12 Things to Do When You Get a Raise at Work

Getting a raise always feels great. It’s tangible proof that you’re good at what you do and your hard work has been recognized.

But what should you do with the extra income? While most of us can’t help but daydream about all the new things we plan to buy, it’s important to take a close look at your personal finances before going on a spending spree.

That way, you’ll have a clear idea of how much your pay raise actually amounts to, what your financial priorities are, and how to make smarter investments and purchases with your additional income.

How to Handle a Salary Increase

When you first get a raise, it’s tempting to make a big, celebratory purchase. But before you do, there are some steps you should take to ensure you’re making decisions that reinforce your financial stability and improve your financial future.

1. Give It Some Time

Initially, the dollar amount of your raise might sound like a significant windfall, but remember that a considerable portion will go toward taxes, health insurance, retirement, and social security, if applicable.

Before you get ahead of yourself, wait for a couple of paychecks to see how much extra take-home cash your raise amounts to on a biweekly or monthly basis. What sounds good on paper may be significantly less in your pocket after all is said and done.

You can also calculate the biweekly amount of your raise yourself, but it won’t be accurate unless you know the amounts of any relevant deductions.

Waiting it out will give you a chance to see real numbers and how much of a difference it’s actually making on each paycheck. This will allow you to determine what any extra money amounts to so that you can spend it wisely instead of overspending or accidentally increasing your monthly expenses.

2. Reassess Your Budget

Once you know how much your new salary increase will put in your bank account, use it as an opportunity to reevaluate your budget. Now’s a great time to review your expenses to determine where any adjustments can be made and how your raise can do the most good.

For example, you may want to allocate a portion of your salary increase to paying off credit card or student loan debt instead of booking an expensive vacation. Or, you may use the extra cash to bolster your rainy day fund.

It’s easy to fall victim to lifestyle creep after a pay increase by indulging in luxuries and not keeping a close eye on your spending habits. Budgeting helps to keep you in check and supports your financial goals.

Instead of increasing your spending on big-ticket upgrades to your lifestyle each time you get a raise, consider how higher bills will affect your financial health. How would buying a bigger home or a new car affect your retirement plans and how much debt you have?

Use your budget to keep an eye on your cost of living so you don’t accidentally overspend after a new raise.

3. Retool Your Retirement

Especially if you aren’t hard up for cash right now, you can use your salary increase to boost your retirement savings.

For example, you can increase the amount you put into your Roth IRA or 401k retirement accounts. Even a small monthly increase can make a significant impact over time, especially if your employer offers contribution matching.

Not only will investing more in your retirement give you long-term financial security, but it will also make sure your raise is put to good use.

4. Pay Off Debts

If you have debts, entering a new salary range is an ideal way to put more money toward paying them off. For example, you can use your pay increase to cover:

  • Credit card debt
  • Student loans
  • Car loans
  • Medical debt
  • Personal loans

The more debt you pay off, the more you save in interest charges over time, keeping a significant amount of money in your pocket. If possible, save the most by paying off debts entirely instead of just making payments.

You can even improve your credit score by paying off debts, helping your financial situation even more, especially if you plan to make any big purchases, such as a home, in the future.

5. Plan for Taxes

When you get a raise, you can expect to pay more in taxes this year than you did last year. Depending on which tax bracket you’re in, you may even find that your raise is barely noticeable if it means you no longer qualify for certain deductions or tax credits.

Understanding how your new salary will affect your taxes gives you an idea of whether you should expect a refund or a bill.

If you aren’t comfortable calculating or assessing your taxes yourself, get in touch with an accountant or financial planner. They’ll be able to give you a good idea of what to expect come tax time based on your pay increase.

If it looks like you’ll owe more money at the end of the year than you anticipated, talk to your employer about increasing your withholdings so the amount you owe is covered.

6. Increase Charitable Donations

Another way to spend your raise is to increase your donations to charities and nonprofit organizations. Not only will it spread the wealth, but charitable donations typically count as tax deductions, potentially reducing the amount you owe each year.

This is especially useful if your raise bumped you into a higher tax bracket.

You can either choose to donate a specific dollar amount or a percentage of your income, whichever works best for your budget. You can also donate items like a used car, however, you’ll need a tax receipt in order to claim it on your taxes.

7. Add to Your Emergency Fund

Your emergency or rainy day fund is meant to lend a hand when your financial situation changes or you need to make an unexpected purchase. For example, it’s helpful to have a buffer of cash set aside if you lose a job or your fridge decides to stop working.

If you don’t have any pressing purchases to make with your new raise, it’s an ideal time to fill up your emergency fund. Having funds you can rely on in the future will give you peace of mind and save you from having to panic about how to cover an expense during a stressful situation.

8. Monitor Your Spending

It’s completely acceptable to celebrate when you get a raise, but it’s important to keep your spending in check. A nice dinner or night out is one thing, but extended overspending and unaffordable purchases are another.

If you do decide to treat yourself — and you should — make sure whatever you reward yourself with is within your spending limits and that it’s a one-time occurrence. Otherwise, you’ll soon fall victim to lifestyle creep and those luxuries will become the norm.

Choose one or two ways to treat yourself and stop there. Just because you’re making more money doesn’t mean you need to spend your entire raise on frivolous items and outings.

9. Consider Inflation

If you haven’t had a raise in a while, you can safely assume that part of your salary increase will go toward covering the costs of inflation. That means that instead of adding up to extra cash in your pocket, your raise will go toward rising prices for everyday expenses like housing and groceries.

Before spending your raise, take a look at the inflation rate to see how much prices have increased since the last time you received a pay bump. This will give you a better understanding of how much added buying power your raise amounts to and what it will mean for your budget and financial planning.

10. Save for a Big Purchase

If you’re planning to make a big purchase in the near future, use your raise to help get you closer to your goal. For example, put it toward:

  • A down payment on a house
  • A wedding
  • A new vehicle
  • A dream vacation
  • Your child’s tuition
  • A home renovation

Consider whether you have any major expenses coming up before spending your raise elsewhere. Setting aside your extra cash to cover upcoming costs will allow you to reach your goals faster and help you to navigate any unexpected costs you encounter.

11. Invest in Yourself

Investing in yourself is an excellent way to use your raise. For example, you could:

You can even do something like get laser eye surgery or have an old tattoo removed. Whatever helps to improve your personal quality of life and makes your future happier and healthier.

12. Do Something Fun

At the end of the day, you earned a raise through your hard work and dedication. You deserve to acknowledge your accomplishment by treating yourself to something special. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes or a fancy dinner, make sure at least a small portion of your raise goes toward celebrating your success.

Depending on how big your raise is and what you have left after you take care of any financial priorities, you could:

  • Go on a vacation
  • Plan a spa day
  • Buy yourself something nice
  • Treat a loved one
  • Fund a hobby

Take this as an opportunity to recognize your professional achievements and reward yourself for a job well done.


Final Word

Moving up on the pay scale is always worth celebrating, whether it comes with new responsibilities or not. But before you spend all your new money, take some time to consider how to get the most out of it.

That could mean reviewing your budget, paying off debts, or saving up for a big purchase — whatever suits your financial goals and situation.

Regardless of how you choose to spend your raise, remember to set some money aside to treat yourself. After all the time and effort you put into your career, you deserve to celebrate your accomplishments.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Secured Card – 3/2/1% Cashback & No Annual Fee

Bank of America’s Cash Rewards card, now called Customized Cash Rewards, has no annual fee and offers 1% cash back on all purchases; 2% or 3% on select categories. It’s notable that there’s also a Secured version of the card which is very similar to the ordinary version and is one of the best secured cards available.

Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Secured Card

Card Details

  • No annual fee
  • A minimum refundable security deposit of $300 (maximum of $4,900) is required to open this account.
    • Your maximum credit limit will be determined by the amount of the security deposit you provide, your income and your ability to pay the credit line established. If you provide a deposit that exceeds the calculated maximum amount based on your ability to pay, a check will be returned to you for the difference.
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Rewards earnings rates go as follows:
    • 3% cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings
    • 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs
    • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • You’ll earn 3% and 2% cash back on the first $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club purchases each quarter, then earn 1% with no limit. Each month, as you plan for future purchases, to change your 3% choice category you must go to Online Banking or use the Mobile Banking App. Rewards do not expire.
  • Cash rewards can be redeemed as a statement credit to your credit or a deposit to your Bank of America checking, savings, or Merrill investing account.
  • 23.99% APR
  • No signup bonus on the Secured card version

Our Verdict

Not many Secured cards come with no annual fee and still offer rewards. There are a few other option that offer the same, though the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards card is from a major bank and could be helpful in establishing a relationship with the bank. Bank of America also offers a Secured version of their Unlimited Cash Rewards card, so be sure to compare which is best for you. The Discover secured card is another good option for a secured card. All of these are solid options for someone who is struggling to get a credit card and wants to build a credit history.

