6 surprising benefits of having a spending plan

 
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In order to practice good money management, we must put a valiant effort into getting our spending habits under control. Although challenging, creating a monthly budget or at least having a “spending plan,” can really help us get on the right track. When I finally started following a budget not only did my finances improve, but I also noticed these 6 surprising benefits:  

  1. I am better organized. Before I created a budget, I used to “guesstimate” how much money I spent each month. After a few weeks, I’d realize that my bank account was lower than I anticipated and would just tell myself to “try harder” next time. As you can imagine, that didn’t work. I was still spending too much money and barely making ends meet. When I finally sat down and made a monthly budget things changed for the better. With a budget, I actually know how much I can afford to spend on certain items and can plan better strategies on how to meet my financial goals.

  2. I know what is happening to my money. Now that I have a realistic budget, my spending habits have changed. I am more aware of fixed vs variable expenses and have a rough idea of how much money is in my bank account at all times. Because of this awareness, I no longer have anxiety opening my mobile banking app or logging into mint.com. I know how much I can afford to spend on food and which times I can splurge on other items. Instead of getting to the end of the month and wondering where my money went, I am now the one telling it where to go. 

  3. I feel less guilty when I spend money on myself. Before I created a budget, I felt guilty spending money on myself. Even though I worked hard, I always felt like I should be using the “extra” money I had to pay off credit card bills or save for retirement. At one point, my guilt was so bad that I could barely walk into the nail salon without feeling financially irresponsible. All of that changed when I actually created a budget. Each month I allocate a certain amount to “personal grooming and self-care.” I now have a small portion of my budget set aside for a monthly pedicure and trip to the hair salon. This minor change adds so much to my quality of life. It makes me happy knowing that I can enjoy myself from time-to-time and remain on track to meet my financial goals. 

  4. I worry less about my bills. Before I had a spending plan, paying bills near the end of the month gave me anxiety. Even though I knew the bill was coming, I had usually spent too much money earlier in the month so paying that bill would lower the balance in my checking account to a level that I was not comfortable with. Facing that reality caused me great angst on a regular basis. When I created a budget, things changed. Fixed expenses that come out of my check are no longer a surprise to me, regardless of when the money is deducted. I am more aware of my spending throughout the month which makes me better prepared to pay those mid-month bills when they come.

  5. I actually save money each month. Before I had a budget, saving money was something I didn’t think I could afford to do. I swiped my card whenever I deemed it necessary and was genuinely surprised that I didn’t have much left over at the end of the month. When I created a budget, this changed. I became much more aware of how my unhealthy spending habits precluded by ability to save. Nowadays, I solve this problem by actually “paying myself first.” I have a portion of my check directly deposited into a totally different bank account. Since I hardly ever use this secondary account, I don’t really “see” the money I am missing. As result, the money in this account has continued to build over time. As I continue to work in residency, I’ll have this separate bank account serve as an emergency fund, new car fund, and vacation savings account. 

  6. I finally started giving. As a well-intentioned Christian, I try to give to others. Generosity not only blesses the other person, but it does something internally to the giver as well. Every time I give, I get this wave of gratitude knowing that I helped make someone else’s life better. Creating a budget has allowed me to continue these good deeds on a regular basis. Instead of feeling like I can’t afford to share with others, having a spending plan helped me see where I could make room in my budget to tithe and make small charitable donations. It might take me a little longer to become financially independent, but to me, this sacrifice is worth it. Giving to others brings me so much joy and helps me maintain perspective. It also allows me to enjoy the work I’m doing so much more. Without a budget, I wouldn’t be able to continue this practice.

For these 6 ways and more, creating a spending plan has really enhanced my life. If you haven’t already, sit down and make a budget and see if you experience some of these same benefits. As the old saying goes “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Believe me, creating a budget (and sticking to it) is something you won’t regret.  


Tell me, was this helpful? What other benefits have you gotten from creating a budget?

 

Yes I’m a Doctor, yes I still live on a budget: 4 steps I took to change my spending habits

 
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To the outside world, I’m a rich doctor who can buy what I want. In reality, I’m a sleep-deprived resident physician struggling to keep my head above water. No one told me life would be like this, at least not before I started taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans each semester, but I digress. The point is that even [future] high-income earners like myself need to have a budget. Without one, our money disappears faster than a post-call resident leaving the hospital. 

