Archives January 2021

9 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping on Amazon

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Amazon is one of the biggest retailers in the world. When it comes to shopping on Amazon, many people look for cost efficiency and convenience.

However, you might be surprised to discover that you might be making some common mistakes when you shop on Amazon. If you want to avoid losing out, consider these mistakes to watch out for.

1. Not using Honey

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Honey is a free browser extension that automatically searches for coupon codes for items in your online shopping cart to help you find the best prices. When applied to Amazon, though, Honey will compare different sellers’ prices for the same item — and even take into account shipping prices and whether you have an Amazon Prime membership.

In other words, when shopping on Amazon, you can be sure you’re getting the best deal when you use Honey.

2. Choosing the fastest delivery option

Amazon boxes sit in a mailbox
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If you’re willing to wait a little longer for your items, you can choose no-rush shipping. In return for your patience, Amazon will give you an immediate discount on your current order or a reward that can save you money on a future purchase. As long as you don’t need something urgently, no-rush shipping can keep a little more money in your pocket.

3. Missing out on ‘secret’ Amazon departments

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Amazon has a few secret departments where you can find some surprising deals on common items — for example, Cheap Reads for Kindle, Most Wished For and even Coupons. You might be surprised at what you find when you start poking around. Don’t forget to check out these departments before you make a purchase.

4. Not using Ibotta

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You can get cash back for using Ibotta to shop on Amazon. However, in order to do so, you need to actually shop on Amazon by launching from the Ibotta app. In other words, first open the Ibotta app and from there tap on “Amazon,” which will take you to the retailer’s site.

5. Getting hung up on a color

Line of KitchenAide mixers
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Did you know that color bias is a thing? Some items cost more because they are in a popular color. If you don’t absolutely need a certain color of item, you might be able to save money by choosing a less popular color. When looking at your choices, check to see if a different color costs less.

6. Assuming all reviews are authentic

Confused woman raising one eyebrow in surprise
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Be aware that Amazon has had issues with fake reviews. So, you might be snookered into buying an item because of the good reviews — only to be disappointed and feel like you wasted your money.

Use websites like Fakespot and ReviewMeta to help you avoid that fate. These free tools specialize in analyzing reviews for specific product listings, looking for patterns that indicate that reviews may have been manipulated.

7. Not being aware of dynamic pricing

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Amazon uses dynamic pricing to try to squeeze the most profitability out of some products, so be aware that there are times when you might see higher prices. For example, if an item becomes popular and more people are searching for it on Amazon, the price might head higher.

So pay attention, and be aware that dynamic pricing could be at play. Better yet, use a tool like CamelCamelCamel to get pricing history — how the price of an item you are considering purchasing on Amazon has changed over time. That will help you better judge whether the item’s current price is worthwhile.

8. Assuming Amazon has the lowest price

Woman thinking about money
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Many people immediately assume that Amazon has the lowest price, and that might mean they don’t shop around. Don’t make this mistake. Amazon doesn’t always have the best prices, so consider shopping around. Your internet search engine of choice can help you find various deals quickly and easily.

9. Getting the latest product when it comes out

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Just like any other retailer, Amazon generally offers lower prices on items from past seasons. This is true of gadgets and electronics, but also true of other items. If you’re willing to shop out of season for clothes, housewares and other items, you might be able to get a better deal, even on Amazon.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Mortgage forbearances increase as coronavirus cases spike

Mortgages in forbearance rose after two weeks of declines, following the trend of midmonth increases in active plans and the country’s surging coronavirus cases, according to Black Knight.

Forbearances jumped by 17,000 from one week earlier, growing to a total of 2.744 million plans as of Jan. 19. This forborne faction represents 5.2% of all mortgages and a combined unpaid principal balance of $548 billion, both up from 5.1% and $545 billion.

Loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were the only loan type to decrease week-over-week, dipping by 3,000 to a total of 929,000. Government-backed mortgages — backed by the FHA and VA — rose by 5,000 to 1.14 million overall. Portfolio and private-label securitized loans — which do not fall under CARES Act protections — increased by 15,000 to a total of 675,000.

“Removal rates have also slowed noticeably following the six-month point of forbearance plans,” Andy Walden, Black Knight economist and director of market research, said in the report. “This suggests that those borrowers who remain in forbearance were likely more heavily impacted by the economic downturn and thus are less likely to leave such plans before the full allowable 12-month period runs down.”

Mortgage servicers need to make monthly advances of $3.3 billion in principal and interest payments and $1.2 billion due in taxes and insurance per month, according to Black Knight’s analysis. Those breakdown to estimates of $1 billion and $400 million for government-sponsored enterprise loans, $1 billion and $400 million for FHA and VA, and $1.2 billion and $400 million for private labels.

