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

14 Things Ridiculously Successful People Do Every Day

Having close access to ultra-successful people can yield some pretty incredible information about who they really are, what makes them tick, and, most importantly, what makes them so successful and productive.

“Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them.” – Vaibhav Shah

Kevin Kruse is one such person. He recently interviewed over 200 ultra-successful people, including 7 billionaires, 13 Olympians, and a host of accomplished entrepreneurs. One of his most revealing sources of information came from their answers to a simple open-ended question:

“What is your number one secret to productivity?”

In analyzing their responses, Kruse coded the answers to yield some fascinating suggestions. What follows are some of my favorites from Kevin’s findings.

1. They focus on minutes, not hours. Most people default to hour and half-hour blocks on their calendar; highly successful people know that there are 1,440 minutes in every day and that there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. As legendary Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller told Kevin, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” You must master your minutes to master your life.

2. They focus on only one thing. Ultra-productive people know what their “Most Important Task” is and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goals? What accomplishment will get you promoted at work? That’s what you should dedicate your mornings to every day.

3. They don’t use to-do lists. Throw away your to-do list; instead schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out that only 41% of items on to-do lists ever get done. All those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect, which, in essence, means that uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and then work and live by that calendar.

4. They beat procrastination with time travel. Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are time inconsistent. We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week; then we throw out green rotting mush in the future. Successful people figure out what they can do now to make certain their future selves will do the right thing. Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution today to defeat your future self.

5. They make it home for dinner. Kevin first learned this one from Intel’s Andy Grove, who said, “There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, work, but also what else they value. There is no right answer, but for many, these other values include family time, exercise, and giving back. They consciously allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to each area they value (i.e., they put them on their calendar), and then they stick to that schedule.

6. They use a notebook. Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their minds by writing everything down as the thoughts come to them.

7. They process e-mails only a few times a day. Ultra-productive people don’t “check” their e-mail throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their e-mails quickly and efficiently. For some, that’s only once a day; for others, it’s morning, noon, and night.

8. They avoid meetings at all costs. When Kevin asked Mark Cuban to give his best productivity advice, he quickly responded, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.” Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander around their topics, and run long. You should get out of meetings whenever you can and hold fewer of them yourself. If you do run a meeting, keep it short and to the point.

9. They say “no” to almost everything. Billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” And James Altucher colorfully gave Kevin this tip: “If something is not a ‘Hell Yeah!’ then it’s a no.” Remember, you only have 1,440 minutes in a day. Don’t give them away easily.

10. They follow the 80/20 rule. Known as the Pareto Principle, in most cases, 80% of results come from only 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results. Focus on those and ignore the rest.

11. They delegate almost everything. Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead, they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take the I out of it as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues, and they are not micro-managers. In many cases, good enough is, well, good enough.

12. They touch things only once. How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail–a bill perhaps–and then put it down, only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an e-mail and then close it and leave it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or ten minutes–whatever it is–they deal with it right then and there. It reduces stress, since it won’t be in the back of their minds, and it is more efficient, since they won’t have to re-read or re-evaluate the item again in the future.

13. They practice a consistent morning routine. Kevin’s single greatest surprise while interviewing over 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with him. While he heard about a wide variety of habits, most nurtured their bodies in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast, and light exercise, and they nurtured their minds with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, or journaling.

14. Energy is everything. You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy to increase your attention, focus, and productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep, or breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel, sleep as recovery, and breaks as opportunities to recharge in order to get even more done.

Bringing It All Together

You might not be an entrepreneur, an Olympian, or a billionaire (or even want to be), but their secrets just might help you to get more done in less time and assist you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed.

 

 

Written By: Travis Bradberry
Source: Inc.

7 Personal Finance Tips From Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is generally considered to be the best long-term investor of all time, so it’s no wonder many people like to listen closely to Buffett’s words of wisdom, in order to apply them to their own lives. With that in mind, here are seven of the best personal finance lessons I’ve learned from Warren Buffett over the years.

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1. “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”

The lesson here is to be a forward thinker when it comes to personal finance, whether you’re talking about investing, saving, or spending. When you’re deciding whether to put some more money aside for emergencies, think of a financial emergency actually happening and how much easier your life will be if you have enough money set aside.

Similarly, few people get rich quick by investing, and most people who try end up going broke. The most certain path to wealth (and the one Buffett took) is to build your portfolio one step at a time, and keep your focus on the long run.

