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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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2020-02-25
7 Great Things to Spend Your Tax Refund On

By Kat Tretina   While tax season fills most people with dread, there’s one thing everyone looks forward to — tax refunds. According to the IRS, approximately 71% of American tax filers receive a tax refund. In 2019, the average tax refund was a whopping $2,869. If you’re like many people, that may be the biggest lump sum you’ll see all year – so it’s important to use it wisely.   

7 Best things to spend your tax refund on

During tax season, retailers compete for your business. You’re bombarded with advertisements and sales trying to get you to spend your newfound money. But before parting with your hard-earned funds – it is money you worked for, after all – focus on using your tax refund on things that will improve your finances, your future financial prospects, and overall well-being.    Need inspiration? Here are seven smart ways to use your tax refund.   

1. Student loan lump sum payments

Student loan debt can be a substantial burden, causing you to put off other goals like saving for retirement, relocating to a new city, buying a home, or even getting married.    Using your tax refund to make a lump sum payment on your debt could allow you to save money on interest fees and help you pay off your loans ahead of schedule.    For example, let’s say you had $30,000 in student loan debt at 6% APR. With a minimum monthly payment, it would take you 10 years to repay your loans. And, you’d repay a total of $39,970; interest charges would cost you $9,970.    But let’s say you received $2,869 as a tax refund. If you applied the entire amount to your student loans as a lump sum payment, you’d pay off your loans 15 months early and you would repay just $37,801. By using your tax refund to make an extra payment on your debt, you would save $2,169 in interest charges.    You can make your tax refund work even harder for you by refinancing your student loans to possibly lower your interest rate. Use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator to see what you could save by refinancing your student loans.*   

2. Medical procedures

If you’re like many people, you may have put off going to the doctor or visiting a dentist because you simply couldn’t afford it. In fact, 25% of Americans reported putting off necessary medical procedures due to cost. However, skipping routine medical and dental care can cause more expensive issues later on, so it’s important to stick to a preventative care routine.    If you haven’t been to the doctor or dentist because you were short on cash, using your tax refund to take care of your health is a wise investment.   

3. Car repairs

Cars are often money pits, causing many people to skimp on routine repairs because of the expense. AAA reported that the average car repair is $500 to $600, but can often cost much more. Keeping up with your car’s maintenance and making necessary repairs can improve your car’s lifespan and fuel efficiency, helping you avoid more costly issues later on.    If you’ve been putting off any repairs or need to replace your tires, use your tax refund to finance that purchase so you can get to and from work safely.   

4. Professional development

With technology changing so quickly, it’s essential that you keep on top of the latest trends in your field so that you remain competitive in the job market. If you want to take your career to the next level, consider using your tax refund to invest in your professional development. You can attend a conference, take a class, or hire a career coach.   

5. Investments

If your finances are in otherwise good shape – meaning you don’t have high-interest debt or a pressing immediate expense – you can use your tax refund to build long-term wealth. Consider using your refund to invest your money by making contributions to your retirement accounts or an individual taxable account.    Don’t think your tax refund can make that much of a difference? Think again. Over time, your money can grow significantly.    For example, let’s say you’re 30 years old and deposit your $2,869 into an individual taxable account. If you don’t deposit another cent and your money earns an average annual return of 8%, that account will have grown to $31,374 by the time you’re 60.    If you’re not sure where to start, check out robo advisors like Betterment® or WealthFront®. They automatically invest your money based on your goals and risk tolerance, so you don’t have to be an investment expert to reap the rewards.   

6. Exercise equipment

Investing in your health and wellness is a good use for your money. Over time, it can help you save on health insurance and medical bills, too.    Consider using some or all of your tax refund to purchase exercise equipment you’ll actually use. Or, sign up for a gym membership or take a few sessions with a personal trainer to ensure you’re using the equipment correctly.   

7. A new computer

If you freelance or are thinking of starting a new side hustle, you may want to use your tax refund to purchase a new computer or software so that you can work more efficiently. With better tools, you may be able to improve your earning potential. And, you may be able to deduct the cost of a new computer or software on next year’s taxes (talk to a tax professional about your unique situation).   

How not to spend your refund

There are a lot of bad ways to spend a tax refund. But one of the worst is using it to purchase a car you can’t really afford. Unfortunately, using a tax refund to buy a new car is incredibly common.    Using your tax refund as a down payment can help you qualify for a car loan. But car values depreciate rapidly, and you could end up with a car that is too costly for your budget, or you could end up owing more than the car is worth. That issue can put you in a precarious financial position, and it’s hard to dig yourself out of debt.    If you need reliable transportation, use your tax refund to purchase an inexpensive, used car that you can comfortably afford. If you need to take out a loan, financial experts recommend that you choose a loan term no longer than 36 months; if you need a longer loan term than that to manage the loan payments, the car is likely more than you can truly afford.    There’s seven things that you should spend your tax refund on, along with one that you shouldn’t! Regardless of your situation, focus on spending your refund responsibly.    For more information, learn how to create a monthly budget.  
  *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.
2020-02-21
5 Great Investing Apps for Beginners

