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Taxes: 10 Terms You Should Know If You Want to File By Yourself This Year

Taxes: 10 Terms You Should Know If You Want to File By Yourself This Year

If you want to prepare and file your own tax return, you’re not alone. More than 27 million people did their own taxes[1] in 2014, a nearly 6 percent increase from the year before.

However, joining the 27 million-person-strong tax preparers and filers around the United States doesn’t mean that understanding your taxes is easy. Taxes can be daunting, especially if you don’t know the terms.

To help, here’s a list of 10 tax terms that you need to know if you’re doing your taxes yourself this year.

Adjusted Gross Income

Your adjusted gross income (AGI),[2] sometimes referred to as gross income, refers to all the income you’ve received in the year. This includes income you’ve earned, such as wages and income you may have received because of owning stocks, bonds or money market accounts. Interest, dividends and capital gains all fall into this category.

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The “adjusted” part of AGI comes in because you can subtract certain items from the income you’ve received. Contributions to an IRA, for example, might be subtracted, along with alimony costs. Be sure to read the fine print for what you can subtract. AGI is an important step in determining how much you owe.

Tax Deductions

Deductions are amounts of money that you can subtract from your AGI. They come in two forms: standard and itemized. The key to deductions is that they lower your AGI so that you do not have to pay as much tax. In general, the lower your income, the less tax you have to pay. So if, for example, you’ve earned $40,000 in a year and have a $9,000 tax deduction, you’ll only pay tax on $31,000, not the entire $40,000.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) lists a certain number of deductions right on the Form 1040A or longer and more detailed Form 1040. These include student loan interest, deductible individual retirement accounts contributions, alimony payments and moving expenses.

Standard Deductions

The IRS is the agency that determines tax code. Every year, all tax filers get a standard deduction. The standard deduction is an amount that you can deduct from your AGI to lower your taxes. The amount of standard deduction for the year will be given in the IRS instructions for 1040 and 1040A. The standard deduction depends on your income and is usually given in a table. The IRS adjusts this figure every year for inflation.

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Itemized Deductions

You can deduct items such as mortgage interest, state, local and property taxes, medical expenses, travel expenses if for work or medical needs, charitable contributions, casualty and theft losses and more from your AGI as well.

Note that in some states, medical expenses must exceed a certain percentage of your AGI. It’s a good idea to keep track of your expenses[3] so you know what your medical expenses, including health insurance deductibles, totaled for the year. These are called “itemized deductions” because they need to be itemized, on Schedule A of Form 1040.

If your itemized deductions equal more than the IRS’s standard deduction in a given year, it’s good tax news for you, as you’ll have to pay tax on less of your AGI. You can take itemized deductions or the standard deduction in a given year, not both. Be sure to read the fine print about what’s allowed as an itemized deduction and how much.

Exemption

An exemption is an amount the IRS allows you to subtract from income to reflect people who share your household and may depend on you for income. You can take exemptions, for example, for yourself, any dependents and your spouse. A fixed amount of money is provided for every exemption. You’ll subtract the amount of all exemptions, including for yourself, from your AGI to arrive at your taxable earnings.

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Withholding

Withholding refers to the amount of money taken out of your wages or other income as you earn it, but before you get your paycheck. Paycheck stubs will list the amount of withheld money and what it’s for. Employers withhold taxes for Federal, state and local tax, as well as Social Security.[4] The withholdings go  to your tax accounts. For example, your Federal taxes go into an IRS account.

When you calculate your taxes, you’ll arrive at the taxes you owe for the year. The final step is to subtract any taxes that have already been withheld. These are given on your W-2 and other income forms. If you owe $10,000 in Federal tax, for example, and have had $9,800 in Federal tax withheld from your paycheck, you’ll owe just $200 when you file. If you owe $10,000 in Federal tax and you have $10,100 withheld, you’ll receive a Federal tax refund of $100.

Tax Credits

You can compare tax credits to credits from a store. After you calculate your tax bill, you can use tax credits to reduce the amount you owe.[5] They’re more valuable to the individual taxpayer than deductions because they reduce the amount of tax itself, rather than just the amount of taxed income.