Source: nationalmortgagenews.com

New Home Purchase Applications Remained Strong to Year’s End

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) estimates that applications for the
purchase of newly built homes rose only 0.2 percent from November to December,
however, those applications were up 42.2 percent compared to December 2019. The
information comes from MBA’s monthly Builder Application Survey (BAS) and was
not adjusted for typical seasonal patterns.

Based on those mortgage applications and assumptions regarding market
coverage and other factors, MBA estimates new single-family home sales were
running at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 876,000 units in December 2020.
This is an increase of 5.9 percent from the November pace of 827,000
units. On an unadjusted basis, there were an estimated 59,000 new home sold
during the month, unchanged from the same level in November.   

“The new home sales market closed out 2020 strong. Mortgage
applications in December were essentially unchanged from November, but activity
was up 42 percent compared to December 2019,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s
Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Despite
the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic, households seeking more space,
assisted by low mortgage rates, drove the demand for new homes higher.
This
brought the three-month estimated average of new home sales to 877,000 units,
and the 2020 average to around 796,000 units – much higher than the 717,000
units in 2019.”

Added Kan, “In the coming months, we expect home building to continue
to ramp-up to meet demand. Housing inventory, particularly for existing homes,
is still extremely tight.”

Conventional loans accounted for 73.3 percent of all applications. FHA
applications had a 15.8 percent share, VA loans 10 percent and RHS/USDA loans 0.9
percent. The average loan size of new homes increased from $357,554 in November
to $367,502 in December.

MBA’s Builder Application Survey tracks application volume from mortgage
subsidiaries of home builders across the country. Official new home sales
estimates are provided each month by the Census Bureau and the Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In that data, new home sales are recorded
at contract signing, which is typically coincident with the mortgage
application. The Census Bureau/HUD report for December will be released on January
28.

Source: mortgagenewsdaily.com

Rental Affordability Is Worst in Minority Communities

Renters living in predominantly Hispanic or black neighborhoods have to spend more of their income on rent than those in white communities.

Housing has become less affordable for all renters since 2011 as rent appreciation greatly outpaced income growth. But for renters living in predominately black or Hispanic neighborhoods, the situation is decidedly worse.

New data shows that, on average, residents of predominantly white neighborhoods spend 30.7 percent of their income on rent, in line with the generally accepted standard of 30 percent. Renters living in predominately black neighborhoods spend 43.7 percent of their income on rent, and renters in largely Hispanic communities spend 48.1 percent.

For renters in minority communities, devoting such a large share of income to rent limits their ability to save for a down payment, which would allow them to transition their costly rent to more affordable mortgage payments.

And when rents are unaffordable, renters begin making sacrifices like forgoing necessary medical or dental care and contributions to retirement accounts.

Tougher all around

In markets where rents overall are high for all residents, minority neighborhoods are hit even harder than white communities. In Los Angeles, renters in white communities spend 50 percent of their income on rent — well above the recommended 30 percent, but still far less than renters in black or Hispanic neighborhoods, who pay a premium of 63.7 percent and 63 percent, respectively.

In expensive San Francisco, rent in largely black communities requires the greatest share of the median income (74.8 percent), followed by rents in primarily Hispanic communities (62.5 percent) and then, after a sizable gap, rents in predominantly white communities (48.8 percent).

Boston follows a similar trend, with residents in black communities paying 71.2 percent of the median income, followed by 59.5 percent in Hispanic communities and 34.8 percent in white communities.

“This research sheds light on another example of inequality in the housing market,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “Renters in African-American or Hispanic neighborhoods find themselves in a catch-22 situation: While owning a home is a great way to build wealth, you need to save up some cash to be able to buy. If you’re spending close to half of your income on rent, saving for that down payment is going to be incredibly difficult.”

These differences shift for homeowners, with mortgage payments requiring the greatest share of income from owners in Hispanic neighborhoods, at 22.8 percent. Homeowners in white communities allocate more of their incomes to their mortgage payments (15.2 percent) than owners in primarily black communities (13.6 percent).

Still, transitioning from renting to owning remains a challenge for minorities, not only because they have less income left over to save for a down payment, but also because race impacts minorities’ ability to get approved for a mortgage. Home values in predominantly black communities also tend to be much lower than home values in predominantly white communities, contributing to this difference.

Related:

Source: zillow.com

Ireland, along with Greece, endures the highest mortgage rates in EU – Irish Examiner

Who pays the highest mortgage rates in the EU? We do, together with the Greeks. 

