Tips for Tax- Efficient Financial Planning

For Tax-Efficient Financial Planning, it is important to consider your:

  • “Income” sources
  • How each source is taxed
  • Your Tax Bracket

Income Sources:

Visualize a pie and then divide your sources of income in to 3 general categories: Taxable, Tax Deferred, and Tax Free.

How does it look?

  • All taxable? This is an excellent opportunity to reduce your tax bill and keep more of your money. Your recent filed tax return can be a good road map to provide clues for tax savings opportunities
  • Taxable and Tax-Deferred? Good for you; you have some balance
  • All 3? Even better. This provides flexibility on how you draw down your assets later, which could save tax dollars and money

Tax Rates:

Taxable “Income”:

  • Ordinary Income is income earned from providing services or the sales of goods
  • Capital gains are usually associated with the sale or exchange of property characterized as capital assets
  • Short Term Capital Gains are taxed at your Ordinary Income tax rate (10 % to 39.6%)
  • Long Term Capital-Gains tax rates vary by your income tax bracket and the type asset sold
  • Generally, if you’re in the 10% or 15% tax bracket, you’ll pay 0% on those gains. Most other taxpayers pay 15%; however, the rate can also be 20, 25, or 28% for certain asset classes and/or income levels.

Tax Deferred Investment Income includes:

Withdrawals from traditional IRAs and your 401K, which are, taxed as ordinary income (10% to 39.6%)

Tax Free Investment Income: Roth IRA

  • Tax Free Income as long as the account has been open for at least 5 years
  • Provides flexibility in the timing of future income – you decide
  • Required Minimum Distributions do not apply to Roth accounts as are required by Traditional IRA plans
  • Roth IRA distributions are not considered as income when determining how your Social Security payments are taxed
  • Qualified Roth distributions are not included in either net investment income or in the modified adjusted gross income calculation for assessing the 3.8% net investment income tax

Tax-Brackets:

To determine your tax-bracket, you, generally, need to know your annual taxable income and your tax status as of the end of the year.

As you have already seen or already knew, Ordinary Income is taxed at the highest rate.

Managing your tax-brackets means:

  • Try to keep your Ordinary Income in the lower tax brackets
  • “Fill up” each bracket, where possible
  • Be aware of tax consequences before making decisions that push you into the next highest rate bracket; i.e. can you defer a bonus or sale to new year if it means you will be taxed 10% less?
  • If you itemize, group deductions where possible; i.e. elective medical or dental procedures; charitable contributions to reduce your taxable income

Takeaways for Tax-Efficient Decisions:

  • Know your tax bracket
  • Estimate your current annual taxable income
  • Use the 2015 IRS Tax Bracket Schedules to determine “how much room you have to move, before moving to the next highest tax bracket
  • You could use this “room to move” as the potential amount to convert the specific amount of money from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA
  • A conversion to a Roth IRA results in taxation of any untaxed amounts in the traditional IRA. The conversion is reported on Form 8606, Nondeductible IRAs. See  Publication 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), for more information.
  • Determine the tax consequence before you convert and ensure you have the cash to pay the tax for converting

The IRS is spelled just like that: “Theirs”. However, tax laws were put in to place to help save you money. The IRS is not going to tell you that you could have paid less when you submit your tax return. It is your job and I am here to help, which is why I share information – so you can.

Deborah Ann Fox, CPA studies tax laws so you don’t have to. She enjoys making a difference in peoples lives, hearts, and wallets as she helps them on the road to financial freedom.

Deb provides free 30-minute consultations. More information is available at www.debfoxfinancial.com.

Thanks for reading!

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.

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.

