tax

3 Things To Do In February For Financial Health

Hello February!

On my end, it’s been a rather . . . intense start to this new year. I’m looking forward to calmer days in the weeks to come. That being said, I want to encourage you all to continue taking steps to improve or protect your financial health, even when life is hectic. This month, I wanted to focus on a few things that can be done quickly and that don’t take a lot of time. Taking care of your finances doesn’t require a ton of time-consuming projects.

Here are three things you can do to stay on top of your finances in February:

  • Pull your free annual credit reports. Annual credit reports are a right. This website will allow you to get free copies of your credit reports from the three reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) for free. Just because you pull the reports doesn’t mean that you have to analyze them today: put them aside until you have the time to review them. If it helps, schedule the time needed to review them, so this task doesn’t fall through the cracks. Also, Equifax is currently allowing up to SIX free reports per year for anyone within the United States (these extra annual reports will be available until 2026). So after you make corrections to your report, you can allow a month or two, then pull the Equifax report to see if the changes are displaying.
  • File Form 1096 for information returns. If you or your business made payments that should be reported on 1099s, 1098s, W-2s, and a number of other information returns, then you have to file this form. Depending on the number of forms that need to be filed, this may not necessarily be a quick task. But it’s the beginning of the month: if you do paper mailed information returns, it’s still early enough to order this form from IRS (you can’t use the online version for submission). Form 1096 is the cover sheet for hard-copy information returns: you simply have to count how many of each information return you’re sending into IRS, then jot it down on the form. If you don’t have to file information returns, then of course you can skip this tip.
  • Move your savings to an account with a better interest rate. Bankrate has a listing of the current rates of both physical and digital banks offering high yield savings accounts. Do your research then move your coins.

That’s it for February: short and sweet, because your time is precious. Talk to you all soon!

3 Things To Do in January for Financial Health

Welcome to 2023! I hope that the end of last year and the beginning of this year was enjoyable for you all. In the Mid-Atlantic region, we were delighted to get some warmer weather just in time for the New Year. It was a pleasant change from the bitterly cold temperatures we had during Christmas weekend. As the clock switched from 2022 to 2023, there were many things to celebrate and appreciate: I count all of you, dear readers, as blessings.

To start your financial year right, here are a few things that you can prioritize for January. It’s early enough to get a great headstart on a lot of tasks that can feel overwhelming once the calmness of the holiday break transitions back to business as usual.

  • Continue refining your financial vision and commit to eliminating any habits that don’t serve your financial health. I’d advise you reject the New Year resolution mentality (unless it works for you: in that case, do it!) If resolutions haven’t been successful for you in the past, it’s time to try something different. Instead of coming up with a large, dramatic change for the year, why not just spend a little time refining your vision for the year (I discuss this vision in December’s financial health recommendations). Even if you did a great job of creating your financial vision last year, or in other years past, it’s still a good exercise to review what’s working, see what isn’t working for you, and make sure what you’re currently doing is putting you on the path to what you desire. If you identify any sabotaging activities or habits, commit to eliminating the one that is easiest to drop. If you focus on dropping a simple but damaging habit, then you can get a quick “win” that gives you the momentum to take on bigger challenges as they arise.
  • Download a tax calendar and start putting the dates on your digital and paper calendars now. It’s so easy to pull up the calendars, print them, and forget them. Don’t do that! You can find IRS’s calendar here. You can find additional federal tax calendars for specific professions and businesses here, and you can search for “tax calendar” on your respective state and local websites to see additional dates that need to be recorded on your business and personal calendars. If you pay a financial consultant, accountant, or tax preparation service to manage your numbers, you can help them to help you, by knowing when certain payments or forms are due to be submitted. Little known fact: one of the penalties that IRS regularly enforces is failure to file timely, and it is one of their heaviest (non-criminal) penalties. You can avoid it just by keeping up with the dates!
  • Pay your last estimated tax payment for tax year 2022. This payment is due to be submitted by January 17 this year. Use Form 1040-ES to submit it. If you had a particularly successful final quarter of 2022, consider adding a little more money to your payment, to help prevent underpayment penalties.

Those are the three tips for January, just in time to help you all hit the ground running! Have a great day, and I’ll talk to you all soon.

