7 Costly Social Security Mistakes

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Even a minor Social Security misstep can rob your nest egg of tens of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits.

So, it pays to understand how the system works and how to maximize your Social Security checks.

The following are some of the biggest and most costly mistakes you could make when navigating Social Security — and how to avoid making them.

1. Taking Social Security too early

It’s tempting to start taking Social Security benefits after you become eligible but before you reach what the federal government calls your “full retirement age.” If you do, you’ll wind up with a smaller check each month.

Technically, you should receive the same total amount of benefits over the span of your retirement no matter the age at which you first claimed them. The Social Security system is designed to be actuarially neutral in this regard.

Still, claiming early can be risky because once you claim benefits, you will be stuck with the same size payment for life. The amount of a person’s monthly benefit typically will never increase except for inflation adjustments.

If you’re the main breadwinner in your family, you may want to think twice about starting your Social Security benefit early since your spouse may receive that smaller benefit amount one day.

Jeffrey A. Drayton of Jeffrey A. Drayton Financial Planning and Wealth Management in Maple Grove, Minnesota, tells Money Talks News:

“When one of you dies, the surviving spouse will get to keep whichever benefit is larger. If yours is the larger benefit, do you really want to reduce it? Doing so means that you might be reducing this lifelong annuity that gets adjusted for inflation permanently not just for yourself but also your spouse.”

2. Claiming benefits and continuing to work

If you claim Social Security before reaching full retirement age and continue working, you might have to pay penalties against your Social Security benefit. This depends on how much money you earn.

One solution is to wait until your full retirement age to claim Social Security. There is no penalty for working while taking benefits after your full retirement age, regardless of how much income you earn.

3. Not checking your earnings record

The amount of your retirement benefit is based on your top 35 years of earnings. So, if there’s an error in your Social Security earnings record, the amount of your monthly check could suffer for it.

For example, if an employer fails to correctly report your earnings for even one year, your monthly benefit upon retiring could be around $100 less, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). That amounts to a loss of tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your retirement.

While employers are responsible for reporting your earnings, you are responsible for checking your earnings record, as only you can confirm the information is accurate.

To review your earnings record, log into your mySocialSecurity account — or create an account if you have yet to do so.

You’ll want to check each year. The SSA explains:

“Sooner is definitely better when it comes to identifying and reporting problems with your earnings record. As time passes, you may no longer have past tax documents and some employers may no longer be in business or able to provide past payroll information.”

4. Making an isolated decision

A Social Security decision is just one piece of a retirement income puzzle, says Charlie Bolognino, a certified financial planner at Side-by-Side Financial Planning in Plymouth, Minnesota.

It can impact how you draw down other retirement income sources, such as a pension, 401(k) plan or cash savings. It can also impact the amount of retirement income you lose to federal or state taxes.

Failing to consider these other retirement funding factors when making Social Security decisions — as well as rushing to those decisions — can cost you a big chunk of your nest egg.

“This is a big decision with potentially thousands of dollars at stake, so don’t short-cut it,” Bolognino tells Money Talks News. “Find a reputable benefit option comparison tool or work with a financial planner who can help you evaluate options in the context of your broader financial picture.”

5. Failing to understand what qualifies you for Social Security

Social Security retirement benefits are not a guarantee. You must qualify for them by paying Social Security taxes during your working years, or be married to someone who qualifies for benefits, Drayton says.

He continues:

“The qualification rules are complicated. The short answer most people give is that you need to work for at least 10 years. However, it is based on a system of credits and quarters, and there are different types of qualifications for different types of benefits.”

The bottom line? Know your qualification status and, if you’re ineligible, how to qualify for benefits.

To find out whether you’re eligible for retirement benefits or any other benefits administered by SSA, check out the SSA’s Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST). You can also use the tool to find out how to qualify and apply for benefits.

6. Not knowing the Social Security rules regarding divorce

You may be eligible to claim a spousal benefit based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record after a divorce. Failing to realize this can cost you a lot.

