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It’s Never Too Late or Too Early to Start Your Taxes

It’s Never Too Late or Too Early to Start Your Taxes

    We are now 15 days into what we all know here in the US as “Tax Season”. And no matter how well prepared you are or think you are for this time of year, fear and overwhelm can definitely set in.

    If you are sitting back thinking to yourself, “I have until April 17th. That’s like, what? Two months, right?” you are the prime case of someone that should start your taxes today. Here is a simple run down to help you get your taxes done before the tax man comes and beats down your door.

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    Preparation

    Mind you, I am no “tax guru”. Ask my wife. I also don’t have very complicated taxes to prepare, although that has changed a bit since I have taken on some consulting and writing work in the last year. That being said, here are some simple preparations to do your taxes yourself:

    1. Collect – Yep, sort of like GTD. Make sure that you have all of your W2 forms as well as any type of forms sent to you from school, or supplemental income forms (invoices, receipts, etc.). Just gather everything up in a folder and make sure you have it all in once place. You could even scan it in and keep it digitally. If you have any information from your spouse that is needed, grab that too.
    2. Double check – Sit down with all of your paperwork and make sure that it is all there. Make a note of anything missing or anything that is incorrect about the paperwork and start calling around to get your questions answered. If you have paperwork that doesn’t match up to paperwork sent from your employer, take care of it immediately.
    3. If your taxes are relatively simple (a handful of W2s and maybe some supplemental income) then block out at least 3 hours to complete them as well as 1 more hour a day or two later to review them before submitting them. It’s good to give yourself a little time after filling them out to make sure everything is correct and accurate.

    Execution

    There are some great apps nowadays that can help you take care of your taxes. The most popular being TurboTax, yet there have been new apps that have sprung-up the last few years that work just as well.

    One such piece of software was presented to me from a friend called FreeTaxUSA. It’s all done online, which can always be a little scary, but I and many others haven’t had any issue. The nice thing about FreeTaxUSA is that Federal Income Tax e-filing is free and State filing is only $9.99. FreeTaxUSA also keeps your information for the next year so you don’t have to do as much work, allows you to print out and save your filed taxes, and gives you all the information that you would need if you were audited (even audit assistance for a small fee). Not too shabby.

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    Working through FreeTaxUSA is pretty easy, especially for people that don’t have complicated taxes. However, I did have a little trouble this year taking care of my “business income” from all of my side work. I don’t think that it was the software’s fault; more of an “I’m sort of new to this and I don’t really know what I’m doing” type of problem.

    If you are struggling using the self-service tax apps, then maybe someone that you know who is knowledgeable can help you out. Or, there is always just biting the bullet and taking them to a professional.

    Re-preparation

    If you had a rough time preparing your taxes this year, start keeping track of and organizing your information today for next year’s dreaded tax season. We have talked about going paperless this year, so a good thing to do would be invest in a decent scanner and start digitizing all of your important documents. This will keep your stress level down to a minimum during tax season 2013.

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    Another good thing to do if you make some money on the side, would be to use a tool like FreshBooks to keep track of all of your invoicing. It’s a great to make the difficult act of invoicing not that difficult. It also gives you full functionality for three clients for free. FreshBooks is quite the helpful tool at tax time for anyone that has their own business or side work.

    Just remember to try and keep track of everything that will be used for next year’s taxes. Add a reminder to your weekly review to “tie up tax’s loose ends”. This will keep you sane next year.

    Conclusion

    Yes, tax season does suck. And not just because you have to give the Government all of your money, but because it can be stressful and fear-inducing, especially when you don’t know what you are doing. But remember; it’s only scary and overwhelming if you let it be. Instead, prepare for your taxes, execute, and re-prepare every year to reduce the “tax season overwhelm”.

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    (Photo credit: Dollar concept with silver dollar via Shutterstock)

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on June 6, 2019

    The Average Retirement Savings and How to Save Wisely

    The Average Retirement Savings and How to Save Wisely

    Are you on track for retirement?

    If not, don’t worry, I’m not sure either. I save each month and hope for the best.

    Fortunately, I’m at an age where most people don’t save so I’m ahead of the curve.

    But, what if you aren’t in your 20s? What if you’re near retirement and are looking to gauge where you stand?

    If so, keep reading. Here’s how to prepare for retirement and save wisely during the process.

    What Does the Average American Have Saved for Retirement?

    Saving for retirement is tricky.

    Tell someone straight out of college to save $10k a year for retirement and it’ll be next to impossible.

    Make the same request to someone decades older and they’d be more likely to be able to save this amount. But, a 20-year old college student can be “financially ahead” of someone saving more than them. Why?

    Age matters in your financial journey. The younger you are, the more time you have to save and put compound interest to work. As you get older and have more saving power, you’d have less time to put compound interest to work.

    Here are the average savings Americans hold by age bracket:

    20’s – $16,000

    During this stage, most people are paying loans and moving up the corporate ladder. Your best bet during this stage is to focus on eliminating debt and increasing your income. Don’t focus only on getting a high-paying job neither.

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    Instead, focus on learning via Podcasts, reading books, and taking specialized courses. Doing this will make you more valuable and give you more career options.

    30’s – $45,000

    At this stage, you’ve hopefully escaped your entry-level salary and work at a career you enjoy. Your earning power has increased but you now have more obligations. For example, marriage, kids, and a mortgage.

