Organizing your finances can be a daunting task. And because of your fears, you’ve been avoiding the process for quite some time. But it must be done if you desire to achieve the financial freedom you’ve been dreaming of. Simplicity is the key. Here are a some big steps that’ll help you create a clear action plan:
1. Get Organized
Do you have piles and piles of old statements from service providers, creditors or financial institutions lying around? If so, grab a shredder and purge. Doing so should take away some of the anxiety that accompanies getting your financial life in order. And for those items you need to keep, consider purchasing a small filing cabinet and organizing the documents by type. To determine what to keep, for how long, and what you can toss, check out this chart on USA.gov.
Also, opt-in for electronic statements; they’re usually available and eliminate the frustration that arises when you need to access an important document at the drop of a dime.
2. Conduct an Audit of Your Financial State
Next, you’ll need to assess where you stand financially in order to come up with a feasible plan to take your finances to the next level. To do so, create a comprehensive list of your assets and liabilities. This should include any retirement accounts, securities, income and outstanding debt balances you have on hand, just to name a few.
Once you’ve done so, list any sources of income you receive each month and the estimated expenditures. (For the latter, track account activity for at least one month to get an accurate figure).
3. Implement a Spending Plan
There are tons of software programs to choose from, or you can do things the old-fashioned way. Regardless of which method you use, here are a few key points to keep in mind:
• Every dollar should have a name on it before the month starts. The more stringent the plan is, the higher the chances of compliance.
• If your outputs exceed your inputs, you are left with no choice but to make cuts. Many ignore this pertinent tidbit of advice because they figure as long as the bills are paid, nothing else matters. That’s until a financial emergency arises.
• The plan should be helping you build a cushion, pay down debt and accomplish any goals you have in mind, simultaneously. If not, you won’t be motivated to stay on track.
4. Fund Your Safety Net
Life happens, and you may need a financial infusion to get out of the hole. And there’s no easier way to send your finances haywire than robbing Peter to pay Paul. That’s why the first order of business on your spending plan should be paying yourself to ensure your emergency fund is receiving the boost it needs each month.
5. Create a Debt-Management Plan
Before you decide to aggressively attack the outstanding debt balances, bring any delinquent accounts current. This is important to minimize the damage done to your FICO score for recurring delinquencies, not to mention the excessive late payment fees, interest and penalties. If you’re having a tough time formulating a plan due to limited income, consider making cuts to the variable expenses in your spending plan.
6. Capitalize on Existing Resources
Be proactive and take advantage of all the free tools at your disposal. A host of financial institutions offer online bill-pay as an added perk of being a member or for a small fee. In additional, there are spending tracking features to help you identify problematic areas and make adjustments moving forward. If you’re an AOL user, you’re granted complimentary access to Lifelock’s identity theft protection services, which can protect your personal information from fraud and preserve the financial freedom you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Most importantly, remain vigilant of your account activity at all times to confirm the activity is accurate.
Whether you’re to looking to increase the value of your home for resale or switch things up to give it a fresh new look, your tax refund check provides the opportunity to do so. And no, an extreme overhaul, like the ones you see on HGTV, isn’t required.
Here are some cost-efficient ideas:
Tired of saturating your vehicle in dirt each time you leave or return to your home? How about the rocky ride along the way? A paved driveway, comprised of asphalt or concrete, is the perfect solution. You’ll no longer have to step into grass or dirt each time you open the car door, which is especially important if you’re constantly having to tidy up the floors because of dirt being tracked into your home.
Are you constantly forking over cash to contractors to fix that leaky roof? If so, it’s time that you give your home the new roof it deserves. Champion Home Exteriors, which offers expert installation and Advanced Protection® Technology Advanced Protection® on Lifetime single choices, has an array of affordable options to choose from.
A finished basement makes an excellent addition to any home that could use some extra square footage. It’s ideal for a game room, play area, movie theater, home office or an oversized bedroom, just to name a few. If you’re going to be housing a relative in the near future, a finished basement is also the perfect place to create a mini-apartment for their added privacy.
New Air Conditioning Unit
Is your air conditioning unit on its last leg? Since you have some extra cash on hand, now’s the time to start searching for a replacement. Just be sure to consider additional factors, such as the Seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) and quality of the unit’s components. While it’s tempting to go with the cheapest unit, you could spend much more than you initially anticipated over time, in the form of energy costs and repairs. Energy efficient units may qualify you for Residential Energy Credits. See IRS Form 5695 to learn more.
