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Date: Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 13:47

For many people (women especially) hair care can be a pretty big expense. Between the cuts, colors and special shampoo you can spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year caring for your hair. This is one category I’ve drastically reduced spending on without sacrificing any quality. Below is my super low cost hair care routine.


Photo Credit: vance42

How to Save Money on Haircuts

The price here will be very dependent on where you live. In my area haircuts range from a low of $17 for a walk-in low cost chain to $80+ for a fancy salon. That’s not even including tip, and in some of those fancy salons you’re tipping more than 1 person too. How much do you tip your hairdresser?

Become a haircut model. I’ve reduced my hair cut costs to tips only by being a “haircut model”. Our local chain teaches classes 1 week a month and during that time you can get a free haircut just by making an appointment. I was a little nervous at first to have my hair cut by students but it has worked out fine. The students are monitored by their teachers who will step in and make corrections if necessary. It also helps to be able to explain exactly what you want (I’ve learned a bunch of terms just by listening). Call around in your area to see if you can find a class looking for “models”.

How to Save Money on Hair Color

As much as I would like to let my hair go natural I’m not crazy about how my gray is coming in (only in spots which against my black hair just looks like skunk stripes). So every 8 weeks or so I breakdown and color the grays.

Dye your hair at home. This can be a significant expense if done in a salon but is ridiculously cheap to do at home. Between sales and coupons I usually end up spending around $4 for a box of color (I could probably get it for even less if I was willing to shop different brands). I recommend getting a hair color brush from your local beauty supply store. This will help you get the color where you want it and minimize drips. If you’re nervous about doing it yourself enlist a friend to help. It’s really not that complicated and if you do a test strand first you’ll have a pretty good idea what the finished result will look like.

How to Save Money on Shampoo

I have gone through a couple of different things with shampoos. Any of these tips will save you money.

Use less shampoo. The first tip is to use less. Years ago a hairstylist told me that most people use way too much shampoo. She recommended not washing your hair everyday and when you do to cut the shampoo half with water. I did this for years with great results.

Use less expensive shampoos. I tested a bunch over the years. One of my favorite low cost brands was Suave Professionals Rosemary Mint (though their Almond and Shea butter was a close second). I loved the scents and felt it got my hair cleaner than a lot of more expensive options. Try a bunch and see if you can find a lower cost option you like.

Don’t use shampoo. The third tip is not for everyone but it has worked well for me. About 2 years ago I stopped using shampoo and am instead using baking soda and apple cider vinegar. It will take your hair and scalp a few days or weeks to adjust to the change but after that it works great. I made this change for a healthier scalp more than as a cost savings but that’s just an added bonus.

So there you have it – my super low cost hair routine.

How much do you spend on your hair care routine?

More Frugal Tips to Save Money

Author: "Adrienne" Tags: "Frugal, beauty, hair care"
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Date: Wednesday, 08 Oct 2014 13:47

What do you have in your pantry right now? There are certain items that you always have on hand, right? Maybe it is canned soup, pasta, marinara sauce in a jar, or whatever other convenience products you like to turn to.

Stop wasting food and turn those pantry items into a fun and inexpensive meal.

by: Kristen

Photo Credit: Kristen

Identify Staples You Keep on Hand

For me, two products that I continuously have on hand are boxed pancake mix and boxed macaroni and cheese. It sounds a little bizarre since they are both completely different, but that is what I have. They are cheap, quick to make, and two things I like. Since they have a long shelf life, I stock up with they’re on sale, which is quite often. I don’t have any loyalty to a particular brand so I just buy whatever is cheapest.

Use Your Staples in Different Recipes

With that being said, as much as I like these two items, they could get a little boring after a while. So instead of tossing out my giant stash of pancake mix and mac n’ cheese, I started trying to create different recipes out of them. A lot of times, I simply use other things I have around the house in the fridge or in the pantry. Spicing up these items is a great way to save money on groceries because you are using up your leftovers.

Examples Using My Pantry Staples

Using my pantry staples as an example, here are some of my favorite things I’ve added to pancakes and mac n’ cheese to give you some inspiration.


Pancakes are a favorite for breakfast. They are a classic. You can often find premade boxed pancake mix on sale or for a low price at the store. You can buy a whole box and syrup for less than one pancake meal at a restaurant would cost you. You can also make your own if you think it would be more cost effective. While regular, traditional pancakes are great, sometimes you want to try something different. Here are some suggestions to make great pancakes that are completely different and still affordable:

  • Mix in an array of berries like blueberries, raspberries, sliced strawberries, or blackberries.
  • Stir in baked apples and a touch of cinnamon for pancakes that taste like apple pie.
  • Chop banana slices, and mix them in.
  • Add banana slices and chopped walnuts for a banana bread tasting pancake.
  • Mix in sliced bananas and sliced strawberries.
  • Add blueberries and banana.
  • Instead of topping with maple syrup, try topping with powdered sugar instead.
  • For more of a dessert pancake, top with store bought or homemade icing.
  • For a birthday party pancake, top with icing (either homemade or store bought). Then top with colorful sprinkles.
  • For a dessert pancake, top with vanilla ice cream and caramel.
  • Add chocolate chips.
  • Mix chopped pineapple into the pancake mix.
  • Add peanut butter and chocolate chips.
  • Mix in peanut butter. Top with your favorite kind of jelly for a different kind of peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • Add sliced peaches.
  • Stir in canned pear slices.
  • Make smaller sized pancakes as little silver dollar pancakes.
  • Have a pancake bar. Make plain pancakes and then let your family and friends top it with different sliced fruits, nuts, or whatever else you’d like to top it with.
  • For dessert, add chocolate chips. Top with a scoop of chocolate ice cream and then a bit of chocolate syrup for a chocolate lovers pancake.
  • Mix in marshmallows, some ground up graham crackers and chocolate chips for s’more pancakes. It’s the delicious camping and summer time favorite you can make right in the house.

