Money Spent, Wisdom Gained, & 20 Helpful Tips

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Many of us have said, “I wish I had known then what I do now; I would have done things differently”.

This is particularly true when it comes to money & our financial situations. Money trouble or challenges occur for a variety of reasons:

We spend when we shouldn’t or we spend without understanding the true cost:

As a student, perhaps we used some of our student loan to go shopping. Maybe, we bought things we knew we couldn’t afford because we wanted or deserved it, or signed contracts without reading or fully understanding them.

We spend because we lose our job & spent our financial safety net to survive

Sometimes we end up in money trouble just because of unexpected life events. This has happened a lot since 2008 when people suddenly found themselves with a “pink slip” & not able to get another well paying job. Even if you had the now outdated 3-6 months livings expense safety cushion, it wasn’t enough. Debt piled up.

We spend because we don’t have any other choice; it is a revolving circle:

When debt piles up, we may play the “rob Peter to pay Paul” tactic & move debt from one card to another.

We pay the bills for the services that are the most important to us – housing, electric, phone, gas, & food and hope we can pay the rest of the bills -soon. We hope something will change and actively seek solutions.

We spend to pay high service fees: Fringe Banking, Unbanked, & Under -banked:

The movie “Spent: Looking for Change”, is about hardworking Americans who do not have access to traditional banking services. The film tells us that there are nearly 70 million Americans that are unbanked & financially underserved. They use check cashers, pawns shops, payday lenders, & money order services. These alternative financial services are expensive & those that least can afford it spend more than traditional bank users to cash their payroll checks & to pay their bills.

We spend because we want our tax refund now:

Low to moderate income tax payers pay extremely high interest rates & fees to get some or part of their tax refund now rather than wait a couple of weeks and avoid these needless high expense charges.

The National Consumer Law Center’s website provides the following description:

  • Refund anticipation checks (RACs) – RACs are a financial product used to deliver refunds and to pay for tax preparation fees by deducting them from the consumer’s tax refund.
  •  RALs from non-bank lenders – A few payday and other non-bank lenders are offering RALs. These loans could be more expensive and riskier than bank RALs.

Since the 2008 recession, many people have permanently changed the way they spend their money.

Following are 20 tips to help you make your money go further. This, then will provide you the opportunity to either pay down debt, build a safety cushion, or invest in your future.

Money Management & Spending Tips:

  1. Some “assets” appreciate and can go up in value; spending money here makes sense
  1. Other “assets” depreciate as soon as you buy them – cars, furniture; consider buying used or refurbished
  1. Accountants use a term called “Sunk Costs” which means a cost that has already been incurred & cannot be recovered; limit your sunk costs
  1. Opportunity Costs: the value of something that must be given up to achieve something else; limit how much you spend on a things that you want; you might need the money later for a need
  1. Good debt provides you an opportunity to get ahead; there can be a return on your investment; i.e. a mortgage on a home
  1. Bad debt includes high interest rates on unpaid credit card balances
  1. Borrowing on credit is expensive; debt makes you a slave to payments; you’re a hostage with limited life choices & flexibility
  1. Building & Maintaining a good credit score means it will cost you less to borrow money
  1. Forgo bad debt & instead, build toward your dreams
  1. When you want to spend instead of save, think about your long-term goals. Is going out to eat, buying coffee at Starbucks, going shopping because you feel depressed or want something new worth adding more debt or forgoing savings?
  1. Read your contracts & plan for both the best & the worse scenario- can you afford both?
  1. Know that managing money is becoming more simple and that there are is a lot of free help
  1. Use the internet to learn more about personal finance- Coursera offers free classes
  1. Use on line tools to help you determine your best money moves; I have several on my website, on the resources page
  1. Hire someone to help you understand & determine your best possible alternatives
  1. Avoid “problem pile-ups”- it is too hard to solve almost anything that way. Choose one thing to work on, resolve, choose another
  1. Don’t beat yourself up if you made what you consider a “money mistake”. Ideally, we all learn as we grow. This is a normal part of life & it is fully possible to recover & regroup
  1. Don’t assume you know the answer, because you think “it is true” or someone told you. Look for the answer yourself or try to get your answers in writing from an objective source
  1. If you are a parent, be careful that you are not unintentionally teaching your children poor money habits by saying things like, “I am not answering the phone, it is another bill collector”
  1. Sometimes we learned poor money habits as a kid and carried them with us in to adulthood without realizing it. This has become so common that there is a new field of study & help: Behavioral Finance. Learn about this is if it applies to you

Deborah Fox, CPA is working to make financial information affordable & accessible. She helps others improve or protect their personal or business financial health by answering specific money questions. She provides information while building knowledge & practical skill levels for her clients. She is available for local or remote appointments. Thanks for reading.

Website: www.debfoxfinancial.com

e-mail: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Phone: 619-549-2717

Your Personal Income – Learn, Grow, Achieve

 It is a new year and many of us have renewed energy, vision, & goals we want to accomplish- make more money, get out of debt, buy a home, prepare to retire, have more time with our family.