Extensions Due on October 17th

Just a gentle (or firm, depending on what you require) reminder: all of those extended tax returns are due on October 17th. If you’ve been following this blog since the summer, then you know I’ve been sounding the alarm on tax return extensions and how to prepare for filing those. Along with filing extended tax returns, this is the time to do any withdrawals of excess IRA contributions made during calendar year 2021 (excess contributions must be withdrawn to avoid penalties). This is also the time to contribute to solo 401(k) simplified employee pension (SEP) plan for tax year 2021 if you extended the filing time for Form 1040.

Whew, that’s a lot! There is still time to do a few things to close out tax year 2021 if you’ve extended your time to file. For most tax preparers, October 17th is the end of their tax season, and they can finally have a chance to rest before the beginning of the next tax season. However, if you’re a business owner, you may have a different tax filing date. If so, keeping up with the general extension dates and assigning specific tasks to complete on those dates can be a fantastic way of staying ahead of the surge of work that comes when its time to file taxes.

That’s all: get those extended taxes filed! Talk to you all soon!

3 Things To Do In October for Financial Health

Welcome to October! As we step into the season associated with cooler weather and harvest time, it’s time to enjoy this break from the long, hot days of summer.

While autumn isn’t my favorite season, it is a great time to get certain things done before the end of the year. October marks the last quarter of the year, and it’s a perfect time for a bit of increased activity, especially since many businesses end their fiscal tax years at the end of September. Careful planning and execution in October, November and December can set businesses up for success in the months to follow.

Whether you have a calendar year or fiscal year schedule for your business, or if you have no business at all, there are a few things that you may want to do in October that can help improve your financial health. Here are some tips for this month:

  • Consider the charitable contributions that you want to make before the end of the year. With the focus on multiple charitable causes, heritage recognition and awareness (October is the month for Breast Cancer Awareness, National ADD/ADHD Awareness, Filipino American Heritage, LGBT History and Down Syndrome Awareness, just to name a few!), this is the perfect time to think about what you want to give to the charitable organizations of your choice. If you itemize, this could be a wonderful way to reduce your taxable income. If you don’t itemize on your tax returns, this may be not helpful to you as far as taxes go, since the current exception ($300 in charitable contributions are deductible for nonitemizers in tax year 2021) is set to expire at the end of the year, unless Congress intervenes.
  • Check your tax deadlines and start working on items that need to be completed before the 17th. Several major tax deadlines occur this month, so you may want to review your documents and see what may be due in the next few weeks.
  • Consider adjusting your withholding so that you have more income available during the holiday (peak travel/shopping) season. If you always get a refund and have never adjusted your withholding to get a little more of your money back with each paycheck, this is a good time to figure out if you want to update your W-4 (federal withholding form) so you can have more of your income now, instead of having to wait for your tax refund in the upcoming year. It’s a calculation you may want to discuss with a tax professional, so you don’t create a tax liability due to miscalculation.

Those are the tips for October! Are there any other things that you plan to do this month to improve your financial health? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Keeping Track Of The Good Stuff

After a few weeks of keeping tabs on the highly misinformed conversations surrounding the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA 2022), I decided that I needed something lighter, but still beneficial, to discuss over here. Now, if something big comes up with IRA 2022 that I need to discuss, then of course I’ll share it (staying informed about tax legislation is what I love to do). But for today, we’re taking a break and doing something refreshing.

Many times, as we talk about finance, money, budgets, and the like, most of the conversation centers around the tasks needed to create more cash and less stress. Conversations about money almost always come from a place of restriction, instead of abundance. Most of us to taught to focus on what we eliminate, and how much we hold on to, to measure our success with our budgets and our financial freedom journeys.

But what if, instead of only focusing on what stays in our grasps, we focus on what flows in with ease? What if we counted the non-monetary “wins” alongside the others, like when someone gives us priceless information, or when find the perfect parking space, or when the store is fully stocked with everything that you want and need to buy?

What if we kept a log of all of the good stuff that happens each day?

Well, let me tell you all: I’ve done this very exercise as part of my work with my business and lifestyle coach. And this approach has really opened the floodgates of abundance into my life.