It’s not necessary to invest thousands of dollars to completely overhaul the kitchen. A better option is to freshen up the paint, refinish or replace or the flooring, and swap outdated appliances for energy-efficient models.
Upgrade Outdoor Living Space
Adding a screened patio or fence can work wonders for your backyard. And with the right decor, it can quickly be converted from a standard space for the children to play to a stunning space for entertaining guests.
New Garage Door
By installing a new garage door, you will alleviate yourself of manually lifting the door (on outdated models) while adding a new look to the exterior of your home. And you’ll no longer have to get soaked on those rainy days.
Not only will these home improvements will give your home a new look and feel, but you may be able to derive tax benefits on select upgrades. See IRS Publication 530 for additional guidance.
You may be young, but it’s never too early to prepare for retirement. According to a study via the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) and the Retirement readiness Rating, 43% to 52% of Americans are not going to live their retirement years in the standard they’d hoped, according to their current living standards?
So what’s the best way to be prepared for the life you want to lead when you retire? Start planning now. Check out the following five tips to do so.
1. Contribute to an IRA or Your Employers 401(k)
So you’ve started working for an employer who has a 401(k). You may feel you don’t have the money to spare to contribute, but you’re losing out on more by not contributing. For one, it’s an excellent tax deduction, reducing your taxable income. Also, most employers offering this plan offer some matching contribution. Don’t leave behind that free money on the table. These savings plans handcuff you from quickly accessing this money, so saving it up is a breeze.
2. Save Up Automatically
Here is another way to start saving towards retirement. You can use this in combination with putting money into your IRA. Start saving money into a savings account by having it pulled automatically from your paycheck each pay period. Talk to your human resource or payroll department about taking a specific dollar amount or percentage, and deposit it into this designated account. This is a guaranteed way to get it in monthly.
3. Live Healthy to Save More
It’s said living healthy is costly, especially if you eat organic foods. However, organic products aren’t the only road to good health. There are other things you can do such as regular exercise, cut down on your fat intake, and stop smoking. The results: you reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular or lung diseases and live longer. This helps you save by eliminating excess doctors’ visits, hospital stays, prescriptions, and as a bonus you’ll also save on not purchasing excess, unhealthy items.
4. Start Eliminating Debt
Getting rid of debt now will help you prepare drastically when you retire. Not having to worry about a mortgage, car note, or credit card bills help you have money for future lifestyle and vacation plans. The sooner you pay these off, the faster you can start saving for an emergency fund to use instead of your retirement savings for emergencies.
5. Start a Side Business
In a study called Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations, they studied 7,727 adults regarding their position on returning to work after retirement, 30% said they would go back to work. Instead of working for someone else, prepare now to work for yourself. This will help you enjoy your retirement years as you want, when you want.
Don’t feel it’s too late to prepare for retirement. Implement the above five tips now and keep on target for future goals.
According to NADA’s Annual Financial Profile of America’s Franchised New-Car Dealerships, dealerships sold or leased more than 15.5 million new cars and trucks in 2013. That accounts for a 7.5 percent increase from the year before. As car sales grow and everyone you know seems to be driving around the newest model, it’s tempting to jump in, buy it and speed off the lot with the wind in your hair. Despite the relative ease of purchasing a vehicle, it’s important to know your options, find the best financing available and negotiate a price in your favor. Here are some tips to get started.
Set a Budget
It’s impossible to know how much car you can afford without a budget in place. Make a monthly budget and see if you can stick to it for a few months before diving into an auto loan or car purchase. Make a list of your fixed expenses with a generous amount left over for emergencies and recreation. Use an app like Mint to help keep track of your budget and alert you on when you’re overspending on set categories. Remember it’s not enough to just plan for your auto loan. Consider the cost of your tag fees, car insurance, fuel, ongoing maintenance and extras like getting your car detailed or replacing a flat tire. As a rule of thumb, don’t devote more than 15 percent of your household income to transportation.
Know Your Credit Rating
Get a free credit report from a site like Annual Credit Report to check your rating. Your score can directly impact your interest rate on an auto loan. Your credit report can also alert you to any erroneous information, credit fraud or mistakes. Your rating is calculated with a combination of factors from your credit history, outstanding debt and payment history. Your score ranges from 350 to 800. The higher the score, the better loan you can probably get.