If you have a $1000 tax credit and owe $10,000 in taxes, you’ll end up owing $9,000 instead. You may receive tax credits for some educational programs and home solar power installation, for example. These are revised every year, so be sure to read the IRS’s information about available tax credits carefully.

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Taxable Income

Taxable income refers to your total before tax — or gross — income with every allowable deduction, exemption and adjustment subtracted. Taxable income is the final step in determining how much you owe in taxes.

Basis

If you have stocks, you’ll need to know its basis. Any asset’s basis is the value original paid for it. If you’ve sold stocks this year, you’ll need to know what you paid originally, in order to calculate the gain or loss upon sale. You’ll then use those gains or losses to calculate your tax.

Capital Gains

Capital gains refer to any profit you made from selling a capital asset. Real estate, stocks and bonds are all examples of capital gains. You’ll have to pay capital gains tax on the profit from sale. If you sold at a loss, the loss can generally be deducted.

Doing your taxes yourself may seem like a daunting task, but understanding the language is half the battle. Now you’re ready to get a head start on tax season!

Reference

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Anum Yoon

Writer & Journalist

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Last Updated on June 26, 2020

25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

“How to save money fast?” This is the question asked by all of us not in the top 1% of rich people.

If you are looking for ways to drastically reduce your expenses immediately, first look at what you need to spend money on every week. And I mean really need.

You don’t really need to order in food. You don’t really need to buy expensive perfume.

Building from that, you can work out how your regular expenses can be reduced.

As for irregular expenses, they can also be deceptively costly in the long run. Once-off buys can also be tackled with some prudent planning and a little extra research.

And remember: a budgeted lifestyle does not mean a bad or boring one!

But first, understand what budget you can cut down on daily:

  • Regular expenses for the average adult (can be trimmed but not eliminated):
    • food
    • rent/mortgage
    • cell phone
    • insurance
    • socializing/entertainment
    • transportation
    • hygiene products
    • household bills
  • Irregular expenses for the average adult (can be eliminated or cut down a lot):
    • travel
    • clothing
    • medication (*depends)
    • grooming (hair, nails etc.)
    • gifts

Now, let’s dive right into the 25 ways to save money fast:

Save Money on Food

1. Bring a stock of food to the office/work

Instead of popping out for an overpriced salad and a smoothie, leave a set of basic utensils at the office as well as a stock of non-perishable goods such as tinned fruit, tuna, rice crackers and so on (try to avoid the junk food and this can turn into a pretty great diet!).

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Stocking up means you won’t forget or say “I didn’t have the time” when you rushed out to work in the morning.

2. Buy the store-brand version

Many basic foods, such as bread and milk, will taste exactly the same as their branded alternatives. Go for stuff with minimal additives and preservatives. Meat in a tube is probably insanely unhealthy!

3. Eat cheaper cuts of meat

Learn how to tenderize and flavour cheaper meat and fish, and save on the (typically) most expensive item on your grocery bill.

4. Have group dinners

If 10 friends put $5 each in the kitty, it’s pretty easy to make a giant lasagne and get refreshments, as well as hang out with your favourite people.

Save Money in Transport

5. Get a bicycle

Save on gas money and bus/metro fares with this underrated mode of transport.

6. Use public transport and/or don’t get taxis

Some places can only be reached by car. But as a good practise, check your public transport website and see if any routes pass nearby where you need to get to. Walk as much as you can.

7. Find the cheapest gas

Regularly check out where the cheapest gas can be bought.

Save Money in General Shopping

8. Shop online

Not only will you save on the gas or transport fares from going to the shopping mall but you will also find better deals

9. Sell your old stuff

Get your unwanted belongings up on eBay ASAP and earn a few dollars.

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Here’re more ideas for you: 25 Things to Sell to Make a Lot of Money

10. Bulk buying stores

For regular non-perishable/slow perishable purchases such as toilet paper, cat food, pasta, washing powder and so on, do an epic stocking-up trip to a co-op or equivalent (my mum used to go to a place that restaurants buy from).

Be wary of supermarket “deals”, as some have been found to be fraudulent after working out a simple calculation.