The more we realize that everything is interconnected, the more we can see and believe that small, positive changes in one area absolutely creates positive changes (small and large) in other areas of our lives. Nothing exists in a bubble, and calibrating our minds and lifestyles for goodness creates fertile soil for welcoming even more of the things we want (like more money coming in an enjoyable way, more time to do the things we love, etc.,).

So, for a week, try keeping a Goodness Log. Write down every good thing that happens to you – whether it connects directly to money or not – and see how you feel at the end of the week when you review it. It does wonders for shifting your mindset and opening you up to more possibilities, better emotions and, yes, more abundance. I will keep a log this week, too, and share my results in a future post!

5 Reasons Why We Don’t Earn Enough Money

Hi friends! I have a little bit of a surprise coming in a couple of days, but before I can unveil that, I have to cover a topic that I know has been on a lot of minds, and that seems to be discussed more and more in public forums as the economy goes through its ups and downs.

Many of us work hard, do a good job, and yet we still don’t seem to earn enough money. This is a problem that I had personally for years, until I made some crucial changes that helped me to turn this around (more about those changes in a minute). There are at least five common reasons why we don’t earn enough money, and I’d like to discuss these with you, as well as point you in the direction of some support for turning these reasons around.

  1. We didn’t do skill audits when needed. A skill audit is a deep dive into our knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs, for those that are familiar with federal job terminology). Listing our skills then having a deep appreciation for what we’ve mastered is critical to understanding our worth in tangible measurements. Without this knowing, it’s nearly impossible to be adequately compensated for our work. After all, if we aren’t clear about our value, how can we appropriately price our labor when interacting with clients and employers?
  2. We undervalued our skills. Even when we’re crystal clear about what’s in our skill set, we can still under-price ourselves. Many of us believe that timidity, and being the “lowest bidder”, will ensure that we get the clients or the jobs that we want. And it’s true that doing this may get us jobs and clients, however . . . We often find that undervaluing our labor means that we work harder, get burned out faster, and earn less over time. Please don’t let the current conversations about the desperation in the job market discourage you: there are enough positions available at every income level to satisfy your earning desires, and you don’t have to undervalue yourself just to secure employment.
  3. We have outdated money beliefs. Once upon a time, we believed that telecommuting and virtual work environments were only available to the few lucky people that happened to stumble upon progressive employers. Then 2020 happened, and we found out that a lot of employers that previously found telework to be “infeasible” and “unsustainable” could now operate with 100% virtual teams. I mention this example to illustrate that our money beliefs should be constantly shifting because our realities are always transforming. For that reason, we have to ask ourselves honestly whether we believe that we can actually earn more, that employers and clients are willing to pay what we ask, and that there are environments that will support the kind of work we wish to do. Only after considering these things can we remove this block in our earning potential.
  4. We accepted principle over profit. This is probably the only reason that may remain even after going through the other points. Sometimes, we choose work that is underpaid but rewarding (education and farming are two fields that come to mind immediately) because we’ve decided that the emotional rewards outweigh the financial gain. It is possible to have abundant income and deeply purposeful work all wrapped in one, but if our main motivation is principle, we may not seek out more lucrative opportunities. The goal should always be adequate or abundant income, coming from meaningful work. We should never have to choose between the two and, if our financial gain means that we have to compromise our values, then the opportunity isn’t worth it.
  5. We’re paralyzed by fear. This is probably the biggest one, because it’s the only thing that requires constant monitoring and addressing issues as they arise. It’s also the only point that can’t be easily corrected by introducing objective information. Our fears can convince us of monsters in teh shadows and can keep us from taking leaps of faith. However, it’s key to note that we are always larger than our fears, and we can always choose to be brave. Our future selves require us to be courageous and take one step forward, then another, even when we don’t know exactly where it will lead us.

I’ve personally gone through each of these reasons for underearning. I didn’t understand the breadth of my skillset, I did work where I was grossly underpaid, I believed that my dream salary wasn’t possible due to XYZ (insert lots of detrimental thinking here), I engaged in meaningful work that didn’t pay much, and I’ve been so scared that I wouldn’t even apply to certain jobs. I’ve tackled each of them one by one, in order to dismantle my money blocks and earn more money than ever. Now my work is simultaneously interesting, full of purpose, and well paid. I also got to tap into one of my core values – flexibility – since I now have a position where I can choose my work schedule based on my needs.