 

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

 

12 Financial Wellness Lifestyle Tips

12 Financial Wellness Lifestyle Tips

January is Financial Wellness month. It is a new year and many of us have resolved to be better this year – physically or financially. We all know from experience, that change does not happen all at once. It takes time. It takes dedication. It takes work. And the results can be so worth it.  With this in mind, I offer you some of my favorite financial wellness lifestyle tips:

  • Freedom of choice, financially, is wonderful & liberating. Plan for it
  • Buy Carefully: The value of most “assets” depreciates as soon as you buy them. Spend as little as possible on these items
  • Invest: Put your money in assets that can appreciate. Diversify
  • Value people first. Looks fade. Money can go away. Heart remains. Choose heart
  • Life is more about relationships and experiences. Build & grow your relationships. Live life fully. Volunteer. Be Uncomfortable. Give
  • “Pay “your self first” and then live well within your means. This will not always work, but do it as much as possible
  • Live debt free – this provides you freedom. Don’t get stuck living in a “paycheck to paycheck” world or in a job you might not like, simply because you have to pay the bills
  • Stay out of debt (other than a mortgage and if necessary for a car and student loans)
  • Plan financially – know your tax bracket and try to defer some of your income by investing in a 401K, IRA, etc. Build for tomorrow. Get the maximum company match. Don’t leave money on the table
  • Learn to “stretch your dollars”. Be creative. Living simple can be as much fun as living expensive. Find bargains. Use restaurant.com, Living Social. Trade services. Be a part of the “Sharing Economy”. Have fun. Value Simplicity
  • Be grateful for what you have. Share with those that have less. Celebrate your “XX” birthday with friends by packing an equal amount of “XX” lunches & deliver them to the homeless as a group – on the streets, downtown, near the bridges. Take toiletries, extra jackets, or new socks as additional gifts. Think about giving and not getting. You’ll receive more than you give
  • Learn to delay short-term wants to meet long -term goals. Less instant gratification today pays big dividends. In addition to financial rewards, we dream, wish, and work to get what we want. We prioritize by importance. Do I want this today or do I need/want something different for tomorrow? We build self- esteem. We become more who we were created to be.  We grow. We become a good role model for our kids & our community.

Life is meant to be good. Not easy but good.  Remember:

Good Better Best
Never Let it Rest
Until Your Good Gets Better and
Your Better Gets Best
– author unknown

To Plan – It Helps to Understand – Financially

piggy

“Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar you do not need to earn” – Deb Fox

One of my goals is to make the seemingly complex, simple.  With that in mind, I offer you an IRS Federal Tax primer.

To plan, financially, it helps to understand that not all numbers are created equal. Some numbers provide more benefit than others.

My hope is that this primer will serve as a good tool to refer back to when I write about other tax topics.

The Visual:

Income
– Above the Line Deductions
= Adjusted Gross Income
– Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions
Exemptions
= Taxable Income
– Tax Credits
Tax Paid
= Tax Owed or Refunded

The Narrative:

Income includes all income except income that is exempt by law

Deductions reduce your tax liability by reducing the amount of income that is taxable

Income minus Above the Line deductions equals Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

  • Above the Line deductions include, in part, monies paid for:
  1. Health Savings Account
  2. IRA Deduction
  3. Qualified Student Loan Interest
  4. Self-employed health insurance or qualified pension plans

Adjusted Gross Income minus either the Standard Deduction or Itemized Deductions

  • Use the highest number
  • The 2012 Federal Standard Deduction for Single of Married Filing Separate was $5950; $11,900 for Married Filing Joint or Qualified Widower; $8,700 for Head of Household

Then subtract $3,800 for each 2012 qualified Exemption = Taxable Income

  • Exemptions include you, your spouse, & qualified dependents

Taxable Income minus Allowable Credits

  • Credits are either Refundable or Non-Refundable
  • Refundable means you can reduce your tax liability below zero – IRS pays you
  • Non-Refundable means you can reduce your tax liability to zero

Refundable Credits Include:

  • Earned Income credit
  • Child Tax credit
  • The American Opportunity Tax credit

Non-Refundable Credits include:

  • Adoption credit
  • Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit)
  • Lifetime Learning credit

Takeaways:

  • Above the Line deductions are more valuable than Below the Line deductions because they are available to all taxpayers and are not subject to income limitation phase-outs
  • Deductions reduce the amount of income subject to tax
  • Tax credits reduce the amount of tax you pay
  • Tax planning can help you reduce your tax liability and keep more of your money
  • Remember, a dollar saved is a dollar you do not need to earn.

Keep marching toward Financial Freedom. Happy Planning!