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2. “Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years”

In addition to this, one of my all-time favorite Warren Buffett quotes is “our favorite holding period is forever,” which is also one of the most misunderstood things he says. The point isn’t that Buffett only invests in stocks he’s going to buy and forget about — after all, Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway sells stocks regularly, and for a variety of reasons. Rather, what Buffett is saying is to invest in stable, established businesses that have durable competitive advantages. That is, approach your investments with the long term in mind, but keep an eye on them to make sure your original reasons for buying still apply.

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3. “Price is what you pay; value is what you get”

When you’re buying an investment (or anything else for that matter), the price you pay and the value you receive are often two very different things. In other words, you should buy a stock if you believe its share price is less than the intrinsic value of the business — not simply because you think the price is low.

For example, if a market correction hit tomorrow and a certain stock were to fall by 10% along with the overall market, would the business inherently be worth 10% less than it is today? Probably not. Similarly, if a stock rose rapidly, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that the value of the underlying business had risen as well. Be sure you consider value and price separately when making investing decisions.

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4. “Cash … is to a business as oxygen is to an individual: never thought about when it is present, the only thing in mind when it is absent”

One of the reasons Berkshire Hathaway not only survives recessions and crashes, but tends to come out of them even better than it went in, is that Warren Buffett understands the value of keeping an “emergency fund.” In fact, when the market was crashing in 2008, Berkshire had enough cash on hand to make several lucrative investments, such as its purchase of Goldman Sachs warrants.

Granted, Berkshire Hathaway’s rainy-day fund is probably a bit bigger than yours; Buffett insists on keeping a minimum of $20 billion in cash at all times, and the current total is around $85 billion. However, the same applies to your own financial health. If you have a decent stockpile of cash on the sidelines, you’ll be much better equipped to deal with whatever financial challenges and opportunities life throws at you.

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5. “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing”

In Buffett’s mind, one of the best investments you can make is in yourself and the knowledge you have. This is why Buffett spends hours of every day reading, and has done so for most of his life. The better educated you are on a topic, whether it’s investing or anything else, the better equipped you’ll be to make wise decisions and avoid unnecessary risks. As Buffett’s partner Charlie Munger has advised: “Go to bed smarter than when you woke up.”

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6. Most people should avoid individual stocks

This may seem like strange advice coming from Warren Buffett, since he’s widely regarded as one of the best stock-pickers of all time.

However, Buffett has said on several occasions that the best investment for most people is a basic, low-cost S&P 500 index fund, like the one he is using in a bet to outperform a basket of hedge funds. The idea is that investing in the S&P 500 is simply a bet on American business as a whole, which is almost certain to be a winner over time.

To be clear, Buffett isn’t against buying individual stocks if you have the time, knowledge, and desire to do it right. He’s said that if you have six to eight hours per week to dedicate to investing, individual stocks can be a smart idea. If not, you should probably stick with low-cost index funds.

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7. Remember to give back

Warren Buffett is a co-founder of and participant in The Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to give their fortunes away. Buffett plans to give virtually all of his money to charity, and since he signed the pledge, he has given away billions of dollars’ worth of his Berkshire shares to benefit various charitable organizations.

Buffett once said, “If you’re in the luckiest one percent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 percent.” And even if you’re not a member of the 1%, it’s still important to find ways to give back.

 

 

 

Written By: Matthew Frankel
Source: The Motley Fool

Let’s Go On A Money Adventure

It’s never too early to start teaching kids the value of money, so Ally created a children’s book to help kids learn about money skills as part of their Wallet Wise financial literacy program.

Planet Zeee and the Money Tree is a tool to help parents and educators teach children the fundamentals of learning, saving and growing money. Take your child on an intergalactic adventure with the kids from Planet Zeee as they learn important money lessons from their Earthling friends. It’s never too early to teach children financial responsibility and good money habits.

Download your free copy here!

 

 

 

How To Avoid A 401(k) Meltdown If The Trump Rally Fizzles

Millions of Americans are asking the wrong questions when it comes to their retirement plans. It’s not “how much should I invest now?” or “is the market safe?” You should invest as much as you can in every kind of market.

So forget about the question of whether the “Trump rally” is over, or taking a pause. If that’s your concern, you’re focused on the wrong thing.

Despite this reality, far too many investors are trying to find the right fund manager who can somehow predict and navigate the rocky seas the market will toss up. In rare cases, some managers get lucky and get in and out at the right time. But most don’t have this ability.

Most of us want to believe that professional money managers know just when to get in and out of stocks. We put a lot of faith in them — and mis-spend some $2 trillion in fees hoping that they’ll be right and protect our money.

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The numbers don’t lie, however. Most managers can’t do better than passive market averages and rarely outperform after you subtract their fees. So if you’re placing your trust in active management, you’re headed for a meltdown sooner or later.