I’m here for you all if you need help with reason #1 – identifying your current skill set. I am currently offering a skills audit package on my Services page, so you can see my approach to quantifying your KSAs. It includes a telephone/zoom conversation with me, as well as a beautifully formatted document that you can use when seeking new earning opportunities, and you can customize it as you add new skills to your toolkit. It’s perfect for helping you get clear on your depth of expertise and how to position yourself to earn what you want and deserve. The skills audit will also help you overcome any of the five reasons that may be blocking you from earning more money, as well as any skills gaps, and recommend how to address these gaps in the most affordable and efficient way.

Those are my top five reasons why we may not be earning enough money. Look out for more insights in upcoming posts! Take care.

Why the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 Should Worry You

You’ll have to journey with me a bit, before you see that this post is not quite what it seems. . .

No, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not be hiring 87,000 special agents. I’ve written about this in several places (beyond this blog), because I cannot stand sensationalism. It’s an abundance of emotion and an absence of sound, factual research that makes me shake my head in disappointment. I usually point to it as a failing of the US education system, but it is often information spread by “learned” people that are experts at exploiting the vulnerabilities of others (including the lack of critical thinking displayed by many) behind the outrage and fallacies being shared. I explained all about the misinformation regarding IRS hiring over on LinkedIn, but I’ll share a copy of that text below, as well.

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

As written August 11:

In July, I posted on my blog that the Inflation Reduction Act, if passed, would allocate $124 billion for IRS tax enforcement. I also stated that this meant more IRS collection jobs would be announced. These jobs would be revenue agents and officers, auditors and specialists, etc.,.

Imagine my surprise when today, I saw the rumors of 87,000 SPECIAL agents being added to IRS. I laughed immediately, because I know the difference between a special agent and a revenue agent, and I also chuckled because I knew that there was NO WAY that IRS would double their workforce by hiring special agents exclusively. Special agents do not consistently collect enough money for IRS – with a current staff of 82,000 – to bring on a group SPECIAL agents than exceed the number of staff they have currently.

There is a difference between revenue agents and special agents. Revenue agents are auditors and unarmed. They do the bulk of the audits conducted by IRS. Special agents are law enforcement, just like FBI and CIA agents. FBI special agents have strikingly similar job duties. IRS’s special agents are armed, because they go to FLETC in Georgia. No official sources have confirmed this 87k hiring boom, and several sources indicate that this is a rumor at best. This rumor came from a poorly comprehended report and a desire to sensationalize a hot topic that few people actually understand.

But, I’ll play along and pretend the 87k hiring rumor is true. Assuming that IRS does hire 87k ppl, I assure you that the majority of those ppl will be tax specialists, revenue officers and revenue agents, not special agents, who really don’t generate revenue consistently enough to justify this type of hiring push.

Please continue to read, read, read, and use your power of discernment. Don’t go by what one source says (even if the source is this post!) If I’m wrong, then I’ll personally put up another post admitting it. But I’m pretty sure I’m not. I just want you all to continue to be wise, be alert, and watch out for those that monetize and exploit your outrage.

I wrote a detailed post in late July about the potential impact of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA 2022), and it’s most likely effects on tax law (you can read that here). Yet still, several days after IRA 2022, I see lawmakers actually spreading the same tripe as quoted by careless Twitter users that have never worked at IRS and, prior to IRA 2022, were completely unaware that IRS has special agents, which are not the same as revenue agents.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The whole quote of 87,000 agents that IRS will be hiring? It was an estimate proposed last May, that is in no way a definite plan for this year, just a “wish list” that I, as a federal employee, can confirm is hopeful at best, and IRS would be lucky to hire and retain half of this amount. The hiring levels rarely meet the amounts that agencies project, simply because turnover still happens, other hiring takes priority, and some people will leave because of termination, resignation, or transfer to other agencies. Also, this is a projection for a 10 year hiring plan, because there isn’t enough staff or resources to possibly train 87,000 agents within the next year. The IRS has recorded a record low of auditors and agents, with numbers being the lowest they’ve been since World War II.

