How to Stop the Paycheck to Paycheck Cycle

According to a 2017 study from Career Builder, nearly 78% percent of people live paycheck to paycheck, with little to no money left over after financial obligations are paid. This means that nearly 8 out of 10 workers may not be able to handle even a $500 emergency. Here’s how to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

Build a Budget

Yes, this tired old budget thing is rearing its head again, but every financial plan needs to start here. You simply must know where your money is going. Start by creating a simple spreadsheet in Google Docs, which can be shared if you have dual contributors to your household income. If you’re ready for something a bit more sophisticated, Mint.com is a great online tool for budgeting. It will even send you notices and alerts, creating a more personal budgeting experience.

In order to know where your money is going, you need to also track your spending. Document every single purchase for two to four weeks. You’ll be surprised at how seemingly insignificant purchases can quickly add up. Typically, this exercise helps consumers to be more mindful of how they’re spending.

Establish and Emergency Fund

If you approach saving by promising to set aside whatever’s leftover after your financial obligations are paid, you’ll never make a dent in creating an emergency fund, let alone heftier savings goals. Funds intended for saving should come before any other spending. Aim to initially save the equivalent of one month’s paycheck.

Quick fix: put saving on autopilot. If your company offers a 401(k) plan, make sure you’re participating in it. You can also set up an automatic transfer on paydays to have some money automatically transferred from your checking account into a savings account.

Pay Down Debt

Nothing perpetuates the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle like having debt looming over your head. Control and monitor your spending by discontinuing the use of credit cards until you’ve paid them off. To streamline this process, you can consolidate your debt by transferring all your credit onto one card. While you’re focused on paying off debt, avoid taking out any kind of loan. If you can chip away at your debt while simultaneously building up an emergency fund, you can use that fund to pay for any unexpected expenses that may crop up instead of relying on credit cards.

Examine Your Lifestyle

Sometimes fixing the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle is as simple as taking a hard look at your lifestyle and making adjustments where necessary. Is your monthly car payment too high? Does your monthly mortgage payment exceed 28% of your monthly gross income? Are you paying for subscriptions or memberships you don’t use? You get the idea. Examine your monthly costs and find ways to scale back.

Stop Treating Raises and Bonuses as Fun Money

If you’re stuck in the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, upticks in earnings such as raises, bonuses, and tax returns should be stashed away in savings, not spent on wants and splurges. Likewise, you shouldn’t rely on bonuses as part of your budget. These earnings should be used to increase your emergency savings or retirement funds.

If you have questions or would like to talk about how the information in this article may impact you personally, please reach out to me at jmiller@mkrcpas.com and we’ll schedule a time to talk.

Financial Regrets: A Tale as Old as Time

Mismanaged money, investment duds, a blown budget (or no budget), bad habits, the proverbial hole in your pocket. If financial regrets weren’t a thing, we wouldn’t need the Dave Ramseys of the world, but there’s a difference between splurging on an artisan cup of coffee and making a financial blunder that could have ramifications for years to come.

Some red flags that you’re about to jump into a bad financial decision include needing to justify your rationale, a lack of thorough research and homework, depending on a payment you haven’t received, falling for a too-good-to-be-true scheme, and not paying attention to that internal tugging known as instinct. You might say that you’re effectively ignoring these red flags if you’re tempted by any of the following common financial mistakes that could cause long-term consequences.

Taking a Loan from a 401(k)

Yes, you usually have five years to pay it back, and yes, it’s your money after all, but those who borrow from their 401(k) usually reduce or suspend contributions while they’re repaying the loan. This means they’re going months or even years without contributions, missing out on investment growth and company matches. Not to mention the interest on the 401(k) loan. It’s also a gamble because if you leave your company, the loan must be repaid within 60 days.

Claiming Social Security Early

Waiting until age 70 to tap into your Social Security is your best bet, but it’s generally recommended to wait at least until your full retirement age (currently 66-67). The earliest age to withdraw benefits is 62, but your monthly check would be reduced by approximately 25% for the rest of your life.

