Why People Spend Consistently More Than They Earn

Why do so many people spend consistently more than they earn? They fall deep in debt, their quality of life plummets, they retain their cherished buys, but do not enjoy them fully. Sadly, they believe seductive lies merchants put forth while peddling goods.

For over twenty years, I have been working with mainly churched individuals, couples, and families on personal financial matters. Many were in deep debt, concomitant stress, and joyless for long periods. Some emerged debt free in different time periods, while others stayed trapped in the debt cycle. During this time, I noted specific attitudes and behaviours that led some people out of debt, and attributes that appear to keep some folks trapped.

Ten Reasons people spend consistently more than they earn

Particularly, I noted ten reasons many folks seem to spend consistently more than they earned, and so, they remained stuck in a debt cycle. However, one significant observation surprised me. Folks who chose to stick to only some of the items on the list, never had sustained success as others who followed all of them. So, it was not good enough to set a goal, do a budget, and plan for emergencies alone. Instead, folks needed to be alert to all items to crawl out of debt and stay out.

  1. Ignore consequences of decisions
  2. No process to decide to spend
  3. No budget
  4. Easy credit
  5. Herd mentality
  6. No accountability
  7. Anticipate funds
  8. Emotional satisfaction
  9. Instant gratification
  10. Ignorance

1. Ignore consequences of decisions

Folks spent, PERIOD! They were not concerned with the effects of spending. Indeed, they didn’t think about how this spending might reduce their ability to do something else later. They considered nothing but spending to get the current item. But when they realized how much debt they incurred, they started the blame and victim games. Folks, let’s never forget this Benjamin Franklin quote: “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”

2. No process to decide spend

People who remained in debt did not think it was necessary to follow a spending decision procedure before spending. They saw this as time consuming and unnecessary. Still, without a process to help you look at alternatives, including the alternative of not spending, you will let situations lead you. And you will end up with debt for a long time–a debt sentence.

3. No budget

Most folks I see do not want to budget. Moreover, they do not want to learn about a budget because they believe it is a strait jacket. But a budget is nothing more than a guide to help you get to your goals in a stress free manner. We don’t know the future so it will likely be wrong. But we need to go through the process. The late Dwight D. Eisenhower puts it this way: In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

To be sure, the budget is not a constraint. You prepare it. You implement it. The budget helps you consider opportunities and challenges in a future period so you might prepare to deal with them now. Often folks tell people to budget and all will be well. However, that’s just part of the journey. We need to review and update budgets and plans regularly as events change. And they do change.

In the budget, we can plan and save for emergencies that will arise. We don’t know when, but we know they will arise, so we should plan for them. According to Warren Buffet, “Do not save what is left after spending. Spend what is left after saving.” A budget is the best tool to help you do this.

4. Easy credit

It’s easy to get credit. And it can be cheap. Besides, it’s invisible money, so people spend confident they can make a small minimum payment for years. Indeed, I have seen folks with over seven credit cards, juggling monthly payments over long periods. I am not against having one credit card provided we convert it to a check. Sadly, many people focus on fixing credit scores and not fixing their attitudes and behaviour. These folks spend consistently on credit and end up with invisible electronic ankle bracelets reflected by intense emotional stress.

5. Herd mentality

Keeping up with the Joneses’ has never been easier. People follow their friends, family, neighbours. However, they forget two critical matters. First, their neighbours et al, might be deep in debt with no outward sign. Second, the neighbour might be at a different life stage where she can afford to buy that new car for cash.

Here is my paraphrase of a relevant quote from the late Adrian Rogers: Just as you upgrade to catch up with your neighbour, he upgrades again.

6. No accountability

Folks spend and spend and spend and do not account to anyone. In families this can be a huge issue. Husband or wife spends while the other is distracted, then voilà!, reality hits and the other party realizes the couple is broke and doomed for a long debt sentence. We should always remember we are spending God’s money and we will have to account for our stewardship. Romans 14:12 (ESV) reminds us, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” We need an accountability partner to help us stay on course to do His will.

7. Anticipated funds

Your boss promises you a raise and a bonus. Immediately you leave her office you spend it on goods you yearned for. Before the raise and bonus materializes, the company is in trouble and you are laid off. Ouch! You can’t return the items; now, they are yours. That’s why it’s crucial you never spend funds before you get them. Apostle James reminds us that God alone knows the future in James 4:13-15 (ESV):

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”- 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.

8. Emotional satisfaction

Some folks spend to boost their image. They feel good after buying that new dress or new car (yes, a car, I have seen that a few times). They had a rough morning, or tough week and go strolling in the mall, and without thinking, they buy stuff on credit. Reality hits much later.

9. Instant gratification

We want that item now. Not tomorrow, not next week, now! That’s the society we live in. We hear it always. Why wait? The merchant says if you wait the price will go up. To be sure, there is always a sale, so you shouldn’t react to that hook. Often, waiting means you get something better and more effective for your purposes. Mull over Walter Mischel et al’s marshmallow experiment in the 1960s and 1970s. It showed that delayed gratification pays significant life benefits.

10. Ignorance

Ignorance comes in many forms, but the main area I see is people spending to save. So many folks believe they are great handling money because they get many deals. They are proud to tell you how they saved 50%, 70% on major buys. Sadly, they don’t realize that buying in these sales mean they spent; they saved nothing. Another area I see is people not reading the fine print. These folks get trapped with cell phone contracts, TV arrangements, and other contracts where understanding aspects of the fine print is crucial. The third ignorance area is people buying extended warranties whenever it’s offered. Research shows consistently that for most items, buying an extended warranty is wasteful.

