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September is National Emergency Preparedness month, and government and community leaders from coast to coast are encouraging Americans to take important steps to ensure they are ready for any emergency. These reminders come on the heels of massive wildfires in the Western United States, and deadly floods, property damage, and compromised infrastructure, along a 1,500-mile path from Louisiana to New England, in the wake of Hurricane Ida.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, climate change is expected to worsen the frequency, intensity, and impact of extreme weather events like these.1 However, it’s important to remember that not all disasters are natural. Many are the result of human activities, such as chemical spills, gas leaks, infrastructure failures, and other events that can threaten lives and impact entire communities. That makes it critical to have a plan in place for how you and your family can prepare for and remain safe in any emergency. Begin with the following steps, which can help you plan for the unexpected and protect the people and property that are important to you.
While it can be hard to plan ahead for every possible scenario, some are more predictable than others. When developing your family emergency plan, start with the types of risks you may be exposed to in the area where you live. For example, if you live in an area that frequently experiences tornadoes, it’s important for all family members to know where the “safe zone” in your home is located, whether that’s a basement or a first-floor closet or bathroom, away from windows. If you live in an area that is susceptible to wildfires or hurricanes, familiarize yourself with evacuation routes, which can be found on your state or local emergency management website.
Discuss your plans with friends and family, including how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster, and talk to your kids—and everyone in your household—about what to do in case you are separated. Make sure you designate a place to meet that is accessible for all household members. Take the time to tailor your plan to your specific needs and responsibilities, keeping the following considerations in mind:
Quick Tip: Download your free Family Emergency Communication Plan template now.
In an emergency, there may be little or no time to gather important papers and essential supplies. Having an emergency kit ready to go is essential when disaster strikes. Keep in mind, while many important documents may be stored electronically, you may not have immediate access to the information in the event of a power outage. Some of the things you may want to include in your kit are:
Experts recommend gathering enough supplies to last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home. Don’t forget to consider the unique needs each person or pet may have in case you have to evacuate quickly.
Quick Tip: Not sure what to include in your emergency kit? Download this handy Emergency Supply Kit Checklist.
Staying informed during an emergency situation can mean the difference between life and death.
In addition to local news outlets, familiarize yourself with your state’s emergency management website, mobile app(s), social media sites and emergency alert systems, which provide breaking news and potential life-saving information in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. Plan to download apps and sign up for alerts on your devices well before a disaster occurs.
Quick Tip: Download the FEMA app now to receive real-time notifications, text messages, and alerts for events impacting your location.
Having adequate emergency savings on hand is another important aspect of planning for unexpected events. If you have questions about whether you will be financially prepared to weather an emergency, contact the office to schedule time to talk.
This information was written by KRW Creative Concepts, a non-affiliate of the broker-dealer.
Looking back on your first fulltime job, do you ever remember thinking, “If I made ’X‘ dollars more, things would be so much easier”? However, once you received your first raise, you may have been surprised at how quickly that extra money was absorbed into your regular monthly spending. You can thank lifestyle creep for that.
Lifestyle creep happens when you increase your spending and expenses with each raise or bump in income. Despite making more money, you continue to live paycheck to paycheck, with little or no money set aside for the future. Interestingly, there’s no magical dollar amount or salary where lifestyle creep automatically kicks out. You are susceptible to it whether you make $30,000 or $300,000 a year.
Although challenging, breaking the endless cycle of living paycheck to paycheck is possible. Below are five practical ways to help stop lifestyle creep and begin building wealth for the future you desire.
Living within your means is the golden rule of financial well-being. That’s because it helps you to move closer to any goal faster. Living within your means requires spending less money than you’re bringing in each month.
Spending less than you make allows you to:
There is one catch: living within your means requires some discipline. That’s where a budget can help. Your budget can help you track each dollar coming into and leaving your household each month. It’s a great tool for creating accountability around your spending and savings goals. Follow this link to learn more about the latest budgeting tools and apps: Here are the best budgeting apps of August 2021.
Recognizing the difference between wants and needs can be challenging. Needs are your essential expenses—the things you absolutely can’t live without, such as food, housing, clothing, healthcare and transportation. Wants are the things that are important to you and help define your lifestyle but would not jeopardize your health and safety if you were forced to live without them. Your wants are discretionary expenses, such as your afternoon latte, concert tickets or a weekend getaway.