Generally, the member of the divorced couple entitled to the smaller benefit amount may be eligible for this type of spousal benefit — provided they were married for at least 10 years, haven’t remarried and meet a few other requirements.

The member of the divorced couple with the smaller benefit amount applies for a spousal benefit. The applicant must have been married for at least 10 years, not have been remarried and meet a few other requirements.

7. Not accounting for dependent benefits

If you still have dependent children when you claim Social Security retirement benefits, they may be eligible to receive benefits, too. An eligible child can receive up to 50% of your full retirement benefit amount each month, according to the SSA.

Your family would receive that amount on top of your own benefit amount. Payments to your dependents would not decrease your benefit, although there is a limit to how much the entire family may receive in monthly benefits.

So, understanding the benefits that your dependents might be eligible for can help you maximize your family’s collective benefit amount.

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

Source: moneytalksnews.com

5 Reasons to Claim Social Security ASAP

Happy senior couple
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Many people believe that claiming Social Security benefits as early as possible — which generally is age 62 — is inherently bad, since claiming before your full retirement age means smaller monthly payments.

However, the reality is that everyone’s circumstances are different. For some retirees, it makes sense to start claiming benefits as soon as possible.

Following are several situations in which you should not put off claiming your Social Security retirement benefits.

1. You have a short life expectancy

The amount of your monthly Social Security retirement benefit payment is based on a formula that’s meant to be actuarially neutral. That basically means you should receive the same total amount of benefits over your lifetime regardless of the age at which you start claiming them.

In other words, if you claim earlier than your full retirement age as determined by the Social Security Administration, you will receive smaller monthly payments over a longer period of time. If you delay claiming until you’re older, you’ll be getting larger payments over what is likely to be a shorter period of time.

If you expect to have a short life expectancy, it might make more sense to start taking the smaller monthly benefit as soon as you can.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson details one such situation in “2-Minute Money Manager: Should I Wait to Take Social Security?” He writes:

“A few years ago, one of my best friends asked if he should take his pension early, and I said, ‘Hell, yes.’ Why? Because he wasn’t in great shape, health-wise. Both of his parents died young, his siblings died young, and he really needed the money. So, my advice to him was, ‘Take it as soon as you can get it.’ He died one year later.”

2. You need the money

You also might need the money immediately to stay on top of your living expenses.

“You’d be surprised at the number of people who end up retiring before they want to,” says Devin Carroll, founder of the blog Social Security Intelligence. “There are lots of reasons — including being laid off or dealing with health issues — that you have to stop working.”

However, remember that the age at which you claim determines the size of your monthly benefit going forward. In other words, the longer you can postpone claiming, the bigger the benefit you’ll get each month after you do claim.

So, if that sounds good to you, first explore other ways that you could bring in extra income, enabling you to postpone claiming. For example, check out articles like “21 Ways Retirees Can Bring in Extra Money in 2021.”

3. You’ve got kids at home

“Increasingly, people are reaching age 62 and still have minor children at home,” notes Carroll.

When that’s the case, claiming your Social Security benefits early makes sense in that it generally enables you to apply for additional benefits to help you care for minor children. That’s because you must apply for your retirement benefits before you can apply for benefits related to dependents.

4. A higher-earning spouse has health problems

It’s kind of morbid, but when deciding whether to start taking Social Security benefits at age 62, you also need to think about when your spouse might die — and how much he or she makes in comparison with you.

One situation to consider is when the higher-earning spouse has medical problems, says Carroll.

That’s because, after a spouse dies, you may become eligible for survivor benefits (also called widow’s or widower’s benefits) based on the spouse’s Social Security. And if your spouse has a short life expectancy, and you know your survivor benefits would be more than your own full retirement benefit, there may be no reason for you to wait for your full retirement benefit.

To learn more about this subject, check out “Social Security Q&A: How Do Spousal Benefits Work?”

5. A lower-earning spouse is older than you

Maybe your spouse earned much less than you during your working years.

