Potential Tax Deductions for Empty Nesters

Potential Tax Deductions for Empty Nesters

 

Wow. It’s awfully quiet around here. We did it honey—they have left the house and have solid futures. And that breeze coming in the window right now. You don’t think that breeze is all our tax deductions flying out the window do you? Maybe we need to investigate potential tax deductions.  

Yes. Your children have flown the coop. Do you know what else had flown the coop? A bevy of potential tax deductions: Personal Exemptions, Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Credit, Child Care Credit, and the College Tuition Credit. These deductions vanish at the same instant in your life that you and your spouse likely earn the most money—oh, that Murphy’s Law.

For single parents the problem is even more serious. There is not a spouse to claim, the standard deduction is lower, and non-taxable child support is finished.

Higher income + fewer potential tax deductions = higher taxes. This fact still may not persuade you to bring the kids back, but potential tax deductions deem investigation.

Three Potential Tax Deductions

Downsize Your Home 

It pays for empty nesters to downsize the home. Married couples can exclude up to $500,000, a single person can exclude $250,000 of gain on the sale of a home. For those scoring at home, this potential tax deduction may provide a half-million dollars income tax free.

No other provision of the federal tax law is as generous. Considering there are fewer bodies running around the home, this may be the perfect time to cash in and find a less expensive place.

As an empty nester ready to downsize, this tax strategy may be perfect.

Deduct Charitable Donations

Are you an empty nester who gives money and time to charities? You may be able to write off more donations than you think you can. The IRS allows for deductions for cash contributions, noncash donations (such as clothes, furniture, and food) and even the mileage driven during the course of charitable work. Make sure to review these eight tips for charitable donations.

If you are passionate about your charity work, you can help that motivate you to save for retirement because you could always give away part of your retirement to your charity of choice.

Deduct Your Hobby

What if there was a way to continue to do something you love and create a way to make it tax deductible. There are certain things in this world that are too good to be true.

Chances are whatever you love to do, whatever your hobby or passion is—you spend money on it. This potential tax deduction allows you to take the things you already spend money on and create deductions. You simply turn your hobby into a business. This creates numerous potential tax deductions.

Perhaps your hobby is carving ice sculptures with chain saws. You have a refrigerated out building, and you have many tools to perfect your sculptures. If you turn this into a business, now you can deduct all the tools and supplies you use to make the sculptures.

The out building you use is a potential tax deduction. By claiming a percentage of the rent, interest, taxes, utilities, insurance, and repairs to the building you can make it work for you. You would pay for all of those things whether you have a business or not, so this is a great way to return money to your pocket.

Perhaps it is time to visit those children who flew the coop. As you travel to visit your children and grandchildren you can make the trip a potential tax deduction by checking on new ideas and materials that will improve your ice sculptures, possibly by attending a trade show. The list goes on.

Besides potential tax deductions, if you own your business it can be part of your retirement plan. After you retire, you can continue to do what you love and create income to supplement your retirement and keep the tax deductions.

You can’t replace the children that have left your nest, but you can replace many of the tax deductions they took with them.

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Empty Nesters’ Financial Planning Checklist

Empty Nesters’ Financial Planning Checklist

Five Considerations On Your Financial Planning Checklist

When children grow up, they leave their parents’ nest (some leave sooner than others). With this flight of offspring, a new stage for parents begins. The empty nest stage is, by definition, a time of loss. However, it is likely also a time of gain—no longer are you spending money for children in the home. What do you do with this “unaccounted” for cash? These important considerations may help you decide.

Maximize Retirement Contributions 

The first item for empty nesters is to put your retirement front and center once you become an empty nester. If you have been responsible with your money and allocating 10 to 15 percent of your income towards retirement, now is the time to maximize your contributions.

Contribute the maximum to your 401(k), 403(b), or the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan. Plus, if you’re in your 50s, you have the opportunity to make catch-up contributions.

