What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax?

Woman works on her tax returnsEstate planning can help you pass on assets to your heirs while potentially minimizing taxes. When gifting assets, it’s important to consider when and how the generation-skipping tax transfer (GSTT) may apply. Also called the generation-skipping tax, this federal tax can apply when a grandparent leaves assets to a grandchild while skipping over their parents in the line of inheritance. It can also be triggered when leaving assets to someone who’s at least 37.5 years younger than you. If you’re considering “skipping” any of your heirs when passing on assets, it’s important to understand what that means from a tax perspective and how to fill out the requisite form. A financial advisor can also give you valuable guidance on how best to pass along your estate to your beneficiaries.

Generation-Skipping Tax, Definition

The Internal Revenue Code imposes both gift and estate taxes on transfers of assets above certain limits. For 2020, you can exclude gifts of up to $15,000 per person from the gift tax, with the limit doubling for married couples who file a joint return. Estate tax applies to estates larger than $11,580,000 for 2020, increasing to $11,700,000 in 2021. Again, these exemption limits double for married couples filing a joint return.

The gift tax rate can be as high as 40%, while the estate tax also maxes out at 40%. The IRS uses the generation-skipping transfer tax to collect its share of any wealth that moves across families when assets aren’t passed directly from parent to child. Assets subject to the generation-skipping tax are taxed at a flat 40% rate.

This tax can apply to both direct transfers of assets to your chosen beneficiaries as well as assets passed through a trust. A trust can be subject to the GSTT if all the beneficiaries of the trust are considered to be skip persons who have a direct interest in the trust.

How Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax Works

Generation-skipping tax rules cover the transfer of assets to people who at least one generation apart. A common scenario where the GSTT can apply is the transfer of assets from a grandparent to a grandchild when one or both of the grandchild’s parents are still alive. If you’re transferring assets to a grandchild because your child has predeceased you, then the transfer tax wouldn’t apply.

The generation-skipping tax is a separate tax from the estate tax and it applies alongside it. Similar to estate tax, this tax kicks in when an estate’s value exceeds the annual exemption limits. The 40% GSTT would be applied to any transfers of assets above the exempt amount, in addition to the regular 40% estate tax.

This is how the IRS covers its bases in collecting taxes on wealth as it moves from one person to another. If you were to pass your estate from your child, who then passes it to their child then no GSTT would apply. The IRS could simply collect estate taxes from each successive generation. But if you skip your child and leave assets to your grandchild instead, that removes a link from the taxation chain. The GSTT essentially allows the IRS to replace that link.

You do have the ability to take advantage of lifetime estate and gift tax exemption limits, which can help to offset how much is owed for the generation-skipping tax. But any unused portion of the exemption counted toward the generation-skipping tax is lost when you die.

How to Avoid Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax

Accountant prepares a tax return

If you’d like to minimize estate and gift taxes as much as possible, talking to a financial advisor can be a good place to start. An advisor who’s well-versed in gift and estate taxes can help you create a plan for transferring assets. For example, that plan might include gifting assets to your grandchildren or another generation-skipping person annually, rather than at the end of your life. Remember, you can gift up to $15,000 per person each year without incurring gift tax, or up to $30,000 per person if you’re married and file a joint return. You’d just need to keep the lifetime exemption limits in mind when scheduling gifts.

You could also make payments on behalf of a beneficiary to avoid tax. Say you want to help your granddaughter with college costs, for example. Any direct payments you make to the school to cover tuition would generally be tax-free. The same is true for direct payments made to healthcare providers if you’re paying medical expenses on behalf of someone else.

Setting up a trust may be another option worth exploring to minimize generation-skipping taxes. A generation-skipping trust allows you to transfer assets to the trust and pay estate taxes at the time of the transfer. The assets you put into the trust have to remain there during the skipped generation’s lifetime. Once they pass away, the assets in the trust could be passed on tax-free to the next generation.

This strategy requires some planning and some patience on the part of the generation that stands to inherit. But the upside is that members of the skipped generation and the generation that follows can benefit from any income the assets in the trust generates in the meantime. Trusts can also yield another benefit, in that they can offer asset protection against creditors who may file legal claims against you or your estate.

Another type of trust you might consider is a dynasty trust. This type of trust can allow you to pass assets on to future generations without triggering estate, gift or generation-skipping taxes. The caveat is that these are designed to be long-term trusts.

You can name your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and subsequent generations as beneficiaries and the transfer of assets to the trust is irrevocable. That means once you place the assets in the trust, you won’t be able to take them back out again so it’s important to understand the implications before creating this type of trust.

The Bottom Line

Man works on his tax returns

The generation-skipping tax could take a significant bite out of the assets you’re able to leave behind to grandchildren or another eligible person. If you’re considering using this type of trust to pass on assets or you’re interested in exploring other ways to transfer assets while minimizing taxes, it’s wise to consult an estate planning lawyer or tax attorney first.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about how to best shape your estate plan to minimize taxation. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized recommendations for advisors online. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Creating a trust can yield some advantages in your estate plan. In addition to helping you minimize tax liability, the assets in a trust are not subject to probate. That’s different from assets you leave behind in a will.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/ljubaphoto, ©iStock.com/baona, ©iStock.com/svetikd

The post What Is the Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

How to Pay Off Debt this Year

This page may include affiliate links. Please see the disclosure page for more information. If you have debt, I bet you think about how to pay off debt quite often. In fact, that debt might be the primary source of stress in your life. Debt can make you anxious, keep you up at night, and cause problems…

The post How to Pay Off Debt this Year appeared first on Debt Discipline.