A recent study by Jeff Ptak at Morningstar shows the folly of active management for most investors.

Ptak looked a the relationship between what actively managed funds return to the fees they charge for management. In most cases, expenses will cancel out most significant gains.

“Fees haven’t fallen that steeply, and, as a result more than two-thirds of U.S. stock funds levy annual expenses that would wipe out their estimated future pre-fee excess returns.”

What this means is that active managers who time the market aren’t likely to outperform passive baskets of stocks. When you subtract their fees, you’re not coming out ahead.

Fees take an even bigger bite when overall market returns are lower. If stocks return less than double digits, you’re going to feel the pain even more.

Ptak is blunt in his conclusion: “Many active stock funds are too expensive to succeed. The exceptions are small-cap funds, where it appears fees are still below estimated pre-fee excess returns.”

What can you do to avoid the meltdown of overpriced, actively managed funds? It’s a pretty simple process.

1) Find the lowest-cost index funds to cover U.S. and global stocks and bonds. Expense ratios shouldn’t be more than 0.20% annually (as opposed to 1% or more for active funds).

2) If you still want active funds in your portfolio, they should be highly-rated managers who invest in smaller companies.

3) Make sure that the “active” part of your portfolio is no more than 30% of your total holdings. While this is an arbitrary percentage, it will provide some buffer against market timing decisions.

You should also avoid the error of picking funds based on their past performance, which can never be guaranteed. So, instead of asking how they performed, you should ask “how many securities can they hold for the lowest-possible cost.”

 

20 Hidden Sources Of Income Lying Around Your House

You can sell things online, like dolls, old appliances and books, for cash.

The unused items collecting dust in your home could be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. People tend to underestimate the value of their belongings, but buyers often are happy to pay serious cash for rare or limited items, said Jacquie Denny, founder of Everything But The House (EBTH), an online estate sale service. However, even everyday items can find a buyer.

Whether you’re on a cash crunch or want to do some heavy spring cleaning, check around your house. Find out which 20 things you can sell online and elsewhere for extra money.

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1. CLOTHING

Chances are that you and your loved ones have clothing that’s collecting dust in a closet. If these items are gently worn, you might be able to cash in by selling them. One of the easiest ways to unload your used clothing for cash is to sell items on consignment.

I’ve been selling clothes through a local consignment store for years and regularly receive 50 percent of the selling price for items I unload. To earn top dollar, look for upscale consignment stores that enjoy a lot of foot traffic. Additionally, you should find out what brands and items the store accepts and make sure your clothing meets the store’s standards.

You can also sell to an online reseller such as ThredUP.com, which will send you a prepaid package to ship your items. ThredUP sellers can earn up to 80 percent of the marked price of their items.

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2. DESIGNER SHOES AND HANDBAGS

If you paid big bucks for designer shoes or a handbag that you now rarely use, you can reclaim some of your money by selling these items online. Frugal living expert Lauren Greutman said she has sold shoes through Poshmark for up to 50 percent of the retail price.

You can snap a picture of the items you want to sell using the Poshmark app and list them instantly. Poshmark will send a prepaid box to ship items that sell and take a $2.95 commission for sales less than $15 and a 20 percent commission for sales above $15.

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3. JEWELRY

If you have an inherited necklace that isn’t your style, or an engagement ring you no longer wear because you’re divorced, you might want to consider selling these pieces for cash. Fine jewelry can be worth a lot, said Denny.

To make sure you get the full value of your jewelry, consider having items appraised beforehand. You can find an appraiser near you through the American Society of Appraisers’ site, Appraisers.org, or sell online through an auction site such as eBay.com. You can also opt to sell to a jeweler or pawn shop, but it’s important to seek out quotes from several stores before doing so.

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4. COMPUTERS

Many households have $400 to $800 worth of cash in the form of unused laptop computers, said Michele Perry, a consumer tech expert at electronics resale site Gazelle.com. Fortunately, sites such as Gazelle and NextWorth.com make it easy to unload these unwanted laptops for cash.

With Gazelle, sellers can request quotes for their devices. They are then sent prepaid shipping boxes.

“You just send it back with your device, and we’ll send you cash,” Perry said. She went on to remind sellers to erase the data on their computers prior to sending them in.

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5. CELLPHONES

Used cellphones are another tech item you can sell for cash — even if it’s damaged.

“Most devices still have value even if they are broken or damaged, as long as they are fully functional and just have a broken screen or need to replace a battery or button,” Perry said. In fact, sellers can net $75 for a broken iPhone 6S on Gazelle.com. Moreover, they can earn $185 if the item is in good condition with normal wear and tear.

