qualifying HDHP must have a deductible of at least $1,300 for self-only coverage or $2,600 for family coverage and must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses of the beneficiary to $6,550 for self-only coverage and $13,100 for family coverage.

Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs)

There are two types of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs): the Archer MSA created to help self-employed individuals and employees of certain small employers, and the Medicare Advantage MSA, which is also an Archer MSA, and is designated by Medicare to be used solely to pay the qualified medical expenses of the account holder. To be eligible for a Medicare Advantage MSA, you must be enrolled in Medicare. Both MSAs require that you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP).

  • Self-only coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2017, the term “high deductible health plan” means, for self-only coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $2,250 and not more than $3,350 (same as 2016), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $4,500 (up $50 from 2016).
  • Family coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2017, the term “high deductible health plan” means, for family coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $4,500 and not more than $6,750 (up $50 from 2016), and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $8,250 (up $100 from 2016).

Penalty for not Maintaining Minimum Essential Health Coverage

For calendar year 2017, the dollar amount used to determine the penalty for not maintaining minimum essential health coverage is $695.

AGI Limit for Deductible Medical Expenses

In 2017, the deduction threshold for deductible medical expenses remains at 10 percent (same as 2016) of adjusted gross income (AGI). Prior to January 1, 2017, if either you or your spouse were age 65 or older as of December 31, 2016, the 7.5 percent threshold that was in place in earlier tax years continued to apply. That provision expired at the end of 2016, however, and starting in 2017, the 10 percent of AGI threshold applies to everyone.

Eligible Long-Term Care Premiums

Premiums for long-term care are treated the same as health care premiums and are deductible on your taxes subject to certain limitations. For individuals age 40 or younger at the end of 2017, the limitation is $410. Persons more than 40 but not more than 50 can deduct $770. Those more than 50 but not more than 60 can deduct $1,530 while individuals more than 60 but not more than 70 can deduct $4,090. The maximum deduction is $5,110 and applies to anyone more than 70 years of age.

Medicare Taxes

The additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages above $200,000 for individuals ($250,000 married filing jointly), which went into effect in 2013, remains in effect for 2017, as does the Medicare tax of 3.8 percent on investment (unearned) income for single taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (AGI) more than $200,000 ($250,000 joint filers). Investment income includes dividends, interest, rents, royalties, gains from the disposition of property, and certain passive activity income. Estates, trusts, and self-employed individuals are all liable for the new tax.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

For 2017, the foreign earned income exclusion amount is $102,100, up from $101,300 in 2016.

Long-Term Capital Gains and Dividends

In 2017 tax rates on capital gains and dividends remain the same as 2016 rates; however threshold amounts are indexed for inflation. As such, for taxpayers in the lower tax brackets (10 and 15 percent), the rate remains 0 percent. For taxpayers in the four middle tax brackets, 25, 28, 33, and 35 percent, the rate is 15 percent. For an individual taxpayer in the highest tax bracket, 39.6 percent, whose income is at or above $418,400 ($470,700 married filing jointly), the rate for both capital gains and dividends is capped at 20 percent.

Pease and PEP (Personal Exemption Phaseout)

Both Pease (limitations on itemized deductions) and PEP (personal exemption phase-out) have been permanently extended (and indexed to inflation) for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2012, and in 2017, affect taxpayers with income at or above $261,500 for single filers and $313,800 for married filing jointly.

Estate and Gift Taxes

For an estate of any decedent during calendar year 2017, the basic exclusion amount is $5,490,000, indexed for inflation (up from $5,450,000 in 2016). The maximum tax rate remains at 40 percent. The annual exclusion for gifts remains at $14,000.

Individuals – Tax Credits

Adoption Credit

In 2017, a non-refundable (only those individuals with tax liability will benefit) credit of up to $13,570 is available for qualified adoption expenses for each eligible child.

Earned Income Tax Credit

For tax year 2017, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low and moderate income workers and working families rises to $6,318, up from $6,269 in 2016. The credit varies by family size, filing status, and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children.

