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4 Things That Could Maximize Your Tax Savings Before December 31

December 20, 2019

This blog has been prepared for informational purposes only, and does not constitute tax or financial advice. Please consult your tax advisor for guidance on your personal tax situation.

 

By Caroline Farhat

 

With the end of the year coming, it’s typically a time people start thinking about the goals they’ll make in the new year. Do you want to refinance student loans, pay down debt, or just cut back on your hefty clothing budget? You’re not alone. In fact, Inc. reported that about 60% of Americans currently make New Year’s resolutions. “Saving more and spending less” was the fourth most common resolution.

 

It may be tempting to wait until the ball drops to start working on your goals, but there’s one area you likely could be saving on that you’ll have to take action on now. Any guesses? If you thought of Uncle Sam, you’re right. With some strategic planning, you can maximize your tax savings so that you’re not left with a big bill when Tax Day rolls around. Ready to start saving? Here are four things that could maximize your tax savings before year-end.

 

Max out your retirement accounts

You’ve probably been told to save for retirement hundreds of times. There’s a good reason for that. The earlier you begin contributing to retirement accounts, the more time it allows for the money to compound and increase.

 

So how does contributing more at the end of the year help your taxes? If you contribute to a tax-deferred retirement account, such as a 401(k), the contributions could help lower your taxable income for 2019. There is a maximum amount you can contribute to retirement accounts and it can change yearly. For 2019 the limit is $19,000 if you are under the age of 50, and $25,000 if you are 50 or older. In 2020 the limit is $19,500 for under the age of 50, and $26,000 for ages 50 and older. Bottom line: If you have not reached the limit and you’re financially able to contribute more, it may be beneficial to contribute an additional amount up to the $19,000 limit so you can lower your taxable income.

 

Be strategic with your income

This tactic is especially important for you freelancers out there who might have more control over when you can recognize income.

 

In order to know how to best be strategic with your income you need to consider if you anticipate being in a lower tax bracket this year or next year. If you anticipate being in the same bracket or a lower tax bracket next year, it’s likely more advantageous to defer your income to the following year. However, if you anticipate that you will be in a higher tax bracket next year, you may want to accept all the income you can now.

 

If you are self-employed, try to collect all unpaid invoices before the end of the year if you think you’ll be in a higher tax bracket next year. If you think you will be in a lower tax bracket next year, wait to collect payment from the invoices after January 1.

 

If you work as a full-time employee, a bonus you may receive is typically the best way to defer income. Check with your HR and/or payroll departments to see if this is a possibility.

 

Maximize other tax deductions

There are a lot of other ways you can maximize your tax savings at the end of the year. Here are some examples:

  • If you have a mortgage, it may be beneficial to make one extra payment at the end of the year since mortgage interest is deductible on your taxes. If the payment due in January is paid in December that will be more interest you can take as a tax deduction. In addition, if you have mortgage insurance the same principle applies.
  • Make a charitable donation and you may be able to take that as a tax deduction. Be sure to save your receipt as proof!
  • If you have a health savings account, try to contribute up to the maximum allowable amount. Contributions to an HSA are deductible and reduce your taxable income. The maximum contribution limits for 2019 are $3,500 for individuals and $7,000 for families. People ages 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000.

 

Make an extra student loan payment

Making an extra student loan payment is another great way to potentially maximize your tax savings because you can deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest paid. Student loan interest can be deducted whether you itemize deductions or not, so this is a great perk for everyone paying student loan debt to consider. The deduction of $2,500 is per tax return not per person, so if you and your spouse both pay on student loan debt you still can only deduct $2,500 of the interest you paid between the two of you. In addition, there are income limits to be aware of. For tax year 2019, in order to qualify to take the full deduction your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must equal or be below $70,000 for single tax filing status and $140,000 for married filing jointly. If your MAGI is above $85,00 as single tax filing status and $170,000 for married filing jointly you are not eligible to deduct any of the student loan interest. If your MAGI is between the two limits you may be able to deduct some of the student loan interest you have paid.

 

If looking at your loan payments is making your head hurt, it might be time to start looking at your student loan refinancing options. While saving on your taxes is a great start, student loan refinancing could potentially save you thousands of dollars. You can see just how much you can save each month, and over the lifetime of your loan, by using our student loan refinance calculator*.

 

Bottom Line

While filing for taxes will never be fun, you can make it easier on your bank account by doing a little planning ahead of time. Implement some of these tips and you could see the benefits come tax time. If nothing else, you will be working towards a better financial outlook in the new year!