Hat tip to reader Cyan

Source: doctorofcredit.com

Guiding Your Company with Business Continuity Planning

Business continuity is a tool for handling the transfer of a business to a different owner when the original owner leaves, dies or becomes incapacitated.  A continuity plan protects short-term and long-term business interests and is one of the most important components to business exit planning. 

Ripple Effects

The death of an owner often sets off a ripple of events for a business if it is not prepared for continuity.  This loss of direction can lead to losses of financial resources and vendors, key talent and ultimately loyal customers.  Below are the key issues that can occur when owners do not create a plan, along with ways to mitigate them:

Loss of Financial Resources

Vendors may decide to discontinue their services to the business, especially if the business defaults on their contracts.  The banks, lessors, bonding and financial institutions you do business with may end their relationship with your company.  How to handle these situations depends on the type of ownership:

Sole owners: Your death can put enormous pressure on the business to continue its performance should third parties refuse to lend money or make guarantees based on the health of your company.  Continuity planning can help offset the loss of leadership.

Partnerships: The loss of financial resources can be mitigated by funding a buy-sell agreement, which places a significant amount of money in the company reserves should you die.

Loss of Key Talent

Another issue that can create problems with business continuity is the loss of your key talent.  If the remaining owners do not have your experience or skills, the business can suffer as if it had been a sole ownership.  Your experience, skills and relationships with customers, vendors and employees may be difficult to replace, especially in the short term.  To overcome this situation, begin grooming and training successive management capable of filling your shoes.  You should also begin preparing for the transition early, because training your replacement can take years.

Loss of Employees and Customers

Particularly with sole ownership, as vendors end their relationship with the business, employees will be unable to satisfy their obligations to customers.  This can hasten the employees’ departure, taking with them key skills and even client relationships. 

To mitigate the loss of key employees, you can incentivize them to continue their employment through a written Stay Bonus that provides bonuses over a period of time, generally 12-18 months.  This bonus is designed to substantially increase their compensation, usually by 50% to 100% for the duration specified.  Typically, this type of bonus is funded using life insurance in an amount that is sufficient to pay the bonuses over the desired timeframe.

Continuity Planning

For businesses with only one owner, it should be obvious that there will be no continuity of the business unless a sole owner takes the appropriate steps to create a future owner.  Whether it be grooming a successor or creating group ownership, this step is one that should be addressed early.  Even if your business is owned by your estate or a trust, you will need to provide for its continuity, if only for a brief period while it can be sold or transferred.  These steps should help business owners move through the process of creating a continuity plan:

  • Create a written Succession of Management plan that expresses your wishes regarding what should be done with your business over a period of time, until your eventual departure.
  • Name the person or persons who will take over the responsibility of operating your business.
  • Ensure your plan specifically states how the business transfer should be handled, whether continued, liquidated or sold.
  • Notify heirs of the resources available to handle the company’s sale, continuation or liquidation.
  • Meet with your banker to discuss the continuity plans you have made.  Showing them that the necessary funding is in place to implement your continuity plans will help the eventual transfer of ownership to proceed smoothly.
  • Work closely with a competent insurance professional to assure the amount of insurance purchased by the owner, the owner’s trust, or the business can cover the business continuity needs outlined in your plan.

Buy-Sell Agreement

For businesses with more than one owner, continuity planning can be achieved by creating a buy-sell agreement.  Such an agreement stipulates how the co-owner’s interest in the business is transferred and is often funded using life insurance or disability buyout insurance.  It can also be funded through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) by creating a privately held corporation.  It is important that you keep the buy-sell agreement updated to avoid creating additional problems with continuity.  There are several types of buy-sell agreements to consider:

Cross purchase: Another business partner agrees to purchase the business from the owner or the owner’s family.  All business owners generally purchase, own and are the beneficiary of an insurance policy insuring each of the other business owners.

Entity purchase: The business entity agrees to purchase the business from the owner or the owner’s family.  In this case, the insurance policy is usually owned by the business.

Wait-and-see: The buyer of the business is allowed to remain unspecified, and a plan is put in place to decide on a buyer at the time of a triggering event (e.g., retirement, disability, death).  The policy ownership and beneficiary structures vary, depending on the type of the agreement.

Deciding when to begin business continuity planning is complicated and likely depends on your health, family circumstances and overall business financial wellness. We suggest you seek the advice of a business planning professional to help you sort through your options.

This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice.  Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax adviser or lawyer.   

President and Founder, Global Wealth Advisors

Kris Maksimovich, AIF®, CRPC®, CRC®, is president of Global Wealth Advisors in Lewisville, Texas. Since it was formed in 2008, GWA continues to expand with offices around the country. Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Financial planning services offered through Global Wealth Advisors are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth.

Source: kiplinger.com

Biden’s Tax Plan Could Make ‘Marriage Penalty’ Worse

Getting married is likely one of the biggest life decisions you will make, and while it may seem like an easy one, it could just have gotten a little more complicated. In addition to the obvious selection and reflection of a life with a future spouse, and all the family, friends and other things that come with it, there may now be a new consideration to add to the mix: Uncle Sam.  That’s because the so-called “marriage penalty” may have just gotten larger for high-earning dual-income households. 

Under the recently released so-called “Green Book,” which contains the Department of Treasury’s tax-related proposal for the Biden administration, is a proposal to increase the top marginal income tax rate from the current 37% to 39.6%.  This is similar to previous tax increase proposals by President Biden.  Specifically, the Green Book provides that the increase, as applied to taxable year 2022, will impact those with taxable income over $509,300 for married individuals filing jointly and $452,700 for unmarried individuals.  However, because of the way our tax system and tax brackets work, some married couples who each earn under $452,700 would be subject to a higher tax, as compared to their single counterparts earning the same amount. In this instance, being unmarried and single is better — for tax purposes anyway.  

Married vs. Single: Do the Tax Math

The reason for this dichotomy is because we have different tax brackets for single filers and married filers. Assume you have a couple (not married) each making $452,699. These taxpayers would not have reached the highest bracket for an unmarried individual per the Green Book proposal.  Each individual would be taxed at the 35% bracket, resulting in approximately $132,989 in federal income taxes using this year’s tax bracket for single filers (or a total of $265,978 combined for both individuals).

 If instead this couple decides to marry, they will now have a combined income of $905,398, putting them in the highest tax bracket (39.6%) as married filing jointly. This translates to an estimated $284,412 in federal income tax, which is $18,434 more in taxes (or about 6.9%) than compared to a situation if they were single, according to a projected tax rate schedule we created based on the available federal income tax information.

There is another option for married couples: the filing status of “Married Filing Separately.” In this situation, the couple may file as “single” for tax purposes but must use the “Married Filing Separately” rate table, which for the vast majority of situations, when you do the math, does not yield a better result.

The Effect, Going Forward

If the changes, as currently proposed, pass, I am anticipating a lot of tax planning around filing status and income threshold management.  Accountants will be very busy with detailed analyses and projections to evaluate the optimal filing status for married couples, and where certain deductions or planning opportunities would be more beneficial if applied to one spouse over the other.

In extreme cases, could this factor into one’s marital decision?  While I certainly hope that we do not make life decisions around taxes, the reality is that taxes hit the bottom line, and that impact is real. 

No one has a crystal ball as to what will happen, but let’s hope that in the end, this doesn’t become an unforeseen factor in the increasing divorce rate we have already seen since the start of the pandemic.  Let’s hope for marital bliss, not marital dismiss.