Child Tax Credits

For tax year 2017, the child tax credit is $1,000 per child. The enhanced child tax credit was made permanent this year by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2016 (PATH). In addition to a $1,000 credit per qualifying child, an additional refundable credit equal to 15 percent of earned income in excess of $3,000 has been available since 2009.

Child and Dependent Care Credit

If you pay someone to take care of your dependent (defined as being under the age of 13 at the end of the tax year or incapable of self-care) in order to work or look for work, you may qualify for a credit of up to $1,050 or 35 percent of $3,000 of eligible expenses in 2017.For two or more qualifying dependents, you can claim up to 35 percent of $6,000 (or $2,100) of eligible expenses. For higher income earners the credit percentage is reduced, but not below 20 percent, regardless of the amount of adjusted gross income.

Individuals – Education

American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credits

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (formerly Hope Scholarship Credit) was extended to the end of 2017 by ATRA but was made permanent by PATH in 2016. The maximum credit is $2,500 per student. The Lifetime Learning Credit remains at $2,000 per return; however, the adjusted gross income amount used by joint filers to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit is $112,000, up from $111,000 for tax year 2016.

Interest on Educational Loans

In 2017 (as in 2016), the $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on student loans is no longer limited to interest paid during the first 60 months of repayment. The deduction is phased out for higher-income taxpayers with modified AGI of more than $65,000 ($135,000 joint filers).

Individuals – Retirement

Contribution Limits

The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains at $18,000. Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans remain at $12,500. The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $270,000 (up from $265,000 in 2016).

Income Phase-out Ranges

The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and have modified AGI between $62,000 and $72,000, up from $61,000 to $71,000.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the phase-out range increases to $99,000 to $119,000, up from $98,000 to $118,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s modified AGI is between $186,000 and $196,000, up from $184,000 and $194,000.

The modified AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $118,000 to $133,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $117,000 to $132,000. For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is $186,000 to $196,000, up from $184,000 to $194,000. The phase-out range for a married individual filing a separate return who makes contributions to a Roth IRA is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

Saver’s Credit

In 2017, the AGI limit for the saver’s credit (also known as the retirement savings contribution credit) for low and moderate income workers is $62,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $61,500 in 2016; $46,500 for heads of household, up from $46,125; and $31,000 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $30,750.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates

The rate for business miles driven is 53.5 cents per mile for 2017, down from 54 cents per mile in 2016.

Section 179 Expensing

The Section 179 expense deduction was made permanent at $500,000 by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2016 (PATH). For equipment purchases, the maximum deduction is $510,000 of the first $2,030,000 million of qualifying equipment placed in service during the current tax year. The deduction is phased out dollar for dollar on amounts exceeding the $2 million threshold (adjusted for inflation beginning in tax year 2017) amount and eliminated above amounts exceeding $2.5 million. In addition, Section 179 is now indexed to inflation in increments of $10,000 for future tax years.

The 50 percent bonus depreciation has been extended through 2019. Businesses are able to depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment acquired and placed in service during 2015, 2016, and 2017. However, the bonus depreciation is reduced to 40 percent in 2018 and 30 percent in 2019.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

Extended through 2019, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit has been modified and enhanced for employers who hire long-term unemployed individuals (unemployed for 27 weeks or more) and is generally equal to 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages paid to a new hire.

Research & Development Tax Credit

Starting in 2017, businesses with less than $50 million in gross receipts are able to use this credit to offset alternative minimum tax. Certain start-up businesses that might not have any income tax liability will be able to offset payroll taxes with the credit as well.

Employee Health Insurance Expenses

For taxable years beginning in 2017, the dollar amount is $26,200. This amount is used for limiting the small employer health insurance credit and for determining who is an eligible small employer for purposes of the credit.