Sellers can also unload old cellphones on sites like Kiiboo.com and NextWorth.com or drop their phones into one of the more than 2,000 ecoATM kiosks located in shopping malls across the nation.

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6. GIFT CARDS

In 2015, $973 million worth of gift cards went unused, according to the professional services firm CEB. If you have gift cards you’re not planning to use, you can sell them for cash on sites such as CardCash.com, Cardpool.com, GiftCardZen.com and Raise.com.

The above sites purchase gift cards for less than face value and then resell them at a discount. For example, you can get back up to 92 percent of a card’s value at Cardpool.com. You also can exchange gift cards for cash at Coinstar Exchange kiosks in grocery stores.

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7. BOOKS

If you have books you know you’ll never read again — or at all — you can easily turn them into cash by selling online. Check to see if you have any first edition books and books autographed by authors to start, said Denny of EBTH, as these items could be good sources of hidden cash.

Greutman recommended selling unwanted books on Amazon. Scan your books using the free Amazon Seller app, which tells you the current value. You can list your books with the app and price them based on Amazon’s pricing suggestions, she said. It’s important to note that Amazon charges 99 cents per item sold.

Additionally, sellers can unload unwanted books through Half.com, which doesn’t charge a listing fee. Start by visiting sites like AbeBooks.com and Biblio.com to see what your books might be worth.

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8. CHILDREN’S TOYS

It’s no secret that children outgrow their toys quickly. Luckily, you can make money selling your kids’ unwanted toys — especially larger items such as kitchen playsets. I made about $50 on a wooden train set for which I originally paid $75 by selling it through a consignment store.

If you have several smaller toys to sell, Greutman advised requesting a box from Swap.com. You can fill it with items and then ship it back to the company for free. Earning $25 to $50 per box is not uncommon, according to Greutman.

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9. COLLECTIBLE DOLLS

If you inherited a collection of porcelain dolls from your grandmother, it might be time to dig them out of storage. In fact, according to Denny, people are willing to pay top dollar for collectible dolls.

Additionally, individuals whose children have old American Girl dolls might be sitting on cash cows. These toys command a high price on eBay.com, said Greutman. For example, a 2014 American Girl Doll of the Year recently had a list price of $399.99 on eBay. This listing is $285 higher than that of the current Doll of the Year sold by American Girl.

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10. FURNITURE

Make some extra cash by selling unwanted furniture that’s occupying space in your garage, attic or storage unit. Along with selling items in consignment stores, which offer owners a percentage of the final price, individuals can opt to advertise locally on Facebook, Craigslist.org or OfferUp.

BudgetsAreSexy.com blogger J. Money has made more than $1,000 selling items on Craigslist, including furniture. When listing an item on the site, he recommended posting several pictures, providing all of the dimensions, using keywords such as brand names in your description and researching prices of similar items. Additionally, you should make yourself available by phone or email to respond to interested buyers.

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11. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

That guitar or drum set you bought years ago, because you thought you were going to start a band, can be turned into cash if your dreams of rockstardom never materialized. In fact, J. Money reported selling an electric guitar, amps and accessories on Craigslist for $225. You also can sell musical instruments online through sites such as Reverb.com, which charges a 3.5 percent fee on sales, or at a physical retailer such as Guitar Center.

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12. SPORTING GOODS

Denny said that outdoor sporting goods, such as bicycles, canoes and fishing gear, tend to sell well on EBTH. If you have sporting goods you bought for yourself or your kids, you can sell them on your own through Craigslist or OfferUp.

Additionally, you can take sports gear — such as skis, golf clubs, baseball bats, gloves and football cleats and helmets — to a Play It Again Sports store and receive 30 percent to 50 percent of the selling price.

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13. SPORTS MEMORABILIA

If you collected baseball cards or sports jerseys as a child, you might be able to exchange these items for much-needed cash. Signed sports memorabilia, in particular, can be a big source of income.

“The more famous the player, the higher the prices demanded,” Denny said. For best results, consider having your items appraised to determine how valuable they are.

You can find an appraiser through Appraisers.org or have trading cards professionally authenticated through the Professional Sports Authentication at PSACard.com. One of the best places to sell sports memorabilia is eBay, which many sports enthusiasts use to find collectibles.

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14. ANTIQUES

If you have antiques you’re willing to sell, their value will hinge largely on their condition and whether they are rare or have historical significance, Denny said.

“With antiques, small scratches and evidence of light wear and tear can actually increase the value slightly, but structural damage and other repairs can be costly and dissuade sellers,” she said. “All these complicating factors are part of why it’s important to work with a reputable appraiser.”