Summary

I believe sincerely, if folks reflected on these ten items, and examined their situations, they might not spend consistently more than they earn. Indeed, they might decide that minor attitude adjustments will help them spend consistently less than today. And they might be able to get off the debt cycle, sooner rather than later. Let’s meditate on this profound Elise Boulding’s quote:

Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.

Ways to Create a Budget for Your Household

Stability in employment, maintaining good credit, and following a household budget is the key to creating long-term financial security. Good credit scores and wise spending habits will help you save more of your money through lower interest rates and less debt. The following steps will help you maximize your credit scores and create a household budget that will eliminate waste and create savings.

• Step One – Request a free copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com. This report includes information from the 3 main credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). You are legally entitled to one free credit report annually.

• Step Two – After you receive your free credit report, thoroughly review the entire credit report for any errors or discrepancies. If you find any errors, such as: late payments, collections, inaccurate balances, or any other inaccuracy you can dispute the errors with the credit bureaus. Typically, the credit agencies reporting the disputed information will investigate the account in question and require the creditor that reported the information to provide proof of the account in question. If the creditor cannot provide evidence that you owe the debt, it would be corrected on your report.

• Step Three – Before you create your budget, you should collect your bank statements, credit card statements, receipts, and any other documentation that shows your expenses.

• Step Four – To determine your monthly income, you should collect your most recent pay stub. For budget purposes use your income that you take home on your pay stub (after taxes). If you are an hourly employee and work full-time or if you are a salaried employee calculating your income will be simple. For individuals that are self-employed or receive tip, bonus, or commissioned income you will need to average your income over the last 12 or 24 months to create your budget.

• Step Five – Always put your budget in written or printed form. You can use a software program to create a spreadsheet or write out your budget on paper. First write down your monthly income and then break down your current expenses. This will allow you to see where you spend your money and how you may be able to cut expenses and save. Further break down your expenses under fixed and discretionary. Fixed expenses are permanent, whereas discretionary expenses would include: entertainment, groceries, clothing, vacation savings, etc.

• Step Six – Review your budget and look for ways to cut your spending. Hopefully, you find areas to save money each month by eliminating unnecessary spending. Try and pay off any credit cards that you carry balances on, before putting any money into your savings.

After you have reviewed your credit report and created a budget, it is a good idea to review your budget each month and make any changes. Also, if your income or bills change, make sure you adjust your budget accordingly and always consider saving before adding new debts. Remember you are entitled to one free credit report annually, so be sure to review your credit annually to check for any inaccuracy or for possible identity theft.

How To Plan Financial Steps When You are Still Young and Single

My parents taught me to earn and save money from an early age. I had a checkbook before I was 10, I was in stock market club in 5th grade and had a job as soon as was legally possible. I always balanced my checkbook, had a credit card before 18, paid it off monthly and even learned to file my own taxes. You could say I was quite financially responsible for any age. I took a risk moving across the country when I was 22 and lost my savings trying to “make it”. So when I became pregnant, I was practically starting completely over. Thankfully I already had the skills and resourcefulness to make it work. Now, with my little 3 person family, I am taking seriously all the things I could have done earlier to ensure our financial stability. Benefit from my mistake, and see if you can implement any of these now before you wish you had.

Budget Your Money

To budget your money, you first have to know what you are currently making and spending your money on. First include your bills, most important first, all the way down to expenses that vary month to month like utilities, gas, food, etc and finally fill in a month’s worth of categories such as gifts, donations, dining/entertainment, and personal care to learn what you are spending in these unrecorded categories. After you’ve made a budget of one month’s expenses, you can evaluate where you are spending unnecessarily. Perhaps there was a category out of control prior to this experiment, or your car insurance, cell phone or cable bill can be negotiated. Now you know what you need to make per month to live and where you’d like to cut your spending.

Satisfy Your Need To Succeed or Spend

Everyone should have an experience they made a financial goal and smashed it. I think it’s pertinent to future financial success. It sucks if you have children before you’re able to make and meet a goal and are now living paycheck to paycheck or have little room in your budget to save or invest. Consider making a goal before you have children so you can benefit from the experience of seeing your vision through. This can also be fun for someone who has cut a lot of the budget fat and left little room for shopping, something they may have really loved before. You can start by having a goal of a 500.00-1,000.00 emergency fund (adjust as necessary) and then saving for something you really want, a trip to visit your aunt in California, a 52-inch flat screen.

Plan Your Meals

The third highest expense in most family’s budgets are groceries, so I’m meal planning a lot now. Learning to cook and eat healthy is an important part of a single person or family’s life, saving money on that food is dire to a family’s monthly budget. You can electronically view the grocery’s stores ads online or like ours, in their app. I begin making my grocery list based on what’s on sale. If coupons are available to you, I include those in my list and try to make meals of what’s already on sale. It takes time to nail down the rhythm, but my family has shaved off at least 200.00/month doing only these things.

Make A Pantry

I would never have considered doing this as a single person, but it’s brilliant. The space you dedicate as the pantry does not have to be very large. This is where you will put canned/boxed foods and personal care items that you find greatly discounted or just to have extra on hand. Good food items to keep there are boxes of cereal, Jell-O and pudding, cake/muffin mix, Jiffy cornbread mix, peanut butter, beans and tomatoes for chili and tomato soup. I also like to keep things like extra deodorant, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, and toothpaste.

Switch To The Dollar Store

Not everything should be purchased at the dollar store, but many items can without you batting an eye about its quality. Getting used to shopping at the dollar store as regularly as the grocery store will keep you in enough of a frugal mindset to keep your financial goals at the center of your spending. There are so many items that can be bought there alternatively that I will save my favorites for another article. Just find the dollar store nearest your house and roam the aisles, noting things you’d consider purchasing instead of where you currently are for much higher cost.