Unfortunately, realizing I needed a budget and actually creating one were two different things. Like a diabetic struggling to shed those unwanted pounds, it takes time to actually move from one step to another. Coming to terms with the fact that I work super hard and still can’t afford all the things I crave is its own beast that has taken me several attempts to tackle. Just in case some of you are in the same boat, let me shed some light on my own come-to-Jesus moment.

Step 1: I had to let go of my pride and accept that I was spending too much money. 

I’m almost ashamed to admit, but a few years ago I didn’t think a budget was necessary. I thought they were for poor people living paycheck to paycheck. Now that I’m a doctor living paycheck to paycheck I have a lot more sympathy (and humility too). It wasn’t until 6 months ago that I finally let go of my pride and began to accept that my habits needed to change. I was tired of running out of money at the end of each month. I was tired of relying on my credit cards for basic living expenses or holding my breath every time I had to pay for an oil change. 

Step 2: I had to sit down and actually write down my budget.

Honestly, I think the only reason I finally sat down and tried to make a budget was because I had this incredible distaste for debt. I had heard horror stories of older doctors whose student loan burden was sapping all of the happiness they once had with their jobs. It’s as if their lack of financial independence had turned the job they once loved into one they despised. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I wanted to know that my bills were paid on time each month and that my credit card debt was getting smaller and smaller. I wanted to make sure all my bases were covered. Creating a budget was one of the first steps I took to get on the right track. 

Step 3: I had to download a budget app to track my spending, and actually check it. 

Sounds simple, but for me, this was not an easy feat. The anxiety I had even thinking about opening Mint.com is one I cannot even begin to describe. But...I got through it. Slowly but surely I began to look at the numbers. I saw how much money I was actually spending on food each week. How my impromptu trips to the mall resulted in unnecessary clothes and holes in my budget. How the Uber rides, overpriced drinks, and club fees from weekend shenanigans added up to much more than I anticipated. I finally opened the app, stared at the numbers on the screen, and faced the fact that my spending was out of control. 

I was barely staying afloat and knew I had to do better. I couldn’t use the fact that I was a med student living on loans as an excuse. The spending habits I had wouldn’t magically change once I started getting paid as a resident physician or even as an attending physician. I needed to get rid of the bad behavior now, so that when I do experience an increase in pay in the future, I don’t just squander my wealth. 

Step 4: I had to put boundaries in place and stick to them. 

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It wasn’t enough for me to track my spending each month. I needed to put some protections in place to “save me from myself.” I opened mint.com and set up budget notifications that send an alert to my phone whenever I’m nearing my weekly allotment for food or entertainment. For example, if I limit myself to $100 every two weeks for transportation, the app will send me an alert whenever my Uber rides approach the $80 mark. That way I know when I need to forgo that weekend party invitation and maybe host a game night at my place instead. I was well-intentioned before, but setting boundaries through budget apps and spending notifications has really challenged me to stick to my goals.

Full disclosure, I am still a work in progress. There are times I ignore those alerts only to face regret when I log into my bank account afterwards. Thankfully, those times happen a lot less frequently than they used to. When it comes to my spending habits, I am far from perfect. I still struggle, but by simply making these 4steps my spending habits have improved exponentially. 

Tell me, what steps have you taken to improve your spending habits? What was it like when you first tried to make a budget?



 

8 Affordable Ways To Take a Vacation

 

It’s summer time and most of us would love to take a vacation. Unfortunately, planning and actually paying for a vacation can be tough, especially for medical students and young professionals who are on a tight budget. Here are a few things I did to lower costs when I traveled:  

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1.     Travel during a different time of the year. Most people like to travel in the summer. The weather is nice, kids are out of school, and it’s easier to take time off from work. However, vacation prices are usually more expensive in the summer. To cut costs and save money, I tried to go on vacation during other seasons. Going to warmer places in the spring not only saved me money but also spared me from the insufferable summer heat. Planning tropical vacations in the winter allowed me to escape the cold weather and snow from up north.  

2.     Find cheaper flights. Call me crazy, but I do not have allegiance to one airline. I try not to make myself suffer through a flight on Spirit or Frontier but besides those two exceptions, I’m open to booking an affordable flight on just about any airline. In fact, I have a separate email address I use for coupons and store discounts. Before I book a flight, I look through those emails for any discount codes, then search kayak or google flights for cheap round trip tickets.

