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So you have filed your 2017 taxes and now the name of the game is wait for that chunk of change to hit your bank account. The average tax return was $3,120 in 2015, which is a lot to play around with. So before you splurge on your next trip to the mall, take a look at this list of smart ways you can use your tax refund:

1. Pay down your debt.

This just might be everyone’s least favored use of a tax refund, but it is smart! Putting your tax refund toward your debts can help you save more by accumulating less interest on the lower outstanding amounts. You might have monthly payments on student loans, a car loan, credit card debt, or a mortgage, whatever debt you have it will certainly feel good to put a dent in the amount you owe. This was how I used 100% of my tax refund which helped me pay off the rest of my student loans.

2. Invest it.

Make your tax refund work for you! Try looking into opening a brokerage account or online trading account and learn about how to invest. Investing your tax refund wisely can prove to be very beneficial in the long run and can help you reach other financial and personal goals you have.

3. Emergency fund.

Life is unpredictable and priorities, both short-term and long-term, change constantly. Establishing an emergency fund and padding it up with extra cash will help prepare you what life might throw at you. You never know what is going to happen, and it is better to be safe than sorry.

4. Save for retirement.

Consider depositing your tax refund into your retirement account if you are behind on your retirement contributino for the year. Your refund can go a long way accruing interest in your retirement account.

5. Invest in yourself.

Do something to better yourself whether that be putting your refund toward higher education, developing professional skills, or even helping you achieve a personal goal such as getting a personal trainer. These can lead to other job opportuities, a promotion, or simply a healthier and happier life.

Tax Day for 2017 Taxes Pushed!

April 18 circled on a calendar labeled with "TAX DAY!"Do you know what April 15th is? It’s not just the middle of April… basically everyone and their mother knows that typically April 15th is Tax Day, the day millions of Americans rush and wait in long lines to file their taxes in person (click here to read my last post on filing for FREE using TurboTax). HOWEVER just a big FYI for y’all: Tax Day this year is April 18, 2018. You read that correctly, while Tax Day is notoriously known to fall on April 15th, this year it has been pushed to April 18, 2018. So take note, be diligent, and if you’re curious as to why 581-425-9504!

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Hello preppers, tax season is upon us! While a lot of people freak out and get stressed when it comes to filing their taxes… I say let’s not. There are so many tools and resources available to organize your documents and help you file your taxes, so research them, read reviews, and find one that will work for you and your personal situation. As I am single, have only one employer, live under my parents’ roof, and am still covered under their medical insurance, my taxes really are not complicated. As a matter of fact, I filed both my 2017 federal and state taxes early on 1/30/18 and had my tax return direct deposited into my bank account on 2/12/18, talk about fast service, and you want that return ASAP since we all know time is money and that money is doing you a lot better in your bank account than with the government!Since I have only ever done taxes as complicated as my own, I want to brief others who will have similar tax situations as myself. Pretty basic, so I’m going to say highschool students, college students, recent college grads, people still living with their parents, please continue reading! Others please also continue reading and pass this on to people who you know and think will benefit from this.

So let’s dive right into it. Let me lead by saying never have I ever had an issue using TurboTax®. Have you? If so put a finger down, but I hope not! TurboTax is one of the biggest players in the game when it comes to tax return softwares, and I can attest to the ease and efficiency of using it to file my taxes electronically. The whole process from start to finish is so streamlined, it is a step-by-step guided experience. The best part is TurboTax offers several products with varying price levels including TurboTax AbsoluteZERO® for which the “ZERO” refers to the price. Yes you heard it here folks, you if your tax situation is pretty basic like mine, then you can pay exactly $0 to file your taxes with TurboTax AbsoluteZERO. AKA if you will be taking the standard deduction, which for 2017 is set at $6,350, then this free version is right up your alley. People who will not be taking the standard deduction will have itemized deductions in excess of the standard deduction and will need to look into one of the other (702) 601-6591.