Employer-provided Transportation Fringe Benefits

If you provide transportation fringe benefits to your employees, in 2017 the maximum monthly limitation for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle as well as any transit pass is $255 and the monthly limitation for qualified parking is $255. Parity for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits was made permanent by PATH.

While this checklist outlines important tax changes for 2017, additional changes in tax law are more than likely to arise during the year ahead.

 

 

 

Source: Abedian & Totlian

Why Your Family Needs a Household Austerity Budget

© Thinkstock/Getty Images
© Thinkstock/Getty Images

Let’s talk about austerity. No, not the austerity proposed in Greece (although I’m probably the only one not writing about Greece). Rather, I’m talking about personal austerity. I frequently recommend that families develop an austerity budget. Let’s describe what this is and how it might help you.

In a budgeting sense, “austerity” refers to sharply curtailing spending in a time of financial crisis. Your family’s austerity budget is a plan you can put into effect in the event you lose your job or encounter some other financial hardship. Creating an austerity budget involves calculating the minimum amount of money you would need monthly or weekly to live indefinitely. I like to use this definition because it is the most practical minimum budget, as we will see in a moment. Here is what it should include:

  • Rent or mortgage
  • Basic utilities
  • Food
  • Insurance
  • Car payments
  • Debt payments (credit cards or student loans)
  • Any miscellaneous ongoing expenses that can’t be eliminated

Just as important is what it should not include:

  • Savings or investment expenses
  • Vacations or travel
  • Entertainment
  • Dining out

Since your austerity budget is meant to last indefinitely, you need to be realistic about what you will spend. For instance, it does no good to lop out all restaurant expenses if you know you won’t have the willpower to break your daily Starbucks habit. Be realistic — maybe even try living on your austerity budget for a month or two. If you find that life is unbearable without, say, your daughter’s dance lessons, then go ahead and include them in your budget. You might be able to live on a bit less than this budget for a short time, but not indefinitely.

Your austerity budget and an emergency savings account are your sword and shield against financial adversity. When crisis hits, you should know what your austerity budget is and what steps you need to take to get there quickly — such as cutting off cable TV or suspending your kids’ day care. This will maximize the amount of time you can live off your emergency savings.

For some, this might be a relatively straightforward exercise. If you’re single, you might find that your austerity budget is fairly easy to get to. Others with different obligations, such as supporting a family, may find that getting down to their austerity budget requires more action. You may also find that there are issues you should address now, so if there ever is an emergency, the people depending on you won’t be surprised by their circumstances.

I find that there is an added benefit to understanding your austerity budget. As you save and invest over your lifetime, you may find that you have socked away enough money that you could safely withdraw from your accounts an amount equal to your austerity budget. Using simple parameters like the 4% rule, you may find that you already have enough money to live a simple life indefinitely just based on your investments. Many people find peace of mind in knowing this. An austerity budget could be the true start of financial independence.

Written by NerdWallet of Money

(Source: Time)

5 Steps to Save Your Financially Stressed Marriage

Do money troubles have you feeling like your marriage is circling the drain?

Don’t give up on your spouse yet!

Even financially stressed marriages can be salvaged, although it’s not always easy. Your family’s unique circumstances will determine how best to approach — and solve — money problems, but here are five steps to get you started.

Step 1: Air out your financial dirty laundry

© Jetta Productions/Getty Images

You’re upset that he spends an obscene amount with his friends each week, and he may be furious that you nit-pick every purchase he makes. Get it all out.

In my mind, this may be the most important step. You can’t move forward positively until you get rid of all the resentment and anger that linger over past mistakes.

“Bring everything to the table,” advises Anne Malec, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Marriage in Modern Life.” “You need real openness and honesty to address the issue. Both sides need to be accountable.”

Well, you think, this surely sounds like a perfect recipe for a knock-down, drag-out fight. And you’re right. It can go horribly wrong, so you need to go about this carefully.

The best way is to go to a third party – a therapist, a financial planner, a pastor – who can act as a mediator for this emotional discussion.