3.     Use Airbnb instead of hotels. As a female physician in her late 20s, I like a certain level of class. I’m not a huge fan of hostels or sharing a bathroom with random people I’ve never met. I left the dorm life in college and I do not want to go back, ever. Airbnb is different. The last two times I’ve traveled out of the country (to Puerto Rico and Mexico) I’ve stayed at an Airbnb. The places were clean, the hostess was reliable, and I had zero issues. Plus, it was drastically cheaper than hotels or resorts and was conveniently located within walking distance of the places I wanted to visit. If you’re traveling with a family or in a group, Airbnb’s can save you lots of money and even provide that “home away from home” feeling that is hard to recreate in a hotel.

4.     Travel with people. Vacations are cheaper if you can split the cost with other people. Sleeping 2-4 to a room drastically lowered my cost per night. Sometimes I would even split an entrée with a friend at a restaurant if the portions were large enough. Traveling with friends can decrease your lodging and food costs, and the make the trip even more enjoyable.

5.     Visit friends and family. If you’re working a tight schedule and can’t coordinate your vacation time with other people, consider the alternative. Go visit your friends instead. As a medical school graduate, I have many classmates who are starting jobs at various places around the country. In an effort to save costs (and maintain the friendship) why not go visit them? It might be nice to go skiing in Utah, hike the mountains in Colorado, or attend a Seahawks game in Seattle. Visiting close friends in other places will not only provide me with a place to stay but will also allow me to explore a new area with people I enjoy. Win-Win.  

6.     Search Groupon. Once I’ve settled on a vacation area and found affordable lodging (or a friend’s couch), I need to also search for things to do in the area. One of my favorite apps for finding affordable entertainment in a new area is Groupon. On this site, I can find discounts for almost anything. When I went to Napa Valley, my friend and I got a private wine tasting at one of the most beautiful vineyards for only $25. When I was in Georgia, my mom and I got spa and massage deals for half the price. That site has discounts for almost anything you can imagine.

7.     Think about going to a conference. This may sound random, but hear me out. As a physician, and even as a student, there were tons of medical conferences each year across the country. From general medical organizations like the AMA to specialty specific organizations and recruitment trips, each year of medical school I attended at least 1 conference in a different state completely free. As a resident physician, I get CME (continuing medical education) money that I can use to attend conferences. Instead of forgoing this money or spending it on phone apps I may never use, I decided to allocate this money for conferences that just to happen to be in a place that I want to visit (wink-wink). Regardless of your profession, ask your colleagues if there are educational conferences your job could help you attend. Doing so may allow you to travel to a new place completely free.

8.     Consider a cruise. As a person who went to medical school in Florida, cruises were a viable option. I only lived a couple hours from many of the major ports, which means I didn’t have to spend money on a flight to get to the dock station. Cruises are usually all-inclusive, so I also didn’t need to worry about lodging or food. There was free entertainment on the boat (i.e. Comedy shows and dance clubs). Plus, I had the opportunity to get off the boat each time we docked at new country. Cruises can certainly serve as an affordable vacation.

 

Tell me, what tips do you have on ways to take more affordable vacations?

 

Money Moves I Wish I Made as a Grad Student, Part 1

 
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I started my master’s degree in public health before going to medical school. The courses I took in the program were incredible and I learned a great deal about how to improve community health. Unfortunately, I went into debt during the process. The program wasn’t cheap, and I hadn’t yet acquired the self-discipline to practice basic money management. Needless to say, I made quite a few financial mistakes. Although I learned valuable lessons, here are some things I would do differently if I could do the process all over again.

  1. Reconsider where I live. Cost of living matters. As a young 22 year old who had just finished undergrad and had zero financial worries, I didn’t give much thought to the cost of living. All I knew was that I wanted to move to Washington, DC and use my newfound public policy degree to “change the world.” Although I did end up working in policy and doing some pretty cool things, I certainly did not change the world. What I did change, however, was my financial status.

    Living in DC was incredibly expensive, especially for someone like me who had never paid a bill in my life. I was sharing an apartment that cost $1800 a month (not including utilities) and was a health policy intern barely making $10 an hour. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed more income. After my dad refused to let me use his credit cards to cover my expenses, I soon got a second job working nights and weekends at a workout gym. Despite having two incomes, I still struggled. Although these hard times taught me grit and compassion for the less fortunate, life would have been much easier if I had moved to a cheaper city closer to my family and friends.

