While U.S. savings habits are improving, nearly 50% of Americans have no more than $500 in the event of an emergency. If you want to ramp up your savings, every little bit helps. Consider these 3 rules to jumpstart your savings and start building wealth.
Create a budget. Track your expenses for one month to discover how much you really spend. Be sure to track everything, including food, utilities, household items and debt payments. Take your total expenses and multiply it by 6. This the amount of money to aim for saving in your emergency fund.
Make household debt your enemy. If you’re juggling credit card, vehicle and mortgage payments, your savings accounts may be starved. And without enough cash to cover emergencies, many people resort to credit cards and lines of credit to cover unforeseen expenses. So the debt cycle continues. Since you now have a budget, you can see exactly how much debt you have to pay off.
Review your income. With your current level of income, calculate how long it will take to pay off all your debt, then build up your 6-month emergency fund. Depending on your financial goals, consider whether it makes sense to start a side gig, or continue upgrading your current skillset, to continue growing your income.
How to Stay on Track
Treat your savings like a monthly bill. Once you have an emergency fund, treat your savings as your most important monthly bill. Write a check to your savings account first, or have money automatically deducted from your checking account or paycheck and transferred to your savings account.
Contribute to retirement accounts. Tax-deferred retirement accounts offer a smart way to save money for retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k) or SIMPLE retirement plan, contribute as much as you can. If your employer doesn’t offer a plan, consider opening an individual retirement account (IRA). The money you contribute to a retirement account can reduce your taxable income and grow tax-free until withdrawn.
Control your spending. When it comes to saving, think control. For example, control the use of your credit cards. The amount you pay each month in finance charges could go towards savings instead. Also control the use of your ATM card. Get in the habit of giving yourself a regular cash allowance, and try to live with it.
The number of independent workers continues to soar in the U.S. According to MBO Partners, there were 64.6 million independent workers in 2022, an increase of 26% from 2021. The number of full-time independent workers increased to 21.6 million, up from 15.3 million in 2019.
Succeeding as an independent contractor, however, can be challenging because it requires understanding a different set of key success factors than being a full-time employee. Here are some tips on developing your skill set as an independent contractor and where to turn to if you need help.
Contract for companies with generous payment terms. The time required for companies to pay its bills to contract workers varies from business to business. Investigate a company’s policy for paying its contract workers to make sure it’s what you’re expecting. Remember, cash is king!
Market your services by creating an online portfolio. If being a contract worker is your full-time job, you’ll need to always be looking for your next gig. One great way to market yourself to prospective businesses is to create an online portfolio that showcases the work you can perform. You can choose to build a website using a do-it-yourself service or hire a developer to create a custom website.
Stick to a budget. As a full-time employee, you know the exact date you’ll receive your paycheck and usually the exact dollar amount. As a participant in the gig economy, however, you could earn a bunch of money in one month and hardly any money the following month. Prepare a financial budget so you can use income earned during your good months to cover costs during low income months.
Stay one step ahead of the IRS. Paying taxes is now your responsibility. Participating in the gig economy requires more knowledge about how to meet your tax obligations, so ask for professional help. You can also find more information by visiting the IRS Gig Economy Tax Center.
Get advice from others. Working primarily by yourself can leave you isolated from fellow workers. Join a local group of self-employed workers that meets on a regular basis to network and learn what other workers are doing to be successful.
Remember that you are not alone. The complex nature of tax obligations for contractors can be navigated with professional help.
Here are several ways to make sure that your tax return is prepared and filed as quickly (and as accurately!) as possible.
Keep tax documents in one place. Missing tax documents are one of the biggest reasons that filing a tax return gets delayed! If you receive documents via both physical mail and e-mail, it’s even more important that you have one place to store all your documents once you receive them.
Organize your tax documents by type. To help make filing your tax return as easy as possible, sort your tax documents in tax return order. Glance through last year’s tax return and create a folder for each section including income, business and rental information, adjustments to income, itemized deductions, tax credit information, and a miscellaneous bucket.