When determining your monthly budget or spending plan, make sure your essential expenses are fully covered first. Then prioritize additional spending for the things you want but could live without, if necessary. Finally, set aside money each month for savings, even if it’s just a small amount. When you do get a raise, increase this amount first. That will help you stay on track toward building the wealth you will need to support the future you want.
While credit cards may allow you to buy more things now than your current budget allows, keep in mind that can come with a cost. If you consistently use credit cards to bridge the gap between income and expenses, or purchase more than you pay off each month, you'll eventually run out of available credit and possibly lower your credit score. In addition, high interest rates can make it even more difficult to pay down debt and get back to living within your means.
Resist the pressure to keep up with the spending patterns of neighbors, coworkers or friends. While the shiny new car in your neighbor’s driveway or a coworker’s recent trip to Cancun may appear to be a sign of financial success, they could just as easily be living well beyond their means. Keep in mind, material accumulation is not a dependable gauge of how well someone is doing financially. While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge on something you really want—if you’re prioritizing your finances correctly—problems occur when you jeopardize your financial well-being to compete with others.
The best way to reverse lifestyle creep is to put a plan in place and stick to it. The financial planning process can help you prioritize goals and spending, so you can build future wealth faster. Since planning is an ongoing process, it’s easy to update and adjust your savings and spending goals as your life or circumstances outside of your control, such as the financial markets and economy, change.
There are many benefits to breaking the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck, including reducing stress and increasing overall financial well-being. If you have questions about putting a strategy in place that can help you move closer to your goals, call the office to schedule time to talk.
This information was written by KRW Creative Concepts, a non-affiliate of the broker-dealer
Live shows, concerts and sports venues are selling out within hours; cruise and hotel bookings have surged; airlines can’t keep up with the number of passengers booking flights; and restaurants can’t hire fast enough to accommodate demand. Even some national parks are turning visitors away this summer due to overcrowding.
It’s not difficult to understand what’s behind the increase in demand for travel and entertainment. After coping with coronavirus restrictions for more than a year, many people are eager to resume a broad range of activities, previously curtailed by the pandemic.
As businesses reopen, consumers are opening their wallets wide, seeking travel upgrades, luxury services, and unique experiences. By June, spending on luxury goods and services had risen 11% above pre-pandemic levels,1 and one survey found that 40% of Americans are willing to take on debt to treat themselves lavishly this summer.2
While it’s understandable that consumers are ready and willing to spend on meaningful experiences after such a challenging period, revenge spending—the desire to make up for lost time by overindulging—can wreak havoc on your budget. Fortunately, there are ways to keep spending in check while reconnecting with the people, places, and experiences you’ve missed.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge. In fact, that’s one of many reasons to follow a budget. A budget provides a clear look at how much money is coming in (income) and going out (expenses) of your household each month. That allows you to assign a purpose to each dollar, including discretionary expenses for travel, entertainment, dining out, and more.
For example, if you plan to take a vacation this summer, use your budget to determine how much you can reasonably spend and set limits for yourself. If you feel the need to splurge on something that’s really important to you or your family, your budget can help you identify ways to pay yourself back by cutting expenses in the months ahead, so you don’t jeopardize longer-term goals, such as saving for retirement, a child’s education, or paying down debt.
Americans paid off a record $108 billion in credit card debt in 2020.3 Yet, many risk racking up new debt as the economy continues to reopen. If you were among those who worked diligently to pay down debt over the past year, take time to reflect on what it feels like to owe less or to be debt free before using credit cards to make new purchases. If you have a hard time avoiding impulse spending, leave credit cards at home when shopping or meeting friends for a night out. Disable your digital payment app on your phone for the night as well. Relying on cash can be a good way to curb impulse spending.
Pressure from others can result in spending more than you otherwise would. Don’t be afraid to say no to friends or family members who encourage you to attend an event or take a trip that may be too expensive for your taste or is not something you look forward to doing. If you feel peer pressure to spend in ways that are beyond your means, suggest more affordable alternatives. Remember, it’s your money. It should be spent on the people, things and experiences that give your life meaning and purpose.
The pandemic is a reminder of the importance of having access to emergency savings and not overextending yourself with credit card or other personal debt. Like many people, you may have identified certain expenses you could live without. Whether you saved more, spent less, or invested more toward your goals, try to keep those positive financial habits intact.