“Their own benefit is going to be lower than yours,” says Carroll. “In fact, their benefit might even be lower than the spousal benefit they’d receive based on your earnings.”

However, as with benefits issued based on your own work history, your partner can only claim a spousal benefit based on your work history after you file for your own retirement benefits.

Add up the cumulative benefits, suggests Carroll. You might discover that your total monthly income is better when you file for your benefit early and your older spouse elects to take the spousal benefit.

A final word: Work with an expert

Before making decisions, though, be sure to work out the math and compare your options. Social Security rules are complex and situations vary.

Also, consider reviewing your situation with a Social Security Administration representative or a knowledgeable retirement planning professional.

At the least, you could obtain a custom analysis of your claiming options from a specialized company like Social Security Choices.

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

Source: moneytalksnews.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

10 Ways to Save Money on School Uniforms for Kids

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1 in 5 public schools required students to wear uniforms as of the 2017-18 school year. These can be anything from identical outfits marked with the school’s name or logo to a basic color scheme, such as plain white shirts and tan pants.

According to 2011 research from the University of Nevada, Reno College of Education, a school uniform policy can have many benefits for students. It can make it easier to get ready for school, boost self-esteem, reduce bullying, and improve classroom discipline. But it has one big downside for parents: the cost. According to CostHelper, a school wardrobe of four or five uniforms can cost anywhere from $100 to $2,000.

One reason uniforms often cost more than regular clothes is that parents have less choice about where to buy them. If you can only get your kids’ school wardrobes from the official school store, you must pay whatever that store charges. However, you can get around this problem with the right shopping strategies. The first tip to try: shopping secondhand.

Ways to Save With Secondhand School Uniforms

Clothes are one thing it nearly always pays to buy secondhand if you can. With school uniforms, that’s doubly true.

Since young children grow so fast, their outgrown uniforms can still have lots of life left in them. Naturally, these previously worn uniforms don’t look brand-new, but neither do most school clothes after a few weeks of wear. Secondhand school uniforms cost much less than new ones, and in some cases, they’re free.

1. Try Uniform Swaps

If you have two children attending the same school, the younger kid can wear the older one’s hand-me-downs. But if you have only one child or your kids go to different schools, you can end up with clothes in good condition and no one to hand them down to.

A uniform swap is a way to expand your hand-me-down family. By pooling resources with other parents, you can pass on your child’s outgrown uniforms to younger students at your school and receive uniforms from older students in turn.

Some schools hold official uniform exchanges. For example, at St. Catharine School in Ohio, you can trade in gently used school uniforms for larger sizes or pick up other people’s trade-ins at significantly reduced prices. Other schools, like St. Stephen’s Academy in Oregon, give parents points for their trade-ins, which they can use for purchases or donate.

If your child’s school doesn’t have an official uniform exchange, hold a clothing swap party of your own. Invite other parents over, lay out all your outgrown uniform items, and see who can use them.

If you don’t have the space to meet and exchange clothes in person, start a social media group where parents can post photos and descriptions of their kids’ outgrown clothes. When you find someone who has the size your child needs or needs the size you have to give, you can contact each other to arrange a pickup.

2. Shop at Thrift Stores

If you live in or near a large city with a large student population, there’s a good chance you can find outgrown school uniforms at local thrift stores. Check the stores closest to your child’s school to maximize your chances of finding them.

Even in smaller cities and towns, thrift stores are an excellent place to look for basic pieces that are often part of a school uniform. Dress shirts, solid-color polo shirts, and chino pants are likely to show up on their racks. You can’t count on finding the pieces you need in your child’s size, but if you do, they’ll be significantly cheaper than new clothes.

To find thrift stores in your area, do an Internet search on “thrift stores” or “thrift shops” with your town’s name or zip code. Also, check the websites of the largest store chains — such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Value Village — to find their nearest locations.

3. Find Sellers Online

If you can’t find suitable secondhand clothes for your child’s uniform at local stores, try looking online. Start consulting your local Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace groups in early July, and look for new listings every other day or so. That gives you roughly two months to find all the pieces you need to build a complete school wardrobe for your child. Just be sure to contact sellers quickly when you find something you need so someone doesn’t beat you to it.