Let’s run through some of the most common documents you will need in order to file your taxes:

  • W-2: This form is provided by your employer and summarizes your total compensation, taxes withheld, contributions to benefit plans. Many employers give the choice of receiving your W-2 online or in the mail, so be sure to check which method you are opted in. Also if you have multiple jobs, you will need to get a W-2 from each employer.
  • 1098-E: This statement totals the amount of interest that you paid during the year on your student loans. Get this form from each of your lenders (SallieMae, Navient, 774-338-6875…etc), it should be accessible online.
  • (720) 231-5925 This statement shows the total amount of interest you earned from a financial institution. You will need to get this form from any financial institution from which you earned more than $10 in combined interest on all accounts held with each institution. For example, I have two savings accounts, one with Chase and one with Goldman Sachs. I earned more than $10 in interest from both banks so I had to receive a 1099-INT from each bank. You should be able to get this form (when available) by logging into your account online.
  • 5108458311 This form summarizes the total amount of dividends and distributions that you received from any investments held during the year. This will come from financial institutions at which you hold investments.

The four documents listed above are the only documents I needed to file my complete 2017 tax returns, however this list is not exhaustive. This is my personal experience and not everyone’s tax situation will be the same as mine. Some of the documents I used may not be applicable to everyone, and other people might require other documents, check out this checklist from the IRS to see which documents apply to you. There are also so many other tax filing softwares available. Please do your due diligence, it is up to you to ensure you have all necessary documents and determine which method of filing and which software is most appropriate for you. Don’t forget, the deadline to file is April 15!

 

Where Have I been since October?

My last post was in October 2017 which means there are four months unaccounted for through now. This quick post is acting as a bridge letter to let you know where I’ve been and that I am (barely) alive! I took some time to complete the last parts of the CPA exam aka I literally had no free time because all my time was eaten up by CPA lectures, textbooks, and practice exams. I PASSED! So if anyone is interested in pursuing accounting, is preparing to take any of the CPA exams, or is currently taking any exams please feel free to reach out! It was a quite a rollercoaster ride getting all four sections completed while working full-time so I can certainly shed some light on the exam and any questions you might have. 🙂

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A 2017 5813066095 found that 57% of Americans have $1,000 or less in a savings account. While this percentage is pretty alarming, let’s note it is still an improvement from the prior year where the figure was at 69%! But wait, they also found that 39% of Americans have no savings at all. I’m sorry come again? 39% of Americans have $0 in their savings account. $0. Let’s take a moment for that to sink in. Hopefully these statistics will encourage you to save even more! Though on the other side of the spectrum, 25% of Americans have $10,000 or more in a savings accounts, up from 15% last year. That definitely deserves praise because more people are realizing the importance and necessity of saving.

So what can you do to increase your cushion? The obvious answer is to increase the amount of your income that goes into your savings account (duh!). I can tell you the way I used to view my paychecks was this: all of my credit card payments must be made first, then whatever is left goes to savings. WRONG. This is definitely not the right mindset, but unfortunately tends to be a default way of thinking. I had to flip my mindset and start realizing that my savings account should be paid first and my credit payments second. Of course my credit payments have to be paid no matter what, but this helped me be more conscious of my credit card use. Do I really need a $6 cup of coffee everyday? Every time I bought a cup of coffee that was $6 that was not going to savings. That $6 a day turns into $1,560 a year! Psychotic… and looking back did that extra $1,560 will make more of a difference to my life than those foregone cups of coffee. The easiest way to accept this is to think of your savings account as an expense that MUST be paid. Your savings account must get paid no matter what, just as your credit card payments must get paid no matter what. Thinking about it as something that just has to be done makes it a lost easier because it takes the subjectivity out of the process, there is a lot less decision-making going on. It has to be done, end of story.

GoBankingRates discusses the disparity between age groups and in the end came up with one simple conclusion of (822) 880-6770 This makes sense for a number of reasons. Younger generations with little to no work experience probably have lower starting salaries, coupled with high amounts of student loans makes it more difficult to build savings.

Everyone has different goals and situations. Some people are 35 with kids and a mortgage and can’t afford to dedicate so much of their income to savings, others are 35 with no kids or a mortgage and have the income to spare. No matter what it is best practice to save as much as you can afford, even if it is just $50 a paycheck. Making any effort, no matter how small, is still a win in my book. You are taking responsibility for your future, because who else is going to if not you? Try to challenge yourself every month and see how much you can add to your savings account and try to beat your contribution from the previous month, even if it is just by $1. This will be an effective goal because it is SMART. For those of you who don’t know what SMART means, it is an acronym for qualities of effective goal-setting. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. Goals that possess all of these qualities are more likely to be achieved. So I have created your goal for you, now you just have to do it.

While Americans have been steadily improving their savings habits, many have a long way to go. We can do it if we want to. Just make a plan and stick to it.

(902) 830-1815

I have several memories from when I was younger of finding gift cards in my drawers or underneath my bed that I had received months or even years prior. That essentially was the same thing as finding cold hard cash in a pair of jeans that haven’t been worn in months, it was the best feeling ever! Compulsive little Brett always wrote the updated balance on the face of his gift cards so he didn’t have to continuously call the number on the back of the card to retrieve it, however when his gift cards remained unseen for some time there used to be a monthly fee that would eventually deplete the balance of the card entirely. He felt cheated when he would attempt to use a card with a written balance on the front and the cashier would hand it back to him saying it had a zero balance. I’m sure you all remember those days, when gift cards had expiration dates and monthly fees after a stated period of inactivity.

This brings us to modern-day, where the gift card industry is topping at over $300bn and is on track to more than double to nearly $700bn by 2024. With all this money basically buying a different form of money it became a problem when people kept losing the value of their gift cards at the hands of expiration dates and monthly fees. It just didn’t seem right, so I looked into the laws and regulations surrounding gift cards in my home state, New Jersey.

Over the past decade NJ has passed legislation and made changes to protect NJ consumers when it comes to purchasing and using gift cards (the first three protections only apply to gift cards that were purchased on or after December 1, 2012).

  1. Gift cards whose value expire? GONE.
    • While the physical gift card itself might have an expiration date, the funds on the card can never expire.
  2. Those pesky monthly fees that were imposed on cards that had no activity for 12 months? GONE.
    • The only fees allowed to be imposed are the ones associated with the activation/issuance of a card, the reloading of value onto a card, or the replacement of a missing/expired card.
  3. You can cash in gift cards with small balances.
    • Yes, you read that correctly. GONE are the days of using a gift card only to be left with an obscure petty balance of $1.93 or $3.57. Whatever you buy after that will most likely total greater than the remaining balance and then you have to shell out more money that you wouldn’t have had to otherwise. Well something you may not have known is that NJ passed legislation that legally requires merchants to give you the value of your remaining gift card balance in cash if the balance is less than $5. So all of those small balance cards to stores you don’t shop at anymore that you have stockpiled in your bottom drawer can be redeemed for cash and you no longer have to guiltily throw them away or hold on to them for forever.
  4. Gift cards purchased after July 1, 2010 that have no activity for a 780-807-2867 are considered by law to be property abandoned by the owner. Only 60% of the balances are sent to the “unclaimed funds” department of the state of the card owner’s residence, or the state in which the merchant is incorporated if the card owner’s state is unknown. If your balances have been designated as “abandoned” you can contact the Bureau of Unclaimed Property and fill out a form to try to get the value returned to you.

Each state has its own rules and regulations surrounding gift cards. hydromaniac

903-785-9001

We live in such a fast-paced world in which a million things require our attention all at once, or if they don’t require our attention many of us still feel the need to give everything our attention (shout out to all you fellow perfectionists). Well that is impossible… so that is where 2064768864 comes in!