As part of the Wilmington Trust and M&T Emerald Advisory Services® team, Alvina is responsible for wealth planning, strategic advice, and thought leadership development for Wilmington Trust’s Wealth Management division.
©2021 M&T Bank Corporation and its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
Wilmington Trust is a registered service mark used in connection with various fiduciary and non-fiduciary services offered by certain subsidiaries of M&T Bank Corporation. M&T Emerald Advisory Services and Wilmington Trust Emerald Advisory Services are registered trademarks and refer to this service provided by Wilmington Trust, N.A., a member of the M&T family.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the sale of any financial product or service. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Note that tax, estate planning, investing and financial strategies require consideration for suitability of the individual, business or investor, and there is no assurance that any strategy will be successful.

Chief Wealth Strategist, Wilmington Trust

Alvina Lo is responsible for strategic wealth planning at Wilmington Trust, part of M&T Bank. Alvina’s prior experience includes roles at Citi Private Bank, Credit Suisse Private Wealth and as a practicing attorney at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, LLC. She holds a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Virginia and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania.  She is a published author, frequent lecturer and has been quoted in major outlets such as “The New York Times.”

Source: kiplinger.com

4 Best Coupon Matchup Sites for Groceries – Our Real-World Test

Every time I read a blog about extreme couponing, I’m in awe at the author’s grocery shopping skills. By stacking (combining) coupons with sales, these super-shoppers save over 50% on every product they buy. But when I try to copy their strategies, I just can’t find that many deals — even after hours of cross-checking coupon inserts against my local supermarkets’ sale flyers.

But there are couponing sites that promise to make it easier to save money with stacking deals. Their staff members do the work of matching sales with coupons so you don’t have to. But can these sites really find the kinds of deals you can’t unearth on your own?

To find out, I did a head-to-head test to see which coupon sites could find the best savings on a basket of groceries at local supermarkets. Comparison points included features, accuracy, and ease of use to discover which coupon matchup site is the best of the bunch.

Pro Tip: Before you head to the grocery store, download the Fetch Rewards app. With Fetch Rewards, you can scan your grocery receipts and earn points you can redeem for gift cards to your favorite stores. For more information, see our Fetch Rewards review.

Best Coupon Matchup Sites Test

To be included in the test, sites had to be able to do all of the following:

  • Find Stacking Deals. Each of these sites does one particular thing: match grocery coupons with sales. There are no other sites related to couponing, including coupon-clipping services, price-comparison sites, and printable coupon sites like Coupons.com.
  • Search Multiple Stores. Coupon matchup sites are the most valuable when they can find the best deals across all the supermarkets in a given area. So sites that focus on one particular store, such as I Heart Publix, didn’t make the cut.
  • Include Stores in My Area. I wanted to be able to check out the deals I found personally, comparing them to the store flyers and, if possible, to the prices in the store itself. Since I live in the northeast, I had to rule out the popular Southern Savers, which specifically looks for deals in the southern United States.
  • Are Still in Business. Surprisingly, one of the best-known coupon matchup sites, The Grocery Game, shut down in 2016. However, posts on social media complaining about this site’s disappearance led to the discovery of a couple of other sites that do the same job.

After some fairly extensive searching, four sites met all the criteria. To conduct the test, I visited each site and searched for stacking deals on five items I regularly buy: breakfast cereal, orange juice, canned soup, my favorite conditioner, and oxygen bleach. Note that coupons for fresh foods, such as produce or eggs, are rare.

I checked each site’s deals against my piles of supermarket sale flyers and coupon inserts to ensure they were legitimate. Then I rated each site on a 5-point scale for three factors:

  • How easy it was to search
  • How accurate its deals were
  • How much savings they offered

Finally, I averaged these scores to come up with a total score. So, which coupon matchup site came out on top?

1. CouponMom.com

There’s a lot going on at CouponMom.com. This free site has an extensive database of printable coupons from various sources and multiple tools to search for stacking deals. You can look for grocery, drugstore, state-specific, store-specific, and product-specific deals.

Ease of Use

The landing page for CouponMom.com is pretty cluttered, with moving ads, pointers to specific deals, and search boxes. Amid all this chaos, it’s hard to figure out where to go first. Since I was looking for five particular products, I started with the box labeled “Search Deals,” where you can search for a product by name.

I typed in the first item on my list, cereal, and got a list of dozens of cereal deals at different stores nationwide. But when I started clicking to see details, I found that most of these were cash-back deals from Ibotta. There was no clear way to weed these out and see only deals that required nothing but the store loyalty card and a coupon.

So instead, I went to “grocery deals by state,” selected “New Jersey,” and clicked the deal pages for specific stores in my area. I had to sign in to an account to view those, but setting one up was free and took only a few seconds.

The links for Aldi and Stop & Shop did nothing but display my local stores’ sale flyers. But the page for ShopRite was much better. It presented a list of products with columns for the sale price, how many I’d have to buy, available coupons and rebates, final price, and percentage saved.

The column showing the available manufacturer coupons used a somewhat confusing shorthand. The site provided a key for some of the abbreviations, such as “S” for SmartSource and “RP” for Red Plum, but it didn’t explain others, such as “SV.” On the plus side, CouponMom.com provided direct links to all the printable online coupons it found, which was handy.

I was then able to sort the list using a keyword box at the top. I entered each of the products from my shopping list in turn to see available deals. That part was easy, but it didn’t make up for the inconvenience of only being able to view actual deals for one store.

Ease-of-Use Score: 2 out of 5

Accuracy

When I checked the sale prices CouponMom.com listed against the store circulars, they were mostly correct. But one of the four wasn’t in the flyer. The only way to check its accuracy would be to make a trip to the store, an extra step coupon matchup sites are supposed to help you avoid.

As for the accuracy of the coupons themselves, there was only one to check. It was right in the SmartSource flyer where CouponMom.com said it would be, but getting a single coupon right isn’t much of a test. So this site loses one point on accuracy for giving me so little to work with.

Accuracy Score: 4 out of 5

Value

CouponMom.com could only find deals on one of my five test products (cereal) and only at one store. Moreover, one of the four deals it found wasn’t a stacking deal, just a sale price I could have found on my own by leafing through the store flyer. Two of the others were Ibotta deals, leaving only one that was useful.

That deal was $3.89 each for two family-size (16.9- to 19.1-ounce) boxes of Kellogg’s Special K cereal. Combined with a printable coupon for $1 off two, that yields a purchase price of $3.36. That works out to a unit price between $0.18 and $0.20 per ounce, much more than I typically pay by shopping sales and buying store brands.

To me, that doesn’t look much like extreme couponing. At best, it’s mild to moderate couponing.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.3 out of 5


2. GrocerySmarts.com

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com has two primary features: printable coupons and searchable deals. For some reason, it sorts its coupons into four groups, with different brands in each group. Fortunately, the site helps by providing a list of the latest coupons from the past 10 days or so and telling you where to click to find each one.

Ease of Use

Searching for deals at GrocerySmarts.com was pretty simple. First, I clicked on the drop-down menu at the top of the page and asked to see deals in New Jersey. The site then displayed a second drop-down menu with a list of stores to choose from.

Unfortunately, this list didn’t include any of the supermarkets where I usually shop. The only stores on the list were CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. Also, I had to view deals from each of these stores separately rather than looking at them all on one page. That cost the site 1 point on its ease-of-use rating.

On each store’s page, I used the search feature on my browser to look for the merchandise on my list. But I ran into a snag. It lists some cereals, such as Cheerios, by brand name only and doesn’t include the word “cereal.” I had to scan the whole list to ensure I was seeing all the cereal deals.

GrocerySmarts.com presents its deals for each store in one long list. There’s one column for the product, one for the sale price, one for the applicable coupon (if any), and one for the final price. Instead of showing the savings percentage, GrocerySmarts.com simply rates each deal as 3 stars, 4 stars, extreme, or free.

The list also tells you where to find the coupons you need for a given deal. If there’s a printable coupon, the site includes a link to it. It also shows which goods qualify for Ibotta deals and provides links to those.

If the coupon is in a newspaper insert, the site identifies the insert with an abbreviation similar to the ones used on CouponMom.com and the date. If there’s more than one available coupon for the same product, the site lists it multiple times.

To use the site to create a shopping list for a given store, click the Start button at the top of the page. Click to highlight the specific deals you want, then click on Shrink to hide all the lines you didn’t select. You can click the star at the top to quickly highlight all extreme and free deals. There’s also a field at the bottom to jot notes on your shopping list before printing it.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com couldn’t find deals on anything but cereal, and most of them were Ibotta rebates. The only deal that I could use was at CVS. It relied on a SmartSource coupon for $1.25 off three boxes of Life, Cap’n Crunch, or Quaker Oatmeal Squares. This coupon was correctly labeled and identified.

