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Silly Tax Stories and Strange Tax Deductions You Should Know

March 29, 2019

Tax time is here and hopefully, you’ve already filed. We also hope you don’t run into any of these wacky tax situations! Make sure you get expert help filing if you don’t know what you’re doing. No one wants to mess with the IRS, and you want to maximize the amount you can get back or keep for your financial goals.

 

Clean eating isn’t deductible, no matter how healthy.

You can’t deduct money you spend on a healthy diet as a medical expense. John Kane, CPA, reported at Credit.com that a client tried to deduct the cost of the family’s foods. Sure, the groceries were non-processed and healthy, but that doesn’t make them count as a medical expense. Sorry!

 

Negative numbers don’t count.

Some people have tried to use negative numbers on their tax return, maybe innocently thinking that’s what you’re supposed to do. But according to the IRS, you’re supposed to use “0” in any instance where you have a negative amount.

 

What is a “Good” Credit Score Anyway?

 

Go old school with pen and paper.

Many millennials live abroad or would like to in the near future. Did you know that you may not be able to file electronically if you are a US citizen and live outside of the country? Expats may find that they have to fill out the long forms because electronic forms require a US address.

 

Buying a business? Hire a tax expert.

It’s super important to have the right experts and legal help on your side when you’re starting a business endeavor. One reason is successor liability. There are certain business debts or payments that you might not be responsible for, but back taxes don’t go away so easily. People can get burned by IRS liens if they don’t check to see what kind of taxes the business owes.

 

What kind of employee are you? It matters—a lot!

Some businesses wrongly categorize their employees as independent contractors. In the case of a youth soccer association, they got in trouble with the IRS for requiring the referees to file as independent contractors. Businesses that aren’t following labor laws when it comes to tax filing could face big fines.

 

Don’t try to hide from the IRS.

Just as a general tip, don’t try to dodge or outsmart the IRS. That’s a really bad idea. The IRS can go into your bank accounts with a levy if you owe taxes for long enough, so there’s no point in trying to hide. Working with them ASAP when you realize that you owe taxes is your best bet. You can probably set up payments, but only if you are on the ball.

Wondering about some of the wackier tax deductions? There are plenty!

 

  • Moving for work? Your expenses could be tax deductible, including moving Fido. Don’t forget to keep track of expenses for moving your pets. When it comes time to list dependents, stick to human dependents only. People have tried to deduct pets, but that’s a no-go!
  • If you’ve got a guard dog for your business, on the other hand, Cujo’s upkeep would be a tax-deductible business expense. If you are trying to deduct the miniature guard dog that protects your house, you’re out of luck.
  • Pools can increase your homeowner’s insurance and cost a pretty penny to maintain. Did you know that having a medical condition that’s helped by swimming or water therapy could mean your pool expenses are tax deductible?
  • You may not be able to deduct your grocery costs because you like clean eating. You may be in luck if you’re working with a doctor to do things like lower your cholesterol and BMI. If you’re making adjustments as part of a health plan, there might be ways to deduct some of those costs. Check with your tax pro!
  • Just FYI, you’re supposed to pay taxes on income even if it was attained as part of a crime or doing something illegal. Not that we’re making any accusations!
  • Trying to kick the habit? Supplies you use to quit smoking can be tax deductible, too. Just another reason to quit!

 

 

6 Ways to Use Your Federal Tax Return

 

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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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2019-04-22
Pay Down Student Loan Debt or Invest In a Traditional 401(k)?

Student loan debt in the United States has amounted to $1.5 trillion according to the Federal Reserve. This large student loan debt burden has affected many young people who are looking to start families and create a life for themselves. Despite this tough obstacle, many young people still have excess savings and need to determine what to do with these savings. Should they take their savings and invest in a traditional 401(k) or use that savings to pay down their student loan debt? We’re going to share different situations all spanning 10 years that involve paying down student loan debt and investing in a traditional 401(k) plan.     Let’s say you have a taxable income of $150,000 and file taxes jointly with a spouse. Under the new 2018 tax brackets, your effective federal tax rate is 16.59%.  Let’s also assume you have $70,000 of student loan debt with 10 years left at a 7% interest rate. Your monthly student loan payment would be about $812.76 assuming you’re making the same payment amount every month.  What should you do? Pay down the student loan or invest in a traditional 401(k) account?    