Cries about these auditors and agents targeting people earning less than $400,000? Accurate on the surface, but it takes a little digging to understand a critical point. The assertions about people earning less than $400,000 came from Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, who stated something that many completely disregarded (or simply were unable to comprehend): she directed that, “any additional resources—including any new personnel or auditors that are hired—shall not be used to increase the share of small business or households below the $400,000 threshold that are audited relative to historical levels.” That historical levels part really tripped up the speedy (non-critical) readers, and caused all manner of histrionics. According to IRS, these agents, “cannot simply be assigned to global high wealth, partnership, or large and complex business examinations without the requisite skills, training, and experience to analyze returns that are highly complex[…]”; that means they will have to practice honing their audit skills prior to get these $400K+ returns. And, since the historical levels have been much higher than they are currently, you can reasonably expect that some individuals earning less than $400K per year will be audited because, historically, they were. I’d be worried if you follow advice from people who refuse to read for clarity, and who jump on catchy soundbites that suit certain narratives.

Again, to be clear, no one said that all individuals earning less than $400K would be audit free: EVERYONE has noted that the audits for this group shouldn’t go up disproportionately. Only time will tell whether this will happen, but on the outset, realize that Yellen never said that people earning less than $400K were exempt from audits. Many skipped over this part because it didn’t serve a narrative about IRS being the horrible bullies that mistreat every American that cross their paths.

As I stated above in my post from LinkedIn, one source is not enough, and exploitation and monetization of outrage is exactly what certain influential groups desire. I’ve read information from IRS, Government Accountability Office (GAO), and Congressional Budget Office (CBO), as well as groups that disagreed with the measures, such as The Heritage Foundation and a statement from the Republican House Budget Committee Members. I’d caution most people to read multiple sources – from a variety of perspectives – and to ask, “Qui bono?” (Who benefits?) as you read. The same people criticizing certain tax legislation often organize groups, movements, and products designed to get money from their supporters/readers. The same can absolutely be said for those that are eager to support tax legislation, without offering critical analyses of how they have reached the conclusions they so eagerly share on their platforms and social media at large. In short, hot takes are rarely supported by the amount of analysis needed to make a balanced and fair assessment. These groups KNOW that, and capitalize on it.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Our rapt attention is currency (hence the phrase, “Pay attention”). Be mindful of how your attention has been monetized by the people whose opinions you adore: most of them are pandering to our worst fears because it is (and always has been) a lucrative gig, and it’s a far more profitable angle than giving balanced, neutral opinions that neither stir hope nor fear in our hearts. Our biggest worry about IRA 2022 should be all of the people trying to cash in on our worries: they’ve figured out how to “sell shovels” to us and many of us don’t even know it.

Finance Friday – What I’m Reading

Along with posting three finance tips every month (you can read the tip for August here), I aim to share one finance book that I think will be helpful for you all. I’ll make sure that I introduce the book of the month at the beginning of the post, and give my favorite points from the previous month’s book in the middle to the end of the post.

This month’s book is Start Late, Finish Rich by David Bach. I’ve been a fan of Bach for years, and this book in particular has been on my “to complete” list for a while. So this month seemed like the perfect time to restart and finish this book. I love Bach’s approach, and I’m excited to share my favorite takeaways next month, when I announce the next book of the month.

What finance books are you reading this month? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Avoiding Gift Tax – Make Sure The Checks Clear!

Recently, I discussed the issues surrounding the estate of Aretha Franklin. From the sources that I reviewed, it appears that she did not intentionally reduce the size of her estate through gifting to her heirs before her death. It isn’t required that people reduce their estates through giving, however. . . With an annual ceiling of $15,000, affluent individuals of advanced age may prefer to distribute a portion of some inheritances before their death, to avoid taxes to both themselves as well as the recipients.

For those that choose to give before death, whatever you do, make sure your heirs cash those checks as soon as they receive them! A recent tax case (Estate of de Muth v Commissioner) determined that if a check isn’t cleared before a person dies, the checks become part of the estate, and therefore subject to estate tax. Of course, gifters can’t force recipients to quickly cash checks given to them, but if the intent is to ensure that the size of the estate is reduced, then time is truly of the essence.

I was interested in Estate of de Muth because it was always my understanding that it was the date of gifting, and not the date of cashing, that determined when a gift was given. But with the tax courts determining that the act of gift giving occurs upon cashing the check, I now have a different perspective regarding gifts and what constitutes receipt. This is why I love staying aware of the changes with the tax law: you never know what you’ll learn!