  2. Avoid credit card debt and lifestyle creep. This much easier said than done. As a grad student with student-loans that seemed to always run out before the semester ended, I found myself running short on funds. Pair that with multiple credit cards and a lack of self-discipline and you’ll quickly see how I accumulated a substantial amount of debt in a short amount of time. For starters, I was living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (Washington, DC). Everything from groceries to basic public transportation was much more expensive than it was in the south where I was from.

    Secondly, after 12 months of struggling, I had upgraded my jobs and was now getting paid almost double what I was making before. Although I was still barely making ends meet, I had so much more money in comparison to the year before that I upgraded my living situation. Instead of staying in my crappy, bug-infested apartment, my roommate and I upgraded to a sky-rise in the middle of the city. The hardwood floors and marble countertops were nice but came with a pretty hefty price tag…$2300 a month. Although I had started my masters degree and now had access to student loan money, I was using that money to pay for my expensive private school tuition at the Milken Institute for Public Health and naively relied on credit cards to fund basic expenses when the money from my jobs ran short. I would always tell myself that I would pay off the card at the end of each month, but sometimes that didn’t happened. There always seemed to be something else more important that I needed to spend that money on. At the end of the year I found myself nearly $4,000 in debt.

  3. Make a spending budget. Part of the reason I started racking up credit card debt was because I had terrible spending habits. I had these terrible habits because I never had to make a budget before graduating from college. Even though I worked part-time in undergrad, my father paid for my room and board and even provided a small stipend for incidentals. Any money I made from my work-study went directly into my pocket to spend as I wanted. As a result, I created a bad habit of buying nice dresses and cute shoes whenever I went to the mall. By the time I moved out to DC and started working as a young adult, I kept that same terrible habit.

    To make matters worse, I had no idea how much money I was spending. Sometimes I would go grocery shopping, spend $100 for a weeks worth of food, then still end up eating out at restaurants twice a week when I “wanted something different.” Occasionally, I’d travel out of town, go visit friends in other cities, or simply go back to Florida for a holiday. Again, I did all of this with no budget and ended each month wondering where all of my money had gone. If I could do it again I’d definitely create a spending plan and try to stick to a monthly budget.

  4. Check your monthly account statement. Once I started med school, my spending habits changed. Not because I magically started creating a budget, but because I realized I needed to stop relying on credit cards and actually start paying off the balance quicker. I set up automatic monthly withdrawals to cover my credit card payment and tried my best to avoid buying unnecessary clothes at the mall. Although these were good changes, I had neglected to take a vital step….check the monthly credit card balance. This might not seem like such a big deal, but mistakes happen more frequently than we may realize.

    Whether it’s a charge that showed up twice or a monthly payment you never authorized, it is imperative to check your accounts frequently. Even though I occasionally looked at my debit card balance, I never checked my credit card account history. When I finally did, I was mortified! I was paying nearly $70 a month for some added credit card protection I didn’t need and never remembered authorizing! Although I was able to call the bank and stop paying for that service, I was angry that I had such a high charge each month for something I never even wanted! As a struggling medical student, I could think of several other things I could spend that $70 on, none of which included handing it out for free to a bank. Ladies and gents, check your statements.

This is just part 1 of the financial mistakes I made in grad school. Stay tuned for part 2 of disastrous things I did with money before I got responsible and started paying back my bills. Tell me, what money mistakes did you make after college? If you could do things different what would you change?

 

8 Reasons Single Young Professionals Pay A Lot In Taxes (and what they should do about it)

It’s tax time and if you’re like most Americans you’re either hoping for a refund or praying you don’t owe Uncle Sam money you already spent. Unfortunately, many single young professionals are in the latter group, my brothers included.

After doing some research, asking other young professionals, and talking with my father (who is a government auditor) I began to learn several key reasons why my brothers’ tax rate, and yours too, may be much higher than the average. Here’s what I discovered….

  1. They make a lot of money. This first reason is self-explanatory. In order to pay a high amount in taxes you usually have to be earning a high income. While everyone’s definition of “high income” may vary, it’s safe to say that if you are a single young professional making at least 6 figures per year (in any city except San Francisco, LA, DC, or NYC) then you are probably doing pretty well for yourself. Our tax code is progressive, which means that the more money you make the higher percentage you pay in taxes. While this may be a huge drag for many people in the higher tax brackets, the government provides services and protections we all benefit from and we can’t expect those struggling to provide for their basic needs to fund it. Much of the burden falls on the high earners.