Income: $150,000

Effective Tax Rate: 16.59%

Student Loan Debt: $70,000

Monthly Payment: $812.76

Term: 10 years

Interest Rate: 7%

 

Scenario 1 - Paying Down Debt Student Loans Then Investing

Let’s start off by taking a look at how you can pay this debt down faster. Did you know that if you pay an extra $100 a month in addition to your regular student loan monthly payment, you’ll save $4,464.13 in interest paid? Not only will you save money by paying extra every month, but you’ll cut down the overall repayment period by a year and a half. Yes, you’ll be debt-free a year and a half earlier than you thought!   $812.76 + $100 = $912.76 Monthly Payment   After being debt free sooner than expected, you may decide to start investing in your 401(k). If you put all of the money you were paying from your student loan into your 401(k), you’d contribute $1,094.31 monthly.   You may be wondering how you can contribute more money towards your 401(k) than your student loan payment. The answer lies in taxes.   Student loan payments are made with post-tax income. 401(k) contributions are made with pre-tax income. Since a traditional 401(k) account uses pre-tax income, you are able to contribute more towards your 401(k) than you would have your student loan debt with the same income. Though you don’t pay taxes on 401(k) contributions, ordinary income tax will be applied on 401(k) distributions.   $912.76 / (1-16.59%) = $1.094.31 Monthly Contribution   After a year and half of contributing $1,094.31 per month, compounded monthly, at an assumed 7% rate of return, you would have $20,826.09. The investment amount of $20,826.09 combined with the student loan interest savings of $4,464.13 would give you a total 10-year net value of $25,290.23.  

Scenario 2 - Investing While Paying Down Student Loan Debt

  If you have a higher priority of saving for retirement than paying off your student loan debt, you may want a different option. Let’s see what would happen if you decided to put that extra $100 a month into a tax-deferred 401(k) account. The $100 would be contributed to your 401(k) account instead of your student loan debt balance, but you would continue to make monthly student loan debt payments. Due to the pre-tax nature of a 401(k), your contribution of $100 post-tax would become $119.89 pre-tax.   $100 / (1-16.59%) = $119.89 Monthly Contribution   With an assumed 7% rate of return, compounded monthly, on your 401(k), you will have approximately $20,872.19 in your 401(k) after 10 years.  

Scenario 3 - Employer Contributions 401(k)

  Some employers will match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain percentage of your income. This could be a real game-changer. Turning down your employer’s 401(k) match is like throwing away free money. If you have student loan debt, but your employer offers a match, consider contributing to receive the maximum employer match. If you contribute $119.89 a month with an employer match while making your normal student loan payments, your money can really grow.  If your employer matches the 401(k) contribution dollar for dollar, you will double your investment of $20,872.19 from Scenario 2 to $41,744.37 in your 401(k) account after 10 years.   Contributions to a traditional 401(k) are made prior to your income being taxed. The withdrawals on a traditional 401(k) are taxed. The tax rate that is applied to your withdrawals depends on your tax bracket in retirement.  As the average person’s career develops, they typically continue to increase their salary and move into a higher tax bracket. Upon retirement, they will see a decrease in income and move to a lower tax bracket. This means your 401(k) withdrawals could be taxed in a lower tax bracket if done while in retirement, instead of in your working years. Note that this will only be the case if your retirement income is less than your working income.    