How to Pay Off Debt this Year was first posted on January 24, 2020 at 8:10 am.
©2019 "Debt Discipline". Use of this feed is for personal non-commercial use only. If you are not reading this article in your feed reader, then the site is guilty of copyright infringement. Please contact me at brian@debtdiscipline.com

Source: debtdiscipline.com

Different Types of Debt

Debt comes in all shapes and sizes. You can owe money to utility companies, banks, credit card providers, and the government. There’s student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, and much more. But what are the official categories of debt and how do the payoff strategies for these debts differ?

Categories of Debt

Debt is generally categorized into two simple forms: Secured and Unsecured. The former is secured against an asset, such as a car or loan, and means the lender can seize the asset if you fail to meet your obligations. Unsecured is not secured against anything, reducing the creditor’s control and limiting their options if the repayment terms are not met.

A secured debt provides the lender with some assurances and collateral, which means they are often prepared to provide better interest rates and terms. This is one of the reasons you’re charged astronomical rates for credit cards and short-term loans but are generally offered very favorable rates for home loans and car loans.

If the debtor fails to make payments on an unsecured debt, such as a credit card, then the debtor may file a judgment with the courts or sell it to a collection agency. In the first instance, it’s a lot of hassle without any guarantee. In the second, they’re selling the debts for cents on the dollar and losing a lot of money. In either case, it’s not ideal, and to offset this they charge much higher interest rates and these rates climb for debtors with a poorer track record.

There is also something known as revolving debt, which can be both unsecured and secured. Revolving debt is anything that offers a continuous cycle of credit and repayment, such as a credit card or a home equity line of credit. 

Mortgages and federal student loans may also be grouped into separate debts. In the case of mortgages, these are substantial secured loans that use the purchase as collateral. As for federal student loans, they are provided by the government to fund education. They are unsecured and there are many forgiveness programs and options to clear them before the repayment date.

What is a Collection Account?

As discussed above, if payments are missed for several months then the account may be sold to a debt collection agency. This agency will then assume control of the debt, contacting the debtor to try and settle for as much as they can. At this point, the debt can often be settled for a fraction of the amount, as the collection agency likely bought it very cheaply and will make a profit even if it is sold for 30% of its original balance.

Debt collectors are persistent as that’s their job. They will do everything in their power to collect, whether that means contacting you at work or contacting your family. There are cases when they are not allowed to do this, but in the first instance, they can, especially if they’re using these methods to track you down and they don’t discuss your debts with anyone else.

No one wants the debt collectors after them, but generally, you have more power than they do and unless they sue you, there’s very little they can do. If this happens to you, we recommend discussing the debts with them and trying to come to an arrangement. Assuming, that is, the debt has not passed the statute of limitations. If it has, then negotiating with them could invalidate that and make you legally responsible for the debt all over again.

Take a look at our guide to the statute of limitations in your state to learn more.

As scary as it can be to have an account in collections, it’s also common. A few years ago, a study found that there are over 70 million accounts in collections, with an average balance of just over $5,000.

Can Bankruptcy Discharge all Debts?

Bankruptcy can help you if you have more debts than you can repay. But it’s not as all-encompassing as many debtors believe.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy will discharge most of your debts, but it won’t touch child support, alimony or tax debt. It also won’t help you with secured debts as the lender will simply repossess or foreclose, taking back their money by cashing in the collateral. Chapter 13 bankruptcy works a little differently and is geared towards repayment as opposed to discharge. You get to keep more of your assets and in exchange you agree to a payment plan that repays your creditors over 3 to 5 years.

However, as with Chapter 7, you can’t clear tax debts and you will still need to pay child support and alimony. Most debts, including private student loans, credit card debt, and unsecured loan debt will be discharged with bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy can seriously reduce your credit score in the short term and can remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. Your case will also be dismissed if you can’t show that you have exhausted all other options.

Differences in Reducing Each Type of Debt

The United States has some of the highest consumer debt in the world. It has become a common part of modern life, but at the same time, we have better options for credit and debt relief, which helps to balance things out a little. Some of the debt relief options at your disposal have been discussed below in relation to each particular type of long-term debt.

The Best Methods for Reducing Loans

If you’re struggling with high-interest loans, debt consolidation can help. A debt consolidation company will provide you with a loan large enough to cover all your debts and in return, they will give you a single long-term debt. This will often have a smaller interest rate and a lower monthly payment, but the term will be much longer, which means you’ll pay much more interest overall.

Debt management works in a similar way, only you work directly with a credit union or credit counseling agency and they do all the work for you, before accepting your money and then distributing it to your creditors.

Both forms of debt relief can also help with other unsecured debts. They bring down your debt-to-income ratio, leave you with more disposable income, and allow you to restructure your finances and get your life back on track.

The Best Methods for Reducing Credit Cards

Debt settlement is the ultimate debt relief option and can help you clear all unsecured debt, with many companies specializing in credit card debt. 

Debt settlement works best when you have lots of derogatory marks and collections, as this is when creditors are more likely to settle. They can negotiate with your creditors for you and clear your debts by an average of 40% to 60%. You just need to pay the full settlement amount and the debt will clear, with the debt settlement company not taking their cut until the entire process has been finalized.

A balance transfer can also help with credit card debt. A balance transfer credit card gives you a 0% APR on all transfers for between 6 and 18 months. Simply move all of your credit card balances into a new balance transfer card and then every cent of your monthly payment will go towards the principal.

The Best Methods for Reducing Secured Debts

Secured debt is a different beast, as your lender can seize the asset if they want to. This makes them much less susceptible to settlement offers and refinancing. However, they will still be keen to avoid the costly foreclosure/repossession process, so contact them as soon as you’re struggling and see if they can offer you anything by way of a grace period or reduced payment.

