Ideas to Help the Virtual Learning Challenge

Ideas to Help the Virtual Learning Challenge

Virtual learning is a way of life again for many kids as we head towards winter.

Mayo Clinic psychologist Dr. Craig Sawchuk says that families will need to adapt to changing circumstances this school year.

“We’ve all been dealing with uncertainty,” Sawchuk said in a recent Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast. “We need to be flexible with the format of how our kids learn. It’s all going to look different, regardless of whether your kids are doing in-person, virtual or a hybrid learning model. And it’s subject to change.”

Here are some ideas shared by creative parents and experts to help maintain your family’s sanity, while trying to navigate virtual learning through the extended stay-at-home winter days.

  • Keep your kids moving. An absence of in-person learning means no recess and no gym class. Keep your kids exercising by scheduling 30 to 60-minute blocks of time for them to do their favorite activity. These activities can include, but not be limited to, walking, jogging, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading or riding on a scooter.

    Do it differently: Consider tracking student activity information on a spreadsheet, then teach them how to make charts and graphs. They can then see progress toward fun goals while learning how to work with spreadsheets.

  • Get crafty. Kids love anything that involves glue, scissors and building stuff. Set aside a dedicated area for your kids to build whatever they can imagine. Give them some latitude to get messy (as long as they clean up!).

    Do it differently: One of the more interesting phenomena of this year’s pandemic is our national coin shortage. If you have some spare change that you’re willing to part with, have your kids search online for DIY coin crafts.

  • Put on the chef hat. Turn your kitchen over to your kids. Yes, it might get messy, and your meatloaf may end up a little dry, but getting your kids to cook can spark their creativity and get them into the habit of helping prepare food for the entire family.

    Do it differently: Have your kids create their own cooking show. Set up a video recorder on a sturdy tripod and have them narrate what they’re preparing. If extra time allows, they can jump on a video editing software program and edit their TV show.

  • Thumb through an actual book. Textbooks have been replaced by tablets. Newspapers have been supplanted by websites. Physical books have given way to e-books. While your kids are at home, consider reading through an actual book, while sitting on an actual chair or sofa.

    Do it differently: After reading a book, have your children or grandchildren create their own story. Or have them create a different ending. You can record the story on your phone or be their scribe. They can then make their own book to share.
Everyday Tips For Easier Living!

Everyday Tips For Easier Living!

Too often you find yourself in a situation and aren’t sure what to do. Here are some everyday tips that could come in handy!

  1. Chew the aspirin. Taking an aspirin at the outset of a heart attack could save a life. But for an aspirin to save your life during a heart attack, you need to chew it. Aspirin, which inhibits platelets that speed blood clots, works fastest if chewed.
  1. Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion: Degrees in Celsius x 1.8 plus 32. Only 5 countries measure temperature using Fahrenheit, so it is good to know how to convert from one to another. C to F: Take the temperature times 1.8 and add 32. F to C: Reverse the math. Subtract 32, then divide by 1.8.
  1. Cats like milk, but it often does not like them. It’s not healthy for your cat to eat or drink anything that contains dairy. Cats have a degree of lactose intolerance and can get sick from large quantities of milk.
  1. Miles to kilometers? Use the 3-5 method for an approximation.
    1. Kilometers to Miles: Divide by 5, multiply times 3
    2. Miles to Kilometers: Divide by 3, multiply times 5
  1. Easily restore browser tabs. Control+Shift+T restores most closed browser tabs. Control+Alt+Shift+T restores entire closed browser windows.
  1. Never fear calls from the IRS. Don’t be afraid of a phone call from the IRS – because they will never call without mailing you first. If you owe money to Uncle Sam, the IRS will always initiate communication via mail.

Should you have any questions regarding your situation, feel free to call.

The Lowdown on the Great Autumn Gourd

The Lowdown on the Great Autumn Gourd

Corn might be the king of U.S. crops, but pumpkins are always in demand this time of year by kids and others celebrating fall’s festivities.

Here are several interesting tidbits about one of America’s favorite fall gourds.