Shop Around for Funding
The upside to securing funding through an auto dealer is taking care of your loan and financing in one place. The downside, car dealers are often paid a commission for it. Instead, consider a dealer like DriveTime where sales advisers aren’t paid on commission, making it easier to trust their advice. They also offer a 30-day limited warranty, 5-day return guarantee and auto check history report on all used cars they sell.
Going with the car dealer’s loan offer or big bank isn’t the only way to secure a car loan. A community credit union generally offers lower rates and is more sympathetic to borrowers with lackluster credit history. Credit unions are known for offering more intimate customer service. Since they’re funded by their customers, they work for their members and aren’t motivated to sell you anything for their own financial gain. Profits from credit unions go back into their services and member offerings.
Negotiate the Price
Regardless of how you pay for your first car, remember the price is negotiable. Consumer Reports suggests purchasing a New Car Price Report to find out what the dealer paid and using it as a springboard for negotiation. Be warned, dealers like to lump everything together from financing to trade-in you might be offering. It can be difficult to figure out the numbers once it’s lumped together. Negotiate one thing at a time and stick to the monthly amount you want to pay. Start with your rock-bottom price and let the dealer work you up slowly to a reasonable price you can drive away with.
Tax season is here and filers, both individual and business, are digging through last year’s documents searching for ways to lower their tax liability or beef up refunds. While some of their findings may be completely legit, others could raise eyebrows at Uncle Sam’s headquarters.
Here are some commonly claimed deductions, and the consensus regarding their legality. You might be surprised.
Rover and Bruno may be your most prized possessions, but the IRS doesn’t necessarily share the same perspective. Simply put, four-legged friends do not earn you any tax privileges. Even if you wait on them around the clock and spend tons of your hard-earned cash to cover exorbitant vet bills, obedience training, winter apparel or dog treats, just to name a few, they still can’t be claimed as dependents and the expenses cannot be deducted. If you’re a self-employed business owner, placing them on the payroll won’t work either, even if they really are guard dogs. The IRS answers questions about specifics here.
If you’re in an industry that encourages excessive body décor, such as piercing and tattoos, go for it. But don’t expect the IRS to show you any mercy when it’s time to efile your return. That’s unless you can convince them that it’s essential to your duty and unique to the business, as those in the adult entertainment industry who’ve enhanced their breast size with implants have been able to do.
Voluntary Business Destruction
Fed up with steering your own ship? Shut the doors, put the business on the market or transfer ownership to a relative. Regardless of what you decide, leave arson off the list. Seems like common sense, but apparently a disgruntled furniture store didn’t get the memo and decided to hire someone to burn the place down. Instead of collecting $500,000 in insurance proceeds, recording it on his tax return and going about his merry way in an attempt to fly under the radar, he decided to include a consulting fee of $10,000, the amount paid to the arsonist. The end result: jail time and a $6,000 fine. Perhaps he forgot to issue the arsonist a 1099? Either way, the return seemed a bit fishy and the fraudster was stopped dead in his tracks.
Marine Business Meetings
Planning to host your next business meeting at sea? Believe it or not, a portion or all of the expenses incurred while aboard, excluding the boat rental, can be deducted from your return as long as they meet certain requirements, as outlined in IRS Publication 463. Just don’t forget to retrieve a boating license before you head out. If you don’t, you’ll have more than just proper expense accounting to worry about.
Health and Wellness
Out of shape? Getting fit can be costly, depending on which route you take, but expenses may be deductible if your physician gives you the green light. But you’ll want to get it in writing so the IRS will know it’s legitimate. TurboTax shares how to determine legitimate medical deductions on this forum.
Bottom line: if the deduction seems too good to be true or a bit unreasonable in your eyes, the IRS will probably agree. And when in doubt, it’s best to ask a tax professional before making assumptions and being hit with a penalty later on down the line.
Nearly everyone has seen a sci-fi or futuristic movie that shows a dystopian future where television has gone out of control, featuring thousands of channels with nothing worth watching. Unfortunately, that future seems more realistic every day, and with the continuously rising prices of cable and satellite television, many people are choosing to cut the cord and switch to other alternatives. The FCC recently completed a study showing the average basic cable bill is over $64 per month before taxes and surcharges, and that doesn’t include any premium shows or channels at all.
The most obvious extreme is to stop paying for television all together. Whether you realize it or not, every major city in the country still transmits television over the air at little to no cost to you. Basic channels are still available to anyone with a regular antenna, and for a one time minimal charge, you can pick up an HD or digital antenna to get the local shows in high definition.