Another reliable source for secondhand uniforms online is eBay. You can create saved searches for each specific garment your child needs, such as “navy shorts size 8,” and receive daily emails of all new listings for your saved search. You can pick up pieces one at a time or — if you’re lucky — find a lot of uniform clothing all in the same size.


Ways to Save on New School Uniforms

The biggest downside of secondhand shopping is that you can’t be sure of finding what you need. If the start of the school year is approaching and you still don’t have a complete school wardrobe for your child, don’t panic. There are ways to buy new uniform-appropriate clothes and still keep costs down.

4. Buy the Minimum

For starters, don’t buy more of any component than you really need. Your child may need a clean shirt for school every day, but kids can usually get away with wearing the same skirt, pants, or sweater several days in a row. Jackets and ties can go even longer between cleanings.

How many pieces your child needs depends on how often you intend to do laundry. Mothers discussing their kids’ school wardrobes on Mumsnet generally say they include:

  • Five to 10 shirts
  • Two to five sweaters
  • Two to five skirts or pairs of pants or shorts

On top of that, you can add one or two school blazers and one or two dresses or jumpers if your uniform includes these pieces. And your child also needs at least one pair of school shoes and enough socks and underwear to last the week.

If you shop smart, you can put together this minimalist kids’ wardrobe for less than the $240 average parents reported spending on back-to-school clothes in a 2019 National Retail Federation survey. CostHelper says it’s possible to find pants and skirts for as little as $5 each, tops for as little as $3, and shoes starting at $15. That’s less than $100 for the whole wardrobe.

5. Visit Cheaper Stores

If your school’s uniform consists of basics like solid-color tops and pants, there’s no need to buy them at the official school store. Many major retail chains sell uniform-appropriate clothes for kids at quite reasonable prices. In fact, several retailers offer lines of kids’ clothes designed explicitly for this purpose, such as:

6. Shop Online

If stores in your area don’t carry the school uniform pieces you need at prices you like, try shopping online. Some online retailers specialize in school uniforms, and others have sections devoted to them. Good places to shop online include:

  • Amazon. The e-tail giant has an entire section called The School Uniform Shop. It provides links to uniform-appropriate garments from many popular brands, including Nautica, Izod, and Dockers. Alternatively, you can search for “school uniforms” to find apparel for girls and boys. Check out these Amazon savings tips for more ways to save.
  • French Toast. Online retailer French Toast deals in school uniforms for all ages, which you can search by school or gender. The site also offers two- and three-packs of identical shirts or pants for a discounted price per piece.
  • Lands’ End. The school uniform shop at Lands’ End offers sturdy clothing in all sizes, from toddler to adult. Clothes are covered by the brand’s unconditional lifetime guarantee. There’s even a selection of adaptive garments for kids with disabilities. This apparel combines easy-to-use magnetic closures with decorative buttons for a uniform look.
  • Lee Uniforms. For teens and young adults, the Lee Uniforms store on Amazon offers school- and work-friendly pieces. The selection is limited, but the prices are excellent.
  • SchoolUniforms.com. As its name implies, SchoolUniforms.com specializes in uniform basics, from blazers to plaid pleated skirts. Garments come in a range of sizes to fit children ages 3 and up, including plus sizes.

When shopping for uniforms online, you can save still more by using a mobile coupon app like Rakuten or Ibotta. If you prefer to shop from a computer, install a money-saving browser extension like Capital One Shopping to help you find great prices and available coupon codes.

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links provided.

7. Wait for Sales

If your school has an official uniform store, call that store and see when it plans to offer discounts or promotions. In many cases, uniforms go on sale in October, after most parents have already bought their kids’ clothes for the year. You can save money on school uniforms by buying just enough pieces to get through September and waiting until October to stock up.