Mac n’ Cheese

I adore mac n’ cheese. It’s always so quick and simple to make. But again, eating plain, original mac n’ cheese can get a little boring after a while. So I started trying to make it better by turning it into an entirely different meal with other ingredients I had around the house, including leftovers. I had so much luck and fun with the idea that I wrote an entire cookbook about it. My book, Mac n’ Cheese to the Rescue, features 101 recipes to turn boxed mac n’ cheese into something entirely different. The recipes are budget friendly and delicious. Since kids love mac n’ cheese, mixing other things in the dish can introduce them to new foods and get them to expand their taste buds. Since I ate a lot of plain, boring mac n’ cheese in college in a dorm room, I decided to also add some recipes you can make in the microwave to make it better. Here are some ways to spice up mac n’ cheese:

  • Add cooked, chopped broccoli and cooked shredded chicken.
  • Add cooked jarred pasta sauce (such as marinara, tomato basil, or whatever other types of pasta sauce you enjoy) and your favorite Italian cheese (like parmesan, mozzarella, asiago, or whatever else you have on hand or what is on sale).
  • Add cooked taco meat (ground beef, ground turkey, and shredded chicken all work great) and your favorite taco toppings like tomato, onion, sour cream, salsa and top with shredded lettuce.
  • Add cooked, crisp bacon for a bacon mac n’ cheese. You can also opt for turkey bacon for a little bit of a healthier option.
  • Add cooked, shredded chicken, and stir in your favorite type of barbecue sauce. You can top with some French fried onions for a barbecue chicken style mac n’ cheese.
  • Add cream of mushroom soup, canned tuna, and chopped onions for a cheesier version of tuna casserole.
  • If you have leftover meatloaf on hand, you can cut it up and add it to the mac n’ cheese. You can add some cooked, leftover beef gravy or even a little ketchup if you prefer.
  • Add jarred, prepared pesto sauce, shredded, cooked chicken, and some of your favorite Italian cheeses like parmesan or romano cheese.
  • Add cooked, leftover chili for a simple chili mac. You can top your chili mac with the same things you do for chili like sour cream, chopped onions, or cilantro.

What else can you add to pancakes and to macaroni and cheese to jazz them up and make them different? Which one of these additions would you like to try next time you’re making pancakes and macaroni and cheese?

More Ways to Save on Groceries

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Frugal"
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Date: Tuesday, 07 Oct 2014 15:06

I buy a lot of stuff at Target (actually a ridiculous amount of stuff when you factor in my purchases for selling on Amazon), so I was excited to see that Target rolled out a new Target Prepaid Red Card last weekend!

I like using our traditional Target credit card to shop there for the nonrotating 5% discount. However, when I’m trying to meet spending requirements for my latest $2,075+ Application Spree, load up on some recent large bonuses, like the Chase Ink Plus $700+ bonus, and squeeze in some extra spending on our travel card to get a few more points for our upcoming ski trip over the holidays, it comes at an opportunity cost to have to use my Target credit card for the 5% discount.

There’s a new game in town which might just make it possible to stack the Target discount with credit card rewards!

Target Prepaid Red Card

The new Prepaid Red Card is a prepaid card that gets the 5% discount, just like the traditional Target Red Card credit or debit card. But this one is a prepaid card that you can reload similar to Serve or Bluebird. This could be a great alternative to Bluebird or Serve for those of us who go to Target often, but never to a Walmart.

Where to Get the Target Prepaid Red Card. You can purchase the prepaid Red cards in stores. They’re only a select locations right now; search for your state. I’ll have to plan a roadtrip to pick one up soon! You can buy your temporary card with a credit card loaded with $500. Once you get a temporary card, you can register for a permanent card online.

Serve/Bluebird. You can only have one of the cards in the Serve/Bluebird/Target Prepaid Red card family. If you have a Serve or Bluebird account, you have to close it before getting the permanent card.

More on Target Red Card

Fees. There are no monthly fees or fees to reload the card.

Maximum load limits. You can load $2,500 per day and $5,000 per month using the “cash” option at registers. It’s not 100% clear on their website what will and won’t work for the cash funding option. They specify you cannot use gift cards to add money, but it appears uncertain if the gift cards with pins that function like debit cards will work.

Target Strategy to Earn More Cashback

If the strategy to load the Target Prepaid card with a gift card + pin works out, we might be able to purchase gift cards (with the PIN feature) to earn cash back and rewards. Then we could load the gift cards onto the Target account for free at Target and make our purchases to get the additional 5% cash back! Stack it all with a cash back portal and Target could be an incredibly cheap source for everything!

Otherwise, I might have to consider switching our Target Visa card to the store card and pay it in small increments with our Evolve account to maximize the cash back.

Action Plan

I need to identify the closest Target where I can purchase one of these cards since they aren’t available in my area. I also look forward to hearing more on the new Target Prepaid card once the permanent cards are issued! Specifically, if this will allow us to maximize spending on our other high priority cards and still get the Target 5% discount!

Have you picked up a new temporary Target Prepaid Red Card?

Recent Cash Back Rewards Opportunities

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Credit Cards"
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Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 14:01

When you are trying to save your money or get out of debt, sometimes the process can seem like it’s not going so well. It can be frustrating when it feels like it’s not working as well as you had originally thought it would. If you’re not seeing your savings increase as much as you need it to or if you want to get out of debt faster, it’s time to find ways to make extra money. Whenever I’m saving for a vacation, I try to make as much extra money as possible. Here are simple ways to make extra money:


Photo Credit: Flickr/401(K)2012

Simple Ways to Make Extra Money in Your Spare Time

  • Sell your old jewelry.
    Whether it’s an old necklace from an ex or a ring or bracelet that just isn’t your style anymore, don’t let your old jewelry sit in the bottom of that jewelry box any longer. Find a reputable jewelry store that will give you cash for your unwanted items. You can also sell your jewelry at a consignment shop, on Ebay, or at a store that buys gold. But before you sell, know what it’s worth so you know you’re not getting taken advantage of. And don’t be so quick to sell something meaningful or passed down to you for quick cash because you may regret it later on.
  • Write.
    Have you always wanted to be a writer? Are you an expert on a topic? Do you have a strong opinion on a topic? If yes, there’s a good chance you can get paid to write. You don’t need to be a professional writer to get paid for it. Send an e-mail to blogs or magazines you read to ask if they accept submissions for payment. You can also register at sites like Freelancer.com to start getting to work. If you love personal finance and you’ve thought about writing for My Dollar Plan, send Madison a note!
  • Sell the books you don’t want anymore.
    If you know you are not going to read a book again, then sell it. To deal with my student loans in college, I sold all of my used textbooks every semester to pay for next semester’s books. This way I wouldn’t have to take out additional loans to cover my book costs. You can sell textbooks, cookbooks, novels, and whatever other type of books you have on Amazon.com or at a local store that buys used books.
  • Dog-sit or walk a dog.
    Offer to walk a dog for your neighbors or nearby friends and family. You can even register on Sitter City to find dog sitting opportunities near you. This is a perfect opportunity if you’re off during the day or out of work. Some people are gone all day and just want someone to come let their dog out while they’re at work.
  • Sell your old movies.
    I used to buy DVDs all the time until I realized that I was wasting money since I only watch them one time. I sold all of my movies on Amazon and at a local store that buys DVDs. Then you can find free ways to watch movies.
  • Get money for your unwanted clothes.
    Everyone has clothes they don’t wear anymore. Clean out your closet and separate them into piles. If you have designer or more expensive clothes, sell them at an upscale consignment shop or on Ebay. You can sell other name brand clothing to used clothing stores, such as Plato’s Closet.
  • Market your photos online.
    If you love taking photos, consider signing up for an iStockphoto account. You can sell your photos online to those who want access to them. You may not make much, but something is better than nothing.
  • Babysit.
    Consider babysitting if you think you’re up for taking care of some little ones. Just like with dog sitting, you can register for an account with Sitter City or search for opportunities on Craigslist. For an even safer route, spread the word through your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers that you’re looking to babysit for extra money. You can even drop by the local schools to advertise your services.

What are ways you earn extra money?

More Ways to Make Money

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Make Money, Debt, extra money, Savings"
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Date: Friday, 03 Oct 2014 13:29

Chase just increased the sign up bonus on their Chase Ink Plus Business card to 70,000 points; normally it’s 50,000 points.

I mentioned that we got an invite in the mail to apply for this card during our $2,075+ Application Spree, but now it’s available online for everyone! As an added bonus, you can pair it with a referral for even more points!

It’s a really big Free Money Friday!

How to Get Your $700+ Sign Up Bonus

  1. Open a new Chase Ink Plus business card by October 10, 2014.
  2. Spend $5,000 within 3 months after account opening.
  3. Earn 70,000 bonus points.
  4. The points can then be redeemed for $700 or $875 towards travel.

How to Earn $100+ More on Your Sign Up Bonus

As part of their increased offer, I mentioned that you can pair it with a referral for even more points! If you already have the card, you can refer others for 10,000 extra bonus points. My husband referred me, so he’ll get 10,000 points and I’ll get 70,000 for my sign up bonus. Here’s how:

  1. Generate a referral using the Chase refer a friend page.
  2. Refer your spouse or friends by October 10, 2014.
  3. Earn 10,000 points per referral who uses the card by January 21, 2015.
  4. Maximum of 50,000 points in referrals.

Terms and Conditions

  • $95 annual fee.
  • To be eligible for this bonus offer, account must be open and not in default at the time of fulfillment.
  • This new cardmember bonus offer is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this business credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this business credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this business credit card within the last 24 months.

More on Chase

Earning Points. Earn 5x rewards points on internet, cable, phone services and office supply stores. Earn 2x points on gas stations and hotels. All other purchases earn 1 point.

Redeeming Points. Check out the Best Way to Maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for the best redemption options.

Business Card. This is a business credit card. Don’t forget you can use your SSN and name on the application to open a business card as a sole proprietor, even if you do not have a business corporation or EIN.

Sign Up for Chase

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Credit Cards"
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Date: Thursday, 02 Oct 2014 13:57

On Halloween of last year, my husband found out he was being let go. He had an inkling of it the night before when he learned that someone from corporate headquarters was flying in the next day, unexpectedly. But that didn’t take the sting off. At 10:00 in the morning I got the text, and by 11:00 he and his one box of stuff were in our living room. He was unemployed for five months.

Paul and I have each had our stints of unemployment since graduating college. My first job out of college was with a start-up company and I found out one year later—while packing up my boxes—that my salary had been financed by a USDA grant. Then two years into my second job, our company was bought out by a large, international firm and my position was eliminated entirely. So this isn’t our first go-round in the unemployment department.

As such, I’d like to share with you some of the things we learned from going through the layoff process over the years.

Yes, You Have to Pay Taxes on Unemployment Income

You may not think that unemployment income would need to be taxed; after all, it’s coming from the government, so why wouldn’t they take the taxes out before it got to you? However, you’d be wrong. Unemployment income is taxed just like any other income.

You do have a choice to make: would you like the taxes to be taken out as you receive each payment, or figure out taxes owed when you file in April. A word of advice: I would have the taxes taken out as you receive each payment (unless you just can’t afford to do so). The reason why is because you don’t know if you will have that new, shiny job by tax season, and it’s usually easier to pay a small portion overtime than to pay all at once in the end.

If you decide to have the taxes taken out with each check, then you will need to fill out a W-4V.

Read More: Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Unemployment?

You Get to Keep Your HSA Account, But Not Your HRA Account

If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA), then you get to continue using this money towards health expenses. This is because the money came out of your paycheck to begin with. Also note that if you are unemployed, another reimbursable expense from your HSA is your insurance premium. Unless you are of the age of 65, become permanently and totally disabled, or die, you cannot take a cash payout from your HSA without incurring a penalty for doing so. The penalty (on top of paying income taxes on the cash) is 20%.