  2. They earn most, if not all, of their income from their employer. Earned income, such as the salaries we get from our jobs, is taxed at a much higher rate than passive income or investment income. So, if you get all of your money from your job and have not started generating other revenue streams from various investments or business ventures then you will be taxed at a higher percentage. Some young professionals make a good portion of their income from commissions due to sales or may earn end-of-the-year bonuses from their job. If these bonuses or commissions come in the form of a separate check, they are taxed at an even higher rate (22% in 2018). This means that nearly a fourth of the extra money they earned went directly to the government in taxes. Whether it’s all “earned income” from salary or a combination of salary, bonuses, and commissions, the issue is that the type of income they receive is taxed at a high rate.

  3. They are single. It is no secret that married people have lower tax rates than single people. Just look at the tax brackets and you’ll see that a married couple making the same amount of money as a single person will pay much less in taxes each year. Why? Well because back in the day it wasn’t as common for both adults in a marriage to be employed. Typically, only the male worked and the wife stayed home to raise the kids. Thus, the government gave a tax break when people got married because it assumed that there was only 1 person working and didn’t want to overtax that one person who had to also use part of his (or her) earnings to financially support the non-working spouse. Nowadays, it is much more common that both people in a marriage work, but that tax benefit is still in place. Many young professionals are single and have waited longer to get married, thus they end up paying a higher portion in taxes.

  4. They do not have kids. The government wants people to procreate. Having kids that grow up to be productive members of society benefits the country as a whole and solidifies our viability as a nation. But kids cost money. Those little humans have so many needs and require a plethora of resources that can be quite expensive. The government understands this fact and has various tax breaks in place for people who have kids as a way of saying “here’s a small token of our appreciation for taking care of the little people.” Parents get a tax credit for raising kids, additional reimbursements for childcare costs, and other tax deductions for educational expenses. This does not make up for how much parents spend since kids are quite expensive, but it does help. Many single young professionals don’t have kids, so they are ineligible for these credits and tax breaks.

  5. They do not have any dependents. Along with receiving a tax credit for having kids, there are also tax deductions for taking care of other people. Anyone who takes care of someone who can not, or does not, care for themselves (such as a child, disabled person, non-working relative, or elderly parent) can file his or her taxes as “head-of-household” instead of “single” which makes them eligible for larger tax deductions that save them even more money. Now I’m not suggesting that young professionals become fiscally responsible for other people, but I am pointing out the noticeable difference in tax savings that come from changing one’s tax filing status from single to Head-of-Household.

  6. They do not own a home. Many young professionals prefer to live in major cities. They like being close to their jobs and having the convenience of apartment-style living (i.e. free maintenance repairs, in-house gyms, the freedom to move to another place after the lease ends, etc.). As a result, they pay rent. The only bad thing about paying rent and living in an apartment is that they are ineligible for one of the largest deductions in the tax code: the mortgage interest deduction. Many people who own a home have a monthly mortgage payment (since they didn’t pay the full cost for the home up front). While a portion of this mortgage payment is used to pay off the amount they borrowed from the bank, another portion of this monthly payment goes towards “interest” (the fee that the bank charges for loaning you money for the home). The government wants people to purchase homes and have reliable housing so there is an incentive in the tax code that allows homeowners to deduct the portion of their monthly mortgage payment that is “interest” from their taxes. When you first buy a home the “interest” portion of the mortgage payment is a fairly large percentage, so the mortgage interest deduction adds up to a large amount in tax savings. Thus, while many single young professionals are paying rent, some of their counterparts have purchased a home. Even though the monthly payment for the person who lives in a home may be the same or slightly higher than the cost of rent, the person who lives in the home is able to deduct a large portion of their monthly payment from their taxes and could be saving tens of thousands of dollars each year.

  7. They are not putting much money into retirement accounts. Although some jobs may not offer a 401K, the majority of salaried jobs have a retirement account in place for their employees. The advantage of these accounts is that many of them are “tax-deferred.” This means that when you contribute to retirement plans like a 401K, you aren’t taxed on the money you put into the account until years later. As a result, the more money you put into your retirement account now, the lower your tax rate will be when you file your taxes each year. Despite these tax savings, many single young professionals don’t put as much money into their 401Ks as they can. To be fair, it is usually because they prefer to have more money available to them during each pay period. They might have other uses for that money, want to prioritize paying off their student loans, or may simply desire to live a more affluent lifestyle. While these are all understandable reasons, the fact that they are not contributing more to their 401Ks raises their tax rates.

