tax

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!

I Bonds – A Less Explored Investment Vehicle

Merry Monday, friends! I stumbled upon an investment option late last week, and I was so excited about it that I wanted to share it here with you all.

The Treasury announced that the initial interest rate on new Series I savings bonds is 9.62 percent. You can buy I bonds at that rate through October 2022, and for the first six months that the bonds are held, you will get that interest rate. Bonds usually have much lower interest rates, so this is a great way to get a better return on your investment. I used to buy I bonds with my tax returns, but I’ve gotten away from the practice. I’ve decided to invest in a few bonds before the cutoff date (October 2022).

Please don’t interpret this as investment advice: I encourage you to do your own research and determine whether this is an investment strategy that works for you and your goals. As for me, I’ll be investing some of my discretionary income and holding the bonds until I’m ready to invest in something bigger.

That’s it for today, friends! Check out the I bonds over on Treasury Direct, and see if this is something you want to add to your investment portfolio!

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Aretha Franklin’s Messy Estate – Key Takeaways

A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Aretha Franklin’s estate has settled a nearly $8 million tax bill, and the way has been cleared for her four sons to start receiving payments from the revenue generated from the use of her image and music. This outcome was a long time coming: Franklin passed four years ago, and her heirs have been unable to settle the estate issues until recently. This development is excellent news, as this opens the way for her sons to start receiving the benefits to which they are entitled.

I won’t rehash all of the details of the case, however, I will highlight some key takeaways that I gleaned as I learned about the messy estate left behind by the Queen of Soul:

  • Destroy previously executed wills. For most people, their end-of-life planning only covers the execution of a will (if they’re proactive). Sadly, some people don’t even do that much planning: far too many people die intestate, leaving their estate planning in the hands of the state where they lived and died. But I digress . . . Leaving a will clarifies how you want your property to be distributed after your death. However, this distribution becomes unclear if you have multiple versions of your will floating around. So, consider destroying previously executed wills whenever you make a revision. The estate is currently comparing 3 different versions of Ms. Franklin’s will, and I’m sure the probate courts will have a field day trying to figure out which one is the one that will be honored.
  • Set up a trust. If you only have a will, you’re doing better than many people. But if you really want to simplify how your assets will be handled, a trust is what you need. Trusts can be established to distribute assets before and after death, they can help avoid certain types of taxes, and they can provide an extra level of clarity that may not be accomplished through the execution of a will alone. Consulting with a trust attorney is a great idea, even if it turns out that a trust isn’t advantageous for your specific circumstances. These attorneys can answer many of the questions you may have related to other estate or end-of-life financial issues.
  • Consider gifting some of your possessions while you’re still alive. The current ceiling for tax-free gifting is $15,000 per person that you choose to gift. Even if you aren’t giving everyone you know $15,000, you can certainly gift some of your possessions now, so that your heirs can avoid gift and estate taxes later.

Those are three of my takeaways from the tax agreement between IRS and Aretha Franklin. I’ll keep an eye on this case to see if any additional developments arise, and if so, I’ll be back with updates. Take care!

Why Recessions Are NOTHING To Fear

Last week, President Biden announced that we are not in a recession, though the data indicates that we have experienced two consecutive quarters of declining economic activity. There have been many discussions surrounding the topic of recessions, and since I’m not an economist, I won’t pretend to be an expert in this topic AT ALL. However, I will share my thoughts as someone that reads regularly, and that has lived through several decades and seen a thing or two.

Practically every decade since the 1920s has experienced recessions. For those that don’t know, the 1970s was marked by record-high stagflation, which has a combination of recession and inflation that put economists in a quandary (proposals to correct one element – either the recession or the inflation – could negatively impact the other element). People have weathered tougher economic times. Of course, not everyone survives severe financial hardship – indeed, the most vulnerable populations offer suffer the greatest – and this post isn’t designed to make light of that. It’s a warning to those that have ears to hear.

In each decade, there have been people who won BIG and set themselves and future generations up for financial ease and freedom. They had a host of varying advantages and disadvantages, but every person that has WON in previous periods of recession had one thing in common: a will to act. Staying paralyzed in fear over possible things to come is a surefire way to remain stuck or to regress.

There is absolutely nothing to fear, if you’re wise, strategic and prepared.

Be wise – Continue to live within your means and reduce extraneous expenses. Live with moderate conservation as your guiding energy: conserve energy, conserve resources, conserve time, all in a moderate way. Excess or gluttony is no one’s friend in these times. Remember to act wisely with what you have and to treat your resources with reverence, neither being indiscriminate nor anxious.

Be strategic – Plan to grow your resources: expanding your financial kingdom, adding valuable individuals to your personal network, cultivating healthy, reciprocal relationships, and positioning yourself to be in communities that are vibrant and abundant. Master multiple skills so that you offer a plethora of value to your networks. Never stop learning: your skills may open doors for you that you didn’t know were possible. Explore as much free online learning as you can. Never forget that resources go beyond cash and tangible assets: PEOPLE are resources, ENVIRONMENTS are resources, OPPORTUNITIES are resources. Expand all of your resources for the best outcome.

Be prepared – I don’t like to post alarmist content, so please take this with the reasonable grain of salt that is intended. Stockpile resources that you suspect may drastically increase in price in coming months (within reason: hoarding is dysfunctional and should be avoided!). Learn practical skills that can help you reduce expenses or that can be traded for other resources within your network. Learn the full benefits of the physical and digital tools you possess, and start leveraging those tools to your advantage. Inventory assets that you have, so that you can have a record of the items of value you possess, in case you decide to trade or sell these to purchase something of exceeding value. And it should go without saying that bug out bags, fully fueled vehicles, and maintaining a full supply of emergency items should be non-negotiable.

You have nothing to fear: you are closer to financial freedom than you know. A few good choices today can mean abundance and ease for years to come. If you aren’t sure where to shore up your defenses, I’ll be offering consultations on my Services page (I’m currently updating it, but it should be live at the time of this posting). Take care, and please let me know the ways that you have been preparing for an upcoming recession!