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The Quick and Easy Method to Determine If A Charity Is Worth Donating To

The Quick and Easy Method to Determine If A Charity Is Worth Donating To

We live in an age where things go viral on an almost daily basis. Gone are the days when ideas and videos needed time and a lot of effort to become widespread. In 2014, you can post a video of your cat wearing a birthday hat before work and come home to 2 million page views if you strike the right cord with your feline-friendly compatriots. This is great news for charities. Whereas in the past not-for-profits needed to spend a lot of money and resources getting the attention of would-be donators, now all they need is a good idea and an internet connection.

Case in point, the recent viral sensation that was and is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In a few short weeks the ALS Association saw a flood of ice water turn into a flood of donations raising over $100 million compared to $2.8 million in 2013 according to Time. But with the potential for any new cause to pop up on your newsfeed on any given day, how do you sort the legitimately good causes from the organizations that might not use your money as effectively? Use this guide to find out.

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Measuring the Need

An important question to ask is if the cause at hand is a major problem that needs to be addressed. A charity that knits coats for homeless dogs may not be as pressing to give to as one that aims to fund biomedical research on a debilitating disease.

Finding Their Form 990

It turns out, every US-based charity is responsible for filling and making publically available what is called an IRS Form 990. Yes that’s right, it is the taxman to the rescue. All you need to do to find the Form 990 for most charitable organizations is to type the name of the charity and “Form 990” into your favourite search engine. If you run into any problems finding the one you are looking for you can also sign up for a free registration at a website called GuideStar where you can find financial info for most major charities.

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Income v. Expenses

Once you have the 990, all you have to do is know what to look for. Thankfully, most of the useful information is summarized in a few lines on Page 1 of the document. Line 12 denotes the organizations total revenue for the previous year and Lines 13 through 19 explain how they spent that money.

Administration Fees

Every organization will have some administrative costs associated with its operation, but are those fees in proportion to the good they are doing.  Line 16b of Form 990 tells you how much the charity spent last year on fundraising fees, which is a good indication of efficiency when compared to overall revenues.

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What Do They Spend on Grants?

Specifically Line 13 is the dollar amount given out by the charity in grants and other similar funds. This is the money that goes to do the good work the charity is known for. The higher the number on Line 13 compared to the number on Line 12, the more of your money goes towards working on the cause you were interested in when you donated.

How Much Do Their Executives Make?

Another handy feature of Form 990 is that Page 8 outlines the salaries of the organizations highest paid employees. This allows you to quickly and easily see how much of the fundraising money from the organization goes into the pockets of the people doing the fundraising.

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What Do They Spend on Marketing and Other Contract Work?

The bottom of Page 8 also gives the dollar amounts spent on private contractors for things like marketing and media productions. Take a look and ask yourself if the numbers are acceptable to you in terms of what the charity is spending money on.

Really that is all there is to it. If the charity you are interested in is not based in the US things can be a little trickier, but not much. A quick search using the charity’s name and “financial information” will generally give you what you need. For example, the detailed income and expenses for the Canadian David Suzuki Foundation can be found online here. If you’re interested in seeing what a real Form 990 looks like, this link will take you to the form for the ALS Association. And there you have it. You will be well prepared to do your research on the next viral cause that captures the global imagination. Happy giving!

Featured photo credit: Howard Lake via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 2, 2019

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

Do you know what mental health experts point to as the biggest cause of stress in the United States today? If you said “money,” then ding, ding, we have a winner!

Three out of four adults today report feeling stressed out about money at least part of the time. People are either worried about not having enough money or whether they’re putting the money they do have to use in the best possible way.

Your money is either in charge of you or you’re in charge of it, there’s no middle ground. Using some type of personal finance software can help alleviate some of that money stress and better allow you to manage your money effectively. Without it, you may just be setting yourself up for constant financial worry. Life is already tough enough and there’s no need to make it more difficult by simply hoping your money issues will all work out in your favor. Hint: they won’t.

This guide will help you to understand how personal finance software can better assist with both accomplishing long term financial goals and managing day-to-day aspects of life.

Whether it’s tracking the savings plan for your child’s college fund or making sure you won’t be in the red with the month’s grocery budget, personal finance software keeps all this information in one convenient place.

What Exactly is Personal Finance Software?

Think of it like the dashboard in your car. You have a speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, an odometer to tell you how far you’ve traveled, and then other gauges to tell you things like how much gas is in the tank and your engine temperature. Personal finance software is essentially the same thing for your money.

When you install this software on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, it helps to track your money — how much is going in, how much is going out, and its growth. Most personal finance software programs will display your budget, spending, investments, bills, savings accounts, and even retirement plans, levels of debt, and credit score.

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How It Leads to Financial Improvement

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but people who regularly monitor their finances end up wealthier than those who don’t. When you were a kid, keeping track of all of your money in a porcelain piggy bank was pretty easy. As we get older, though, our money becomes spread out across things like car payments, mortgages, retirement funds, taxes, and other investments and debts. All of these things make keeping track of our money a lot more complicated.