You can ramp up your retirement even more by contributing to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) with a maximum contribution that also jumps if you’re age 50 or older.

Yearly Review of Retirement Goals

The second item on the empty nesters’ financial planning checklist is to assess investment risk. While it’s rarely possible to avoid investment risk entirely, it’s prudent to manage risk throughout every life stage. The objective is to determine the level of risk that’s appropriate for you and your situation. As you get closer to retirement, managing investment risk generally means moving at least some of your assets into more conservative investments.

Determining your investment risk is contingent on the amount of your investment base and how many people are dependent upon you. The more assets you’ve accumulated, the more added risk you may be willing to take. If you have more than just yourself to care for, you may decide on less risky investments.

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Weigh Insurance Needs

The third item on the empty nesters’ financial planning checklist is to review your insurance policies.

Life Insurance

When assessing your life insurance needs, take into account your retirement balance and what would happen if your spouse could no longer contribute. Could you reach your goals without the security of life insurance policy?

Could you financially help to support any dependents like aging parents on one income or pay off debts without dipping into retirement?

Disability Income Insurance

At the empty nest stage of your life, your income is likely at its highest to date. The ability to maintain this earning level may be the most important aspect of your continued financial success. But what if you lose the ability to earn a paycheck? Disability insurance is income protection that can help pay your bills and other expenses.

Long-term care insurance

While no one likes to think about illness or the need for help in order to complete life’s basic necessities, financial preparedness in the event you will need long-term care is a major part of retirement planning.

The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance says the best age to start long-term coverage is the between age 52 and 64. You want to start before age 64 because once you qualify for Medicare, chances are, you will take advantage of all the free preventive health exams they provide.

Those exams are great. But, if your doctor finds a condition, it could prevent you from qualifying for long-term care insurance no matter how much you are willing to pay.

The Empty-less Nest

The fourth checklist item is a potential “boomerang child.” Just when you think you’re alone, along comes a child asking to return to the nest. While you don’t want to necessarily turn your child away, parents shouldn’t make the return too welcoming and comfortable either.

If a boomerang child returns, here are some healthy ways to help support your child and maintain your boundaries.

  • Set a timeline for withdrawal
  • Define the rent from the beginning
  • Establish ground rules and responsibilities
  • Respect your child’s privacy
  • Map out what mealtimes will look like
  • Understand your child’s emotional state
  • Address Root Issues
  • Maintain your “grown up” identity and existence
  • Enjoy your time together 

Determine Your Financial Picture

The last item on the empty nesters’ financial planning checklist is to evaluate your overall financial picture to determine how much disposable income you’ll have for the things you want to do.

It is important to set aside funds to accomplish your bucket list. Measure your financial health to clarify what you need to earn and save to usher in financial security for your later years.

DOWNLOAD the Empty Nest, Impending Retirement Workbook

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When Children Leave Home, It’s Time to Party

When Children Leave Home, It's Time to Party

 

It only makes sense—when your children leave home for good, it’s time to increase savings. You will obviously spend less with fewer family members in the home. Therefore, if your home isn’t fully paid for, you increase your mortgage payment significantly. And then you dramatically increase your 401(k), or you sock away thousands through other types of savings accounts. Life is good.

When your children leave home, you are likely in your 40s or 50s, so you take advantage of reduced consumption and ramp up for retirement. Life is good.

But there is only one problem: You don’t do any of these things.

A recent study focused on the savings of empty nesters reveals that the aforementioned types of enhanced savings rarely occur, and when they do, they are often negligible.

When Children Leave Home 

The study found that:

  • Households increase contributions to 401(k) plans by 0.3-1.0 percentage points when the children leave home.
  • Home-owning households whose children leave home make smaller post-kid mortgage payments than predicted.

The Splurge Urge 

For empty nesters, the urge to splurge is understandable. According to the latest government figures, families with incomes of $106,540 or more spend an average of $20,000 to $25,000 a year on each child under the age of 18—not counting college costs. After years of such spending, many parents feel they can spend on themselves.