Keep in mind, as opportunities for spending return, it can be tempting to make up for lost time. However, overspending can have serious long-term consequences for your personal and financial well-being.
If you have questions about these suggestions or other ways to stay on track toward your important goals, call the office to schedule time to talk.
1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/06/18/luxury-boom-recovery/ 2 https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/future-spending-poll/ 3 https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/credit-cards/articles/americans-paid-off-108-billion-in-credit-card-debt-last-year-the-most-ever/
After decades of skyrocketing costs, some good news regarding college costs has emerged. Institutions of higher learning reported the lowest one-year increase in average tuition and fees in 30 years. Between the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 school years, average published charges for tuition and fees for public four-year in-state colleges increased by only 1.1% while private nonprofit colleges had a minimal increase of 2.1%. This data suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has halted rising college costs, though experts say that this effect may only be temporary.1
For academic year 2020-2021, public two-year colleges had the lowest average annual costs out of all institution types, at $12,850. For the same period, on average, public four-year in-state colleges cost $22,180 while private nonprofit four-year colleges were the most expensive at $50,770.2 Even if students qualify for financial aid, including scholarships and grants, there’s still a hefty price tag associated with the cost of higher education in the United States. As a result, most college graduates leave school with significant amounts of debt. In fact, one in four American adults—a total of 44.7 million—have a staggering $1.53 trillion in student loan debt.3
If you’re a parent or grandparent of a recent high school graduate or a rising senior, this data may have you wondering if college is still worth it. Below are five things to consider when weighing the cost of a college education.
A Georgetown University study on the value of higher education notes that in the industrial economy prior to the 1980s, two-thirds of jobs required workers with only a high school education or less. Now, two-thirds of jobs require workers with at least some college. In addition, the study’s authors predict that 70% of all jobs will require some college education by 2027.4
Although a college degree can’t guarantee a high-paying job, on average, those with a bachelor’s degree earn significantly more than their peers with only a high school diploma. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time workers without a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $630, compared with $1,416 for those holding at least a bachelor's degree. That equates to about a $40,000 difference annually.5
Over the course of their careers, college graduates can earn hundreds of thousands more than those who don’t attend college.
Data shows that what individuals choose to study at college affects their return on investment. Currently, the highest-paid majors are STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), health, and business. Of these, STEM and business are also the most popular majors, accounting for 46% of college graduates' chosen fields.6
College graduates are far more likely than high school graduates to have employer-provided healthcare coverage, which can substantially offset healthcare costs. The College Board found that 64% of workers with healthcare had a bachelor’s degree, and 70% of workers with advanced degrees had employer-provided coverage. Among high school graduates, only 52% had coverage through employer plans.7
While the financial rewards of a college degree can be significant, a college education can impact students’ lives in many positive ways that go well beyond academics. These include developing life skills that lead to independence, from paying bills and balancing a budget, to managing credit, and more. College can also be the root of many lifelong friendships, memories, and a sense of community and belonging.
If you have questions about tax-smart ways to help pay for a child or grandchild’s education costs, call the office to schedule time to talk.
1https://www.guide2research.com/research/college-tuition-increase#2 2 https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2020.pdf 3https://www.nitrocollege.com/research/average-student-loan-debt#rising-cost 4 https://1gyhoq479ufd3yna29x7ubjn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/Fiverules.pdf 5 https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2020/median-weekly-earnings-by-education-second-quarter-2020.htm 6 https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/valueofcollegemajors/ 7https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/education-pays-2019-full-report.pdf
This information was written by KRW Creative Concepts, a non-affiliate of the Broker/Dealer.
Despite the financial challenges and disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, data shows that Americans across all income levels made smart choices with their money over the past year. Payment delinquencies fell as consumers paid down debt,1 and personal savings increased as incomes rose—thanks in large part to government stimulus measures.2 One recent survey reports that 78% of respondents developed a new personal finance habit during the pandemic that they plan to continue, such as monitoring their finances more closely or setting up a monthly budget.3
Keeping these habits intact even as the economic recovery accelerates is important. While you can’t predict the future, sticking with sound financial practices can put you in a better position to weather any future challenges that come your way. Below are four healthy financial habits worth keeping in 2021 and beyond.
