Tuesday, November 30, 2010

End of Year Financial Tips

2010 Roth IRA Conversions

1. Funding. Funded with after-tax (post-tax) dollars, offer tax-free growth and tax-free distributions in retirement
2. Distributions. No minimum distributions and no age requirement
3. Income. Can convert to a Roth IRA regardless of your income
4. Pay taxes. Conversion taxes can be spread over two years: 2010 and 2011
Conversions after 2010 will pay the full tax due
5. Conversion. Can convert back to traditional IRA by October 15, 2011
6. 1099. No 1099 is required
7. Deadline. Make conversion by 12/31/10

Paying Down Debt Now Can Help You Next Year

1. Future. The future is an unknown.
2. Tax Rates. Tax rates may be higher in 2011 which means you may bring home less money. Tax credits may be reduced, child tax credit will be reduced to $500 in 2011, the deduction for mortgage insurance premiums will be eliminated, energy saving improvements will be reduced to 10%.
3. Minimum. Paying more than the monthly minimum pays your balance down faster so you will owe less next year (interest, finance charges, etc.).
4. Shopping. Cut back on shopping to reduce changes of going into more debt or having large credit card balances after the holiday shopping season.
5. Variable. Many credit cards have been converted from fixed to variable rates which means if the federal rate increases, so will your monthly payments
6. Finances. Can improve relationship with your spouse or partner related to arguments over finances
7. Retirement. You can't focus on retirement if you are in debt

Tips to Help You Plan for the Future

1. Change your thinking. Eliminate negative thoughts about money and bad money habits. Follow those who have good spending habits and consult a professional.
2. Emergency Fund. Create an emergency fund to cover bills for 9-12 months.
3. Plan for retirement. Contribute the maximum to get matching contributions. You will need 60-80% of your current retirement salary for a minimum of 20 years to have enough money to cover living expenses during retirement. Save 10-20% each month towards retirement.
4. Pre-retirement. One year before retirement start reducing your expenses to retirement levels to get adjusted to living on a reduced income.
5. SS Income. Don't count on social security unless you are near retirement age.
6. Financial Goals. Sets financial goals, i.e. plan for retirement, children's college education, pay off mortgage, pay off car note, etc.
7. Contributions. Increase retirement contributions with each salary increase

Tips to Plan For Retirement Now

1. Sign up. If you don't have a retirement account, run to your employer and sign up. Setup an account even if you are self-employed (SEP) or stay-at-home mom (spousal IRA).
2. Diversify. Don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Ensure your retirement account is diversified. This helps to offset losses.
3. Live below your means. Reduce spending and create a budget.
4. Pay down debt. Pay off large debts and keep debt at no more than 10% of your monthly income after taxes (credit cards, medical expenses, other loans, etc.)
5. Estate planning. Perform estate planning (will, trust, health care directive, etc.). Hire a lawyer to prepare documentation.
6. Review. Review financial statements on a regular basis to check for errors and stay informed about your account.
7. Backup Plan. Create a backup plan if some financial crisis occurs and you need extra money. Have a plan A, B, C and D. Use what-if scenarios.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Are You Paying the Right Creditor

It can be very difficult trying to make payments on a collection account because a collection agency holds a collection account for a few months, it they are unsuccessful in collecting on the debt owed the account is forwarded to another collection agency. This process continues until the account is paid or legal action is taken against the consumer.

Many consumers don't realize that once a delinquent account is reported to a collection agency a consumer has a short amount of time to pay the bill. This is because collection accounts are put on a nationwide registry and each collection agency in the country gets notified of a collection account. However, only one collection agency has a legal right to collect money on a delinquent account.

Collection agencies don't want you to know that as a consumer you have a legal right to question the validity of a collection agency which is called debt validation. Many consumers have paid money on delinquent accounts to a particular company only to find out that the company did not legally have a right to collect money on that account. As a result the consumer still owed the money on the delinquent account. Here are 7 ways to validate a debt and ensure you are paying the right creditor:

1. Request the creditor, collection agency or attorney to provide documentation that the company is authorized to collect on the debt. Ensure the name and address of the collection agency appears on the documentation which should be on company letterhead.