To help, I thought I would write a short series of articles that might be resourceful in helping you reach some of your goals.

To begin, I thought we would start at “the top” of most people’s list and take a look at money; i.e. our personal income.

In future blogs, I will provide info on how we spend, save, & can protect the money we earn.

First, lets look at some words that describe our Personal Income:

1. Learn:

Disposable Income = Income – taxes

This term is kind of a misnomer. Disposable sounds like we don’t really need the money when in reality we do, to pay our bills.

Discretionary Income = Income – taxes – all monthly payments

This is what companies use to decide to whom to market their product. The more discretionary income we have, the higher priced items are “presented” to us. They are a lure. It is always our choice. Do we save, invest, build for tomorrow or enjoy today?

Our discretionary income varies by which stage in life we are: student, raising children, retired.

IRS Income Terms:

The IRS uses the term “Ordinary Income” which basically includes all income except for income except income from Long Term Capital Gains.

Ordinary Income includes:

Earned Income: Money earned in exchange for services

  • Work for someone & receive payment for services
  • Self-Employment

Not “Earned” Income:

  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Retirement Income
  • Social Security Payments
  • Unemployment
  • Alimony
  • Child Support

Portfolio Income

  • Interest
  • Dividends
  • Annuities
  • Royalties not derived in the ordinary course of your trade or business
  • Gains & Losses – not derived in the ordinary course of trade or business

There are other income terms that we hear others say: Recurring income such as the commission earned by insurance agents and web hosts as they almost automatically renew us each year. Residual Income  is royalty income earned by the owner of intellectual property – books, lyrics, music, patents.

  1. Grow:

This “Income definition review” is not about definitions. It is to help you think about:

  • What kind of income am I making now and how much does it “cost” me?
  • Is the income I earn from a variety of sources or am I dependent on a single source?
  • What do I want to build for tomorrow?
  1. Achieve:

Remember the slogan, “Work Smarter, not Harder?

“Passive Income” is based on “leverage”; we can increase our time productivity by creating assets that work for us and can pay us while we are busy doing other things we enjoy.

 Designing your life to include some passive income could allow you to do more things with your time. It can create a sort of financial “safety net” if you become sick, injured, or have a family emergency that prevents you from working at a typical job. For some, it allows them to have more freedom of choice in their life about where, when, and how they “work” to earn an “income”.

Many of us learned during the recent recession that we should not rely on a single source of income to keep us financially safe. We need to “spread our risk” and not have all (or too many) “eggs in one basket”.

Some people try to create multiple income streams because it provides more financial security and reduces their “dependency” on a single source of income.

Here are some ideas to help get you started:

  • Think about getting involved in the #sharing economy – rent out something you are not using (house, car, bike)
  • Write a series of e-books and sell on Kindle (http://www.stevescottsite.com)
  • Create an App
  • Sell memberships, advertisements, or affiliate links from your blog or website
  • Buy rental property
  • Set up a Self-Directed IRA & invest in mortgage notes, etc. (see my previous blog)
  • Be a bank- Peer to Peer Lending
  • Turn your passion into profit – start a small business or trade services

As you think about reaching your money goals for this year, you could earn more money, spend less, or do both. If you decide to earn more, what can you do to leverage your time, increase your productivity and your net worth?

“A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart” – Jonathan Swift

Deborah Fox, CPA is working to make a difference in peoples hearts, lives, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health. She is available for side by side, remote, or mobile appointments. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com. Thanks for reading.

Band-Aids for the Heart, Mind & Soul

Red Crossed BandaidsBand-Aids have been around since 1920. Earle Dickson created them for his wife who frequently cut & burned herself while cooking. This “healing aid” is an American Icon. We all know the brand and most of us use it. It is great for life’s little physical injuries.

There are a lot of ways we can feel “injured’ or “hurt”. Sometimes, we are physically hurt. A Band-Aid may be all we need. Healing is fast & easy. Psychological & Emotional “injuries” are more difficult to heal. Band-Aids for those “hurts” don’t come as easy. We have to do some work to get past the hurt. Fortunately, there are some “Tools” we can use to help our growth and healing process.

Zing Ziegler said, “Getting knocked down in life is a given. Getting up and moving forward is a choice”.

History is full of those that supposedly failed and then became a huge success. We can use their stories or our own success to help us keep moving & growing. It gives us hope. We can Turn Our Scars in to Stars and our Wounds in to Wisdom.

Our attitude affects our viewpoint. Will life’s events boost you up or keep you down? Will your childhood or some other event keep you stuck living in the wake of the boat or will you use life’s events to propel your boat forward?

Life is not a straight line. It is a zigzag, always full of ups & downs. There is rain and then the rainbows.

Christmas is a time of hope. We hope for a happy holiday season. We hope for a happy & healthy tomorrow. Most of us hope for a New Year as good or better than we had this year.