If you believe that isn’t possible, you need to think long and hard about when and how best to bring up the subject with your spouse. Pick a low-key time and drop the accusatory tone. Use “I” statements whenever possible and take a soft approach to opening the discussion.

As in:

I feel frustrated that our bank account is always overdrawn. What can we do about that?

Not:

You need to man up, think of the family and stop spending so much!

Regardless of how nicely you put it, be prepared for them to respond with something critical about you and then seriously consider whether it has any merit. Remember you’re probably not perfect either, and you can’t make headway if you can’t admit your shortcomings.

Step 2: Have a monthly money meeting


© Bill Truslow/Getty Images

So now that you’ve cleared the air, it’s time to keep the lines of communication open. The best way to do that is to have a monthly money meeting.

“You look at how you’re doing this month compared to last month,” Malec says. “You work jointly as partners to address upcoming expenses.”

Step 3: Create a budget together

© Richard Elliott/Getty Images

If your finances are in the toilet, chances are you don’t have a budget. Or if you do have a budget, it’s one that one spouse created and then decreed the other spouse follow.

You need to identify your shared vision for what your family will look like. What are your goals? What are your priorities? Then work together to create a budget that supports those dreams.

Step 4: Give each spouse their own spending money

© Indeed/Getty Images

Your budget isn’t done until it includes a little cash for each spouse to spend freely each month.

“Each couple gets an equal amount and gets to spend it without criticism or question from the other,” Malec says.

This is so important because spending is such a huge piece of the financial happiness puzzle. Zero spending cash can make a spouse feel stifled or controlled while unbridled spending can spell bankruptcy.

According to a survey conducted by Edelman Financial Services, 56 percent of those polled said spending was the main reason for money-related divorces. So agree that each partner can spend, within reason, and remember that you don’t get to say anything about how your better half uses their cash, even if you do think it’s ridiculous to blow $50 on pizza and beer.

Step 5: Commit to being a team

© Dann Tardif/LWA/Getty Images

Did you play a team sport in school? Do you remember what that was like?

You may have had one particular teammate who didn’t do such a great job. They might make a mistake and cost the team a point, but assuming you were a good team player, you’d still pat them on the back and tell them it was OK.

You need to have that same team attitude with your spouse. Don’t think of them as an adversary or an obstacle you need to overcome. Instead, play to their strengths and be their biggest fan, even when they make mistakes.

“A person who doesn’t want to talk about [money] may feel uneducated about money, may feel anxious about money or don’t want to be held accountable,” Malec says.

You need to figure out what’s going on with your spouse and develop a game plan to address it without making them feel like a total loser. Malec adds that those who become defensive or angry over money probably didn’t see healthy financial discussions growing up and may just be modeling bad behavior they witnessed as children.

Saving a financially stressed marriage involves a lot of hard work and compromise, but for those who come out the other side in happier marriages with better finances, the sacrifices are well worth the rewards.

Written by Maryalene LaPonsie of MoneyTalksNews

(Source: MoneyTalksNews)

How to Talk Money with Your Spouse

Ugh. You know you should talk to your spouse about money, but every time you do, someone gets angry, feelings get hurt and you promise yourself you’ll never bring up the subject again.

Am I right?

OK, I’m sure some of you can talk money like a pro with your spouse, but I’m willing to bet a whole bunch of you dread the thought. I’m a saver who used to be married to a spender. I know.

Even though you may think it’s a lost cause, you still need to try to keep the lines of communication open. Edelman Financial Services found 44 percent of surveyed couples believe money is the root cause of most divorces.

“Financial pressures can lead to the breakdown of the family,” David Bach told me. Bach is the vice chairman of Edelman Financial Services and author of “Smart Couples Finish Rich.”

His research found that being on the same page financially with a spouse not only helps keep you out of divorce court, but it can also fatten your bank account. Of those who discuss finances with their spouse, 36 percent have savings of $100,000-$499,000.

How do you have healthy money conversations with your spouse? Here are five suggestions from the experts.