2. Ask for proof of the total amount of the debt including payment history from with the original creditor and status of the account. Verify the documentation against your own records.

3. Request the collection agency to provide the original contract or other documentation showing the agreement you made with the original creditor including the name and address of the original creditor.

4. Ask the creditor to provide a copy of their business license to prove they are licensed in their state to collect money on delinquent accounts. However this varies from state to state.

5. If the creditor use profanity, harasses you, is rude or threatens you inform the collection agency that they are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), they might argue and say they are not but they are considered debt collectors and are covered under the act.

6. If the creditor cannot verify the debt they cannot collect any money owed on your account and is not allowed to contact you about the debt. They also cannot report the account on your credit report.

7. A creditor may respond to your debt validation letter by sending you a summons to appear in court. This is a scare tactic and is illegal. A creditor has to validate the debt before they can file suit against you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Say No to Black Friday Shopping

Approximately 84 million Americans shopped online from the middle of November to the middle of December last year for gifts. According to comScore, last year, Americans spent almost $900 million online shopping on the Monday after Thanksgiving, $595 million on Black Friday and $300 million on Thanksgiving Day.

Many of the best bargains are for electronics and large items such as tv's and computers purchased online. Some companies are offering pre-black Friday sales and in some cases prices are better than black Friday sales. Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy are offering online discounts on electronics that match or beat black Friday sales. Apple.com will have a one day sale on black Friday. Several websites, like Amazon, DealNews, RetailMeNot and DealDump, create online shopping bargains all in one place so shoppers can find them easily. Also look for black Friday sales on Twitter and Facebook. Here are 12 reasons to shop online on black Friday instead of going to the stores.

1. Store gimmicks. If the store says "Limited Supply" it usually means there are 4-6 items in stock. If an item is out of stock be sure to get a rain check and go after the New Year to buy the item at the discounted price.

2. Save gas. You can shop in your pajamas instead of waiting in line at 6:00am or in the cold trying.

3. Free shipping. Many companies offer free shopping starting on Black Friday through the holiday season.

4. Stock. There are more items in stock online that in the actual stores.

5. Easier. You can take your time and in some cases chat with online representatives to answer questions.

6. Stress. Shopping online is less stressful than running through the stores, fighting for parking spaces, fighting over items on sale and waiting in long lines.

7. Safer. Shopping online is much safer and you don't have to worry about getting elbowed or trampled over while shopping.

8. Prices. Some black Friday prices are not really bargains. Just because a store advertises an item for 50-60% doesn't mean you are getting a deal. Comparison shop to ensure you are getting the best deal.

9. Security. Don’t shop with companies you never heard of or with sites that don't have a https or shttp on the payment page, a mailing address and contact phone number.

10. Payment. Shop with a credit card. If you are a victim of identity theft you will not be held liable for charges reported within a few days.

11. List. Stick to a list. Don't get enticed with advertisements for something not on your list. Don't buy items on impulse. If you get emotional about an item you see on sale wait 30 minutes and ask yourself if it is a need or want.

12. Set a budget. The holidays should be more focused on spending time with family and friends and not about buying a gift. If you have to buy a gift for a parent and child consider just buying a gift for the child. Let the parent know you are cutting back this year and really can't afford a gift right now.

Black Friday shopping has resulted in violence such as: fist fights, trampling, smashed glass doors, shootings, pushing of employees, calling the police, and even death. If you insist on going to a store, ask yourself, if buying an item that may or may not really be a bargain worth getting injured for. I will be shopping online.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Handle Creditor Calls

Creditors call your house day and night. Some are rude and ask for a payment every hour on the hour. You can stop these harassing calls. Talking to customers in a rude and unprofessional manner is against the law according to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

If you make one late payment, usually 30 days or more late, a creditor will call to remind you to send a payment, even if the payment is one day past the due date – unless the company offers a grace period.

