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Date: Monday, 14 Apr 2014 13:29

Before you head out to file your taxes before the tax deadline, you’ll need to grab more than just your wallet to pay your tax professional for their services. There are a large number of items you need to bring with you when filing your taxes. In many cases, these items are essential to filling out your tax return. You’ll need documents, receipts, identification, and various other pieces of information.

Tax Checklist

If you have already filed your taxes, use this list as a checklist to make sure you didn’t leave anything off your tax return. If you did, you can amend your tax return.

photo by: Theen

Photo Credit: Theen

Your personal information

You’ll be sharing personal, sensitive information with your tax professional. That is exactly why it is a good idea to go to a reputable professional. Check reviews on the Better Business Bureau, and check their credentials.

Here are the various pieces of personal information you’ll need:

  • Your social security number and full name.
  • You’ll need your spouse’s social security number and full name. If you are filing jointly, your spouse will need to come along to sign the return as well.
  • To play it safe, you may want to bring along your social security card as some tax professionals may require it.
  • Date of birth for you and your spouse.
  • Bring the copies of your tax return from the last three years. Your tax professional can check for errors and also possibly use past information to help fill out this year’s return.
  • You may need a photo ID such as a driver’s license or passport.

If you were received income…

You’ll be reporting all of the income you received throughout the previous year. In many cases, if you were getting taxes withheld from your paycheck, you may be eligible for a refund.

Here is what you’re going to need to report all of your income:

  • Your W-2 forms for any place you worked that you have received from your employer. Your employer should have mailed these to you by the end of January. If you have worked somewhere in the past year and did not receive this form, check with the employer. Also, if you worked multiple jobs, you will need to report all of them.
  • If you searched for a new job during the year, you’ll need to know the amount you spent on your job search. These expenses include employment and outplacement agency fees, the cost of preparing a resume, and the cost of traveling to search for this job.
  • Your unemployment records and the amount of income you received from unemployment.
  • Income received from serving jury duty.
  • Any gambling income or large prizes or awards you may have won throughout the year.
  • Any other income you can think of.
  • Any income you received from interest, such as Forms 1099-INT or 1099-DIV.
  • Any foreign income earned.
  • Bring with the total amount of the costs for your employment such as a uniform or tools. This can possibly be deducted if you itemize deductions.

If you have children or other dependents…

If you have children or dependents, you will want to report this as you may be eligible for various tax credits.

Here is what you’ll need to bring if you have children or other dependents:

  • Know their social security number for your children and dependents along with their full name. Be sure the name matches their social security card.
  • Dates of birth for your children or other dependents.
  • Childcare records including the business tax identification number of your child care provider and how much you paid for childcare.
  • Expenses related to the adoption of a child.

If you are self-employed…

Being self-employed can allow great flexibility for a working environment, but it definitely can get a little tricky during tax season. It is important to bring all important documents so you can have your self employed tax deductions in line.

Here is what you will need if you are self-employed:

  • Any 1099 forms you have received in the mail from contract work you have done.
  • If your office is in your home, bring along this information as well. It is possible you can deduct a portion of your home costs or rent if you work from home.
  • Any business expenses you paid throughout the year.
  • Total business miles driven throughout the year.

If you attended college…

If you have attended college during the previous year or paid student loans, here are the items to bring:

  • Form 1098-T from your university, which indicated how much you paid for tuition.
  • The cost of essential books and supplies you were required to purchase through your university.
  • Form 1098-E from your student loan providers if you have paid interest on a student loan.
  • Information on any scholarships you received.

If you are divorced…

  • If you paid alimony during the past year, you’ll need the amount you paid and the social security number of your ex-spouse.
  • If you received alimony, you’ll need the amount and your ex-husband’s or ex-wife’s name.
  • Any documents proving that your ex-husband or ex-wife is allowing you to claim your child on your tax return.

If you paid for health care costs and insurance…

If you tragically experienced a theft or disaster…

  • If you were a victim of a theft, bring all documents proving this.
  • If you live in a region that was a federally declared disaster area, bring proof of that.
  • Bring costs of clean-up expenses, lost property, and rebuilding costs of an earthquake, fire, flood, hurricane, or tornado.

More Documents You Will Need

Here are more items you’ll need when you file your taxes:

  • If you own your home: Documents containing your mortgage payment and interest.
  • If you owned rental property: All of the records of the income you received and records of any expenses.
  • If you have an IRA: The amount you contributed to your IRA and the value of your IRA.
  • If you are retired: Your social security income and any pension income.
  • If you donated to charity: Bring any receipts for any charitable donations you gave throughout the year, such as dropping clothes off at a Salvation Army.
  • If you want to receive a direct deposit from the IRS: Bring a check that will have your bank name, routing number, and account number for your refund.

What are other important items are missing from this list?

More Tax Topics

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Tax Tips, getting taxes done"
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Date: Friday, 11 Apr 2014 13:50

American Express is offering a sign up bonus on the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card for 25,000 points and it’s this week’s Featured Deal! The 25,000 points are worth up to $250 in gift cards.

The Premier card was one that I had long forgotten about, but resurfaced when I made my list earlier this week of target American Express bonus offers.

How to Get Your $250 Sign Up Bonus

  1. Sign up for the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card.
  2. Spend $2,000 within 3 months.
  3. Receive 25,000 Membership Rewards bonus points.
  4. Redeem points for up to $250 worth of gift cards.

American Express Terms and Conditions

  • No annual fee for the first year, then $175/year.
  • Points will be credited to your Membership Rewards account 6-8 weeks after you meet the spend requirement.
  • Limit one offer per card account.

More on American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card

Earning Points. You will earn 3X points for flights booked with airlines, 2X points at US gas stations and US supermarkets, 1X points on other purchases.

Additional Points. As an added bonus, you can get 15,000 points after you spend $30,000 in purchases on the card in one year.

Redeeming Points. You can transfer points to over 20 frequent traveler programs or use points for gift cards at popular stores.

Sign Up for American Express

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, American Express, Sign up ..."
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Date: Thursday, 10 Apr 2014 13:29

I’m a sports nut. As such, March is a great month simply for the fact that there is great college basketball to watch. It’s great to watch starting with the conference championships because a team that had a horrible season can make a run and if they win their conference tournament, they get invited to the NCAA Tournament (it’s why they call is March Madness).

Once you enter the tournament, all bets are off. In years past, it was easy to see the higher seeds (the better teams) easily advance. But nowadays, there is so much parity in the game, that lower seeds beat higher seeds on a regular basis. In fact, this year, there was only one number one seed left of the remaining final four teams. The other teams were ranked eighth, second and seventh. It can be so hard to fill out a bracket correctly, that the great Warren Buffett offered $1 billion to anyone that could submit a correct March Madness bracket. I think after the first weekend, no one had a perfect bracket anymore.

march madness

Photo Credit: Stuart Miles

Personal Finance and March Madness

As I was watching the great games over the past few weekends, I made many realizations about personal finances. I know it sounds crazy, but this is what I do. So read on to see what I realized about March Madness and personal finance.

Upsets Happen

As I mentioned above, upsets are no longer an exception, they are normal. Granted a number one seed has never lost to a sixteen seed, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen in the next few years. As such, upsets happen in our lives as well. We just don’t call them upsets, we call them emergencies.

This is why it is so critical to have an emergency fund. Saving for an emergency fund isn’t sexy or glamorous, but it is something that will help you not get derailed when something happens, like a car accident, needing a new roof sooner than usual or needing a new central air conditioner. The better prepared you can be, the lesser the chance of an upset causing you financial harm.

Read More: How Big Should Your Emergency Fund Be?

Plans Don’t Work

You can scout a team and think you know how to attack them only to find out your plan doesn’t work. In order to win the game, you need to come up with a new strategy. In life, change is inevitable. Even with the best plans, life still happens and causes us to have to change things up a bit.

Take my current situation. My wife and I had planned this year to put over 60% of our income into our various investment accounts this year. But here we are in April and she is burnt out from her job and is looking for something else. The direction she is leaning would mean a large pay cut. As a result we are still saving as much as we can, but we are hoarding cash instead of investing the money.

To be successful in life, you need to have a plan, but you also need to be able to change when what you planned for doesn’t happen or unexpected things arise.

Read More: Do You Have a Worst Case Scenario Plan?

It All Comes Down To The Basics

Look at many of the games and the losing team loses simply because they missed a majority of their free throws. This aspect of the game is overlooked by many of the players because they want to be on ESPN for the dunks and other great plays. Making a free throw is boring. But as boring as it is, it is still the foundation of how to win a game. Make your free throws, and odds are you are going to win the game. But miss your free throws and you’ll be heading home early.

With our finances, it all comes down to the basics as well. Have an emergency fund. Live within your means. Save for retirement. If you can’t do these things, you are going to have a tough time thriving and prospering in life and during retirement. Again, doing these things aren’t glamorous, but they are what needs to be done.