Save or Invest

I owned my own business from age 22 to 24 and I didn’t want to miss out on the benefits of 401Ks being offered to employees of companies, so I went to my credit union to learn about IRAs, a retirement account for people who work for themselves. There my adviser congratulated me for seeing him so young because I “only have time on my side!”. He was exactly right. With any investment, it’s best to have the most time on your side. 401Ks are only offered to employees, so that was not an option for me. My IRA did not make any money in the 4 years I kept it, but things could change. It was still as if I had saved it! If you have the option to start a 401K with your employer, do it! Your employer often matches your contributions, which you would not be able to take advantage of working for yourself. If neither of these options are available to you, due to your employment position or lack of funds, just begin a savings account, be realistic about what you can contribute monthly and commit to it.

In one year I turned my financial situation around with my resourcefulness and inability to give up with a child on the way. When I got pregnant I was 3,000 in credit card debt and had no money. By his birth, I had prepared for him completely, paid off the credit card debt, saved for 2 months maternity leave and had a couple thousand dollars cushion in my bank account. 10 months later I’m a stay at home mom with an at home business and I’m contributing to our savings regularly, including my son’s separate account. I don’t think we’ll ever fall on hard times like that again, but in case we do, I’ll have all systems in place!

How To Learn Your Credit Score

Good news! Understanding your credit score is fairly easy and you can use this knowledge to help repair your score and keep it healthy.

35 percent of your score is tied to your payment history. If you haven’t had consistent payment history up until now, don’t panic. Part of the repair process starts with reaching out to creditors and bureaus to get inaccurate, misleading, and outdated information off your report forever.

If your payments are not current, get current and stay current. Creditors will often work with you to create a payment plan so you can get up to date on payments. Making payments on time should be your number one priority. It’s the easiest way to influence your credit score.

30 percent of your score is your credit utilization. Your credit utilization rate is extremely important, and you want it to be under 30 percent. What does that mean? Here’s an example.

You have three credit cards. Each card has as a $1,000 limit. Factoring in no other open credit accounts you have $3,000 in credit available to you. $900 is 30 percent of your $3,000 available credit. At any given time you should not charge more than $900 in total to the three accounts combined.

Add up your credit accounts, then add how much you owe on those accounts. If it’s over 30 percent pay down the balances as soon as you can. You will see an improvement in your credit score.

Bonus tip: Don’t let your credit card balance carry over from month to month. If you can’t afford to pay off a balance within a month, don’t spend the money unless it’s an absolute emergency. This will keep your credit utilization under 30 percent and immediately help your credit score.

15 percent of your score is the length of your credit history. How long have you been borrowing? If your credit history is well established you’re considered less of a risk than someone who just started borrowing. You’re more trustworthy if you’ve successfully shown you’re able to pay back money you’ve borrowed

10 percent of your score is factored by new accounts and credit requests. A newer credit account is considered more of a risk than an older credit account because you haven’t established payment history. The same applies for a new credit request. If you’re requesting more credit, you need to borrow more cash over your monthly income – this tells creditors you’re spending more than you’re making.

10 percent of your score is your credit mix. Having a good mix of credit is a good way to build good credit. An auto loan, a mortgage and a credit card is a good credit mix.

Steps to Maximize Your Credit Card

Your credit card is an important tool when it comes to your finances. This is precisely the reason why you should try your best to make the most of its perks. You may not realize it, but there are a number of things that you can do to maximize your card’s use.

This article presents a couple of cool tips every cardholder needs to remember.

Make best use of your Billing Cycle

The way you pay your monthly bills is crucial to maximizing your card. For instance, if you settle your dues punctually and in full, then you will be able to avoid being charged with interest. This is probably the best way to use your card. This is because you are technically getting a free loan from your card provider.

Of course, there are still a couple of tricks you can do to step things up. Consider this: if you make a charge a day before your statement is closed, then that you will have around 20-25 days to settle that charge. However, making that same charge a day after the statement is closed will give you a total of at least 55 days to pay that charge. This is because that charge will be transferred to the next billing cycle.

Another important trick you need to remember is that some card providers actually allow their users to move back their due dates, thus extending their payment cycles. This can certainly help if you find yourself in a financial jam. However, you need to keep in mind that you won’t be able to this repeatedly.

Always ask to be reconsidered

If your initial credit card application was rejected, you should never hesitate to ask for reconsideration. There is always the possibility that your credit worthiness was not assessed correctly. Keep in mind that the process itself is not perfect, so mistakes are bound to happen.

Just give your card provider a quick call. Explain to them why you deserve to be approved for that particular card. If you are convincing enough, the person on the other end of the line might just give you that card you want.

Threaten a Chargeback

Asking for your money back from a merchant is often a futile effort. Fortunately, credit card users have a slight edge over people who pay with cash. As a credit cardholder, you are entitled to a chargeback option.

The chargeback option is an important trick all card owners need to remember. All you have to do is call the merchant, and ask to speak to a supervisor. Inform them that you want your money back. However, if your initial attempts at a refund are rejected, then tell them that you intend to ask for a chargeback from your card provider.

It is virtually guaranteed that the supervisor will change their mind once you threaten them with this. This is because a chargeback means increased merchant fees. They would rather give you back your money than be charged any additional fees.

Make the Most out your Reward Cards

As you may have already noticed, many reward cards rely on gimmicks to make you spend more. Do not fall for this trap. Overspending is the among worst things you can do with your credit card. Instead, you should try using these cards creatively. Earn reward points the smart way.