The Retirement Crisis Is Real 

The findings support the view that the retirement saving crisis is real, as the evidence suggests that households do not increase their savings very much when the kids leave home. Instead, they hold total consumption relatively constant, thereby increasing per-capita consumption.

This response would be fine if households had adequate savings. But most households in their 40s and 50s have saved very little for retirement.

When Your Children Leave Home, Close the Gap

Where will you find additional savings if you can identify with the urge to splurge once your children leave home? Here are some suggestions:

Maximize Contributions 

Contribute the maximum allowed to your retirement accounts, including catch-up contributions if you’re age 50-plus. If you’re still working, take advantage of company matching (if available).

Work Longer 

Putting off retirement can give you more time to save, more time for your savings to grow, and more time to utilize your employer benefits (such as healthcare).

Cut Down Expenses 

While this should be easier once the kids leave the house, it’s a good idea to start preparing before then, to help make the transition easier.

Start by creating a new budget, discussing downsizing options, and setting up automatic transfers of the money that used to be spent on the kids to your retirement accounts. That way, you don’t get used to having the extra funds.

Delay Social Security 

Waiting to claim your benefits will increase the amount you receive each month. If you delay beyond the full retirement age, you can earn retirement credits, which can increase your benefits by a certain percentage (depending on your date of birth).

Save In the Right Accounts 

Educate yourself about investing and the different types of retirement savings vehicles to make sure your money is in the right place.

Free online calculators can provide a quick look at your retirement readiness and, if you’re behind, give you an idea of how much more you may need to save to improve your forecast.

Protect Your Income 

All five of the above suggestions depend heavily upon the ability to protect your skill to make money. If you depend on your income to pay the bills or support your loved ones, you need disability insurance coverage to protect you financially. A disability insurance policy covers a certain percentage of your income during the time you’re unable to work. And if you are behind in retirement savings because you “partied” a bit after after your children flew the coop, the last thing you need is a complete loss of income.

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Saving for The Future: College or Retirement?

Saving for The Future: College or Retirement?

 

It seems as soon as your young family moves from husband and wife to mama and dada—it’s time to save for college. The reason it seems that way is because it is that way. One newborn and BOOM couples are talking college savings (or should be). When saving for the future, college education savings should not become a substitute for retirement savings.

First, let’s establish a fact: Nothing beats the power of investment compounding when saving for the future. Therefore, the quicker in life you start saving for retirement and a college fund for your children, the greater the future financial opportunities you create for the entire family.

If you think you may lean towards college savings at the cost of retirement savings, please REMEMBER: There are scholarships and financial aid for college; there are no scholarships and financial aid for retirement.

Saving for the Future: The Limitless Pill 

Indulge me. I am going to take a limitless pill and read your mind. Your thinking goes like this:

“I need to prioritize, and I want my priority to be college—and then retirement. After all, I am a parent, a new one, and my child’s needs will always come first. My child’s college days are going to come much sooner than my husband’s and my retirement. I have never had excess money and I have been buried in bills for the entirety of my adulthood, so I can take whatever is coming in my golden or perhaps not-so-golden years, but I am not going to let my financial situation spoil my child’s chances at financial happiness.”

The above arguments are fair enough. Since you feel those same arguments, it is interesting to note that you are not alone. In fact, 49 percent of parents saving for the future are willing to delay their retirements to pay for their child’s education, while 74 percent feel guilty they won’t be able to provide more financial assistance.

However, if you delay your retirement or retirement savings, you are willfully contradicting what financial experts by-and-large will tell you: Retirement should be your first savings priority. Saving for your kids’ college tuition comes second.

Saving for the Future: Three More Reasons to Prioritize Retirement

If you were not swayed to save for retirement and college by the first argument (there are no scholarships and financial aid for retirement), here are three more thoughts.