 

Each person’s tax situation is different. The tips above are not intended to replace the advice of a trained tax specialist. Make sure to do your research and consult your tax advisor for guidance.

 


 

*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

 

Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

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paying down student loans with a credit card
2020-10-27
Should I Pay Down Credit Card or Student Loan Debt?

Dealing with student loans can be incredibly challenging for many college graduates. According to Experian, Americans carry an average student loan balance of $35,359. On top of that, the average credit card debt is nearly $6,200, says the credit reporting agency.    In most cases, targeting one debt at a time can help you pay off your balances faster and save you more money on interest. So should you pay down credit card or student loan debt first?   Here’s how to develop your strategy:  

Should You Pay Off a Credit Card or Student Loan First?

In the vast majority of cases, it’s better to prioritize your credit card debt before your student loan debt. This is primarily because credit cards charge higher interest rates than student loans.    Additionally, credit cards don’t have set repayment schedules, so it’s easy to add to your balance even while you’re paying them off. As a result, credit cards may keep you in debt for longer than student loans with firm repayment terms.   For example, let’s say you have the following debts:  
  • A credit card balance of $7,000 on an account with a 20% annual percentage rate (APR) and a $120 monthly payment.
  • Combined student loans worth $30,000 with a weighted-average rate of 6.5% and a $341 monthly payment. 
  In total, your minimum monthly payment would be $461, and if you were to pay just that amount and add no new debt to your credit card, you’d pay off the student loans in 10 years and the credit card in a little more than 11 years. You’d also pay a total of $24,739 in interest over that time.   Now, let’s say you could afford to put $510 toward your debt every month. If you were to add the extra payment toward your credit card debt until it was paid down, your balance would be paid off in a little under six years. Then if you use the total amount you were putting toward your card toward your student loans, you’d pay those off about a year and a half early. You’d also save $9,643 in interest.   If you were to do the opposite and focus on your student loans first, you’d pay those off sooner, but the higher interest rate on your credit cards will result in more total interest charges.    You can use a debt avalanche calculator to find out what you could save with your specific situation.  

Can You Pay Off Student Loans with a Credit Card?

Another thing you may be wondering is, can you transfer student loans to a credit card? The U.S. Department of the Treasury doesn’t allow federal student loan servicers to accept credit cards as a payment method, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a private lender that offers it as an option.   But you still can technically use a credit card to pay off a student loan by using the balance transfer feature. 

Many credit card issuers send out blank balance transfer checks that you can use to pay off other credit card accounts or other types of debt. These checks often include an introductory 0% APR promotion, which could potentially save you money as you pay down your balance.   To use one to pay off student loans, you’d write the check out to your loan servicer and submit it as payment or write the check to yourself and deposit it into your checking account, then make a payment.   But just because it’s possible to do this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a scenario where using a credit card balance transfer to pay off a student loan is the right move. Here’s why:  
  • Balance transfers come with fees, which can range up to 5% of the transfer amount.
  • If you don’t pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, you’ll be stuck paying a higher interest rate, which can be in the mid teens or even upwards of 20%, on the remaining balance. 
  • The lack of a set repayment term on a credit card can make it more difficult to stick to your repayment plan and keep you in debt longer. 
  In other words, if you have credit card debt, using a balance transfer credit card to pay it off interest-free is generally a good idea. But it’s not worth doing the same thing with your student loan balance.   If you have a cash-back rewards credit card, you can also opt to use your rewards to help pay down your student loans.   

Using Your Credit Cards Wisely While You Have Student Loan Debt

In an ideal world, you’d never carry a balance on a credit card because when you pay your bill in full every month, you’ll avoid interest charges. But if your financial situation is tight because of student loan debt and other obligations, it can be difficult to avoid.    Whether or not you can afford to avoid credit card debt right now, here are some tips to help you limit your exposure to the risks they present:  

Always pay on time

Even if you can just make the minimum monthly payment, paying on time will ensure that you don’t get slapped with late fees and a ding to your credit score. If you do miss a payment, make sure to get caught up quickly — you won’t avoid a late fee but late payments aren’t reported to the credit bureaus until they’re past due by 30 days.  

Try to avoid a high balance

Your credit utilization rate is the percentage of available credit you’re using at a given time. So if you have a $1,000 balance on a card with a $2,000 credit limit, your utilization rate is 50%. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for what your rate should be, but the higher it is, the more damage it will do to your credit score. So if you can, try to keep your balance as low as possible relative to your credit limit.  