For instance, if you want to qualify for a sign up bonus, then try using your credit card to purchase gift cards. Just make sure that you will be using these in the future. That beings said, buy them from retailers that you visit often.

How To Prepare Your Credit Scores In Your 20s

Age brings with it wisdom especially when it comes to taking financial decisions. A 40-year-old may be aware about more of credit repair facts and myths as compared to a 20-year-old. However, there may be instances when people may be stuck with similar credit issues irrespective of their age.

To begin with, the key to improve your credit score is – a dynamic focus. You need to seek help from a proficient credit repair specialist and then prioritize certain things as you age in order to do away with the issues that come in your credit domain.

Things to Consider in Your 20s to Improve Your Credit Score:

In your 20s, there are specific things that calls for your attention, when it is about enriching your credit health.

Attend to the five Factors:

The first step to improve your credit score is to have a clear understanding of the rules. The actual status of your credit score is determined by five factors – debt utilization, payment history, new credit, credit length, and diversification. If you were unaware of the essential factors that have an impact on your credit score, you need to work on the strategies that will help you to take care of the five factors.

Repay your student loans:

As stated by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), about 69 percent of the students left college with loans in 2013. The bottom line (which was $28,400) was actually a big burden for the salary of a fresher. You have a choice to stretch the loan for whatever time span you want to (years or even decades), but you also need to keep in mind the downside of the decision.

Adding on the interest will not only increase the principal amount and will also increase the life of the loan. This will increase the overall cost of the loan that you have taken. Paying off your loans at the earliest will lead to a lower credit utilization ratio, better and more opportunity to improve your credit, less stress on your budget, and last but not the least even more opportunities to save.

The final tip:

Credit score plays a vital role in every phase of your life whether you are in your early 20’s or 50’s and beyond. Analyze your credit score regularly to ensure that you maintain a positive credit and avoid any problems related to your financial plans.

Tips to Get Approval for a Home Mortgage Loan

If you are planning to apply for a home loan, check out the following helpful tips to get your application approved.

Know Your Credit Score

Credit activity and credit scores will greatly affect your mortgage approval. Lenders usually require minimum amount of credit score that should be maintained so that your conventional mortgage loan request will not be denied.

Also, having derogatory credit information might hinder mortgage approval. To avoid unwanted denial of your requested loan, you should lower your debts, pay bills on time, and fix errors on credit reports.

Save Your Cash

Mortgage lenders require down payments which depend on the kind of loan. If you have the means, pay a higher down payment. This will lower your balance and alleviates your private mortgage insurance.

Down payment is not the only fee you should be worrying about. Acquiring a mortgage also involves home inspections, title searches, closing costs, application fees, credit report fees and other fees. Save up cash for these payable fees.

Stay at Your Job

Changes on your employment and/or income status will have a major effect on the mortgage process. The information you provided in your application will be the basis of your home loan approval. Giving up a job to be self-employed or getting a lower paying job will make a wrench in the plans, leading to a reevaluation of your finances to check if you’re still qualified for the loan.

Pay Debt & Avoid New Debt

Qualifying for a loan doesn’t require that your credit card be zero balance. But, it’s better that you owe less to your creditors. Your debts determine whether you will get a mortgage or not. Also, it will determine how much you will acquire from the lender. When you have many credit card debts which makes your debt ratio high, the lender might refuse your loan request or provide a lower mortgage.

However, even though you get approval for a mortgage with debt, it is advised that new debt should be avoided while under the mortgage process. Before the mortgage closing, lenders recheck credit and when they found out that there are new debts they can stop the closing.

Have Pre-Approval for a Mortgage

Having your home loan pre-approved will help you determine what you can afford before bidding on properties and what interest rate should you be paying on the loan.

Determine What You Can Afford

Choose a home that will fit your budget. Though some lenders pre-approved applicants for more than what they can afford, be smart, live within your means and purchase a home that you can afford.

How to Increase Self Employment Profits

Small Business Means Freedom to Produce

The US has one of the greatest (or the greatest) economic systems of the world and quite possibly historically… on this side of eternity anyways. Don’t get to carried away, though; nothing is perfect and that goes for the US economy as well. In spite of its many challenges, one of its shining gems is the ability for any US citizen to add value to others by producing goods and / or services for mutual benefit. Profit and livelihood for the producer and solutions to problems and improvement of life for the consumer. Most of us are trained to go to work for others in the form of employees instead of being exposed and trained in the other ways in which income is produced. One of the best ways to learn and train yourself in the various ways of income generation is through a basic understanding of the US tax system as administered by the Internal Revenue Service (visit US Treasury website). The following incomes types are discussed at length by the IRS:

  • Earned Income
  • Passive Income
  • Investment Income
  • Rental Income

How to Maximize Self-Employment Profits

Self-employment accounts for a large portion of the income generated in the US. When someone thinks of self-employment, they usually picture someone that’s a home based business owner or possibly someone that’s a freelancer. In addition to these categories of self-employment, some others include contract workers with mid-sized and large corporations and even partnerships (general and limited) and limited liability corporations. Self-employment income is derived from a person’s production and delivery of services and / or products to other businesses and individuals for profit. The beauty of self-employment income is that there’s no limit to how much a person can make. The only drawbacks are the finite amount of time someone has to complete and deliver the product and / or service and the amount of taxes payable due to the amount of profit earned. The following tactic is a simple yet effective way to increase self-employment profits:

Double Your Rates and / or Prices!!!