Scenario 1 – Paying Down Then Investing

Scenario 2 – Investing While Paying Down Debt

Scenario 3 – Employer Contribution 401k

  As you can see from the chart above, investing while paying down student loan debt or paying down debt than investing produces almost the same total net value. One debt pays down and investment strategy might perform better than the other depending on the return in the 401(k) account. It’s important to keep in mind that the returns on a 401(k) account are never guaranteed   The real deciding factor on whether to invest or pay down your student loan debt will be if an employer offers a 401(k) match. Matching contributions from your employer will make investing significantly more attractive than paying down debt. If an employer match to your 401(k) is available, it’s wise to take advantage of it.   Your comfort level with your student loan debt can be a large factor in your decision to invest in a traditional 401(k) account or to pay down debt. Knowing whether you are more interested in being debt free or being prepared for retirement can help you make a decision. Let’s look at how student loan refinancing can help you amplify your student loan debt pay down and investment strategy.   In Scenarios 1, 2, and 3, the big question was whether you should use the additional $100 a month to pay down student loan debt or invest in a 401(k). What if you wanted to spend that $100 a month instead? Is it possible to find a way to save on student loan debt while spending that extra $100 a month? You’re in luck! This can be done with student loan refinancing.  

Scenario 4 - Refinancing Student Loan Debt

By refinancing your student loan debt, you should be able to decrease the high-interest rate of your student loan. In addition, you should be able to save money over the life of the loan and in some cases monthly.   The total interest you would have to pay on your student loans of $70,000 at 7% interest over 10 years is $27,531.12. If you qualify to refinance your student loan debt to a 5% interest rate, the total interest you would pay is $19,095.03. This would mean that refinancing your student loans would be saving you $8,436.09 in interest over the life of the loan or $70.30 a month.  When comparing your new 5% interest rate to your previous interest rate of 7%, not only would you be saving over the life of the loan, but reducing your monthly payment!   $8,436.09 / 120 = $70.30 Monthly Interest Savings  

Learn More About Student Loan Refinancing

   

Scenario 5 - Refinancing and Paying Down Debt Then Investing

  Now, what happens if you refinance your student loan debt, pay down the debt, and then start investing? Refinancing your student loan debt will cut your interest rate, saving you $70.30 a month, making your monthly student loan payment now $742.46 instead of $812.76 per month. By taking the additional $100 a month and the $70.30 in student loan savings from refinancing and applying them to your monthly student loan payment, you will be debt free two years and three months sooner than expected. Two years and three months are earlier compared to the one and a half years from Scenario 1. Just a reminder, in Scenario 1, there an additional $100 a month put towards your student loan debt. With refinancing and making the same monthly payment as Scenario 1, you will save $13,017.87 in interest over your original loan.   $742.46 + $70.30 + $100 = $912.76 Monthly Payment   Now that you’re debt free, you can use the money that would have been used for your student loan payment to contribute to your 401(k). Since 401(k) contributions are done with pre-tax income, you will be able to contribute a pre-tax amount of $912.76, which is $1094.31.   $912.76 / (1-16.59%) = $1.094.31 Monthly Contribution   After two years and three months of contributing $1,094.31 per month, compounded monthly, at an assumed 7% rate of return, you would have $32,085.89. The investment amount of $32,085.09 combined with the student loan interest savings of $13,017.87 would give you a total 10-year net value of $45,103.76.  

Scenario 6 - Refinancing and Investing While Paying Down Debt

  Now let’s try refinancing while you simultaneously pay down debt and invest. In this scenario, you will cut down the interest rate on your student loan debt from 7% to 5% by refinancing. You’ll be contributing the pre-tax amount of the extra $100 a month and $70.30 a month in interest savings towards your 401(k). You will end up contributing a total of $204.17 a month to your 401(k) account.   ($100 + $70.30) / (1-16.59%) = $204.17 Monthly Contribution   With an assumed 7% rate of return, compounded monthly, you will have approximately $35,544.87 in your 401(k) after 10 years. Combined with the interest savings of $8,436.09, you will have a total net value of $43,980.96.       Scenario 1 – Paying Down Then Investing Scenario 2 – Investing While Paying Down Debt Scenario 4 – Refinancing Student Loan Debt Scenario 5 – Refinancing and Paying Down Debt Then Investing Scenario 6 – Refinancing and Investing While Paying Down Debt   As you can see from the chart above, just from refinancing your student loan debt, you can save money and increase your total net value. If you take it one step further and supplement your debt pay down and investment strategy with student loan refinancing, you would approximately double your total net value! By taking advantage of student loan refinancing, you will be able to supercharge your debt pay down and investment strategy. For those who are just trying to save money on student loans or have more money to invest in their 401(k), student loan refinancing is the way to go.  