  8. They do not have enough money coming in from investments. The profit you make from investments (whether it is investing the stock market, real estate, or various businesses) is taxed at a much lower rate than earned income from your job. Sometimes it can even be shielded from taxes entirely. If single young professionals really want to lower how much they pay in taxes, they may need to invest the money they have in ways that can decrease their tax rates and add to their monthly incomes.

Despite all of these reasons for a high tax rate, my solution isn’t necessarily to get married, start having kids, or quickly buy a home or condo. While those are all viable things to do, I don’t advise that anyone rush into a decision like that. Making a decision in haste could have endless repercussions that could far outweigh the tax savings.

Instead, single young professionals should start actively investing more of their money. I am not suggesting that they randomly buy some stocks they saw on Bloomberg, or start investing in things they barely understand (like Bitcoin). Single young professionals should strongly consider starting a side business or begin investing in things like commodities or real estate. They will have to increase their knowledge on whichever route they choose so that they make educated investment decisions. Nevertheless, becoming an active investor or business owner will not only lower their tax rate, but it will also increase their monthly revenue and make them less dependent on the salaried jobs that keep taxing them at high rates.

To summarize, many single young professionals pay a lot of money in taxes. While each person’s situation may differ, there are usually 8 main reasons their tax rate is so high. They make a high income, they get most of their money from their jobs, and don’t actively invest a significant portion of their income. They also are single (and forgo the tax benefits of being married), many don’t have kids or dependents (which may save them money overall, but still make them ineligible for the plethora of tax incentives available to parents). Plus many of them prefer the perks of apartment style living (and are ineligible for deductions available to homeowners). Lastly, they do not contribute as much to their retirement accounts (which would further decrease their tax rates). Until these single young professionals decide to get married, procreate, and find a home, they should strongly consider investing more of their money. Profit earned from investments can not only add to their monthly incomes, but it can also substantially lower the amount they pay in taxes. A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

Do you agree? What things do you think you could start doing to lower your tax rate?

10 Things To Remember Before You File Your Taxes

It’s tax time and most of us are getting ready to gather documents for one of our family members or a rep over at H&R block. Wait a second though. Instead of paying someone to file your taxes or merely hoping the person doing them doesn’t make any mistakes, why not try to learn a little about taxes (and how to reduce them) for yourself?

Learning how to do your own taxes probably isn’t number 1 on your bucket list, but face it.  No one is going to care as much about your money as you are.

The more you know, the more you can make sure you’re getting all the tax credits and deductions you can. Plus, learning about taxes helps you rethink how you can better structure your money next year to pay even less than you are paying right now.

As you think over the idea, here are a few things to remember to help you get through tax season this year:   

  1. Many people will pay less money in taxes this year. With the new tax law, there are a few allowances that many people benefit from. First, the tax rates are lower for people in each income bracket. For example, last year the marginal tax rate for single people with an adjustable gross income of least $38,000 was 25%, this year it will be decreased to 22%. Last year, the marginal tax rate for married couples with an adjustable gross income of at least $165,000 was 28%, this year it will be reduced to 24%. Along with lower tax rates for everyone, the standard deduction was increased this year to $12,000 for singles and $24,000 for married people. This means that many people will be able to deduct even more money and pay much less in taxes this year. 

  2. Consider filing taxes if you have student loans and are about to graduate. Although many full-time students don’t need to file taxes since they probably don’t have any income, there is an entirely different reason you may want to file taxes. Oftentimes, your student loan payments are based on how much money you made the previous year. In other words, they are “income-based.”

    If you can show an income of zero dollars this year when you file your taxes, when you graduate from your school in a few months and have to start paying back your student loans there is a very real possibility that your required payment will be zero dollars for the first year. How is this possible? The initial payment calculations are based on the income you made the last time you filed your taxes, so if you file taxes this year with an income of zero dollars then your student loan repayment for the first year may be zero. (This has happened for many graduating medical students who entered residency training programs as doctors so I strongly advise you to consult a student loan advisor and at least consider filing taxes. Many tax preparers will do it for you for free.)

  3. If your refund is large, then you should consider adjusting the amount you have deducted from each check throughout the year. Although it can feel nice to get a large refund each April, it may not be the wisest thing. Most of the time when you get a huge refund from the government after filing your taxes it is because you paid the government too much in tax money throughout the year. In other words, you had too much deducted from your check each month and the government is now returning the excess amount. Basically, you let the government use and invest your money as it wanted to and then return it back to you a year later.