Create list of special events from the previous year. You receive a Form W-2 from your employer every year. If you’re in business, you probably receive a Form 1099 from certain clients each year. But certain tax documents you won’t see each year. Selling a home doesn’t happen every year for most people. Likewise with getting married (or divorced) or sending a kid to college. So create a list of special events that have happened over the past year, as some of these occasions may affect your taxes.
Don’t forget your signature! You (and your spouse, if married) must sign and date your tax return if physically mailing it to the IRS. Forgetting your signature could delay the processing of your return (and potential tax refund!) by up to several months. If e-filing, don’t forget to sign Form 8879. This form authorizes the e-filing of your tax return.
E-file your return. The IRS has struggled over the past 3 years to process paper-filed tax returns. In 2021, this backlog reach more than 20 million tax returns. You can avoid getting your physical return potentially misplaced by the IRS by e-filing. Even better, you can typically receive any refunds within one to two weeks when e-filing.
These are some of the more common reasons why the preparation and filing of your tax return may get delayed. Be prepared and file your return this year without a hitch!
With competition abounding for virtually every product or service, businesses need to hone every advantage available to them. One of the ways you can set your business apart from the pack is to create an awesome customer experience starting with the first interaction that continues through the entirety of the relationship. How does one foster this level of customer service? Here are several ideas to help you get there:
Make a great first impression. The first impression a potential customer gets about your business can come from many different avenues. Strive to make all of them impressive. Is your website fresh? Are your customer service reps easy to talk to on the phone? Does your social media offer timely, relevant information? Is your lobby clean and organized? All details matter. A poor initial impression may drive your potential customer to the competition without a second thought.
Manage the outcome. With every customer interaction, there are three potential outcomes: positive, negative and neutral. In all cases, your goal must be to leave them feeling positive about your business. For example, assume you receive a call from a customer looking to hear about a new service. The employee that handles the service is not available and you are limited in your knowledge. The worst thing you can say is, “I’m sorry, the person responsible for the service is not here at the moment.” In the customer’s mind, you immediately removed the possibility of a positive outcome! Instead, engage the customer to hear about their needs, gather as much information as possible and commit to finding the answers for them and calling them back immediately.
Search for useful feedback. No matter how well you strive to offer top-notch customer service, there will always be some instances that are less than favorable. Oftentimes, customers are more than willing to tell you about it, but you need to have a system in place if you want to hear the story in a helpful way. This can be as simple as response cards at the front desk or an automated email campaign looking for feedback. Encourage loyal customers to let you know how you are doing so you get a holistic view of your performance.
Turn problems into opportunities. Knowing your strengths can reaffirm your approach and help you set customer service performance goals. On the other hand, learning about a bad experience from a customer’s perspective will give you great insight into how you can improve. Use these problems to focus your activity. Over time the results of this continual improvement can have a tremendous impact on your business.
Creating a culture that excels at customer service is attainable if you put in the effort to know your customer’s needs and understand that every impression matters!
You may be one of many Americans who plan to work into retirement. Some report they need to work because their savings declined over the past several years, while others say they choose to work because of the greater sense of purpose and engagement that working provides.
Whatever your reason for continuing to work into retirement, here are some tips to get the greatest benefit from your efforts.
Consider delaying Social Security. You can start receiving Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but if you continue to work it may make sense to delay taking it until as late as age 70. This is because your Social Security benefit may be reduced or be subject to income tax due to your other income. In addition, your Social Security monthly benefit increases when you delay starting the retirement benefit. These increases in monthly benefits stop when you reach age 70.
Pay attention to bracket-bumping. Keep in mind that you may have multiple income streams during retirement that can bump you into a higher tax bracket and make other income taxable if you’re not careful. For example, Social Security benefits are only tax-free if you have less than a certain amount of adjusted gross income ($25,000 for individuals and $32,000 for married filing jointly in 2022), otherwise as much as 85 percent of your benefits can be taxable.
