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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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Published on May 7, 2019

How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

When it comes to stocks, I bet you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Everyone who’s not a financial expert has been there. I’ve been there. But, time is passing and you need to be crystal clear with how you’re investing for your retirement.

Otherwise, it’s back to work until you can afford not to. So, how can you invest for retirement when you’re not a financial expert?

You take the time to learn the fundamentals well. If you do, you can grow your wealth and retire happy. The best part is that you don’t need to be a financial expert to make smart investment decisions.

Here’s how to invest for retirement the smart and stress-free way:

1. Know Clearly Why You Invest

Odds are you already know why should invest for retirement.

But, maybe you know the wrong reasons. It’s time you get clear on why you’d like to retire. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • Will you spend more time with your family?
  • What does retirement mean to you?
  • Are you looking to launch that business you’ve been holding off for years?

Everyone wants to retire but not for the same reasons. Once you’re clear for why retirement is important for you, you’ll focus on making it happen.

Investing in the stock market allows you to take advantage of compound interest.[1] All this means is that your money earns money on top of its interest. A reason why investment in the stock market is one of the best ways to plan for retirement.

2. Figure out When to Invest

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”– Chinese Proverb

It’s true if you’d had started investing when you were 10 years old, you’d have a lot more money than you do today.

The reality is that most people don’t start investing until it’s too late. So, if you’re currently waiting for the perfect time to start an investment, it would be today. Open your calendar and block out 2 to 3 hours to choose how you’ll invest for retirement.

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A quick way to get a snapshot of where you stand is to use Personal Capital. Input all your personal information and spend some time setting your retirement goals. Once completed, you’ll know where you stand with your retirement.

Having a savings account for retirement isn’t planning for retirement. Why? Your money loses value when you factor in US inflation.[2]

3. Evaluate Your Risk Tolerance to Create the Perfect Portfolio

Investing your money well depends on your emotions.

Why?

Because when the market drops most people panic and withdraw their money. On average, the US stock market yields an annual 6% to 7% ROI (return on your investment.) But, this won’t happen if you’re worried about short-term loses.

Before you invest your next dollar, know your risk tolerance.[3] Your risk tolerance determines the number of risky and safe investments you’d have.

Regardless of your investing style, you need to view investing for retirement as a long term game. Know that some years you’ll lose money but recoup this in the long-term.

Avoid watching market-related new. Also, create a double authentication to log in your investment account. This way you’re less likely to withdraw your money.

4. Open a Reliable Retirement Account

Depending on your circumstance, you may need to open a new brokerage account. This is the account is where you’ll invest your money.

If you’re currently working for a company, odds are that they offer a 410K investing account. If so, here’s where you’ll invest most of your money. The only problem with this is that you’re limited to the stock options that are available.

You do have the option to open a separate IRA (individual retirement account.) Here are some of the best brokers:

  1. Vanguard
  2. TD Ameritrade
  3. Charles Schwab

5. Challenge Yourself to Invest Consistently

Committing to invest for retirement is hard, but continuing to do so is harder.

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Once you’ve started investment for your retirement, you run at risk from stopping. Often you’ll want to contribute less, so you’d have more money in your pocket.

That’s why it’s important that you create a budget that allows you to invest each month. If you’re working for a company, you can set a percentage for the amount you’d like to contribute each month. Most people by default contribute 1% but aim to contribute 10% to 15%.

Be the judge for how much you can afford to contribute after covering important expenses. To stay motivated, use Personal Capital to view your net worth.

A benefit to contributing money to your retirement account is not taxed. For example, if you earn $100 and invest 10%, you’d contribute $10, then get taxed on the remaining $90. As of 2019, the most you’re able to contribute towards your 401K is 19K but this can change.