If you’re looking for something a little more than what an antenna can provide, the obvious choice is to turn to the Internet. Whether you choose to watch from your computer or have the ability to connect your TV to your computer source, there are a few streaming options that can save you loads of cash every month.
This service is great if you’re looking to watch TV shows right when they come out. Most are usually up and running on their website no more than a day after it premiers on cable, and they have a wide variety of both TV shows and movies available for streaming.
Cost: $7.99 per month with a free trial available.
If you aren’t worried about watching new releases right when they come out, this is a great option. With a wide variety of complete seasons of television, a huge selection of movies and several critically acclaimed original programs, you can watch whatever you want whenever you want. And, with their focus on cross platform streaming, you can use nearly any device.
Cost: $7.99 per month with free trial available.
Amazon Prime and iTunes
The advantage to these two options is that you can stream shows from your devicesand download movies and episodes to watch even when you might be out of Internet service.
Cost: Amazon Prime is $79 per year with 1 month free trial; iTunes varies per purchase.
Roku Streaming Player
The Roku streaming media player plugs directly into your television and uses your Wi-Fi to connect you directly to Hulu. There are a variety of options ranging from a simple USB Streaming Stick to the new Roku 3, which has Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, HBO Go and others.
Cost: $49–$99 with various free trials.
This product from Apple will essentially turn your TV into a streaming machine without the need for a direct connection to your computer. With access to all the major streaming services, you also can connect directly to your iTunes account, giving you access to purchased songs and streaming from iTunes Radio.
Ultimately the choice is yours, but with so many options available to you, the decision to cut the cord just makes good financial sense.
With the economy on the rise, many people are tired of surviving by just making ends meet and are ready to start living with a great paying job. Whether you’re just starting out and want to live large or you’re ready for a career change, it’s exciting to know that there are great paying jobs available with or without a degree. Here are 5 rewarding careers that would make Mom proud.
Image via Flickr by gtalon
1. Police Officer
Requirements to become a police officer vary depending upon jurisdiction. Generally, you can expect to need the minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent, along with formal police training through a police academy program or through a college degree program in criminal justice. You’ll need to pass a physical examination and a physical agility test to qualify. Many jurisdictions have age limit requirements, so don’t wait too long to become a police officer. The annual median salary for police officers is $58,720.
2. Emergency Medical Technician
As an EMT you’ll respond to emergency calls and transport patients to necessary medical facilities while also performing any needed medical care on the way. To become an EMT you’ll need to become certified. Certification can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending upon the program of choice. The annual median salary of an EMT is $31,020.
There will always be a demand for nurses in the healthcare field and this is a job that pays amazingly well. Educational requirements to become a nurse depend upon the nursing level that you’re training for. CNAs can train in just 6 weeks to care for patients, while LPNs train 1-2 years (part-time or full-time), and RNs even longer. To become a RN, you’ll need the minimum of an associate’s degree. The annual median salary for RNs is $69,110.
4. Social Worker
The world will always need good social workers to make a difference by mending the homes of broken families. To become a social worker you’re going to need the minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work. The annual median salary for social workers with a social work degree is $56,060.
It’s never too late to become a teacher. The educational requirements needed to teach will depend upon the age group that you’re interested in teaching. Generally, you’ll need the minimum of a bachelor’s degree to work with elementary, middle school, and high school kids, whereas, to teach college students you’ll need a master’s degree and maybe even a doctoral degree.
To learn about the steps and degree requirements that are necessary to become a teacher, read this .
The annual median salary for a teacher ranges from $53,090-$68,970.
When choosing between a degree program and a trade program, consider cost, program length, and what you’re passionate about. To learn more about great paying jobs and how to get one, contact your local college, vocational, or technical school. If you’re unable to afford tuition upfront, speak with a financial advisor to find out if you qualify for financial assistance or to finance your education through a generous lending program.
The pace of telephone technology amazes me. Only 30 years ago you were the exception if you carried a “cell phone.” Now you can do pretty much anything on your phone. You can check the weather, do your grocery shopping online, have a business meeting seeing your client’s face on video without having to travel eight time zones, and even dictate a text so the phone writes it for you when it gets too complicated to thumb it. The pace of change has been fast and has dramatically changed how we use technology.
Well guess what? I’ve just been introduced to another app that’s been added to the list, allowing you to manage your rental properties on your smartphone as well. The mobile Landlord app from Direct Line for Business helps you stay on top of every aspect of managing a rental property.