Most lenders have some form of hardship program and are willing to be flexible if it increases their chances of being repaid in full.

Different Types of Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Here Are The Best Student Loans of 2021

The best student loans can help you earn a college degree that will lead to higher earnings later in life. They also come with low interest rates and reasonable fees (or no fees), which will make it easier to keep costs down while you’re in school and once you’re in repayment mode.

For most people, federal student loans are the best deal. With federal student loans, you can qualify for low fixed interest rates and federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans. To find out how much you can borrow with federal student loans, you should fill out a FAFSA form. Doing so can also help you determine if you qualify for any additional student aid, and if so, how much.

While federal student loans are usually the best deal for borrowers, many students need to turn to private student loans at some point during their college careers. This is often the case when federal student loan limits have been exhausted, or when federal student loans are no longer an option due to other circumstances. We’re providing the top 8 options, at least according to us, as well as a guide to help you get the best rate.

Most Important Factors When Applying for Student Loans

  • Start with a federal loan. Fill out a FAFSA form prior to applying for a private loan to make sure you’re getting all the benefits you can.
  • Compare loans across multiple lenders. Consider using a comparison company like Credible to do so.
  • Always read the fine print. Fees aren’t always boasted on the front of a lender’s website, so take time to learn about what you’re getting into.
  • Start paying as soon as you can to avoid getting crushed by compound interest.

Best Private Student Loans of 2021

Fortunately, there are many private student loan options that come with low interest rates and fair terms. The best student loans of 2021 come from the following private lenders and loan comparison companies:

  • Best for Flexibility
Get Started
  • Best Loan Comparison
Get Started
  • Best for Low Rates and Fees
Get Started
  • Best for No Fees
Get Started
  • Best Student Loans from a Major Bank
Get Started
  • Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required
Get Started
  • Best for Fair Credit
Get Started
  • Best for Comprehensive Comparisons
Get Started

#1: College Ave — Best for Flexibility

College Ave offers private student loans for undergraduate and graduate students as well as parents who want to take out loans to help their kids get through college. Variable APRs as low as 3.70% are available for undergraduate students, but you can also opt for a fixed rate as low as 4.72% if you have excellent credit. College Ave offers some of the most flexible repayment options available today, letting you choose from interest-only payments, flat payments, and deferred payments depending on your needs. College Ave even lets you fill out your entire student loan application online, and they offer an array of helpful tools that can help you figure out how much you can afford to borrow, what your monthly payment will be, and more.

Qualify in Just 3 Minutes with College Ave

#2: Credible — Best Loan Comparison

Credible doesn’t offer its own student loans; instead, it serves as a loan aggregator and comparison site. This means that, when you check out student loans on Credible, you have the benefit of comparing multiple loan options in one place. Not only is this convenient, but comparing rates and terms is the best way to ensure you get a good deal. Credible even lets you get prequalified without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and you can see loan offers from up to nine student lenders at a time. Fixed interest rates start as low as 4.40% for borrowers with excellent credit, and variable rates start at 3.17% APR with autopay.

Compare Dozens of Rates at Once with Credible

#3: Sallie Mae — Best for Low Rates and Fees

Sallie Mae offers its own selection of private student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students, and parents. Interest rates offered can be surprisingly low, starting at 2.87% APR for variable rate loans and 4.74% for fixed-rate loans. Sallie Mae student loans also come without an origination fee or prepayment fees, as well as rate reductions for students who set up autopay. You can choose to start repaying your student loans while you’re in school or wait until you graduate as well. Overall, Sallie Mae offers some of the best “deals” for private student loans, and you can even complete the entire loan process online.

Get Access to Chegg Study FREE with Sallie Mae

#4: Discover — Best for No Fees

While Discover is well known for their excellent rewards credit cards and personal loan offerings, they also offer high-quality student loans with low rates and fees. Not only do Discover student loans come with low variable rates that start at 3.75%, but you won’t pay an application fee, an origination fee, or late fees. Discover student loans are available for undergraduate students, graduate students, professional students, and other lifelong learners. You can even earn rewards for having a 3.0 GPA or better when you apply for your loan, and Discover offers access to U.S. based student loan specialists who can answer all your questions before you apply.

Apply for a Loan with Discover

#5: Citizens Bank — Best Student Loans from a Major Bank

Citizens Bank offers their own flexible student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students, and parent borrowers. Students can borrow with or without a cosigner and multi-year approval is available. With multi-year approval you can apply for student funding one time and secure several years of college funding at once. This saves you from additional paperwork and subsequent hard inquiries on your credit report. Citizens Bank student loans come with variable rates as low as 2.83% APR for students with excellent credit, and you can make full payments or interest-only payments while you’re in school or wait until you graduate to begin repaying your loan. Also keep in mind that, like others on this list, Citizens Bank lets you apply for their student loans online and from the comfort of your home.

#6: Ascent — Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required

Ascent is another popular lender that offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students. Variable interest rates start at 3.31% whether you have a cosigner or not, and there are no application fees required to apply for a student loan either way. Terms are available for 5 to 15 years, and Ascent even offers cash rewards for student borrowers who graduate and meet certain terms. Also note that Ascent lets you earn money for each friend you refer who takes out a new student loan or refinances an existing loan.

Get a Loan in Minutes with Ascent

#7: Earnest — Best for Fair Credit

Earnest is another online lender that offers reasonable student loans for undergraduate and graduate students who need to borrow money for school. They also offer a free application process, a 9-month grace period after graduation, no origination fees or prepayment fees, and a .25% rate discount when you set up autopay. Earnest even lets you skip a payment once per year without a penalty, and there are no late payment fees. Variable rates start as low as 3.35%, and you may be able to qualify for a loan from Earnest with only “fair” credit. For their student loan refinancing products, for example, you need a minimum credit score of 650 to apply.