According to the Central Bank of Ireland’s latest interest rate bulleting — released this week — the average interest rate on new mortgages agreed in November was 2.79%. That’s over twice the EU average of 1.31%.

Just to give you some idea of what’s available elsewhere: Last summer, Jyske Bank in Denmark launched the world’s first negative interest rate mortgage. Homeowners who take out a 10-year fixed mortgage make their repayment as usual, but the total borrowed actually reduces by more than the borrower has paid.

How is this possible? It dates back to 2014, when the European Central Bank, in an effort to stimulate the economy and raise inflation, reduced one of its key interest rates below zero. 

These reductions continued until September 2019, when the bank’s deposit facility rate reached minus 0.5%. Commercial banks wishing to borrow money from the bank were paid for the privilege.

Up until last summer, these rates were never passed on to consumers. Competitive pressures are changing this however, and earlier this month, Finnish bank Nordea — which operates across Northern Europe — introduced 20 year fixed mortgage rates of 0%.

The meagre consolation here is that our average interest rates fell by 0.11% in the year to last November.

Daragh Cassidy, head of communications at comparison and switching website

Bonkers.ie, welcomes the reduction.

The overall trend does appear to be downward, albeit very, very slowly. 

“Yet while there are some valid reasons as to why mortgage rates are higher in Ireland than they are in the rest of Europe, it’s tough to accept that rates here should be over double the Eurozone average, and it’s hugely frustrating that they haven’t fallen further,” he said.

“The recent arrival of Avant Money into the market doesn’t seem to be impacting much on rates yet either.”

According to the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, the average first-time buyer mortgage in Ireland is around €225,000. This means someone borrowing this amount over 30 years is paying over €167 extra a month, or just over €2,000 a year compared to our European neighbours. Pretty frustrating.

The truth however is that a direct comparison of mortgage rates across the union isn’t really possible. 

Trevor Grant, chairman of the Association of Irish Mortgage Advisers, says it’s important for Irish consumers to realise that these Danish mortgages are subject to fees and charges and are not quite as free as they suggest.

PTSB has introduced new mortgage rates this week.

PTSB has introduced new mortgage rates this week.

“In addition, repossessions proceed far quicker in Denmark than in Ireland, where protection for the consumer is far stronger.”

He does acknowledge however that there is scope for further reductions here.

“The good news is that the rates offered to new mortgage applicants continue to drop, with PTSB being the latest to introduce new rates this week.”

He says that mortgage market statistics confirm that an increasing number of buyers — more than one in three — are now seeking market-based advice before deciding which mortgage to go with, or whether to opt for a fixed or variable rate. Buyers are also looking for advice on whether the upfront cash inducements offered by lenders are worth taking.

“More and more applicants are realising that while a borrower’s own bank may offer them the best deal available from their mortgage offering,” says Mr Grant. 

Banks are simply not obliged to tell them if a better deal is available with another lender.

Despite the pandemic, we’re still seeing an increase in the number of mortgages advanced to Irish consumers. The volume of new mortgage agreements amounted to €822m in November, an increase of 1% on November 2019, and up 10% on the previous month.

It’s also interesting to note that the preference for fixed rate mortgages is as pronounced as ever. No fewer than 80% of mortgages in the three months to November were fixed rather than variable, indicating the good value that continues in this section of the market.

And with competition continuing to heat up, Daragh Cassidy says that now more than ever, it’s important to shop around.

“There’s now a huge variation in interest rates and cashback incentives across all the different lenders; so find out who’s offering the best deal for you.

“While the average new mortgage rate in Ireland is still close to 3%, there are now rates as low as 2.30% on offer for standard first-time buyers with a 10% deposit — even lower if you have more equity to stump up.”

He asserts that switchers in particular have a lot to gain.

“In recent times Irish mortgage holders have been reluctant to switch, which is crazy given the potential savings involved. Many lenders now have dedicated switch teams in place to make the process as easy as possible and it often won’t be as much hassle as people think it might.”

“And while there are costs associated with switching mortgage provider, in many cases banks will provide a sizeable cashback incentive to those who switch, or a contribution towards the legal fees. 

“If you have €250,000 outstanding on your mortgage with 20 years remaining, and are paying an interest rate of 4% or above, you will save over €200 a month on your repayments.”

Demand for housing is still high, in spite of Covid-19.  Picture: PA

Demand for housing is still high, in spite of Covid-19.  Picture: PA

This week also saw the release of house price data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which indicated that the market was taking something of a breather after steady gains the previous year. 