Some types of personal finance software can help make things a little less complicated, setting you up to meet financial goals and taking away some of the stress associated with money.

Even if you already have a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) some type of personal finance software can be of great benefit. Whereas CFPs focus on the big picture of your money, they don’t handle the day-to-day aspects that determine your overall financial health.

It’s also not nearly as complicated as you might think and can take out a lot of the tedium that comes with doing everything on an Excel spreadsheet or with a pad and pencil.

Types of Personal Finance Software

When it comes to personal finance software, it generally fits into two categories: tax preparation and money management.

Tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block’s software can help with everything from filing income taxes to IRS rules and regulations and even estate plans. Plus, there’s the benefit of filing online and getting your refund check a lot faster than if you were to mail off your forms after waiting in line at the post office.

For the purpose of this article, however, will be focusing more on the personal finance software that aids with money management.

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Money management personal finance software will help you to see the health of your cash flow, pay down debt, forecast for expenses and savings, track investments, pay bills, and do a host of other things that 30 years ago would have practically required a team of accountants.

When to Use Personal Finance Software

So far we’ve gone over what exactly personal finance software is and how it can be a benefit to your money. The next logical step in this whole equation is determining when it should be used and how is the best way to go about getting started using it.

Below are four of the most common and practical ways to use personal finance software. If all or any of these apply to you and your money, then downloading some type of personal finance software is going to be a smart move.

1. You Have Multiple Accounts

There’s a good chance that when it comes to your money, it’s in more than one place. Sure, you probably have a checking account, but you may also have a savings account, money market account, and retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401k.

If you’re like the average American, you probably have two to three credit cards as well. Fifty percent of Americans also don’t have loyalty to just one bank and spread their money across multiple banks.

Rather than spending hours typing in every detail of every account you have into a spreadsheet, many programs allow you to easily import your account information. This will help to eliminate any mistakes and give you a bird’s eye view of everything at once.

2. You Want to Automate Some or All of Your Payments

Please don’t say that you’re still writing out paper checks and dropping each bill in the mailbox. While it’s noble that you’re doing your part to keep postal workers employed, we’re 18 years into the 21st century and you can literally pay every bill online now.

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There’s no need to log into every account you have and type in your routing number either.

With personal finance software you can schedule automatic payments and transfers between all of your imported accounts. Automatic transfers will help to make sure you have the necessary funds in the right account to ensure all bills are paid on the appropriate date. Late fees are annoying and do nothing but cost you money. It’s time that you said goodbye to them once and for all.

3. You Need to Streamline Your Budget

Perhaps the best feature of personal finance software is that it allows you track everything going in and out of your virtual wallet.

Nearly every brand of personal finance software out there has easy-to-read graphs and charts that allow you track every cent you spend or earn, should you choose. You might be pretty amazed when you see just how much you spent on eating out last month or if you splurged a little more than you should have on Christmas gifts last year.

Every successful business on the planet has a budget and using personal finance software can help you trim the fat on your spending in ways that affect your everyday life.

4. You Have Specific Goals to Meet

Maybe it’s paying off debt or saving for up something like a European vacation. Whatever your financial goal is, whether it’s long-term or short-term, personal finance software programs are one of the savviest ways to go about reaching those goals.

You can do everything from set spending alerts to notify you when you’re over budget to automating what percentage of your paycheck goes to things like retirement investments. The personal finance software that you choose should show you exactly how close you are to hitting those goals at any given time.

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How to Get Started

From AceMoney to Mint and Quicken, there ’s no shortage of personal finance software apps out there. Many of these programs are free to download and will allow you to pay bills, invest, monitor your net worth and credit profile, and even get a loan with the swipe of a finger.

Other programs may only offer you limited services and will require a one-time fee or subscription to unlock all that they offer. These fees can often vary from as little as two dollars to 50 bucks a month.

It’s best to start off with the free version and then gauge whether you’re able to accomplish everything you’d like or if it’s worth exploring one of the paid options. Often times the subscription programs come with assistance from financial planning and investment experts — so that can be a real benefit.

When deciding which personal finance software program to use, it’s also important to look at how many accounts you wish to monitor. Certain programs limit the number of accounts you can add. Be sure that if you have checking, credit card, and investment accounts to monitor, that you choose a service that can monitor them all.

Finally, when looking around for the right personal finance software that meets your needs, make sure that you’re comfortable with the program’s interface. It shouldn’t be expected that you recognize every single feature instantly, but if the features don’t seem readable and manageable to you, then you’re not as likely to use it and get the full benefits.

Final Thoughts

Personal finance software can go a long way in helping you to take control of your money and meeting your financial goals. It’s important to note, however, that some focus more on budgeting and expense tracking while others prioritize investing portfolios and income taxes. Explore several different programs and read reviews to find the one that’s right for you.

In this day and age, managing one’s personal finances in a secure manner that allows the user to have a real-time visual representation of their money is easier than ever before. With the numerous applications that are out there — both free and subscription-based — there’s no reason that every person can’t take control of their money and ensure they’re making smart money moves.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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