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

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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!

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Reference

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Anum Yoon

Writer & Journalist

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

Financial Freedom is Not a Fantasy: 9 Secrets to Get You There

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Financial Freedom is Not a Fantasy: 9 Secrets to Get You There

Have you ever considered your life now, and how it would be if you had more time to spend with your family and less worries about money?

Nowadays, financial stress is one of the most troublesome weights in life. If you’ve ever encountered financial stress, you know the difficulty of not having enough income to pay your obligations or bills.

Many people say that money is not the ultimate goal of life. While that’s true, money certainly plays a very significant role. The meaning of financial freedom changes with the different phases of our life, but ultimately, it is something that many people strive for.

In this article, we’ll explain how to capture that financial freedom you’ve been looking for. Read on to learn the secrets to financial freedom.

Break Free of Your Finances

Financial freedom is about having a constant flow of cash from your assets to cover all your regular needs.

When you are not worried about your income, or living paycheck to paycheck, you gain a great sense of freedom. It’s the freedom to be obtain and do what you truly need to make your way through everyday life.

Gaining financial freedom, though, is a process of growth, making small improvements and gaining emotional strength.

Though it seems hard to believe, it is really very simple to get financial freedom.

To do so, you simply need to make sure that your assets exceed your liabilities. In other words, you’ll need to find the sweet-spot where your residuals meet or surpass your expenses. This is something that you can achieve with the proper plan.

While not every person will accomplish financial freedom, the potential for anyone to do so is certainly there. Anyone can achieve this success, regardless of their income level.

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Outlined below are 9 secrets that will help you in your goals of achieving financial freedom.

1. Stop Unnecessary Spending

We often spend money inwardly, instead of objectively.

For example, you may spend when you’re anxious, depressed, restless, exhausted, from fear of missing out, or to please others. This is a very unhealthy way to handle your finances.

To stop this habitual spending, log down all your spending over the course of a month.

Just as some people keep a food diary, keep an expense diary. Remember not to just write down how much and what you spent the money on, also include the circumstances of why you spent the money. Was it an impulse buy at the checkout line or was it something you planned to purchase?

This increased self-awareness could enable you to avoid triggering situations in the future when you are considering an impulse buy.

2. Plan a Monthly Budget

This is a great opportunity to get serious.

Take a seat with your spouse or partner and make a monthly budget based on your income, not your expenses. You are never again going to spend more cash then you have on hand.

Overspending is the thing that led you to more financial obligations. Make sure you decide every month what is coming in and what will be going out and stick to that budget… no matter what.

3. Cut-up Credit Cards

Perhaps you are the type of person who always pays your credit card balance in full before the end of your billing cycle, and enjoys the reward points you gain. If this is the case, then you’re already way ahead of the game.

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If not, you may want to consider ridding your life of the burden that credit cards bring.

Many cards have strategies set up so that if you make a certain number of late payments, they will raise your interest rate much higher. This can really add up in the long run and you won’t be doing your financial situation any favors. If you’re prone to late payments or have a large balance due on your cards, cut them up!

Without proper self control on credit card spending and payments, you are basically throwing your money away. To ensure that you have better control over your spending, use only cash or debit for all future purchases (and don’t forget to pay at least your minimum payment on your cut-up cards each month!).

4. Increase Savings

There is no doubt that for a comfortable retirement you must accumulate satisfactory savings throughout your working life.

It’s good practice to save up to 15% of your income.

Start with your workplace 401(k), if you have one. If not, a Roth IRA (if you are eligible) or a traditional IRA (if you are not eligible for the Roth) are the next logical steps.

Increase in longevity means you might be able to look forward to 25 to 30 years in retirement, or possibly even significantly more. Investing now in good retirement plans will ensure that you have a guaranteed a stable monthly income when the time comes to stop working. [1]

5. Invest Wisely

Consider investing in funds.

Specifically, you will gain higher returns if you invest in different types of mutual funds such as Debt funds, Equity funds and Hybrid funds with a proper balance, although it absolutely relies on your personal preferences and sense of risk taking.

To get the most of these benefits, make sure you are investing in a variety of assets. Another resource of investing in mutual funds is SIP (Systematic Investment Plan) where you invest some money every month in funds. SIP works by averaging the per unit price of the stock.

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Mutual fund investors are aware of the benefits of an SIP (Systematic Investment Plan). For one, it is the most secure way to invest in equity mutual plans so that wealth is created over a long period of time. This plan also helps you to gain a better sense of financial discipline, which will come in handy in all your financial endeavors.

6. Invest in Gold

There isn’t really a better way to invest in gold than to have the physical gold itself in your possession.

You can purchase gold coins and bars from mints as well as from coin dealers and other private sellers.

Another way to invest in gold is through ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds).

These are is similar to mutual funds but they are exclusively investments of gold. ETFs are great because they offer more liquidity; the ETF owns the actual physical gold, stores it, and retains the value of the shares. These shares can then be bought and sold in the stock market, and one big benefit is that the transaction costs of gold ETFs are much lower than the that of physical gold.

With its consistently-increasing demand, investment in gold can be very wise long-term investment to make.

7. Stash Emergency Funds

Whether it’s a cash gift or a work bonus, always try to save any extra money that comes your way rather than making unneeded purchases.

If you get paid every other week, you’ll get an “extra” paycheck (three rather than the usual two) twice a year. Either save those paychecks towards your emergency funds or utilize the money to pay down other obligations, such as loans, credit cards or other debts.

Make it hard to get your cash.

Put your savings in an alternate bank, maybe an online bank that forces you to delay for several business days before transferred money hits your regular bank account.

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8. Find Fabulous Mentors

Find a mentor, such as a friend or family member, who has exceptional control over their finances and pay attention to everything they do.

If you do not have any friends or family that are enjoying financial freedom, then find a mentor online! There are numerous blogs and guru websites featuring the advice of many people who have reached financial freedom, and they exist primarily to let you in on how to achieve it for yourself.

There are also plentiful forums available that share tips and tricks on how to best achieve financial freedom. Read as much as you can and start changing your habits for the better.

9. Be Extra Patient

Patience is the key of financial success.

Being patient can be quite tough, especially when you’re struggling with your finances, but having faith is worth it. You’ll continuously be on the right track if you are taking the proper steps above.

So don’t be discouraged, even if you are only saving a few dollars a month; it all adds up. Within just a few years you’ll look back proudly at your accomplishments and be glad that you had the patience to get there.

Financial Freedom for All

Anyone can achieve financial freedom, regardless of their financial circumstance.

Use the tips provided above to get yourself on the track to financial freedom and toss your monetary concerns out the window. If you wish to achieve a life with financial freedom for yourself and your family then you must adopt a disciplined approach towards your finances.

Following the simple secrets above is a great start to making your money work for you, so you can work less and live more!

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Hartford Gold Group: IRA Retirement Accounts

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