Hope is wonderful; sometimes it is all we have as we try to hold on. Hope by itself, is not a good long-term financial or life strategy. We need more. We need to:

  • Accept what is
  • Decide to make a change
  • Act

With this in mind, I offer you my top 12 “Band-Aids “ for psychological & emotional health and wellbeing:

1. Realize that Circumstances happen to us; they do not define who we are, unless we let them:

  • Experience is part of our history and/or background; It is not who we really are
  • We are more than what has happened to us. We can carry “our story” as a burden or use it as springboard for growth
  • Use it as a Spring Board

2. We only “fail” if we stop trying:

  • Everything else can be viewed as gaining the experience or the wisdom we need to move closer to our goal or toward our dreams
  • Keep Moving

3. Know that you can “Come Back” from a tough year, relationship or financial loss:

  • Learn to Let Go of things that weigh you down
  • You need energy to make goals happen. Let Go of a past that drains you
  • Choose to let go of the weight so you can create the energy you need to grow, in your business, or in your personal life

4. Remember & Celebrate Your Past Success:

  • If you overcame an adversity or a difficult situation in the past, you already know you can do it again
  • Do it
  • Celebrate your past success by remembering them. Write them down & use the list as a supportive reminder if you have a bad day
  • Gather wisdom from past challenges to create a better you today

5. Try to Avoid “Problem Pile-up”:

  • If you have more than 1 area that could use an emotional or psychological Band-Aid, it is hard or almost impossible to heal a lot of hurts at one time
  • We can’t fix things when there is a big pile
  • Choose the most important now, and work on that one topic
  • Then choose the next most important item; keep going

6. Decide to leave negative thoughts behind:

  • Ants are “Automatic Negative Thoughts
  • Thoughts & Feelings can be fleeting
  • We decide to hold on or let them go
  • Choose to let the “ANT’s” go rather than let them run wild
  • Try not to let your unconscious mind be the master of your life
  • Choose Differently

7. Fuel your thoughts with Positivity:

  • Choose to think that life is good and it will be
  • Where thoughts go, energy flows
  • We become what we think about
  • Think positive. Be positive. Act positive

8. Determine your SMART goal. Write it down. Your goal should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

9. Measure & Monitor Your Success:

  • Document your success and date it
  • Ask yourself, are my actions consistent with my vision, goals, and dreams?
  • Tell yourself, if I fall short, it won’t because of my actions. Remember, actions speak louder than words.
  • If your goal seems too big, decide to Either Step Up or Lower your Goal
  • Baby steps, any forward steps, count too

10. Consider Practicing The Four Agreements:

  • Consciously choose to be impeccable with your word, thoughts, & deeds – with yourself and with others
  • Avoid making assumptions
  • Avoid taking things personal
  • Always do your best

11. Though we might walk “through the valley of the darkness,” we are not supposed to “Camp There”:

  • Just like in life, a one -sized Band-Aid does not fit all wounds
  • Little hurts heal faster than big hurts
  • Big hurts can take more time to heal
  • Be kind to self and give yourself time

12. Change Your Mind Movie:

  • Change the Unconscious “Mind Movie” (the stories we have told to ourselves) to the Consciousness “Mind Movie” (the healthy story you want to tell about yourself).
  • Create a “Vision Board” or “Dream Board
  • The new visual can be based on who you are now or who you want to be in the future
  • Use PowerPoint to create your own Mind Movie. Add your favorite motivational song. Watch and enjoy.

I hope some of my favorite tools help you or yours find a sense of internal peace, health, happiness, and wellbeing.

Conversations are welcomed and encouraged. Life is about heart.

You Count and I Care.

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointment. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com. Thanks for reading

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Smart Personal Tax Planning –What to do before Year-End

2013 TaxTaxes take a big bite out of the income we earn. We may pay: federal (IRS) income tax, state income tax, payroll tax (social security/medicare), sales tax, and property tax. Most of these taxes offer limited options to control how much we pay. However, our golden opportunity comes with income tax because there are a ways to reduce our expense. Today, I offer some of these for you to consider:

The Why & The How

If you want to want to make sure your money is more in “your pocket” than in theirs (The IRS), now is the time to act. Estimating your 2014 tax bill keeps you from being surprised next year. More importantly, it provides you the opportunity to perhaps decrease the amount of tax you pay by planning and acting strategically before the end of this year.

To start:

  • Determine how much you have earned this year
  • Determine what you have paid toward your 2014 tax bill
  • Then increase each of these amounts to estimate the year-end amounts

Now that you have a glimpse of your 2014 tax situation, compare those numbers to those on your 2013 tax return. A filed return can be used as a sort of “road map” to see if there are options to reduce your tax bill now or in the future.