If the school uniform is a generic outfit available from many stores, keep an eye out for sales at all the stores in your area. Consider signing up for emails from your favorite local stores to let you know when uniform clothing goes on sale. Sometimes, these emails also provide coupons, which can boost your savings still more.

Timing your purchases can help at department stores too. Clothes often go on sale at the end of the season — for example, summer clothes in September or winter coats in March. If you plan ahead, you can save by buying school uniforms for next year during these end-of-season sales.

If you’re unsure when and where school uniforms are most likely to go on sale in your area, create a Google Alert for the term “school uniform sale” with your location or zip code. Whenever a new sale pops up, you’ll receive an email about it. You can also use the term “school uniform clearance” to learn about end-of-season clearance sales.

8. Check Out Clearance

Even when a department store isn’t having a sale, there’s usually a clearance rack you can check for marked-down clothing. Since school uniforms tend to be plain clothes without a lot of eye appeal, there are often at least a few pieces that don’t sell and end up on the clearance rack.

For example, the frugal-living bloggers at Life Your Way and Joyfully Thriving both report finding uniform pieces for less than $5 on the clearance racks at stores like Gap and Macy’s.

9. Buy Bigger Sizes

If your child is still growing, there’s a good chance the uniforms you buy now won’t fit by the end of the year. However, you can make them last as long as possible by sizing up.

Choosing clothes with an extra inch to spare in the legs and sleeves gives your kid room to grow into them. Some uniform pants and skirts come with adjustable waistbands, so they’ll accommodate your child’s growth in width as well as height.

And if you find a great price on a particular piece your child needs, you can buy next year’s sizes now. Assuming they plan to attend the same school for the foreseeable future, you know they’ll need the same uniform next year, so buying multiple sizes at once lets you get them all at the best possible price.

10. Buy to Last

If your child has stopped growing but still has a few more years of school to go, you can save money by choosing quality clothing that will last. These well-made pieces may cost more upfront than cheaper brands, but they pay off in the long run. A $50 blazer that wears out after one year costs $50 per year, but a $100 blazer that lasts for four years costs only $25 per year.

For example, clothes from Lands’ End come with a lifetime guarantee. If they don’t last your child until graduation (or they outgrow them), you can return them for a full refund. Clothing from Dickies, available at Walmart, is also guaranteed for its “expected life,” though they don’t define the term. Clothes from Target’s Cat & Jack line come with a one-year guarantee.

Another way to make school uniforms last as long as possible is to choose the darkest colors allowed. On light-colored clothes, minor spots or stains show up more vividly, making them unfit for school wear. Darker-colored clothing, such as maroon, navy, or forest green, hides these minor flaws.


Final Word

Saving on school uniforms doesn’t end when you’ve made your purchases for the year. If your kid’s uniforms become unwearable due to rips, stains, or lost buttons, you’ll have to replace them in a hurry — possibly at full price. To avoid this problem, handle school uniforms with care to make them last as long as possible.

Always follow the washing instructions and line dry or dry flat when possible to avoid wear and tear from the dryer. Treat stains promptly, repair rips, and replace buttons.

If your sewing skills are up to it, you can even get another year or two of life out of garments by letting down the cuffs or adjusting the waistband to fit your child’s larger size. Following all these steps reduces waste, so you can also pat yourself on the back for being green.

One final tip: Label all your kids’ school clothing with their names. When all the students in a school wear the same outfit, it’s easy for them to grab someone else’s sweater or jacket by mistake. Sewing in a name tag or writing on the care tag with a permanent marker increases the chances misplaced clothes will find their way home again.

Source: moneycrashers.com

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Amazon Prime member holding packages
alphaspirit.it / Shutterstock.com

Shopping on Amazon can be convenient, especially if you are still spending more time at home amid the coronavirus pandemic. You can get anything from frozen pizza to light bulbs delivered to your door at the click of a button.

An Amazon Prime membership is even more convenient. Perks include not just faster shipping but also access to free e-books, music, file storage and more, as we detail in “These Are the 9 Best Benefits of Amazon Prime.”