The best way to secure top dollar for antiques is to sell them through an auction house, according to Consumer Reports. You can also sell to antique dealers, but be sure to get quotes from a few services before doing so. Additionally, you can sell antiques at EBTH, which offers appraisers who will value individual items or an entire estate.

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15. ARTWORK

Whether you have inherited artwork that isn’t your taste, or pieces you purchased are collecting dust in the attic, you can opt to sell these items for cash. In fact, I’ve sold numerous pieces of art at consignment stores.

For fine art, consider having items appraised before selling. Regional artwork sells particularly well in EBTH sales, said Denny. You can also sell your fine art through auction houses.

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16. CHINA SETS

If formal dining isn’t your style, you can unload that china set you inherited or received as a wedding gift at a local consignment store. Denny said china is a popular item sold on EBTH — especially sets made by Spode, Lenox and modern designers, such as Ralph Lauren. Additionally, sellers can list china sets on Craigslist.

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17. SILVER

If you inherited some sterling silver trays, serving spoons or other items you don’t use, you might be able to earn cash selling them “as is” or for scrap.

“If the silver holds any sort of historical significance, or has any brand association, it will offer a much greater return than if you were to sell it to scrap,” Denny said. However, she acknowledged that the current market for silver is a difficult one.

At the present time, buyers might get more money selling silver pieces for scrap than at a consignment store or through an auction house. For best results, secure quotes from several metals dealers — both online and storefront.

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18. SAVINGS BONDS

You might have received — or even purchased — savings bonds decades ago only to forget about them completely. In fact, billions of dollars’ worth of matured savings bonds have never been cashed in, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

You can use the Treasury Hunt tool at Treasuryhunt.gov to discover whether you have Series E bonds issued after 1974 that are no longer earning interest and can be cashed in. The tool can also help you identify bonds you might have lost and claim them.

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19. APPLIANCE PARTS

Small appliances that are old or broken can still have value, Greutman said. That’s because you can sell their parts on eBay. For example, a used Keurig K-cup holder recently had a list price of $29.90 on eBay.

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20. VIDEO GAMES

You can cash in on those video games you or your kids no longer play by selling them online or at various brick-and-mortar retailers. Sites such as uSell.com and NextWorth purchase used video games and offer free shipping. Additionally, you can sell used video games at retailers such as GameStop, which will pay cash or give you store credit to buy more hours of fun.

 

 

Written by: Cameron Huddleston
Source: GOBankingRates

Market Update: April 10, 2017

MarketUpdate_header

  • Stocks move higher to start week. U.S. equities are modestly higher this morning as investors look ahead to the start of first quarter earnings season, with several tier one banks set to report later this week. This after major indexes shook off a lackluster jobs report and pushed higher through midday, only to give back gains late in the session; the S&P 500 fell 0.1%. The telecom (+0.2%) and healthcare (+0.2%) sectors clung to modest gains, while financials (-0.3%) and energy (-0.4%) stocks were among the days’ laggards. Overseas, investors are focusing on political turmoil stemming from Syrian incidents amid light economic data; Asian markets were mixed overnight, with the Nikkei (+0.7%) advancing, and the Shanghai Composite (-0.5%) moving lower; while European indexes are near flat amid range-bound trading. Elsewhere, WTI crude oil ($52.80/barrel) continues to climb on regional turmoil in the middle east, COMEX gold ($1250/oz.) is lower, and Treasury yields are down slightly to 2.37% on the 10-year.