For example, did you get a refund last year? If so, consider this:

Kiplinger’s recently had a great article titled, “Safeguard your Refund by shrinking it”. The article includes the following:

  • More than 75% of Americans get an IRS tax refund each year which is the equivalent of giving the IRS an interest free loan
  • Identity Theft is on the rise and thieves file fraudulent returns to collect refunds. Avoid this risk by limiting the amount of refund you receive
  • Use on –line tax calculators to see if your estimated tax withholding is correct; the IRS and Kiplinger’s both provide these
  • File a revised W-4 with your employer this year to change your tax withholdings; remember the goal is to break even

Shift Income?

Then consider if you can shift income to decrease the amount of tax owed:

If you think your income will decrease next year and your tax rate would be lower, can you:

  1. Defer a year-end bonus to January 2015?
  2. Postpone a sale that will trigger a gain to next year?
  3. Delay exercising stock options?

Alternatively, it may make sense to move income to this year:

  1. Covert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA and recognize the conversion income this year
  2. Take IRA distributions this year?

Shift Payments?

If you itemize, would you benefit if you changed the timing of some of your payments?

If you expect your income to decrease next year, then you might want to move some payments/deductions to the current year to offset your higher income this year. Can you:

  • Prepay property taxes?
  • Make your January mortgage payment this year?
  • If you owe state income taxes, consider making up any shortfall rather than waiting until your return is due
  • Consider the timing of medical expenses so you can benefit from the deduction?
  • Sell some or all of your loss stocks?
  • If you qualify for a health savings account, consider setting one up and making the maximum contribution allowable

Defer Deductions into 2015

If you expect tax rates to increase next year, or if you anticipate a substantial increase in taxable income, you may want to explore waiting to take deductions until 2015:

  • Postpone year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical and dental expense payments, to the extent you might get a deduction for such payments
  • Postpone the sale of any loss-generating property

Can you do anything else?

For those that would like to take it a step further, consider if there is anything you can do to increase your “Above the Line Deductions”.

On a Federal Individual1040 tax form, the basic formula is:

Income minus “Above the Line” deductions = Adjusted Gross Income.

These deductions include paying monies to:

  • Establish an IRA for you or your spouse?
  • If qualified, set up a Health Savings Account?
  • If self-employed, would you benefit from having health insurance or a Qualified Pension Plan?

While this is not an exhaustive list, I hope it gives you enough information to initiate your plan, act this year, and save money on your next tax bill.

A dollar saved is a dollar you don’t need to earn. Keep marching towards financial freedom. Happy planning!

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointment. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com. Thanks for reading

Self-Directed IRA’s – Are these for you?

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Many of us are familiar with the Traditional IRA’s and the investment opportunities they provide. Less commonly known is the Self- Directed IRA, which offers a greater choice of investment options, including real estate.

I am not a financial advisor selling investments.

I am a CPA who just finished reading a book titled, ‘Leverage Your IRA, Maximize Your Profits with Real Estate’. One of the authors is a CPA and a Certified Financial Planner. I read this book for personal reasons and to learn the tax aspects so that I could be an informed resource for others. I found the information beneficial and hope you will as well.

Investment Opportunities:

There are two types of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA’s):

  • Traditional: IRA’S: Most retirement plans are tax deferred and are funded with pre-tax dollars. Traditional IRA’s, SEP IRA’S, SIMPLE IRA’S, and 401 (K) plans are in this category; tax is deferred and paid at a future event such as a withdrawal /distribution
  • Roth IRA’s and Roth 401k’s are tax-free because they are funded with after -tax dollars

Traditional IRA’s allow funds to be invested with banks, brokerage firms, mutual fund companies, and insurance companies.

Self-Directed IRA’s allow the Account Holder many more investment options. For example, Self-Directed IRA retirement account funds can be invested in mortgages without having to “cash out” to make the investment. Investments are made inside this type IRA and funds can be rolled over from traditional accounts without a penalty.

Self-Directed IRA’s can invest in just about anything except:

  • Collectibles
  • Life Insurance contracts
  • Subchapter S Corporation stock (S-Corps cannot have an IRA as a stock holder)

Your Self-Directed IRA can purchase rental properties, commercial properties, tax liens, foreign real estate, buy mortgage notes, loan money earning interest, and more. Assets need to be handled as investments and cannot be used personally by you or any disqualified person. Your IRA owns the investment, not you. Investment possibilities may include:

  • Buying real estate from an unrelated party with cash
  • Buying property with a down payment and obtaining an “unsecured loan”
  • Co-investing with other parties

Income and capital gains can flow back to IRA’s tax-deferred (Traditional) or tax-free (Roth), if the IRA does not have a related real estate loan.

Real Estate Loans are possible and are “Unsecured”; your IRA funds cannot be used as collateral as security and there is no recourse against the Account Holder. In the event of default, the lender can only look to the property or the leases for repayment.

Non-Secured Loan Qualification is underwritten similar to a commercial real estate property loan. Criteria includes:

  • The Property – the lender needs to be satisfied with the value, marketability, and the condition of the property
  • Cash Flow – does the property cover the mortgage and the expenses?
  • IRA Funds – are the funds sufficient to cover the down payment, closing costs, pre-paid costs for taxes and insurance, and reserves for repairs or vacancies?