    Set a plan to pay off all your debt and focus on eliminating unnecessary expenses. Leverage financial tools like Personal Capital to ensure you’re on track for retirement.

    40’s – $63,000

    This is the stage where you’re at the prime of your career. Top financial institutions recommend you have at least 2 to 4 times your salary saved up. If you’re falling behind, start maxing out your 401K and Roth IRA accounts.

    50’s – $115,000

    During your fifties, you’re close to retirement but still, have time to save. You may be helping your kids pay college tuition and other expenses. Since you’re at the peak of your earning power, max out all your retirement accounts.

    60’s – $172,000

    By this point, you should have about eight times your salary saved up. If not, you’ll depend primarily on social security benefits averaging $1400 per month. Max out all your retirement options as much as possible before retiring.

    Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

    The sad reality is that most Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement.

    Even high-earning power isn’t enough to secure one’s financial future. You need to have the discipline to save for retirement while time is in your favor. Don’t wait for you to have a high salary to save, start with having a small budget.

    First, get a clear picture of where you stand. Write down a list of “needs” and “wants.” For example, Netflix and Amazon Prime are “wants” and a “cell-phone” is a need.

    Use tools like Personal Capital to analyze your spending patterns. Personal Capital allows you to add all your financial data in one place–making it a powerful option to gauge where you stand.

    Once you know all your expenses, organize them from highest to lowest expense. When you can’t cut more expenses, call your service providers to negotiate a lower price. If you’re not good at negotiating, use services like Trimm to lower your monthly expenses.

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    How to Save Money Each Month

    By this point, you know the average amount of money you should have saved for retirement based on your age.

    But, breaking this down into monthly goals can be challenging. Here are some rule of thumbs to follow:

    Aim to contribute 10%–15% of your salary each paycheck. Review your progress each week.

    Why so often? The reality is that life gets in our way and you will have many financial setbacks. Your goal isn’t to be perfect but to get back on track instead.

    Reviewing your finances weekly lets you know where you stand with your retirement. This doesn’t have to be a long process either. All it takes is login in Personal Capital to view your net worth and check how much you have saved for retirement.

    Turn saving into a game and aim to save more each month. It will get challenging but you’ll get creative and find more ways to save.

    Top Money Saving Challenge Tips

    To prepare for your financial future and not be another statistic you need to be different.

    How?

    By adopting new habits that’ll help you become a saving machine. Here are some ways you can save more:

    Automatically Contribute Towards Retirement

    If you’re working for a company, you can automatically contribute towards your 401k. If you’re not currently contributing more than 10%, make this your goal. Contribute 1% more today and automatically increase this amount a year from now.

    Odds are that you’re not going to be negatively affected by contributing 1% more. Many times we spend our money on things we don’t need. Contributing more towards retirement is a great way to secure your financial future.

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    Use the Right Tools to Know Where You Stand

    Once you’re contributing more towards your retirement accounts, gauge your progress. Make use of finance tracking apps to help you view the big picture of your retirement.

    When I’d first signed up for the app Personal Capital, I didn’t know I had a negative net worth. Despite saving thousands of dollars, my debt brought my net worth to the negative. Knowing this motivated me to save more and spend less.

    Now, I have a positive net worth. But, it was because I was able to view the big picture using the app. Find out what your net worth is using a finance tracking app and you may surprise yourself.

    Bring in Experts to View Your Blind Spots

    If you have too little or too much money saved, you should consider hiring financial experts.

    Why?

    You may need someone to hold you accountable to help you reach your financial goals. Or, you may need help managing your money as effective as possible.

    Regardless of the reason, getting help may help improve your financial situation.

    Before you hire an expert, find out which areas you need help the most. For example, if you’re constantly overspending, find a debt counselor. If you’re struggling with choosing the best investment options, hire a financial advisor.

    Speed up Your Retirement Contribution

    After learning how to manage your money well, the next best thing is to earn a higher income.

    You’re capped at how much you can save but not much you can earn. Even if your employer isn’t giving you a promotion, you can still take charge of your financial future. How?

    By starting a side-business.

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    This will be something you’d work on after you’ve finished your day job. Once you start earning income from your side-business, you’ll be financially better off.

    The best part is the more work you put into your side-business,[1] the more potential it has to earn more money.

    So start a side-business in an area you’re familiar with. For example, if you enjoy writing, do freelance writing for small e-commerce businesses.

    Once you’re earning a higher income, you can contribute more towards your retirement. Don’t wait for the right opportunity to secure your financial future, create one.

    Reach Financial Freedom with Confidence

    What if you were able to retire tomorrow with no problem, all because you’d have enough money saved up and little to no debt left to pay off? How would you feel?

    My guess is that you’d feel happy and relieved.

    Most Americans are falling behind their retirement goals for many reasons. They’re not prepared, they carry bad money-habits and are thinking short-term.

    For you to retire successfully, you need to work backward and adopt better habits. Contribute more towards your 401K and focus on growing your income.

    If you do, you’ll save money and pay debt faster.

    Don’t beat yourself up if you’re behind your retirement goals. Take the first step today towards a brighter financial future. Isn’t retirement worth the hard work and sacrifice to be at peace?

    Featured photo credit: Huy Phan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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