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  • Over the last month, the LPL Financial Current Conditions Index (CCI) fell 20 points to 235. The CCI remains in the middle of the range it has held since 2010. Falling shipping traffic and an increase in initial jobless claims off of near 40-year lows were the main detractors from the CCI in the last month, while fed fund rate expectations and credit spreads were the main positive contributors.
  • Inflation and highlights from this week’s economic calendar. Despite Friday’s holiday, retail sales and the consumer price index (CPI) will be reported on that day (producer prices come Thursday) and will highlight what is otherwise a quiet week of data in the U.S. Two reports that deserve some attention, however, are National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Optimism and JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover) which will provide some insights into the policy-driven rise in business confidence and the job market, where Friday’s weak payroll employment report raised some concerns. Overseas, we get Chinese and Japanese trade data and G7 Finance Ministers will meet, while geopolitical risk will remain in focus following last week’s military strike in Syria.
  • S&P 500 poised for double-digit earnings gain. The S&P 500 is likely to produce double-digit year-over-year earnings growth for the first quarter (Thomson-tracked consensus is +10.1%) as earnings season gets underway this week. Earnings growth would reach 12-14%, the best since 2011, should companies beat estimates by the average 4.1% seen over the last five years according to FactSet. Last year’s first quarter marked the trough of the earnings recession, setting up an easy comparison, though we have several other reasons to be optimistic. Growth is expected to be powered by energy’s rebound from the oil downturn that battered the sector early last year while solid macro data in recent months is also supportive.
  • Fed balance sheet. Minutes from the recent Federal Reserve (Fed) meeting, released last Wednesday, signaled that the Fed intends to reduce its sizable $4.2 trillion balance sheet. We’ll analyze the options available to the Fed to accomplish a reduction of this size. In addition to how the balance sheet was built, we look at the structure of the assets within the portfolio for clues as to how the normalization may impact markets.
  • Continued strong breadth. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Composite Advance/Decline (A/D) line broke out to new highs last week. This is one of our favorite technical indicators, as it shows how many stocks are advancing versus declining at any given time. In other words, it measures overall market breadth. To see new highs occur suggests there is a good deal of investor participation and the overall equity rally could continue to have legs. Also, the NYSE A/D line broke out to new highs one year ago this week, well ahead of the eventual S&P 500 Index’s (SPX) new highs in July 2016.

MonitoringWeek_header

Tuesday

  • Eurozone: Industrial Production (Feb)

Wednesday

  • Bank of Canada Rate Decision & Monetary Policy Report

Thursday

  • Initial Jobless Claims (Apr 1)

Friday

  • Banks Open, Markets Closed
  • CPI (Mar)
  • Retail Sales (Mar)

 

 

 

 

 

Important Disclosures: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide or be construed as providing specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual security. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal. Investing in foreign and emerging markets securities involves special additional risks. These risks include, but are not limited to, currency risk, political risk, and risk associated with varying accounting standards. Investing in emerging markets may accentuate these risks. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) are subject to interest rate risk and opportunity risk. If interest rates rise, the value of your bond on the secondary market will likely fall. In periods of no or low inflation, other investments, including other Treasury bonds, may perform better. Bank loans are loans issued by below investment-grade companies for short-term funding purposes with higher yield than short-term debt and involve risk. Because of its narrow focus, sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies. Commodity-linked investments may be more volatile and less liquid than the underlying instruments or measures, and their value may be affected by the performance of the overall commodities baskets as well as weather, disease, and regulatory developments. 

Government bonds and Treasury bills are guaranteed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value. However, the value of fund shares is not guaranteed and will fluctuate. Investing in foreign and emerging markets debt securities involves special additional risks. These risks include, but are not limited to, currency risk, geopolitical and regulatory risk, and risk associated with varying settlement standards. High-yield/junk bonds are not investment-grade securities, involve substantial risks, and generally should be part of the diversified portfolio of sophisticated investors. Municipal bonds are subject to availability, price, and to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rate rise. Interest income may be subject to the alternative minimum tax. Federally tax-free but other state and local taxes may apply. Investing in real estate/REITs involves special risks such as potential illiquidity and may not be suitable for all investors. There is no assurance that the investment objectives of this program will be attained. Currency risk is a form of risk that arises from the change in price of one currency against another. Whenever investors or companies have assets or business operations across national borders, they face currency risk if their positions are not hedged. This research material has been prepared by LPL Financial LLC.

 

Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

Want to lose weight? Improve your cardio? Lower your blood pressure? Then don’t buy a fitness tracker. In fact, some experts claim they can “do more harm than good”. Wondering why you might have wasted money on yours? Read on…

 

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Now let’s just get one thing straight before we continue. I actually use a variety of wearable devices. I have an Apple watch which measures my daily activity, I use the Nike+ app when I go running and I use a Garmin & Strava for cycling. And it seems that I’m not alone with an estimated 20% of Americans wearing some form of tracker and around 3 million being sold in the UK each year. People use them in different ways and for a variety of reasons. Personally I want to monitor my performance and am fascinated with the data that they produce (I know, I’m a nerd). Consequently I love them all, so before you launch into a tirade along the lines of ‘this guy hates Fitbits’ in the comments section please remember not to shoot the messenger…

Now then, why have the boffins got such a downer on trackers? Well firstly, they pour scorn on the whole notion of the 10,000 steps. It seems that this has no basis in any robust scientific research. According to Dr Greg Hager who is a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University:

  “Turns out in 1960 in Japan they figured out that the average Japanese man, when he walked 10,000 steps a day, burned something like 3,000 calories and that is what they thought the average person should consume. So they picked 10,000 steps as a number”

In fairness, that hardly seems very scientific. Unless you are an average Japanese man who is still living in 1960. A relatively small sample size, I’m guessing.