Down payment requirements vary by the lender and the property type. One such lender that provides Unsecured IRA Loans is North American Savings Bank (www.nasb.com)

Safeguards – how to protect your investment

Transactions need to be handled by a Specialized Custodian or Administrator. If you handle the transactions, the transaction could become taxable and the value of your money is at risk. Always follow the rules and keep your IRA funds and you safe.

While the Self-Directed IRA’s offer greater investment choices, there are also specific IRS rules that must be followed to protect your IRA. For example, “Self-Dealing” and “Prohibited Transactions” must be avoided.

The Exclusive Benefit Rule applies to all IRA’s. This means only the IRA can benefit from the transaction and that the IRA owner nor any other “disqualified person” may receive a personal benefit as a result of a transaction by their IRA; i.e. your IRA cannot buy your vacation home.

IRS Publication 590 (2013), Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) includes the following about Prohibited Transactions:

Generally, a prohibited transaction is any improper use of your traditional IRA account or annuity by you, your beneficiary, or any disqualified person.

Disqualified persons include your fiduciary and members of your family (spouse, ancestor, lineal descendant, and any spouse of a lineal descendant).

The following are some examples of prohibited transactions with a traditional IRA. ***

  • Borrowing money from it
  • Selling property to it
  • Using it as security for a loan
  • Buying property for personal use (present or future) with IRA funds.

With any investment, Due Diligence is always important. Knowledge is power. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.

I encourage you to take the time to become an educated investor prior to considering using any portion of your retirement funds in a Self Directed IRA. Additional information can be found at:

  • Retirement Industry Trust Association (RITA) is a non-profit trade association formed in 1987which represents Trust Companies, banks, attorneys, accountants and other service providers in the self-directed retirement plan industry. http://www.self-directed-retirement.org/investor-resources/
  • Review “Self-Directed IRA Custodian” websites
  • For more in-depth information on Prohibited Transactions, you may wish to read IRC 4975
  • Discuss with your CPA, Tax Attorney, or other experienced investors about their Self-Directed IRA

The information provided in this post is intended to be a good basic primer about Self Directed IRA’s. A comprehensive review is beyond the scope of this blog post.

Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like me to post a more technical blog about UDFI (Unrelated Debt-Financed Income) and UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax), which can apply if an IRA real-estate loan is part of the IRA transaction.

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets by helping others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointment. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com. Questions or comments can be sent to debfoxfinancial@gmail.com.

Milestones & Mountains – the LGBT “Financial Playing” Field

In Honor of the 40th anniversary of the San Diego Pride Festival this weekend, I offer an update about “Financial Equality” for the LGBT community, with whom I celebrate the financial victories that have been achieved since we celebrated this festival last year. 

Last year, we had 2 huge U.S. Supreme Court 6/26/13 decisions to celebrate:

  1. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), section 3, was declared unconstitutional
  2. Proposition 8 defenders lacked “standing” which cleared the way for Legal Gay Marriage in CA

We also celebrated because Same-Sex Marriages (SSM) had just been allowed to resume again after a long break between 11/5/2008 through 6/27/2013.

This year, we have many reasons to celebrate, let’s call them “milestones achieved”.

We still have some mountains left to climb before the SSM “playing field” matches the “playing field “ of married opposite-sex couples.

Perspective:

The right to SSM is important for many reasons. For example, Wells Fargo issued a study in June 2014, in which the top 3 rights and benefits were listed for those surveyed:

  • Healthcare decision making rights 61%
  • Insurance and healthcare coverage 58%
  • Inheritance rights 56%

Health care decision-making can affect the quality of life. Insurance, healthcare coverage, and inheritance rights, all have a significant effect on the “financial equality” of life.

These rights and many others are becoming available to those that can legally marry their same-sex partner.  T

Today, SSM rights and benefits look more like a patch-work quilt across the United States as compared to those enjoyed by opposite –sex married couples who begin to enjoy their benefits, often as soon as they say, “I do”.

There has been tremendous progress and numerous changes since we celebrated San Diego Pride last year. Milestones to celebrate now include:

Same-Sex Marriage is fast becoming a reality for more people:

  • 19 states & the District of Columbia have Legal Same-Sex Marriage and 31 states have Same-Sex Marriage Bans
  • 12 states have had gay marriage bans overturned and appeals are in progress
  • 8/29/13 All Legal Same- Sex Marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes as per the U.S. Department of Treasury
  • 9/16/13 effective date for Revenue Ruling 2013-17 which reads: “that for federal tax purposes, the Service adopts a general rule recognizing a marriage for same-sex individuals that was validly entered into a in a state whose laws authorize the marriage of two individuals of the same-sex even if the married couple is domiciled in a state that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.”
  1. This opened the door to file original returns, amended returns, and claims for credit or refund for any overpayment of tax, provided that the applicable limitations period was still open under section 6511
  2. Couples can “pick and chose”, by year, which return, if any, they chose to amend, as long as the window is still open. Big return? Amend. Owe? Skip it.
  3. The window to amend the 2010 return, generally, expired on 4/15/14
  4. The 2011 1040 return can be amended until 4/15/15
  5. The 2012 1040 return can be amended until 4/15/16

Earlier this week, I attended an IRS DOMA seminar, which was introduced to about 300 tax professionals as “DOMA is about money, it has nothing to do with sex”.