Germany boasts world’s largest pumpkin. Mathias Willemijns showed off the world’s largest pumpkin in 2016 at the Giant Pumpkin European Championship, officially weighing in at a stout 2,624.6 pounds. Steve Geddes of New Hampshire is the owner of the largest U.S. pumpkin, weighing 2,528 pounds at the 2018 Deerfield Fair.

Illinois is the U.S. pumpkin leader. Pumpkins are grown in all 50 states, but Illinois is by far the leader with about 600 million pounds of pumpkins harvested every year. Runner-up honors go to California, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. Each of these states annually produce approximately 100 million pounds of pumpkin.

Pumpkin beer has plenty of fanfare. Pumpkin beer was actually a thing hundreds of years ago when the Pilgrims arrived in America as pumpkins were plentiful and provided an easy source of fermentable sugar. Who knew?

Pumpkin carving started with the Irish. Jack-o’-lanterns were first carved by the Irish and Scottish using turnips and potatoes. They used the carved vegetables as part of their Celtic celebrations. Immigrants brought their carving traditions to America, but found that pumpkins were an easier vegetable to carve.

There are more than 40 varieties of pumpkin. The best pumpkins to use for cooking are Bab Pam, Autumn Gold, Ghost Rider, New England Pie Pumpkin, Lumina, Cinderella and Fair Tale. Most of the pumpkins you see on roadside stands and farms are for decoration only and not very tasty.

High School Students! Here’s How You Can Make College More Affordable.

High School Students! Here’s How You Can Make College More Affordable.

Students can earn college credits while still in high school

With the cost of college rising rapidly, it can be overwhelming to think about how to pay your way through school for either yourself or your kids. Fortunately, saving hundreds, even thousands, is possible. Teenagers can help keep down the cost of their future college tuition by taking the following classes and exams while in high school:

  1. Advanced Placement (AP) classes and exams provide the opportunity for high school students to take college-level classes at their high school and an exam at the end of the school year. Many colleges will accept AP credits as placement and/or college credit. Most will accept a passing grade of 3, but some universities may require a score of 4 or 5 to earn college credit. (AP exam scores range from 1-5.)
  2. College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests also offer the opportunity to earn college credit by passing an exam. However, instead of taking a class, you must study on your own and schedule an exam at a testing center when you’re ready. CLEP exams receive a score between 20 and 80. A score of 50 is typically the passing score to obtain college credit, but each university sets its own requirement. It is important to note that while many colleges accept CLEP credits, some top schools do not accept CLEP credits.
  3. Dual enrollment classes allow high school students to take college courses at a local college or university and earn both high school and college credit. You must be a high school junior or senior to qualify for the program. Dual enrollment credits are widely transferable.

Cost of Exams and Potential Savings

AP exams cost $94, CLEP tests cost $85 plus an additional administrative fee while dual enrollment programs pay for tuition, fees and books. According to the College Board, the average cost of a 3-credit class at a four-year college ranges from $942 to $3,243, meaning for each 3-credit class you test out of, you save hundreds—potentially thousands–of dollars!

Additionally, earning college credit in high school can enable you to finish college in less than four years. Just make sure that when you’re choosing a college, you pay attention to whether or not the schools accept AP and/or CLEP exam scores as credit.

Ease the Pain of Repaying Student Loans

Ease the Pain of Repaying Student Loans

Student loan debt is a hot topic and for good reason. Managing the burden that comes during repayment is very difficult. Fortunately, there are ways to get some relief while taking advantage of timely tax breaks at the same time. Here are four ways to help lessen the strain of repaying your student loans.

  • Deduct your student loan interest. The IRS allows you to deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest payments on your tax return each year. The great thing about this deduction is you can take it even if you don’t itemize! Each loan provider should issue you a Form 1098-E if you pay over $600 in interest for the year. If you pay less than that, and you don’t receive a Form 1098-E, save your monthly statements as back up for the interest you pay. Even if you are still in school, and you are making interest payments, you are eligible for the deduction.
  • Exclude cancelled debt as income. In most cases the IRS considers cancelled debt as income. However, the IRS recently announced that students would not have to report cancelled student loans as income in the following situations:
    • The school closed when you were attending, or shortly after you attended.
    • The school actions are contradictory to applicable laws.
    • You are a part of a successful legal settlement against the school.