Think of it like building a house. If you want a solid house, you need a good foundation. It’s ugly and no one is interested in it. They just want to see the actual house. But without that foundation, there wouldn’t be a house to look at.

Read More: What Should Your Financial Pie Chart Look Like?

Final Thoughts

By learning finance from other areas of life, many find the subject more tolerable and even enjoyable. If you have a difficult time with getting your financial house in order, try to mix it with something you love to do and learn that way. I was able to relate March Madness with personal finance. You can do the same with many other things in life too. It will make it more likely that you stick to the actual learning process.

More Financial Lessons

Written by Don

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Don" Tags: "Goals, credit, Debt, frugal, Savings, sp..."
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 14:34

One of our favorite strategies to rack up sign up bonuses was highlighted by a reader named Steve who earned $6,000 in sign up bonuses. He highlighted his tips and tricks including the ability to recycle or repeat bonuses offers as often as he can. He shared that in order to recycle a bonus offer (or churning as some call it), you need to close the account after meeting all the requirements to get the bonus. Then, when they offer another bonus, you’re free to sign up again.

For a long time, many of the credit card issuers allowed this practice in various forms. They weren’t fond of it, but they didn’t specifically exclude it…. until now!

American Express Eliminates Repeat Bonus Offers

American Express recently announced they will change the terms of their sign up bonuses to specifically exclude churning. Since it’s not an official announcement, it’s unclear when exactly the change will take place, or if it already has. It is rumored to begin on May 1.

Many of the offers already include language in the terms that would allow the exclusion. For example, the language on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express sign up bonus now states:

If we identify you as currently having an American Express® Card account, you may not be eligible for this welcome bonus offer. This offer is also not available to applicants who have or have had this product.

In my last $1,720 + 267k Point Credit Card Application Spree I had no problem adding a Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express at the last minute. It’s a card that I have previously had and was still able to get the sign up bonus, despite the language in the terms and conditions.

Last Chance To Repeat Previous Bonuses?

I think it’s time to take advantage of our possible last chance to apply for any previous cards this month. Just in case the rules won’t officially apply until May 1 (even though the terms may already state it), I’m going to take my chances and see if I can qualify for some cards we’ve already gotten bonuses on in the past including the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. The worst that can happen is that we don’t get the bonus, so I think it’s worth a shot. This may work for cards that you haven’t held in over a year (12 months and 1 day).

Going Forward

Obviously, we will have to watch carefully to see how this plays out. Will the rule apply retroactively? Or just for new accounts going forward? In addition, it will be interesting to see what happens to the sign up bonuses in the future for American Express. Will they change?

We may need to plan to take advantage of future bonuses strategically. Since we may only get one shot at each sign up bonus per card in the future, we’ll want to make sure that we apply for it when the bonus is the best. In addition to Maximizing American Express Points we’ll want to develop a plan to maximize bonuses too!

Once we have some more data points, we’ll be able to figure out what is actually happening and start planning our new strategies to optimize bonuses in the future! Feel free to share your experiences on any sign up bonuses now and after May 1.

What impact will the change have on your strategies to maximize sign up bonuses?

American Express Cards

Here’s the list of American Express cards I went through to see which ones would make sense to apply for in my last chance plan to take advantage of the current 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"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 13:29

Do you find yourself stressed out around tax time? What about even thinking about doing your taxes? If so, you are not alone. Taxes are often thought of as a dreaded part of the year causing stress and leaving people feeling overwhelmed and depressed.

Why Are Taxes So Stressful?

Sure, the act of filing taxes can be daunting, but there just might be more to it to explain why people are so stressed out about taxes. Here are some reasons you might be stressed when you think about doing your taxes this year and also how you can deal with that stress as the tax deadline nears.

WhyStress_by CollegeDegrees360

Photo Credit: College Degrees 360

You’re Dealing with Money

Ask people what their greatest stress is and chances are they are going to say money. People stress about not having enough money, not understanding money, spending too much money, not handling it well, not having a savings, not earning enough, and everything beyond that. Tax time can bring up stressful financial issues that occurred throughout the year. It can be especially stressful if you end up owing the IRS.

How to deal: Find ways to cope with the stress of taxes. Before you start your taxes, you may even want to take an in-depth look at your finances so you understand what your current situation is. Whether good or bad, understanding where you are at financially, can reduce some of the stress of not knowing.

You are Afraid of Being Audited

An audit is often a misunderstood, scary process. Too often people are scared to claim deductions or report certain things (like the Home Office Tax Deduction) because they believe it might flag an audit.

How to deal: First, understand what exactly an audit is and what happens when you’re being audited. This may alleviate some of the mystery of an audit and better explain what it is. Second, you can do things to reduce your chances of being audited. Fill out your taxes carefully to reduce mistakes and errors which can lead to an audit. Be sure your numbers add up and match any documents that were already sent to the IRS. Also, understand how tax brackets and tax laws work to know what you can get.

You are Intimidated by the Government

Many people are intimidated by the IRS, and it might seem like a scary thing.

How to deal: If you fill out your taxes correctly, you don’t have to worry. Keep your receipts and paperwork so if the IRS requests additional information from you or needs to do an audit, you can cooperate and make things easier for both parties.

It Causes Tension in Your Relationship

Once you are married and file with a spouse or domestic partner, it is now a joint responsibility. If you and your partner aren’t on the same page, this can cause fights and stress. Diving back into old financial arguments that happened throughout the year can occur and any previous resentment about spending issues or any other money issues can resurface. This can also bring light to any sensitive issues about one partner not feeling like they earn enough or being sensitive about the loss of a job or other negative financial situation that may have occurred throughout the year.

How to deal: Before jumping in to filing, make a game plan with your spouse. Go into it with a calm, patient, but thorough attitude. Don’t let issues escalate into an argument, and stay on point. Each of you can gather your specific documents like W2s, 1099s, or whatever else you have. Make a plan on how you should file. If you’re doing it on your own, have one spouse do it, as the other double checks his or her work. Have your spouse nearby so you can ask a question or get input if needed. If you’re getting it done by a tax professional, you should both be present in case a question or issue comes up that that specific person is needed for.

You are Disorganized

If you’re disorganized, you’re stressed. Whether it is specifically with taxes or with any other aspect of your life, being disorganized and not having a grasp on the situation is going to cause stress. Going through past business expenses for self employed deductions, searching for receipts and paperwork, and locating all of your important tax documents could get quite stressful if you haven’t been organized all year.

How to deal: Before you begin, make a list of what you need to file your taxes. Write down all of the paperwork and documents you’ll need. If you need to calculate what you spent on something, do that before beginning to file your taxes. Start a folder with all of your important documents you need to file and organize them by type. If you’ve already filed, learn from your mistakes and get organized for next year.

You Don’t Understand Tax Laws

Sometimes the stress associated with doing taxes is the result of not understanding the process of filing taxes, what taxes actually are, and the tax laws. People often wonder what applies to them, what doesn’t, and they may be unsure what type of credits or deductions they qualify for.

How to deal: Take time to learn which tax laws apply to you, how income is taxed and what you qualify for. Read credible sources from your local library or online which can make these issues clearer for you. If you file online using TurboTax, use their tax tips and video library. If you are still confused, consider visiting a trusted, friendly tax professional that not only can help you with your taxes, but also is willing to take the time to explain things to you so you know for next year.

Do taxes stress you out? Why or why not? How do you avoid the stress of taxes? How do you deal with it?

More Tax Topics

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Tax Tips, stress"
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Date: Monday, 07 Apr 2014 13:29

I picked up the Barclaycard Arrival card in my Credit Card Application Spree last spring. While I’ve redeemed most of the points (or miles as they call them) I earned from the $440+ sign up bonus, I still have more to cash out.

Whenever I redeem points, I like to make sure I’m redeeming them for the maximum value. We’ve discussed before the Best Way to Maximize American Express Points, the Best Way to Maximize Citi Thank You Points and the Best Way to Maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.

Now, it’s time to review how to best redeem our Barclaycard miles!

Ways to Maximize Barclaycard Arrival Points

Travel Rewards. The highest rate of redemption for the Barclaycard points is using their “Pay yourself back for travel” feature. After you make a travel purchase using your Barclaycard Arrival card, login to your account and redeem miles within 90 days of your purchase. The travel rewards convert to a statement credit at a rate of $25 for 2,500 points. In addition, you’ll earn 10% more points for the redemption, or 250 more points. If you factor in the bonus points, your redemptions are more than 1.1 cents per point, which is the best conversion rate of all the options they give you. More on why I think there is actually additional value of the travel reward redemption rate below.

Cash Rewards. I’m a big fan of cash; however, this isn’t where you can stretch your Barclaycard points very far. The points convert to cash at a rate of $12.50 for 2,500 points. For 0.5 cent per point, it’s an easy redemption option but at a poor conversion rate compared to the travel option.