SSM, is partially about money. The Windsor  (DOMA) case was about inheritance rights between spouses.

  • Federal tax law allows a deceased spouse to leave their assets, including a home, to the other spouse, without incurring estate tax. The Estate Tax Rate is 40%.
  •  The DOMA ruling resulted in Windsor being owed an IRS refund of $363,053 for the estate tax she had paid

The Estate Tax is a tax on your right to transfer property at your death.

  • Beginning January 1, 2011, estates of decedents survived by a spouse may elect to pass any of the decedent’s unused exemption to the surviving spouse. This election is made on a timely filed estate tax return for the decedent with a surviving spouse
  • 6/20/14, the Social Security Administration issued guidelines on eligibility for spouse-based retirement and survivor benefits, Medicare, and SSI benefits
  • 7/16/2014, the Connecticut Supreme Court rules that a Lesbian Widow has legal rights that predate Marriage Equality in the state.

Mountains:

  • SSM couples are unable to receive Social Security Spousal Benefits if they were married in one of the states that allow same-sex marriage but live in a restrictive state (reference Bankrate Retirement Blog 7/1/14)
  • Veterans benefits also are restricted for those living in states that do not allow same sex marriage (same reference as above)
  • The right to inherit pension benefits could fall under the “it depends” category. A recent 6/2/14 article about the Bayer Corporation provides some insight
  • Family Medical Leave Act does not cover same-sex spouses. Some employers grant this right to their employees and kudos to them.
  • Nationwide, there is not a federal law against LGBT workplace discrimination. A bill to accomplish that goal, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passed the Senate last year but has not yet been taken up by the House

In closing, as an American, I believe that all American’s should have the same rights and protections, under federal law.  The financial “playing field” should be the same regardless of whom you love and where you live in the United States.

Discrimination should be something all citizens do not have to fear or endure.

My name is Deb Fox and I am the proud sister of two gay brothers and multiple LGBT friends. I am an advocate and an ally. I believe in equality and am trying to do my part to make a difference, here now, today, and tomorrow.

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets. Although she earned her CPA in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointments.

 

Creating Freedom – in honor of the 4th of July

In honor of our 4th of July holiday, I searched for the word freedom and then discovered a new word. Ataraxic and, playfully, I decided it is a “condition” that I want to “suffer” from. What does it mean? One simple definition is “freedom from worry”.  Can you imagine?

Worry, is something nobody likes to do and most people want to avoid. We know that worrying is a waste of time & energy. We also know that it does not get it us anywhere, kind of like expecting to move forward when we rock in a rocking chair.

Ok, so maybe, we try not to worry, but at best, we are at least sometimes pre-occupied with thoughts that concern us. We think about our financial situation, our health, our families, friends, and of our longevity.

In case you are wondering how this might fit with my goal of providing “financial wellness” please read on and let me explain.

Living longer gives us more of an opportunity to enjoy life. It also creates more of a financial risk. Will our money last as long as we do?

Regardless of our age, thinking about this is important. Planning and preparing is imperative. In fact, those that are younger, have the greatest opportunity to plan and prepare. Those that are a bit older are more limited, and yet would still benefit from reviewing the following:

Benchmark how much money you need when you “retire”:

  • How much do you need to live each year?
  • Generally, it is not safe to assume you will just spend less; i.e. health care costs can increase as we age and you may travel more

How are you going to pay for it?

  • Social Security?
  • Pension or Retirement Funds?
  • Savings or Investments?
  • Working Part-Time?

How many years does your money need to last?

  • The Social Security website has a calculator that you can use to estimate your longevity

Note that woman, in particular, might want to save more money than their typical male counterparts. Why?

  •  Statistics show, that woman, on average, are paid less than a man
  • Women might leave the job market to have children and thus can earn less, over their lifetime
  •  Earning less could result in a lower Social Security benefit

Let’s suppose that you decide that you want to continue working part-time until you reach your “Full Retirement Age” or even post-pone retirement until the maximum age of 70 when you must start drawing upon your Social Security Benefit. Doing this can pay big dividends, in the form of increased monthly payments.

There is one big caveat to this plan and this, too, we can try and plan for. Generally, we must have our health to build wealth.

One of the greatest assets we have is the ability to produce an income. It has been said that our health is the new wealth. The ability to produce an income is part of our wealth.

We were all born with free will. As Americans, we have the liberty to pursuit our happiness and our freedom of choice. Planning today and saving for tomorrow creates more freedom of choice, in the long-term.