Scenario One: Let’s say that you’re a business consultant and you have an opportunity to engage a prospective client for a 3 month contract payable by the hour. You’re hourly rate is $50 per hour with a projected total hours per week of 20 hours or not to exceed 80 hours per month. Based on these variables, the total weekly payment is $1,000 and total monthly payment is $4,000. To keep things simple, you’re single and plan on earning $95,000 in annual self-employment income. According to the 2016 tax bracket you are projected to owe $19,637 in taxes. Roughly, you owe $5,000 in taxes on a quarterly basis. Based on our potential 3 month contract, you stand to earn $12,000 of which $5,000 is due and payable for taxes. How can you change this to profit more and cover more of your taxes? Simple… CHARGE MORE! Based on the perceived value of your product and / or service, double your rates and / or prices.

Scenario Two: Now, you charge $100 per hour with all other variables constant except that you now project to earn $115,000 in annual self- employment income. You are projected to pay $25,237 for the year in taxes or $6,309 per quarter. Instead of just earning $4,000 per month or $12,000 per quarter under Scenario One, you now earn $2,000 per week, $8,000 per month, and $24,000 per quarter!!!!

You Decide: Net of taxes payable, would you much rather earn $7,000 or $17,691 per quarter just by DOUBLING YOUR RATES AND / OR PRICES!!! The choice is yours and it’s called Entrepreneurship.

How To Prepare Income Tax This Year

Over the course of the year, I’m sure you’ve noticed the ridiculous way our Congress has acted to update our tax laws. By including tax code provisions in a highway bill, a mass transit bill, and a trade package bill- plus within the Bipartisan Budget Act and the PATH (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes) Acts. (Those last two were, indeed, logical places to regulate taxes.)

There is a chance that the lame duck Congressional session may act on some tax regulations, but given that these folks work about 1 day a week- and then complain how many lazy folks are out across the US not entering the workforce (that is the pot calling the kettle black)- I am not sanguine they will. So, unless they do- this will be the last year that mortgage insurance will be deductible and foreclosed home debt will not be a taxable situation, among a few other items that expire this calendar year.

But, I figured it would be helpful if I combined all these changes into a coherent mass (which our legislators clearly have not), so you can be prepared for the 2016 tax season. (Remember, you file your taxes for 2016 by April 2017. Oh- and if you are a business, the odds are the date your taxes are due, also changed. More on that below.)

Students and Teachers (PATH Act provisions)

Students got a permanent change for deductibility of tuition via the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This provides up to $ 2500 of tax credit for lower-income filers for the first four years of higher education (with a possibility of 40% of the unused credit being received as a refund- if no other taxes are owed). As long as the students are enrolled at least half time for one term of the year and not convicted of drug violations. The real change is that filers must include the EIN of the college or university involved- and demonstrate that they paid the tuition and fees they claim- not what the institutions may list on the 1098-T form.

On the other hand, the tuition deduction for other students will expire at the end of this year. Oh, and that generous (sic) deduction teachers get for buying supplies for their students that schools don’t supply is now permanent- all $ 250 of it. (Most teachers spend at least twice that!)

Pensions and IRA

Folks older than 70.5 years of age no longer have to rush to transfer their IRA (or portions thereof) to charity, because that provision is permanent. (PATH) Please note that the IRS demands that these transfers not be rollovers. One must employ a trustee to transfer the funds; and that trustee cannot hand you the funds to deliver to the charity. If they do, you lose the exemption. No surprises I am sure when I remind you that there must be a contemporaneous acknowledgement (that means a timely receipt) from the charity for that deductible donation or transfer.

Heirs and Estates

While still in the wrong venue, the Highway Bill did fix a big problem. Folks (or entities) that inherit assets from an estate are now required to use the basis filed in the 706 form for their own calculations. (Just so you know, the rules stipulate that estates can value items as per the date of death, or by alternate choice 9 months after that date. Too many “cheaters” would use a different basis for the property they inherited, thereby cheating the tax authorities with alternative valuations.)

To keep this rule in place, executors are now required to stipulate (i.e., file for 8971 and Schedule A of the 706) said value to all heirs and to the IRS. Which means anyone who inherits property- and thought they didn’t need to file Form 706 because the value of the estate was below the threshold for Estate Tax better reconsider. Otherwise, the heirs may be hit with a penalty for using the wrong basis for that inherited asset when they dispose of same.

Why? Because if a 706 form is never filed, the basis of all assets inherited is now defined as ZERO!!!!! It gets worse. Because if an asset were omitted from Form 706, the basis of that property is now determined to also be ZERO. (Unless the statute of limitations is still opened, when an Amended 706 can be filed to correct this omission.)

Another kicker. If the 706 form is filed LATE, the basis of all assets that should have been included are also set at ZERO. Some tax advisors feel this one little provision could be challenged in court. But, let’s just be prudent and file all those 706 Estate Tax returns in a timely fashion. (Filing a 706 when the estate value is below the filing threshold is called a Protective 706 Filing; we’ve been doing those for years. And, we strenuously examine the assets often to the consternation of the heirs- to ensure that all the non-worthless assets are included. You know, that 36 diamond tennis bracelet your grandma promised you would inherit when you turned 16.)

Oh, yeah. Another really big kicker for this little item. Under IRC 6501, the IRS has three years to catch cheaters who misstate certain items (like income taxes [except for continuing fraud], employment taxes, excise taxes, and for this provision- estate taxes and the results therefrom). No more. If an asset from an estate is misstated so that it can affect more than 25% of the gross income on a tax return will now have a SIX year statute of limitation.