Required distributions from pensions and retirement accounts can also add to your taxable income. Be aware of how close you are to the next tax bracket and adjust your plans accordingly.
Be smart about health care. When you reach age 65, you’ll have the option of making Medicare your primary health insurance. If you continue to work, you may be able to stay on your employer’s health care plan, switch to Medicare, or adopt a two-plan hybrid option that includes Medicare and a supplemental employer care plan.
Look over each option closely. You may find that you’re giving up important coverage if you switch to Medicare prematurely while you still have the option of sticking with your employer plan.
Consider your expenses. If you’re reducing your working hours or taking a part-time job, also consider the cost of your extra income stream. Calculate how much it costs to commute and park every day, as well as any other work-related expenses. Now consider how much all those expenses amount to in pre-tax income. Be aware whether the benefits you get from working a little extra are worth the extra financial cost.
Time to downsize or relocate? Where and how you live can be an important factor determining the kind of work you can do while you’re retired. Downsizing to a smaller residence or moving to a new locale may be a good strategy to pursue a new kind of work and a different lifestyle.
Focus on your deeper purpose. Use your retirement as an opportunity to find work you enjoy and that adds value to your life. Choose a job that expresses your talents and interests, and that provides a place where your experiences are valued by others.
Looking for a way to tackle insomnia? Read your homeowners insurance policy. Kidding aside, it’s worth the effort. This is especially important as insurance costs are going through the roof and too many surprises occur when you need your insurance after an event requires you to file a claim.
Here are some areas that may require a review.
Setting the correct amount. Just like the three bears fairy tale, you can have too much OR too little insurance. Replacement cost is the key, so review if your policy covers only the mortgage or real-estate value, and not the replacement cost. Construction prices have skyrocketed, so the cost of rebuilding a new home on the same lot could shock you. On the other hand, most claims do not require replacing your entire home.
Understanding what is NOT covered. Is your home covered for exterior flooding, or only interior water damage? Does the policy include coverage for mold, sewer backup, earthquakes and hurricanes? Nail down the details and pay close attention to local risks. This is where a great insurance agent can help you understand what surprises they have seen with claims. Get an agent that is transparent with this knowledge, as they see both success and horror stories every day.
Get the right deductibles. You may find that, unlike an auto policy, your homeowner’s insurance doesn’t include a flat-rate deductible for every type of claim. Some policies charge a percentage rate under certain circumstances. Say your house is insured for $300,000 and an earthquake strikes. If the insurer stipulates a deductible of five percent of the policy amount, you may be saddled with $15,000 in out-of-pocket costs before the insurance covers the rest. So explore the correct deductible for your financial situation and understand the policy savings by moving your deductible up or down from its current level.
Understand liability insurance coverage. A standard homeowners insurance policy usually has some level of liability insurance, albeit often at a minimal level. Ask several professionals what level of liability insurance would make sense for your particular situation and be willing to bump up your coverage to protect you and your family in the event that someone is injured while on your property. Many companies offer umbrella insurance to provide additional coverage for claims against you. Review if this is a good addition for your situation.
With homeowners insurance premiums skyrocketing, now is the time to really understand your coverage and the underlying risks you are absorbing. Remember, our natural tendency is to avoid the small print, but by understanding the natural tendencies of insurance companies to shift more of the burden from them to you, this knowledge can be used to motivate yourself to spend some time reviewing the details.
The SECURE Act 2.0, passed by Congress in late 2022, features numerous ways for you to save more money in your tax advantaged retirement accounts. Here are several of the bill’s provisions and what they mean for you.
Money can continue to grow tax deferred. If you turn 72 in 2023 or later, you can keep money in a tax-deferred IRA or 401(k) for another 12 months to help the account continue growing before starting to withdraw funds. This retirement benefit is now available thanks to the required minimum distribution age being raised from age 72 to age 73. The age will increase again from 73 to 75 in 2033.