John Wayne said, “ Tomorrow hopes that we learned something from yesterday”.

I like to say, “Hope is not a good financial strategy. Plan, act, achieve and may you always have a reason to smile”.

Deb Fox is working to make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets. Although she earned her CPA in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others protect their financial health and is available for side-by-side, remote, or mobile appointments.

 

What you don’t know can hurt you

RiskIgnorance may be bliss, but what you don’t know, can also hurt you.

You work hard for your money. You want to enjoy it, stretch it, and protect it.  Personal Risk Management is a way to protect your money. It is a systematic process of evaluating the chance of loss and then taking steps to combat the potential risk by practicing risk avoidance, using contractual indemnification, or by purchasing insurance.

One example of risk avoidance is if a sole-proprietor choses to incorporate and thus limits their personal liability exposure.

Contractual indemnification is a common clause in many contracts. Black’s Law Dictionary defines indemnity as a ““a duty to make good any loss, damage, or liability incurred by another.” Indemnity has a general meaning of holding one harmless; that is to say, that one party holds the other harmless for some loss or damage. Indemnification protects you against personal liability.

Insurance helps to stop an insured “loss” from being a financially life-changing event.

Most people probably find insurance boring and reading insurance contracts even more so. As a CPA, with the Associate in Risk Management (ARM) designation, I enjoy looking for the “devil in the details”. It is one way I provide value to others.

The goal of this blog is to plant some seeds of thought, initiate action, and provide you some “sleep insurance” because you took the time to evaluate, know, and feel comfortable with your financial position.  Factors to consider include:

Limits and Exposure:

  • Know what you have to protect:  What is your net worth; i.e. how much could you lose?
  • What type of losses are you covered for?
  • What percentage of your net-worth is protected by insurance and what amount is left “self-insured” in the event of a loss?

Property:

  • Do you know that if you do not buy the correct property insurance limit that you could be held financially responsible, for a portion of the loss? This is called the co-insurance requirement; read your policy
  • What does your insurance cover you for?
  • Do you have a property “named peril” or an “all-risk” policy? A Named Peril policy only provides coverage for the peril specifically named. An All Risk policy provides coverage for all losses not specifically excluded from coverage
  • If you do not have an All Risk policy, your fire policy might include “extended coverage”. Rev Shaw is an easy acronym to see what might be covered other than loss caused by a fire. R=Riot, E=explosion, V=Vehicle; S=smoke; H=hail; A=aircraft; W=Wind

Liability:

  • How do you determine the policy limit that you buy on your auto, homeowners, or Business Owners Policy? Do you buy the minimum limit or do you also have an Umbrella policy that responds in the event that a loss exceeds your primary limit?
  • In a Money magazine 2/5/14 article, Ed Charlebois of Travelers Insurance said “More than 80% of umbrella losses are auto-related,” If you remodel, does your general contractor make sure that the subcontractors are covered for worker’s compensation and general liability? Do you own a swimming pool, hot tub, or boat that increases your risk/exposure for a loss?
  • If you are a business owner, do your contracts require you to name others as an Additional Insured on your policy? Do you know that this means you are sharing your policy limit (s) with others? Is your defense coverage included in your policy limit?

Your insurance agent can help you review the type of coverage you buy. From a risk management perspective, insurance agents/brokers generally will not tell you how much insurance to buy; this increases their liability.  Likewise, I would not suggest limits either. I could, however, help you determine your exposed net worth and help you review how well you are covered from a property/casualty (liability) perspective.

Warren Buffet said, “Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing”.  Take the time to know and sleep well tonight.

Deb Fox is working to “make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets”. Although she earned her CPA designation in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others protect their financial health and is available for side –by- side, remote, or mobile appointments.

Website: www.debfoxfinancial.com

E-mail: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

Where is “The Help?”

We have a need. We have a want. Where is The Help?

Where is the help if we want to talk to an affordable professional about our money?

The Need:

Many of us worry about our money situation because of consumer debt, student debt, limited savings, or the ability to retire.

We might worry, but talking about our money is not something we like to do. A recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) showed that we would rather tell people how much we weigh than the amount of our credit card debit or our FICO score. Many of us are embarrassed.

We might not want to talk about our money situation, but we also know that we could benefit if we did. We know what we don’t know or understand.  We might be comfortable not thinking about it, but this only allows anxiety to grow and does not change anything. A comfort zone can be a beautiful place to be, but nothing ever grows there.

The Want:

We all need and want financial stability.

We might know what to do with our money and just not do it. We know that we need to spend less than we make, but doing that is hard. It can also be hard to save and not spend. We have heard, pay your self first, but do we? We leave money on the table by not getting the full company match for our 401k plans at work.

Most of us were not taught how to manage our finances when we were in school.  We learned the hard way: through trial and error and through the “school of hard knocks”.

Increasingly, we want financial literacy taught in our schools. Students need to learn how to balance their bank account, manage debt, credit, and avoid financial traps.  In short, we want our children or the youth of our community to be better prepared than we were.

The Help:

Clearly, we have a need and a want. Where can we go for affordable help?

Historically, formal financial planning services were designed for and enjoyed by those who had large sums of money to protect. Comprehensive Financial Plans are expensive and time consuming to prepare. Financial Planning service firms may have provided this service at a nominal cost and made their money by selling insurance or investment products or by providing investment management services.  This works well for people who have plenty of money and the need for a comprehensive plan.

Where is the help for those that have less money?

Where is the help for those that do not yet need comprehensive financial plans, but have questions about their money?

Where is The Help for the:

  • Young Adult?
  • Young Career?
  • Young Family?
  • Families living paycheck to paycheck?
  • Working Poor?
  • Shrinking Middle Class?

Over the last few years, service providers have started to pop up. The marketplace had a void and some are stating to fill it, including me. I want to make financial planning, understanding, and capability more accessible for this underserved market for both individuals and small business owners.

For personal finance, maybe you would like to:

  • Talk about your money situation, evaluate, prioritize, act, and build confidence about your economic future?
  • Learn to use a systematic approach to evaluate a financial decision?
  • Have a mentor/friend to help empower you to become more accountable?

For the entrepreneur or small business owner, would you benefit by learning new business skills about:

  • Pro-Forma financials for your business plan?
  • Budgets and cash flow?
  • Tax planning?

For those that like to read and learn on your own, there are a lot of good resources out there to help you.  I have resources listed on my website at www.debfoxfinancial.com. I also blog, post frequently on my Facebook page and share information on Twitter.

Perhaps, you learn best by working “one on one” and would benefit by having the opportunity to ask financial questions and then work together, as a team, to learn, grow, and achieve your financial goals.

I believe that the scope of financial services should be broader than is currently available and want to use my expertise and experience to help others.  We could work together on one project, many projects, or perhaps, I can just be a resource for financial information?

Execution matters. I can help. It is important that you know that I would not tell you what to do.  I can be a financial compass and help you sort through choices and evaluate the potential costs and the benefits of the available options. You decide what is best for you.

I am a financial literacy advocate and want to provide affordable financial solutions by providing meaningful, actionable, advice. If you can afford a personal fitness trainer; you could afford “one on one” help from me.

Takeaways:

  • Decisions made today affect the options available to you in the future
  • What you do today with “Your Present Self” has a direct impact on “Your Future Self”
  • An investment in you today can result in a financially stronger you tomorrow
  • Financial strength brings more freedom of choice

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Teach me & I may remember. Involve me & I learn” – Benjamin Franklin

Deb Fox is working to “make a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets”. Although she earned her CPA designation in 1997, she is not currently practicing as a CPA. She does use her knowledge to help others. She does not give investment advice; this is outside her areas of expertise. She can help with financial planning, tax, accounting, and commercial property and casualty insurance questions.

Website: www.debfoxfinancial.com

E-mail: debfoxfinancial@gmail.com

Twitter: @debfoxfinancial

 

2013 Federal Tax Filing

tax2• Tax returns are due 4/15/14 – about 3 weeks from now
• You can extend the dead-line if you apply for an extension
• You cannot extend the time to pay the tax that you owe; this means you must estimate the amount owed to ensure you have paid in the correct amount, on time, to avoid interest and a possible penalty
• A penalty may be imposed if:

1. If the amount owed is at least $1,000 and it is more than 10% of the tax shown on your tax return
2. You did not pay enough estimated tax by any of the due dates. This is true even if you are owed a refund
3. There are exceptions; it is safer not to count on them or you can read about them in the Instructions for 1040


Filing Options:

• Do it yourselfers, with Adjusted Gross Income less than $58,000 can, generally, use the IRS Free File Program
• Hire A Professional – Someone that is educated, experienced, licensed (or in California, this includes being registered with CTEC –California Tax Education Council)

Food for thought:
• Typically, the Income Tax is the single biggest bill in an U.S. household. Understanding, planning, and using tax breaks, by year, can reduce your lifetime tax burden
• If you like to file your own taxes, sometimes it provides comfort to have a professional review your taxes to ensure accuracy or to use your tax return as a “road map” to see if there are options to lessen your tax bill – now or in the future
• From an IRS audit perspective, history has shown that Self-Employed people underestimate their income and overstate their deductions. Watch for these IRS audit redflags: http://www.Kiplinger.com/links/auditredflags

Things to think about for Same-Sex Married Couples:
• Same-Sex Married (SSM) couples can file their federal taxes together this year for the 1st time
• If it would benefit you, you can chose to amend any/all previous returns
• Dead-lines to amend previous returns are:
1. 4/15/14 to amend 2010
2. 4/15/15 to amend 2011
3. 4/15/16 to amend 2012

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest – Benjamin Franklin.
http://www.debfoxfinancial.com