This blog has been prepared for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial or investing advice. You should always use caution when making investing decisions. Rates and fees for the apps listed were obtained as of February 21, 2020 and are subject to change.   There are several ways to go about building wealth – some focus on building their career and earning more, putting their money into traditional savings accounts, 401ks, and IRAs, while others may focus on putting their money to work for them through investing in stocks, bonds, and ETFs. While many young adults have previously shied away from the stock market and investing in the past, a recent study showed that seven in ten millennials are financially investing in some way, and that 85% of millennials do not feel too young to invest.    Why the change? From national student loan debt reaching record highs, to the housing market being generally more expensive for buyers, there are certainly enough reasons for millennials to focus on finding new ways to build their wealth, rather than just using traditional savings.    If you’re a believer that history repeats itself, you may find the stock market to be a good opportunity to grow your wealth. Since its inception in 1896, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has delivered an average return of 5.42% per year, and the S&P 500 index has delivered an average return of 7.96% from 1957 to 2018.    For the new investor, however, getting started can be a bit overwhelming. Some questions beginners might ask: What should I invest in? Should I invest in stocks, bonds, or ETFs? Should I manage my portfolio or allow a robo-investor to manage it? What about cryptocurrency? Which is going to get me the best return? Which strategy is the safest? Should I be thinking long-term or short term?   Luckily, there are a variety of applications that serve well for individuals that are just getting started on their investment journey. Here are five great apps that all have unique benefits for individuals looking to start investing.  

Robinhood®

Robinhood ® launched in 2013 and took the digital investing world by storm by offering commission-free trading along with a free trading account and providing users with a free stock for just signing up. Its simplified user experience may not suit the seasoned investor, however it’s a great starting point for individuals interested in investing in stocks, ETFs, and even select cryptocurrencies. You can search for stocks, add them to your watchlist, get some general information about the company, such as analyst ratings on the stock (buy, sell, hold), their earnings data from previous quarters, their dividend yield, among other useful numbers to guide your investing decisions. Upgrading to Robinhood Gold for $5 a month gives you access to extending trading hours, real-time market data on order volume, among other features.   Robinhood recently released fractional shares allowing you to invest in any company with as little as $1. Overall, Robinhood is a user-friendly app for those who want to be in full control of their investment strategy.   

Acorns®

If managing your portfolio isn’t for you, Acorns ® may be a more suitable option. Acorns is an app primarily focused on helping you save and grow wealth by investing your spare change. Once you link your bank account, Acorns will track your purchases and round them up to the nearest dollar, depositing $5 worth of spare change at a time. You can set the round up to double, multiply by five, or multiply by ten if you’re interested in stepping up the amount you invest. When you first begin, the app provides you with a questionnaire that helps determine your investment goals and strategy, allowing you to choose a more moderate or aggressive strategy.    In addition, the app gives you small rewards for making purchases with specific companies, like Walmart, Chevron, Uber, and more. Acorns is a great way to passively invest your spare change.  

Stash®

Allowing you to invest with as little as $5, Stash ® is a great app for learning how to invest effectively. Like Robinhood, it allows you to be in control of your investments, however it provides a bit more guidance as you move along by helping you pick your investments based on your goals. The app is filled with articles and tips that help strengthen your investment decisions, also providing themed categories of investments, such as innovation or environment.   

Betterment®

Betterment ® is a leader among robo-advisors, providing value to hands-off investors. The app charges just 0.25% for asset management annually, with no minimum amount to start investing. Betterment takes a traditional approach to investing by diversifying your portfolio based on your decided level of risk tolerance and your goals. They offer more portfolio options than some of the simpler applications, making it a strong tool for individuals who know what they want out of a robo-advisor. It’s generally less expensive than other robo-advisors and uses strong algorithms to manage assets effectively and provide strong returns.   

TD Ameritrade®

If you’re interested in doing more than getting your feet wet, TD Ameritrade ® is an app that borders between being suited for the beginner and intermediate-level investor. The app, offered by one of top US brokerage firms, offers a powerful trading experience, allowing you to customize dashboards and screens, access research and advice, receive market news and alerts, and watch educational videos on investing. It’s definitely more suited for the active investor who wants to make adjustments to their portfolio on a daily or weekly basis. While they previously charged $6.95 per online equity trade, they recently released commission-free trading as well. While it may not be the best place for everyone to start, it’s a great place to consider moving to once you’ve established your investment strategy and are working with a larger portfolio.    With these apps, investing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can invest passively, schedule deposits, invest spare change, or dive in and control your investing destiny – whichever feels right for you. You should always use caution when investing your hard-earned money, however, getting started with a few dollars now and learning the ropes could be worth something to you in the future. We hope that at least one of these apps provides you with value and helps you get started in your investment journey.  
  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.
2020-02-19
High Income, High Debt: How to Stop the Spiral

By Caroline Farhat  

A lot of people think if you are earning a high income you must have lots of wealth and no debt. However, that is not always reality. In fact, for some people, earning a high income can mean higher amounts of debt. If you are in these circumstances, read on to find out how to stop the spiral.