Action: Review your retirement account distribution needs and use this extra time to help make your distributions more tax efficient. For example, if you must earn an additional $10,000 before you hit the next highest tax bracket, consider pulling more taxable income out of your retirement account to take advantage of this lower rate. Or use the extra time to consider converting funds tax-efficiently into a Roth IRA.
Be aware of auto enrollment. The government wants you to save for retirement, so the new law allows businesses to automatically transfer a greater portion of your paycheck into their retirement plan. The maximum contribution that can now be automatically deferred into your employer’s 401(k) plan increases from 10% to 15%.
Action: While saving more for retirement is a great idea, this automatic participation does not account for your particular financial needs. So be aware of the possibility that you will automatically be contributing to your retirement account and independently determine what you can afford to put towards retirement. Make any adjustments if necessary, as you are permitted to opt out of auto enrollment. Remember, you also need to build an emergency fund and pay your bills!
Take advantage of higher catch-up limits. Starting in 2024, the $1,000 catch-up contribution for IRAs will receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment in increments of $100, while the $7,500 catch-up contribution for 401(k)s will increase to at least $10,000. This higher 401(k) catch-up limit will also be indexed for inflation starting in 2025. The additional catch-up contribution is available if you’re age 50 or older.
Action: Review the annual savings limit for your retirement savings account, including the catch-up amount if you are 50 years or older. Then make adjustments to your retirement savings plan as soon as possible to take advantage of the higher savings limits.
Here are some tips to get your finances in tip-top shape for 2023.
Know your net worth. The first step to improving your finances in 2023 is to create a snapshot of your current financial situation. So note all your assets, then subtract all your liabilities (what you owe others) to calculate your net worth. When done on a regular basis, you will be able to evaluate changes to your financial status and identify steps to reach your financial goals.
Plan for hardships. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to plan for the unexpected. Now is the time to prepare by building an emergency fund that covers six or more months of expenses.
Prepare for a lower refund. The 2021 tax year saw increases to the child tax credit and the dependent care credit, resulting in a big jump in tax refunds for many taxpayers. These changes, however, were not extended to 2022. If you plan to take advantage of either of these two credits on your 2022 tax return, be prepared for a possible decrease in your refund.
Create a debt repayment plan. Design a plan to pay off your existing debts and try to avoid taking on any new debt. Pay special attention to credit card debt, as inflation is vastly increasing the cost of this debt every month! Also consider whether consolidating your debt is a good option for you.
Save for retirement. Plan for your future self by building your retirement fund. In 2023 you can contribute up to $22,500 in your 401(k), plus another $7,500 if you’re 50 or older. Keep in mind your company may provide matching contributions up to a stated percentage of compensation. And you may be able to supplement this account with contributions to IRAs and/or other qualified plans.
Review and re-balance your portfolio. Review your investments periodically and reallocate funds to reflect your main objectives, risk tolerance, and other personal preferences. This will put you in a better position to handle the ups and downs of the markets.
Set a date to review your estate. Review your estate and legal documents at least once a year, in addition to whenever you experience a significant change in your life. Now is a good time to review your will, trust documents, beneficiary designations, powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and other estate- and legal-related documents.
Your bookkeeping system is the financial heart and lifeblood of your business. When set up and operating properly, your books help you make smart decisions and seamlessly turn your financial data into useful information. Here are four key characteristics to building and maintaining a healthy bookkeeping system:
Select the proper accounting method. There are two different methods for recording transactions: cash-basis and accrual-basis. In general, the cash-basis method records a transaction when a payment is made, while the accrual-basis method books the transaction upon delivery of the good or service. Cash-basis is easier to track and a useful option for smaller businesses and sole-proprietors. Larger businesses who buy from vendors on account (accounts payable) generally use accrual-basis accounting. Selecting the proper method affects any related financial transactions and how your financial statements are displayed. A correct approach will also include consideration of outside factors, including IRS rules (businesses with more than $25 million in gross receipts must use accrual-basis), bank covenants, and industry standards. Once a choice is made, it can be changed but it must be properly reported to the IRS.