    Because the government has this excess amount of YOUR money, you weren’t able to use that money during the year as you would have liked. Because the government had your money you were not able to invest that money in stocks or real estate etc. which would have allowed you to earn a profit on that money as interest. So even though the large check feels good, why would you allow the government to have access to your money just for them the return it back to you in April interest-free? It may be better to stop giving them the excess in the first place. Talk to the person who does your taxes. Consider having less money deducted from your check each pay period and instead use that money to increase your monthly income or invest it to make a profit.

  4. Tax credits and tax deductions are the key to helping you save money. Tax credits offset the amount you owe to the government in taxes “dollar-for-dollar.” Tax deductions reduce the amount you owe the government by a “percentage of each dollar.” Even though they are different, both tax credits and deductions are government incentives that lower your tax rate. They are the ultimate key to helping you save money in taxes so double check to make sure you have claimed all of the tax credits and deductions you are eligible for. Some examples of tax credits are: the family credit (for having kids), the education credit (to help offset the cost of college tuition), and investment tax credits (for business owners and investors who build low-income housing, do research, or develop innovative products and services). Examples of tax deductions are charitable contributions (money you give to charities, non-profit organizations and churches), health savings accounts, student loan interest, home mortgage interest, etc.  

     

  5. Make sure you’ve contributed as much as you can tolerate into your IRA (if you have one). I went through the basics of an IRA in a previous post, but in case you missed it (or skipped it), I’ll do a brief overview here. An IRA is an Individual Retirement Account that allows you to save and invest money for retirement in a way that lowers your taxes. When you save for retirement you don’t just let money sit in a savings account. Instead, the money in the retirement account is usually invested in the stock market with the hope of it making even more money in profits. When people invest money on their own, they must pay “capital gains” taxes on the profit they make. However, when people invest money inside of retirement accounts like and IRA or 401K, they are taxed at a lower rate and often don’t have to pay taxes on this money until years later.

    Since IRAs and 401Ks allow you to save money in taxes and delay paying some of the tax money you owe, it is best to put as much money into these accounts as you can afford. The deadline to contribute to a 401K was December 31st (unless you filed for an extension), but you can still contribute into an IRA up until the tax filing deadline and use that contribution to lower the amount of money you owe in taxes this year. Of note, the IRA and 401K contribution limits will increase for 2019 so you may be able to save even more money through these accounts next year.  

  6. Get proof of any charitable donations. It might seem a little weird to go calling your church about the tithe money you donated on Easter Sunday, but it can save you quite a bit of money on your taxes. The government likes when we give to those less fortunate or to charitable organizations so it gives us a tax deduction for doing so. When people file taxes, they can opt to reduce the amount they pay in taxes by taking a “standard deduction” (which is $12,000 for a single person or $24,000 for a married couple) or they can choose to “itemize” their deductions. As you start making more money and your income rises, the amount you pay in taxes may increase as well. One way to combat that it to itemize your deductions, especially if the total amount you “itemize” is higher than the default “standard deduction.”

    One of the things you can itemize is charitable contributions (including donations to nonprofits and churches). Most churches keep decent records and should already be mailing you a statement of your contributions over the past year, but if your church hasn’t sent you a copy of this record then you should definitely ask for it. In general, make sure you are keeping track of donations to churches, especially your tithes, in some sort of record-keeping book or app if you donate using cash. In order to deduct what you paid from your taxes, the government needs proof that you actually donated. It’s much harder to provide this proof if you pay with cash and/or if your church or organization doesn’t have the best accounting methods. Keep your own records, just in case.

  7. Be sure to deduct any mortgage interest you might have paid on your home. When you take out a mortgage to purchase a home, the bank charges you a fee when they loan you the money. That fee is called “interest” and you will pay a small percentage of it each time you send in your monthly mortgage payment to the bank. Since this “interest” is not being used to pay back the loan and is money that the bank receives as profit, the government allows you to deduct most, if not all, of this interest from your yearly taxes. In fact, you can deduct up to $750,000.

    Now you obviously cannot deduct what you didn’t pay. So, if you only paid $10,000 in mortgage interest last year, then you can only deduct $10,000 from your taxable income. Nevertheless, the limit is pretty high which means that most of the interest you paid will be deductible and work to lower how much you owe in taxes. This is important because oftentimes when you first buy a home, the mortgage payment you send to the bank each month is mostly interest. Thus, you can deduct this huge amount in interest from your taxes.