Residential property prices increased by 0.2% nationally in the year to November, compared to an increase of 1.1% in the twelve months to November 2019. 

Strip out Dublin, however, and there’s evidence that the regional market is more buoyant. 

In Dublin, residential property prices saw a decline of 0.9% in the year to November, while property prices on this side of the M50 were 1.2% higher.

Trevor Grant expects that the mortgage market in 2021 is likely to experience material growth over 2020. He points out that a large percentage of potential house purchasers working in the tech, pharma or financial services industries have been financially unaffected by Covid.

Covid-19 has negatively impacted the number of homes built in 2020, though the demand for homes, both new and second-hand, continues unabated. 

“This is reflected the higher asking prices and in the way that sale prices throughout the country have held up during the pandemic. We can only hope that the lockdown on construction is relatively short-lived, and that developers can satisfy as much demand as possible during the remainder of 2021.”

He points out that during the various stages of lockdown, and particularly since the New Year, some potential vendors may not have put their properties on the market due to the general uncertainty and the viewing restrictions imposed.

So we can expect some increase in supply when restrictions eventually ease.

Source: irishexaminer.com

Save Money on Back to “School” Supplies in 2020

This school season, families across the country are moving to remote learning. You may find yourself in this situation by choice — or not.

No matter the reason your kids are taking part in virtual education, of course you want to do everything you can to make sure they’re successful in this new school year.

One way, as parents, we can do this is to make sure our kids have all the tools they need. And even though this school year looks different than anything we’ve seen before, there are still some tried and true ways to save money on back to school supplies — even as your shopping list evolves from “Crayola crayons” to “cheap laptops.” Here’s how to get all your distance learning supplies without breaking the bank.

Good news, penny pinchers! You don’t have to buy an expensive laptop for your child to excel at distance learning.

Build a Budget-Friendly Learning Space

If you can, create an area in your home where your child can complete his or her studies. It could be the desk in their room, a table in the den, or even a place in the basement. Nothing fancy. Just let your child help decorate with a few small touches they’re excited about — even things you already have at home.

It doesn’t matter as much where you set this up as much as that you do. (Of course, you’ll want to set up shop somewhere close to you if you have a child in elementary school who needs help with the lessons. If you have a college student home from campus, they’ll probably want to be as far away from you as possible …)

In their little space, your kids will then be able to sit down and have everything they need, right at their fingertips. It also provides them the opportunity to “go to school” but heading to that designated spot. You might even encourage them to keep their school projects in their backpack and tote it back and forth from their bedroom to their “classroom” to create a little separation between home and “school.”

Of course, not all families have the space for this. If that’s you, create a school “box” (even an old lunch box for their art supplies!) that has everything your child needs so that each day, when they begin their schoolwork, they have all their essential distance learning materials right there ready to go.

Chromebook vs Laptop for Distance Learning

If your school provides students with a laptop for home use, you do not need to make any investments here. But if you’re not that lucky and you don’t have an old business laptop collecting dust somewhere, you’ll need to buy your student a device, and that can be a big ticket item. You might be wondering if you need to buy your kid an expensive laptop.

Fortunately, I’m here to say that most kids DO NOT need a full-blown laptop. (Nor do they need the latest Macbook Pro or whatever’s trendy in retina display or touch screen technology or the fastest processor available, no matter what they tell you.) They can do their remote learning and complete any assignment all through a simple Chromebook.

A Chromebook only allows your student the ability to connect to the Internet. It looks like a laptop but does not have software programs and apps like a regular laptop. Instead, there are online “in the cloud” versions of software (for things like word processing) that allow your child to do anything you can do on a laptop, but on a much less robust machine.

For this reason, they’re a more affordable option for parents. You can often find them for less than $300 through most retailers, and there are a lot of laptop deals out there right now because the demand is so high.

Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS (operating system) — hence the name — and are sold by many electronics companies, so you’ll see lots of options, such as:

  • HP Chromebook
  • Acer Chromebook
  • Samsung Chromebook
  • Lenovo Ideapad
  • Dell Chromebook

Don’t stress about finding the perfect one. They all do the same thing. The one feature I suggest paying attention to is battery life — the longer, the better so the teacher doesn’t go dark in the middle of a lesson plan.

If your older child for some reason needs more than what a Chromebook allows, consider buying a used, cheap Windows laptop. Check your local classifieds, online neighborhood groups, and Facebook groups for leads on a refurbished laptop. Ask friends and family — even your employer — if they have a cheap laptop they’d be willing to sell or let you borrow.

Negotiate for a Cheaper Internet Bill

Your Internet connection is one resource you should not overlook.

The worst thing that could happen is your child is in the middle of taking a test or an important lesson when the connection buffers or goes down.

Your provider will have options — you’ll probably need one that can handle many devices online at the same time — and may offer pricing bundles that fit your budget. And as always, don’t be afraid to negotiate for a cheaper Internet bill!

Save on the New Must-Have for 2020: Blue Blocking Glasses

Your child is going to spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen — probably not one with the biggest screen size. That can lead to tired eyes. After extended screen time, your child may have blurred vision, be tired, or end up with red eyes.

One way to help combat eye strain is through the use of blue blocking glasses, which help block the blue lights that are emitted from the screen.

In addition to using the glasses, encourage your child to take several breaks throughout the days to lessen the strain and give the eyes some much needed rest.

Sunshine Is Free!

Ensure your child has proper lighting for reading. If their “classroom” is in a well-lit space, you may not need anything more.

But if you don’t have very good lighting, get a table lamp to add to your student’s desk or table. You may want to consider purchasing an LED lamp because that can compensate for the reduced amount of natural lighting that is helpful for learning. The good news with this purchase is at least that LED lights last forever.

How to Save Money on School Clothes

Distance learning or not, most kids want to be seen in “the right” clothes when they hit a certain age. Instead of spending a bunch of money on brand-name, brand-new clothes, use up a gift card from their favorite brand that’s been sitting around or try some “vintage” items at consignment shops. A lot of popular brands have outlet stores where you can get great deals, too. (Just watch out that you don’t buy more than what you need!)

And maybe your kids will take a page from so many parents’ clothing playbook these days: Business up top, pajamas on the bottom. That’s half as many clothing items to buy — those jeans can be expensive! 😉

How to Save on the Standard School Supplies List

Just because your child is doing virtual learning this year doesn’t mean you can skip your standard fall school shopping trip for office supplies.

Make sure they have these school essentials:

  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Markers
  • Binders
  • Folders
  • Crayons
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Highlighters

There may be other requirements, such as colored pencils or glue sticks. If you’re not sure what you need, review your child’s school supply list (for regular, in-person attendance) and get the same things for your student this year.

I love a good dollar store and go shopping at Dollar Tree and Dollar General year-round — back to school time included! If you don’t have one near you and are pressed for time (do you know a parent who isn’t?!), don’t worry. Many stores run back-to-school sales on the basics, and you might get an even better deal at a big box store like Walmart or Target by combining the sale price with a coupon or the store’s loyalty program or app.

Stay Sane With Dollar Store Organizers

Make sure you have tubs, bins and storage containers to keep track of all those supplies.

Use paper sorters to separate the work by subject. Use pencil cups to sort markers, pencils, and art supplies.

You can find great, cheap options at a thrift store, dollar store, or garage sale — or maybe you can even make some containers using upcycled items from around the house. (Bonus: Making your own storage containers can be a craft project to keep the kids occupied before all the e-learning begins.)

Save Money on Additional School Supplies for Virtual Learning

External Hard Drive

Computers crash. It happens. Having an external drive allows your child to back up their work so they never lose anything at all. (These are also great for backing up all your family’s digital photos.) Watch for deals or coupons at your local big box electronics retailer. Check membership clubs like Costco for good prices, and consider applying any Amazon store credit you’ve built up toward your hard drive purchase.

Whiteboard

A white board is a very helpful tool for learning. It can be used for your child to track their work or can be used for daily lessons.

If you plan to add it to a wall, use command strips so you an easily take it down — both to move it around the house and to allow your student to have next to them as they work out that complicated math problem. And there’s nothing worse than hunting for a dry erase marker when you need one, so buy a pack now to save frustration and money later.

Planner

Your child needs to keep track of his or her daily work, and that’s where a planner helps. They will be able to write down the work that needs to be done and any upcoming assignments.

A planner is also excellent for letting your child cross off items when they’re done. There is nothing more satisfying than scratching through that big project they worked hard to complete! Save money by creating one page of a planner tailored to your child’s school needs and making photocopies for the following days/weeks.

Webcam Cover

Many Chromebooks and laptops are equipped with a webcam. If yours is not, you will need to get one.

One thing I would also recommend getting for your webcam (whether built in or not) is something to cover the camera when not in use. I don’t mean to alarm you, but there are some scary people who know how to hack these cameras and could spy on your child. A simple piece of black paper or cardboard clipped over the camera using clothespins should do the trick.

Headphones or Earbuds

One simple way to stay focused when learning is to drown out any noises. Wearing earbuds or headphones will allow your child to focus 100% on the lesson being taught. As with the computer, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on name brand options to get the job done here.