If you have a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), you do not get to keep the benefits (unless this is somehow negotiated into your severance—see below).

Read More: What are the Differences Between FSAs, HSAs, and HRAs?

Your 401(k) Can Stay if You’d Like, But You Might Want to Move it Over

You do not need to rollover your 401(k) to your own broker. Instead, your 401(k) can stay where it is at. In our situation, the fees were higher to manage the money through our previous employer, so we decided to move over the plan and merge it into our broker account (note, you will most likely have to open up another fund in order to rollover the money). We also want to keep everything in the same place for organizational and simplicity sake. If we hadn’t, we would now have three different 401(k)s at three different employers.

Read More: How to Rollover Your 401k to an IRA.

Severance Packages are Negotiable

I have heard from people who have negotiated their severance package successfully. However, I have not attempted to do so for either of my layoffs. The key here is to not sign your severance package (if you receive any, which is not mandatory) the day that they let you go. Take it home, read through the documentation, and check your emotions. Do you feel you deserve more of a severance? Do you want to negotiate health insurance? Is there a reason that your company may negotiate with you?

Read More: Are You Ready to Lose Your Job?

You May Qualify for Specific Tax Deductions for Unemployed People

If you can itemize your taxes, then you may be able to deduct expenses for job searches. Also, if you weren’t eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit before because your salary was too high, then you may be eligible now since your annual salary has likely gone down (unemployment compensation does not count towards earned income).

Read More: Unemployed Tax Deductions.

Hopefully this will never happen to you, but if it does, you can at least have an idea of what to do in the aftermath.

More Unemployment Resources

Written by Amanda

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Amanda" Tags: "Career, unemployment benefits"
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Date: Wednesday, 01 Oct 2014 13:14

I’m a numbers girl. Always have been, and always will be. I see things in numbers and fractions and percentages. Budgeting and tracking my spending comes easy for me because of that. But if you’re a visual person, you might find it a little harder to stay aware of your financial situation.

So today, I want to look at spending a little differently – by using a pie chart. Your financial health is made of up a number of factors – your income and expenses, assets and liabilities, and future goals/spending plans. But perhaps the biggest thing you can do to change your financial situation is properly allocate your income between saving and spending.

Ideal Financial Pie Chart

When I was taking my financial planning classes, my professor gave us some general metrics to use when assessing our clients’ financial situation. He then used a pie chart to show what the average person’s income breakdown should look like:

  • Housing (including rent or mortgage payments, taxes and insurance): 28% or less
  • Other Debt Payments: 8% or less
  • Taxes: 15%
  • Risk Management (life, auto, health, liability and any other insurance):9%
  • Retirement Savings: 10%
  • Other Savings: 10%
  • Daily Spending: 20%

Here it is in actual chart form:

Ideal Financial Pie Chart

As you can see, only about 15% of your pre-tax income should be used for day-to-day spending! This includes things like bills, food, clothing and entertainment.

Make Your Own Pie Chart

You can use Excel to create a pie chart for you, or you can do one by hand. To use Excel, you can download the ideal pie chart worksheet and enter the numbers that apply to you.

If you want to make your pie chart by hand, do your best to break down your income into each of the categories named above. For each category, divide that amount by your total income, then multiply by 100. This will convert your spending in each category into a percentage. Draw a large circle and divide it in half. Draw four lines in each half to create 10 total sections. Each of these sections represents 10%. Fill in the chart using different colored pencils or markers, filling in portions of the 10 sections to represent categories that are more or less than 10%.

Analyze Your Spending

Everyone’s pie chart will be a little different. The “ideal” pie chart I showed above might not be quite ideal for you depending on your current situation and future goals. If you have 6 kids you want to send to college, you need to be putting more in the “other savings” category. If your house is paid off, you should be spending much less than 28% of your income on just the taxes and insurance. And if you want to retire at 50, you might need to save more than 10% of your income for that purpose! But in general, the chart above is a good starting point for assessing your own spending.

Improve Your Pie Chart

If you can help it, you should actually strive to be under the above percentages for the housing, other debt payments, and daily spending categories. You should strive to be over the ideal percentages for retirement and other savings. Risk Management (insurance) and Taxes will depend on your individual situation, but in general you should strive to spend as little as possible in both categories while maintaining appropriate insurance coverage. To reduce your taxes, consider deferring more toward retirement or education savings. Additional 401(k) contributions will reduce your taxes; the amount depends on your tax bracket. Traditional IRA contributions will reduce taxes if you are under certain income thresholds and can deduct contributions. Roth IRA contributions will not reduce taxes now, but will help you save on taxes later. You may even qualify for the retirement savers’ credit! And if you are self-employed, you have a number of options for saving for retirement while reducing taxes.

If your pie chart looks drastically different from the ideal pie chart, check into some ways to increase your savings, decrease your debt payments, manage your insurance costs and cut your overall spending.

What does your pie chart look like? Tell us in the comments!

Written by Jill

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Jill" Tags: "Budgeting"
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Date: Tuesday, 30 Sep 2014 13:29

This month our favorite finance discussion topics were ways to bring in extra cash, tricks to learn from extreme couponers, earning oodles of cashback from Discover, ways to watch free movies, scoring a free $10 Amazon promo code, the impact of late payments, financial review tips, and claiming the new health insurance tax credit. If you missed the most popular finance tips this month, here’s a quick overview:

This Month’s Most Popular Tips: September

8 Ways to Bring in Extra Cash. Making extra money is always a popular topic. My favorite is tip number 6!

How I Earned $1450 Cashback from Discover. I was shocked (and pleased) to see how much cashback I earned from my Discover card. How much cashback have you earned?

8 Tricks You Should Learn From Extreme Couponers. Kristen shares things you can learn from extreme couponers even if you aren’t interested in going to the extreme yourself.

8 Free Ways to Watch Movies. For those of you who are considering cutting your cable bill, there are still plenty of free ways to watch movies.

