Becoming a smarter renter

Renting an apartment, condo or house; leasing a piece of equipment; renting business property; and leasing a car all involve the common practice of renting something that is owned by someone else. To make sure you always have a good experience, here are some hints to becoming a smarter renter.

Read all agreements. Read the lease agreement thoroughly prior to signing. Ask for clarification of anything you do not understand. Look for clauses in the agreement that might suggest the property owner has problems with its current tenants. If the agreement seems unfriendly, don’t sign it.

Negotiate up front. Be ready to negotiate your lease terms up front. If anything is unclear in the lease, have it clarified and put in writing. Be very clear about security deposits, first and last month’s rent, and services included in the lease.

Follow the terms. Be the tenant that pays a little early, not the one that always pays late. That way if you ever need a little extra time to pay, you have established the necessary trust to do so.

Proactive disclosure. If you think you will need a temporary exception to part of the lease, try to include it in your upfront negotiations. If this is not possible, consider proactively disclosing the exception to your property owner.

Keep the property clean. This is especially important if you have a pet in your rental property. When landlords come into your home, you will build confidence if the place looks like you treat it as if you owned it. The same is true with rental equipment. Always return it cleaner than you received it.

Know the owner and neighbors. Building a relationship with the property owner and your neighbors helps. If your neighbor has a problem with you, wouldn’t you rather have them come to you than to your landlord? Establishing a good working relationship with a landlord will help you when you need help with a problem in your home or with the equipment you rent.

Leave with a smile. This is especially true for home and vacation rentals. Before you leave, have the property cleaned and hassle-free for the landlord. Request a reference from the landlord for future rentals.

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Tips on tip reporting

If you are like millions of taxpayers who work in the service industry, you may receive tips. The tax code is clear; if you receive tips you must report them as income. Some employers have systems to make this easy, while others do not. Here are some suggestions:

Think 1-2-3

Proper tip reporting has three components.

1. Keeping a daily tip record

2. Reporting your tips to your employer

3. Recording your tips on your income tax return

Recording tip activity

Per the IRS, you can keep your tips by either maintaining a tip diary or by saving documents that show your tips. If your employer does not provide you with an electronic form of a tip diary, you can always create your own. The IRS has one for your use in Form 4070A.

Reporting tips to an employer

You should record daily activity in your diary and then provide a monthly summary to your employer by the 10th of the following month. The report should include the following elements:

·         Your name and address

·         Your social security number

·         Employer name and address

·         Time period

·         Date submitted to employer

·         Your signature

·         Tip information: cash tips received, credit/debit tips received, tips paid out to fellow workers, and net tips received

Paying taxes

With proper tracking and reporting of tip activity to your employer, filing your taxes on this income can be done without too much trouble. Here are some ideas.

Use your employer for reporting. With proper reporting, your employer can help ensure taxes are withheld and sent in for you. This can help you avoid a large tax bill at the end of the year.

Giving your employer funds. If your tips are a high portion of your income, your wages may not be sufficient to cover your taxes. To solve this, you can provide some of your tip income to your employer to pay a proper level of withholdings on your behalf.

Other things to note

Service charge or tip? If your employer adds a set tip amount to a bill (18 percent automatic tip for parties of six or more), this is not a tip, it is a service charge and is treated as wages.

Shared tips. Be careful reporting those tips you share with others. Clearly report your own net tip income to your employer. Do not report gross tips that you share with others on your tax return.

Know the penalty. If you do not report tips to your employer, the potential penalty is 50 percent of the social security and Medicare-related taxes you may owe on the unreported tips.

Allocated tips. Sometimes your employer pays you tips and reports them on your W-2 that are above what you reported to your employer. The good news? You receive additional income above your hourly wages. The bad news? You will owe income taxes AND social security and Medicare taxes on these tips.

Keeping track of tip income can be made manageable by developing a good reporting system. Please ask for help if you need assistance before it gets out of hand.

Posted in Business Owner, customer service, Employee Benefits, employees, Filing Taxes, Payroll, Penalty, tax advice, tax planning, taxes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How to cut car maintenance costs

Insurance, fuel, loan interest, maintenance, repairs, depreciation – all the expenses associated with owning and driving an automobile can take a huge bite out of your family budget. Some of these are sunk costs. Because the money is already spent – the down payment to purchase your car, for example – such costs are irrelevant when budgeting for the future. But other costs of owning and operating a vehicle can be pared down substantially. Shopping around for a better insurance rate or discovering a station that sells cheaper gas may save hundreds of dollars over time. Being vigilant about routine maintenance is also a great way to reduce operating costs and avoid major repair bills.

To make a dent in your car maintenance budget, follow these five tips from the pros.