New landlord clients always told me that the process of becoming a landlord was overwhelming. It can be, if you aren’t organized. There are lots of things to remember, your tenants may be needier than expected, asking you to come over every time a window doesn’t close properly, and some of the most basic tasks may skip your mind, such as the furnace’s annual inspection before winter, creating hefty bills you could have avoided.
That’s where the Mobile Landlord app comes in.
It helps you keep all the important information about your rental in one convenient place: your phone. No more browsing all around for that paper rental agreement, or having to wait until you come home to contact your tenants, it is all there with you all the time.
Here’s How It Works
You can get the Mobile Landlord app on iTunes, it is free to download and install in just a few clicks.
You will be offered a quick tour of the areas the app covers.
Once you reach the home screen, the property tab will ask you to register up to five rental properties, complete with their name, address, the name and contact details of your tenants, how long they are renting and other details of the tenancy (such as the rent amount). You can also add important contact details, such as the repairman, the maintenance company of the building, the neighbors for when you are on holidays and have an emergency, or the council’s.
On a second tab called “reminders,” you can enter any alert concerning your rental property, like a prospective tenant’s visit, a plumber coming over, or a bill that needs to be paid by a certain date.
Finally, the last tab of the Mobile Landlord app is called knowledge centre, and offers an array of small articles directed towards landlords who want to have more information about certain aspects of their rental investment. The articles offer tips about maximizing your rental income, minimizing your costs, the rental trends, and much more.
In just a few clicks, you can locate the people you need, calculate the yield of your investment, and enter a reminder for the next time you need to pay the house a visit.
With all the time you just saved by automating part of your property management, you can use the free time read the third tab’s articles, learn more about investing and make the most of your rental property.
Here’s a problem: you’re at the end of your money and there’s three days left before you’re paid. Where do you turn?
Maybe you’ve been there…I was in this situation in my early days as a financial advisor. It was horrible. Here I was, telling people about how to manage their money, and I was sweating every meeting, just praying that they’d sign on the dotted line. One time I even ran out of gas on the way home and had to search frantically for money under my seats.
There are two solution levels: “Right now” and “Never Happen Again”. Let’s tackle both.
Take Care Of The Problem Right Now
Raid the cupboard – It’s time to get creative on your meal plan. In my “broke days,” if I could get through without buying any food, I was golden. That thing in the freezer that I wasn’t sure whether I could still eat it? Time to find out. Those crackers that are slightly stale in the back of the pantry? They’ll go great with the chicken broth I’m using to make a creative soup.
Find alternate transportation – Heading to work? If you live close enough, it’s time to walk or ride a bike. Walking is—of course—free. The bike? You made an investment in it at one time, but it’s good for your pocketbook and your wallet to dust it off. Live too far away? Explore ride sharing options. Hopefully, your new ride-mate will let you pay for gas on Friday….once you’ve been paid.
Explore Ways To Get Cash – God forbid I had an emergency….. if that happened, I’d attempt to borrow money from relatives for a few days, offering them a good interest rate. If nobody bought (near the end of my rope those people were exhausted from continuously loaning me money, although I always repaid them), I needed to find other ways to get cash. When I’d need cash, none of them were especially attractive, so that’s why I always thought about….
Making sure it “Never Happens Again”
The great part about making mistakes is that they allow you to learn. If you fall forward, it’s not quite so painful.
Build An Emergency Fund – On my personal blog, Stacking Benjamins, I talk about automating my savings as my big money “a-ha.” No matter how painful, putting a few dollars away for a rainy day fund is vital. You had to raid the fund? That’s what it’s there for! Now, go and rebuild.
Sell Your Junk – Clutter, whether it’s in your closet or your mind, creates confusion. If you’re going to focus on ways to earn more money, you’re going to need to clean the slate. Use eBay, a garage sale, or Craig’s List to dump as much access stuff as possible. Use that money to fund your rainy day account.
Build a Better Budget – Ask yourself “what went wrong” this time and fix your budget to avoid that the next time. You needed tires for your car? Why isn’t that built into your plan? Your furnace died? Why don’t have you a strategy for that? Sure, you won’t be able to fix every potential problem, but there are always ways to fix your plan so that you’re more prepared next time.
Ask For a Raise – Studies show that most workers could get a raise if they just asked their boss the right way for more money. You’ll need to come armed with statistics and you’ll also need to prove that you deserve it. What do you do if the boss says no? Look for new work. The quickest way to make it up the ladder is to find a new boss who’s willing to pay you what your worth. Often, that’s a much quicker way to more money than settling for little raises at your current job.
photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin