Category Archives: Personal Finance 101

10 Financial Rules for 20-Somethings

Sure, your twenties are a time for experimentation and growth, but they’re also essential for your financial future. Our friends at Kiplinger.com outline 10 financial commandments for 20-somethings. We think they’re good rules Millenials should pay heed to:

Develop a marketable skill—before you can start worrying about what to do with your money, you need to earn some. Think in terms of your career, not just a job. Because let’s face it: you’re probably not going to love your first job, and it won’t be your last job. But you should try to make the best of it. Don’t be afraid to experiment—you need to take risks when you’re younger. Continue reading 10 Financial Rules for 20-Somethings

Here’s What to do With Your Tax Records

 

 

As Tax Day approaches, many of us are left rummaging through piles of tax records and receipts. Kiplinger.com offer some advice on how to stay organized and minimize that pile of papers.

Keep your actual tax returns forever—they can help when you, say, apply for a mortgage or disability insurance or when you need clues to the value of other assets. You don’t need to keep the originals; you can scan the returns and keep a digital archive.

The IRS generally has up to three years after the tax-filing deadline to initiate an audit, so you should hold on to supporting documents for at least that long. This includes credit-card statements, canceled checks, debit-card transactions and receipts showing deductions; letters from charities reporting gifts; and paperwork re

porting mortgage interest, capital-gains distributions and income. Most people can safely shred those supporting documents three years after the tax-filing deadline, but people who are self-employed or who have a small business, income from a variety of sources or complex tax situations should keep their records longer.

Keep records showing the purchase date and price of stocks and mutual funds in taxable accounts—When you sell the investment, you’ll have to report the purchase date and price so you can establish the basis. Also keep records of reinvested dividends that you’ve already paid taxes on, so you can add them to your basis when you sell and won’t have to pay taxes on them twice. If you inherit any stocks or funds, keep records of the value on the day the original owner died, which will generally be the basis when you sell it.

Keep Form 8606 reporting nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs—Keep Form 8606 until you withdraw all of the money from the IRAs. That way, you’ll be able to prove that you already paid taxes on the contributions and you won’t have to pay taxes on that portion of the money again when you start taking withdrawals.

Keep records of your home purchase cost and home improvements— You generally aren’t taxed on home-sales profits if you’ve lived in the home for at least two of the past five years and your profit is less than $250,000 if single or $500,000 if married filing jointly. But if you live in the home for a shorter time or have a bigger profit, you may have to pay taxes on part of your profits, and you can add the cost of major home improvements (not basic repairs) to the basis to reduce your taxable again.

·Toss pay stubs as soon as the information matches up with your W-2 for the year—You can toss monthly brokerage statements when the information matches up with your year-end report and your 1099s. You can toss most credit-card receipts that you don’t need for tax purposes after you check them against your monthly bill. And you can usually toss utility, phone and cable bills as soon as the next month’s bill arrives, unless you need them for tax purposes.

The 3 Biggest Mistakes First Time HomeBuyers Make

mortgage

Shopping for a home the first time can be scary: Scouring the market, negotiating the best deal and navigating the fine print is enough to overwhelm any new homebuyer.

If you’re in the market for a new home, check out the results of LendingTree.com‘s poll of major lenders. They’ve identified the three biggest mistakes first-time homebuyers make – along with some essential tips on overcoming them. Happy house hunting!

Mistake # 1: Shopping for a home without a pre-approved loan

Without a pre-approved home loan, most sellers won’t give you the time of day. Many experienced real estate agents will ask you to get pre-approved (or at the very least, get pre-qualified) with a mortgage lender before they’ll take you shopping. It saves time and helps them weed out the dreamers  from real prospective buyers.

But there’s something in it for you, too: It helps you avoid the experience of falling in love with a home, opening escrow, only to then find out you can’t get financing.

Finally, a pre-approved mortgage is almost like paying cash. Bbeing able to say, “I have loan approval and can close in 30 days” puts you in a stronger bargaining position.

o   TIP: You probably don’t want to advertise to home sellers exactly how much your lender will let you spend. When making an offer, ask your loan officer for a custom letter. If you’re approved for a $400,000 purchase and a $320,000 mortgage, but you’re offering $300,000, your letter should probably say that you’re approved for a $300,000 purchase with a $240,000 mortgage.