Mouse

Touchpads are great, but they can be more difficult for small children to use (or even your big kid). Getting a mouse ensures they can navigate the platform they are using for their online learning. A wireless mouse can eat through batteries, so if you’re concerned about that expense, look for one with a cord you plug into the computer.

Timer

Breaks are important for kids. Using a timer can help.

When your child is getting tired of learning, he or she can glance at the timer in front of them and see they have only five more minutes until they get to close their computer or put down the pencil. Use an old stopwatch or egg timer, or if your student is set up at the kitchen table, turn on the timer on the oven or microwave.

Saving Money on Back to School Supplies in 2020

Yes, you’ll need to make some additional investments this year for your child to be successful with remote learning. But as a parent, education is the best gift you can give them. And as a fellow penny pincher, you now know you don’t need to break the bank doing it.

What other money-saving hacks are you using during this time of remote learning? Please share in the comments below!

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

2019 Tax Tips for Understanding 2020 Income Tax Filing

February 19, 2020 &• 7 min read by Josh Smith Comments 0 Comments

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Disclaimer

Note: Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the IRS has extended the federal tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020. The recent relief package passed by Congress may have additional tax implications. Please contact a tax adviser for information you may need to complete your taxes this year. Learn more.

Note: The following is for informational purposes only and should not be considered tax advice. Please contact a tax adviser for questions about your personal tax situation.

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Tax time will be here again before you know it: Tax Day 2020 is Wednesday, April 15. We’re about two months away from one of the most stressful days for most Americans. Luckily, tax reform legislation in 2017 has simplified the tax code and changes for the taxes you file in 2020 may further increase your tax savings.

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, review our tax tips for the 2019 tax year.

1. Check Your Information

The first thing to do is check that your employers have the right address. If you’ve moved without putting in a change of address, you may miss important tax document delivery. The IRS requires that W2s and other tax documents be postmarked by January 31, so you should have received all of your tax documents by now. If you didn’t receive something, start following up with them right away.

2. Get Ready

Gather and organize all your tax documents early. And by early we mean now. You’ll need personal information for you and your dependents, income and investment documents, business and self-employment records, receipts for medical bills and charitable donations and home ownership records. Make a checklist to be sure you cover everything.


STOP! Did you check your information and gather all your documents? Do this right now! If you wait until April 14 to see if you have all the documents you need, you’re really going to regret not taking our advice now.


3. Understand Your 2019 Tax Bracket for Filing in 2020

Tax brackets change regularly to keep up with inflation. A tax bracket is the range of taxable income you fall into. Your taxable income is your adjusted gross income (AGI) minus applicable tax deductions. In order to understand your tax bracket, you really need to understand what deductions are available to you.

4. Consider the Standard Deduction

Deductions work to decrease your taxable income. By bringing this number down, you may be able to fit into a lower tax bracket. That means you qualify for lower tax rates so you owe less in taxes.

The standard deduction is a preset dollar amount that’s subtracted from your AGI to help determine your taxable income. Your filing status—single, married filing together, married filing separately, head of household or widow(er) with a child—determines the amount you may deduct. With the higher standard deduction amounts established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017, this route may make more sense than itemizing.

Standard Deductions for Tax Year 2019

Filing Status

Standard Deduction Amount

Single

$12,200.00

Married Filing Jointly

$24,400.00

Married Filing Separately

$12,200.00

Head of Household

$18,350.00

Qualifying Widow(er) with a Dependent Child

$24,400.00

Like anything that has to do with taxes, though, there are some restrictions regarding who is eligible for the standard deduction. If you’re married filing separately and your spouse itemizes, for example, you are not eligible for the standard deduction.

5. Review Eligible Itemized Deductions

The TCJA changed and eliminated a lot of eligible deductions, including the personal deduction—which used to be $4,050! These changes may make it harder to itemize your deductions for bigger savings. To benefit from itemizing, your personalized deductions should be more than your standard deduction. For example, if you’re married and filing jointly, you must have more than $24,400 in itemized deductions. 

But if you pay a mortgage, have high medical bills and make charitable donations, itemizing may work for you. Here are some common eligible deductions that you can write off on your 2019 taxes.

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  • Medical expenses
  • Charitable donations
  • Mortgage interest
  • Mortgage insurance premiums
  • State and local taxes
  • Personal property taxes

Most of these deductions are limited and must meet specific qualifications, so double check those qualifications before filing.

Note that if you’re married filing separately, you and your spouse must choose to either itemize your deductions or take the standard deduction. You cannot choose to do this differently.

6. Take Advantage of Available Credits

Tax credits are different from deductions. Deductions lower your taxable income. Tax credits directly impact the tax amount you owe. They reduce the amount dollar for dollar.

For nonrefundable tax credits, you can only reduce your tax liability to zero. With refundable tax credits, you can receive a refund of the excess amount.

Tax Credit Example

You file Head of Household with an adjusted gross income of $55,000. You take the standard deduction of $18,350, which makes your taxable income $36,650. That puts you in the 10% and 12% brackets.

  • The first $13,850 is taxed at 10%—$1,385
  • The remaining $22,800 is taxed at 12%—$2,736
  • Before applying any credits, you owe $4,121 in federal income tax.
  • You take a child tax credit of $500.
  • This credit lowers the tax amount you owe to $3,621.

Popular Tax Credits

Tax credits can lower the amount of tax you owe. But you must meet specific qualifications, including established AGI limits.

For example, if you’re a single filer, your AGI must be below $32,501 to qualify for the Saver’s Credit. Your AGI also determines whether you can claim 10%, 20% or 50% of your contribution. Other limits apply for Married Filing Jointly filers and Head of Household filers.

Be sure to review the criteria for eligibility to learn whether you qualify for any of these popular tax credits:

  • Adoption Credit
  • American Opportunity Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Child and Dependent Care Credit
  • Earned Income Tax credit
  • Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit
  • Saver’s Credit

7. Remember Key Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Changes

The 2017 TCJA has only impacted two tax filing years so far. So, you may not remember all the TCJA changes that could affect you when you file taxes in 2020. This recap can help.

  • The standard deductions have nearly doubled.
  • There is no longer any personal exemption.
  • For itemizers, the 5% of your AGI spend on medical expenses has expired. The floor is back to 10% for 2019.
  • If you itemize, the maximum deduction for charitable cash donations to qualified organizations is 60% of your AGI. Some other eligible groups qualify, but you may only claim up to 30% of your AGI.
  • There’s no penalty for lack of health insurance coverage.
  • The child tax credit maximum is $2,000 per qualifying child.
  • When you itemize, your deductible mortgage interest is capped for loans up to $750,000.
  • You may no longer deduct moving expenses for job relocation, unreimbursed employee expenses or employer-subsidized parking and transportation reimbursement.
  • Deductions for casualty and theft loss, tax preparation costs and other miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2% AGI ceiling are no longer available.
  • You can no longer deduct alimony payments.
  • If you receive alimony, you don’t have to claim it as income anymore.
  • Capital gains taxes are lower for all but those in the highest income brackets.

8. Watch Out for Scams

As tax time approaches, be on the lookout for tax scams. A popular scam this year is robocalls from scammers claiming to be able to suspend or cancel your social security number. Ignore them and report the call! If you are concerned that you may actually owe taxes and be at risk, view your tax account information online or call the IRS at 800-829-1040.

Be wary of anyone who calls or emails you claiming to be from the IRS and demanding money. That’s not how the government operates.

9. Hire a Tax Professional

Taxes are complicated. If you want to get the most out of your tax return, consider hiring a tax preparation service that understands 2019 tax rules and regulations and can help you maximize your 2019 tax return.

10. File for Free

Some individuals may be able to file taxes for free through the IRS, including those whose adjusted gross income was $69,000 or less last year and active duty military personnel and their spouses.

Even if you don’t fall into one of those categories, there are many other ways to file your taxes for free as well, so do your research!

11. Don’t Delay

Don’t be a victim of tax identity theft. This kind of fraud is often only detected after you try to file your tax return but can’t—because someone else has already done it for you and claimed your tax return! To limit your susceptibility to this, file your taxes early.

If you owe taxes, don’t put off paying your tax debt. It’s not going away, and the IRS will come after you—one way or another. Unpaid tax bills can even hurt your credit eventually. If you need help paying your taxes, you have options. Request an extension, apply for an installment agreement, or use an alternate payment method.

Learn More about Filing Your 2019 Taxes in 2020

If you have questions, need more guidance or just want some helpful resources for 2019 tax tips, turn to the experts. Read these informative blogs and articles to learn more about your taxes and how you can make tax filing work for you.

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Testing mandate creates ‘a huge logistical challenge’: TPG readers react to new CDC policy

Testing mandate creates ‘a huge logistical challenge’: TPG readers react to new CDC policy



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This School Bus Is a Tiny Home … to a Family of 6!

With bunk beds for the kids, a master bedroom for the adults and a rooftop deck for all, one family is redefining the term “on the go.”