Making the Minimum Payment on Credit Cards

With mounting interest costs, it can take years to pay off credit card debt, especially if consumers continue to spend with credit cards while only paying the minimum payment. If possible, transfer the balance to a lower-rate card, and always try to pay more than the minimum payment due. Even a small increase in monthly payments can save you on interest.

Not Saving for Retirement

Unless you’re fresh out of college, you should start saving for retirement yesterday. Don’t think you can wait until you start making more money. According to Morningstar, and assuming a 7% annual rate of return, someone who starts saving for retirement at 25 years old would need to save $381 a month to hit $1 million by the time they turn 65. Compare that to someone who starts saving for retirement at 35 ($820 a month) or 45 ($1920).

Foregoing Professional Advice

Do you have a valid will? Have you legally appointed beneficiaries for your retirement accounts? Financial advisors will help with this as well as anything from taxes and insurance to retirement savings and estate planning.

Refraining from Investing

Sure, there’s risk involved, but by diversifying your investment in a mix of large, small, domestic, and foreign stocks, you reduce the possibility of getting hit with a big loss. Perplexed on where to begin? See “Foregoing Professional Advice” above.

And while your nest egg should keep growing after retirement, most financial planners recommend decreasing risk by gradually pulling away from investing in stocks.

Falling for Scams and Raw Deals

According to the FTC, Americans lost a collective $765 million to telephone, text, mail, email and face-to-face scams in 2015. Requests to wire money; or pay fees before receiving anything; or provide personal information, bank information, or sensitive financial information should be met with extreme skepticism. If you suspect a scam, conduct a quick Google search with any information you have on the product or company, including key words like “scam” or “review”. If your suspicion is confirmed, be sure to file a complaint with the FTC and your local consumer protection office.

Tax Deductions for Homeowners After TCJA

As the values of homes around the country continue to rise, as well as the cost of rent, home ownership looks more and more appealing. In the past, homeowners have been able to deduct certain expenses on their tax returns. Yet, with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), homeowners may no longer qualify for the deductions that were once beneficial in homeownership. Did you know that TCJA is the biggest tax overhaul seen in the USA in 30 years? If you’re curious about how this might affect homeowners, here are highlights of the federal tax deductions for homeownership under the TCJA.

Even with an increase in the standard deduction this year, many homeowners will continue to see some tax relief. While there will be a decrease in available itemized deductions, a few items that have been deductible in the past may still benefit taxpayers this year and beyond. Deductions such as home mortgage interest, state and local property taxes, and amounts paid at closing continue to be likely deductions while filing in 2019. We recommend you consult with one of our tax professionals to ensure that you are maximizing your tax savings as a homeowner. You can also consult the IRS Publication 5307 here.

  • Mortgage Interest Deduction – According to the TCJA, taxpayers can deduct mortgage interest paid on acquisition indebtedness up to $750,000. This deduction can also apply to a second property, so long as the indebtedness does not go above the $750,000. Home equity indebtedness is still deductible as long as the proceeds are used to buy, build, or improve the taxpayer’s home that secures the loan.
  • Mortgage Insurance Deduction – When a homeowner chooses not to or is not able to put down 20% or more in a downpayment, primary mortgage insurance (PMI) is required to protect lenders. As of now, certain amounts paid until the end of 2017 remain deductible. Congress is still deciding whether this deduction will be permanently eliminated.
  • State and Local Taxes – Taxpayers are now limited to a $10,000 itemized deduction for combined state and local taxes. Homeowners in states with high property and income taxes will face the most impact with this deduction limitation.
  • Amounts Paid at Closing – Origination fees, loan discounts, or prepaid interest are not usually deductible in the year that they are paid, but instead over the life of a home loan. However, they may be currently deductible if the loan is used to purchase or improve the home and if that home also serves as collateral for the loan.

Despite the new tax changes under the TCJA, it’s unlikely to be the deciding financial factor for those who have already bought a home or are considering homeownership in the future.  Some buyers may consider homeownership less attractive, which could result in lower home values and lower markets over time. According to Nolo, it is estimated that the tax benefits of owning a home will be less than in years past, putting many homeowners in the same place as renters.  At this time, there is no clear-cut solution that results in the best solution for homeowners, but with the right financial planning from our CPAs, homeowners can find the best ways to maximize their tax savings and cash flow.

This is How Retirement Contribution Limits Are Changing for 2019

The Treasury Department has announced retirement plan contribution limits, which are adjusted annually, for 2019. Because inflation has gone up a bit recently, contribution limits are also going up, which means you can save more money next year.

The maximum pre-tax contribution limit for an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is increasing to $6,000 in 2019 after a six-year stall at $5,500. An extra $500 may not seem like a big deal, but the investment will compound over time, making the increase especially valuable for younger workers. For example, an investment of $500 annually will amount to an extra $100,000 in retirement savings over 35 years.

Employees who participate in a 401(k) or similar workplace retirement plan can expect an increase from $18,500 in 2018 to $19,000 in 2019. That limit will also apply to 403(b), the Federal Government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), and most 457 plans. As a result of this change, workers can defer paying income tax on approximately $42 more per month.

For those 50 years old and over, catch-up contribution limits remain the same for 2019: $6,000 for workplace plans and $1,000 for IRAs. All of this combined means that savers over 50 have the potential to stash away $32,000 in 2019.

The maximum amount of annual compensation that can be taken into account when determining employer and employee contributions is increasing in 2019 from $275,000 to $280,000. However, highly compensated employees may face additional limits on contributions. Earning more than $120,000 in 2018 may qualify you as highly compensated for 2019 contribution limits, and earning more than $125,000 in 2019 may qualify you as highly compensated for 2020 contribution limits.

If you have any questions or would like to review your retirement plan contribution amounts together, please give me a call at 317.549.3091 or email me to schedule an appointment.

How to Determine if Your Taxes Will Increase for the 2019 Tax-Filing Season

President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December of last year, but the income tax credits, deductions, and individual tax rates aren’t applicable until the 2019 tax-filing season. Various factors, such as your tax bracket, can influence whether your taxes will increase under the new tax code. Below are some indicators that could signal an increase on your tax bill.

Do You Have a Large Family?

The new tax code eliminated personal and dependent exemption deductions, which was estimated to have been $4,150 each in 2018 under previous law. However, standard deductions were nearly doubled. For 2018-2025 the deductions are as follows:

  • $12,000 for single (previously $6,350)
  • $24,000 for joint-filing marries couples (previously $12,700)
  • $18,000 for heads of households (previously $9,350)

The elimination of dependent exemptions hurts some families and benefits others. Large families, who don’t benefit from increased standard deductions, will be hit the hardest.

Are You an Average Taxpayer?

If you have a conventional job, file a W-2, and don’t own a lot of property or foreign investments, your taxes won’t likely increase. Instead, you should see a modest decrease as a result of lower tax rates, increased standard deduction, and an increased child tax credit. Despite this, however, there are thousands of potential tax situations that could affect the average taxpayer differently (i.e. a wealthier couple with children who itemize state and local taxes would be limited to a $10,000 deduction under the new law – a loss of $20,000 in deductions – and would likely have higher taxes under the new tax code).

Are You Withholding Enough from Your Paycheck?

The IRS changed the tax withholding tables back in February. The tables are calculated by how much income you earn and the number of allowances you claim. If you aren’t withholding enough from your paycheck, you could end up owing taxes. Check the tax withholding tables on IRS.gov to determine how much income tax should be withheld from your paycheck.

Do You Have Older Children?

The new tax code increases the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child under the age of 17. Taxpayers with children over 17 only receive a $500 tax credit.

Do You Have High Property Taxes?

Under prior law you could claim an itemized deduction for an unlimited amount of personal state and local income and property taxes. So, a big property tax bill could be completely deducted if you itemized. However, under the new tax code, itemized deductions for personal state and local property taxes and personal state and local income taxes are capped at $10,000 ($5,000 if you use married filing separate status).

Even considering the above factors, with the myriad of potential tax circumstances and the complexity of the changes implemented by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it’s difficult to predict how your taxes will be affected until you run the numbers.

If you have any questions about how to plan for your 2018 tax return, please feel free to contact me at jmiller@mkrcpas.com.