Gift Cards. In addition to cash, you can also get gift cards that have the same conversion rate. For example a Lowe’s gift card goes for $25 for 5,000 points, or 0.5 cent per point, the same conversion rate as cash.

Merchandise. You can shop with your miles. I compared some of the items to their selling price on Amazon.com and you’d need 33,700 miles to purchase an item that sells for $78 on Amazon. That is at a conversion rate of 0.23 cents per point. I’d stay away from this redemption option!

Tips and Tricks

Watch the Full Amounts. To get the full value of your miles, watch the rounding! For example, we recently had a hotel stay of $117.57. To redeem the full travel credit, we had to use 11,800 miles. We lost 43 miles in the transaction. If you don’t want to give up any of your hard earned miles, you can select a lower redemption option that doesn’t use rounding.

Redeem for Dining and Other Incidentals. On our recent spring break trip, we remembered to use our Barclaycard for our bill at the hotel bar and again at breakfast. Don’t forget any other incidentals that will get coded as travel when purchased at the hotel!

Earning Community Points. You can earn additional Barclaycard miles in the Barclaycard Travel Community by setting up a profile and sharing your travel stories.

Sign up Bonus. The Barclaycard Arrival card recently updated the requirements for the sign up bonus. New cardholders will earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 in 90 days.

Maximize Barclaycard at 2.27%

Clearly the travel redemption is the highest redemption option. Since the card earns 2x miles per dollar on all purchases we calculated that it works out to be more like a 2.2% card in the Barclaycard Arrival review with the travel bonus. However, in the redemption calculation, we’re still failing to add in the benefit of the additional earnings on the redemption purchases at the same time.

Take our $25 hotel bar bill above, which we redeemed for 2,500 points. We received 250 more points on the redemption. In addition, we earned 50 miles on the purchase. Doesn’t that actually bring our redemption rate to 1.136 cents per mile? And at a rate of earning 2x miles on our purchases, aren’t our earnings more like 2.27%? Feel free to work the math on this one in the comments!

What About the Second Year?

Of course, I have a new factor to deal with. My annual renewal is coming up shortly. The $89 annual fee is waived for the first year. But we’ll have to factor in the fee going forward. Which card will win, our Barclaycard earning 2.27% with an annual fee? Or the Fidelity 2% Cash Back Credit Card? I’m calculating the breakeven to be a spending threshold somewhere above $30k. In that case, it might be time to downgrade to the Barclaycard with no annual fee. Do you plan to keep your Barclaycard Arrival for the second year?

More on Barclaycard Arrival

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: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 13:54

This week’s Free Money Friday Deal could be really great for anyone planning a big family trip or honeymoon to Hawaii. Barclaycard is offering a great sign-up bonus of 35,000 bonus miles on their Hawaiian Airlines credit card!

How to Get Your Bonus

  1. Sign up for the Hawaiian Airlines card.
  2. Spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  3. Get 35,000 bonus miles!

Terms and Conditions

  • $89 annual fee.
  • There is no limit to the total HawaiianMiles you can earn as long as the Program continues and the Cardmember’s Credit Card Account is open and in good standing.

More on Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard

Cardmember Perks. The Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard doesn’t charge any transaction fees on foreign purchases and you get one complimentary checked bag when you use your card to purchase tickets.

Companion Ticket. The card also offers a one-time 50% companion ticket on roundtrip coach travel between Hawaii and North America! Plus, each year on your cardmember anniversary, you’ll get $100 off a companion ticket.

Earning Points. You can earn 2x miles on Hawaiian Airlines purchases, 1x miles on everything else. Plus, if you spend $10,000 on the card annually, you’ll receive 5,000 bonus miles.

Redeeming Points. When redeeming points, there are no blackout dates and, as a cardmember, you have access to discounted award flights. You can also transfer Hawaiian miles to Hilton; 1 HawaiianMile equals 1.5 Hilton HHonors points.

Sign Up for Hawaiian Airlines Card

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 Kate

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Credit Cards"
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Date: Thursday, 03 Apr 2014 13:29

There are virtual worlds out there, and also virtual currencies. Bitcoin has come up as the most well-known, traded, and used virtual currency thus far, so much so that it’s spiked the interest of governments and the IRS.

So what exactly is a virtual currency, a bitcoin, and how does the IRS treat them for tax purposes?

What is a Virtual Currency?

Virtual or digital currencies exist completely online so that people in virtual spaces can make transactions between one another (mainly in social and gaming environments). Unlike the US Dollar, there is no federal reserve that backs up their value (whether or not the fed backs up the US Dollar figuratively or literally is another topic entirely). Obtaining virtual currency can usually be done through either converting real currency into virtual currency on some sort of exchange system, or by completing certain tasks in order to earn them within a social/gaming environment.

Virtual Currency is also used as a way to make underground, illegal transactions with untraceable money (the most notorious being the FBI’s 2013 shutdown of the Silk Road website, an online drug marketplace where the bitcoin was the only currency accepted), snub governments and banks which are in control of the money systems, and potentially get around pesky banking fees altogether (like PayPal’s fee).

What is a Bitcoin?

Bitcoin was created in 2009 as a decentralized currency that you send person-to-person without a bank involved, and that you can use within any country. Within the realm of virtual currencies, it is a cryptocurrency because it uses cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money. And it’s the most successful attempt to date at creating a true virtual currency (failed attempts include the CyberCash, DigiCash, Beenz, Flooz, etc.).

Bitcoins are earned all over the internet by people using an application called a bitcoin miner. The software for mining is completely open source, allowing anyone to review and use the code (though apparently, it is very competitive). The generation of bitcoins is controlled so that there are only a select number of them available at any given time. Once you earn some, they will be stored in your digital wallet (discussed below).

The company Robocoin has created the first bitcoin ATMs where you can get cash for your bitcoins with your email, palm, government ID, face and cash. Three of these ATMs are set to be installed in the next few months in Austin, TX, and Seattle. And that’s not all; several traditional businesses such as Overstock.com and a few Subway sandwich shops have begun to accept bitcoins as payment.

Bitcoin Taxes

There are two different ways that you can obtain bitcoins: by “mining”, or in exchange for products, services, or other currencies. Since its inception in 2009, the price and exchange rate for bitcoins has changed dramatically, almost like a roller coaster ride (over $1,000, under $100, and back again).

Just recently, the IRS ruled that bitcoins will be treated as a capital asset (i.e. stock) when taxed instead of like a currency. This means that profits and losses will be subject to capital gains rules for US citizens. Yes, you will owe tax on Bitcoins.

Unfortunately, this means that each transaction done in bitcoins by someone will need to be tracked somehow. Mining bitcoins means that each one you receive or “earn” is now treated immediately as income. If you are buying and selling bitcoins as an investment, then you would calculate gains and losses the same as if you were buying and selling stock. And if you use bitcoins in a transaction (say, purchasing something off of Overstock.com), then in that transaction there is the opportunity for a gain or loss and it must be tracked. For bartering, normal reporting rules apply for independent contractors and self-employment tax.

Note: more rules on Bitcoin taxes are sure to come. In fact, it’s likely that the Treasury Department will need to come up with how to treat virtual currencies, which could have an impact on taxing rules.

How to Get Started

Interested in bitcoins? The first thing you will want to do is set up what’s called a bitcoin wallet (essentially a bank account) at blockchain.info. You will receive an account with a QR scan image and a long set of numbers/letters representing your public wallet address that you can give to others that you want to conduct transactions with. You will also receive a private key (like a password).

Have you heard of bitcoins? Know of anyone who is in the increasingly complex game of mining them? 

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Written by Amanda

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Author: "Amanda" Tags: "Tax Tips, bitcoin"
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Date: Wednesday, 02 Apr 2014 14:12

Our Spring Break travel series continues! Have you considered a hostel? What is it and why is it so cheap?

If you’re watching your pennies but want to get out and see the world, hostels could make it a reality. Travel being expensive and hostels being unsafe are just a few of the common travel and money myths that people often think of. But before you head out, here are some things you should know about staying in a hostel and how to keep safe while having a memorable time.


What is a hostel?

The definition of a hostel can vary tremendously depending on each individual case. Essentially, it is a more affordable option for accommodations while traveling. Being so cheap, makes them ideal for those of us traveling on a budget. Hostels often have multiple beds per room, which means you would be sharing a room with a stranger. You would also be sharing a bathroom. However, some hostels offer an option for a private room or private bathroom.

While sharing a room with a complete stranger may not be ideal, costs as low as $10 per night in some countries can sweeten the deal for the budget conscious traveler.

Why is it so cheap?

Hostels are so much cheaper and an inexpensive hotel alternative because in most cases you are sharing a room and/or bathroom. Many hostels are so inexpensive because it is more bare essential type accommodations. Which means, you may not find housekeeping, towels, or the customer service you would get in a hotel.