How to Claim the Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit. The new addition to your 2014 tax return. How to claim the new tax credit and avoid the penalty for no health insurance.

Focus on These 4 Things for Your Mid-Year Financial Review. Don shares that you don’t need to take a magnifying glass to each and every category, but rather take an hour or so to look things over.

Amazon Free $10 Promo Code. Today is the last day to find out if you qualify for the Amazon Gift Card offer.

How Much Does a Late Payment Affect My Credit Score? The picture says it all!

More Popular September Articles

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "popular"
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Date: Monday, 29 Sep 2014 13:39

Are you ready to reduce debt or increase that savings account? The solution could be a spending fast. A spending fast is exactly what it sounds like – spending the least amount of money possible. We explored tips for a successful spending fast, but here is how to make a game plan for your fast.


Photo Credit: OTA Photos

Ways to Cut Costs During a Spending Fast

  1. Rent: Your mortgage and rent is definitely an essential. While it’s extreme, could you downsize or move to another area to lower your rent each month? Depending on where you’re renting, you may be able to try to renegotiate your rent to lower it. You can exchange a service, such as making upgrades to the property you can do yourself, to try and lower your monthly rent. Also consider 16 Ways to Lower Your Housing Costs.
  2. Utilities: Utilities such as gas, electric, water, and trash removal are also essentials. Although you can’t go on a spending fast from utilities you can make an effort to cut these bills down. Unplug electronics when you’re not using them. Never leave the lights on, and try to use sunlight whenever possible. Explore How to Find the Best Deals on Electricity, How to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient, and the Nest Thermostat review.
  3. Insurance: While you need insurance for your health, car, home or apartment, and other large purchases, you may be able to pay less. Shop around for different plans to see if you can get something cheaper elsewhere. Inquire about discounts if you have multiple plans. If you or your children are college students, you may be able to get a good student discount with a certain grade point average.
  4. Medicine: This is another one that you can’t cut. See which stores offer a rewards program for regularly filling a prescription. Keep an eye out to when stores are offering a promotion for transferring a prescription to them. You can also check the company’s websites for coupons. For more ideas see How to Save on Prescription Drugs.
  5. Food: You can’t cut out food, but you can absolutely cut back. Can You Trim Your Grocery Budget By 15%?
  6. Cell phone: If it isn’t possible to cut your cell phone bill entirely, shop around for a cheaper plan. Ask your provider if it’s possible to downgrade your services so it costs less.
  7. Home phone: If you can’t eliminate your home phone and just use your cell phone, shop for a better price. Or consider a cheaper alternative, like the Ooma Telo.
  8. Car payment: Can you sell your car for a big impact on your finances? If not, can you downgrade and trade it in for a cheaper car? See the 6 Surprising Benefits of the One Car Household.
  9. Car Insurance: If you sell your car, you can eliminate your car insurance altogether. However, you’ll need it if you can’t do without a car. Call your insurance agent to ask about discounts or deals for packaging other insurance plans.
  10. Transportation: Transportation costs are unavoidable. But you can cut them down. The quickest way is to eliminate or reduce your car usage. Car costs include gas, car maintenance (oil changes, new tires, etc.), insurance, registration, parking, and more. Walk or bike to your destination whenever you can. If you have access to public transportation, use that instead of driving. Ask your college or company about reimbursement plans for public transportation. Reduce your gas usage by planning your routes and trips accordingly.
  11. Gifts: Gifts are a tough one to cut especially when people have given you gifts and you genuinely want to get them something. First off, cut what you can. Instead, suggest having a pot luck or getting together with friends and family instead of exchanging gifts. Instead of purchasing a gift, use your creative side to make something. Another option is offering your talents and services, such as fixing something around their place if you’re handy, watching their kids while they go out a night, or whatever else is fitting. See some of the inexpensive gift giving ideas.
  12. Cable: Cutting cable used to be a whole lot tougher, but now it’s a piece of cake. If you have internet, you can watch full episodes on various websites, including the station on which they air. You can also find news clips on your local station’s website and national websites, such as CNN. Even if you don’t have internet, you can borrow movies and TV shows on DVD from your local library. Many times park districts, community centers, and libraries show free movies. Cutting cable can be even easier if you live in an apartment community or townhome community that has a community room with cable TV access. If you just can’t part with your own cable, try downgrading your plan. Negotiate by eliminating channels you don’t use often. Also ask about bundling other services for a discount.
  13. Internet: Some people have no problem cutting their internet, and simply use their phone’s 3G system or head over to a nearby coffee shop or place that offers free internet. I would not be able to cut my internet completely, but I have downgraded my service.
  14. Gym Membership: If you can cut your membership, go for it. You can watch fitness shows on TV or YouTube. Borrow fitness books from the library to learn workouts you can do at home.
  15. Pampering: Personal grooming can cost a pretty big chunk, depending on what you have done. Getting your hair cut and colored, waxing, getting nails done, and other spa services are costly. Do it yourself to save or head to a beauty school for a reduced rate. Also see 21 Money Saving Beauty Tips.
  16. Clothing: For the duration of your spending fast, wear what is already in your closet.
  17. Going to the movies: Opt out of going to the show during your spending fast. Instead, borrow movies from the library or watch movies at home.
  18. Dining Out: Unless you have a coupon for a free meal or gift certificate, skip dining out. Instead, cook at home during your spending fast. You can join restaurant reward programs or e-mail lists to possibly get something for free. Skip the latte out in the morning, and snacks throughout the day. See 6 Alternatives to Dining Out.
  19. Sporting events, concert tickets, and other: Skip the pricey entertainment, and find free things to do instead. You can find free concerts, fests, art shows, and more simply by researching local businesses and events around you. When you’re getting together with friends, suggest a game night, pot luck, or something else for a low or free cost.

What other costs can we cut for a spending fast? What have you cut from your budget to save? What are some “wants” that you would struggle with cutting?