A creditor cannot call you before 8:00 am or after 9:00 pm. Creditors cannot use threats, use profanity, make false statements, use unfair practices, or make repeated calls to your home to collect a debt.

If a creditor contacts you, as a consumer, legally you have the right to ask them to stop calling which is called "cease and desist" by writing a letter telling the creditor to stop contacting you by phone. You also have the option of having the creditor contact you by mail only which I strongly advice. Cutting off all contact with the creditor may anger the company and cause them to quickly take legal action against you.

If you are late on a payment, notify your creditor immediately that you are having financial problems and try to setup a payment plan with them to prevent the item from being reported on your credit report and to maintain a good relationship with the company.

If you feel a creditor has violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act you may file a complaint against them by calling the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit ftc.gov to fill out an online complaint.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tips for Estate Planning

An estate is property owned by you at the time of your death including: real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life insurance policies, and personal property such as cars, jewelry, and art. Estate Planning ensures that your property and health care wishes are honored, and that loved ones are provided for after your death. Estate planning can include wills, trusts, and health care directives.

According to Retirement Made Simpler, in 2009, women, younger and lower-income adults were less likely than men, older and higher-income adults to say they participate in a 401k plan offered by their employers. Approximately 53% of adults feel that even if their 401k account has lost value, it is as important to continue contributing to it. Here are some tips for estate planning.

Will Preparation:
1. If no will court decides who gets your assets
2. Living spouse and children get assets and if no children next to kin gets assets
3. Identifies who will take care of children and who manages will
4. Minimizes legal and court fees
5. Laws vary by state
6. No absolute right to estate
7. Signed by 2-3 witnesses

Living Trust:
1. Maintains privacy
2. Minimize gift and estate taxes
3. Can’t have trust without a will
4. Can put conditions on how your assets are distributed after you die
5. Covers only specific assets (life insurance, property, etc.)
6. Use if you have a net worth of $100,000 or more
7. Use if you want to maximize estate tax exemptions

For more information on estate planning visit moneycentral.msn.com/quiz/make-a-will-quiz/home.aspx or www.nolo.com/products/nolos-online-living-trust-NNTRUS.html.

Monday, November 15, 2010

More Car Recalls in 2010

Cars are not what they used to be. Cars used to last for 5 to 10 years without major defects or major problems. Nowadays you are lucky if you car lasts during the warranty. Think twice before trading in your old car for a shiny new one.

Last month there were multiple car recalls. Honda recalled approximately 500,000 cars with brake problems for the Odysseys and Acura RLs models from 2005 to 2007. Toyota recalled over 730,000 cards with unsafe brakes for the Avalon models from 2005 to 2006, non-hybrid Highlanders from 2004 through 2006, Lexus RX330, LXGS300, IS250 and IS350 from 2006.

BMV recalled over 150,000 cars because of potential problems with their fuel pumps. The problem affects cars with twin-turbo six cylinder engines with high pressure injection and direct fuel injection systems. The recall affects the 335i models from 2007 to 2010, 135i, 535i and X6 xDrive35I sports activity coupes from 2008 to 2010, Z4 roadster sDrive35i models from 2009 to 2010, MY 2008 X5 sports activity cars.

Here are 4 tips to help if your car is recalled.

1. Research. Find out what the process is to get your car fixed and if you will be compensated for the recalled part or for a rental car while your car is being repaired. Check the company's website to see if any information has been posted.

2. Call. Contact the car manufacturer directly to get accurate information on the model being recalled.

3. Status. Check on the status of your car repair frequently and document all phone calls with the car dealer and car manufacturer. Ask for a letter in writing from the car manufacturer stating what model what recalled and the process for addressing the recalled model.

4. Car Fund. Start creating an emergency car fund so if you have to get your car repaired you minimize the chance of going into debt.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Organization is The Key to Filing Taxes

Every year Americans have to file their taxes unless they don't earn enough income to qualify having taxes taken out. There are tons of tools available to help prepare your taxes and determine if you will get a refund or owe money. Some of the most widely used tools are Turbo Tax, Tax Cut and Quicken.