11. Become a flea market/car boot sale/street market guru

You can find original gifts and develop good negotiation skills at these places.

12. Generic brand medication

More often than not, the generic version of paracetamol and other basics work the same as the branded version.

13. Choose deodorant, not perfume

It blows my mind when someone drops $70 on a bottle of spray. Stick with a nice deodorant, and not only will you smell just fine but you’ll be sweat-free as well!

Cut Down on Household Expenses

14. Printing

Ink is one of the most expensive substances in the office and coloured ink is doubly so. B

e more efficient and choose black and white, and if your printer doesn’t have a print-both-sides options, just print odd pages first, re-insert the paper and print even pages.

Expand the margins of what you are printing as often as you can to save on paper.

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15. Minimize SMS and phone calls

A combination of a free chat service such as WhatsApp and a free call service such as Skype can reduce your bill to nothing (so long as you have a decent Wifi connection).

16. Shop around for insurance

Most people don’t spend enough time searching for the best insurance deal.

Keep a watchful eye out for deals and new competitors in the market.

17. Try re-negotiating your rent/mortgage

If you have built up a good credit history or a good rapport with your landlord, then chances are a frank chat about needing to tighten your spending could result in lowering your payments. You’ve nothing to lose from trying.

18. Don’t get a TV

Invest in a computer/laptop and an internet-only package. You can watch more (and often better) entertainment on the web, and skip the advertisements as well.

19. Pool your internet bill with a neighbour

My apartment building is basically a big old house split into three apartments. There are five of us in total. We pool the internet bill, making it crazy cheap.

Save Money in Socializing, Entertainment And Travel

20. Have house parties

Instead of paying for overpriced drinks, set up a series of in-house get-togethers with your friends. Everyone takes a turn, so it’s not always your house that needs cleaning.

For sound insulation, hang heavy drapes on the walls and windows. For music, invest in a good second-hand set of speakers which you can connect to your computer. Let Spotify or Grooveshark playlists do the rest.

21. Open festivals, meetups and events

It never fails to surprise me how much underground stuff goes on around me for free or for very cheap. Find out who runs the blogs and websites that list all the less well-known cultural activities.

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22. Volunteer

If you can’t pay for a ticket, volunteer and get to be there anyway.

23. Housesit

There are multiple housesitting websites offering you the possibility to avoid paying hotels and skip the discomfort of crummy hostels.

Save Money on Hygiene and Beauty

24. DIY beauty

French manicures, pedicures, waxing, eyebrows… pretty much all of these can be achieved at home (and done well) with some practise. There are plenty excellent blogs and YouTube tutorials to help.

25. Fewer haircuts/volunteer at a trainee hairdresser

If you can’t bear the risk of a trainee touching your locks, learn more ways to manipulate your hair as it grows and get haircuts sparingly. Women’s haircuts are outrageously priced in many cities.

Bonus: Effective Money-Saving Tips for Everything

Here’s a summary of what you can generally do to save more money:

  • Share/pool resources. Organize a neighbourhood sharing scheme, common resources for your apartment block or with your friends. Not everybody needs an individual lawnmower.
  • Buy energy-saving everything. The easiest way to lower your bills – replace those lightbulbs!
  • Buy in bulk. Be sensible about it (i.e. make sure you have space!), and drastically reduce weekly expenditure.
  • DIY. Skill up using YouTube tutorials on plumbing and many other essential services so you never have to pay for simple problems again.
  • Research a lot before making a decision. Most money-wasting is the result of poor preparation and planning. Don’t shirk this part just because you don’t like it!
  • Use your network. Your network is full of resources that can ease the pain of budgeting. Ask for help.
  • Stop and think. Do I really need it?

Unfortunately, there are some things that require plain ol’ giving up for the time being. This can include high-cost sports such as skiing, the latest versions of some technologies, the finest brands of food/drinks, premier seats at the opera and most other indulgences.

What is important to remember during lean times is that when you look back on your life, it will be the experiences that stand out, not the extra comforts.

Living on a budget can teach you a lot about how much you can really get out of your paycheck. We only live one life, so make the most of every penny you earn!

More Tips for Personal Finance Management

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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