Many people turned to budgeting to regain a sense of control during the pandemic.3 A budget is essential for monitoring what’s coming into and going out of your household each month, so you don’t overextend yourself. Maintaining a budget also makes it easier to generate long-term savings and avoid debt.
As the world reopens, you’ll need to give some thought to how your budget may change in the months ahead. For example, will certain expenses go up if you return to your workplace or kids return to school? These may include commuting costs and expenses associated with lunches, clothing, activities or sports. What about travel and entertainment—will spending return to pre-pandemic levels or do you plan to spend less on certain discretionary expenses going forward? If you need help determining your future cash flow needs, there are dozens of online tools and mobile apps that can help. To find one that meets your needs, consider The 7 Best Budget Apps for 2021. Remember, budgeting isn’t simply about cutting expenses, it’s about making sure you’re spending your money on things you value.
One of the things many people valued in 2020 was debt reduction. Americans paid down a record $82.9 billion in credit card debt last year.4 In the months ahead, the economy is expected to heat up as consumers release their pent-up demand for shopping, dining, travel, and entertainment. While it may be tempting to throw caution to the wind as life returns to something resembling normal, remind yourself how it feels to be debt-free or to have a better handle on your credit before using credit cards to pay for a vacation or shopping spree. Remember, the less money that goes toward servicing debt each month, the more that’s available for you to save and invest, which can help you pursue your long-term goals faster. To learn more about managing credit and debt and how maintaining a strong credit score can help you save money, visit myFICO.
Maintaining adequate cash reserves has always been important for covering unplanned expenses, such as a car repair, new roof, or medical bills, without incurring debt. During the pandemic, emergency savings took on even greater importance as many Americans faced layoffs and furloughs. Having enough money set aside to cover three to six months of living expenses can provide the confidence that you’ll be able to pay for essential expenses when unexpected events occur.
If you had to dip into savings during the pandemic, put a plan in place now to rebuild emergency reserves. Saving all or a portion of a recent economic impact payment, tax refund, or upcoming child tax credit payments that you may receive can be a great way to jumpstart savings.
As the stock market slumped last winter, investors who took the opportunity to buy while prices were low were in a better position to benefit as share prices began to rise in the spring. While this is a smart strategy, it’s seldom possible for investors to pick the best time to enter or exit the markets. However, a technique called dollar-cost averaging allows you to buy into the markets at regular intervals, which can help even out the price you pay for shares over time. You’ll purchase shares at higher prices when the market is rising and at lower prices when market values are down. If you participate in your employer’s retirement plan, you may already use this strategy to make plan contributions each pay period. Best of all, setting up regular automatic investments is one less thing you have to think about each month.
Finally, if you’ve incorporated these or other positive financial habits over the past year, spend a few minutes reflecting on how this makes you feel emotionally. Do you feel more secure about meeting your current financial obligations? Are you more confident about the future? Revisit these feelings whenever your financial health begins to feel a little off-balance to help you get back to center and remain on track toward your goals.
If you have questions or concerns about saving, budgeting, or managing family finances, call the office to schedule time to talk.
Dollar cost averaging will not guarantee a profit or protect you from loss, but may reduce your average cost per share in a fluctuating market.
1https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/credit-card-debt-fell-even-consumers-having-financial-difficulties-before-pandemic/ 2https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2021/04/27/states-2020-personal-income-growth-was-highest-in-20-years 3 https://www.creditkarma.com/insights/i/pandemic-redefining-necessities-survey 4 https://wallethub.com/edu/cc/credit-card-debt-study/24400
When it comes to parenting, families have different styles, values, and traditions. However, most parents share a common goal. They want their children to grow up to be healthy, happy, independent adults. As a parent or grandparent, teaching fiscal responsibility is one of the most important ways you can help foster that independence as well as overall well-being. And since April is National Financial Literacy month, this is a great time to ensure your children are on the right path to a confident financial future.
So, where do you begin? Fortunately, teaching kids about basic financial principles doesn’t require special training or a degree in finance. It starts with the behaviors you model every day, from the importance you place on budgeting and keeping discretionary spending in check, to what you choose to splurge on, and your values when it comes to charitable giving. To get started on your family’s journey, consider the following tips.