While the convenience is great, the cost of membership may give you pause. In 2018, the online retailer raised the price of an annual Prime membership from $99 to $119 per year. For monthly subscribers, the cost went from $10.99 to $12.99 per month.

If you want to pay less but still enjoy the convenience of Amazon Prime, there are a few ways to get a free membership.

1. Get a free trial

If you want to try Amazon Prime to see if it’s worth paying for a membership, sign up for a free 30-day trial.

This is an option for people who are new to Prime as well as people who were Prime members in the past but have not been a member in the past 12 months. Just remember to cancel the trial before the 30 days is up if you decide you don’t want to pay for a membership.

Keep in mind that you can’t use a checking account or prepaid credit card to sign up for your trial: Your Amazon account must have a credit card.

However, you can use different email addresses to get multiple free trials, at least according to a 2018 Vice report. Again, remember to cancel each trial before it ends to avoid being charged for a membership.

If you’re a college student, you can sign up for a free Prime Student trial, which lasts six months. A Prime Student membership also costs less than a regular Prime membership if you decide to continue after your trial ends — $6.49 per month.

2. Use free Amazon gift cards

If you keep your Amazon membership after the free trial ends, consider paying for it with Amazon gift cards. There are various ways to get them for free. Check out the options in “8 Ways to Get Amazon Gift Cards for Free.”

3. Use credit card rewards

If you have a cash-back credit card, you could use your accumulated cash back to pay for a Prime membership — which kind of feels like you are getting Prime for free.

If you sign up for the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card, you will earn 5% cash back on purchases at Amazon and Whole Foods Market, and 1% or 2% everywhere else. If you spend $2,400 in a year at the 5% rate, you will earn $120 cash back — enough to cover the cost of a one-year annual membership.

If you’re in the market for a new card, stop by Money Talks News’ Solutions Center and use the free credit card comparison tool.

4. Switch cellphone plans

Looking to switch cellphone carriers? Some wireless providers offer Amazon Prime as a perk for signing up for select plans.

For example, Metro by T-Mobile gives customers Amazon Prime for free with select plans.

For more help finding the right plan for you, check out Money Talks News’ free cellphone and wireless plan comparison tool.

5. Share an account using Amazon Household

If someone in your household has an Amazon Prime membership, you can ask them to share it with you via Amazon Household.

Each of you keeps your own Amazon account, but the two accounts are linked, giving you access to select Prime benefits. They include:

  • Prime Shipping
  • Prime Video
  • Prime Reading
  • Amazon Photos
  • First Reads
  • Audible Channels
  • Prime Now
  • Other discounts and exclusives

Keep in mind that using the Amazon Household feature means sharing payment methods.

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 6 Best Ways to Save Money for Kids

If you think higher education is in your child’s future, consider a 529 college savings plan.
Ready to stop worrying about money?
If you plan on covering some, but not all college expenses, you can tweak this formula to suit your situation. For instance, Fidelity recommends targeting a savings goal of ,000 multiplied by your kid’s current age if you plan on covering 50% of college costs and assume your child will attend a four-year public school. The financial institution provides a couple of examples of parents covering different percentages of fees and what that would look like at different ages of their children.
First, assess your total financial picture. Take inventory of your outstanding debt, and create a budget if you haven’t already.
If you want to save money, there are many ways you can go about it. Whether you’re thinking ahead to your child’s college education or just want to set aside a little something for when your child reaches a certain age, you have more than a few options to reach your savings goals.
(Have you picked your jaw up off the floor yet? Good. Keep reading.)
As with all investments, there are fees and risks associated with 529 plans.
There are also plenty of child-friendly bank accounts you can choose from to encourage your children to start saving early and often. A savings account is a good start.

Planning for Your Kids’ College Savings and Future Expenses

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Now on to the good news: You have many options to start saving for your child’s future today, no matter your budget.
Again, that’s just the estimated cost. And there are grants and college scholarships available to help families chip away at the fees.
With this plan, a saver opens an investment account for the beneficiary’s qualified college education expenses, including room and board. This money can be applied toward universities (and some outside the U.S.), and withdrawals can also be used to pay up to K at elementary and high schools.