Crunching the Numbers Reveals Retirement May Make More Financial Sense

Interest rates for student loans, at least the ones your kids will take out, are still less than what you can make by putting money in investments for retirements.

You can take out student loans for 3.8 percent, or you can put your money in a diversified investment portfolio across stocks and bonds, and you’re going to average closer to 8 percent. If you look at the numbers with the same dollar amount, investing in retirement, you’re going to be way ahead.

By Prioritizing College Over Retirement, You Could Hurt Everyone In the Long Run

If you put all of your resources into college savings and never get your retirement in order, your children may get their education and everything that comes with it—just as planned.

On the other hand, what happens if you have to leave the workforce early because something goes wrong. Maybe you get sick, and you have to retire sooner than you dreamed you would and you have no disability insurance.

Suddenly, you need a financial lifeline, and the only people you can turn to are—your children.

Even if you believe that you wouldn’t turn to them, they may feel that they have no choice but to lend you a hand—just when their finances were coming together.

Retirement Is Guaranteed. College Isn’t.

You have a 100 percent chance of retiring someday, but the latest findings from the National Center for Education Statistics show that only 65.9 percent of students enrolled in college in the fall following their high school graduation. And not all of those kids will get their degrees.

Your retirement money should be used for retirement. If you stop investing in your retirement or borrow against it to pay for education, you are rolling the dice. You don’t want to support your children through college only to ask them later if they can return the favor.

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Five Tax Changes to Watch for this Year

Five Tax Changes to Watch for this Year

by Robert Fishbein, vice president and corporate counsel, Prudential Financial

This season brings tax changes you should know about as you’re preparing your 2015 return and planning for 2016 and beyond. Here are five areas to keep in mind.

There’s a Delayed Filing Date

If you’re a procrastinator filing at the last minute, you have more time this year. Because Friday, April 15 is a federal holiday, your 2015 income tax return is due the following Monday, April 18. This is also the due date to file for an extension until Oct. 15 or to make an IRA contribution for 2015.

The due date to file your return or for an extension may also be affected by state law. For example, if you live in Maine or Massachusetts, Monday April 18 is a state holiday and you don’t have to file returns until the 19th. But be careful, as the delayed filing date for the 2015 returns may not delay when you must make estimated tax payments.

There are New Steps for Fighting Fraud and ID Theft

Tax return preparation software may now require you to provide your driver’s license number for the IRS and state tax agencies to combat tax return fraud. However, you have no legal obligation to provide that information or to have a driver’s license to file a tax return. But depending on your software, you may need to provide information to file your return. It’s possible that withholding your driver’s license will slow the process.

More tax changes include new anti-ID theft/fraud measure is a 16-digit verification code for online filers. If the code is on your W-2, you’ll need to enter it when prompted by your tax software program. If you fail to provide the code, you won’t be able to e-file your return. Keep in mind not all W-2s will have the code.

Note Health Care Reporting Changes

More tax changes for this year dictate that you must report “minimum essential coverage,” or MEC. If you indicate so on line 61 of your Form 1040, you won’t be subject to a penalty tax. This is the first year employers are required to report if coverage qualifies as MEC, and they must send the applicable form to you by March 31, 2016 (hopefully you got in in time).

Of course, for early filers this means you may not have evidence of your coverage qualifying as MEC, but assuming you know that you have MEC, you can still complete line 61 and file your return for this tax season.

If you do not have MEC, you must pay the penalty tax — currently $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, up to a maximum of $975 — for each month you weren’t covered, unless you can demonstrate you’re eligible for an exemption. Examples include if coverage is considered unaffordable (more than 8 percent of household income per person), if you had a short coverage gap (fewer than three months), or if your income is below the tax return filing threshold.

