Paying off Debt the Smart Way

Between mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and student loans, most people are in debt. While being debt-free is a worthwhile goal, most people need to focus on managing their debt first since it’s likely to be there for most of their life.

Handled wisely, that debt won’t be an albatross around your neck. You don’t need to shell out your hard-earned money because of exorbitant interest rates or always feel like you’re on the verge of bankruptcy. You can pay off debt the smart way, while at the same time saving money to pay it off even faster.

Assess the Situation

First, assess the depth of your debt. Write it down using pencil and paper or use a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel. You can also use a bookkeeping program such as Quicken. Include every instance you can think of where a company has given you something in advance of payment, including your mortgage, car payment(s), credit cards, tax liens, student loans, and payments on electronics or other household items through a store.

Record the day the debt began and when it will end (if possible), the interest rate you’re paying, and what your payments typically are. Next, add it all up–as painful as that might be. Try not to be discouraged! Remember, you’re going to break this down into manageable chunks while finding extra money to help pay it down.

Identify High-Cost Debt


Yes, some debts are more expensive than others. Unless you’re getting payday loans (which you shouldn’t be), the worst offenders are probably your credit cards. Here’s how to deal with them.

Don’t use them. Don’t cut them up, but put them in a drawer and only access them in an emergency.

Identify the card with the highest interest and pay off as much as you can every month. Pay minimums on the others. When that one’s paid off, work on the card with the next highest rate.

Don’t close existing cards or open any new ones. It won’t help your credit rating, and in fact, will only hurt it.

Pay on time, absolutely every time. One late payment these days can lower your FICO score.

Go over your credit-card statements with a fine-tooth comb. Are you still being charged for that travel club you’ve never used? Look for line items you don’t need.

Call your credit card companies and ask them nicely if they would lower your interest rates. It does work sometimes!

Save, Save, Save

Do whatever you can to retire debt. Consider taking a second job and using that income only for higher payments on your financial obligations. Substitute free family activities for high-cost ones. Sell high-value items that you can live without.

Do Away with Unnecessary Items to Reduce Debt Load

Do you really need the 800-channel cable option or that satellite dish on your roof? You’ll be surprised at what you don’t miss. How about magazine subscriptions? They’re not terribly expensive, but every penny counts. It’s nice to have a library of books, but consider visiting the public library or half-price bookstores until your debt is under control.

Never, Ever Miss a Payment

Not only are you retiring debt, but you’re also building a stellar credit rating. If you ever move or buy another car, you’ll want to get the lowest rate possible. A blemish-free payment record will help with that. Besides, credit card companies can be quick to raise interest rates because of one late payment. A completely missed one is even more serious.

Pay With Cash

To avoid increasing debt load, make it a habit to pay with cash. If you don’t have the cash for it, you probably don’t need it. You’ll feel better about what you do have if you know it’s owned free and clear.

Shop Wisely, and Use the Savings to Pay Down Your Debt

If your family is large enough to warrant it, invest $30 or $40 and join a store like Sam’s or Costco–and use it. Shop there first, then at the grocery store. Change brands if you have to and swallow your pride. If you’re concerned about buying organic, rest assured that even at places like Costco you will have many options. Use coupons religiously. Calculate the money you’re saving and slap it on your debt.

Each of these steps, taken alone, probably doesn’t seem like much, but if you adopt as many as you can, you’ll watch your debt decrease every month. If you need help managing debt give us a call. We can help.


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Tips on Travel While Giving to Charity

Do you plan to donate your services to charity this summer? Will you travel as part of the service? If so,
some travel expenses may help lower your taxes when you file your tax return next year. Here are five tax tips you should know if you travel while giving your services to charity.

1. You can’t deduct the value of your services that you give to charity. But you may be able to deduct some out-of-pocket costs you pay to give your services. This can include the cost of travel. All out-of pocket costs must be:

  • unreimbursed,
  • directly connected with the services,
  • expenses you had only because of the services you gave, and
  • not personal, living or family expenses.

2. Your volunteer work must be for a qualified charity. Most groups other than churches and governments must apply to the IRS to become qualified. Ask the group about its IRS status before you donate. You can also use the Select Check tool on IRS.gov to check the group’s status.

3. Some types of travel do not qualify for a tax deduction. For example, you can’t deduct your costs if a significant part of the trip involves recreation or a vacation. For more on these rules see Publication 526, Charitable Contributions.

4. You can deduct your travel expenses if your work is real and substantial throughout the trip. You can’t deduct expenses if you only have nominal duties or do not have any duties for significant parts of the trip.

5. Deductible travel expenses may include:

  • air, rail and bus transportation,
  • car expenses,
  • lodging costs,
  • the cost of meals, and
  • taxi or other transportation costs between the airport or station and your hotel.
For additional help with figuring out you eligible charitable deductions, please contact our office.


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Top Ten Tax Facts if You Sell Your Home

Do you know that if you sell your home and make a profit, the gain may not be taxable? That’s just one key tax rule that you should know. Here are ten facts to keep in mind if you sell your home this year.

1. If you have a capital gain on the sale of your home, you may be able to exclude your gain from tax. This rule may apply if you owned and used it as your main home for at least two out of the five years before the date of sale.

2. There are exceptions to the ownership and use rules. Some exceptions apply to persons with a disability. Some apply to certain members of the military and certain government and Peace Corps workers.