If you receive a Form 1099-C for cancelled student loan debt, conduct research to determine if one of these exclusions applies to your situation.

  • Refinance to lower your payments. Are you making two or more different student loan payments every month? Refinancing multiple accounts into one loan can lower your effective interest rate and your monthly payment. You can also lower your monthly payment by taking an existing loan and refinancing over a greater number of years.
  • Plan for tuition costs. Utilizing student loans to finance your education is a necessity for many people. However, you can cut down on future payments with early savings. For example, parents and grandparents can create 529 college savings plans. And as soon as you start earning income, earmark a portion of every paycheck for college. Grants and scholarships are another way to reduce tuition costs, so start researching early.

College debt can seem daunting. But by combining a long-term plan while taking advantage of tax benefits, the mountain of debt can become a manageable hill.

Consider the Tax BEFORE You Sell

Consider the Tax BEFORE You Sell

Multiple tax rates hold the key

In times of market volatility or when a financial need arises, it is only natural to consider selling some investments.  Understanding the tax consequences is key to making an informed and planned decision. Here is what you need to know BEFORE you sell:

Investment Tax Rates

Investment Tax Classification Holding Period Tax Rate Comments
Retirement Accounts: 401(k), 403(b), traditional IRA, SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA Ordinary income (when funds are withdrawn from the account) Determined by the account type (usually withdrawals after age 59 1/2) 0% up to 37%* There is not a tax event when an investment is sold within your account. The tax rate depends on your annual income at time of fund withdrawal
Retirement Accounts: Roth IRA and Roth 401(k) No tax on withdrawals 5 years and 59 1/2 years old or older N/A Earnings are not taxed as long as rules are followed
Short Term Capital Gains (STCG) Ordinary income 1 year or less 0% up to 37%* For investment sales such as stocks and bonds
Long-term Capital Gains (LTCG) LTCG rates More than 1 year 0% up to 20% For investment sales such as stocks and bonds
Depreciation Recapture Special Any 25% When you sell property that has been depreciated in prior years, part of your sale price may be taxed as a recapture of this prior period depreciation
Collectables Special Any 28% A special tax rate applies to gains on the sale of items you collect (like coins and baseball cards)
Investment losses Ordinary income Any Offset benefit: 0% up to 37% Losses can offset ordinary income up to $3,000 each year

* a 3.8% net investment income tax may also apply to these earnings.

As the above tax rate chart suggests, understanding the tax consequence of selling an investment can be complicated. Your tax obligation could be subject to no tax or up to 37 percent plus an additional 3.8 percent for the net investment income tax. Here are some ideas to consider:

Within retirement accounts

  • Generally not taxable. Selling investments within your retirement accounts is not usually a taxable event. The potential tax event occurs when you take the funds out of your account either by a withdrawal or occasionally as a rollover into another account.
  • Follow the account rules. Each of your retirement accounts has its own set of rules. If you follow them, you can avoid early withdrawal penalties. Following the holding period rules within Roth accounts can also make your withdrawals tax-free.

Gains and losses outside of retirement accounts

  • Losses. Your losses are first used to offset any investment gains. Any excess losses can offset your ordinary income up to $3,000 per year. So the benefit of losses can be worth next to nothing or up to 37 percent if it offsets ordinary income.
  • Non-investment losses. Unfortunately, individuals may not offset losses on the sale of non-investment property. So if you sell a car and make money, you need to report the gain. If you sell the car and lose money, there is no deductible loss unless it is part of a business transaction.
  • Long-term better than short-term. Holding an investment for longer than one year is key if you want to minimize your tax obligation. Short-term gains are taxed the same as wages.

Remember your investment decisions can often have quite different tax consequences. The best suggestion is to seek advice BEFORE you sell.

As always, should you have any questions or concerns regarding your tax situation please feel free to call.