More on Budgeting

Written by Kristen

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Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Frugal, Debt, Savings, spending fast"
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Date: Friday, 26 Sep 2014 13:29

It’s Free Money Friday! Amazon is giving out free $10 promo codes when you buy an Amazon Gift Card for someone.

The offer is targeted, so you’ll have to see if you qualify first: Amazon Gift Card offer. If you do, it’s an easy way to earn a free $10 if you have plans to buy gift cards this holiday season!

How to Get Your $10 Promo Code

  1. Find out if you qualify for the Amazon Gift Card offer.
  2. Purchase $50 in Amazon.com Gift Cards by September 30, 2014.
  3. Get a $10 promotional code to spend during October.

Terms and Conditions

  • Limit one Promo Code per customer/primary email address.
  • Promo Code is valid through and expires on October 31, 2014, 11:59 PM (PT).
  • The Promo Code is non-transferable and may not be resold. The Promo Code may not be combined with other offers.
  • A promotional code of $10 (“Promo Code”) will be sent by October 15, 2014, to the email address associated with the Amazon.com account used to purchase the GCs.
  • Promo Code may be applied only to eligible products sold by Amazon.com Inc. and its affiliates and does not apply to products sold by third-party merchants through the Amazon.com site.

More on Amazon Offer

Combine Gift Cards. It appears you do not need to purchase one $50 gift card since the terms state purchases must be for at least $50 in combined value. We do a lot of Amazon.com teacher gifts, so I might just go ahead and buy those now to have on hand!

Redeem for Something You’ll Keep. Since the amount of the promo code used will be subtracted if you return an item, be sure to spend it on something you won’t return!

Who Qualifies? We have three Amazon accounts; one account qualifies for this promotion and two don’t. However, I can’t figure out any common attributes about the two accounts that the other one doesn’t share! I guess I’ll just take the free $10 and stop trying to figure it how or why it applies! Hopefully, many of you will also qualify for this offer!

Sign Up for Amazon Offer

Written by Madison

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Author: "Madison" Tags: "Quick Money"
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Date: Thursday, 25 Sep 2014 13:36

4th quarter cash back is here and it’s focused on holiday shopping! I just finished claiming my $1450 Cashback from Discover and activating all our new accounts from my $2,075+ Application Spree to Stockpile 0% Credit Cards. Now it’s time to get all the cards organized and integrated into our regular rotation.

Reevaluate Quarterly Cash Rewards

It’s our quarterly check-in to reevaluate the cards we are carrying to take advantage of the best 4th quarter 2014 cash rewards credit cards bonuses. Every quarter we reevaluate the cash back cards to make sure we get the highest cash back on each purchase including the credit cards that offer cash back on a rotating quarterly schedule.

As you switch out your cards, don’t forget to follow up on all your rewards and make sure you are earning the right cash back and maximizing all of your purchases.

We do the same swap every quarter, so you know exactly how it works: take out the old 3rd Quarter 2014 5% Rotating Cash Rewards Credit Cards (be sure you maximized all your 3rd quarter categories you need!) and maximize your cash rewards for 4th quarter 2014 to make sure you have the right cards, you are signed up for the 5% promotions, and you know where to use them.

Once again, we included the direct links to activate all of your 5% quarterly rewards!

4th Quarter 2014 5% Cash Rewards Credit Cards

Discover it. The Discover 5% cash back for 4th quarter 2014 is for holiday shopping! Obviously, the timing is perfect since the holiday shopping season is about to begin! The 4th quarter 2014 Discover More 5% categories are:

  • Online Shopping
  • Department Store purchases

Here’s the place to activate your 4th quarter Discover rewards. See the entire 2014 Discover Rewards Calendar.

Chase Freedom. The Chase Freedom card will also be featuring 5% cash back on holiday shopping this quarter! The 4th quarter 2014 Chase Freedom 5% categories are:

  • Amazon.com
  • Zappos.com
  • Select Department Stores (Don’t forget to review the list when you activate your bonus!)

Here’s the place to activate your 4th quarter Chase Freedom rewards. See the entire 2014 Chase Freedom Rewards Calendar and the Best Way to Maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.

Citi Dividend. Citi has the rest of the holiday shopping covered with 5% cash back on Best Buy and other department stores. The 4th quarter 2014 Citi Dividend 5% categories are:

  • Best Buy
  • Department Stores
  • Toy Stores

Here’s the place to activate your 4th quarter Citi Dividend rewards.

No Sign Up Needed

And as always, here are the easier cash back categories, since you don’t need to sign up:

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Category Card Cash Back
Grocery Stores Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express 6% cash back (up to $6,000 per year)
Gas TrueEarnings® Card from Costco and American Express 3% cash back (up to $4,000 per year)
Restaurants Citi Thank You Premier Card 3 ThankYou Points for every $1
Target Target credit card 5% discount
Amazon* Amazon Visa or
Citi Forward Card (college students only)
3% cash back
5% cash back
Wireless and Office Supplies SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express 5% cash back
Costco Fidelity Credit Card 2% cash back
Travel Barclaycard Arrival Various
Charitable Donations U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Business Travel Rewards Visa® Card 3x points
Choose Your Own Categories SimplyCash® American Express
or US Bank Cash Plus
Everything Else Gift cards purchased on American Express
or Fidelity Credit Card
or New Citi Double Cash
or Barclaycard Arrival

*I left the categories on the grid for those currently in rotation. Readers requested that I leave them on as a backup for which card to use once they’ve exhausted their rotating rewards.

How to Get Your 5% Cash Back

Here’s my checklist for rotating cash back programs:

  1. Sign up for all of the new quarterly cash back programs, even if you don’t know if you’ll use that card. To sign up, just log in to your account online and select the 4th quarter 2014 5% cash back information. In order to earn the 5%, you have to enroll in each program quarterly.
  2. Write which categories to use each card for using a marker on the front of the card. It works really well to keep the cards straight!