Check Out Our Guide to Student Loan Refinancing

  NOTICE: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not authorized to provide tax advice or financial advice. If you need tax advice or financial advice contacts a professional. All statements regarding 401(k) contributions assume that you have a 401(k) plan and that you are able to contribute those amounts without contributing more than the current federal law limits. Third Party Web Sites 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.  
2019-04-12
Comparing Salary to the Cost of Living

Recently, CNBC released an article discussing student loan debt in relation to locations throughout the United States. This has many questioning whether they can find a job title in their field where they want to live, that will support their current bills, payments, lifestyle, and student loans. Depending on the location and cost of living, you could be making thousands less in one location when compared to another. To add more insult you could be expected to pay off more than you are capable of based on your location. When searching for a career path, it’s vital to consider where your job title is going to be the most successful and where you can afford your current lifestyle. Here are some important factors to keep in mind when

Location Expenses

Consider the cost of living in a variety of locations.  Everyday costs like food, housing, utilities, and transportation can all vary depending on where you live in the United States. Let’s see how a location can be affected by each of these variables. Generally, big cities are known to be more costly compared to rural areas.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis tracks price levels for food, housing and education in each state and compares them to the national level. This information can be put into a dollar value scale to simplify which states are more expensive to live in than others. For example, the value of a dollar in New York, Hawaii, and California is less than the national average dollar. Meaning your dollar bill is comparable to some cent values in other locations. In states like Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio that are not as urbanized the dollar values higher than the national average dollar. Meaning your dollar goes a little further in these areas.  

Housing Costs

You may be asking, “What makes big cities so pricey?” and there are actually a few different reasons. The main drive for high priced locations is housing. For cities with a high population, there needs to be an abundance of housing. A high population causes overcrowded cities to have a limited amount of space for the number of people wanting to live there.   A high housing demand creates steep prices in the market because everyone is in need of a place to live. If the city life is looking a little out of budget for you, remember living outside the city and commuting is an option, and may be more cost-effective. Aside from the costs of housing, costs like transportation, utilities, and insurance may affect the cost of living.  

Transportation Costs

We all know how expensive a car, gas, and maintenance can be. When commuting to work or even the supermarket, the distance between point A and point B will affect the amount of money you spend. .Whereas, living in the city you may literally be paying for convenience. You may be spending $200 or more a month on a permanent parking spot for your car, in addition to spending money on transportation fees. For example, in New York you could take a bus to the subway station, costing you around $2.50. Then you commute to work on the subway, costing you another $2.75. If you do this twice a day (at least) the commute will cost $10.50. Spending $10.50 five days a week for a month will get you to a grand total of $210.00 not even considering additional outings.  Please note that these prices may not be the same for all locations. For example, the average bus fare in Los Angeles is $1.75, but in Washington DC the bus fare ranges from $2.00-$5.00 depending on the commute.  

Utilities

Utilities will also affect the cost of living, the amount depending on where you live. The cost of utilities can vary based on government regulations. Things like how much water, electricity, and gas, you are consuming can be dependent based on the weather where you are located. If you are living in a location where the winter can get very cold, that could be making a dent in your wallet on utility bills. For example, Alaska, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have an average electric rate of $21.62 per Kwh (kilowatt hour) a month.  In a place where it is always warm like Hawaii, the air conditioning may be used more frequently and the average electric rate would be $32.40 per Kwh a month.   Additional utility costs may include garbage removal and sewage costs. In the United States, the average cost for garbage removal is from $12.00 -$20.00 a household. Sewage rates are usually included in water rates that can be viewed with the electricity bill and can altogether be around $50.00.  In some cases, if you are living in an apartment, utilities like garbage removal and sewage will be included in your rent, or it can be separate on your electricity bill. Talk to your landlord or call housing management to find out what is included.  