Create an account structure that fits the company. Every business has a chart of accounts included in their bookkeeping system. These accounts sort the business’s transaction data into six meaningful groups. They are assets, liabilities, equity, income, cost of goods sold and other expenses. Each group will often have numerous accounts and sub-accounts associated with them. Having the right mix of accounts, created and grouped in an organized fashion, will help you properly classify transactions and prepare usable financial statements. The proper account structure for your company will mesh with your specific information needs.
Enter accurate and timely transactions. The value your data provides is dependent on each transaction being recorded correctly and on time. Entering transactions in the wrong account can cause major issues down the road. Financial reporting that is delayed can hide problems that need immediate attention. Some transactions are relatively straightforward, and some are more complex (like payroll, accruals and deferrals).It’s important to have someone who understands both your business and the accounting rules to enter your transactions in a timely fashion. In addition, a good month-end close process that involves reviewing each account will help you identify and fix mistakes from the initial entries.
Establish financial statements for decision-making. The main financial statements are the income statement (income – expenses = gross profit), the balance sheet (assets – liabilities = equity) and statement of cash flow. Each statement has a specific purpose:
Income statement. The income statement shows company performance for a select period of time, typically monthly with a full-year summary. At the end of each year the income statement restarts.
Balance sheet. The balance sheet displays a company’s overall health on a specific date. It is perpetual. This means it doesn’t end until the business is closed or sold. It includes one line that summarizes the current year and prior year results from the income statement.
Statement of cash flow. This statement summarizes the inflows and outflows of cash. It ensures you know whether you have enough cash and the pattern of your cash position over time.
If properly executed, your bookkeeping system will create accurate financial statements that can be used to make key financial decisions. Feel free to call with any questions or to discuss bookkeeping solutions for your business.
The vast amount of information shared online during tax season makes it a haven for identity thieves, and they’re doing everything they can to take advantage of the opportunity! Here are several ways that identity thieves are targeting you, common signs of ID theft and steps to take if you become a victim.
How Identity Thieves Target You
Impersonating the IRS. Thieves calling you and claiming to be the IRS will try and intimidate you into making an immediate payment using a gift card or wire service. Remember, the IRS will physically mail you a letter as a means of first contact. And the IRS will never call you to demand an immediate payment.
Filing a fraudulent tax return. Identity thieves often try to file a tax return using your Social Security number before you do. So consider filing your tax return as quickly as you can to beat identity thieves at their own game.
Phishing schemes. Be on the lookout for unsolicited emails, texts and social media posts that prompt you to share personal and financial information. These messages could also contain viruses, spyware or other malware that could infect your electronic devices.
Common signs of ID theft
Here are some of the common signs of identity theft according to the IRS:
In early 2023, you receive a refund before filing your 2022 tax return.
You receive a tax transcript you didn’t request from the IRS.
A notice that someone created an IRS online account without your consent.
You find out that more than one tax return was filed using your Social Security number.
You receive tax documents from an employer you do not know.
Other signs of identity theft include:
Unexplained withdrawals on bank statements.
Mysterious credit card charges.
Your credit report shows accounts you didn’t open.
You are billed for services you didn’t use or receive calls about phantom debts.
What you can do
If you discover that you’re a victim of identity theft, consider taking the following action:
Notify creditors and banks. Most credit card companies offer protections to cardholders affected by ID theft. You can generally avoid liability for unauthorized charges exceeding $50. But if your ATM or debit card is stolen, report the theft immediately to avoid dire consequences.
Place a fraud alert on your credit report. To avoid long-lasting impact, contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian or TransUnion—to request a fraud alert. This alert covers all three of your credit files.
Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Visit identitytheft.gov or call 877-438-4338. The FTC will provide a recovery plan and offer updates if you set up an account on the website.
Please call if you suspect any tax-related identity theft. If any of the previously mentioned signs of tax-related identity theft have happened to you, please call to schedule an appointment to discuss next steps.