But the site’s description of the sale wasn’t quite accurate. It said the only brand on sale at CVS was Cap’n Crunch at $1.99 a box. But when I checked the CVS sale flyer, I found it applied to Life and Quaker Oatmeal Squares as well.

If I’d simply relied on GrocerySmarts.com for my info, I might have rejected this deal altogether since Cap’n Crunch isn’t a cereal we like.

So even though the sale price, coupon, and math were all accurate, this site loses a point for its inaccurate description. And it loses a second point for giving me so little to go on in the first place.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

I docked GrocerySmarts.com 3 points for value because it could only find deals on one of the five products on my list. Also, because it searches so few stores, the deals it did find weren’t at the stores where I usually shop.

The final cereal price it found was $1.57 per box for three 12.5- to 14-ounce boxes. That works out to between $0.11 and $0.13 per ounce. It’s a better price than CouponMom.com’s but no better than the usual price for the store brand. That cost the site one more point on value, resulting in a weak final score.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


3. The Krazy Coupon Lady

When you visit The Krazy Coupon Lady (KCL), you see updates on the latest hot deals at all kinds of stores. In addition to supermarkets and drugstores, this site covers department stores, restaurants, specialty stores, and even online deals at Amazon.

KCL provides lots of details about these featured deals, including photos and a couple of paragraphs of text. From the main page, you can also link to coupons and deals sorted by brand or store. Under “Couponing Resources” at the bottom, there are general guides to couponing and guides for specific stores.

Ease of Use

The primary way to search for deals on KCL is by store. You select a specific store from the main page, then click on the weekly coupon deals box (the first available box on the page under the app banner) to see a list of the latest deals from that store. You can then use your browser’s page search feature (control or command plus F) to look for individual products you want.

But weekly deals aren’t available for all stores. For instance, when I clicked on Stop & Shop, the last update was over two months old. The page for Trader Joe’s simply said, “There are currently no active deals.” (Since then, both these stores have disappeared from the site entirely.) And the page for Rite Aid showed one recent deal but no weekly list. I docked the site one point for this.

The weekly deals list includes details about each offer. It shows the sale price and provides links to printable coupons, downloadable store coupons, and Ibotta deals. A few of its deals also include manufacturer coupons from SmartSource, which are marked with the abbreviation “SS.” I couldn’t find any deals using coupons from Red Plum.

The site includes check boxes next to each listed item. You can click these boxes to add a product to your shopping list, but it’s not immediately obvious where that list is stored. I eventually found out you have to click your profile picture in the top right corner to access it.

But there’s a notification on the site saying this feature will soon be available only in the KCL app. That takes a lot of the functionality out of the website, costing it one more point.

Ease-of-Use Score: 3 out of 5

Accuracy

After checking KCL’s pages for all my local stores, I couldn’t find a single deal on any of the products on my grocery list. So to test the site’s accuracy, I simply searched for the “SS” abbreviation and checked the coupons it listed against my SmartSource insert.

Some of the coupons KCL identified were real. It correctly located manufacturer coupons for Eggland’s Best eggs in the May 2 insert and Nivea lotion in the May 16 insert. But it also cited two other coupons in the May 16 insert that I couldn’t find.

In short, KCL got only two out of four manufacturer coupons right, for an accuracy rate of just 50%. But when I checked some of its links to digital store coupons on the ShopRite site, they were all accurate. That bumped its score up from 2.5 points to 3.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

This one was an easy call. KCL didn’t find me a single deal I could use — not even those other sites identified. That makes it a dead loss as far as value is concerned, so it earned no points.

Value Score: 0 out of 5

Overall Score: 2 out of 5


4. Living Rich With Coupons

Like KCL, Living Rich With Coupons (LRWC) displays a long list of recent deals on its main page. It includes offers from a wide variety of stores, including supermarkets, department stores, and online retailers. There are links at the top of the page for categories including coupons, online deals, and stores.

Ease of Use

This site allows you to search for deals in several ways. If you click the Filter by State drop-down on the landing page and select the name of your state, LRWC filters its long list of deals to include only those available in your area. But this option is only available for nine states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Alternatively, you can also click on Stores in the main navigation and select a store to see a list of that store’s weekly sale prices, including coupons you can stack with them. The site has deals for national big-box stores Target and Walmart, warehouse stores Costco and BJ’s, dollar stores, drugstores, and regional grocery chains like ShopRite and Kroger.

To find deals on a specific product, such as cereal, you can click on the site’s Grocery Price Comparison Tool and enter the product name in the search box. The site pulls up a list of all the stores that have deals on that item, and you click on the names of the stores you want to search.

LRWC then presents you with a list of all the stacking deals on that product sorted by the stores you selected. For every sale, it includes a lengthy list of all possible coupons that could stack with it. The site provides direct links to printable online coupons. For coupons inserts, it lists the flyer, the date, and the coupon’s expiration date, a handy feature most coupon sites don’t have.

But I noticed one odd quirk in LRWC’s list. It didn’t provide the actual sale prices for every store in its list. For instance, it said CVS had a BOGO (buy-one, get-one-free) deal on raisin bran, but it didn’t say what the regular price was.

Even when it did list the sale price, LRWC didn’t always crunch the numbers to tell you what the purchase price was after stacking the sale with a coupon. These problems cost the site 1 point for ease of use.

When you click an item in the Grocery Price Comparison Tool, the site adds it to your saved shopping list, shown on the right side of the screen. Clicking the print or email icon pulls the list up in a separate window. For each deal on the list, LRWC shows the store, the product, the sale price, how many you must buy to get that price, and all possible coupons to pair with the sale.

You can edit the list before printing or emailing it to yourself. You can remove items you don’t want to see, such as coupons you don’t intend to use, or change the quantity of a product you want to buy. You can also manually add goods you didn’t find deals on, with or without custom notes.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

LRWC found deals for all five of the products on my shopping list. Its best cereal deal was from Stop & Shop: Kellogg’s cereals for $1.50 per box, which could stack with any of nine different coupons.

However, there was a problem with the deal. According to the Stop & Shop sale flyer, the price was only good for three days, Friday through Sunday. By the time I ran my test, it had already expired. LRWC neglected to mention that detail, costing it one point for accuracy.

LWRC also listed sales on Kellogg’s cereal at several other stores. But for some reason, it didn’t match them with the same list of coupons it had found for Stop & Shop, even though they would clearly work. This oversight cost it one more point.

In a few cases, LWRC found deals I couldn’t verify. Some were allegedly “unadvertised” sales, so I had no way of checking them without going to the store. I didn’t add or take off points for these.

However, other deals were clearly wrong. For instance, LWRC claimed ShopRite was selling Campbell’s Slow Kettle Soups for $1.99, but that price was not in the sale flyer. That could have been the regular price, but LWRC also paired it with a digital store coupon I couldn’t find on the store site. That cost it another point.

All the other sale prices LRWC found seemed to be accurate. But while checking them, I noticed there were other deals it missed. For instance, it said I could buy Florida’s Natural orange juice for $2.99 at ShopRite, then add a coupon for $0.98 off two to bring the price down to $2.50. But it didn’t notice the same store had larger cartons of Minute Maid OJ for just $1.88.

Also, in some cases, LRWC’s math was wrong. For instance, it said a sale of $1.88 per box on Quaker cereals paired with a coupon for $1.25 off three boxes would yield a purchase price “as low as $1.55 each.” In fact, the purchase price with this coupon is $1.46 per box. I knocked off one more point for this.

As for the coupons, all the printable ones I checked seemed to work. The one coupon that came from SmartSource was also accurate. A few were from a flyer labeled only as “Save,” an abbreviation I couldn’t identify, so I don’t know whether these coupons were accurate or not.

Accuracy Score: 1 out of 5

Value

Of all the sites I tested, LRWC was the only one to find deals for all the items on my list. Unfortunately, not all the deals it found were legit, and it missed some that were.

For instance, if LRWC had paired the $1.88-per-box sale on cereal at Walgreens with the $1-off-two coupon it found at Stop & Shop, it could have given me a purchase price of $1.38 per box. Since the sale covered boxes up to 13.7 ounces, that would have come to a great price of around $0.10 per ounce. But LRWC missed that deal, so it gets no credit for it.