Watch for Retroactive Reinstatements and Other Tax Changes

Until the end of 2014, taxpayers had been permitted for some time to deduct the greater of their state income tax or their state sales tax. This helped residents of states such as Florida and Texas that don’t have an income tax. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 retroactively extended this provision for 2015. For those who have not tracked their state sales tax payments, there’s a table that provides a safe harbor deduction based on income. Also, the sales tax from the 2015 purchase of a new automobile can be added to the sales tax from the table.

Also reinstated retroactively to the beginning of 2015 are tax changes allowing distributions from an IRA to be paid directly to a charity and excluded from income. The amount donated to charity will avoid income tax. Without this provision, an individual would have to include the amount in income and take a charitable deduction that might not entirely offset the income amount. This provision is available up to $100,000 of charitable donations in a calendar year. You must be 70 ½ or older and required to take IRA distributions.

Roth Recharacterizations May Affect You this Tax Season

If you converted a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2015, and if the converted investment has declined in value, you can recharacterize that amount and not pay income tax on an amount greater than the current value. The law allows this type of ‘do over’ option when you convert to a Roth IRA. For a 2015 conversion, you must recharacterize on or before Oct. 17, 2016 and not convert again to a Roth IRA until 2017.

A version of this post originally appeared on prudential.com. Prudential Financial is a CDA member company.

Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and their financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and legal advisors regarding your personal circumstances.

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Tips for Eliminating Debt

Tips for Eliminating Debt

Got debt? Don’t fret, most people do. This trick is, how do you get rid of it? We’re here today with some practical tips for eliminating debt.

It’s time to free yourself from that financial burden!

Get a Handle on Your Finances

Any accountant or bean counting enthusiast will tell you it’s all about debits and credits. How much is coming in and how much is going out? Eliminating debt begins with getting a handle on this simple math equation. Easier said than done, right?

To take control of your financial situation, you need to make a budget. There are plenty of resources that can help get you started with that. After creating a detailed monthly budget you’ll have better idea of how much you’re currently spending, and how much you can afford to repay each month.

After this the hard part begins—finding ways to trim spending. Which leads to our next point.

Go Cash Only

The average American household has $15,762 in credit card debt. Putting it on the plastic may offer instant gratification, but can quickly lead to financial peril, and a slow, painful death by interest rate. Once you get on the credit card hamster wheel it’s hard to escape, but there is hope. And its name is cash.

There’s nothing like the strictures of physical dollar bills to limit spending. Only have $100 in your pocket? Well, that’s all you get to spend, isn’t it? No impulse purchases, no temptation to snag something you can’t afford. You’ll be amazed how much money you’ll save, which will put you on a path toward eliminating debt.

In addition to the practicality of limiting yourself to cash, there is a psychological component as well. There’s something visceral about forking over actual paper money, as opposed to the impersonal, carefree swipe of a credit card. Doesn’t it seem less painful to just see numbers instead of shelling out Andrew Jacksons and Benjamin Franklins?

To ease into the cash-free lifestyle, you might want to just pick one area of spending, and then go from there. Many people sing the praises of the cash-only diet, which forces you to pay for groceries and food with just cash. You might find yourself with hundreds of extra dollars a month.

Make a Plan for Eliminating Debt

Now for the matter of actually paying off that debt. It helps to have a plan, and to be aware of options. Some questions to consider: 1. How much money do you have set aside to pay down debt each month? 2. Which debts are you most urgently focusing on? (It may help to tackle one at a time.) 3. Have you tried renegotiating with your lenders to get a better rate? 4. Have you considered debt consolidation? 5. How about refinancing? 6. Or debt settlement?

Seek Advice

If all this seems a bit overwhelming there are resources available to help you dig your way out of debt.  Some debt elimination services cost money, while there are charities and government resources that offer credit counseling, budgeting assistance, and overall debt reduction assistance.

Whatever you do, however you decide to chip away at that monthly financial burden, it’s wise to move eliminating debt to the top of your priority list. A debt-free life is a beautiful thing.

Image Credit: Shutterstock




A Financial Checklist for New Parents

A Financial Checklist for New Parents

Over the last couple months we’ve discussed questions to ponder before bringing home baby, and explored how to manage pregnancy and baby costs. Today, for the final post in our Maternity and Finances series, we’re offering up a financial checklist for new parents.

So get out your spreadsheet, pour your Big Gulp-size coffee, and strap that precious, compliant baby of yours onto your well-rested back while you hammer out a financial checklist on the treadmill.

Or maybe just grab a donut and turn on Paw Patrol to buy yourself a few minutes.

Still need health insurance?

Giving birth qualifies you for a special enrollment period, so even if you did not have insurance before, you could be covered for any post-partum services you need.

Here’s more information about special enrollment periods and how to apply.

And don’t forget about your baby! Tiny as they may be, newborns need health coverage, too. Check here to see if they might be eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Making sure you and your little one have solid health coverage is the first step in any financial checklist for new parents.

Make sure your beneficiary information is up to date

If you have life insurance, retirement savings, or other similar resources, you likely designated beneficiaries in the event something were to happen to you. Now that you have a newborn, don’t forget to make any necessary updates.

Make a will

Now that you have a dependent, it’s important to write down your wishes should anything happen to you or your spouse.

Who should get custody of your child?

What should happen to your assets?

These are big questions to ponder, so don’t wait until it’s too late to make your intentions known and legally binding.

If you’d like professional guidance regarding your will, a licensed estate planning specialist can help. It should cost somewhere in the ballpark of $500-$1,000 to have a professional will written for you. Or if you prefer to do it yourself, there are plenty of websites offering such services.

College savings

Sheesh, already? YES! Many states offer matching grants when you open a college savings account (also known as a 529 plan) for your newborn. But some have a limited period of eligibility, so do your homework to make sure you don’t leave money on the table.

Trim your budget

You might have noticed a striking correlation between increased expenditures and the arrival of your baby. Now that there’s more money flying out the door than you might have anticipated, it’s a great time to add to your financial checklist a thorough review of your budget. Try to trim as much as you can.

To save a few bucks, you can go to baby consignment shops for clothing and toys, or get coupons for formula or diapers.

Keep a sharp eye out for deal/discount emails. Check out Amazon Family.

Take care of your mental health

Post-partum depression affects many new moms. Be sure to seek help if you need it. Don’t ignore it. Mental health is a major cause of disability claims.

Make sure you get tax advantages for child care

There are two options for getting tax benefits on money you pay for child care. Many employers offer a Dependent Care Account. You can contribute up to $5,000 pre-tax dollars, and submit your daycare receipts for reimbursement. If you don’t claim it, you lose it.

There is also a tax credit of up to $3,000 per child for child care expenses, but any funds put into your Dependent Care Account are subtracted from this credit. So if you only have one child and you use a Dependent Care Account, you won’t be able to claim the tax credit as well.

You’ll need to do some research to work out which of these options is better for you.

Last but not least in your financial checklist: Take your maternity leave

Now that you’ve ticked all the other boxes on your financial checklist, the last thing is to sort out your maternity leave. Before you do, be sure to research what exactly you are entitled to thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Family and Medical Leave laws. Know your rights!

After securing your leave, it’s time to go treasure that sweet little angel!

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Tips for Saving Money on Out of Pocket Expenses

Tips for Saving Money on Out of Pocket Expenses

Navigating the complex, often baffling world of medical insurance is no easy task. Sometimes going through insurance can save you a bundle, yet there are times when it pays to pay out of pocket. American families of four spend an average of $3,470 in out of pocket expenses each year, so let’s have a look at some tips that might help you limit these costly expenditures.

Study Your Health Insurance

Before you seek medical treatment, it’s important to know what your plan does and does not cover. What’s your co-pay for doctor visits or urgent care? How much would you be on the hook for if you had to go to the emergency room? What’s the maximum amount you’d be liable for in regard to out of pocket expenses? Is your doctor in your network?

Ask your provider to break down the details of your plan so you can make informed decisions regarding treatments. The more you know about your coverage, the more you can plan (and hopefully save) accordingly. If you rely on Medicare, familiarize yourself with what out of pocket expenses you might liable for.

If you have coverage through healthcare.gov, you might be eligible to save on out of pocket expenses. If you have a Silver plan, you can get cost-sharing reductions. You can check here to see if you might qualify for savings.

Talk to Your Doctor About Out of Pocket Expenses

We’ve talked before about the importance of being prepared for your doctor visits. In addition to being proactive and informed about your treatment plan, you should do the same for medical expenses.

You may feel that asking your doctor about health care costs is an out-of-bounds topic, or perhaps you feel what little face-time you have with your doc should be spent strictly discussing your health. But if your doctor has your best interests in mind (which s/he should), they should be willing to help you strategize to reduce your out of pocket expenses. Doctors might be able to switch you over to cheaper medications or less expensive tests; they can reschedule treatments to make sure you don’t blow through your deductible.

Your pharmacist should also be able to help you find more affordable alternative medicines.

Shop Around, and Negotiate

When it comes to medications, medical facilities, insurance policies, and procedures, you have options. There is even an increasing availability of ‘telemedicine,’ or medical consultations through video, text, or email. Prices may vary wildly, so be sure to shop around before you make a decision.

When it comes to payments, you may have room to haggle. Before opting for a procedure or test, be sure to ask what it will cost beforehand. Also ask if they offer discounts for cash payments (many folks do).

Once you receive your bill, keep in mind that insurance companies make mistakes all the time and miss items they should have covered. Feel free to steel your nerves, prepare for battle, and call the insurance company to negotiate a lower price. You just might end up with a huge reduction in your out of pocket expenses.

Image Credit: CheapFullCoverageAutoInsurance.com 




Follow These Six Easy Steps to Make a Will

Follow These Six Easy Steps to Make a Will

Making a will is one of those things we all delay. No one wants to sit down and consider our imminent demise, and what might happen to our dependents and assets when we’re gone. But it’s really not as painful as it might sound. You can follow these six simple steps to make a will that will secure your peace of mind and ensure your intentions are honored.

First, Lawyer or No Lawyer?

This seems like an obvious choice at first glance (who wants to involve a lawyer unless absolutely necessary?), but you might prefer to have a professional walk you through the steps to make a will. In addition, those with a fair amount of wealth, resources, or business interests will likely benefit from working with a lawyer.

Yet with the proliferation of sites like Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer that make creating wills online relatively simple, many people are elect to write their own will without the services of a lawyer.

Make Arrangements for Kids

If you have children under 18, it’s important to designate a guardian who will be willing and able to look after your children in the event of your passing. This is certainly not an issue you want to leave up to the legal system to determine.

Make a List of Your Assets 

One of the most important beginning steps to make a will is simply creating a list of your most substantial belongings. What are the things you own that are of value? What property in your possession would you like to pass down? Make a thorough list.

If you’re married, keep in mind that your spouse will in most cases stand to inherit everything unless otherwise stated in your will. Anyone who watches Dateline knows that.

State Who Gets What

After writing down your assets, it’s time to decide on your beneficiaries. (Keep in mind that pets cannot own property, so leaving your house to Fido is not an option.)

It’s also good to take stock of any potential hot-button items you may own. Do you have family heirlooms that your kin might squabble over down the road? If you want Aunt Myrtle to inherit your hotly contested collection of 1970s macaroni murals, spell out whatever you want to include in your will.

Choose Your Executor … Wisely

An executor is the person or entity responsible for making sure the directives of your will are honored. Many people prefer to name a bank or an attorney as an executor to avoid the awkwardness of forcing a family member or close friend to be the enforcer of a will’s terms.