Learn Your Rate in Minutes with Earnest

#8: LendKey — Best for Comprehensive Comparisons

LendKey is an online lending marketplace that lets you compare student loan options across a broad range of loan providers, including credit unions. LendKey loans come with no application fees and variable APRs as low as 4.05%. They also have excellent reviews on Trustpilot and an easy application process that makes applying for a student loan online a breeze. You can apply for a loan from LendKey as an individual, but it’s possible you’ll get better rates with a cosigner on board. Either way, LendKey lets you see and compare a wide range of loan offers in one place and with only one application submitted.

Pay Zero Application Fees with LendKey!

How to Get the Best Student Loans

The lenders above offer some of the best student loans available today, but there’s more to getting a good loan than just choosing the right student loan company. The following tips can ensure you save money on your education and escape college with the smallest student loan burden possible.

Consider Federal Student Loans First

Like we mentioned already, federal student loans are almost always the best deal for borrowers who can qualify. Not only do federal loans come with low fixed interest rates, but they come with borrower protections like deferment and forbearance. Federal student loans also let you qualify for income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income Based Repayment (IBR) as well as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Compare Multiple Lenders

If you have exhausted federal student loans and need to take out a private student loan, the best step you can take is comparing loans across multiple lenders. Some may be able to offer you a lower interest rate based on your credit score or available cosigner, and some lenders may offer payment plans that meet your needs better. If you only want to fill out a loan application once, it can make sense to compare multiple loan offers with a service like Credible.

Improve Your Credit Score

Private student loans are notoriously difficult to qualify for when your credit score is less than stellar or you don’t have a cosigner. With that in mind, you may want to spend some time improving your credit score before you apply. Since your payment history and the amounts you owe in relation to your credit limits are the two most important factors that make up your FICO score, make sure you’re paying all your bills early or on time and try to pay down debt to improve your credit utilization. Most experts say a utilization rate of 30% or less will help you achieve the highest credit score possible with other factors considered.

Check Your Credit Score for Free with Experian

Get a Quality Cosigner

If your credit score isn’t at least “very good,” or 740 or higher, you may want to see about getting a cosigner for your private student loan. A parent, family member, or close family friend who has excellent credit can help you qualify for a student loan with the best rates and terms available today. Just remember that your cosigner will be liable for your loan just as you are, meaning they will have to repay your loan if you default. With that in mind, you should only lean on a cosigner’s help if you plan to repay your loan amount in full.

Consider Variable and Fixed Interest Rates

While private student loans offer insanely low rates for borrowers with good credit, their variable rates tend to be lower. This is why you should always take the time to compare variable and fixed rates across multiple lenders to find the best deal. If you believe you can pay your student loans off in a few short years, a variable interest rate may help you save money. If you need a decade or longer to pay your student loans off, on the other hand, a low fixed interest rate may provide you with more peace of mind.

Check for Discounts

As you compare student loan providers, make sure to check for discounts that might apply to your situation. Many private student loan companies offer discounts if you set your loan up on automatic payments, for example. Some also offer discounts or rewards for good grades or for referring friends. It’s possible you could qualify for other discounts as well depending on the provider, but you’ll never know unless you check.

Beware of Fees

While the interest rate on your student loan plays a huge role in your long-term loan costs, don’t forget to check for additional fees. Some student loan companies charge application fees or prepayment penalties if you pay your loan off early, for example. Others charge origination fees that tack on a few additional percentage points to your loan amount right off the bat. If you can find a student loan with a low interest rate and no additional fees, you’ll be much better off. Since loan fees may not be prominently advertised on student loan provider websites, however, keep in mind that you may need to dig into their fine print to find them.

Make Payments While You’re in School

Finally, no matter which loan you end up with, it makes a lot of sense to make payments while you’re still in school if you’re earning any kind of income. Even if you make interest-only payments while you attend college part-time or full-time, you can save yourself from paying thousands of dollars in additional interest payments later in life. Remember that compound interest can be a blessing or a curse. If you can keep interest at bay by making payments while you’re in school, you can squash compound interest and keep your loan balances from growing. If you let compound interest run its course, on the other hand, you may wind up owing more than you borrowed in the first place by the time you graduate school and start repayment.

What to Watch Out For

A private student loan may be exactly what you need in order to finish your degree and move up to the working world, but there are plenty of “gotchas” to be aware of. Consider all these factors as you apply for a new private student loan or refinance existing loans you have with a private lender.

  • Interest that accrues while you’re in school: Remember that subsidized loans may not accrue interest until you graduate from college and enter repayment mode, but that unsubsidized loans typically start accruing interest right away. Since private student loans are unsubsidized, you’ll need to be especially careful about ballooning interest and long-term loan costs.
  • Getting a cosigner: Make sure you only apply for a private student loan with a cosigner if you’re entirely sure you can repay your loan over the long haul. If you fail to keep up with your end of the bargain, you could destroy trust with that person and their credit score in one fell swoop.
  • You’ll lose out on some protections: Also remember that private student loans come with fewer protections than federal student loans. You won’t have the option for income-driven repayment plans with private loans, nor will you be able to qualify for federal deferment or forbearance. For this reason, private student loans are best for students who are confident in their ability to repay their loans on their chosen timeline.

In Summary: The Best Student Loans

Company Best Of…
College Ave Best for Flexibility
Credible Best for Loan Comparison
Sallie Mae Best for Low Rates and Fees
Discover Best for No Fees
Citizens Bank Best Student Loans from a Major Bank
Ascent Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required
Earnest Best for Fair Credit
LendKey Best for Comprehensive Comparisons

The post Here Are The Best Student Loans of 2021 appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It?