Insurance

Besides housing, transportation, and utilities, you will have car insurance, renter’s insurance.  The average rate for car insurance in the United States is $118.63 per month but can vary based on the location you are in. For example, the average cost of auto insurance in North Carolina is $865 each year while the average cost of auto insurance in Oklahoma is $1,542 a year. T Auto insurance pricing can depend on the company you have insurance with, your age, and even your gender!  For example, some companies will have a 1% price difference between genders.   If you choose to live in the city, it’s likely you may find yourself renting. Renter’s insurance is an additional cost you’ll want to consider.  The average, renter’s insurance in the United State is $187 per year. Renter’s insurance can be more expensive in some areas due to population and crime. If you live in a high populated area, insurance could be priced higher because the crime risk is higher.  The insurance company takes greater measures to cover your belongings in high populated areas. Renter’s insurance in Florida has an average rate of $217 per month, while in South Dakota the average rate is $118 a month.   Before completely scaring you back into your parent’s house for life, there are a few resources you can use to find a job and field of your choice, in areas that could be most profitable.  

Job Search Resources

 

SimplyHired

https://www.simplyhired.com/salaries SimplyHired will estimate the salary your specific job will be making in different locations. All you have to do is type in the job title you are looking for, and the city and state, into the search engine. Using this tool you can find out things like a nurse can make $50,000 in Dallas, Texas but, in Indianapolis, Indiana is making closer to $40,000. Although this does not calculate the cost of living, this website pulls up jobs from all over the United States. SimplyHired gives users easy access to salary information when starting to compare careers in different regions.  

Check Out These 3 Steps to Negotiating Salary

 

Expatistan

https://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/nashville Cost of living is an important factor when searching for a location that is right for you and your preferred career. Hence why we created this helpful blog! Expatistan has a feature that pulls up a spreadsheet estimating how lifestyle choices may cost in different cities or even countries. For example, when searching in Nashville, Tennessee, Expatistan created a page that included potential prices for food, housing, clothes, transportation, personal care, and entertainment. Expatistan estimated:   Rent 900 Sq Foot Apartment - $1,408/month Lunchtime Meal - $14 Sports Shoes - $98 Shampoo- $6   This website is a great place to find detailed estimates of what you may be spending on everyday items.  A tool like this can be very helpful when trying to manage the salary and lifestyle you are looking for.  

CNN Money

https://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/index.html After finding an estimated salary and cost of living for a specific location, you can compare it to other areas with CNN Money Cost of Living Calculator.  You’ll need to input
  • where you live now
  • where you are considering living
  • give an estimate of how much your salary is now (or what the salary is in the field you are searching for)
Based on the information provided, the calculator will estimate how much you would be making somewhere else. For example, if you live in Atlanta, Georgia right now and are making $50,000 a year, and you would like to move to Bozeman, Montana, the comparable salary is $50,709, which is around the same amount. Now if you moved, from Atlanta with a $50,000 salary to San Francisco, the comparable salary is $97,470. Once again, the cost of living will factor in what you can afford in each region.   Comparing salaries, regions, and the cost of living can help you determine where you’re aspiring jobs can be the most beneficial for your lifestyle. Consider where you will have the most financial wiggle room. Educate yourself on the cost of housing, transportation, utilities, and insurance before jumping into the car moving to a new city. Optimize your options by looking at the cost of convenience versus living outside of a location for less and other opportunities. What city you will feel the most at home in? If you are not satisfied with your options, try a different job title or location, you’re not a tree. Scope out all of your alternatives and find one that betters your lifestyle in the long run.

Top 7 Money Mistakes For Young Professionals

  NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites 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.   Resources https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/economy/2018/05/10/cost-of-living-value-of-dollar-in-every-state/34567549/ https://ask.metafilter.com/37074/Why-is-it-more-expensive-to-live-in-a-city  https://www.priceoftravel.com/595/public-transportation-prices-in-80-worldwide-cities/ https://www.chooseenergy.com/electricity-rates-by-state/ https://www.thezebra.com/auto-insurance/average-auto-insurance/#state https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-cost-renters-insurance#nogo https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-cost-life-insurance#nogo
2019-04-08
What Employees Want HR To Know

HR often has a tough job, keeping employees happy and working in the best interest of the company all while complying with legal requirements and internal policies. It’s a hard line to walk! But when it comes to making your company attractive to potential employees and keeping your all-star staff, communication is key! And there are a few things people want HR to know but often don’t know how to voice.  