The prices it actually found were:

  • Cereal: $1.46 per 11.5- to 14.5-ounce box ($0.10 to $0.13 per ounce)
  • Orange Juice: $2.50 per 52-ounce carton ($0.05 per ounce); missed a better deal of $1.88 for 59 ounces ($0.03 per ounce)
  • Oxygen Bleach: $4.99 for a 48-ounce container ($0.10 per ounce)

Out of the five sites I tested, LWRC found me the best price on cereal. Its price for oxygen bleach is also pretty good. However, its OJ deal is lackluster, and it missed a better one I could have found just by checking the sale flyer.

Value Score: 3 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


Final Word

Of the four sites tested, GrocerySmarts.com and Living Rich With Coupons tied for the best overall score. Both were easy to use, but GrocerySmarts.com was more accurate, while LWRC found better deals overall.

But neither of these sites was the perfect coupon-stacking resource I was hoping to find. In most cases, the stacking deals they uncovered were no better than the prices I usually get on my own without coupons.

Of course, what works for me isn’t necessarily what will work for you. If your local stores have better sales than mine or if you regularly buy more products you can find coupons for, these coupon sites could save you some significant money. Just double-check all the deals you find to make sure they’re legit.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll stick to other methods for saving money on groceries. Between my grocery price book, store loyalty cards, and buying store brands (especially at discount stores like Aldi), I think I can find prices good enough to give the extreme couponers a run for their money.

Source: moneycrashers.com

How to Track Your Small-Business Expenses for Tax Deductions

As a small business or startup, keeping track of your expenses is essential. Come tax time, your business-related purchases qualify as tax deductions, reducing the total amount you owe on your return — but only if you’ve kept a record of them.

Thankfully, there are a variety of expense tracking options for you to choose from, whether you’re interested in accounting software or prefer to go the manual route.

What is Small-Business Expense Tracking?

Small-business expense tracking is how you record and manage any business-related purchases you make, such as:

  • Office supplies
  • Business travel expenses
  • Marketing and advertising costs
  • Software subscriptions
  • Home office furniture
  • Tickets to professional events and conventions

During tax season, the IRS considers many of these purchases as write-offs, allowing you to deduct them from your tax return. However, for these items to qualify as tax deductions, you will need to have a record of the purchase in the form of a physical or digital receipt.

You should keep track of your business expenses if you’re a small-business owner, startup founder, freelancer, or otherwise self-employed.


Why Track Business Expenses?

Tracking your business expenses comes with many benefits, including:

1. Reducing Your Small-Business Taxes

If you work for yourself, you already know the amount you have to pay in self-employment taxes each year can be significant. If you can reduce it, even by a small amount, that equates to more money in your pocket.

Keeping records of your deductible expenses is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to reduce your tax return. By simply hanging on to your business-related receipts, you can save yourself a lot of money.

2. Demonstrating an Accurate Profit Margin

Tracking small-business expenses also helps to give you a more accurate understanding of your business’s profit. By monitoring both incoming and outgoing cash flow, it’s easier to see how much your business is making after your costs have been deducted.

If you only monitor profit, you’ll never really know whether your business is financially viable or not.

3. Organizing Your Business Records

Keeping clean, clear, and well-organized business records is the best way to understand and track your company’s growth over a long period of time. Tracking expenses can help you to:

  • Determine where you have opportunities to reduce your small-business expenses
  • See how your costs have increased or decreased based on the market or seasonality
  • Decide when and how to scale your business
  • Negotiate or reevaluate expenses

Even freelance records are important because they separate business costs from client-related expenses that qualify for reimbursement.

Plus, if you ever encounter a legal issue related to your business, detailed records will strengthen your case and show that you run an honest and lawful company.


How to Track Small-Business Expenses

You have a variety of different options when it comes to choosing a method to track expenses, from accounting software and applications to business banking accounts and manually recording costs.

Choose the method that works best for you and your business based on your needs, budget, and preference.

1. Accounting Software and Apps

One of the easiest methods for tracking expenses is by using accounting software. Many platforms can connect with your bank account to automatically identify and record business purchases as well as allow you to upload photos of receipts or manually enter expenses.

Some of the most popular business expense tracking platforms include:

Most of these platforms offer both a desktop version and mobile app, facilitating expense tracking in the office and on the go. This is especially convenient if you’re tracking business expenses while out of town.

Accounting software platforms and apps work best for businesses that want to use them to manage multiple aspects of their business, such as invoicing, facilitating payments, time tracking, and payroll.

Most accounting platforms also come with a monthly or annual fee, which typically qualifies as a tax deduction.

2. Business Banking Accounts

Keeping track of your business expenses is a breeze if you only make purchases using a company credit card or debit card. This way, all your purchases are in a separate bank account, making your expense reports easy to compile, review, and organize.

If you choose to open a business bank account through an online bank like Lili, make sure to keep it separate from your personal finances. Only use your business credit card or debit card to make business purchases. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of having different accounts.

If you decide to go this route to manage your business finances, it’s recommended you open:

  • A business credit card
  • A business checking account
  • A business savings account

This way, you can deposit payments from clients and customers into your checking account and use it to pay for purchases made on your company credit card. Leftover business income can go into your savings account. This setup keeps your business finances completed separate from your personal assets.

3. Manually

If you only have a handful of clients or your expenses are relatively few and far between, keeping things simple may be the best option. Tracking expenses manually is as simple as creating a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel and inputting expense details as you make purchases.

You can make your spreadsheet as detailed or as simple as you’d like. For example, you can include item descriptions, dates, and amounts as well as a total before and after taxes. Or, you can simply list items and their costs.

You can also use free spreadsheet software like Google Sheets if you don’t have a Microsoft 365 subscription.


Keeping Digital Receipts

Digital receipts are easier to track than their paper counterparts, but if you use multiple email addresses, bank accounts, or payment methods, keeping your expense records organized can be challenging. Three popular options include:

1. Expense Tracking Software

Most expense tracker apps and platforms help you to store digital receipts by either automatically recording them through your bank statements or letting you upload them yourself.

Many apps also allow you to categorize your business purchases, making them easier to input and record when preparing your income tax return.

Although apps and software are generally more expensive compared to other methods, they handle a lot of the administrative work for you. So, if you’re looking for a hands-off approach to keeping your digital expense records organized and well-managed, an app is probably your best bet.

2. Company Expense Email

An effective method is to use a single email address — preferably one associated with your business — to make all of your business-related online purchases. All the digital receipts associated with your company will be directed to your business email inbox.

To record paper receipts as well, take a picture of them or scan them and forward the image to your email address.

You can make this inbox accessible to your bookkeeper or accountant directly or forward your receipts to them as you make purchases. Even if you do your own bookkeeping, having your tax-deductible expense records in one place (and organized by date) will make your life easier.

Additionally, you won’t have to pay any additional costs outside of what you already pay to host your email account.

3. Cloud Storage

Your third option is to scan or take pictures of receipts and upload the images to the cloud storage of your choice, such as:

For digital receipts, you can take a screenshot, save it as an image, and upload it manually. Although not the most convenient option, cloud storage is typically free, which makes it an ideal choice for the budget-conscious.


Keeping Paper Receipts

Paper receipts are harder to manage than digital versions, but almost every small-business owner will have at least a few of them. Paper receipts usually come from:

  • Restaurants
  • Gas stations
  • In-store purchases
  • Cash purchases

And, unfortunately, identifying the debit in your bank account isn’t enough of a record to ensure that your purchase qualifies for a small-business tax deduction. You’ll need a copy of your actual receipt to document the amount, date, and item details of the expense.

Unfortunately, paper receipts are easy to lose and damage, so you need to store them carefully. Keep track of physical copies of purchase records by:

1. Scanning Receipts

Scanning or taking pictures of receipts is the safest way to keep a record of them. It’s much harder to lose or spill coffee on a digital record of a purchase than a physical one. This way, if you misplace a receipt or accidentally put it through the washer, you have a backup.

Scan or take a picture of a receipt as soon as you receive it to reduce the chances of it being lost or damaged.

You don’t even need a paid app to scan receipts, because there are a variety of options for both Apple and Android devices that allow you to scan and save documents for free.