6. Consider Where to Invest Your Money

The most common way to invest your money is in stocks, but it’s not the only way. Here are other ways to invest:

Robo Advisors

Robo-advisors[4] are fancy algorithms that’ll choose the best investments for you. Sites like Wealthfront make it easy for first-time investors to invest their money. You’d input information about yourself and set your risk tolerance.

Then, set your monthly contribution amount and your robo-advisor would do the rest. Robo-advisors charge a fee to manage your money, but less than regular advisors.

Bonds

Think of bonds as “IOUs” to whomever you buy them from.

Essentially, you’re lending money and charging interest. Like stocks, not all bonds are equal. Some will be riskier than others depending on their rating.

Here are the different types of bond categories:[5]

  1. Treasury bonds
  2. Government bonds
  3. Corporate bonds
  4. Foreign bonds
  5. Mortgage-backed bonds
  6. Municipal bonds

Mutual Funds

Picture a group of people dumping all their money in a jar that’s managed by a professional. This is how mutual funds work. The fund manager manages the money looking to earn capital gains (interest.)

One of the best types of mutual funds is index funds. Since these funds don’t try to beat the market and instead follow it, they need less research. Because of this they often charge the lowest fees and yield the best long-term results.

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Real Estate

Yes, buying a home is an investment when done correctly.

Imagine buying a home and using it as a rental property. After repairing it, you receive a monthly surplus check of $100 to $200.

This may not sound like a lot, but repeat this process enough times and you’d earn a large amount of passive income. That’s why real estate is one of the best investments to not only retire but become wealthy.

But, it requires a lot of money to start and you should expect losing money along the way as you learn the process.

Savings Accounts

Your money can still grow in a savings account. Nowadays most online banks offer a 2% annual return. Although the average inflation is higher your money will be available when you need it.

7. Master Disincline to Dodge Short Success

Investing for retirement is a long-term strategy. That’s why you need to master delayed gratification. All this means is delaying short-term pleasure for something bigger in the future. Research shows that those who have delayed gratification are more successful.[6]

So how can you master delayed gratification?

By building your discipline.

Think back to what retirement means to you. A clear purpose will help you avoid withdrawing your money during a market downturn. It’ll help you contribute more towards retirement when you’d want to waste it instead.

Your journey towards retirement will be long, so reward yourself along the way. Choose a reward that’s relevant and meaningful, so that you reinforce positive behavior. For example, after contributing more towards retirement, treat yourself to dinner.

8. Aggressively Invest on This One Investment

I’ve mentioned several types of investments but haven’t covered the most important one.

It sounds cliche but here’s why you’re your best investment towards retirement. The more you know, the more money you’ll be able to make. The more good habits you adopt, the more secure your retirement will be.

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More importantly, investing in yourself is an investment that no one can take away. There’s no market downturn nor tragic circumstance that’ll wipe your knowledge and experience.

But, how can you invest yourself?

Reading books, blogs, and anything that’ll help you learn new topics daily. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your commute to/from work.

Save money to buy courses and hire coaches. I used to believe hiring coaches was a waste of money when I could learn the subject alone.

But, coaches see your blind spots and hold you accountable. Hiring the right coach will help you achieve your goals faster than you would’ve alone.

Retire Happy with Excess Money

The key to a secure financial future doesn’t only belong to financial experts.

It’s possible for you and I. What if you were able to retire earlier than most people and weren’t a financial planner? What if you were able to focus on what you enjoy doing the most while your money was working hard for you?

I know this sounds impossible now, but the truth is you’re capable of taking charge of your retirement. I’m not a financial expert but I’ve learned how to invest my money by reading books and learning from others.

Investing your money is scary. So start small and invest a small amount of your money with a robo-advisor. Feel your money drop and rise for a month or two. Then, invest more and keep this up until you’re aggressively saving for retirement.

One day, you’ll wake up with a net worth you’re proud of – confident about your retirement. You now know a few strategies you can use to invest in your retirement. Will you take action to retire happy?

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Featured photo credit: Matthew Bennett via unsplash.com

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