  • Read the owner’s manual. That little booklet in your glove box is full of detailed information about your car. It also includes a recommended maintenance schedule, which is more reliable than the sticker the auto shop attaches to your windshield after an oil change. If you’ve lost your owner’s manual, maintenance recommendations for your car are often available on websites such as www.carcare.org.
  • Shop around for repairs. Generally speaking, independent repair shops tend to charge less for repairs than dealerships. But be cautious. Ask family and friends for recommendations, and don’t be afraid to get several estimates. If possible, find a shop with at least one certified automobile technician.
  • Change your oil regularly. Depending on your car’s make and model, as well as driving conditions in your town, “regularly” will vary. Again, the owner’s manual should be your guide to determine how frequently to change lubrication fluids. How long an engine functions without major repairs is often directly correlated to how routinely the oil was replaced.
  • Use cruise control. In general, driving at a constant speed improves gas mileage. You’ll need fewer trips to the gas station if you keep an even pressure on the accelerator instead of lurching through town like a student driver.
  • Check your tires. Another key to better gas mileage is to keep your tires properly inflated. The recommended tire pressure of the vehicle’s original set of tires may be listed on the door jamb sticker. If you have purchased a new set of tires, the tire pressure may be different than the original set. Rotating the tires regularly will also help to evenly distribute wear and tear and may keep your shock absorbers from needing replacement as often.
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Do a business valuation when you’re ready to sell your company

Well before you’re ready to sell your company, you’ll want to determine its fair market value as a starting point for negotiations. Of course, obtaining a reasonably precise value for your business is often a complicated and time-consuming task. Accurate appraisals must weigh a variety of factors and incorporate numerous assumptions. The more precise the underlying numbers and suppositions, the more likely the appraiser’s determination of fair market value will reflect what a willing buyer would actually pay. Here are two questions an appraisal should address.

  • How does your business compare? If you’re operating a service business, your valuation will differ – often substantially – from a company involved in light manufacturing or retail. Buyers will expect a reasonable return on their investment, a return that is often represented as some form of earnings multiplier. For example, your business may be valued at three times projected earnings. Once determined, that number can be compared to businesses of similar size in your market. Of course, accurate valuations must compare apples to apples. “Earnings” must be defined. Should “earnings” include or exclude the owner’s pay, interest expense, depreciation, or taxes? A careful appraisal will also scrutinize the balance sheet. The basis for valuing tangible and intangible assets (including non-compete agreements) and liabilities (such as mortgages, installment loans, and accounts payable) should be clearly laid out – before the business is put on the block.
  • Will present trends continue? The future may be difficult to predict, but a careful analysis should be based on conservative projections, assumptions, and common sense. If, for example, the business is expected to retain skilled management and employees, buyers may be willing to pay a premium. If, on the other hand, the company is overly dependent on a few products or customers, potential buyers may be scared off. Or they may require concessions to mitigate perceived risk. Again, a careful appraisal will consider many such factors and value the business accordingly.

Remember: an appraisal is merely a starting point for negotiations. The more accurate the appraisal, the more likely the business will be priced correctly and potential buyers will be attracted. Unfortunately, determining the fair market value of a business may be fraught with missteps and faulty assumptions. For that reason, hiring a trained and objective professional is often a worthwhile investment.

Posted in Business, business help, Business Owner, Financial Planning, Investing, investment, IRA, save on taxes, tax advice, tax planning, Tax Return, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Is your HSA a retirement tool? The good, the bad, and the ugly

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are a great way to pay for medical expenses, and since unused funds roll over from year to year, the account can also provide a source of retirement funds in addition to other plans like 401(k)s or IRAs.

But be aware HSAs can also come with significant disadvantages and less flexibility when compared to other retirement investment tools.

The Good

HSAs work best when they are used for their designed purpose: to pay for qualified medical expenses. Neither your original contributions to an HSA nor your investment earnings are taxed when used this way.

This makes HSA funds valuable, given that medical costs are one of our largest expenses as we age. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates the average 65-year-old couple will need $264,000 to pay for medical care over the course of their retirement. Being able to cover that amount with pre-tax dollars greatly extends the value of retirement savings.

In addition, unlike other retirement plans, there is no required distribution of funds after you reach age 70½.

The Bad

First, you can only contribute to an HSA if you have a high-deductible health insurance plan. That means you will pay more out of pocket each year when you need to use health services, which could make it difficult to build a balance within your HSA.

Second, contributions are limited. Annual contributions to HSAs are limited to $3,400 a year for individuals and $6,750 a year for families. These limits get bumped up by $1,000 for people aged 55 and older. You also may only contribute to an HSA until your retirement age.

Finally, HSAs typically have fewer investment options compared with other investment tools, including 401(k)s and IRAs. The accounts often have high management and administrative fees. All this makes building HSA earnings tough to do.

The Ugly

Before you reach age 65, non-medical withdrawals from HSAs come with a whopping 20 percent penalty, plus they are taxed as income. Even after age 65, both contributions and earnings are taxed when they are withdrawn for non-medical expenses.

In this way, HSAs compare unfavorably with 401(k)s and IRAs, which end their early withdrawal period earlier, at age 59½, and also have lower early withdrawal penalties of just 10 percent.

HSAs are a powerful tool to help manage the ever-rising costs of health care. Knowing the rules and the costs associated with using these funds outside of medical expenses can help you position an HSA with your other retirement options.

Posted in 401 k, Affordable Care Act, Business Owner, Employee Benefits, Estate, Financial Planning, health insurance, Investing, retirement, saving for retirement, tax planning, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Parents need to do estate planning

For a parent, estate planning is especially important. The first priority is to make sure your children are protected in the event that something happens to you. Your estate plan should appoint guardians for your minor children, as well as provide for their financial well-being.

Posted in 401 k, 529 plan, Business Owner, College Savings, education, Estate, Financial Planning, tax planning, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment