The most fruitful periods of growth often happen when they are the least expected. Teachers and parents call them teachable moments. By reflecting on how you handle the situation, you can learn a lot about yourself. The disruption caused by this year’s pandemic is a massive teachable moment for all of us regarding money. Here are three ways you can take advantage of our recent stay-at-home orders to improve your spending and saving habits.
Take a different approach to tracking your spending. No matter who you are, your spending habits have changed during the pandemic. For example, more money is being spent at the grocery store and less on eating out and entertainment. And if you own a home, odds are you’re investing more in your house projects than you have in the past.
By taking away the ability to spend on things we would normally purchase, stay-at-home orders offer the opportunity to learn about the things that bring us joy. Look at your purchases over the last month and note which ones were worth the money. Then think about the things you miss the most. Maybe it’s going out to eat with friends or attending a concert or a sporting event. This exercise will give you a snapshot of what type of spending is the most satisfying for you and will help your decision making in the future.
Save, save, and save some more. If you learn one thing from this pandemic, it’s that nothing is certain. Circumstances can change in an instant and even the best plans can be tossed to the side at any moment. If you are fortunate enough to have consistent income, now is the time to start building your emergency and retirement funds. Instead of diverting funds to your entertainment budget, put it in savings. You never know when the next income-altering event will arise, so stuff that financial cushion while you have the chance.
Create a habit of giving. With unemployment rates in some places as high as we’ve seen since the Great Depression, there are plenty of opportunities to help those in need. If you have some extra cash, now is a great time to increase your giving. Beyond the positive impact to others and your community, studies show that giving can make you feel happier, provide greater life satisfaction, and even activate reward centers in the brain (according to the University of Oregon). On top of all that, you may be able to deduct your contributions on your taxes — just make sure to give to qualified 501(c)(3) charities.
What is normally a reliable estimate of your taxes – the amount of money withheld from your paychecks by your employer – may be an unreliable estimate this year thanks to the current pandemic. Even worse, using the safety net of paying in what you did last year may not be practical if your financial situation changed due to the coronavirus.
Many taxpayers wrote a large check to the IRS this year for the very first time to pay a portion of their taxes as the 1st and 2nd quarter estimated tax payments for 2020 were both due on July 15. Because of this it may be beneficial to review whether you need to make a 3rd quarter or 4th quarter estimated tax payment in the coming months.
Here’s how to ensure you are not faced with an unpleasant tax surprise – because either not enough money was withheld from your paychecks for income tax purposes or your estimated tax payments were too small – when you file your 2020 tax return next April.
Step 1: Estimate your 2020 income. Add up your anticipated income for 2020 – W-2 paychecks, unemployment compensation, business income, interest and dividend income and any other form of income.
Step 2: Estimate your 2020 deductions. Add up your anticipated deductions for 2020, including retirement and health savings account contributions, student loan interest you paid and itemized deductions. If you’re not sure, take a look at last year’s tax return and use that figure.
Step 3: Calculate your tax. Subtract your deductions from your income to calculate your taxable income. Then calculate the tax you owe based on your taxable income using the IRS tax tables. Use last year’s table until the new one is published later this year. Here is a link to the IRS publication: IRS tax table
Step 4: Calculate your remaining estimated tax payments. Take the tax calculated in Step 3 and subtract any 1st and/or 2nd quarter estimated tax payments you made, and any paycheck withholdings so far this year. If you owe more than you have paid in or have had withheld so far this year, you have two more quarters to make up the difference through estimated tax payments.
Step 5: Mail your payment to the IRS. The due date to make a 3rd quarter estimated tax payment is September 15, 2020. The 4th quarter deadline is January 15, 2021.
Sound complicated? It definitely can be. If you get stuck trying to figure out if you should make estimated tax payments or have any other questions, please call. Remember, it is better to plan now than to face the unpleasant surprise of an unwanted tax bill on April 15th.
Millions of Americans already received their economic impact payment. But what if you’re still waiting or your payment was for an incorrect amount?
Here are some common scenarios why you may not have received your payment, or the payment you did receive was for an incorrect amount, and what you can do.
Your payment was sent to a closed bank account. If you didn’t update your banking information or mailing address before your payment was processed, your money will probably end up in the wrong location.
What you can do: You probably must wait. If your bank account on file with the IRS is closed or no longer active, the bank will reject the stimulus payment deposit and you will be issued a physical check to the address the IRS has on file for you.
Your check was sent to a wrong address. The IRS will send stimulus checks to the mailing address listed on your most recently-filed tax return. The IRS will also mail a letter with information about how and where the stimulus payment was made, but this letter will go to the most recent address on file.
What you can do: Change your address on file with the IRS by filing Form 8822. While it won’t solve your immediate problem, your change will correct future issues. In the meantime, keep tracking the status of your payment by visiting the website Get My Payment. You can also try and contact the new people who live at your old address.
You didn’t get paid for your dependents or you think your check amount is incorrect. You are certain that you should have received a full $500 payment for each qualifying dependent and the payment was either not received or was for an incorrect amount.
What you can do: If you did not get the full amount you think you should have received, you will be able to claim the additional amount when you file your 2020 tax return.
You received a check for a deceased relative. With more than 300 million people living in the U.S., it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that some of the stimulus checks were mailed to deceased individuals. Unfortunately for living family members, you can’t keep this money.
What you need to do: You should open the check, write VOID on the check and then return it to the IRS. If the payment was via direct deposit or a check received from the IRS was already cashed, you should write a personal check to the IRS to return the money.
Receiving the wrong amount of money in your stimulus check or not receiving a check at all can be very frustrating. But be reassured the IRS is doing everything it can to help you get the correct amount of money that you deserve.