Hostel Resources

Hostelworld. One of the most trusted websites for staying a hostel is Hostelworld.com. Search for hostels by your destination, read a description, check out any awards the hostel has received, and read reviews from travelers who have stayed there. They’ll also inform you of things you should note, like if check-in time needs to be confirmed, when check out is, and what is required to check-in, such as a proper tourist visa. Read the hostel’s policy such as whether or not there is a curfew, if it is child-friendly, if credit cards are accepted or if it is cash only, if pets are welcome, and whether or not it is non-smoking. You’ll also be able to check out what type of features the hostel has such as security, if breakfast is included, internet access, a kitchen, laundry facilities, a safe deposit box, housekeeping, safe storage for luggage, and even things like a BBQ, a book exchange, free city maps, and board games. They say that the booking is 100% confirmed.

Hostelz. Check out Hostelz.com to compare prices, read reviews, and get more information on hostels. The descriptions have great detail on the hostel including the cleanliness, common areas, and will even detail the surrounding area and general location. You can also read reviews from those who have stayed there first hand, check out photos, and see how this particular hostel rated on other hostel review websites.

Tips For Staying In a Hostel

Things to know about staying in a hostel:

  • You will be sharing a room with other travelers.
  • Some hostels have a curfew, and the door is then locked after this set time.
  • Just like a hotel, many hostels require an advanced reservation. And as you do when booking a hotel reservation, understand the reservation policy. If you have to cancel your reservation, you may be charged a fee just like staying in a hotel.
  • Some hostels do not have sheets or towels, and you will need to bring your own or pay for them.

Is staying in a hostel safe?

Many people associate hostels with a lack of safety. The truth is, an instance of questionable safety can happen anywhere. Check out the hostel safety tips below.

Hostel safety tips:

  • Read reviews of hostels to learn what a hostel’s safety policy is. Do they require identification to enter? Is there security? Is there check-in 24 hours? Check-in 24 hours means that there should be someone there to watch the door.
  • While you’re researching the hostel, look into if there has been instances of crime or other unsafe activity.
  • Choose a hostel that is reputable with excellent security.
  • Choose a hostel that is well-managed. Opt for a hostel room that can be locked.
  • When choosing a location of a hostel, stay in a safe area. The more unsafe the area surrounding the hostel is, the greater the chance of crime or risk in that hostel.
  • If possible, don’t travel alone.
  • If you are a woman traveling with only your female friends, you can choose a female-only dorm and possibly even a female-only floor.
  • Don’t leave your belonging out. Instead, choose to lock them in a locker and keep your valuables with you at all times.
  • If you are locking your belongings up, double check the quality of the lock.
  • If you are suspicious of the people in your room or feel uncomfortable, always trust your instinct.
  • If you’ll be staying in a hostel, be sure to lock your backpack.
  • Always keep extreme valuables, like a passport, your money, and your credit card, with you at all times.
  • Since you are sharing a shower, be sure to bring flip flops or some type of shower shoe to protect against bacteria.
  • Many of the same rules that apply for safe travel, apply for staying in a hostel. Leave expensive jewelry and other non-essential valuables at home. Carry a mix of a credit cards and cash in case one gets stolen. Don’t flash around any cash or your credit card. Be social, but continue to be cautious of every person you meet. Make copies of documents before your trip, such as your license, credit cards, birth certificate, passport, visa, and keep them in safe place.
  • If you are planning on staying in a hostel abroad, thoroughly read the U.S. Department of State’s advice on having a safe trip abroad.

If you have stayed in a hostel, what was your experience like? Would you recommend it? If you haven’t stayed in a hostel, would you do so to save money?

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Written by Kristen

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Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Travel, hostels, hotel alternatives, spr..."
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Date: Tuesday, 01 Apr 2014 13:29

It can be pretty scary and unnerving when you owe the IRS money especially when you did not think you were going to owe taxes. There are many reasons why you may owe the IRS once you are done filing your federal income taxes this year. If you find yourself owing and don’t have the money to pay, you’ll need to figure out a way to come up with the money. Here are some options for quickly getting additional funds to pay what you owe the IRS by the tax deadline.

photo by: LendingMemo

Photo Credit: LendingMemo

Where to Get Money to Pay Your Taxes

  • Get a part-time job.
    As I mention in my article on increasing your income, picking up a part-time job is something you can do to help pay your debt to the IRS. Start with places near your home or full-time job to make the commute easier for you to deal with. Search for part-time jobs on job websites such as Monster or Career Builder. When looking for a part-time job, especially in this case since the goal is to help pay your IRS debts, factor in any start-up costs (the cost of a uniform, tools, training, additional classes) and the costs of commute (gas, parking, tolls, wear on your car, oil change, public transportation). You have to consider these costs to really have an understanding of what you will be earning at your new part-time job.
  • Sell unwanted clothes.
    I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Well this statement is the inspiration for the article turning spring cleaning into cash. Go through your closets, drawers, and everywhere else you store your clothing. If you don’t like something, it doesn’t fit, or you just do not wear it anymore, it’s time to sell it. You can bring clothes to a resale or consignment shop, especially more expensive or specialty pieces. Find stores in your area, such as Plato’s Closet, that buy used clothes, shoes, and accessories (purses, scarves, sunglasses, wallets, belts). You can also sell clothes by having a garage or yard sale or selling items online, such as on Craigslist or eBay. For more inspiration, see 10 Surprising Things You Can Turn Into Cash.
  • Take on more hours at work.
    If you can and if your employer offers it, ask your boss to take on additional overtime at work. This is probably the best place to start when you’re trying to earn more money quickly. Plus, it will show your boss you are a hard worker and could lead to better things for you in your career life. If you can’t ask for overtime, now may be a good time to consider asking for a promotion or a pay increase. If you feel like you deserve more money or are willing to start taking on additional responsibilities, consider preparing to speak to your boss about a pay increase.
  • Do some freelance work.
    Whatever your skill set and talents are, there is a chance you can do some freelance work with it. If you have strong writing or editing skills, pick up some freelance writing jobs. If you are extremely knowledgeable on a subject, you can tutor at a local high school or library. Offer your services to local business for graphic design or whatever other skills you have. You can find freelance opportunities at elance.com, Craigslist, and by networking on LinkedIn. Also, review the tips in How to Moonlight Successfully.
  • Take on an odd job.
    There are plenty of odd jobs you can do to make quick cash to help pay your debts with the IRS. Walk a neighbor’s dog, landscaping, home care and cleaning, babysitting, and so on are options. If you’re handy, people are always looking for electricians and other handy work. You can find odd job listings on Craigslist, in your community newspaper, or even around posting boards in your community. As always, be cautious when applying for jobs at Craigslist. Also see 5 More Ways to Earn Some Extra Cash.
  • Sell unwanted furniture.
    If you have furniture or home décor that you don’t like anymore, now is a great time to part with it to get extra cash to pay the IRS. Check out these ways to maximize your revenue from Craigslist if you’re planning on selling your furniture online. You can also have a garage or yard sale or put a for sale ad in a local newspaper. Put flyers up on boards around your community.
  • Sell unwanted jewelry.
    If you have jewelry that you do not use anymore and no longer want, now is the time to sell it to a reputable business that purchases gold or other jewelry. To find out if a business is reputable, check their records with the Better Business Bureau to see if they had any complaints filed against them. Read reviews on Yelp or other review websites. Ask for recommendations from friends and family so they may point you in a direction to a reputable place.
  • Make cut backs immediately.
    Most times getting rid of debt or increasing a savings account is a slow gradual process. But when you are in need of money to pay to the IRS, time is not something you have on your side. Besides ways to make more money, think of ways you can immediately cut back on what you are spending and simple ways to save money. Can you temporarily cancel your cable, gym membership, or any other nonessential monthly bill? If you can’t cancel, maybe you can scale back and go down to a cheaper plan. The same is true for a cell phone bill. Limit your driving so you don’t have to pay as much for gas and parking. Skip going out to eat for a while, and cook at home instead. Instead of spending money on concert tickets, movies, going to bars, or other entertainment, find free entertainment around you. Don’t buy anything unless it is absolutely necessary until you can pay your debts.

Have you ever owed a sum of money to the IRS after filing? How did you come up with the money? What are your tips for people who owe this year?

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Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Tax Tips, dealing with debt, tax"
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Date: Monday, 31 Mar 2014 14:19

My father was one of the millions of Americans who were dropped by their health insurance provider. He and his wife work for themselves, so they’ve carried an expensive individual policy. In November of last year, he received notice that his policy was going to be dropped, giving him until December 31st to find a new one or upgrade to a different policy within the same insurance company. Around the same time, my husband lost his job. Since I am self-employed, that meant that we were suddenly in the market for new healthcare as well, trying to figure out what we were supposed to do next.

