The Art of Bill Paying

The Art of Bill Paying

Paying bills is an inevitable part of everyday life, but that doesn’t mean it has to be stressful. Here are some ways to get control of your budget and perfect the art of stress-free bill paying.

  • Make a budget. Knowing what you are making and what you are spending is essential to proper bill paying. First, find out how much you are making every month and then subtract the static items such as rent or mortgage payments, credit card payments and cell phone expenses. Then, budget out how much you will need for other essentials (such as food and clothing). Once the essentials are accounted for, you can look at the money you have left and decide where to allocate the rest.
  • Find a budget tool that works. Create a tracking system that works for you. There are many to choose from, but your bank may have a free app to track your spending, so that is a good place to start. You can then choose which tools to use to make a budget and categorize the transactions to be allocated to a certain part of the budget (such as food, car, and housing).
  • Set up autopay. Put recurring bills such as utilities, internet, and your cell phone on autopay so they will be automatically deducted from your account on their due date. If you decide to use autopay, it is still a good idea to look at the amounts being deducted every month to make sure everything is correct.
  • Consider your non-regular payments. Don’t forget to account for bills that come due occasionally and plan for the cash outlay. Common examples of this are property tax payments, income taxes, and annual/semi-annual insurance payments. You will need to plan to have enough cash on hand for these expenses when they come due.
  • Adjust due dates. Paying bills isn’t as stressful when you know that you can afford to pay them, and what better time to pay bills than right after you get paid! The money will be there and you can pay those bills before that money has a chance to go anywhere else. Consider asking if you can change the due dates for some or all of your bills to correspond with when your paychecks are deposited into your bank account.
  • Don’t forget to pay yourself! One of the best ways to start developing a savings account is making yourself part of your budget! Take however much you think you can spare and set up an automatic transfer to a separate savings account. Use this money to establish an emergency fund of approximately six to nine months of expenses. This extra cushion will come in handy if something unexpected occurs.
Don’t Overlook Renters Insurance

Don’t Overlook Renters Insurance

Do you rent an apartment or condo? If so, do you have renters insurance to protect your belongings and to cover you against liability claims?

A surprising number of renters don’t bother with insurance. Some assume they’re covered by their landlord’s policy. Wrong! Usually that covers only damage to the building and liability claims against the landlord. Others say their belongings aren’t worth enough to justify the cost. But add up how much it would cost you to replace everything you might lose in a fire and you’ll be surprised. In most cases, the cost of insurance is a small price to pay for the protection you’ll receive.

Typical protection

Renters insurance, sometimes called a tenant policy, typically protects against three things:

  1. Loss or damage to your personal belongings from fire, theft, etc.
  2. Liability claims from someone injured in your apartment
  3. The cost of temporary living expenses if your apartment is made uninhabitable by some catastrophe

When you buy renters insurance, you’ll have to decide the amount and type of coverage. Your agent can help you estimate the value of your belongings. You can either choose “actual cash value” coverage or “replacement value coverage.”

The first pays you the estimated value of items at the time of loss, based on their age and condition. The second pays the cost of replacing items with equivalent new items, up to the maximum value of coverage. The second method will pay you more, but obviously the premium will be higher. Try to identify anything of special value, such as expensive jewelry or electronic equipment. You may need a policy rider to cover the full amount of these items.

A few tips

Bundle for discounts. You may receive a discount if you buy your renters insurance and car insurance from the same company.

Save with roommates. If you have a long-term roommate, ask if you can take out a joint policy instead of two separate ones.

Know when and where kids are covered. If you have children living away at college, check whether they’re covered under your homeowners policy. Once they leave college, though, they’ll need their own insurance.

Take inventory. Create a thorough inventory of your belongings, recording the model and serial number of any equipment and take plenty of photos. This could be invaluable to support your claim if you ever have a loss.

New Tax Breaks Benefit Millions

New Tax Breaks Benefit Millions

What you need to know

The recently-passed American Rescue Plan Act contains several tax breaks for you and your family. Here are the major provisions of the bill that could mean more money in your pocket during the 2021 tax year.

Child tax credit (CTC)

  • The CTC for 2021 increases from $2,000 to $3,000 for kids ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 for kids ages 5 and under.
  • To receive the full tax credit your adjusted gross income must be under $75,000 (Single); $150,000 (Joint); or $112,500 (Head of Household).
  • If your income is above the aforementioned thresholds, you can still receive $2,000 per child if your income is less than $200,000 (Single, Head of Household); or $400,000 (Joint).
  • You can receive up to 50% of your 2021 child tax credit in 6 monthly payments starting July 2021. The IRS is warning, however, that this July start date may be delayed because a computer system still has to be built to handle these monthly payments.

Child and dependent care credit (DCC)

If you and your spouse work and have children in daycare, or have an adult that you care for, you may be eligible for a larger tax credit in 2021.

  • You can now spend up to $8,000 in dependent care expenses for one qualifying dependent and get a 50% tax credit. This results in a maximum credit of $4,000 (up from $1,050).
  • If you have more than one qualifying dependent, you can spend up to $16,000 in dependent care expenses and get a 50% credit. This results in a maximum credit of $8,000 (up from $2,100).
  • To receive the full tax credit, your adjusted gross income must not exceed $125,000.
  • Dependents can include people of all ages, not just kids, as long as they meet the dependent qualifications.

