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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)

    More by this author

    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 September 2, 2020

    How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

    How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

    Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

    In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

    4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

    Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

    1. Be Clear About the Objectives

    Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

    It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

    Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

    2. Keep Goals Realistic

    It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

    It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

    3. Account for Inflation

    Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

    Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

    For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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    4. Short Term Vs Long Term

    Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

    As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

    By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

    How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

    Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

    • Ensuring healthy savings
    • Making smart investments

    You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

    Ensuring Healthy Savings

    Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

    This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

    1. Track Expenses

    The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

    Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

    If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

    2. Pay Yourself First

    Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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    Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

    The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

    Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

    3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

    Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

    Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

    At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

    Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

    You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

    4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

    In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

    Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

    • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
    • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
    • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

    The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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    5. Talk About It

    Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

    Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

    6. Maintain a Journal

    For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

    If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

    When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

    Making Smart Investments

    Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

    1. Consult a Financial Advisor

    Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

    Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

    2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

    Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

    Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

    As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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    3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

    Einstein once remarked about compounding:

    “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

    Use compound interest when setting financial goals

      Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

      Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

      4. Measure, Measure, Measure

      All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

      If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

      Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

      The Bottom Line

      Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

      and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

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      Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

      Reference

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