2. Using an Envelope or Folder

Another option is to store receipts in a designated envelope or file folder in your office or filing cabinet. It’s best to store receipts by tax year so you know which ones will apply to your current return.

The hardest part of using this method is that you’ll need to make a habit of taking paper receipts from your pocket, wallet, or purse and putting them in the proper place. If you lose them, you won’t be able to claim them as write-offs.


4 Tips for Small-Business Expense Tracking

Regardless of how you track your small-business expenses, there are ways you can optimize the process to make it simpler and more straightforward.

1. Keep Business and Personal Purchases Separate

Even if you don’t have a business bank account, you can still keep business and personal expenses separate.

For example, let’s say you go to Costco and purchase groceries for your family and office supplies for your business at the same time. Instead of making one large purchase, separate your items into two transactions — one for your household items and another for your business purchases.

This makes it much easier to calculate the total amount of your write-off, including taxes, fees, or discounts, instead of having to try to extract the information from a larger bill.

2. Ask for Receipts

When tracking expenses for business purposes, you need to make a habit of asking for (and keeping) receipts. This goes for any retailer that doesn’t provide digital receipts, like gas stations and restaurants.

As a small-business owner, you need to get used to asking for receipts and keeping them safe until you have a chance to scan or store them safely.

Any receipt you don’t ask for is an expense that you can’t claim when you file your taxes.

Even if you aren’t sure whether a purchase will qualify as a deductible business expense, it’s better to ask for a receipt and talk to your bookkeeper or accountant afterward rather than miss out on a potential deduction altogether.

3. Get Digital Receipts

Many retailers offer both digital and physical receipts. Whenever possible, opt for a digital receipt. They’re easier to document, track, and store than paper receipts.

Because stores send digital receipts to an email address, use a designated email address for business purchases. This will keep your personal inbox clean and your business expenses in one place.

4. Organize Your Expense Records

Keep your tax deduction records organized by year, category, and item to make filing your tax return simple and stress-free. If you keep receipts organized as you make purchases, it will be much easier to sort through and calculate them later on.

And, if you use an accountant to file your taxes, they’ll appreciate a straightforward and clean expense report to reference.


Final Word

Tax deductions are crucial for small-business owners. But you won’t qualify for write-offs if your business purchases aren’t sufficiently recorded and documented. Tracking your expenses using accounting software, business bank accounts, or manually will help you to prove purchases, stay on top of costs, and keep your records organized.

Keep copies of both paper and digital receipts to make your next tax return more affordable and easier to file.

Source: moneycrashers.com

“Plus-Up” Stimulus Checks Have Already Been Sent to 9 Million Americans – Will You Get One Too?

If you already received a third stimulus check, you might find an additional check from the IRS in your mailbox in the coming weeks – especially if you filed your 2020 tax return close to the May 17 deadline. The IRS is calling these extra checks “plus-up” payments, and more than 9 million Americans have already receive the supplemental payment. Over 900,000 plus-up payments were sent in just the last six weeks, and more of them will be sent in the weeks and months ahead as the IRS continues to process 2020 tax returns. The big question is: Will you get one?

The IRS is sending plus-up payments to people who received a third-round stimulus check that was based on information taken from their 2019 federal tax return or some other source, but who are eligible for a larger payment based on a 2020 return that is filed and/or processed later. This could happen, for example, if you had a new baby last year that is reported as a dependent for the first time on your 2020 return (see below for other possible reasons).

So, if you recently filed your 2020 return, you might get a plus-up payment soon. If you requested a filing extension and haven’t filed your 2020 return yet, there’s an extra incentive to get it done quickly (i.e., not waiting until October 15 to file your return). Your 2020 return must be filed and processed by the IRS before August 16, 2021, if you want to get a plus-up payment. That means you still have time to act if you got an extension – but not too much time! Plus, the sooner you file your return, the sooner you’ll get your “plus-up” payment (plus any other tax refund the IRS owes you).

How Stimulus Payments Are Calculated

Most eligible Americans have already received their third stimulus check. The “base amount” is $1,400 ($2,800 for married couples filing a joint tax return). Plus, for each dependent in your family, the IRS adds on an extra $1,400. Unlike for previous stimulus payments, the age of the dependent is irrelevant.

However, third-round stimulus checks are then “phased out” (i.e., reduced) for people with an adjusted gross income (AGI) above a certain amount. If you filed your most recent tax return as a single filer, your payment is reduced if your AGI is over $75,000. It’s completely phased-out if your AGI is $80,000 or more. For head-of-household filers, the phase-out begins when AGI reaches $112,500 and payments are reduced to zero when AGI hits $120,000. Married couples filing a joint return will see their third stimulus check drop if their AGI exceeds $150,000 and completely disappear when AGI is $160,000 or more.

The IRS looks at your 2019 or 2020 tax return to determine your filing status, AGI, and information about your dependents. If you don’t file a 2019 or 2020 return, the IRS can sometimes get the information it needs from another source. For instance, it got information from the Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, or Veterans Administration for people currently receiving benefits from one of those federal agencies (although the IRS may not have gotten all the information it needs to send a full payment). If you supplied the IRS information last year through its online Non-Filers tool or by submitting a special simplified tax return, the tax agency can use that information, too.

If your 2020 tax return isn’t filed and processed by the time it starts processing your third stimulus check, the IRS will base your payment on your 2019 return or whatever other information is available. If your 2020 return is already filed and processed, then your stimulus check will be based on that return. If, however, your 2020 return is not filed and/or processed until after the IRS sends your third stimulus check, but before August 16, that’s when the IRS will send you a plus-up payment for the difference between what your payment should have been if based on your 2020 return and the payment actually sent that was based on your 2019 return or other data.

(Note: The IRS has had tax return processing delays this year. So, even if you submitted your 2020 return before your third stimulus check was sent, your stimulus payment still might be based on your 2019 return because your 2020 return wasn’t processed in time. Returns filed electronically are generally processed faster than paper returns.)

If for some reason you don’t get a plus-up payment, you’ll still get your money if a payment based on your 2020 tax return is higher than the payment you actually received – but you’ll have to wait until next year to get it. In that case, you can claim the difference as a Recovery Rebate credit on your 2021 tax return, which you won’t file until 2022.

[Use our Third Stimulus Check Calculator to compare your payment if it’s based on your 2019 return vs. your 2020 return. Just answer three easy questions to get a customized estimate.]

Who Will Get a Supplemental “Plus-Up” Payment

Again, you’ll only get a supplemental “plus-up” payment if you received a third stimulus check based on your 2019 tax return or other information, but you would have gotten a larger check if the IRS based it on your 2020 return. So, who falls into this category? Of course, it depends on your specific circumstance. However, to give you a general idea, here are a few examples of hypothetical taxpayers who should get a plus-up payment.

You Had Less Income in 2020 Than in 2019: Kay was unemployed for much of 2020. As a result, her AGI dropped from $78,000 in 2019 to $40,000 in 2020. Kay received a $560 third stimulus check that was based on her 2019 return (she is single with no dependents). Since her 2019 AGI was above the phase-out threshold for single filers ($75,000), her payment was reduced. Kay later files her 2020 tax return, which is processed before August 16, 2021. Since Kay’s 2020 AGI is well below the applicable phase-out threshold, her third stimulus check would have been for $1,400 if it were based on her 2020 return. As a result, Kay will receive a $840 plus-up payment ($1,400 – $560 = $840).

You Had a Baby in 2020: Josh and Samantha had their first child in 2020. They’ve been married for five years, and they file a joint return each year. Their AGI was $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020, which are both below the phase-out threshold for joint filers ($150,000). The IRS sent Josh and Samantha a $2,800 third stimulus check based on their 2019 return. They filed their 2020 tax return before the IRS sent the payment, but the return was not processed until a week after the payment was sent. That’s why the payment was based on their 2019 return. Since Josh and Samantha claimed their new bundle of joy as a dependent on their 2020 return, their stimulus check would have been for $4,200 if it were based on their 2020 return (i.e., they would have received an additional $1,400 for their baby). As a result, the IRS will send Josh and Samantha a $1,400 plus-up payment ($4,200 – $2,800 = $1,400).