While money helps your family accomplish many different goals, it can also be a source of deep emotions, conflict and anxiety. To help children develop positive attitudes about money, begin by sharing your own experiences with money. For example, explain how saving money helped you buy a car, pay for college, purchase your home, or pay for a family vacation. Talk about your values around spending and debt, and why you choose to contribute money to certain charitable organizations or causes.
Talking about money helps children of all ages learn about and embrace the important role it plays in supporting your family’s goals. As appropriate, consider including kids in family meetings about budgeting and spending to help them understand that everyone has a role to play in keeping household finances on track. Encourage them to ask questions and share their thoughts and ideas. This can help children develop greater respect for how money is earned and how it is used within your household. It also conveys valuable lessons about saving, goal setting and trade-offs.
The sooner children begin to learn about the important role money plays in life, the more likely they will develop a positive and healthy relationship with it. Even very young children can master three basic principles: saving, giving and spending. To help children visualize how money can be used to accomplish these different goals, consider the “bucket” method. Set up three containers, these could be piggy banks, envelopes, or recycled food containers. When children receive money for completing chores or from grandparents, allow them to make decisions about how much they will save, give to others, and spend on themselves. Consider rewarding the behaviors you want to foster by occasionally adding a small bonus or matching contribution to that bucket.
When it comes to parenting, some things are not negotiable, such as requiring small children to hold hands while crossing the street, or older children to adhere to curfews. (Broccoli consumption, on the other hand, falls into some vague middle ground.) However, money—by its very nature—is negotiable. Teaching children how to negotiate not only helps them master basic budgeting principles, but better prepares them for the real world, where they will eventually be spending their own hard-earned money instead of yours.
An allowance can provide a great starting point for teaching important negotiation skills. Before deciding on an allowance, ask kids for their input in placing a value on different chores or tasks. This not only provides them a voice it also helps them understand the relationship between work and earnings. Keep in mind, an allowance doesn’t have to involve cash. Feel free to get creative. Many families use a point system where kids can trade points earned for a trip to the park or the ice cream shop, the ability to stay up an hour later on the weekend, or a free pass on certain chores.
Learning money management basics doesn’t have to be boring, thanks to a broad range of age-appropriate websites, games, tools and mobile apps available to children of all age groups. Begin by checking out the following to find the interactive resources that work best for your family.
If you have questions or concerns about saving, budgeting or managing family finances, call the office to schedule time to talk.
This information was written by Katie Williams, a non-affiliate of the Broker/Dealer.
Understanding the different steps you can take now to drive the retirement outcome you desire is an important part of planning for a confident future. However, it’s also important to understand what can throw you off course. Below are four common pitfalls to avoid along the path to saving for the retirement you envision.
The earlier you start saving, the greater the potential benefits, thanks to the power of compounding. Compounding is the process in which investment earnings, from either capital gains or interest, are reinvested to generate additional account earnings over time. Your money has the potential to grow even faster when invested in a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k), 403(b) plan or individual retirement account (IRA). This is due, in part, to tax-deferred compounding, where earnings are not subject to taxes until they’re withdrawn, usually in retirement when you may be in a lower tax bracket. You may also be able to reduce your current income tax burden by contributing to a traditional 401(k), 403(b) or IRA, since those contributions are made on a pretax basis, effectively lowering the amount of your income that’s subject to taxes. But how much can you contribute annually? The maximum contribution limit for 401(k), 403(b), and most 457 plans (available for governmental and certain nongovernmental employers in the U.S.) in 2020 and 2021, is $19,500. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,500 in catch-up contributions, for a total of $26,000. The limit for IRA contributions also remains unchanged at $6,000, with an additional $1,000 for catch-up contributions if you’re 50+, for a total of $7,000.
Saving for retirement through your employer’s plan may be one of the smartest decisions you make. That’s because most plans provide an easy, automated way save, which eliminates the need to remember to transfer money to savings each month. Many plans also offer matching contributions, which can exponentially increase the value of your retirement plan assets over time, assuming you are contributing enough each year to capture the full match. However, it can also be easy to forget to increase the amount you contribute each year, or ensure you’re receiving the full plan match, if your plan does not automate these features. Be sure to review your plan at least annually to ensure you’re taking full advantage of important features and benefits, which may include employer matching contributions, automated annual deferral increases, and the ability to choose pretax and/or Roth contributions. (Plan provisions vary by employer. Check with yours for a list of plan features and benefits available to you.)