Sign Up Bonus Offers

If you don’t have some of the cash rewards cards I’m using, here are the ones currently offering sign up bonus offers:

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Credit Cards, cash back"
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Date: Wednesday, 24 Sep 2014 13:25

The other week I was traveling for vacation and while sitting on the plane, my seatmate started talking to me about the various marijuana stocks that are now being traded in the stock market. He was selling this one stock in particular (I won’t mention it since it’s a penny stock), telling me how he’s made so much money from it.

stock market

Photo Credit: worradmu

Questions To Ask Before Investing In Marijuana Stocks

We all know when random people start offering you investing advice, the party is about to come to an end. Curious, I decided to look into the stock, not to buy mind you, but rather to just learn about it since I enjoy investing so much. The company sounded interesting enough, but the idea of investing in marijuana stocks is not so black and white. In fact, it’s very gray. Here are some things you need to consider before investing in marijuana (or investing at all).

Is It Ethical?

For many, marijuana, regardless of how strong a drug, is still an illegal drug and as such should not be invested in. For others, they see marijuana not as a drug at all, but as a natural remedy for some health issues. I am not here to debate one way or the other. But I am here to tell you that you have to know where you stand on the issue before you invest.

Is It Legal?

While states like Colorado and Washington, among others, make marijuana legal, the rest of the country does not. This includes the federal government. Remember that when you buy a share of stock, you are part owner of that company, regardless of how small your equity stake is. Should the government come after the company for selling in states they aren’t authorized, or selling things they shouldn’t be selling, you could be on the hook since you are part owner.

Now in all honesty, I have no clue of the likelihood of this happening, let alone the government coming after you, the owner of 0.002% of the company. But, I have to admit that it is a risk that has to be taken into account and assessed. The last thing anyone wants is to be held liable for something they had no clue was happening.

In addition to the above issue, is the possibility of the federal government overruling the states in some manner. Again, I have no idea of the likelihood of this either, but the government could strike down the law and ban sales of the drug. Your good investment is now worthless overnight.

Is It A Good Investment?

This depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, this could be an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something big. If other states begin to legalize marijuana, the current crop of companies have a head start on everyone else. They already have a process in place for how to profit. They can simply copy the model from Colorado and begin applying it to other states.

But on the other hand, as states legalize marijuana, the federal government could say it wants to get in on the money and become the sole supplier for the country. If that happens, the stock becomes worthless.

As with anything related to investing, with high risk comes high rewards. These marijuana stocks fit that bill perfectly. There is a ton of uncertainty with them and as a result, there is the potential for something big. But there is equally as big of a chance as something going wrong and the stocks becoming worthless. If anything, an investment in a marijuana stock should be done with money that you can not only afford to lose (because there is a very high probability you will lose) but also in a play account and not your long-term investment portfolio. For example, if you still need to make trades in your Motif account to earn your $150 sign up bonus, you could buy some of the marijuana community motifs to play with.

Final Thoughts

Back to the stock in question from earlier, I followed it for a few days and watched the price decline daily for about two weeks. Over this time, it lost about 25% of its value. For me, I don’t know if I could handle a 25% decline in my investment over the course of a few days. It’s one thing when the stock market as a whole declines 40% over the course of a year, but over a few days? That’s just crazy.

If you are thinking about investing in marijuana stocks, I urge you to take caution and think things through. Don’t make any quick decisions. You can very easily lose your entire investment.

Would you invest in marijuana stocks? Why or why not?

More on Investing

Written by Don

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Author: "Don" Tags: "Investing, Retirement"
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Date: Tuesday, 23 Sep 2014 14:04

I just redeemed $350 in cashback on my Discover account. If that wasn’t special enough, imagine my delight when I logged into my Discover card account and saw I had an additional $1100 in cashback to redeem!

How did I rack up $1450 in cashback on my Discover card? Let’s take a closer look.

How to Earn Discover Cashback

5% Quarterly Rewards. Discover jumped to the top of my list during the 3rd Quarter 5% Rotating Cash Rewards window with 5% cash back on gas stations. The 5% cash back is for spending up to $1,500 each quarter in the bonus categories. The 2014 Discover Rewards Calendar shows 4th Quarter 5% Cashback is for Online Shopping and Department Store purchases… perfect for holiday shopping. You can earn $300 per year maxing out the 5% categories.

Shop Discover. I racked up a ton of cashback using the Shop Discover Cashback program. You can earn 5% – 20% cash back on every purchase you make using the Shop Discover portal. This is in addition to the 5% quarterly rewards, so you can stack them together. I used this program heavily during the holiday shopping season last year. I’ve earned over $1200 with the Shop Discover program.

Standard Cashback. For categories not part of the quarterly rewards, you will earn 1% cashback. However, I don’t use this option much, since there are better choices for spending in other categories.

Discover Deals. I haven’t seen Discover advertise this option heavily, but it’s similar to the Amex offers you can load to your account. You save the deals you want, and it will automatically credit your account. For example, there’s a $2 cashback on a $10 purchase at Panera today on my card.

Targeted Offers. I can’t stress how important it is to look at your mail. The offers in the mail that look like junk usually are…. unless they aren’t! I recently got an offer in the mail from Discover to earn $100 cashback after making $1000 in purchases. That’s a 10% bonus! I stacked it with the gas purchases during third quarter to get 15% cashback on our gas purchases! If you tend to throw away your mail, you can always check your account for targeted offers using the Discover Offer link.

Options to Redeem Rewards

Once you earn your Discover cashback, you can redeem it in any of the following ways:

  • Cashback. You can get a direct deposit to your bank account or a statement credit on your account.
  • Pay with Cashback Bonus. You can link your account to Amazon.com and redeem your credits $1 for $1.
  • Gift Cards. I often use this redemption option because you can get $25 gift cards for redeeming $20 to many of the retailers. You can also get Discover gift cards at face value.
  • Charitable Donation. If you have $20 cashback or more, you can donate your cashback to charity.

More on Discover

0% Intro APR. I mentioned in my $2,075+ Application Spree to Stockpile 0% Credit Cards that a new Discover card offers 0%. The current offer for the Discover it card is 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months.