You Got Married in 2020: Patty and Greg were married in 2020. They had a combined AGI of $150,000 in 2020 and have no dependents. In 2019, as separate single filers, Patty had an AGI of $72,000 and Greg had an AGI of $78,000. The IRS sent Patty a $1,400 third stimulus check based on her 2019 return. Since her 2019 AGI was below the phase-out threshold for single filers ($75,000), her payment was not reduced. The IRS sent Greg a $560 third stimulus check based on his 2019 return. Since his 2019 AGI was above the phase-out threshold for single filers, his payment was reduced. Between the two of them, they got a total of $1,960 in third stimulus check payments ($1,400 + $560 = $1,960). After receiving their stimulus checks, Patty and Greg file a joint return for the 2020 tax year that is processed before August 16, 2021. Since the AGI reported on their 2020 joint return does not exceed the phase-out threshold for joint filers ($150,000), their stimulus check would have been for $2,800 if it were based on their 2020 return (i.e., it wouldn’t have been reduced). As a result, the IRS will send Patty and Greg a $840 plus-up payment ($2,800 – $1,960 = $840).

You Used the Non-Filers Tool Last Year: Mary is single and has two dependent children. One turned 15 and the other turned 18 in 2020. Mary was not required to file a 2019 tax return, but she did use the IRS’s Non-Filers tool last year to get a first-round stimulus check. Since children over 16 did not qualify for the extra $500 payment for first-round payments, Mary only reported her youngest child to through the tool. The IRS sent Mary a $2,800 third stimulus check based on the information it received through the Non-Filers tool. Mary later files a 2020 tax return, which is processed before August 16, 2021. She used the head-of-household filing status, reported an AGI of $15,000, and claimed both of her children as dependents. For third-round stimulus checks, an additional $1,400 is added to the total payment for each dependent regardless of the dependent’s age. Since Mary’s 2020 AGI is below the phase-out threshold for head-of-household filers ($112,500), her third stimulus check would have been for $4,200 if it were based on her 2020 return. As a result, Mary will receive a $1,400 plus-up payment ($4,200 – $2,800 = $1,400).

A Federal Agency Supplied Information to the IRS: Ron is a disabled veteran who receives benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He is single and has one dependent child. Ron was not required to file a 2019 tax return, but the VA sent information to the IRS about Ron. The VA did not send any information about Ron’s child. Based on the information it had, the IRS sent Ron a $1,400 third stimulus check. After receiving this payment, Ron files a 2020 tax return, which is processed before August 16, 2021. Ron filed as a single person with an AGI of $18,000 and one dependent. Since Ron’s 2020 AGI does not exceed the phase-out threshold for single filers ($75,000), his third stimulus check would have been for $2,800 if it were based on his 2020 return. As a result, the IRS will send Ron a $1,400 plus-up payment ($2,800 – $1,400 = $1,400).

Source: kiplinger.com

How to Make End-of-Year Donations

Making a charitable donation at the end of the year–or any time of year–can be a win-win-win.

The organization you give your money to benefits. You get to enjoy the good feeling that comes with supporting a project or cause that you believe in. And, you may also be able to lower your tax bill.

This year, the rewards for giving may be especially sweet. Two new tax changes for 2021 can boost donors’ tax deductions for charitable giving, meaning they may be able to give more to charity at a lower net cost.

Here are some things you may want to consider when planning and making your end-of-year charitable donations.

What Qualifies as Charitable Giving?

In the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a charitable donation is a gift of money, property, or other asset that you give to a qualifying organization, known as a 501(c)(3). To find out if an organization you’d like to support is eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions, you can search for it on the IRS’s database .

You may want to keep in mind that money or assets given to political campaigns or political parties do not qualify as tax-deductible donations. In fact, no organization that qualifies as a 501(c)(3) can participate in political campaigns or activities.

Organizations that engage in political activities without bias, however, can still sometimes qualify. So, a group can educate about the electoral process and remain within guidelines. They just have to go about it in a nonpartisan way.

It’s also possible for the IRS to implement measures that can affect charitable donating. For example, there was a tax relief provision passed in the form of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Under it, tax deduction limits shifted for both those individually and jointly filing. So, it’s essential to stay updated on current tax laws and provisions that may affect your charitable donations’ taxation.

Recommended: IRA Tax Deduction Rules

Can I Deduct My Year-End Charitable Donation?

In the past, charitable donations could only be deducted by tax filers who itemized their deductions. That means that rather than take the standard deduction, they chose the more complicated path of listing all of their eligible expenses.

However, the IRS has a special new provision that will allow individuals to easily deduct up to $300, and joint filers to deduct up to $600, in donations to qualifying charities in 2021, even if they don’t itemize.

This is basically an enhancement of the one-year tax break Congress put in for 2020 under the (CARES) Act that allowed a tax deduction for cash gifts to charity up to $300.

The difference is that for 2020, the deduction was limited to $300 per tax return. The new provision allows a married couple filing jointly to deduct up to $600 in cash gifts to charity for 2021.

The rules have changed for people who itemize as well. If you are itemizing on your return, the IRS has increased the limit for charitable tax deductions from 60% to 100% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). And, if you want to give more than that 100 percent threshold, the excess can be carried over into the next tax year.

Whether you’re looking to give $50 to your favorite local organization, or you’re considering a much larger charitable donation, these tax changes make it a particularly good time to do so.

Tips for Making End-of-Year Donations

To make the most of a charitable donation, here are some strategies you may want to keep in mind:

Making a Timely Donation

The deadline for charitable donations is December 31st. If you’re looking to deduct the donation in the current tax year, you will want to make sure your charity has ownership of whatever asset you are donating by the closing of business on the 31st. You may also want to make sure that your preferred payment method is accepted by the charity so it doesn’t get kicked back and cause delays.

Taking Advantage of Company Matching Programs

Your place of employment might have a matching program for charitable giving. They might, for example, match your donation amount dollar for dollar up to a certain amount. If so, it could significantly bump up the amount you could otherwise afford to give.

If you’re unsure about whether your company has a program, it can be worth reaching out to your HR department for further information.

Giving Rewards on Your Credit Card

If you are giving on a budget, you might consider donating rewards you earn on your credit cards, such as hotel points or airline miles. This can be a great way to use points or other rewards that would otherwise just expire. Many credit card companies, hotels, and airlines will make it easy to give your rewards to nonprofit organizations.

Recommended: Credit Card Rewards 101: Getting the Most Out of Your Credit Card

Donating Assets from your Brokerage Account

If you’re looking to lower your capital gains tax, you may want to consider donating assets from your brokerage account to a nonprofit. This may take some time and planning, but the benefits of donating an over-allocated position that’s outperforming can be worth it.

You may be able to receive tax advantages and rebalance your portfolio, while also helping an organization increase its assets.

Setting up a Recurring Donation

You can get a headstart on next year by creating a recurring contribution now. Many organizations allow you to donate monthly through their websites using a credit card, so you might be able to earn rewards at the same time. By establishing your donation plans now, you won’t have to even think about end-of-the-year giving next year.

Keeping Good Records

If you want to deduct your donation on your taxes, you’ll want to make sure you have the right receipts to back up the transaction.

For cash donations under $250, you’ll either need a bank record (like a canceled check or bank statement) or a written acknowledgment from the charity which includes the date and amount of your contribution.

For cash donations over $250, a bank record isn’t insufficient. Instead, you’ll need something in writing from the charity which includes the date and amount of your donation.

Noncash donations from $250 to $500 in value require a receipt that includes the charity’s name, address, date, donation location and description of items donated. If the noncash donation exceeds $500 in value, you’ll also need a record of how and when the items were acquired and their adjusted basis.

If the donation exceeds $5,000 in value, you’ll need to get a written appraisal from a qualified appraiser.

Speaking with a Professional

An accountant can help answer any questions you may have about how the new tax laws will impact your tax contribution, as well as help you make the most strategic and efficient charitable donation.

The Takeaway

Giving can be a good idea for a number of reasons, especially in 2021. In addition to helping a nonprofit organization meet its operating costs for the year, you can feel good about what you are doing with your money, and you may also benefit from special tax deductions.

Giving can also help you get the new year started on the right foot. If you’re looking for other ways to get your financial life in order (now, or any time of year), you may also want to consider signing up for SoFi Money®.

SoFi Money is a cash management account that allows you to earn competitive interest, spend, and save all in one place. And, since you won’t pay any account fees or other monthly fees, you can focus on putting your money towards more important things.

Start saving for the things in life that matter to you with SoFi Money.