When you choose to begin taking Social Security makes a big difference in the amount you will receive in retirement. Age 62 is the earliest you can claim benefits. However, if you begin taking benefits at age 62, rather than waiting until your normal retirement age (NRA)—when you’re entitled to receive your full, unreduced Social Security benefit amount—you can expect about a 29% reduction in monthly benefits (adjusted annually for inflation) for the remainder of your life. On the other hand, if you wait until age 70 to start Social Security, your benefit amount will be approximately 77% higher, than if you started at age 62. That’s because you receive delayed retirement credits for each month you wait to file for benefits beyond your normal retirement age. There is no additional benefit increase after you reach age 701. Keep in mind, with few exceptions, you can’t stop and restart Social Security benefits at a higher amount later. So, it’s really important to understand whether or not a reduced benefit will be enough to help you meet all of your goals and expenses over a 20 or 30+ year period in retirement.
As retirees enjoy longer average lifespans, healthcare costs will remain a significant expense in retirement. This is important because Medicare only pays for a portion of expenses for those age 65 and older. Retirees must pay for other expenses, such as dental, vision and hearing services, and prescription drugs, either out-of-pocket or through supplemental insurance plans. Notably, Medicare does not cover long-term care services—one of the highest expenses many retirees may incur. In fact, a recent study revealed that the national median cost per year in the United States for assisted living is roughly $51,600, while home health aide services average nearly $55,000, and nursing home care averages just over $105,000 for a private room.2 This is important because, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 70% of adults who survive to age 65 will require long-term services and support during their lifetime, with 48% receiving some paid care. That makes it critical to incorporate future health care spending into your retirement planning.3
Whether you choose to work during your retirement years out of a sense of fulfillment or the need to supplement income sources—planning on paid work in retirement can be a risky proposition. In a recent survey, 71% of workers said that they anticipated paid work to be a significant source of income in retirement. However, only 31% percent of retirees said they actually derived a portion of their retirement income from work.4 That’s because many people are forced to stop working earlier than planned due to a medical crisis or injury, or other circumstances outside of their control, such as a layoff. Understanding how much you may need to support your lifestyle in retirement, well before you reach traditional retirement age, can help you avoid a shortfall that may compromise your lifestyle goals during this important stage of your life.
To learn about strategies that can help you avoid common pitfalls and optimize your planning, call the office to schedule time to talk.
Distributions from traditional IRAs and employer sponsored retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income and, if taken prior to reaching age 59½, may be subject to an additional 10% IRS tax penalty.
By any standard, 2020 was an unusual year, marked by rapid change and unexpected events. As a result, filing your tax return may be anything but straightforward. Below we explore eight things you need to know before filing your return—and a few things to keep in mind for your 2021 planning.
There was an extension for the tax-filing deadline in 2020, but this year, so far, the deadline remains April 15. If you file after that date without having asked for an extension, you'll have to pay a late filing fee, which is 5% of the taxes you owe for each month, or part of a month, that your return is late. That penalty starts accruing the day after the tax filing deadline and can build up to a maximum of 25% of your unpaid taxes.1
If you were one of the millions of Americans who received an Economic Impact Payment, those are tax-free. If you didn’t get a payment, or received less than the full amount you were eligible for, you may be able to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit based on your 2020 tax information. To do so, you must file a federal tax return.
If you lost your job last year and qualified for the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits, you’ll need to report that income on your 2020 federal tax return (and state return, if applicable). You’ll receive a Form 1099-G, which will tell you the amount of benefits you received in 2020, and how much was withheld for taxes.2
The standard deduction typically increases each year due to inflation, and last year was no exception. For 2020, the standard deduction rose to $12,400 for individuals ($24,800 for married couples filing jointly). Taxpayers age 65 or older are eligible for an even higher standard deduction, $14,050 for individuals and $27,400 for married couples filing jointly.3 If your deductions exceed the standard deduction for your filing status, consider itemizing on your return.