Foreign transaction fees are irritating little charges that every traveler has faced, and most credit card users have questioned. They are the bane of a frequent flyer’s life and if not managed carefully, could result in some serious charges. But what are these charges, why do they exist, what’s the average fee, and how can you avoid them?

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee?

A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge levied every time you make a payment in a foreign currency or transfer money through a foreign bank. These fees are charged by credit card networks and issuers, often totaling around 3%.

For example, imagine that you’re on holiday in the United Kingdom, where all transactions occur in Pound Sterling. You go out for a meal and use your credit card to pay a bill of £150. Your credit card issuer first converts this sum into US Dollars and then charges a foreign transaction fee, after which the network (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) will do the same.

If we assume that £150 equates to exactly $200, this will show on your credit card statement first followed by a separate foreign transaction fee of $6.

When Will You Pay Foreign Transaction Fees?

If you’re moving money from a US bank account to an international account in a different currency, there’s a good chance you will be hit with foreign transaction fees and may also be charged additional transfer fees. More commonly, these fees are charged every time you make a payment in a foreign currency.

Many years ago, foreign transaction fees were limited to purchases made in other currencies, but they are now charged for online purchases as well. If the site you’re using is based in another country, there’s a good chance you’ll face these charges.

It isn’t always easy to know in advance whether these fees will be charged or not. Many foreign based sites use software that automatically detects your location and changes the currency as soon as you visit. To you, it seems like everything is listed in dollars, but you may actually be paying in a foreign currency.

Other Issues that American Travelers Face 

Foreign transaction fees aren’t the only issue you will encounter when trying to use American reward credit cards abroad. If we return to the previous example of a holiday in the UK, you may discover that the restaurant doesn’t accept your credit card at all.

In the UK, as in the US, Visa and MasterCard are the two most common credit card networks and are accepted anywhere you can use a credit or debit card. However, while Discover is the third most common network in the US, it’s all but non-existent in the UK. 

Discover has claimed that the card has “moderate” acceptance in the UK, but this is a generous description and unless you’re shopping in locations that tailor for many tourists and American tourists in particular, it likely won’t be accepted.

There are similar issues with American Express, albeit to a lesser extent. AMEX is the third most common provider in the UK, but finding a retailer that actually accepts this card is very hit and miss.

Do Foreign Transaction Fees Count Towards Credit Card Rewards?

Foreign transaction fees, and all other bank and credit card fees, do not count towards your rewards total but the initial charge does. If we return to the previous example of a $200 restaurant payment, you will earn reward points on that $200 but not on the additional $6 that you pay in fees.

How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

The easiest way to avoid foreign transaction fees is to use a credit card that doesn’t charge them. Some premium cards and reward cards will absorb the fee charged for these transactions, which means you can take your credit card with you when you travel and don’t have to worry about extra charges.

This is key, because simply converting your dollars to your target currency isn’t the best way to avoid foreign transaction fees. A currency conversion will come with its own fees and it’s also very risky to carry large sums of cash with you when you’re on vacation. 

Credit Cards Without Foreign Transaction Fees

All credit card offers are required to clearly state a host of basic features, including interest rates, reward schemes, and annual fees. However, you may need to do a little digging to learn about foreign transaction fees. These fees can be found in the credit card’s terms and conditions, which should be listed in full on the provider’s website.

To get you started, here are a few credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees:

  1. Bank of America Travel Rewards Card: A high-reward and low-fee credit card backed by the Bank of America.
  2. Capital One: All Capital One cards are free of foreign transaction fees, including their reward cards, such as the Venture card.
  3. Chase Sapphire Preferred: A premium rewards card aimed at big spenders. There is an annual fee, but not foreign transaction fees.
  4. Citi Prestige: One of several Citi cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, and the best one in terms of rewards. 
  5. Discover It: A solid all-round credit card with no foreign transaction fees. However, as noted above, the Discover network is rare outside of the United States.
  6. Wells Fargo Propel World: An American Express credit card with good rewards and low fees, including no foreign transaction fees.

Summary: One of Many Fees

Foreign transaction fees are just some of the many fees you could be paying every month. Credit cards work on a system of rewards and penalties; you’re rewarded when you make qualifying purchases and penalized when you make payments in foreign currencies and in casinos, and when you use your card to withdraw cash.

Many of these fees are fixed as a percentage of your total spend, but some also charge interest and you will pay this even if you clear your balance in full every month. To avoid being hit with these fees, pay attention to the terms and conditions and look for cards that won’t punish you for the things you do regularly.

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How I Paid Off $38,000 In Student Loan Debt In 7 Months

How I Paid Off $38,000 In Student Loan Debt In 7 MonthsLately, I have received many questions asking how I was able to pay off my student loans so quickly. I haven’t talked much about my student loans since I paid them off in July of 2013, but I know many struggle with their student loan repayment plan each and every day.

Due to this, it is a topic I am always happy to cover. Paying off your student loans is a wonderful feeling and I want to help everyone else experience the same.

 

Background on my student loans.

To start off, I am going to provide a quick background on my student loans.

I worked full-time all throughout college. I worked as a retail manager from when I was a teenager until I graduated with my two undergraduate degrees (I was a double major). Then, I was lucky and found a financial analyst position right when I graduated. I took around six months off from college, then I went back to get my Finance MBA, all while still working full-time and building my business.

Even though I worked full-time, I didn’t really put any money towards my student loan debt while I was in college.

Instead, I spent money on ridiculous things like going to my favorite Mexican restaurant WAY too many times each week and spending money on clothing that I didn’t need.