We are fortunate in that Paul served in the Navy, so we were able to call USAA. Even more fortunate was that we found a health insurance rep with them who knew the ins and outs of the healthcare law and the changes to come. He was able to estimate the subsidy we were eligible for on the Healthcare Marketplace versus the cost of us going through USAA so that we could compare pricing at a time when we were very price-conscious. He also briefly explained the metallic plans, and how we would be able to keep our plan through them until December of 2014, at which point we would have to convert to a metallic-grade plan.

But guess what? No matter how well-versed this man was, or how well he knew the new healthcare law, it’s been constantly changing. The conversation we had just last November is probably not very relevant right now.

For our sake, and your sake, I’d like to highlight several key changes that have been made to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, over the last year. We all need to keep up with this, and to be honest, it’s a bit confusing with changing deadlines, changing priorities, changing benefits, etc.

Obamacare Deadline Extended

The deadline for Obamacare open enrollment to sign up for health insurance was originally scheduled for today, March 31, 2014. However, as long as you start the process today and check the “special enrollment” box, you’ll be able to finish your enrollment later on a date to be determined.

Changes that Have Been Made to Obamacare

Additional changes to Obamacare include:

  • Two-Year Hardship Exemption to those Who Lost Health Insurance: My father was quite upset about losing his health insurance plan. Losing your plan at a time when so much is changing in healthcare leaves you feeling quite vulnerable–I would know. Adding insult to injury is the fact that even if you lost your healthcare coverage through no fault of your own, you have to find a new plan or else be penalized through the Individual Mandate. Just recently, this deadline was extended for two more years to people who lost their coverage. So for two more years, people can either reapply for the plans they were taken off of (though it’s up to the insurance companies whether or not they still want to offer plans that are not compliant with the new law), they can get what’s known as a catastrophic plan, or they can forego health insurance all together. If this fits your situation, then you have to fill out a form in order to have this exemption (form/information pending).
  • Delayed Employer Mandate: Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with more than 50 full-time employees are mandated to offer health insurance. Otherwise, they will have to pay a $2,000 penalty per employee. There is also a substantial reporting requirement attached to this. Larger businesses generally carry health insurance for their employees, so this mandate was specifically for smaller businesses and start-up companies. This penalty has now been delayed until January 2015.
  • Delayed Small Business Federal Exchange: The availability of the online small business exchange marketplace, also known as the SHOP exchange, is delayed until December 2014 at the earliest. Until this marketplace website is ready, small employers have to continue to apply through an agent, broker or directly through an insurer to enroll in compliant federal marketplace plans.
  • Rules for Equal Coverage Offered by Employers Delayed: Some employers offer their top executives better health care plans and/or coverage than the rest of the employees. With the Affordable Health Care Act, this is prohibited, mainly because the government provides a substantial tax break for employer-sponsored insurance and believes that there needs to be fairness and equality in these subsidized plans. Except that the implementation and rules of how this is going to work have been delayed.
  • Extended Coverage of TRICARE for Adult Children: TRICARE, the military’s health insurance, is now covering adult children up to the age of 26 in certain circumstances instead of 21 (which was originally in the law).

Did you lose your health insurance recently? How was your experience finding a new plan? 

More on Obamacare

Written by Amanda

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Amanda" Tags: "Insurance"
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Date: Friday, 28 Mar 2014 13:29

During my $1,720 + 267k Point Credit Card Application Spree, I mentioned this Choice Privileges Visa as one of the cards I applied for.

Choice Hotels has some of the only hotels located in one of the towns we like to ski at. If you’re in the same situation, this card might be a good one for you too.

It’s this week’s Featured Deal!

How to Get Your Bonus

  1. Sign up for the Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card.
  2. Make your first purchase and earn 8,000 points.
  3. Stay at a Choice Privileges property and pay with your card and earn another 24,000 points – enough for up to 4 free nights!

Terms and Conditions

    • No annual fee.
    • Visit Choice Privileges for details and redemption level information.

More on Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card

Cardmember Perks. As a cardmember, you have the ability to book free nights 50 days in advance rather than only 30 days ahead of your stay.

Earning Points. You can earn 15 points per eligible dollar spent at over 4,200 Choice Privileges locations, 5 points per dollar spent on Choice Privileges gift cards and 2 points per dollar spent on anything else.

Visa Signature. If you don’t have a Visa Signature card, this might be a great option for one as they often offer money-saving perks for cardholders.

Sign Up for Choice Privileges Visa

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: Thursday, 27 Mar 2014 13:29

Our Spring Break travel series continues! Once you know where you are headed, you can still save some extra money by packing strategically.

Packing smart is one of the most important ways you can save money on your next vacation. With baggage fees soaring, learning how to pack light is essential. You can avoid having to pay for checked baggage or even worse, pay for a suitcase that exceeded the travel weight. Also, if you pack smart, you will eliminate having to purchase overpriced things you may have forgotten. How much you pack even applies during a road trip or camping trip since the excess weight can weigh you down, raising your price of gas.

How to Pack Smart

Here are six ways to pack smart to save money:

  1. Make a check-list in advance. With ample time before your trip, start a checklist either on a computer document or in a notepad. Allowing yourself enough time before your trip will let you acquire any items you might not have on hand and add items to the list as you think about them. Doing it in advance is especially important for items you don’t have. Before I went on a long road trip, I made a list of everything we needed. Once I looked at the list, I was able to borrow a few things from friends and family. And for the things I couldn’t borrow, like a tent, I was able to search for sales and deals and do research to find out what item was the best for my money.
  2. Plan before you pack. Besides a check-list, there is more planning that needs to go into packing. Research the weather to see what type of clothes you should be bringing and what you can leave behind. Think about the activities of your trip before you pack. An adventurous camping trip requires far different clothing and other items than if you’re planning on going out to nice dinners or sitting by a beach all day. While you’re planning, inquire if there is a laundry facility where you are staying. I was shocked at how many campgrounds and hotels had an on-site laundromat while I was on the road. This can allow you to pack less clothes.
  3. Bring versatile clothes. The clothes you pack for your trip should be versatile in many ways. First, pack clothes you can easily layer and work with temperature fluctuations. Second, pack clothes you can wear multiple times. Try packing outfits you can mix and match so you don’t have to pack seven different outfits for seven days. I like to pack outfits I can wear all day and night. For day, I make sure it’s comfortable to walk around in and for night, I can just add an accessory to make it more dressy.
  4. Pack your own laundry kit. The best way to reuse outfits is to pack a laundry kit. Not to the point where it’s unhygienic, but it’s fine to reuse your clothes for an additional day. When I’m traveling, I carry a Tide pen in my purse. This way if I spill some wine on a shirt or have a grass stain from sitting on the ground, my outfit isn’t ruined. I also like to bring a travel size Febreeze spray to freshen clothes up. When I’m camping or going on a road trip, I also pack a wrinkle release spray that gets rid of the wrinkles.
  5. Think functionality when it comes to accessories. When you go on a vacation, you’re taking a bunch of pictures, and of course you want to look your best. But five different pairs of shoes and bulky accessories is just not practical. Stick to accessories that serve another purpose and are comfortable and versatile. Here are some guidelines for accessories:
    • Shoes: Pack shoes that are comfortable. Even if you don’t think you’ll be walking often, nothing is worse than blisters or sore feet on a vacation. Also pack shoes you can wear with many different outfits and for several purposes.
    • Jewelry: A watch is a great idea to help you keep track of time. Keep all other jewelry to a minimum, and bring pieces that you can mix and match and wear with many outfits. Instead of necklaces and bracelets, opt for a scarf. A scarf can be worn in many different ways, be used to warm you up, and takes up little room in your suitcase.
    • Purses: I usually bring a large purse if I’m traveling by air so that I can put more belongings inside of it. I then bring an additional smaller purse or wristlet for carrying around my camera, ID, and essentials.
  6. Skip things you don’t need. Before you place anything into your carryon or suitcase, ask yourself if you really need it. To best answer this question, it may take a little research. If you’re staying at a hotel, check their website and call to see what they offer. Besides soap, shampoo, and conditioner, I’ve seen hotels offer all kinds of toiletries like toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, deodorant, and hair spray, and even other items like flip flops and robes. If a hotel has a business center, you can eliminate packing your laptop.

    Besides hotels, campgrounds can offer items that would help you eliminate packing them as well. Last time I went camping, I packed a small grill and charcoal to cook while we camped. When I got there, I realized each camp site already came with a grill, and I didn’t need to bring mine. Campgrounds can also offer games, pool toys, beach gear, and laundry facilities so check ahead of time.

  7. Make your own travel size toiletries. If your hotel doesn’t offer toiletries or you’re not going to a hotel, you’ll need to take your own. But travel sized toiletries are not worth the money. They may seem inexpensive, but compared to the regular size product, they are a huge mark up. Instead of buying travel size items, buy the regular item. Many stores have travel sized, reusable containers. Just fill them up with your lotion, hair products, and body wash.