Fill it Out and Find Some Witnesses

Actually writing your will and getting it signed are the final steps to make a will.  Keep in mind you’ll need witnesses to verify your signature. Securing witnesses and making sure everything is signed correctly is a huge deal, as anything askance can invalidate a will in a court of law.

The Steps to Make a Will Are Easy, Stop Putting it Off

We hope you’ve found these steps to make a will easy and informative. Writing a will can be a daunting process, but it’s the best way to preserve your legacy, prevent future family strife, and make sure your estate goes exactly where you want it to.

No matter your age or where you are today, do the right thing – the responsible thing – and go begin the steps to make a will today.

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How to Make a New Year’s Resolution You Can Achieve Successfully

How to Make a New Year’s Resolution You can Achieve Successfully

Many people consider the new year as a new beginning. This is why each January, 45 percent of Americans usually make a new year’s resolution, according to University of Scranton research.

Generally, a new year’s resolution is a promise to do something to improve our lives for the better. In 2015 the 10 most popular new year’s resolutions were:

  • Lose weight
  • Getting organized
  • Spend less, save more
  • Enjoy life to the fullest
  • Staying fit and healthy
  • Learn something exciting
  • Quit smoking
  • Help others in their dreams
  • Fall in love
  • Spend more time with family

While almost half the people in this country make a new year’s resolution, only eight percent are actually successful in achieving it.

So, why do so many of us have a hard time keeping our new year’s resolutions?

Why it’s Hard to Keep a New Year’s Resolution

There are several reasons why people fail at keeping their resolutions such as:

They’re not specific: For example, “I want to lose weight this year” is too broad and general. How much weight do you want to lose? How will you achieve this? If you’re not sure what your exact goal is, you’re not going to know how to achieve it.

They’re unrealistic: Let’s say you plan on losing weight by going to the gym five times a week. Is this a realistic goal for you given your work and family schedule? If it’s not realistic, you’ll easily get discouraged and give up on your resolutions.

They’re based on willpower, not systems: You may tell your self “I want to save more” instead of actually putting money into a savings account or you may say, “I want to eat better” instead of going to the grocery story and picking up ingredients to cook a healthy meal. If you have a resolution but no plan to implement it, you’ll never be successful at it.

How to Make a New Year’s Resolution You’ll Actually Keep

Set SMART Goals

A great way to ensure you’ll make a new year’s resolution you can complete successfully is to have goals.

Set goals that are SMART:

  • Specific: A specific goal answers the who, what, where, when, and why. “Join my local gym and work out three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 6:00 pm).”
  • Measurable: Ask yourself “how will I know I have accomplished my goal?” Losing 10 pounds in six months is a measurable goal.
  • Attainable: Your goal must be something you can actually achieve. For example, to lose weight you must have the ability, skills, and financial capacity to go to a gym and eat healthier.
  • Realistic: To be realistic, set a goal toward which you are both willing and able to work.
  • Timely: Goals without a time frame have higher changes of failing. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you must have a time frame. Make a new year’s resolution such as “lose 10 pounds in six months” to get you motivated to work toward that goal within that time frame.

Setting SMART goals gives you a much greater chance of sticking to your new year’s resolutions and achieving success.

Forgive Yourself

If you fall off the wagon, it’s ok. Just jump back on. People have a tendency to give up if they stumble, but don’t let a little setback derail you completely. Remember that setbacks are part of the process, learn from them, and keep moving toward your goals.

Reward Yourself

Reward yourself when you complete your goals. For example, if you’ve accomplished your goal of losing 10 pounds in six months, buy yourself new workout clothes or plan a beach vacation. You can decide how big or small your reward should be for your goal.

If you’re planning to make a new year’s resolution this January, set SMART goals to help you achieve them. Remember that it’s ok to slip once in a while, and make sure to reward yourself when you successfully complete them.

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