I didn’t have a realistic budget back then, at least not a good one. I didn’t think about my student loan repayment plan at all either!

So, when I finished my Finance MBA, I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed to start getting real about my student loans. I had six months after the day I graduated with my Finance MBA until my student loans would come out of deferment.

I knew I had to create an action plan to get rid of my student loans.

And that’s when I took a HUGE gulp and decided to add up the total of what I owed.

After adding all of my student loans together, I realized I had $38,000 in student loan debt. No, this might not be as much as some of the crazy stories you hear out there where others have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt, but I wasn’t exactly near the average of what others owed either. I also wasn’t happy because I kept thinking about how I had been working full-time for many years, yet I didn’t even put a dent on my student loans.

After totaling what I owed, I decided to buckle down and start my debt payoff near the end of 2012.

I ended up finishing paying off my student loans in early July of 2013, which means it took right around seven months for me to pay them off completely.

It’s still something I cannot believe is true. I always thought I would have student loans hanging over my head for years, so I am extremely grateful that I was able to eliminate them so quickly.

Now, you may be wondering “Well, how do I do the same?” Or you might even be thinking that it’s not possible for you.

However, I believe you CAN do the same and that it IS possible for you.

For some, it might take longer to pay off your student loans or it might even take less. It depends on how much you owe, how much time you can spend on making more money, and honestly, it also depends on how bad you want it.

Related tip: I highly recommend SoFi for student loan refinancing. You can lower the interest rate on your student loans significantly by using SoFi which may help you shave thousands off your student loan bill over time.

Related content: How Do Student Loans Work?

Here are my tips to pay off your student loans quickly:

 

Do you know how much student loan debt you have?

Like I said above, the first thing that made me jumpstart my student loan repayment plan was the fact that I took the time to add up how much student loan debt I had.

It shocked me so much that I probably wanted to throw up. That’s good though because it can be a good source of motivation for most people. I know it was for me!

When you add up your student loans, do not just take a guess. Actually pull up each student loan and tally everything down to the exact penny.

I highly recommend that you check out Personal Capital (a free service) if you are interested in gaining control of your financial situation. Personal Capital is very similar to Mint.com, but 100 times better as it allows you to gain control of your investment and retirement accounts, whereas Mint.com does not. Personal Capital allows you to aggregate your financial accounts so that you can easily see your financial situation, your cash flow, detailed graphs, and more. You can connect accounts such as your mortgage, bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and more, and it is FREE.

 

Understand your student loans.

There are many people out there who do not fully understand their student loans. There are many things you should do your research on so that you can create the best student loan repayment plan.

This mainly includes:

  • Your interest rate. Some student loans have fixed interest rates, whereas others might have variable rates. You’ll want to figure out what the interest rate on your loans are because that may impact the student loan repayment plan you decide on. For example, you might choose to pay off your student loans that have the highest interest rates first so that you can pay less money over time.
  • Student loan reimbursements. Some employers will give you money to put towards your student loans, but you should always do your research when it comes to this area. Some employers will require that you work for them for a certain amount of time, you have great grades, good attendance, and they might have other requirements as well. There are many employers out there who will pay your student loans back (fully or partially), so definitely look into this option.
  • Auto-payments. For most student loans, you can probably auto-pay them and receive a discount. Always look into this as you may be able to lower your interest rate by 0.25% on each of your student loans.

 

Create a budget.

If you don’t have one already, then you should create a budget immediately.

First, include your actual income and expenses for each month. This will help show you how much money you have left over each month and how much money should be going towards your student loan debt each month.

 

Cut your budget to create a quicker student loan repayment plan.

The next step is to cut your budget so that you can have a better student loan repayment plan. Even though you may have just created a budget, you should go through it line by line and see what you really do not need to be spending money on.

There’s probably SOMETHING that can be cut.

You might not have even realized it until after you wrote down exactly how much money you were shoveling towards nonsense until now. However, now is better than never!

We worked towards cutting our budget as much as we could. I can’t remember exactly how much we cut it by, but I know that it was enough to where I felt like I was putting a dent in my student loans.

Even if all you can cut is $100 each month, that is much better than nothing. That’s $1,200 a year right there!

Side note: If you are still in college, I highly recommend that you check out Campus Book Rentals. It allows you to get your text books for cheap. I almost ALWAYS rented my text books and it saved me a ton of money!

 

Earn more money as a part of your student loan repayment plan.

The month I paid off my student loans was a month where I earned over $11,000 in extra income. While this does sound crazy, I did start off by making just $0 in extra income. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Even if $11,000 a month isn’t possible for you, I’m sure something is. If you can make an extra $1,000 a month in extra income, that can help you knock out your student loans in no time.

Related articles:

  • 75+ Ways To Make Extra Money
  • 10 Ways To Make Money Online From The Comfort of Your Home
  • 10 Things I’ve Done To Make Extra Money
  • Ways To Make An Extra $1,000 A Month
  • How to Earn Extra Income Part 1

 

Pay more than the minimum payment each month.

The point of all of the above is to help you pay off your student loans. However, you can always go a little bit further and pay off your student loans more quickly. The key to this is that you will need to pay more than the minimum each month for you to speed up your student loan repayment plan process.

It may sound hard, but it really doesn’t have to be. Whatever extra you can afford, you should think about putting it towards your student loans. You may be able to shave years of your student loans!

How much student loan debt do you have? What’s your student loan repayment plan?

The post How I Paid Off $38,000 In Student Loan Debt In 7 Months appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

"How Will You Measure Your Life?" The Question that Changed Me Forever

Reading is one of my superpowers. I make time daily in my work life to consume an article or a chapter of a non-fiction book. I usually learn something—a new fact to absorb or a tactic to try. 

