Tracking your miles whenever you drive somewhere for your business can get pretty tedious, but remember that properly tracking your vehicle expenses and miles driven can lead to a significant reduction in your taxes.
Here are some tips to make the most of your vehicle expense deduction.
Keep track of both mileage and actual expenses. The IRS generally lets you use one of two different methods to track vehicle expenses – the standard mileage rate method or the actual expense method. One year the mileage method may result in a higher deduction, while the actual expense method may be higher in a subsequent year. But you won’t know which method results in a higher deduction unless you track both your mileage and actual expenses.
Consider using standard mileage the first year a vehicle is in service. If you use standard mileage the first year your car is placed in service, you can then choose which expense tracking method to use in subsequent years. If you initially use the actual expense method the first year your car is placed in service, you’re locked in to using actual expenses for the duration of using that car in your business. For a car you lease, you must use the standard mileage rate method for the entire lease period (including renewals) if you choose the standard mileage rate the first year.
Don’t forget about depreciation! Depreciation can significantly increase your deduction if you use the actual expense method. For heavy SUVs, trucks, and vans with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating above 6,000 pounds, 100% bonus depreciation is available through the end of the 2022 tax year if the vehicle is used more than 50% for business purposes. Regular depreciation is available for vehicles under 6,000 pounds with annual limits applied.
Don’t slack on recordkeeping. The IRS mandates that you track your vehicle expenses as they happen (this is called contemporaneous recordkeeping). You’re not allowed to wait until right before filing your tax return to compile all the necessary information needed to claim a vehicle deduction. Whether it’s a physical notebook you stick in your glove compartment or a mobile phone app, pick a method to track your mileage and actual expenses that’s most convenient for you.
Tax and financial planning is a year-round proposition. In fact, you can benefit personally from a continuous, 12-month rolling forecast, much like a business does.
What is a rolling forecast?
Rolling forecasts let you continuously plan with a constant number of periods 12 months into the future. For example, on January 1, you would plan what your financial picture looks like each month through January 1 of the following year. When February 1 rolls around, you would then drop the beginning month and add a forecast month at the end of the 12-month period. In this case, you add February of the next year into your 12-month forecast.
The month you add at the end of the 12 months uses the finished month as a starting point. You then make adjustments based on what you think might happen one year from now. For example, if you know you are going to get a raise at the end of the year, your next-year February forecast would reflect this change.
How to take advantage of a rolling forecast
By doing tax and financial planning in rolling 12-month increments, you may find yourself in position to cash in on tax- and money-saving opportunities within the next 12 months. Here are several strategies to consider:
Plan your personal budget. Will you need to put a new roof on your house? How about getting a new vehicle? Do you need to start saving for your kids’ college education? A rolling 12-month forecast can help you plan for these expenses throughout the year.
Plan your healthcare expenses. If you have a flexible spending account (FSA) for healthcare or dependent care expenses, forecast the amount you should contribute for the calendar year. Although unused FSA amounts are normally forfeited at year-end, your employer may permit a 12-month grace period (up from 2½ months) for 2021. This means that you could potentially roll over your entire unused FSA balance from 2021 to 2022. Your forecast can help you see the impact of this change.
Plan your contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA). When an HSA is paired with a high-deductible health insurance plan, you can take distributions to pay qualified healthcare expenses without owing any tax on the payouts. For 2021, the contribution limit is $3,600 for an individual and $7,200 for family coverage. In this case, you can forecast an increase in contributions and double-check to ensure you have enough money on hand to pay future bills.
Plan your estimated tax payments. This is often significant for self-employed individuals and retirees with investment earnings. The quarterly due dates for paying federal and state tax liabilities are April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year (or the next business day if the deadline falls on a holiday or weekend). So if your personal income is seeing a recovery from the pandemic, your rolling forecast will show this and allow you to plan for the estimated tax payments.
Plan your retirement contributions. If you participate in your company’s 401(k) plan, you can defer up to $19,500 to your account in 2021 ($26,000 if you’re 50 or over). Contributions and earnings compound tax-deferred. As the year winds down, you might boost your deferral to save even more for retirement.
While initially setting up a rolling 12-month forecast can be a bit of a pain, once established, it is pretty easy to keep up-to-date as you are simply rolling forward last month into the future. A well-planned system can often be the first sign of future challenges or potential windfalls!
Knowing your net worth and understanding how it is changing over time is one of the most important financial concepts that everyone needs to understand. This number is used by banks, mortgage companies, insurance companies and you! Your net worth impacts your credit score, which in turn impacts your interest rates and things as mundane as the amount you pay for auto insurance.
A simple definition
Net worth is the result of taking all the things you own (assets) minus what you owe others (debts and liabilities).
Assets include cash, bank account balances, investments, your home, vehicles or anything else that you could sell today for cash. Assets also include any businesses or business interests you own.
Liabilities are what you owe others, such as a mortgage or car loan, and any other debt, like credit card or student loan debt.
Your net worth changes over time, reflecting how you spend your money. For example, if you have tons of bills and spend more than you bring in, your bank account balances will be lower. If you spend a lot on your credit cards, your debt will go up. The net effect is a lower net worth.
Everyone has a net worth
Yes, everyone. Even a 6-year-old with money in their piggy bank has a net worth. If your child is saving up for a bike, they will convert one asset (cash) into another asset (their new bike)!
Calculating your net worth
Step one. Reconcile your bank accounts and loans. Try doing this every month, as these are the easiest parts of your net worth to track and calculate.
Step two. Calculate the value of all your remaining assets. For some of your assets, such as stocks, you can go online and find the current value of the stocks you own. For other assets, you’ll have to estimate what you could sell that asset for today.
Step three. Add up all your asset values, then subtract all your debts. What you’re left with is your net worth (and yes, your number could be negative)!
Why you should know your net worth
Knowing your net worth contributes to the big picture of your financial circumstances. Here’s why it’s beneficial to know your net worth:
You want to apply for student loans. You’ll likely need to submit an application that details all your cash and other assets when applying for student loans. If your net worth is high enough, you may have to foot some of the tuition bill yourself.
You want to get insurance. Some types of insurance use your credit score as part of the calculation for determining your premium payments. Knowing if you have a high net worth may help in obtaining a favorable premium amount.
You want to diversify your investments. Certain investments are available only to individuals who have a high enough net worth.
You want to buy a home. Banks want to see that you have plenty of cash when compared to your debts. If you have too much debt, you may need to either pay down the debt or increase your down payment.
Knowing your net worth and how to calculate it can help you achieve some of your financial goals. Please call if you’d like help calculating and understanding your net worth.
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.
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.
Renters insurance, sometimes called a tenant policy, typically protects against three things:
Loss or damage to your personal belongings from fire, theft, etc.
Liability claims from someone injured in your apartment
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.
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.