3. The most gain you can exclude is $250,000. This limit is $500,000 for joint returns. The Net Investment Income Tax will not apply to the excluded gain.

4. If the gain is not taxable, you may not need to report the sale to the IRS on your tax return.

5. You must report the sale on your tax return if you can’t exclude all or part of the gain. And you must report the sale if you choose not to claim the exclusion. That’s also true if you get Form 1099-S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. If you report the sale you should review the Questions and Answers on the Net Investment Income Tax on IRS.gov.

6. Generally, you can exclude the gain from the sale of your main home only once every two years.

7. If you own more than one home, you may only exclude the gain on the sale of your main home. Your main home usually is the home that you live in most of the time.

8. If you claimed the first-time homebuyer credit when you bought the home, special rules apply to the sale. For more on those rules see Publication 523.

9. If you sell your main home at a loss, you can’t deduct it.

10. After you sell your home and move, be sure to give your new address to the IRS. You can send the IRS a completed Form 8822, Change of Address, to do this.

Important note about the Premium Tax Credit. If you receive advance payment of the Premium Tax Credit in 2014 it is important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan. Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.

If you still need to do your 2013 taxes, please contact our office as we can still use IRS e-file through Oct. 15. You may also be interested in receiving one of our “NFS Moving Day” packets to help you navigate through the home selling process. And also, we have a great network of realtors, appraisers, real estate attorneys and home inspectors so don’t hesitate to contact our office.






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Five Basic Tax Tips for New Businesses

If you start a business, one key to success is to know about your federal tax obligations. You may need to know not only about income taxes but also about payroll taxes. Here are five basic tax tips that can help get your business off to a good start.

  1. Business Structure.  As you start out, you’ll need to choose the structure of your business. Some common types include sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation. You may also choose to be an S corporation or Limited Liability Company. You’ll report your business activity using the IRS forms which are right for your business type.
  2. Business Taxes.  There are four general types of business taxes. They are income tax, self-employment tax, employment tax and excise tax. The type of taxes your business pays usually depends on which type of business you choose to set up. You may need to pay your taxes by making estimated tax payments.
  3. Employer Identification Number.  You may need to get an EIN for federal tax purposes. Search “do you need an EIN” on IRS.gov to find out if you need this number. If you do need one, you can apply for it online.
  4. Accounting Method.  An accounting method is a set of rules that determine when to report income and expenses. Your business must use a consistent method. The two that are most common are the cash method and the accrual method. Under the cash method, you normally report income in the year that you receive it and deduct expenses in the year that you pay them. Under the accrual method, you generally report income in the year that you earn it and deduct expenses in the year that you incur them. This is true even if you receive the income or pay the expenses in a future year.
  5. Employee Health Care.  The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit helps small businesses and tax-exempt organizations pay for health care coverage they offer their employees. A small employer is eligible for the credit if it has fewer than 25 employees who work full-time, or a combination of full-time and part-time. Beginning in 2014, the maximum credit is 50 percent of premiums paid for small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid for small tax-exempt employers, such as charities.

For 2015 and after, employers employing at least a certain number of employees (generally 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees that is equivalent to 50 full-time employees) will be subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility provision.

For help with starting your business contact our office. We can guide you in planting the seeds and ensure you are growing the correct way.




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Summer Weddings Mean Tax Changes

Taxes may not be high on your summer wedding plan checklist. But you should be aware of the tax issues that come along with marriage. Here are some basic tips that can help keep those issues to a minimum:

Name change. The names and Social Security numbers on your tax return must match your Social Security Administration records. If you change your name, report it to the SSA. To do that, file Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. You can get the form on SSA.gov, by calling 800-772-1213 or from your local SSA office.

Change tax withholding.  A change in your marital status means you must give your employer a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. If you and your spouse both work, your combined incomes may move you into a higher tax bracket. Use the IRS Withholding Calculator tool at IRS.gov to help you complete a new Form W-4. See Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, for more information.

Changes in circumstances.  If you receive advance payment of the premium tax credit in 2014, it is
important that you report changes in circumstances, such as changes in your income or family size, to your Health Insurance Marketplace. You should also notify the Marketplace when you move out of the area covered by your current Marketplace plan. Advance payments of the premium tax credit provide financial assistance to help you pay for the insurance you buy through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Reporting changes will help you get the proper type and amount of financial assistance so you can avoid getting too much or too little in advance.

Address change.  Let the IRS know if your address changes. To do that, file Form 8822, Change of Address, with the IRS. You should also notify the U.S. Postal Service. You can ask them online at USPS.com to forward your mail. You may also report the change at your local post office.

Change in filing status.  If you’re married as of Dec. 31, that’s your marital status for the whole year for tax purposes. You and your spouse can choose to file your federal income tax return either jointly or separately each year. You may want to figure the tax both ways to find out which status results in the lowest tax.

Note for same-sex married couples: If you are legally married in a state or country that recognizes same-sex marriage, you generally must file as married on your federal tax return. This is true even if you and your spouse later live in a state or country that does not recognize same-sex marriage. Contact our office for more information on this topic.

For a FREE Life Guide on “Marriage & Money” from NFS, click here to request one. This guide includes help in pre-planning for your wedding including tips on “tying the financial knot”, a wedding budget worksheet, monthly budget organizer and a name/address change checklist.

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