Mileage Rates

Not surprisingly, the mileage rates for 2016 are lower than they were last year. Business mileage is now deducted as 54 cents a mile; driving for reasons that are medical or moving are only worth 19 cents each. When we drive to help a charity, we only get 14 cents a mile.

As is normally true, we have no clue what those rates will be for 2017. The IRS normally prepares those well into the calendar year.

Real Estate

The PATH ACT made permanent the ability of taxpayers to contribute real property to qualified conservation charities.

Health and Health Insurance

The Highway Bill (yup) came up with a bouquet of flowers for our veterans and folks currently serving in the military. No longer will they be unable to contribute or use HSA (Health Savings Accounts) should they receive VA or armed service benefits.

Along that same vein, the Highway Bill enabled all those who purchase- or are provided by their employers- high deductible insurances (about $ 1500 for a single person) to use HSAs, too.

Oh, and assuming Obamacare is not overturned, there is a permanent exemption from penalties for those receiving VA or TriCare Health Benefits. (For employers, the Highway Bill also exempts all such employees from being included in determining the 50 employee (full-time or equivalent) threshold provisions.)

Employers

There were more than a few changes for employers. More than the exemption for the VA and armed service personnel from inclusion in Obamacare provisions mentioned above.

Like ALL 1099s and W-2 are now due by 31 January. That’s a big change for many folks who barely get their stuff together to file 1099’s. It means that companies need to contact their tax professionals really early- to let them verify that all relevant contractors and consultants receive those 1099s on time. Because the penalties have also increased.

The Work Opportunity Credit has been extended through 2019. This applies to Veterans (which is why you keep hearing Comcast advertising its commitment to hire some 10,000 veterans over the next few years- they’re no dummies). Other targeted groups include what are termed those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), SNAP (what used to be termed Food Stamp) recipients, ex-felons, and some of those living in “empowerment zones”.

Families and Individuals

The PATH ACt made the enhanced child tax credit (up to $ 1000, income dependent) a permanent provision of the code. As well as the Earned Income Tax Credit provisions that were to expire.

Social Security taxes are not going up per se- but the income basis upon which one pays them is. For the last two years, there was a tax holiday for all wage income (or self-employed income) that exceeded $ 118,500. Next year (2017), the taxes will be collected for totals of up to $ 127,200.

If an employee is working overseas and has income and/or a housing allowance, the exclusion provisions have also changed. For 2016, foreign income of $ 101,300 could be excluded from taxation, as could housing benefits that were $ 16,208 or less. Starting 2017, those exclusions become $ 102,100 and $ 16,336, respectively.

There also is further clarification of these foreign exclusions. In particular, these will affect those in the merchant marine or working aboard cruise lines. Because the IRS now holds that when one is in a foreign port, then one is able to claim foreign income. But… when someone operates in international waters, that is NOT a foreign country. That income must be computed (by the number of days one is on said waters) and is not excludable!

Individuals, Businesses, Trusts, Non-Profits that have Foreign Accounts

Some big changes affect those who must file those FBARs (Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts). It used to be you had to report any holdings in a bank, stock account, commodities or future accounts, mutual funds, or [pay attention to this one] poker, gambling or gaming site account that was not a US domicile by 30 June. (This also means a foreign insurance policy that has a cash value or foreign retirement accounts [including inheritances] is a foreign account.) It also covers recent immigrants to the US! These filings are due at the same time as your income tax return. But, while there never was an extension possible for these forms, now there is – for the same six months that obtains for your personal tax filings.

A foreign account does not mean that using the Royal Bank of Scotland to house funds in New York City; but having a Citicorp account that is based in Jerusalem or London does. The critical consideration is where the local branch is situated, where the account was opened. By the way, accessing foreign funds via PayPal means you have a foreign account.

The FBAR filing uses Form 114 and must be now filed electronically. The requirement to file applies to all taxable entities (individuals and businesses) that have $ 10,000 or more of value on any given day during the tax year. And, the conversion rate for said value is no longer allowed to be daily- but determined by the value on the last day of the tax year.

There is a new interpretation, too. The requirement to file applies not just to the account owner(s), but to anyone with signature authority. So, that means people like me that maintain client accounts overseas will now have to file these forms, because I can issue checks on those accounts. (I am not responsible for about 100 of them where I write the checks for the clients- but have no signature authority.) It also means employees of corporations or businesses or estates that have foreign funds and have signature authority must also file Form 114.

All business entities (and trusts and non-profits) should recognize that all entities – and individuals who work for or at those entities- that have signature authority for a foreign bank account, stock account, gaming or gambling account are subject to these provisions. In other words, all foreign money holdings may subject employees, not just officers of the institutions, to these provisions.

Oh. The IRS also requires those foreign entities where you may or may not have money to file Form 8938, a FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) filing. This covers those financial accounts, stocks, securities, contracts, interests- anything that exceeds the filing threshold. These rules also apply to American entities (individuals, businesses, trusts, etc. that have such interests in excess of the filing threshold! (If one resides in the US, those thresholds are $ 50K for individuals, $ 75$ for married folks on the last day of the year- or $ 100K and $ 150K at any time during the tax year. Those numbers increase by a factor of 4 if one doesn’t reside in the US; the thresholds are $ 200K, $ 300K, $ 400K, and $ 600K, respectively.)

Businesses

The PATH Act changed the 179 (the capital purchases write-off provisions) Election. For good. The maximum Section 179 write-off is now permanent. (It had been extended for a year or two each time Congress had made a change for a while.) That maximum is also to be adjusted for inflation starting this year, which is why it is now $ 510,000. Moreover, there is a phaseout when the amount of new capitalized property exceeds $ 2.03 million, but not to zero.

Real Estate

For real estate purchases, the maximum Section 179 exclusion is now also $ 500K. (Last year, it was capped at $ 250K.) This includes HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), which is a new change. Any recapture of this credit (due to an early sale) is now considered subject to ordinary income taxes.

The time to depreciate real estate is now 15 years for qualified leasehold improvements, restaurants, and retail improvements. Bonus depreciation is also allowed for the first half of said improvement value (through 2017), decreasing in 2018 to only 40%, 30% in 2019 and removed completely by 2020. The PATH Act also let bonus depreciation apply to 39 year property (for improvements that were already in service by the entity).

Automobiles (Luxury)

The depreciation limits for vehicles is limited to $ 3160 or 20% of the basis in 2016. However, this year one can write off up to $ 8000 in bonus deprecation (which is reduced to $ 6400 in 2018, $ 4800 in 2019 and then removed forever by 2020) for new (not used) automobiles. Of course, these numbers apply only to vehicles that are used completely for business. There is a reduction for vehicle use that is not fully attributed to business usage.

Partnerships

The Bipartisan Budget Act (the one that taxes would normally be addressed) has brought a sea change to the way partnerships will be treated, should the IRS find problems with their tax submissions. The changes do not take effect for a few years- but the time to address the changes is really now.

Basically, the Act stipulates that any change that comes about by an audit are to be collected directly from the partnership- unless the partnership elects out of TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982). So, it means that partnership formation, operations, new partner admissions, etc. will all have to be reconsidered.

What changed is this- the partnership can decide to accept an IRS decision that the underpayment is due from the partnership itself or it can elect to have that decision divided up among the partners, according to their percentage ownership or liability percentage. Most advisors are telling partnerships to elect the latter process. If the partnership does not so choose, then the IRS will assess the partnership at the highest tax rate allowed- 39.6%. Of course, if the partnership can prove (to the satisfaction of the IRS) that a lower rate is appropriate, based upon the individual tax rates of the partners, then a lower rate may be allowed. (Don’t bank on the IRS doing so.) However, this underpayment will not be allowed to change the basis of each of the partner’s interests, if the partnership is taxes for the liability.

If the partnership pushes the issues down to the partner level, then each partner is assessed for the tax at its own rate. And, the partnership can issue an adjusted (amended) K-1 for the IRS revisions that will change the basis and avoid the double taxation possibility. The partnership has 45 days from the date of the IRS notice of change to make this election.

There is another change that affects partnerships- the PAL (passive active loss) issue. Why? Because most partners and partnerships do not maintain pristine time records. (This also affects real estate rentals that are reported on Schedule E, page 1.) There are various definitions that set the PAL issues- for real estate professionals it is a minimum of 750 hours of work a year. The IRS has allowed other partnerships to use different designations, such as 500 hours, or the fact that a particular partner does all the work (even if less than 500 hours), or even when a partner spends 100 hours or more on the partnership and no one else does more.

But, the rules to prove how much participation are gelling. One can use a record of cell phone call records, eMails, or credit card charges. Travel itineraries and receipts can prove how much participation was involved. Even affidavits from customers and clients can be used to prove the time one participated in the venture.

Payments Due

The IRS has been starved to death for years by Congress. Partly because one party was angry that the IRS was not automatically granting those “social welfare” organizations (read as political collections and donation farms) tax exemptions without scrutiny. Partly because the IRS is responsible for collecting the penalties for those who don’t comply with Obamacare. (Hoping that this lack of funds would make it harder for them to do so.)

But, in my humble opinion, the solution Congress came up with sucks. The IRS has now been authorized to hire those bottom feeders- the outside collection agents, that harass and subject folks to all sorts of intimidation. The logic behind this choice? After all, folks who owe the IRS must be the scum of the earth. (Of course, no one ever considers the fact that the IRS makes mistakes, chooses random numbers to assess non-filing taxpayers who may actually owe nothing, etc.)

Many clients fall short of having sufficient funds to pay their taxes when due. This entails the taxpayer submitting a form 9465 (Installment Agreement Request). These must be automatically approved if the taxpayer [individual] owes (or will owe) the IRS $ 50,000 or less, with the addition of this request- and all tax forms have been timely submitted. (Businesses are limited to a $ 25,000 maximum, with the same provisos.) However, the fees involved to have the IRS process the request have been increased to $ 120, unless the taxpayer agrees to have the IRS zap their bank account automatically each month. Then, the fees are reduced to $ 52. (The IRS has way too many taxpayers “forgetting” to make timely payments. This is a way to incur fewer manpower issues for the service.) However, no matter how the payment is to be processed by the IRS, all low-income taxpayers (a family of 4, with $60K or less in income) won’t have to pay more than $ 43 to institute a payment plan.

The biggest issue? Any taxpayer who is not in compliance with IRS code, who has no installment agreement in place, and owes $ 50,000 in taxes, penalties, and interest can find his passport revoked IMMEDIATELY. (If one is not yet issued, don’t expect the Department of State to issue one, either.)

Filing Dates

Individuals

There has been no change in the due date for 1040 filing, in that it is still due on 15 April (or the next business day, should the 15th fall on a weekend or legal holiday). Unless you can prove you were out of the country on 15 April- then you have the right to extend the filing date to 15 June. Or, you filed an extension request- that gives you until 15 October (with the same proviso for when it falls on a weekend or legal holiday).

Businesses

Here’s where the big changes arrive. And, it is about time. Because too many pass-through entities have been screwing over their partners, their stockholders by delaying their filing. Oh, sure, they may pay a penalty, but that doesn’t help the multitudes who can’t file their taxes in a timely fashion due to the lassitude of these entities.