One of the reasons many Americans end up owing taxes or miss out on claiming deduction is because their financial papers are not in order. Many throw away, misplace receipts or even falsify documents because the original document cannot be found.

Don't wait until the last minute, this year start early and gather all of your financial paperwork. You can use an automated tool to track your spending and deductions or use a piece of paper, or word processing software such as Excel or Access. Getting organized will help you to see right away what deduction you can qualify for.

Using a tax preparation tool has all the tax laws imbedded in the tool which makes it easier for you to see what deductions you are eligible to claim. Here are 6 tips to help you get organized this tax season.

1. Gather. Gather all receipts, monthly, quarterly and yearly statements, medical bills, student loans, credit card statements, prescriptions, financial statements, etc. and place in one easy to find location.

2. Automation. Use a software package like Quicken or Quick Books to record all of your deductions. Use basic column headings: Item, Date Purchased or Sold, Cost, Quantity, Total Cost.

3. Categorize. Identify all items that can be used as itemized deductions and put them in one folder. Determine if the standard deduction for your tax bracket is greater than your itemized deductions. (This can be found in the IRS tax manual by using the items identified in tip 2). If not (standard deduction is less than itemized deduction), use the worksheet included with your IRS tax booklet to calculate your itemized deductions.

4. Go Green. To save money file your taxes electronically. You will receive your refund in approximately two weeks from the date of filing and you help save the environment.

5. Be Patient. Don't get a tax refund loan (rapid refund) or refund anticipation loan. You are charged a fee to get the refund loan which usually has high interest rates and associated fees. Save yourself time and money.

6. Free Filing. If you salary is less than $52,000 or less you can file your taxes electronically for free.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

How to Lower Heating Costs

This year's winter season didn't seem like a normal winter season where in some parts of the country temperatures were in the 70's and 80's even until the last week of October. For utility companies specifically the gas company, the winter season begins October 1 and ends March 31. According to the Energy information Administration the average American household will pay $27 more than last year due to a 6% price increase.

Approximately 52% of all U.S. homes depend on natural gas as their primary heating fuel. Approximately 7% of U.S. homes depend on heating oil and will pay approximately $220 more this winter. Approximately 6% of all U.S. homes use propane for heating and can expect to pay approximately $136 more than last year. Approximately 37% of all U.S. homes use electricity for heating and can expect to pay approximately $18 less this winter.

The national average price for heating with oil has more than quadrupled to 198% from 2003-2004 to 2008-2009. Here are 9 tips to save on heating costs this winter.

1. Yearly check. Have annual checks on your heating system such as your furnace before the winter season begins. It is best to get a checkup during the summer months when business is slow.

2. Insulate. Insulate your attic and any other areas that are drafty such as your attic, basement, ceilings, walls, crawl spaces, hot water pipes, furnaces, ducts, etc.

3. Automate. Install a programmable thermostat and keep your setting on 68% Fahrenheit. Lower the temperature setting while away from home and during the day. This can save 20% on your heating costs.

4. Seal drafts. Seal any drafts around windows, chimneys, pipes, light fixtures, doors or electrical outlets which can reduce your heating costs by 30%. Replace drafty windows if needed. Hang curtains to seal drafts from windows or place rugs at doors to keep air out.

5. Water Heater. Buy a home water heater insulator to keep the water hot longer and reduce the amount of gas needed to heat the hot water heater.

6. Clothes. Wear more clothes at home to prevent turning the thermostat up.

7. Let the sun in. Open blinds or curtains during the day to let heat in.

8. Use fans. Use ceiling fans and run in the opposite direction to circulate heat.

9. Cover floors. Carpet floors to retain heat and keep floors warm.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Green Tax Tips for 2010

It's Tax Season. That dreaded time of year when you have to look through all of your receipts and try to piece together your spending for the year to file your taxes and hope you get a refund. In addition to the tax credits and usual tax benefits, you can also get tax credits for going green. Going green can qualify you for federal tax deductions for individuals as well as businesses.