Mint.com is a personal finance platform that does so many cool things for you, giving you the ability to dedicate more time to the things and people who most important to you. I signed up for Mint almost two years ago and I still geek out about how cool it is and how much it can do for its users. Here are a few of Mint’s amazing capabilities that I use:

 1. All of your accounts in one place

I linked all of my bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, ROTH IRA, and even my 401(k). By linking these accounts Mint is able to keep track of all of your balances and aggregate them to show you a quick overview of how much cash you have as well as your total credit balances, so rather than having to login to each of your bank accounts and add them up on your own, Mint does exactly that for you. Now while most institutions are compatible with Mint, you will have to check each of yours individually to see if they are all compatible.

 2. Budgets

As I’ve said in previous posts, budgeting is crucial, and it is also one of my hobbies. Mint makes it extremely easy to create monthly budgets for different things that you normally spend money on. All you have to do is create a budget that you can name whatever you want, set an amount that you would like to cap yourself at each month and Mint watches all of your budgets for you! Setting up budgets are really easy to do, and they are really helpful. For example, one of my monthly budgets is labeled “Restaurants” which capped at $200 per month is how much I would like to limit myself to dining out each month. Mint watches all of my credit cards and anytime I use one at a restaurant it dumps that expense into my monthly “Restaurant” bucket, so at any point I can view my budgets and see how much I have left in that budget. Another helpful feature is that if I spend more than my budgeted amount I will get an email telling me how much I’ve gone over by in order to help me stick to my budgets next time.

3. Spending Trends

Everything that we spend money on can be categorized. Some of the major categories most of my expenses fall in are education, auto & transport, and food & dining. Over time you should be able to see trends in how much you spend in each category, generally the allocation of expenses will be pretty similar month to month. Mint sees these trends for you and knows, for example, the your average monthly expense on dining out. The cool part is that if you spend more than your average in a month, Mint will notify you of your “unusual spending” in that category so that you can watch your spending in that category more closely next time.

 4. Bills

Mint knows all of your bills and when they are due. If you don’t have your bills on automatic payment, you can have Mint send you reminders when your due dates are coming up each month. This way you never miss a payment and never incur interest charges.

Click here to sign up for Mint!

You can access Mint on the computer or they have a wonderful app for mobile devices so you can take Mint everywhere. So give Mint a chance, you will love everything it has to offer!

Get a Grip on Your Finances

Do you know where your money goes? I’m not just talking about which account(s) your paychecks initially get direct-deposited into on payday, but aren’t you curious where does all that cash money goes after leaving the cozy condo that is your bank account? I’m sure you already know your larger monthly expenses, but you can’t forget about all of the other things that eat your money too! In order to really get a grip on your finances you need take a look at what chunks of change stay in your accounts and for how long, and also where it goes when it is taken out.

Make a list of all of your fixed monthly expenses, here are a few to get you started:

  • Rent
  • Car loan/lease payment
  • Utility bills
  • Student Loan Payment
  • Insurance (Home/Auto/Health)
  • Subscriptions (Netflix, Spotify, etc.)

Since your fixed expenses are fixed (duh), they are easy to add up and notice anything out of the ordinary. Your variable expenses are the ones you need to keep an eye on because they can quickly add up if you don’t track them carefully and keep them under control. This is where your budgeting skills come in! Set aside a certain amount for variable expenses such as these:

  • Groceries
  • Shopping
  • Gas
  • Entertainment
  • Eating out

Setting limits for each variable expense will help you track how much you are spending and will ensure you don’t go overboard and spend more than you are taking in, assuming you actually stick to your budgets.

It’s just a healthy habit to be aware of what and how much each of your expenses are, and when each is drawn from your accounts. This can help you identify any activity on your accounts that isn’t correct and in some situations can hopefully get you back some money that shouldn’t have been drawn from your account.

 

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Your credit score is your financial “pulse”. It’s the first thing someone checks to see if you are financially alive. Therefore you better do everything you can to make sure you have a strong and healthy score! You might ask “but Brett, what can I do to build strong credit??” What a coincidence because I put together a list of 5 things you can do to help prove your creditworthiness.