Under a provision in the CARES Act, which was signed into law in March of last year, you can deduct up to $300 for cash contributions to qualified charities if you do not itemize on your 2020 return.4 Previously, charitable deductions were only available to those who itemized. It gets even better in 2021. Joint filers who do not itemize will be allowed to take an above-the-line deduction of up to $600 in cash contributions made to qualifying charities this year.5
If you itemize and made charitable contributions in 2020, you can deduct contributions up to 100% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). This provision has also been extended for tax year 2021. (Prior to the passage of the CARES Act, you could only deduct up to 60% of your AGI for charitable contributions.)4
Many families may be eligible for a child tax credit of $2,000 for each child under age 17. To claim the credit, you must determine if your child is eligible, based on seven considerations: age, relationship, support, dependent status, citizenship, length of residency and family income (individuals must make less than $200,000 a year and couples must make under $400,000). You and/or your child must qualify for all seven to claim this tax credit.6
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 reduced the income threshold for unreimbursed medical expenses to 7.5% of AGI for tax years 2019 and 2020, it was set to increase to 10% in 2021. However, new legislation signed into law in December permanently lowered the threshold to 7.5%.7
Regardless of income, taxpayers can use Free File, a service available through the IRS, to electronically request an automatic tax-filing extension. Filing this form gives you until October 15, 2021 to file a return. However, there’s a catch. If you owe taxes, you’ll need to pay the estimated amount at the time you file for an extension or face penalties.
For more information on filing your 2020 tax returns, visit IRS.gov or schedule time to meet with a tax professional. To learn more about managing your tax burden throughout the year with tax-smart financial and investment strategies, contact the office to schedule time to talk.
4 https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/how-the-cares-act-changes-deducting-charitable-contributions5 https://www.kiplinger.com/taxes/tax-deductions/601993/charitable-tax-deductions-an-additional-reward-for-the-gift-of-giving#:~:text=For%20the%202021%20tax%20year,furniture%2C%20or%20any%20other%20property
This communication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information on the subjects covered. It is not however, intended to provide specific legal, tax, or other professional advice. For specific professional assistance, the services of an appropriate professional should be sought.
As many Americans learned in 2020, emergency savings can provide a much-needed lifeline during periods of crisis or uncertainty. Adequate cash reserves can be critical for helping you stay on track during turbulent times by preventing the need to dip into long-term savings or incur debt to cover unanticipated expenses. However, according to Bankrate’s January 2021 Financial Security Index, only 39% of U.S. adults say they are confident they could pay for an unexpected $1,000 expense. Among those who are not prepared:1
While 44% of survey respondents expect their financial situations to improve this year, since 2014, the percentage of Americans who could tap cash reserves to cover a $1,000 emergency continues to hover between 37% and 41%.1 If you or someone you know is looking for ways to shore up savings or replenish cash reserves in the new year, the following steps may help.
Savings should be high on your budget priority list, right after essential expenses for food, housing, clothing, transportation, and healthcare. If you’re not currently following a budget, the new year is a great time to create one. A study by the CFP Board found that having a household budget can positively affect your emotional state by reducing stress, anxiety and frustration. Among those who have a budget:2
Once you determine how much you need to set aside each month, consider making savings automatic. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to direct a portion of your pay to a savings account before your paycheck hits your bank account. Check your employer to see if this option is available to you. If not, most banks allow you set up automatic deposits from your checking account to a savings account.
Ideally, you want to keep emergency savings in their own separate account, so you’re not tempted to dip into these funds to satisfy other goals, such as non-emergency home improvements or a family vacation. You also want make sure these assets are liquid and can be easily accessed when needed, using a check, debit card, or electronic transfer.
There are a number of ways to boost savings over time that don’t require a lot of pain or sacrifice. One technique is to increase monthly savings each time you receive a raise, bonus or promotion. If you receive a tax refund or economic stimulus payment, consider adding all or a portion of those funds to savings. If you pay off a credit card, car loan, or other debt, consider redirecting that “extra” money to savings, as well.
Most financial professionals recommend that you set aside the three to six months' worth of living expenses for emergency cash reserves. However, the right amount for you should be based on your individual circumstances. Do you have a mortgage? Are you making car payments? What about credit card debt? Do you have dependents who rely on your income to meet their needs? In the event of an accident or illness, do you have short-term and long-term disability protection?
If you’re not sure how much you may need to pursue your short and long-term savings goals, contact the office to schedule time to talk.
P.S. If you need help with budgeting, the following articles provide information on a variety of tools and mobile apps that make it easy to create and manage your budget in real time: 11 Online Budget Tools and The 7 Best Budget Apps for 2021.