Fire the jerks.

An article in Inc. magazine® made waves a few years ago by urging managers to “fire the jerks.” Some managers defended their less popular employees by saying that it would make sense at times to keep an unpleasant staff member because of their high performance or other redeeming qualities. Very few people want to work with a jerk, and they might be leaving your company because of this. If HR doesn’t have a pulse on employee relations, the bad behavior might be flying below the radar and causing attrition of excellent employees. Having a discipline policy in place and caring about the wellbeing of the workforce over the livelihood of one jerk will help promote a respectable workplace culture that people don’t fantasize about leaving just to avoid one bully.  

We know our worth.

People have lots of tools to find salaries comparable to their own. A quick internet search brings up resources like Salary.com and Glassdoor.com where people can see what others are making in their field, in their city, and even self-reported salaries of other people at their same company. Plus, many employees see the value in having open discussions with each other about pay to make sure that they’re making a fair amount for their hard work. With these things in mind, HR needs to know people want an open and honest conversation about compensation. Initial negotiations, promotions, and reviews need to be transparent, and HR should be prepared to see some resources printed from employees at these meetings.  

Somethings are more important than pay.

You can’t just throw money at problems. There might be alternatives that cost the company less but give people more incentive to work hard and be engaged. Check out some of the suggestions below, including student loan assistance, flexible schedules, telecommuting, wellness benefits, and time off.

Student loan debt assistance and resources are valuable to us.

Student loan debt and personal finance matters can be a big stressor for all types of employees. Whether it’s catching up on retirement funds, paying off student loans, or general help with things like budgeting, saving, and investing, we want trustworthy financial wellness resources. No benefits program is going to fit everyone, but surveying employees or offering different ways to take advantage of these kinds of benefits can mean a big boost for interest in the company and retention of valued employees.  

Learn More About ELFI for Business

 

We care more about balance and family/personal time than older generations.

Employees today don’t value the kind of work habits that create workaholics. Instead of burning the candle at both ends, people are taking advantage of paid time off and set working hours so that they’re not constantly on the clock. Unlike employees of former eras who found self-sacrifice to be something that gave them purpose, HR needs to know that breaks from work and finding balance is a key requirement for an energetic and productive workforce. Far from having a poor work ethic, the focus on mental health is important. A healthy balance between work and personal life can really motivate people to focus and be efficient while working. People today take caretaker roles for aging parents, realize the importance of spending time with children, and even prioritize caring for pets. HR needs to be aware of how policies can help attract, retain, and promote excellence among employees.  

The ability to work remotely matters.

Not every employee can do their job remotely, but in the digital era, an increasing number of employees can work from almost anywhere. Bad traffic, long commutes, and flexible schedules to accommodate everyday adulting, working remote can ease stress and yield great results. Plus, the jury is no longer out on how well this works. According to Inc.®, employees who had the ability to telecommute took shorter breaks, used fewer sick days, and took less time off. A good telecommuting policy could benefit the workforce and improve business outcomes.  

Mental health is important to us.

No career is worth sacrificing mental health and wellness. People who find themselves working for a company that negatively affects their mental health report they feel worse than someone who has no job at all. There are many negative effects of a job that could damage our physical health and increased instances of mental illness. Many millennial parents tired themselves out in jobs that brought them little fulfillment. Therefore the millennial generation highly values mental wellness at work and at home. We crave fulfillment and balance that is created by a human-centered workplace. Mental health should be something our employers care about and support with good workplace policies and resources covered in our benefits program.   Every company is different, but people are people no matter where you go. They want to be empowered to do their job well. They also want opportunities to learn new things and still have a personal life. If you’re feeling the disconnect at your workplace, open those lines of communication. You’ll see a difference in how people work and how they feel about the organization.  

 How Can You Prevent Employee Turnover

  NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites 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.