Seek lower interest rates

As you work to pay down credit card debt, a balance transfer card with a 0% APR promotion can be a great way to save money on interest charges, even if you can’t pay the balance in full before the promotional period ends. If you can’t qualify for a balance transfer card, you may try to call your card issuer and see if you can get a reduced interest rate. There’s no guarantee your request will be granted, but credit card companies will sometimes offer a lower rate for at least a short period.  

Avoid using your card as you pay it off

If you keep adding charges to your credit card while you’re paying down the balance, it can feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. If you can, try to stick to using cash or your debit card while you pay down your debt — at least for most of your expenses — to make it easier to achieve your goal.   As you take these steps, you’ll be able to avoid some of the drawbacks that come with using credit cards regularly. They’ll not only help preserve your credit score but also make it easier to pay off your balance, so you can turn your focus to your student loans.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Happy couple admiring their home
2020-10-22
Should I Build Home Equity or Pay Down Student Loans?

Owning a home is a goal for many people. In fact, 40% of young millennials are saving to buy a home. If you already own a home, congratulations on achieving your goal! If you are now faced with a mortgage and student loans, you may wonder which debt you should prioritize. Should you build home equity or pay down your student loans?    Here we will explain what home equity is, how to build it and when it’s better to focus on home equity or paying down student loans.   

What is Home Equity?

When you pay on a mortgage, even if you haven’t yet paid it off completely, you’re building equity in your home. Home equity is the difference between the market value of the house and what you owe. Here’s an example of how to calculate it:  

How to Calculate Home Equity

  You can calculate your home equity by subtracting the balance of your mortgage from the current value of your home. The value of your home is determined by the fair market value of your house or the appraised value. This number is the true value of your asset (your house) since it takes into account the amount you owe on the loan.    Your home equity is calculated in your net worth. You may have heard that home equity can be “tapped into.” This means you can borrow against the equity of your home and use the money in a variety of ways. A home equity loan can cover home renovations or pay off higher-interest debt.    Your home is valued at $375,000 and your mortgage balance is $275,000. You determine the equity by taking the value of $375,000 and subtracting the mortgage balance of $275,000. The equity in your home is $100,000.   

Home Equity and the Housing Market

  Your home’s equity often increases when you make mortgage payments, especially when paying down the principal on your loan. Your home’s equity can also increase when its value rises. Although the value is determined primarily by the housing market, you can raise the value through home improvements.   Just as the value of your home can increase based on the market, however, it can also decrease based on the market. The only sure way to increase your home equity is by paying down your mortgage loan. The more of the loan you pay off, the more your equity increases.  

Building Home Equity vs. Paying Down Student Loans

  If you follow the normal payment schedule, you’ll increase your home equity slowly. If you make extra payments towards your mortgage, you can build equity faster. However, if you also have student loans, should you build home equity or pay down your student loans instead? Let’s take a look at some factors that can help determine the best course of action:   

Interest Rates

If either your mortgage or any student loan has a variable interest rate, you may want to focus on that loan first, because you are at risk that the rate can rise and leave you with a higher payment to make. In addition, if one of your loans has a much higher interest rate than the other, you may choose to focus on it first.  

Security

With student loans, in certain instances, if you are facing financial hardships you can temporarily suspend payments. Mortgages offer less flexibility with payments, therefore missing payments can result in foreclosure and losing your home.  

Loan Balances

If you have student loans with lower balances than your mortgage, you may be able to pay them off more quickly. Then, you can continue to build equity after paying down your student loan debt.   

Tax Implications

You may get a bigger tax break by building equity versus paying off student loans. However, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Interest paid on student loans is deductible, however, there is a cap on how much. As of 2020 the cap is $2,500. Your income must meet the requirements to be able to deduct this amount.    Interest paid on mortgages is also deductible, but only if you itemize your deductions. The mortgage interest deduction can be much higher than $2,500. To learn more about either of these options, consult with your tax advisor.  

Refinancing Your Student Loans With ELFI

If you don’t want to choose between building equity or paying off your student loans, then consider refinancing your student loans with ELFI. Use our student loan refinance calculator* to see how much you may be able to save.   