Incredibly rarely, something I read actually changes me. 

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change.

Seven years ago, I first stumbled on an article called How Will You Measure Your Life? written by the renowned Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. The piece captivated me, and I credit it with setting me on a new path. Christensen, who has since passed away, offered me a sense of direction and clarity. I find many people around me seek the same thing right now, which is precisely why I'm revisiting a seven-year-old article with you today.

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change. Reading it helped me ask and answer some big questions for myself—not by telling me what to think, but rather how to think. Christensen's article applied big wonky management concepts to the everyday business of humanity. And he did it beautifully.

Since I first read "How Will You Measure Your Life," I've made a habit of rereading it once a year. And each year I take something new from it.

Today, in case you’re one of those people sitting with big questions, I’d love to share some of my favorite insights. If you’ve ever wondered how to maintain fulfillment, balance, and integrity in your life and career, then this one’s for you.

How do I achieve fulfillment in my career?

Professor Christensen begins with an introduction to the work of Frederick Herzberg whose research in the mid-twentieth century taught us that money is not our most powerful motivating force.

As Money Girl Laura Adams tells us, money can buy us happiness … but only to a point. To have emotional well-being, we need to have enough money to cover basics like food and shelter comfortably. A widely cited 2010 study set that bar at $75,000 a year. Making more than that, data told us, didn’t equate to more happiness.

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work.

So if money doesn’t drive happiness, then what does? According to Christensen, it’s the opportunity to learn, to grow in responsibility, to contribute to the development of others, and to be recognized for your hard work and achievements. 

So ask yourself: Are you having these fulfilling experiences in your work today? 

If you could use a bump, are there ways you can infuse more life into your work? Can you take on a project that might help you expand your thinking, network, or knowledge? Can you mentor someone whose success you’d love to enhance? Can you publicly recognize a colleague who did you a small solid?

Or are you ready for a change you now realize you can afford to make?

Maybe you’ve always worked in corporate and dreamed of rolling into the non-profit space. Or you’re being pulled in multiple directions and want to transition to working part-time for a while. Or there’s that side hustle you always wanted to try, or that degree you dream of getting.

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work. 

For me, this meant finally stepping out of a job that felt heavy and taking that chance on starting my own business. I’ve never looked back.

How do I maintain balance?

This, Christensen explains, is really a question of how your strategy is defined and implemented.

”…A company’s strategy is determined by the types of initiatives that management invests in.”

If a company's strategy is to win by creating high-quality products, but it chooses to maximize its profit margin by using cheap materials to manufacture them, well … I think you can see why the strategy is doomed to fail.

So the question here is what strategy have you defined for your life. And are you making the right investments to support it?

To make the analogy work, Christensen imagines each important part of his life as a line of business—his career, his family, and his community.

He wants each of them to succeed. So he allocates his investments—his time, his focus, his care—in alignment with that strategy.

I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

“Allocation choices,” he says, “can make you turn out to be very different from what you intended.”

He goes on to observe that “People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers even though… loving relationships… are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

When I first read this, I knew my sense of balance was off. Yet I somehow felt powerless to change it. But there was something in his framing about the allocation of resources that really hit me. I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

Did I quit my job and start my business the next day? I assure you I did not. But this reframing was exactly the gift I needed to move from feeling constrained and trapped to feeling encouraged and ready to explore some options. 

Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

I’m not suggesting you follow my path. I’m inviting you to assess yours. Are you investing according to the outcomes you hope to achieve? Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

How do I keep integrity at the forefront?

Ever hear of something called the “marginal cost mistake?” I hadn’t. It’s the idea that most people who’ve fallen from grace (think Bernie Madoff) didn’t wake up one day and decide to commit a major crime.

“A voice in our head says ‘Look, I know that as a general rule most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once it’s OK.’ The marginal cost of doing something wrong ‘just this once’ always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in.”

Personally, I’ve never stood on the precipice of making a criminal choice. But this concept has shown up in my life in different ways.

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your 'marginal cost mistake' will stay with you.

In my life today, I stand firmly in the camp of respect and equality for every human being. If someone in my life—a client, a colleague, even a family member—makes an off-color joke or comment, I know it’s easier to ignore it. Just this once. 

But I won’t. And having that clarity makes the choice so simple for me.

Maybe your boss asked you to “borrow” a competitor’s idea you heard about… just this once. Or a friend needs a reference and wonders if you’ll play the role of her former boss… but just for this one potential job.

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your "marginal cost mistake" will stay with you. I still remember kids I didn’t stand up for on the playground. I can’t change what’s behind me, but I can be a version of myself going forward that the little girl in me would be proud of.

I wish the same for you.

I hope these ideas have triggered some insight or courage or inspiration. May you be fulfilled, may you be in balance, and may you be the most gleaming version of you.   

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year

tax benefits of owning a homeTijana Simic / Getty Images

What are the tax benefits of owning a home? Plenty of homeowners are asking themselves this right around now as they prepare to file their taxes.

You may recall the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—the most substantial overhaul to the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years—went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The result was likely a big change to your taxes, especially the tax perks of homeownership.

While this revised tax code is still in effect today, the coronavirus has thrown a few curveballs. For one, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed filing season by about two weeks, which means it won’t start accepting or processing any 2020 tax year returns until Feb. 12, 2021. (So far at least, the filing deadline stands firm at the usual date, April 15.)

In addition to this delay, many might be wondering whether the new realities of COVID-19 life (like their work-from-home setup) might qualify for a tax deduction, or how other variables from unemployment to stimulus checks might affect their tax return this year.