    If you’re planning in advance or always thinking about your next trip like I am, you can acquire your travel size toiletries for free. When you stay at a hotel, ask for extra toiletries to keep for next time you travel. Next time you’re at the dentist, ask for a few extra miniature toothpastes, mouthwashes, and floss containers. Beauty counters at department stores often offer free samples of face washes, lotions, and other face products that are the perfect size for travel. Hair salons can offer free samples of shampoo and other hair products. Keep a plastic bin full of your miniature products so you’re ready for your next trip anytime.

What are your packing secrets? How do you save money when you’re packing?

More Travel Tips

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Travel, spring break"
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Date: Wednesday, 26 Mar 2014 13:29

Decorating your home or apartment doesn’t mean that you have to go broke doing it. If you’re creative and use a few helpful tricks, you can decorate your space with money to spare. Have fun with it. Here are some helpful tips to decorate on a budget:


Photo Credit: photo by: Tom Borowski

Budget Friendly Decorating Tips

  1. Buy couch covers. Instead of purchasing an entire new sofa or love seat, consider buying couch covers instead that fit directly onto your existing couch. Whether a couch has a pattern you’re sick of or spills from years of use, a couch cover can take care of it.
  2. Avoid trendy patterns. When you do buy a couch, dining table, bed, or other large item, stick to a consistent, basic piece. Avoid something trendy or that you’ll get easily sick of. Instead, buy something you can own for many years. Save those trendy patterns and colors for accent pieces like place mats for your dining table, pillows for your couch, and a throw on your bed.
  3. Buy items you can return. Anytime you are purchasing something, whether it is something to hang on the wall or a vase for a book shelf, understand the return policy and keep the receipt. While it may look great on the store shelf, you may change your mind once you actually see it in your place. You’d like to have the option to take it back for a full refund. Being able to return things allows you to experiment with different items without the risk of losing your money.
  4. Use mirrors. Adding mirrors to your space is a great way to make your small apartment or small room in your home feel bigger.
  5. Buy decorative and functional furniture. When you’re purchasing furniture, think double duty. Having a functional piece of furniture that does the task of multiple pieces, can end up saving you money. For example, I just purchased a large bench that can double as a coffee table. An ottoman can have built in storage perfect for extra blankets.
  6. Paint an accent wall. Painting one wall in a room is a simple, affordable way to add a pop of color to a room. Simply having one accent wall is a nice way to add that color without having to pay for all four walls to be painted.
  7. Update accessories instead of furniture. Before buying new furniture, consider buying new accent pieces instead. Purchasing a colorful throw for a couch or new patterned pillows for a bed can improve the area without breaking the bank on expensive furniture.
  8. Refinish existing furniture. Get inspired to create something new with the furniture you have. A coat of paint, a new finish, or new hardware on it can go a long way.
  9. Give bookshelves a makeover. Adding wallpaper or contact paper to the back of a book shelf gives it a pop of color, and it will make it look like an entirely different piece.
  10. Update your hardware. Visit the hardware store to purchase new handles or knobs for kitchen cabinets or dresser drawers to give it a whole new look. It is a lot cheaper than buying new cabinets or a new dresser.
  11. Check the dollar store. The dollar store is a great place to find little accents. On a recent trip, I found a vase ($1) and artificial bright yellow flowers for inside ($1). I also found a pale yellow glass jug ($1) and a decorative red plate to go on my counter ($1). You can also find kitchen towels, glassware, plates, etc.
  12. Get creative. You don’t only need to use actual décor items to make your space look good. In the kitchen, colorful gadgets such as spatulas and measuring cups, tea cups, or a cookie jar can all make for nice décor. Display your favorite wine glasses or other glassware.
  13. Watch for deals. Keep your eye open for stores going out of business. You’ll find the best deals on furniture during this time.
  14. Shop sales. Sign up for e-mail alerts for stores you plan on shopping at for your merchandise. You may get offers for coupons, promotions, and learn about sales.
  15. Negotiate. When buying furniture, don’t be afraid to try to negotiate a bit. Depending on the store, they may be willing to offer you a deal. Anytime you’re buying something off the floor, you can ask for a discount since it has been sat on or touched hundreds of times.
  16. Use inspiration to find ways to use items you already own. Get inspiration from décor blogs online, Pinterest, home makeover shows on TV, and even by checking out books in the library. You may even realize you already have items on hand to make a nice change in your space. This inspiration can also lead you to discover gems in thrift stores or other places you can find used items.
  17. Buy used. Shop at yard sales, garage sales, and second hand/consignment shops. You’ll never know what items you’ll find. Anytime you’re purchasing something used, be sure to clean it properly and disinfect items. Items could have mold, bed bugs, and other not-so-pleasant items.
  18. Go vertical. Utilize the entire space of the wall. Hang curtains to the ceiling instead of at the top of the window to draw the eye further up. Hang paintings higher. Put items on top of cabinets if there is space.
  19. Do a furniture swap. Swap furniture with a friend or neighbor. If you are the type of person who likes to change things often, consider swapping with a friend.
  20. Think about the cost to care for new items. Consider the care that items require before purchasing it. A stain resistant couch can mean it will be looking good for that much longer. Darker carpet or a rug is less likely to show dirt and stains. A shower curtain that can be thrown in the washing machine is a lot easier than one that requires scrubbing. Curtains that can be steamed at home or dusted instead of treated at a dry cleaner could be more cost effective.

The key to decorating on a budget is to be creative. Use what you have, and shop smart to save. Don’t rush to have things perfect right away. Be patient. Each month, you can allot some of your budget to purchase items for your home. You don’t have to run out and get everything right away.

How do you save money on decorating? What are your best budget-friendly tips for decorating?

More Frugal Tips

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Frugal, budget, decorating"
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Date: Tuesday, 25 Mar 2014 13:29

Our Spring Break travel series continues! Do your Spring Break plans include a trip to a National Park? If so, you’ll want to review these tips!

National Parks are not only a wonderful treasure of this country – but they are also a budget-friendly way to plan a trip like no other. There are more than 400 national parks all over the country, each offering something unique and plenty to do. Various sports, horseback riding, biking, hiking, walking or running on trails, boating, camping, climbing, exploring historical landmarks and sites, exploring cultural landmarks and sites, wildlife viewing, nature photography, and fishing are just a handful of the plethora of activities you can find at a national park. Before you go, check out these tips for saving money while visiting, what to bring, essential resources, and tips for having the best possible affordable experience.

by: Kristen

Photo Credit: Kristen

Tips for Saving Money at a National Park

  • Visit a free park or go on a free day.
    Of the 401 national parks in this country, only 133 parks charge an entrance fee. If you’re planning on visiting a park that charges, check out when they offer free admission.
  • Consider an annual pass.
    If you plan on doing a lot of national park visits this year, live in close proximity to a park, or plan on visiting ones that charge a fee, you may want to consider purchasing an annual pass. The pass costs $80 for the year and will get you admission into all national parks, national wildlife refugees, national forests, and other Federal lands that would otherwise cost you. Once you have an idea of the parks you’d like to see, find out if they charge an admission fee and what it is. Then you’ll be able to figure out if you’ll save money by purchasing the annual pass. This pass is totally free if you are an active military member. If you’re a senior (age 62 and above) you can purchase a lifetime pass for $10. For more information on purchasing or acquiring a pass, visit the NPS website.
  • Carpool.
    Since the parks often charge by car, carpool with other friends and family members traveling with you to save money on parking. Plus, you’ll save on gas.
  • Become a volunteer.
    You can also earn admission to the parks for free for one year by becoming a volunteer. You must acquire 250 service hours on a cumulative basis for this pass. For more information, visit Vounteer.gov.
  • Research before you go.
    Before you go, find out if any areas of the park are closed. You may want to change your plans and not waste the cost of the trip if you’d just be turning around.
  • Do your homework.
    Each park is unique and offers something different. If you’re flexible on where you’re traveling, see what park is right for you. Find out what you should bring, what you should be leaving at home, the dangers of wildlife, the weather conditions, what type of physical level you need to be at to do specific activities, and what you need a permit for.
  • Take precautions.
    While you’re doing your homework, you’ll discover that the park probably has something to look out for – wild animals, insects, or dangerous plants. If you’re new to national parks, or even new to exploring the outdoors, this can either seem unrealistic or seem scary. I assure you that these things are actual concerns, but it doesn’t have to stop you from venturing out. Understand what types of animals you may encounter (mountain lions, bears, rattlesnakes, etc.) Learn what you can do to avoid these encounters (such as properly disposing of garbage at your campsite) and what you should do if you encountered an animal.
  • Always stop at the visitor’s center.
    This is where you’re going to find the most up-to-date information on the conditions of the trails and general condition of the park. Now is the time to get any of your questions or concerns addressed that you may not have with your initial research.
  • Consider going during an off-peak time.
    Less popular times may be the key to cheaper rates and lower costs of nearby hotels and other attractions.