The Bottom Line 

Each person’s financial goals and situation are unique, so you have to make the best decision for you. Hopefully, however, knowing more about both options and which is better in certain circumstances will help you make an informed decision.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.   *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.
Man feeling overwhelmed by student loans
2020-10-15
What to do When Your Student Loan Payment is Overwhelming   

Having student loans is not unusual. In fact, 45 million people have them. It’s also incredibly common to feel overwhelmed by your student loan payments.   A survey of student loan borrowers found that almost 65% of respondents said they lose sleep because of the stress caused by their loans. If you find yourself overwhelmed by your monthly student loan payment, there are some options you should consider to lessen the burden.   Before you can explore alternatives, however, you need to know the types of loans you have. Certain options are only available for federal loans as opposed to private loans. Check the Federal Student Aid website to determine any federal loans you may have, and request your free credit report to see any private loans. Once you’re familiar with your loans, you can consider new courses of action.  

Create a Budget

If you don’t already have a budget, create one! This will allow you to see if you can afford your current student loan payment. It will also show you areas where you’re spending unnecessarily. If you find there just isn’t enough income to cover all your necessary expenses, then you can begin working on different ways to reduce your student loan payment.  

Research Different Payment Plans

If your federal student loan payment is overwhelming, consider switching to a different payment plan. When you initially begin repayment, your loans are automatically put on the standard repayment plan. On this plan, your payments are based on a ten-year repayment term.   A Direct Consolidation Loan can help you change your payment plan to help make your payment more affordable. It can also help consolidate multiple federal loans into one loan. (Note: Consolidating your federal loans is different from student loan refinancing, discussed below.)   This will help you qualify for certain longer repayment plans, resulting in a lower monthly payment. One of the drawbacks of extending your payment term is you will end up paying more in interest costs over time.  

Income-Driven Student Loan Repayment

Certain loans are eligible for income-driven repayment plans. They can help make your payments more affordable and are based on your income and family size.  

Graduated Student Loan Repayment

If an income-driven repayment plan does not work for you, you can change to a graduated repayment plan. Your payment will begin low and increase over time for a ten-year term.  

Extended Student Loan Repayment

Another option is an extended repayment plan. To qualify, you must have certain loans over at least $30,000. Your payment may be fixed or may increase over time for a 25-year term.  

Look Into Refinancing

If you have overwhelming private or federal student loan payments, consider student loan refinancing. Refinancing may lower your interest rate and reduce your monthly payment. This is a good option even if your current payment fits your budget.   Refinancing can help lower your monthly payment, and can also save you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. Refinancing means obtaining a private loan to pay off your existing student loan or multiple loans.   Student loan refinancing differs from consolidation, which is only for federal student loans and may not necessarily reduce your interest rate. You can refinance private or federal loans, or both, and can also change your student loan repayment term to better fit your needs.   Here is an example of how refinancing can save you money:   If you have $65,000 of student loans with a 6% interest rate and have 10 years remaining on your loans, you will pay approximately $722 per month. If you refinance and qualify for a lower interest of 3.61%, your monthly payment would be reduced to approximately $646 per month. This equals savings $76 per month in savings. You will also save more than $9,000 in interest over the life of the loan.   To see how much you could save, try ELFI’s Student Loan Refinance Calculator.*  

Increase Your Income

Of course, increasing your income is easier said than done. If your student loans payments are becoming overwhelming, however, it may be a necessary step. Increasing your income through overtime hours or a side hustle can make your payments more manageable. A side hustle can be as easy as babysitting or dog walking, or more involved like starting a side business based on a passion.   If you haven’t begun repayment on your loans, but know you will face a significant loan payment after graduation, consider these steps:  

Build a Budget Early

Start a budget before repayment begins that includes your future student loan payment. This will allow you to see if you will be able to comfortably afford your payment. It will also help you build an emergency fund and a strong financial foundation.  

Seek Employer Student Loan Benefits

Look for an employer that offers student loan assistance. The number of companies that are offering student loan benefits is increasing, although the benefit is still rare. Some offer monthly benefits that can help you pay your loans off faster. Others offer a yearly benefit amount for a certain number of years. Either way, extra money from an employer to help pay loans will help you reduce your loan amount faster.  

Work Toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Apply for employment that may qualify for forgiveness. If you have federal loans, certain employment can qualify for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Certain loans and types of employment are required so be sure to pay close attention to the requirements.  

Bottom Line

If you have an overwhelming student loan payment, explore your options to reduce your payment while furthering your debt-free journey.  
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.   Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.