Whatever questions you have, look no further than this complete guide to all the tax benefits of owning a home, where we run down all the tax breaks homeowners should be aware of when they file their 2020 taxes in 2021. Read on to make sure you aren’t missing anything that could save you money!

Tax break 1: Mortgage interest

Homeowners with a mortgage that went into effect before Dec. 15, 2017, can deduct interest on loans up to $1 million.

“However, for acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, homeowners can only deduct the interest on the first $750,000,” says Lee Reams Sr., chief content officer of TaxBuzz.

Why it’s important: The ability to deduct the interest on a mortgage continues to be a big benefit of owning a home. And the more recent your mortgage, the greater your tax savings.

“The way mortgage payments are amortized, the first payments are almost all interest,” says Wendy Connick, owner of Connick Financial Solutions. (See how your loan amortizes and how much you’re paying in interest with this online mortgage calculator.)

Note that the mortgage interest deduction is an itemized deduction. This means that for it to work in your favor, all of your itemized deductions (there are more below) need to be greater than the new standard deduction, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled.

And note that those amounts just increased for the 2020 tax year. For individuals, the deduction is now $12,400 ($12,200 in 2019), and it’s $24,800 for married couples filing jointly ($24,400 in 2019), plus $1,300 for each spouse aged 65 or older. The deduction also went up to $18,650 for head of household ($18,350 in 2019), plus an additional $1,650 for those 65 or older.

As a result, only about 5% of taxpayers will itemize deductions this filing season, says Connick.

For some homeowners, itemizing simply may not be worth it. So when would itemizing work in your favor? As one example, if you’re a married couple under 65 who paid $20,000 in mortgage interest and $6,000 in state and local taxes, you would exceed the standard deduction and be able to reduce your taxable income by an additional $1,200 by itemizing.

__________

Watch: Ready To Refinance? Ask These 5 Questions First

__________

Tax break 2: Property taxes

This deduction is capped at $10,000 for those married filing jointly no matter how high the taxes are. (Here’s more info on how to calculate property taxes.)

Why it’s important: Taxpayers can take one $10,000 deduction, says Brian Ashcraft, director of compliance at Liberty Tax Service.

Just note that property taxes are on that itemized list of all of your deductions that must add up to more than your particular standard deduction to be worth your while.

And remember that if you have a mortgage, your property taxes are built into your monthly payment.

Tax break 3: Private mortgage insurance

If you put less than 20% down on your home, odds are you’re paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which costs from 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan.

But here’s some good news for PMI users: You can deduct the interest on this insurance thanks to the Mortgage Insurance Tax Deduction Act of 2019—aka the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act—which reinstated certain deductions and credits for homeowners.

“These include the deduction for PMI,” says Laura Fogel, certified public accountant at Gonzalez and Associates in Massachusetts. (This credit is retroactive, so talk to your accountant to see if it makes sense to amend your 2018 or 2019 tax return in case you missed it in past years.)

Also note that this tax deduction is set to expire again after 2020 unless Congress decides to extend it in 2021.

Why it’s important: The PMI interest deduction is also an itemized deduction. But if you can take it, it might help push you over the $24,800 standard deduction for married couples under 65. And here’s how much you’ll save: If you make $100,000 and put down 5% on a $200,000 house, you’ll pay about $1,500 in annual PMI premiums and thus cut your taxable income by $1,500. Nice!

Tax break 4: Energy efficiency upgrades

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit was a tax incentive for installing alternative energy upgrades in a home. Most of these tax credits expired after December 2016; however, two credits are still around (but not for long). The credits for solar electric and solar water-heating equipment are available through Dec. 31, 2021, says Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York–based accounting firm.

The SECURE Act also retroactively reinstated a $500 deduction for certain qualified energy-efficient upgrades “such as exterior windows, doors, and insulation,” says Fogel.

Why it’s important: You can still save a tidy sum on your solar energy. And—bonus!—this is a credit, so no worrying about itemizing here. However, the percentage of the credit varies based on the date of installation. For equipment installed between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, 26% of the expenditure is eligible for the credit (down from 30% in 2019). That figure drops to 22% for installation between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. As of now, the credit ends entirely after 2021.

Tax break 5: A home office

Good news for all self-employed people whose home office is the main place where they work: You can deduct $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet, of office space, which amounts to a maximum deduction of $1,500.

For those who can take the deduction, understand that there are very strict rules on what constitutes a dedicated, fully deductible home office space. Here’s more on the much-misunderstood home office tax deduction.

The fine print: The bad news for everyone forced to work at home due to COVID-19? Unfortunately, if you are a W-2 employee, you’re not eligible for the home office deduction under the CARES Act even if you spent most of 2020 in your home office.

Tax break 6: Home improvements to age in place

To get this break, these home improvements will need to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. So if you make $60,000, this deduction kicks in only on money spent over $4,500.

The cost of these improvements can result in a nice tax break for many older homeowners who plan to age in place and add renovations such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars in bathrooms. Deductible improvements might also include widening doorways, lowering cabinets or electrical fixtures, and adding stair lifts.

The fine print: You’ll need a letter from your doctor to prove these changes were medically necessary.

Tax break 7: Interest on a home equity line of credit

If you have a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, the interest you pay on that loan is deductible only if that loan is used specifically to “buy, build, or improve a property,” according to the IRS. So you’ll save cash if your home’s crying out for a kitchen overhaul or half-bath. But you can’t use your home as a piggy bank to pay for college or throw a wedding.

The fine print: You can deduct only up to the $750,000 cap, and this is for the amount you pay in interest on your HELOC and mortgage combined. (And if you took out a HELOC before the new 2018 tax plan for anything besides improvements to your home, you cannot legally deduct the interest.)

The post 7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com