Earned income tax credit

  • If you’re a household with no kids, the maximum earned income tax credit increases from $543 to $1,502.
  • More taxpayers qualify for the credit. The lower age limit for receiving the credit decreases from age 25 to age 19. The upper limit of 65 for receiving the credit is eliminated. There is no upper age limit for 2021.
Seven Tips For Financial Wellness In 2021

Seven Tips For Financial Wellness In 2021

Common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight or become more active. Perhaps 2021 is the year to shift focus. Here are seven tips to help you become more financially fit.

  • Create a budget. It’s easy to get into financial trouble if you spend more than you earn. By watching your budget more carefully, you might be surprised by how much you spend in certain areas of your life. Many banks and credit unions offer budgeting tools directly on their websites.
  • Get a free credit report. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every 12 months. Reviewing your reports regularly can help ensure the data in your report is accurate and allows you to contact creditors to dispute any errors.
  • Pay down debt. Start chipping away at your debts through a series of regular payments. Begin with bills that have the highest interest rates. Research whether it makes sense to consolidate debts at a more reasonable interest rate.
  • Review your investments. With recent changes in Washington, D.C. and market volatility, reviewing your investments is more important than ever. Protect yourself against risks by diversifying across different classes of investments. If you have not developed an asset allocation plan, do so. If you have, adjust your portfolio to ensure it is still meeting your objectives.
  • Plan ahead for retirement. Take advantage of tax-favored retirement plans such as a 401(k) at work. Both the contributions and earnings are tax-deferred and can compound over time. The 401(k) limit for 2021 is $19,500 ($26,000 if you’re age 50 or over). Also consider contributing to an IRA, which has a contribution limit of $6,000 ($7,000 if you’re age 50 or older).
  • Check your insurance coverage. Things can change over time, so don’t assume the coverage you acquired years ago still provides adequate protection for your family or business. Take a look at your policies to determine if adjustments are needed.
  • Save for emergencies. And finally, would you be financially prepared if your business failed or you lost your job? The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us the importance of establishing an emergency fund that can last for several months if you lost your salary or business revenue dramatically declines.

Acting on all these tips may seem a bit overwhelming. By focusing on a few now, before you know it, your financial wellness will improve over time.

2021 Retirement Plan Limits

2021 Retirement Plan Limits

As part of your 2021 tax planning, now is the time to review funding your retirement accounts. By establishing your contribution goals at the beginning of each year, the financial impact of saving for your future should be more manageable. Here are annual contribution limits for 2021:

Plan20202021Change
SIMPLE
IRA
Annual Contribution
50 or over catch-up
$13,500
Add $3,000
$13,500
Add $3,000
No Change
No Change
401(k), 403(b),
457 and
SARSEP
Annual Contribution
50 or over catch-up
$19,500
Add $6,500
$19,500
Add $6,500
No Change
No Change
Traditional
IRA
Annual Contribution
50 or over catch-up
$6,000
Add $1,000
$6,000
Add $1,000
No Change
No Change
AGI Deduction Phaseouts:Single; Head of Household
Joint nonparticipating spouse
Joint participating spouse
Married Filing Separately
(any spouse participating)
65,000 – 75,000
196,000 – 206,000
104,000 – 124,000
0 – 10,000
66,000 – 76,000
198,000 – 208,000
105,000 – 125,000
0 – 10,000
+ $1,000
+ $2,000
+ $1,000
No Change
Roth
IRA
Annual Contribution
50 or over catch-up
$6,000
Add $1,000
$6,000
Add $1,000
No Change
No Change
Contribution
Eligibility
Single; Head of Household
Married Filing Jointly
Married Filing Separately
124,000 – 139,000
196,000 – 206,000
0 – 10,000
125,000 – 140,000
198,000 – 208,000
0 – 10,000
+ $1,000
+ $2,000
0 – 10,000
Rollover to Roth EligibilityJoint, Single, or Head of Household
Married Filing Separately
No AGI Limit
Allowed / No AGI Limit
No AGI Limit
Allowed / No AGI Limit
No AGI Limit
Allowed / No AGI Limit

Take action

If you have not already done so, please consider:

  • Reviewing and adjusting your periodic contributions to your retirement savings accounts to take full advantage of the tax advantaged limits
  • Setting up new accounts for a spouse or dependent(s)
  • Using this time to review the status of your retirement plan
  • Reviewing contributions to other tax-advantaged plans including flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts
Expenses Are Now Tax PPP Loan Deductible

Expenses Are Now Tax PPP Loan Deductible

If you or your business received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the recently passed Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 will help to dramatically cut your tax bill. Here’s what you need to know.

Background

The PPP program was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 to help businesses which were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualified businesses could apply for and receive loans of up to $10 million. Loan proceeds could be used to pay for certain expenses incurred by a business, including salaries and wages, other employee benefits, rent and utilities.

If the business used at least 60% of loan proceeds towards payroll expenses, the entire amount of the loan would be forgiven.

The Dilemma

While the CARES Act spelled out that a business’s forgiven PPP loan would not be considered taxable income, the legislation was silent about how to treat expenses paid for using PPP loan proceeds if the loan was ultimately forgiven.

Congress intended for these expenses to be deductible for federal tax purposes. But since the legislation was silent on this issue, the IRS swooped in and deemed these expenses to be nondeductible.

There was considerable debate over the latter half of 2020, with Congressional politicians explaining that their intent was that the expenses be deductible and the IRS responding “Too bad, they’re nondeductible.”

The Solution

Congress overruled the IRS’s position in the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020. The legislation officially makes deductible for federal tax purposes all expenses paid for using proceeds from a forgiven PPP loan.

Stay tuned for updates as to how this new legislation affects your business.