 

High Income, High Debt

There are many reasons that higher-income households can have higher debt. One reason is higher earners like doctors and lawyers may have higher debt due to the amount of student loans needed to obtain their education.

 

But the big problem lies with the high earners who have high levels of debt and no assets to show for their income. A 2015 Nielsen study found 25% of American households earning $150,000 or more were living paycheck to paycheck. These are the earners who may be going down a spiral. There are reasons for this spiral that can be addressed to stop it. Some reasons include:

  • Desire to spend - A person earning a high income feels like they have a lot of money they can spend and deserve to spend. However, this can cause some to spend up to the total amount they bring home or worse exceed the amount, causing credit card debt or the need for personal loans.
  • Keeping up with the Joneses - Always trying to keep up with your group and show “wealth” you may not really have. This can be seen in the form of always buying the latest gadget, flashiest car or taking a trip to the latest popular destination. Even if you can afford some of these items now, feeling the need to keep up can be dangerous because you never know when a time may come that you may not be able to afford your lifestyle due to sudden job loss or a change in financial circumstances. 
  • Lifestyle creep - Increasing your expenses when your income increases because of your wants or perceived new needs. For example, the thought that now you need a more expensive and larger house because you can afford it with your higher income.
 

How to Stop the Spiral

Did any of this resonate with you? If so, don’t panic. You can always stop the spiral of high income and high debt. Below are some actionable steps you can start today.

 

1. Determine your fixed expenses

Fixed expenses are the expenses that are mostly out of your control and remain constant every month. They include your rent or mortgage, car insurance, internet bill, cell phone bill, utility expenses (although these may not be the same each month you can figure out the average), and loan payments. Knowing these expenses will help you complete the next step.  

2. Create a budget

You knew this was coming! Now that you know your fixed expenses you can create a budget. There are different methods you can use to create a budget. One budget that many people find easy to follow is the
50/20/30 rule. The basic principle is subtract your fixed expenses from your take-home pay. Then put money in savings for your emergency fund, retirement, or whatever you determine is most important to you. The rest of your income is used to pay your variable expenses. These are the expenses you have the most control over, like your food budget, restaurants, and clothing shopping.   

3. Try to reduce your expenses.

The easiest expenses to try to reduce will be the ones completely in your control, like eating out less. But there are some ways to reduce your fixed expenses.  

Refinance student loans - Have a high monthly payment? Refinancing may be a good option. Refinancing student loans can reduce your monthly payment and save you in interest costs over the life of your loan(s). You can refinance private student loans and federal student loans. Check out our student loan refinance calculator to determine what your potential savings could be.*

 

Negotiate your bills - Have a high internet bill? Or maybe you are still paying for cable. Check for any deals with your provider and compare with competitors. Better yet, think about whether you really need the service. If you are a die-hard Netflix fan, it may be time to cut the cable cord.

 

4. Pick a method to attack your debt.

There are two methods financial experts recommend to pay off debt: the snowball method and the avalanche method.  

Snowball method - Use any extra money to pay off your lowest loan first. Once the lowest loan is paid off you take the payment you were making to that loan and apply it to the second-lowest loan. Here is an example of how it works:

  • If you have a student loan of $25,000 with a payment of $290 and an auto loan of $15,000 with a payment of $275 you would focus on paying the auto loan off first. You would make both minimum payments but if you have an extra $25 per month to apply to a loan you would apply it to the auto loan. Once the auto loan is paid off you would apply the payments of $275 and $25 to your regular minimum student loan payment of $290 and now be paying $590 per month to your student loan ($275+25+290 = $590). You would continue this until all debts are paid off.
 

Avalanche method - List your debts in order of interest rates and start paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first. Add any additional payments to the loan with the highest interest rate. Continue paying the minimum on all other loans. Once the highest interest rate loan is paid off you apply that minimum payment to the next highest interest rate loan. 

 

5. Put salary increases into savings

Don’t give into the lifestyle creep. If you were able to pay all your expenses before your salary increase, you can continue to live off your old income amount and save the increased amount. The difference can be put into a retirement account or savings account, thereby increasing your wealth. The best way to do this is to set up an automatic transfer so that the extra money never hits your bank account. If you can’t see it, you can’t spend it!  

Bottom Line

If you have realized you are in a high income, high debt spiral, there is hope of stopping it. With some work, you can get your finances in order and begin to see your savings grow.

 
 

*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.