    This is one of the main reasons young, single, professionals who are high-income earners are encouraged to purchase a home or a condo instead of renting. The argument is that they could be paying off a mortgage and deducting a huge amount of that monthly mortgage payment from their taxes which would save them thousands of dollars in taxes each year. Now there are lots of other costs and fees associated with buying a home that you have to keep in mind and I briefly mention them here. Long story short, I don’t advise anyone to simply rush into buying a home just for the tax benefits, but I am saying that it can be a huge tax savings, everything else being equal.

  8. Get a statement of how much you’ve paid in student loans (particularly the interest). You may also be able to deduct the money you paid in student loan interest from your taxes. In fact, this deduction is similar to the mortgage interest rate deduction explained in above. When you pay back your student loans you are paying back the amount you originally borrowed (the principal) along with the fee the bank or the government charged you for borrowing the money in the first place (the interest). According to the tax law, you can deduct up to $2,500 of interest you paid towards your student loans from your taxable income (as long as you make less than $80,000 a year for a single person or $160,000 as a married person). 

  9. Calculate your business expenses and be sure to deduct them when you file. If you are self-employed, contract out your services, own a business, or have just launched a new website, you are eligible for deductions that can help lower your tax rate. For example, if you work from home, you can deduct a portion of your rent, internet, and electric bills as “business expenses.” You can even deduct the cost of gas as you travel to and from clients and include any educational materials or resources you purchased when you first started. Although you also must pay taxes on any income you get, the bonus of getting to subtract out any business expenses or materials you purchased is a decent deal. Just be sure to keep good records and/or download an app on your phone that makes it easy for you to scan and save receipts & invoices from clients.

  10. Real estate Investors can deduct even more money from their tax bill. If you are new to the world of real estate investing then you’ll be pleased to know that real estate investors can deduct a lot more money from their taxes than most other people. Notice I said real estate investors and not “homeowners.” If you simply own a home then you can usually only deduct the mortgage interest, BUT if you invest in real estate you can deduct a lot more than that. Real estate investors can deduct the cost of things like property taxes and insurance, repairs and maintenance (up to a certain point), transaction costs in the form of “amortization,” etc. Plus, with the new tax law, there are even more deductions. For example, real estate investors can now deduct even more depreciation sooner through new forms of cost segregation and may even be able to deduct a large percent of the purchase price (via the 20% income pass through deduction) if they meet certain qualifications. The nuances of tax deductions for real estate investors can get quite complicated and I won’t pretend to know them all. My point is that if you invest in real estate you are probably eligible for more deductions than you think, which would drastically lower the amount of taxes you owe. I’d strongly advise you to get a tax advisor that specializes in real estate.

 

To summarize:  You should consider learning a little bit about taxes. Even though you may not want to actually file your own taxes, learning some basics will help you figure out how to structure your life to save more money in taxes each year. Students graduating from undergraduate, masters or doctoral programs should consider filing their taxes this year so that their income-driven loan repayment is zero dollars for the first year. Everyone who files taxes should know that qualifying for more tax credits and tax deductions are the key to saving you more money.

If you are going to get a big refund in April, you are probably having too much money deducted from each of your paychecks. You should speak with a tax advisor about reducing it, so you can have more money on your check each pay period. Contributing more money to an IRA account will save you more money in taxes and you still have the chance to contribute to this account before you file your taxes this year. If you give to charity or pay tithes, get proof of how much you gave because it can lower how much tax money you owe.

If you bought a home or have paid money in student loans get a statement of how much money you paid in interest because you can subtract that interest money from the amount of taxes you owe. Anyone who owns a business can subtract “business expenses” even if the business just began and hasn’t started making money yet. Lastly, real estate investors are eligible for many deductions this year so they should be sure to consult with a tax advisor that specializes in that particular area and use the IRS website as a guide.

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5 Things To Do As A Young Professional To Set Yourself Up For Financial Success

5 Things To Do As A Young Professional To Set Yourself Up For Financial Success

Learn about finance. I get it. Finance can be boring. You don’t want to spend the free time you barely have studying a subject you don’t really like. Hopefully this site can give you some quick tips about finance so that if you merely browse the info on this site you will have some semblance of what to do. Plus, if you want even more information you can use this site to find the resources and tools you need.