5 Ways to Save Money For Your Kids’ College Education

What’s the best type of savings account for a child? We’re glad you asked!

1. 529 College Savings Plans

How much money you “should” save depends on a few factors. For one, there are a lot of variables to consider: How much will a university degree cost in X number of years? How long do you think your child will go to school for? (Two years, four years or more years for advanced degrees.) What amount can you afford to regularly sock away for expenses?
These plans are sponsored by state governments as well, but there are fewer residency requirements. Investments in mutual funds and ETFs are not guaranteed by the federal government, but some bank products are protected.
A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account. You fund it with money you’ve already paid taxes on. So, when the time comes (typically at age 59 ½), you can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions and earnings tax free. However, you can withdraw this money earlier, penalty-free, to pay for higher education costs for your child.

Prepaid Tuition Plan

A 529 plan, or qualified tuition plan, is a tax-advantaged investment account. This means the money grows tax free and you can also take it out tax free. Each state (plus the District of Columbia) offers at least one plan. You can view minimum and maximum contribution limits and other considerations by state here.
With this plan, a saver or account holder can purchase units or credits at a participating university and lock in current prices for future tuition costs for the beneficiary. Typically, this money can’t be used for elementary and high school costs, nor be put toward room and board at college.

Education Savings Plan

While interest rates are low and whatever interest you earn is taxed as income, an FDIC-insured bank savings account is a tried and true (and safe) place to store money — whether yours or your kid’s.
With a Roth IRA, they’ll get tax-free money when they retire. They can also use these funds to help pay for their own qualified college expenses. While your child will have to pay taxes on the earnings, they won’t face an early withdrawal penalty.
You generally have more flexibility with brokerage accounts: You can choose from a variety of investments and make withdrawals at any time. Note: If your child does plan on going to college, the value of this account will be included in financial aid calculations.
There are other online calculators that can help you determine what you should save, depending on what your child’s future education plans might entail (like grad school). Again, a financial advisor or certified financial planner (CFP) can help you plan for college costs in way that accommodates your needs.

2. Roth IRA

Anyone can use a 529 college savings plan (no annual income restrictions!) and you can change the 529 beneficiary to another family member without incurring a tax penalty.
Here are three questions we see pop up time and again when it comes to investing in your child’s future. Oh. And this figure doesn’t even factor into university costs.
Of course, you can invest your money in a few different ways — some combination of a 529 plan; Roth IRA; or, UGMA, UTMA, brokerage or savings accounts — so you have options.

3. UGMA and UTMA Accounts

Sticking with college, here are additional ways to save that you and your child can work toward. Whether you’re a new parent or a year out from sending your kid off to college, consider these opportunities to save money.

Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA)

A brokerage account allows you to invest money in stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Once you deposit your money, you can work with a financial advisor or robo-advisor, or both, to invest and grow your money.

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)

File this under “Things You Already Know” — kids are expensive. What you might not know is the best ways to save money for kids, and we’ve got your back on that.
This account establishes a way for someone under 18 years old to own securities without requiring a trustee or prepared trust documents.

4. Brokerage Account

Here are several ways you can invest and save money for your children, whether you want to open a college savings plan or start a rainy-day fund.
A parent or guardian will need to serve as the custodian, since minors generally can’t open brokerage accounts. Children need to have an earned income (part-time jobs, like babysitting, count) to contribute to it. Like adults up to and under age 50, they can only contribute up to K to the Roth IRA annually. Once the child turns 18 or 21 years old (depending on the state in which they live), control of the account must be transferred to them.
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5. Savings Account

College is an investment, and it can be a pricey one. By saving early (and with the magic of compound interest on your side), you can earn a bigger return on your money down the line.
And, mom and dad, when the time comes, make sure you fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans.
Consider meeting with a financial expert to help you craft a plan that’s best for you.
The cost of raising a child from birth through age 18 is roughly 3,610, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To break that down further, that’s around K per year, per kid.

graduation cap filled with money on sidewalk
Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Additional Ways to Save Money for College

Save early and save regularly, and you’ll be off to a good start.Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.