Just last week Prof. Hager pointed out that we we cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ solution and every individual needs a bespoke fitness plan which caters specifically for their needs. He goes on to say:

“I think apps could definitely be doing more harm than good. I am sure that these apps are causing problems. Without any scientific evidence base, how do you know that any of these apps are good for you? They may even be harmful”

Harmful? Seriously? Isn’t that pushing it a tad too far? Well in support of his claim, Hager states that someone with an underlying medical condition may not necessarily be capable of achieving the 10,000 steps and it could be detrimental to their health to try.

So, is Hager out there on his own in his thinking? Well, it seems not. A 2016 study of 800 people with activity trackers was conducted in Singapore which discovered that there were no health benefits to the research subjects when compared to a control group who didn’t use a tracker. What’s more, they even added a cash incentive to increase the number of steps they took. It made absolutely no difference.

In the UK, Hager also has support from Simon Leigh, a senior health economist at Nexus Clinical Analytics who has published several studies on fitness trackers in the British Medical Journal. He said:

“Dr Hager is spot on. A GP, endocrinologist or other fitness specialist would unlikely  recommend 10,000 steps for most people. Especially given that the majority of those who download these apps are likely to be unfit and in need of improvement in the first place” 

I understand what these guys are saying but surely in a population with rising rates of obesity, we need to encourage people to do some form of exercise and activity trackers can be a strong motivator in the right hands (or should that be on the right arm?). After all, surely it is better to do 10,000 steps a day than none at all? It beats lying on the sofa eating double cheese deep pan pizza and watching The Kardashians.

Surely it also depends on what you are doing on your journey of 10,000 steps. If you are having a brisk walk around the park with your Cockerpoo then that must have some health benefits. For you and the dog. However, if it’s a pub crawl around town on a Friday night followed by a stagger down to the kebab shop then I don’t think that counts. It’s really all a matter of balance.

Depending upon the type of tracker you use valuable personal information can be measured and monitored over time including heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns. The aggregation of all this big / smart data can be of use to a medical practitioner, an insurance company or even the advertising industry. The implications of this are not only fascinating but have huge business potential.

 

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A doctor could offer a prognosis on potential medical conditions saving both money and lives. Your insurance company could use your data to offer you improved premiums on health insurance in the same way that they use trackers for safe drivers on car insurance. And the ad industry can use programmatic to specifically target you with dynamic creative to offer you goods / services that are highly relevant to the individual (e.g. new running shoes in your size and favorite colors).

 

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Dr John Jakicic from the University of Pittsburgh, seems to be of the same opinion as myself. In his studies, he found that fitness trackers could form part of a series of behaviours to encourage people to lose weight or improve fitness:

“we need to be careful about relying solely on these devices. However, there is a place for these, and so we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in my opinion”

So are these trackers going end up gathering dust in the garage along with other defunct fitness gadgets such as the Ab-Cruncher and Thigh-Master? Well don’t be too hasty in ditching your Fitbit just yet. Accept it for what it is and use it accordingly. Figure out an optimum level of activity for your age, size and fitness level (if you are unsure, consult an expert or just Google it). Then simply incorporate it into your weekly workout schedule.

 

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What do you think? Are these trackers really useless or do they have some merit? Do you own one and now feel cheated or does the technology really work for you? As ever, I am interested in your viewpoint.

 

 

Written By: Steve Blakeman
Source: LinkedIn

The 10 Most Commonly Googled Tax Questions — Answered

Taxes can be confusing. We’re here to help. To find out what people’s most burning questions about taxes are, MONEY asked Google for a list of its top tax-related queries—and assembled the information you need.

1. When are taxes due?

It’s April 18 this year. Usually, it’s the 15th — you can read why you get an extra three days here. (If you file for an extension, you get until Oct. 16 to file your return, because Oct. 15 is a Sunday. You must still pay what you estimate you owe by April 18, though.)

2. How to file taxes

This IRS page has links to online forms you can print as well as a locator tool where you can find an office if you prefer to pick up forms in person or don’t have access to a printer. You might also find tax forms at your local library or post office.

If you make less than $64,000, the IRS has a page where you can file your taxes electronically at no charge under the Free File program. If you plan to file with a simple form like a 1040A or 1040EZ, some tax preparation companies like TurboTax, H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and TaxAct have their own platforms you can use to do your taxes online for free.

If you’re not sure which form you should use, the IRS spells out the differences here. Not sure how to file state taxes? This IRS page has links to all of the state governments, including tax departments.