1. Make it a scheduled event

A woman writes in her calendar.

© altrendo images/Getty Images A woman writes in her calendar. 

The problem with most money discussions is that they usually arise when there is a problem. When one person says, “Honey, can we talk about the budget?” the other person may instantly think, “Ugh, what’s wrong?” Or they may assume they’re in trouble for spending too much.

Either way, it puts the other person on the defensive or in a foul mood right from the get-go.

Instead, agree on a specific day for a monthly review of the family finances. It could be the first Friday of the month or on each payday. It doesn’t have to be long or involved either. It could be as simple as 10 minutes spent going over last month’s cash flow and identifying major or periodic expenses coming down the pipeline.

A regular meeting gets both spouses on the same page financially and ensures they both take ownership of family finances. I asked Anne Malec, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Marriage in Modern Life,” what she thought was the biggest mistake couples make when having money conversations.

“It’s probably the feeling that it’s one partner’s issue to solve [money] problems,” she told me. However, a monthly meeting takes the burden off one spouse to work alone to balance the budget.

2. Pair it with something fun

A couple chats during a dinner date.

© Portra Images/Getty Images A couple chats during a dinner date. 

To sweeten the appeal of a monthly money discussion, pair it with something fun. Bach is a fan of “money dates” and notes that he has clients who always follow up their appointments with him with a movie or dinner out.

“My really happy couples don’t look at their money as drudgery,” he explains. Instead, they use financial meetings as an excuse for a night out.

You don’t have to see a financial planner to make a money date work for you. Simply plan to have your money conversation at your favorite restaurant or if that’s too extravagant for your budget, follow up an at-home money talk with a rented movie and homemade treats.

The point is, make it fun so your spouse doesn’t think of the money talk as work. They might still not love the idea, but they may be willing to endure it with a smile because they know something good is happening afterward.

3. Focus on goals, not bills

A stack of bills.

© Jupiterimages/Getty Images A stack of bills.

Another tip that can make money talks less painful is to focus on shared goals, not everyday bills. Bach suggests couples open a dream account where money can be put aside for a vacation, travel or some other family priority.

“Money is just a tool to design your best life,” Bach says.

Rather than focus on how little you may have, focus on how to make the best use of it. By talking about goals, you’ll naturally bring in a discussion of bills as well. For example, if you and your spouse want to take an anniversary trip, you both may be more likely and willing to cut back in other places.

4. Bring in a third party if needed

A couple meets with a financial planner.

© Paul Simcock/Getty Images A couple meets with a financial planner. 

Sometimes your bad money habits are so ingrained that bringing in a third party to air out the topic is necessary. You could use a marriage and family therapist like Malec or a financial planner like Bach. Or you could go a different route if that’s not in the budget or if your better half balks at the idea of talking about money problems with a stranger.

Bach suggests working through a financial book or workbook together or attending a financial seminar to jump-start the discussion. In my situation, I told my husband I’d like us to attend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program as a Christmas present. Was he happy to go? No. Did it change our family finances and marriage? You bet.

5. Understand your partner’s perspective

A young couple looks over their expenses.

© Richard Elliott/Getty Images A young couple looks over their expenses. 

Finally, talking about money with your spouse requires a great deal of patience and empathy. Your spouse probably isn’t purposefully being difficult. They simply may have a different understanding of money and different expectations than you.

“Each [spouse] has money beliefs about how it’s all going to work,” Malec says. “These beliefs aren’t articulated but they are acted out.”

So while your spouse’s money habits might get on your last nerve, remember that they are probably only doing what they saw modeled at home growing up. Or at least give them that benefit of the doubt.

“You’re in this together,” Bach says. Once you start playing the blame game, you stop working as a team. And once you stop working as a team, you might find yourself agreeing with the 44 percent of people who say divorce and money disagreements go hand-in-hand.

Written by Maryalene LaPonsie of Money Talks News

(Source: Money Talks News)

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