So, from now on, all pass through entities- those are partnerships, LLCs, and S entities must no file their tax returns by the 15th day of the 3rd month after the end of their tax year. Recognize that the IRS allows companies that have “good” reasons to not use a natural year (i.e., 1 January to 31 December) to chose another month to end their tax year. But, for most entities, the due date will now be 15 March. Which gives the partners or the stockholders a month to finish their own tax returns. (Firms that operate on the US Government year, which ends 30 September, for example, must file their taxes by 15 November.)

Regular Corporations (C entities) no longer have to file by the 15th day of the 3rd month, but now have until the 4th month. So, for those companies operating on a natural year basis, the due date has been extended (permanently) from 15 March to 15 April. (A similar 15th day of the 4th month after year-end applies for those not operating on a natural year basis.)

Business, Trusts, Non-Profits, and Pension Plan Extensions

There is one more change for C corporations. Their extension is no longer 6 months long- but 5 months. In other words, before when they had to file by 15 March, but could extend the due date until 15 September… still have that same final extended due date, regardless that the original filing date is now 15 April.

Partnerships and S entities still have a 6 month extension- which also falls (for those who use a natural year) on 15 September.

Trusts and Estates of the Deceased file form 1041. The only extension request provided 5 months beyond the due date. Now, the due date is 5.5 months. That means the due date for filing is 15 April, but an extension means the due date can be 30 September.

Non-Profit entities file form 990 on 15 May- or the 15th day of the 5th month after the end of their fiscal year. Extensions used to be provided for 3 months; they now have more time- six month extensions are the new rules.

Employee Benefit Plans (Pension Plans, 401(k), welfare plans) must file their tax returns with the IRS by the last day of the 7th month after their year end. (For natural year plans, that means 31 July). Before the plans could extend that deadline by 2.5 months; now the rule provides for an additional month to 3.5 months.

Late Filing Penalties

The minimum penalty for filing late (more than 60 days) has been increased from $ 135 to $ 205. Except in certain cases, that penalty can be reduced to the amount of tax owed, which ever is smaller. (By 2017, the penalty will go up to $ 210.)

Which entities are affected by this change? Individuals (all forms 1040, including non-citizens). Estates and Trusts (Form 1041). Corporate Files (all forms of the 1120 filing). And, Non-Profit entities that can file a 990-T (they have unrelated business income of $ 1000 or more.)

There are more penalties, too. These were included in the Trade Package Legislation. The act included late filing of 1099 forms, W-2s, and 1095 (Health Care Reporting). You will note that the deadlines for some of these forms have been moved up- so pay attention and file them on time. Because the penalties can be $ 1060 for each delinquent 1099 form- because you have intentionally filed late to the government AND to the payee!

Of course, if you file the 1099 only 30 days late, the penalty is $ 50 (again- for each – the payee and the government). If you get your act together by 1 August, the penalty is $ 100 (again, for each). And, if you miss that date, the penalty is $ 250 each- unless the IRS feels it was intentional (and you know that number is $ 530).

There you have the big changes for the year. Now, you should be ready to file your taxes comes the 1rst of the year. But, don’t expect really fast refunds (as one would have expected before). Because the IRS is going to be checking to make sure the taxpayer is legit- they don’t want all those identity theft and tax fraud situations to obtain.

Tips To Create Budget for Your Household

Stability in employment, maintaining good credit, and following a household budget is the key to creating long-term financial security. Good credit scores and wise spending habits will help you save more of your money through lower interest rates and less debt. The following steps will help you maximize your credit scores and create a household budget that will eliminate waste and create savings.

• Step One – Request a free copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com. This report includes information from the 3 main credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian). You are legally entitled to one free credit report annually.

• Step Two – After you receive your free credit report, thoroughly review the entire credit report for any errors or discrepancies. If you find any errors, such as: late payments, collections, inaccurate balances, or any other inaccuracy you can dispute the errors with the credit bureaus. Typically, the credit agencies reporting the disputed information will investigate the account in question and require the creditor that reported the information to provide proof of the account in question. If the creditor cannot provide evidence that you owe the debt, it would be corrected on your report.

• Step Three – Before you create your budget, you should collect your bank statements, credit card statements, receipts, and any other documentation that shows your expenses.

• Step Four – To determine your monthly income, you should collect your most recent pay stub. For budget purposes use your income that you take home on your pay stub (after taxes). If you are an hourly employee and work full-time or if you are a salaried employee calculating your income will be simple. For individuals that are self-employed or receive tip, bonus, or commissioned income you will need to average your income over the last 12 or 24 months to create your budget.

• Step Five – Always put your budget in written or printed form. You can use a software program to create a spreadsheet or write out your budget on paper. First write down your monthly income and then break down your current expenses. This will allow you to see where you spend your money and how you may be able to cut expenses and save. Further break down your expenses under fixed and discretionary. Fixed expenses are permanent, whereas discretionary expenses would include: entertainment, groceries, clothing, vacation savings, etc.

• Step Six – Review your budget and look for ways to cut your spending. Hopefully, you find areas to save money each month by eliminating unnecessary spending. Try and pay off any credit cards that you carry balances on, before putting any money into your savings.

After you have reviewed your credit report and created a budget, it is a good idea to review your budget each month and make any changes. Also, if your income or bills change, make sure you adjust your budget accordingly and always consider saving before adding new debts. Remember you are entitled to one free credit report annually, so be sure to review your credit annually to check for any inaccuracy or for possible identity theft.