  • Ask for gifts toward their education expenses. If friends and family would like to give a gift to your child, ask them to consider putting any money toward their college fund. You can do this for any birthday or holiday, though the earlier you start investing in their education, the better. (Bonus: Your 1 year old doesn’t have the capacity to ask for the latest toy and won’t object to this gift.)
  • Encourage your kid to work and save. Once your child is of legal working age, they can get a job and start saving money for their school expenses. Even saving a small amount per paycheck can help them make a dent in later costs; you might also consider “matching” their savings to incentivize them (for example, give them $1 for every $20 they put away for college).
  • Look to companies and professional organizations. Your workplace may offer opportunities to children of employees looking to earn money for college. Some large companies, like UPS, offer such scholarships. Review your company handbook or ask your HR department about any available opportunities. Professional organizations, like the Rotary Club, are also known to offer scholarships and grants for continuing education. If you belong to any organizations or other clubs, look out for these benefits.
  • Apply for scholarships and grants. Additionally, encourage your high school student to look for scholarships and grants to help mitigate their college costs. Universities typically offer money for students who fit certain criteria — such as transfer students or people in certain majors — and meet other requirements. There are all sorts of weird scholarships, contests and even apps that can help them earn money for school, too. Just make sure they weigh the pros and cons of any entry fees and stay on top of contest deadlines.

If we use the earlier figures from CollegeCalc that forecast what a four-year education will cost in 2039 (5,167.67 / 4 = ,792 a year), it’s recommended you put 1 a month into a college savings plan. This calculation assumes an after-tax return of 7%, an annual tuition increase of 7% and four years of school.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

It’s great if you’re able and want to contribute to your children’s future expenses and education fund — student loan debt has surpassed a whopping .7 trillion in the U.S. — but you need to be smart about it. If you put yourself in a precarious financial situation, it can be more difficult for you to course-correct later.

When Is the Best Time to Invest Money for College?

With that said, don’t let getting started “later” deter you from saving at all. It’s kind of like the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” You want to save what you can as early and regularly as possible. But if life circumstances prevented you from doing so before, right now is the next best time to start saving.
On average, tuition and fees ran ,411 at private colleges and ,171 for in-state residents at public colleges for the 2020-2021 school year. The estimated cost of a four-year degree, 18 years out?

What’s the Best Way to Invest Money for a Child?

Most prepaid tuition plans have residency requirements for the saver and/or beneficiary, and are sponsored by the state government (and not guaranteed by the federal government). However, not all state governments guarantee the money paid into them, so it is possible to lose money. Additionally, your mileage may vary with this plan if the beneficiary doesn’t attend a participating college, resulting in a smaller return on investment.
First things first: If you have nothing saved for retirement, focus on your own needs before you start saving for someone else. You’re on a more fixed timeline. Plus, you can’t borrow for retirement savings like your child can for their education.
5,167.67.

How Much Money Should I Save for My Child?

Looking for more options that aren’t exclusive to education? You can invest in a taxable brokerage account.
The good thing about putting away money for your children is that there is no one “right” way to do it. You can open a 529 plan for your child early on or later as they get closer to college aid. Or, you can fund a brokerage account so you’re not held to stricter rules about how the money’s spent.
If you want to invest in your kid’s future without choosing an account that’s for education expenses only, look into a Uniform Gift to Minors Act or UTMA Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.
Don’t forget the old standby: a traditional savings account.

The Best Way to Save Money for Kids

This account is similar to a UGMA. However, minors can also own property such as real estate and fine art.
A custodian will also need to be set up for this type of account. Parents can set up a custodial account and then make withdrawals to cover child-related expenses. Once the child is of legal age, the assets are transferred to their name. Since the funds for both UGMA and UTMA accounts are in the child’s name, they cannot be transferred to another beneficiary. <!–

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