Helpful Websites To Plan Your Trip

  • NPS.gov
    Be sure to thoroughly check out the National Park Service website. The site lets you search for a park by the name of it, location, and activity such as fishing, diving, hunting, snorkeling, or wildlife viewing. You can also view by topic such as coral reefs, dinosaurs, Revolutionary War, or wildflowers. Search by state as well. Once you have found the park you want to visit, the website can give you the best directions, the conditions of trails, any fees and reservations you’ll need to deal with, campgrounds, the condition of the roads, things to know before you go, and things to do there.
  • Recreation.gov.
    Recreation.gov is an essential guide to all of America’s public places. Search for trip ideas by destination or by activity such as camping, boating, and biking. Go here to make reservations for campsites, picnic shelters, guided tours for historic areas or caves, or guided hikes. You’ll also go here to apply for and pay for permits for whitewater rafting, wilderness canoe trips, and anything else that requires a permit.
  • Alltrails.com
    If you plan on doing anything on trails – hiking, walking, mountain biking, or trail running – Alltrails.com is a great site. Search for hikes nearby. It gives an overview of the hikes, skill levels (easy, medium, and hard), and users can upload photos and give helpful reviews.

What to Bring

Once your trip is planned, here’s a quick list of items to pack:

  • Plenty of water (both for hiking and leaving some behind at your campsite)
  • Plenty of bug spray
  • Sunscreen (for lips as well)
  • Healthy, protein-filled snacks such as granola bars, nuts, and fruit
  • Maps (cell phones are great but they lose signals and run out of batteries)
  • Poncho or hood (in case it rains)
  • Cargo pants or something with pockets
  • UV protected sunglasses
  • Visor or hat to protect against sun
  • Comfortable, durable walking shoes
  • Layered clothing (throw on a sweater if you’re cold)
  • Breathable, light colored clothing
  • First aid-kit (including bandages, antiseptic, insect sting medication)
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Extra food (if hiking in case you are out longer than you think)
  • Swiss army knife
  • Any other emergency equipment

Which National Parks have you visited? Which parks do you want to visit?

More Travel Tips

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Travel, spring break"
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Date: Monday, 24 Mar 2014 13:29

For many people, they are relieved to receive a refund check from the IRS after filing taxes. After a year of hard work and the stress of filing taxes, it feels good to receive this money to put in your savings account or make your budget more manageable for a while. However, it is possible to owe the IRS after you file your taxes.

TaxBank_Tax Credits

Photo Credit: Tax Credits

You Might Owe the IRS Money if…

Essentially, the one huge, general reason why would you would owe is if you paid less tax during the year than your income level determines you should be paying. While the majority of people will get a refund after this tax season, it is estimated that more than 25 percent of the population will actually owe something instead. If you are asking yourself why do I owe taxes? Here are a few common reasons why you could actually owe the IRS money at the end of filing your taxes.

You are Self Employed

If you are self-employed, don’t have a boss, and did not pay taxes throughout the year, you will owe the IRS money that wasn’t withheld from your check, including income tax and self employment tax. Here’s more:

  • If throughout the year, you took on a project or did work that you didn’t get taxed for, this can result in you owing. For example, if you did consulting work or did tutoring on the side, you will owe tax on your extra income. If you are a freelance writer, photographer, graphic designer, or anything along those lines, this will also pertain to you.
  • When you are a normal employee of a company, you are most likely getting taxes withheld from your employer every time you get a paycheck. However, when you are a freelancer or contract employee, you do not get these taxes taken out. If that is the case, you are responsible for paying these taxes.
  • If you are a freelancer or working for someone by a contract opposed to a paid employee, you should have been filing quarterly to make payments throughout the year. Unfortunately, in addition to having a higher tax at the end of the year, you are also subject to fees and penalties for not paying throughout the year.
  • If you made the mistake of not filing quarterly or forgetting about these taxes, use this as a learning experience. This year, moving forward, choose to file quarterly instead. Keep track of all of your self-employment deductions to help offset your income.

Read more: Tips for Filing Your Taxes with Self Employment Income.

Your W-4 Allowances Are Too High

If you are paid employee, you most likely filled out a W-4 when you started your employment at your job. (Remember that stack of paperwork you filled out when you were starting at this job way back when?) While filling this out, you may have modified the taxes withheld (by increasing the number of allowances) to increase the amount you are taking home. While it may seem like a more appealing option to take the higher paycheck, if your income level does not match the amount of taxes you paid throughout the year, you’re unfortunately going to have to owe more. In summary:

  • If you modified this form and got larger paychecks throughout the year, you may now owe additional taxes if you did not withhold enough throughout the year.
  • The good news is that you can modify your W-4 with your employer so next year you don’t have the same problem.

You Have Other Forms of Income

If you received unearned income from sources that did not tax you throughout the year, you are subject to pay these now during your annual tax time.

Some of these can types of income can include unemployment benefits, interest you received from your bank accounts, alimony, if you won the lottery or another sum of money, social security, or royalties received.

Read more: Surprising Things That Count as Taxable Income.

Your Filing Status Changed

If your filing status changes, there is also a chance you might owe instead of collecting a refund this year.

What to Do When You Owe the IRS

You owe the IRS money, and you weren’t expecting it. Take a breath. While it may be quite overwhelming and even a little scary to owe the government money, there are ways to cope with this. Fortunately, the IRS offers some advice for those of us who may owe this year:

  • First of all, do not ignore it if you owe the IRS money. It is never a smart plan to ignore debt, regardless of the type it is. However, owing the government is even worse in some cases. The government can seize your property and financial assets if you don’t pay the debt. If you don’t pay, this will impact your credit as well.
  • If you are paying by check, you may want to make a copy of the check for your records. Keep track of the check number and date you sent it as well for your records to show you paid by the tax deadline.
  • You can also choose to pay the IRS by using a credit card. If you’ve been trying to deal with credit card debt, this might not be the best option for you. Increasing your credit card debt is never a good plan, especially if you are already struggling with it. However, if you have a lower interest rate than what the IRS will charge you, this may be the way to go.
  • You can request an installment agreement from the IRS. If you owe less than $25,000 in combined tax, penalties, and interest, you can request an installment agreement at irs.gov. Be sure you understand what this installment agreement means and how and when to make payments. You may also be charged a fee for this as well as interest to what you owe.

Read more: What are Your Options When You Owe the IRS Money?

Have you ever owed taxes when you thought you would actually be getting a refund? If you are a freelancer, how do you deal with owing the IRS? What are some ways people can get quick cash if they owe the IRS and weren’t expecting it?

More Tax Topics

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Tax Tips, Debt"
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Date: Sunday, 23 Mar 2014 13:29

We’re back with a great list of finance posts from around the web!

Featured Finance Tip

How to Make Money Without a Job and Why You Should -brip blap

A great argument for alternative income sources. Diversifying your income and finding sources of passive or extra income are really great ways of protecting and growing your wealth.  

Finance Reads

6 Ways to Game Yourself Into Saving Cash – This article has some interesting ways to get you saving by making it into a game instead of viewing it as a chore. – MoneyTalksNews

5 Ways to Make More Money in Under 10 Hours a Week – I always think articles like these are great because so many different kinds of people are looking for ways to make extra cash as a way of getting their finances in better shape. -WiseBread

Another Voice That 3% Is the New 4% – I’ve been reading a lot of articles related to the retirement withdrawal rule with interest – would love to hear what readers think in the comments! -Save and Conquer

How Should You Go About Teaching Money To Kids? – I think this is a topic that parents of all means struggle with handling and this article had some good tips. -Personal Finance Journey

How the Little Things Really Do Add Up – This is such a good read for anyone who thinks the little things in their budget are not worth paying attention to. -Three Thrifty Guys

Projecting Retirement Expenses – I think this topic is on the mind of anyone trying to save for retirement – expenses are just so tricky to predict! -Lazy Man and Money

Daycare Costs – 9 Ways to Save Money on Childcare Services – Another great read for parents… -Money Crashers

How this Frugal Lawyer Reached $1M by Age 34 – I thought this was an inspiring read, especially coming from someone who works in a profession where “keeping up with the Joneses” is not an easy thing to avoid. -Million Dollar Journey

How to Find Money to Invest - I think this is a really important read for anyone who doesn’t think they have enough money to get started investing with. -CashMoneyLife

More Finance Tips

Written by Kate

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kate" Tags: "Roundups"
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Date: Friday, 21 Mar 2014 13:29

Kapitall is trying to “break the established online trading mold” by adding a gaming experience to their brokerage to differentiate themselves from other online brokers. Sounds bizarre, but since they are offering a bonus to sign up, I’m in!