Discover Card Options. There are various Discover it Credit Cards depending on what you are after. They offer varying lengths of 0% offers and cashback options. In addition, there’s a student card with a sign up bonus.

How much Discover cashback have your earned with your Discover card?

Sign Up for Discover it

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Credit Cards"
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Date: Monday, 22 Sep 2014 13:34

When you’re trying to get out of debt or increase your savings, the two ways to do both is by increasing your income and cutting your spending.

On the list of items you could potentially cut, is your cable bill. If you’re spending $100 per month on your bill, imagine if that money was going towards your looming credit card debt or a massive student loan you’ve been trying to deal with. Or better yet, if you don’t have any debt, if it was put towards increasing your emergency fund or your savings account.

Some people also choose to cut cable to decrease their family’s TV watching while increasing other activities. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge, here are some options once you give up cable.


Photo Credit: Flickr (espensorvik)

How to Cut Your Cable Bill

  • Head out to watch the game. If you loved cable to check out all of your favorite teams play, head out to a local sports bar or restaurant instead. Better yet, opt for live sporting events when you can. Search for cheap seats at your local team’s game. You can also check out your team’s official website for a live streaming score, highlights of the game, and more videos. If you’re just a sports fan in general, check out minor league and community sports that often offer much cheaper tickets that the pros.
  • Watch the news online. Most local news channel websites offer free clips of the news or even live streaming of newscasts right on their website. The same is true for national news websites, such as CNN.com which offers live TV on their website along with video clips of various stories in addition to headlines streaming.
  • Watch episodes on the station’s website. Check out the website of the station for your favorite shows. Many websites, such as Bravo and MTV, will offer free full length episodes of recently aired episodes. Some may offer clips of shows as well.
  • Check out other TV sites. Besides the actual station’s website, there are other websites where you can gain access to TV shows. Hulu, SurfTheChannel, and YouTube are options to view TV shows and news clips. You can also use these sites to watch free movies and more.
  • Invest in a media player. You can consider purchasing a media player, such as Chromecast or Apple TV to watch TV without the cable service. You should consider the initial instillation fees and any associated costs of starting it up as well as maintaining it before you cut your cable cord.
  • Head out to the library. In addition to books and magazines, chances are your library also offers movies on DVD along with full seasons of past TV shows. You can borrow these items completely for free.
  • Reduce your package. If you can’t completely part with cable, look into downgrading your service.

What are other ways you can watch TV without cable? What are your favorite non-television watching activities? If you’ve given up cable, how has your experience been so far? If you haven’t yet, what’s your hesitation of giving up cable?

More on Frugal Movies and TV

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Frugal, bills, budget, cable, Debt, spen..."
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Date: Friday, 19 Sep 2014 13:29

Do you shop on eBay? I have used eBay off and on for almost 15 years… but somehow I missed the fact that they have a rewards program!

I’ve been shopping a bunch on eBay recently to stock up on some discontinued items I sell on Amazon. (Ironically, there’s a book about the topic How to Buy Low on eBay and Sell High on Amazon, but I’ve never read it… maybe I should!). Anyways, I stumbled on the eBay Bucks program. It’s a free rewards program that lets you earn cash back on your shopping. Let’s take a closer look for Free Money Friday!

How to Get Your eBay Bucks Certificate

  1. Sign up for a free eBay Bucks account with your eBay user ID.
  2. Shop on eBay as you normally would and pay with paypal.
  3. Automatically earn a percentage (usually 2% back on most items) of your purchases in the form of eBay Bucks.
  4. The eBay Bucks certificates can then be redeemed for future purchases.

Terms and Conditions

  • eBay Bucks certificates are handed out every three months to members who earned five dollars or more.
  • Once you receive an ebay Bucks certificate, you’ll have 30 days to use it.
  • No fees.

More on eBay Bucks

Maximums. You can earn up to $100 in eBay Bucks on any single eBay purchase and you can earn up to $500 in eBay Bucks for all qualifying purchases during a given calendar quarter.

Calendar Quarters. Since this calendar quarter is almost over, it might be hard to earn the bucks before the end of the month. However, if you are going to spend more than $250 in any quarter, it’s worth signing up!

Sign Up for TD

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Cash Back"
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Date: Thursday, 18 Sep 2014 14:07

The 2014 tax calculator is here! Do you want to get an estimate of how much your tax refund will be before you file? We just updated the 2014 tax calculator with the current tax brackets, credits, deductions, and everything else you’ll need to estimate your tax refund before the tax deadline.

How to Use the 2014 Tax Calculator

The 2014 tax calculator works based on the following inputs:

  1. Enter your filing status including your personal exemptions and any dependents you will claim on your tax return. Then enter your income, deductions and credits.
  2. Enter your projected withholdings from your W4 (or your total withholding on your W2 once you get it) for the year to estimate your tax refund for April 2015.
  3. Select calculate to use the 2014 calculator to estimate your 2014 taxes.
  4. Select view report to see the entire tax calculator report.

2014 Tax Calculator

Enter your filing status, income, deductions and credits and we will estimate your total taxes for 2014. Based on your projected withholdings for the year, we can also estimate your tax refund or amount you may owe the IRS next April 2015.

Tax Calculator Inputs

Please note that this calculator uses 2014 tax tables. All of the tax parameters and definitions used to build the free tax calculator are based on the current tax laws. If you are looking for the tax calculator for last year, please see the 2013 Tax Calculator.

As a reminder for the 2014 tax calculator, the outputs will be based on your tax calculator inputs.

Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit and Penalty

As we mentioned earlier this week, the tax calculator doesn’t include the new Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit or penalty for no health insurance yet. We’ll update the calculator as soon as the IRS finalizes those forms.

AMT Tax Calculator

The tax calculator also includes the AMT exemption amounts; there is not a separate AMT tax calculator. The calculator also includes 2014 tax scenarios for capital gains tax rates.

More Tax Topics

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Tax Tips, 2014 tax calculator, income ta..."
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