The wheels on the bus go round and round — and then might stop for family dinner, if you’re Gabriel and Debbie Mayes.

It may not be the dream for every family, but it’s the one Debbie envisioned after seeing a video on Facebook a few years ago. It featured a couple who had converted a school bus and spent all their time on the open road, exploring the country.

“I immediately thought, ‘Hey, we can totally do this with our kids. Why not?’” she recalled. “And so I brought the idea to Gabriel. It took a while to convince him.”

“Definitely took a while,” Gabriel chimed in.

But the more the duo thought about the idea, the more it made sense. They felt disconnected as a family in a 5,000-square-foot home; downsizing would bring the family closer.

4,752 square feet closer, to be precise. 

“We were talking about that disconnection in our marriage, in our family as a whole, and just thought if we’re gonna do anything adventurous, now would be the time,” Gabriel said. “We were looking to reconnect, to do something crazy exciting with our kids, and just to take life and flip it upside down.”

So they bought a school bus to live in.

[embedded content]

The family of six — two adults, four kids — sought the help of an outside company when it came to finding the bus and designing the features.

Photo by Marcus Ricci.
Photo by The Mayes Team.

Their priorities: separate sleeping areas for the kids and the adults (the master bedroom has a door that closes), space to entertain guests, and a kitchen with ample countertops. (They pulled that off by installing an under-the-counter fridge. It holds enough food for a week!)

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

“We even went and taped out the design on the floor so we could walk through and see,” Debbie said. “We did things like reduce the depth of the couch, reduce the depth of the [kids’] bunk beds. We knew aisle space would be way more important than them having that extra bed space. I was very intentional in designing all of the little areas to be functional. It’s down to the inches.”

Gabriel’s only ask: a rooftop deck.

“I just had this vision of taking the bus, backing it up against the lake, opening up the skylight out of my bedroom, going up to the roof deck, and then sitting in my chair and just chilling,” he said. “I just wanted this place where I’m secluded from the rest of the world and I’m overlooking just beautiful scenery.”

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

Buying and renovating the bus cost about $38,000 and took about five months. During that time, the family sold or donated much of what they owned and put the rest in storage. They hit the road in August 2017.

Photo by The Mayes Team.

On their first trip, the road hit back.

“I remember the day that I got in the bus. We had spent the whole day packing. Last thing goes on, the kids get on, we close the door, and I put it in drive and our home starts moving. I can’t fully explain how exhilarating that feeling was,” Gabriel said.

“It was amazing but also did not go exactly how we had planned,” Debbie added. “We got 300 miles into the journey, and the bus broke down on the side of the road. It was like, ‘Wah-wah.’”

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

The school bus — which they affectionately call “the Skoolie” — picked a patch of desert land in Oklahoma to break down.

Turns out it was also a piece of private land.

“We fed the kids lunch and tried to figure out what the heck we were gonna do, and a random stranger pulls up after we’d been there for a few hours, and he was like, ‘You’re actually on my land.’” Debbie said. “But he had been a diesel mechanic.”

The stranger ended up building a part to get the bus moving. It’s been pretty much smooth sailing ever since, from the mountains of Wyoming to the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah.

Photo by Jen Hammer.

Their biggest advice for others considering a home on wheels: Do the research. Find a builder or designer you can trust. In retrospect, they probably would’ve chosen a washer and dryer over installing a shower, but they have few other regrets.

And yes, of course, there are seat belts for all. The family designed the living space to hide the seat belts under the couch cushions when the bus is parked. The baby rides in a car seat. “They are able to buckle up safely,” Debbie said, about her kids. Anything that’s breakable gets packed away for when the bus moves.

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

“To be able to have everything that you own as a family of six inside 248 square feet, knowing everything that you own is where it’s supposed to be — the amount of stress and anxiety really goes out the window,” Gabriel said.

“Whenever you rid yourself of this desire to have things, it’s not that the desire goes away, it’s just that you just don’t have the space for it anymore,” he continued. “It causes you to start thinking on different levels. Now I just want to be intentional with my wife and be intentional with my kids. This massive weight is just gone.”

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

Eventually, the Mayes plan to park the bus and turn it into a short-term rental. They hope to find a forever home and allow others to explore their tiny home on wheels.

“The kids feel like they’re on this massive adventure. Whenever you pull up to a location that’s surrounded by mountains or there’s a new waterfall to go explore or some trail just to go run down, you put the bus in park, and you open the door,” Gabriel said. “Just to see their excitement … I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

Photo by Marcus Ricci.

Top featured image by Jen Hammer.

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Originally published July 2018.

Source: zillow.com