Businesses that make changes in their appliances and products can get federal tax credits including those that recycle, buy recycling equipment, or use recycled materials. These can include items such solar water heaters which could qualify for a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of the appliance.

Many state taxing authorities offer tax deductions and tax credits for going green to individuals. New legislation allows employers to give employees up to $20 a month for riding a bike to work. Employers can reimburse up to $230 per month of an employee’s public transportation expenses.

Solar homeowners and businesses can get tax credits for installing solar panels and solar powered water heaters. Solar water heaters may qualify for a tax credit of up to 30% of the purchase price. Improvements to a taxpayer's primary residence must be made before January 1, 2011. Here are 5 tax tips to go green.

1. Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit. This tax credit qualifies residential energy appliances such as solar hot water heaters, solar electricity equipment, geothermal heat pumps and wind turbines installed in or on the home and ends in 2016. The credit is 30% of the cost of home.

2. Plug-in Electric Vehicle Credit. This tax credit is for two types of plug-in vehicles: two- or three-wheeled vehicles or certain low-speed electric vehicles. The credit is 10% of the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum credit of $2,500 for purchases made after February 17, 2009, and before January 1, 2012.

3. Residential Energy Property Credit. This tax credit is for homeowners who make energy efficient improvements to their existing homes. The credit is 30 percent of the cost of all improvements. The credit applies to improvements such as energy efficient windows, insulation, heat pumps and energy-efficient heating and air conditioning. The maximum credit is $1,500 for improvements placed in service in 2010.

4. Credit for Car Conversion Kits. This credit is for car owners who convert a vehicle to a qualified plug-in electric vehicle. This credit is 10% of the cost of converting a vehicle that is placed in service after Feb. 17, 2009. The maximum credit is $4,000 and ends in 2011.

5. Treatment of Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit. This credit allows the Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit, including the tax credit for purchasing hybrid vehicles, to be applied against the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

To claim the green tax credit you must file out Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits. Manufacturers must certify that their products meet the green standards and they must provide a written statement to the taxpayer in the product packaging or on the manufacturers’ website.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

How to Establish Business Credit

Two-thirds of new businesses survive at least two years, and 44% percent survive at least four years. Thirty-three percent of self-made millionaires are entrepreneurs. Now is a great time for entrepreneurs to start a business.

It is important to establish business credit when you are running a business because when you apply for business loans or credit, companies will look at your personal credit and your business credit profile to determine: if you will be approved, the amount approved, the terms of the approval and if you will have to give a personal guarantee. It takes about 6-9 months to establish business credit and up to 2 years to establish good to excellent business credit.

When you separate your business and personal credit it makes it easier to file your taxes. Opening a business credit card account provides a professional image for your company and ensures other businesses perceive you as a legitimate company.

There are only a few payments options available when making business transactions such as credit card, PayPal, debit card and checks. Business credit cards provide higher limits and higher rewards than personal credit cards.

Before applying for business credit and to ensure you are approved you will need: two years of financial statements and tax returns, one bank reference, and a good relationship with your local bank. You can do this by opening a CD for 3-6 months. Once it matures take the money out and open a small personal loan. Pay the loan back on time or before the loan end date. This helps establish a relationship with the bank. Now the bank will be more willing to approve you for a business loan or business credit card.

Here are 6 tips to establish business credit:
1. Open a business credit card or trade line with your business tax id to keep your personal credit and business credit separate such as Staples, Office Depot, UPS, FedEx, Office Max, Exxon, etc. You will need 5 trade references reporting to Dunn & Bradstreet.

2. You can apply for a business credit card with your SSN. However, if you make a late payment your personal credit is damaged.

3. Establish a business profile with Dunn & Bradstreet and get a Paydex score (business credit score).

4. Get a credit card with no personal guarantee. This ensures that if the business fails you are not responsible for any debt owed.

5. Get a secured business credit card.

6. Setup business credit reports with at least 3 agencies (Experian, Equifax, Dunn & Bradstreet, TransUnion, etc.)