Kapitall is offering a $50 – $200 sign up bonus. It’s this week’s featured deal!

How to Get Your Bonus

  1. Sign up for a Kapitall account.
  2. Fund the account by March 31, 2014 and leave the money in your account for 180 days.
  3. Place a trade within 180 days of the initial deposit.
  4. Get your bonus within 2 business days of account funding.

Bonus Amounts

Bonus amounts are based on the following funding levels:

  • $50-$999: $50 bonus and 500 Kapitall Koins.
  • $1000-$9,999: $100 bonus and 1000 Kapitall Koins.
  • $10K+: $200 bonus and 2000 Kapitall Koins.

Terms and Conditions

  • The cash credit offer is valid for new customers.
  • Subsequent deposits into the same brokerage account do not qualify for additional cash credits.
  • The cash credit will be credited to the brokerage account and cannot be withdrawn from the brokerage account until a trade has been placed and 180 calendar days have lapsed.
  • If the initial deposit is withdrawn from the account within 180 days and/or a trade is not placed within 180 days of the initial deposit, then we reserve the right to remove the cash credit from the account.
  • This offer is limited to one brokerage account per registered member.
  • There is no minimum deposit required to open or maintain an online trading account.

More on Kapitall

Trading. Trades are $7.95 each for exchange-listed equity securities and ETFs.

Kapitall Koins. They offer points, koins, and badges for rewards. I’m assuming this is the gaming influence. You can redeem 2,000 of the Kapitall Koins for a free trade. If you do the full bonus amount, you should have enough koins to place the trade needed for the bonus for free.

Practice Portfolio. When you sign up, you can play the stock market with a $100,000 Practice Portfolio.

Bonus Level. The $50 deposit actually has the best return on your investment even after paying for a trade (or two when you want to cash out). While the $200 bonus is the largest bonus, the return isn’t so great since you have to tie up $10k. Which bonus level will you choose?

Source. Credit to My Money Blog.

Sign Up for Kapitall

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Investing"
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Date: Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 13:16

2nd quarter cash back is here and it’s focused on spring home improvements. It’s time to reevaluate the cards you are carrying to take advantage of the best 2nd 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 1st Quarter 2014 5% Rotating Cash Rewards Credit Cards (be sure you maximized all your 1st quarter categories you need!) and maximize your cash rewards for 2nd 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.

2nd Quarter 2014 5% Cash Rewards Credit Cards

Citi Dividend. Citi has you covered with the 5% cash back for your home improvements and gardening. The 2nd quarter 2014 Citi Dividend 5% categories are:

  • The Home Depot
  • Home furnishing stores
  • Home & garden stores

Discover it. The Discover 5% cash back for 2nd quarter 2014 is also focused on home improvement. The 2nd quarter 2014 Discover More 5% categories are:

  • Home Improvement Stores
  • Furniture Stores
  • Bed Bath & Beyond

See the entire 2014 Discover Rewards Calendar.

Chase Freedom. The Chase Freedom card will be back in the rotation this quarter for restaurants! The 2nd quarter 2014 Chase Freedom 5% categories are:

  • Restaurants
  • Lowe’s® home improvement stores

See the entire 2014 Chase Freedom Rewards Calendar and the Best Way to Maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.

No Sign Up Needed

And as always, here are the easier cash back categories, since you don’t need to sign up. I’ve added a few more categories requested by readers this quarter:

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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* Upromise World MasterCard 4% at participating restaurants
Target Target credit card 5% discount
Amazon Amazon Visa or
Citi Forward Card (college students only)
3 points per dollar
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® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® card 3x points
Choose Your Own Categories SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express
or US Bank Cash Plus
Everything Else Gift cards purchased on American Express
or Fidelity Credit Card
or Barclaycard Arrival

*In addition this quarter, 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 2nd 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 the 5% 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, 19 Mar 2014 13:29

Being self-employed can be great. Potentially, you can set your own hours, not have to answer to someone over your shoulder, and ideally, be doing something you love. However, being a self-employed person or doing any kind of freelance work can become quite tricky during tax time. While there can be certain benefits to being self-employed including being able to deduct business expenses, you may owe the government if you didn’t pay taxes throughout the year on your business income.

photo by: 401(K) 2013

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2013

Self Employment Tax Tips

Running your own business takes a lot of organization, and you need to be on top of things. This is especially important when it comes to keeping your books straight and filing your taxes. Here are some tips for filing taxes as a freelancer:

Keep Track of Your Income

Keep track of your income throughout the year. If you earned $600 or more from any of the sources, they file a 1099 with the IRS, which means you should have received this form by the end of January. But you’ll still need to report any additional sources of income as well. Don’t count on these 1099s at the end of the year to know what you earned. You should have a full understanding of what you are earning to know how you are spending your time, making an accurate budget, and of course, to efficiently deal with your taxes. Keep track of when you were paid for each job. If you completed a job in December of last year, but you didn’t receive payment until January, that particular job does not count for the year and you will file that with this year’s taxes. You can use Excel to create a document that clearly shows what you earned, who was the company that paid you, and when you received this payment.

If you haven’t done such a good job of keeping track of your income this year, there are still a few options. Go through your bank account records to note deposits made. This could help you trace your steps a bit. You can also go through your online or paper calendars if you kept track of when assignments were due or when you had a work-related appointment. If you haven’t deleted them, go through past e-mails which may jog your memory as well. An e-mail exchange with a client may remind you of that particular job.

Track Your Expenses

Keep track of your business expenses throughout the year. Throughout the year, keep your receipts and a detailed log of everything you are spending money on for your business. If you dropped the ball a bit, you can do some of the suggestions from above. Go through credit card statements, bank statements, business e-mails, and a calendar to jog your memory of any business expenses you may have had during the year.

Here is a list of some of the expenses you may have had throughout the year that could be deductible:

  • Business cards, posters, or banners
  • The cost of your website or online portfolio
  • Business insurance
  • Meals you may have had with clients
  • The cost of gas for work related expenses (such as driving to meet a client or driving to cover a story)
  • If you use your vehicle for work-related issues, you can deduct things such as an oil change, repairs, tolls, parking fees, and more. See How to Deduct Mileage on Your Personal Car.
  • Office supplies such as envelopes, pens, paper, ink, post-its, and so on
  • Computer or camera if it is relevant to your business
  • Computer software relevant to your business
  • Repairs on any of your business related equipment
  • Renting a work space and all of the costs and utilities that go into that
  • Retirement contributions to plans including Solo 401ks and SEP-IRAs.
  • A portion of your rent, mortgage, interest, property tax, insurance (both renters and homeowners) if you work from your home. See the Tax Consequences of Deducting a Home Office.
  • Health insurance if you are not eligible to take advantage of an employer health insurance plan either through your employers or your spouse’s employers. What is the Self Employed Health Insurance Deduction?

Pay Your Taxes Quarterly

Paying your taxes quarterly opposed to once during tax season can help you stay organized and can lessen the blow of paying the large sum all at once. Also, paying quarterly can reduce your chances of being subjected to penalties for not paying quarterly. Talk to a trusted accountant on whether or not your situation needs quarterly deposits. For more see What Happens If You Don’t Make Estimated Tax Payments?

Helpful Form Guide for Self-employed or Freelancers

If you are filing your business income as a sole proprietor, here are some of the tax forms you should know:

  • W-9: You may have filled out a W9 Form when you signed a contract to work for someone. If so, you provided your social security number, name, and address to your client or employer.
  • 1099: A 1099 is the summary of the money a company paid you if it was more than $600. You should have received this by the end of January. It will be the total amount you earned for the previous year. It will also have the business name which you will need while filing your taxes.
  • 1040: A 1040 is the form you will need to use to file your federal taxes since you’ll have 1099s to report. Since you earned a form for self-employment income, you can’t use forms 1040A or 1040-EZ.
  • Schedule C: Use the Schedule C to report taxes specific to your business. This is the form that you’ll report your income and expenses on.
  • Schedule C-EZ :
    Instead of using a slightly more difficult form, Schedule C, you can use Schedule C-EZ if your situation is a little less in depth. You can use this form instead if you are not deducting the cost of your home or not using depreciation, if you have no inventory (i.e. you are not selling something), and if you have no employees in your business. This form is also used only if your business expenses are less than $5,000.
  • Schedule SE: Use the Schedule SE to Calculate Self Employment Taxes to add to your taxes for the year to cover your Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Filing Your Taxes

If you use TurboTax to file your taxes, you’ll need to use the Deluxe version or higher to report 1099 income.

If you are new to being self-employed or a freelancer, what concerns do you have about filing your taxes this year? What issues are you running into? If you are experienced, what tips would you share? What were some things you had to learn in the beginning?

More Tax Topics

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Tax Tips, freelance, tax"
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