Photo credit: iStock/ThitareeSarmkasat


SoFi Money®
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank.
SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Source: sofi.com

5 Reasons You Should Not Delay Retirement

Grandfather reading to his granddaughter
LightField Studios / Shutterstock.com

Some people view retirement as something that should be delayed as long as possible. They say that, for many older workers, waiting as long as possible to collect Social Security benefits is the prudent choice.

Important as this advice is for many of us, it may not apply to you. If you are financially prepared, there are good reasons to consider retiring at the traditional age of 65, or maybe even sooner.

“Time is the most valuable asset anyone can ever have,” Mike Kern, a certified public accountant based in South Carolina, tells Money Talks News. “I would encourage anyone who has the ability and wants to retire early to do so.”

There is plenty to see, do and learn in retirement. Many retirees go on to pursue new careers or fulfill lifetime goals they didn’t have time for when they were working. Freed from the burden of a 9-to-5 job, they find that life has many new possibilities.

What follows are powerful reasons not to delay your retirement.

1. Delaying Social Security may not be right for you

Before deciding, consider your personal circumstances, advises Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson:

“For some people it’s a great idea to take Social Security early, and for some people it’s a great idea to wait.”

You generally can start receiving Social Security as soon as age 62. Some people wait as late as age 70. If you plan to continue working until your benefits reach their maximum at age 70, delaying your claim will result in greater monthly payouts. However, if you have concerns about how long you may live or you need the money right away, filing an early claim may make the most sense.

Good to know: The system is actuarially neutral, designed to make your overall benefits work out approximately the same over the course of your retirement, no matter when you first claim them. Delaying your first claim increases your monthly retirement benefit, but it may not affect the total amount you receive over a lifetime.

2. Retirement can lower your housing costs

When you retire, you no longer need to live close to a job. Where you decide to live in retirement can affect your quality of life, due in part to the price of real estate and rental homes.

“Your house is typically the biggest expense in your budget,” says Kern. “Oftentimes, the best way to considerably decrease your costs is by downsizing or moving to a cheaper place.”

Smaller towns generally have less-expensive housing than large metropolitan areas. For example, in early February, the median home value in Boise, Idaho — a community of about 229,000 residents — was $406,579, according to Zillow.

Sound expensive? Well, compare that to San Francisco. Zillow says Frisco’s median home value in early February was $1,402,470.

3. Your good health may not last

Nobody lives forever. If you don’t get started on your post-retirement goals in a timely manner, you may never reach them.

“As grim as it sounds, if your health is on the decline, then it may make sense to take an early retirement in order to maximize the net payout of your lifetime,” says attorney Jacob Dayan, CEO of Chicago-based tax services company Community Tax.

Consider, too, that you may experience health problems as you age. If your retirement goals require being in good physical shape so that you can hike the Inca Trail in Peru or bicycle through Ireland, it makes sense to retire sooner.

4. You want to start a new career

Retiring allows you to pursue your true passions. Some retirees use their savings and pension benefits to finance the start of another career.

You can’t claim Social Security retirement benefits until age 62, but if you’ve invested in a retirement plan or qualify for a pension, you may be able to use part of those funds to launch a new career.

Dayan advises careful planning and consideration before making a change. If retiring early and starting a new career requires a substantial financial investment, consider all the risks, including tapping your retirement funds. Make sure the switch won’t put you in financial distress.

5. You can afford to do it

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but, with careful planning, an adequate retirement account may allow you to quit your job. If you no longer feel fulfilled at work and can afford it, it may be time to make the transition. A few things to consider:

  • When you’re starting out in your career, it’s easy to become obsessed with getting ahead. At some point, though, you reach your goal. You deserve a reward for your hard work.
  • If you have loved ones who need your help, and you can afford to stop working, retiring frees you to help them with their day-to-day activities.
  • Retirement offers you time to grow, cultivate new interests, pursue hobbies and spend time with loved ones. It frees you to do the things that matter most.

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

Source: moneytalksnews.com

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express Review

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is a popular small business credit card with a fairly standard rewards program and no annual fee. Like many other Amex business credit cards, the rewards program is based on Membership Rewards, a proprietary portal that allows you to redeem for a wide range of merchandise and cash equivalents.

Blue Business Plus is meant for business owners with good to excellent credit. It competes with a number of other popular small business credit cards, including  Capital One Spark Miles for Business. Blue Business Plus also competes with American Express’s color-coded business card family, which includes the Plum Card, Business Green Rewards, Business Gold Rewards, and the Business Platinum Card.

Key Features

These are the most important features of the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express.

Welcome Offer

Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of card membership.

Membership Rewards and Redemption

Get rewarded for business as usual. Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners. The 2X rate applies to the first $50,000 in purchases per year, and 1 point per dollar thereafter.

You can redeem accumulated Membership Rewards points for general merchandise, travel, transportation (including Uber rides), gift cards, statement credits, and other items at Amex’s Membership Rewards portal. Point values vary by redemption method, with merchandise generally worth $0.01 per point and statement credits worth $0.006 per point.

Introductory APR

There is a 0% introductory APR for 12 months from account opening date on purchases. For rates and fees of the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.

Regular APR

Following the end of the introductory period, variable regular APR applies. It’s currently 13.24% to 19.24% variable, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.

Important Fees

Blue Business Plus has no annual fee or fees for additional employee cards. Foreign transactions cost 2.7%. Late and returned payments cost up to $39 each. See rates and fees.

Spend Above Your Credit Limit

Blue Business Plus comes with a spending limit. However, cardholders can spend above their credit limits without first applying for a higher limit, provided they pay off the amount spent above the limit in full by their statement due date. Above-limit spending is not unlimited – according to American Express, it “adjusts with your use of the Card, your payment history, credit record, financial resources known to American Express, and other factors.”

Additional Business Benefits

Blue Business Plus comes with a nice lineup of business-friendly benefits, including digital receipt storage, expense tagging and tracking, and the ability to designate an employee as your account manager and dispute resolution point person.

Credit Required

This card requires good to excellent credit.

Advantages

  1. No Annual Fee. Blue Business Plus doesn’t have an annual fee. That’s a nice contrast to other popular small business cards.
  2. Long Introductory APR Period. Blue Business Plus’s 0% APR introductory period lasts for 12 months from account opening. That’s much more generous than many fellow competing business cards, and in line with top low APR consumer credit cards. Once the introductory APR period ends, variable regular APR applies.
  3. Good for Business Owners Without Stellar Credit. Although Blue Business Plus requires good to excellent credit, it’s not the most exclusive card out there. If you don’t have major blemishes on your credit record, there’s a good chance you’re going to be approved for this card. That’s certainly not the case for more exclusive American Express business products, such as Business Gold Rewards and Business Platinum.

Disadvantages

  1. Has a Foreign Transaction Fee. Blue Business Plus comes with a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so it’s not ideal for business owners who frequently travel abroad. If you’re looking for a piece of plastic that doesn’t penalize you for setting foot in other countries, try one of the Capital One Spark cards.
  2. Points Accumulate Slowly. Blue Business Plus earns just 1 Membership Rewards point per $1 spent after the first $50,000 in purchases each year. That’s a slower rate of accumulation than some direct competitors, including Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card.
  3. Point Values Can Be Low. Come redemption time, Membership Rewards points’ values vary based on what they’re being redeemed for. Merchandise redemptions are usually worth $0.01 per point, but cash equivalents can be worth much less – $0.005 or $0.006, in some cases. By contrast, the Capital One Spark family’s miles or cash back points are always worth $0.01 apiece, while Chase Ink Business Preferred‘s points can be worth as much as $0.0125 at redemption or even more when points are transferred to travel partners. If you’re looking for a generous business loyalty program, look to that card.

Final Word

American Express has a somewhat deserved reputation as an issuer of gold-plated and platinum-plated cards with luxurious fringe benefits, impeccable service, and generous loyalty features. Many of the company’s high-end cards live up to this image – but not all of them.

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is a middle-of-the-road rewards card that doesn’t require massive revenues or an off-the-charts credit score – a true business credit card for the rest of us. Blue Business Plus’ broad appeal does come with some drawbacks, including a so-so rewards system, but there are worse cards out there. If you don’t qualify for a more generous American Express card at the moment, it’s not a bad place to start.

For rates and fees of the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.

Source: moneycrashers.com