  1. Make every single payment on time. Every. Single. Payment. Do not carry a balance from month-to-month! Any bills that are left unpaid can be sold to a third-party collection agency which will severely impact your credit score. Use an automatic payment feature to ensure you never miss a payment.
  2. Maintain a low credit utilization ratio. Utilization? Yeah, it’s the amount of credit you use compared to the total amount of credit available to you. So add up the balances across all of your credit cards and divide by the sum of the credit limits of all of your credit cards, that is your utilization ratio. A lower ratio increases your score, while a higher ratio decreases your score. This is because there is the assumption that there is higher risk related to people who use more of their available credit, compared to people who use less. Generally I have read that you should keep your utilization below 30%-35%.
  3. Try not to open too many accounts within a short period of time. Each new account lowers the average age of your accounts, which is one of many components that is considered in your credit score. The longer credit history you have, the more on-time (or late) payments a lender has to judge you on when assessing the risk lending to you poses. Likewise, shorter history = the less they have to gauge you on = their assessment is less accurate = increase in risk.
  4. Keep your accounts open. The longer the better! Open accounts provide you with two benefits; they lengthen your credit history and they increase your available credit which lowers your credit utilization. General rule: avoid closing credit cards. If a card you wish to cancel has an annual fee try asking the bank if you can downgrade it to a free version of the card in order to avoid cancelling it altogether.
  5. Check your credit reports for errors and discrepancies, and just to track your score. Knowing what your score is and the factors that make up your score will help you understand why your score is what it is and what you can do to improve and maintain it. How often you check your score is entirely up to you, personally I check mine monthly because that is how often the platforms I use update.

I follow every single one of these practices. The one that I need to work on is my average credit age, which is about 4 years. The only thing I can do is refrain from opening or closing any accounts because the longer I keep my current accounts open the higher the average age will be.

Do you have any other good credit practices that I didn’t mention? Let me know!

How and When to Start Building Credit

The best answer to when one should start building credit is the sooner the better because it takes time. Credit can be the most useful tool and it helps many people build their lives up, but it can also bring people down and drown them in a sea of debt. Think of your credit score exactly like your financial reputation. It is what financial institutions who don’t know you use to judge you before they even meet you. It could define whether or not you buy a house or a car, or whether or not you have children. This is why credit should not be taken lightly and requires a sense of maturity and responsibility. Here are several things you can do to jump-start your credit and work your way to a more secure financial future.

1. Education

Like anything, before you jump in all gung-ho, you should do some research beforehand and make sure you know what you’re getting into. Be aware of what credit is and how it works, the different ways it can benefit you as well as how it can harm you. Learn the basics of what credit actually is and how it works. You should learn how to earn money, save money, spend money, make a budget (and stick to it). Knowing all of these concepts will prepare you for financial independence and the tremendous responsibility of building and protecting your credit.

2. Become an authorized user

The easiest way to get in the game is to become an authorized user on someone else’s account. Most credit cards now require you to be at least 21 to be approved for a credit card in your own name, however you can be approved at 18 with a co-signer or with proof of steady income. Being an authorized user means you get to enjoy most of the benefits of having and using a credit card while the actual liability of having to pay off the balance each month remains with the primary account holder, however, as my friend Paul reminded me, being an authorized user on someone else’s account is not a proper substitute for establishing your own credit. The best part is most major banks don’t have a minimum age requirement to be an authorized user and you don’t even have to be related. To all you parents out there, the answer to your question is yes you can indeed make your 2 year old an authorized user on your account, however their credit is then tied to your performance related to the account. If you use your card responsibly, your authorized users will benefit from your on-time payments and low credit-utilization ratio. Tip: Add an authorized user to your account but keep their card in order to remain in control of the card usage while still helping them build credit. Authorized users do not need to actually use the card in order for it to benefit their credit score, their name being associated with the account is enough.

3. Get a co-signer

If you are under 21, it’s possible to get a credit card or loan with a co-signer. This is essentially the same as a regular credit card or loan agreement, however the co-signer agrees to pay the full amount owed in the event you don’t or can’t pay. Banks are happy when someone who shows the ability to pay the amount owed co-signs the loan even if they are not the primary holder, they don’t care who they get the money back from, just the assurance that they will get the money back.