3. When can you file taxes?

The IRS began accepting electronic returns for 2016 on Jan. 23, 2017.
You technically have until 11:59:59 p.m. on April 18 to file your taxes if you’re filing online, according to TurboTax, but waiting until the last second is a bad idea: A pokey computer could cost you big in penalties. If you’re using U.S. mail, you have to have your return and payment postmarked by April 18. Some post offices stay open late for Tax Day; you can find out which ones have extended hours here.

If you (or your accountant) file your taxes electronically, you have the option of paying online using the IRS’s Electronic Funds Withdrawal function (which is free). You can also pay via credit or debit card (which will cost you a convenience fee of a bit under $3 if you use a debit card, or around 2% of the charge if you use a credit card).

4. How to file a tax extension

If you procrastinated and April 18 is looking like a long shot, experts say you should file for an extension. This doesn’t get you out of paying any taxes you owe by the deadline, but it gives you an extra six months to file. An extension will keep you from getting hit with a late-filing penalty of 5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month you’re late, up to 25%.

That’s in addition to a late-payment penalty of 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month—plus interest at a rate of the federal short-term interest rate plus 3%.
If you expect a refund, you obviously have an incentive to get your return in as soon as possible to get those dollars in your pocket. If you file for an extension thinking you’ll get a refund and instead find that you owe, you’ll have to tack on the late-payment charges.

Don’t forget about state taxes. A handful of states will automatically give you an extension if you request one through the IRS, while others require a separate request to that state’s tax department. In some cases, the rules are different depending on whether you owe money or are due a refund.

5. How much do you have to make to file taxes?

There are various thresholds, depending on your filing status, age, and the type of income you receive. For instance, if you’re single, under 65 and your income was below $10,350 last year, you generally don’t need to file federal taxes. This IRS tool can help you figure out if you need to file a tax return.

Even if appears you don’t have to file, experts say it’s generally a good idea to fill in the blanks on a return and see what your bottom line would be. About 70% of Americans are expected to qualify for refunds this year, according to the IRS, but many people never file to collect. The average unclaimed refund is nearly $700. Especially for lower-income Americans, a number of credits and deductions could make you eligible for a refund.

6. How long to keep tax records

The IRS says you should hang onto your tax documents for three years; if you get audited, that’s generally the look-back period they’re allowed to cover. However, if they suspect fraud or underpayment of income tax, or if you’ve written off worthless securities, they can request up to seven years’ worth of tax records. Hang onto documents like receipts that justify deductions like business expenses, charitable donations and so on.

7. When is the last day to do taxes?

Yeah, there are clearly a lot of procrastinators out there. As explained above in No. 1, the filing deadline is pushed back a few days from the usual April 15 this year to the 18th. You have until midnight local time—but if you’re going to put it off that long you should consider just filing for an extension.

8. Is Social Security taxed?

It’s possible. Depending on your income, up to 85% of Social Security benefits may be taxable. If you’re a single filer and your combined income—that is, adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest from municipal bonds and half of your Social Security benefits—is more than $25,000, you will have to pay taxes. If you’re married and file jointly, the threshold is $32,000.

9. How long does it take to get taxes back?

The answer this year might be “longer than usual.” To combat tax fraud, the IRS is taking extra time checking filers’ tax information if they claimed either the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. Under a new law, the agency is holding back refunds claiming those credits until at least Feb. 15, and people aren’t likely to see those refunds until the end of February at the earliest. On top of that, “New identity theft and refund fraud safeguards put in place by the IRS and the states may mean some tax returns and refunds face additional review,” the agency warns. For everybody else, the IRS says refunds should be issued in its standard window of 21 days from the time it get your return.

10. Why do I owe taxes?

The first income tax in the U.S. was authorized by Congress in 1861 and levied the following year, to help pay for the Civil War, according to the Civil War Trust, but taxes have been around nearly as long as civilization itself. Historians have found tax records that go back to 6,000 B.C. in what is now Iraq, and the ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese cultures all had their own versions. In Biblical times, Roman emperor Caesar Augustus established rules around some personal and inheritance taxes that the English later used to create similar taxes centuries later, according to the Handbook on Tax Administration. Ironically, modern-day Italy has the lowest rate of income-tax compliance out of 10 major developed nations, with less than two-thirds of citizens giving the tax man his due.

And although plenty of Americans have argued in court that they shouldn’t have to pay taxes, the IRS has a helpful 71-page paper that methodically debunks these claims, The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments, (which might be equally helpful as a cure for tax-season-induced insomnia.)

 

 

Written By: Martha C. White
Source: MONEY