Mistake #2: Ignoring first-time buyer programs

Home ownership is such a big deal in the US, that there are tons of organizations and programs designed to help you buy. Ignoring these opportunities can cost you a lot of money. Here is just some of what you might be missing:

o   Down payment assistance (low-interest loans or outright gifts of cash to buy a home).

o   Mortgage Credit Certificates (mortgage interest subsidies through local governments).

o   Revitalization programs (grants for buying homes in areas under redevelopment).

o   HUD homes ($100 down and 50% discounts for first responders, nurses and teachers).

TIP: Most first-time home buyer programs define “first-timer” as someone who has not had an ownership interest in real property in at least three years.

Mistake #3: Only considering 30-year “fixed” rate mortgages

With mortgage rates currently near historic lows, it’s understandable that many want to lock in the low rates via a fixed mortgage. But 30-year fixed rate mortgages aren’t the only home loans to consider. For many first-time home buyers, hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages providing a fixed rate for only a specified number of years may actually be a better choice.

According to the National Association of Realtors, younger home buyers and first-time owners tend to sell and move much sooner than older or repeat buyers. Chances are you’ll pay probably pay more money for a 30-year mortgage, but only get five or seven years out of it.

o   TIP: If you’re considering a larger mortgage (a jumbo or super-jumbo), it makes even more sense to test drive the hybrids. The difference between the hybrid rates and the 30-year rates can be even more than it is with smaller conforming loans.

 

 

The Real Cost of Going to the Sochi Winter Olympics

What a Trip to the Winter Olympics Will Cost You :: Mint.com/blog

The excitement of attending the Sochi Winter Olympics is palpable: Hair-raising, gravity-defying stunts performed by world-class athletes on snow and ice raise our heart rates and leave us wanting more.

But like any major sporting event, going to Sochi will cost you a pretty penny.

When you factor in the added costs of a visa, overseas travel, and multiple events, the cost could be a real shocker.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Transportation

Let’s assume you can’t take 2-3 weeks off just for the Olympics, but that you do want to enjoy at least several days’ worth of events.

For this hypothetical example, let’s say you’re gone for a week, including two days of travel.

A search conducted a few weeks ago shows average economy-class airfare from NYC to Sochi of around $2500 for the dates Feb17-24.

That’ll give you five days in Sochi to enjoy, amongst other things, the closing ceremony.

Airfare from other U.S. cities is considerably higher, although travelers who booked well in advance probably snagged better deals. So, let’s call it an even $2000.

You’ll also need a rental car to get around the city, however, and recent searches show economy vehicles averaging $500 for that time period.

Visitors who booked in advance or use a different class of vehicle can expect price variations.

For our purposes, let’s say airfare + rental car = an average transportation cost of about $2500-3000.

Hotel

Hotels in Sochi, like many tourist destinations, vary widely in price, comfort level and convenience.

Our search showed an average nightly price of about $200 for mid-range accommodations.

Higher-end hotels, if not already sold-out, easily exceeded $500 per night.

5 nights hotel at a mid-range hotel: $1000. 

Visa

An expedited Russian Visa can average approximately $200.

Food & Entertainment

Making the most of the Olympics means taking part in the fun and games – both on and off the slopes.

Partaking in the festivities means sampling the local culture and nightlife, in addition to the cuisine.

Mid-range travelers can expect to part with an average of $50-150/day for food and non-sports entertainment expenses.

That budget, however, likely won’t afford you access to the most star-studded clubs or cafes.

Mid-range food and non-sports entertainment budget for five days: $500

Sporting Events Tickets

Surprisingly, unless you’re springing for the best seats, the actual Olympic sports events tickets aren’t likely to be your biggest expense.

Let’s say you’d like to attend short track speed skating, figure skating, speed skating, and the Olympic Closing Ceremony in mid-level seats.

These will run you (converted from Russian Roubles), anywhere from $86 to $345 per event, averaging a total of about $650 in “C” class seats.

Mid-range tickets for four sporting events/ceremonies: $650

Total Sochi Price Tag: $4,350

This is just a mid-range estimate, of course.

You may want to stay longer, eat more cheaply or lavishly, and attend more events or in better seats. The total cost you pay would vary accordingly.

Still, attending Sochi – or nearly any global sporting event, such as next year’s World Cup – is likely to set you back several thousand dollars.

But there’s more to it than that.

Did you have a better use for that $4000-5000?

Could it have been used to pay down high-interest credit card or student loan debt? Could it have been invested, instead?

If you estimate an 8.5% return (not atypical for stock investments over the long-term), over 30 years that $4350 could’ve added up to over $50,000, if you’d stuck it in an index fund, instead.

Going to Sochi would undoubtedly be a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Some might even say it’s priceless.

But every opportunity has its costs, and going to Sochi might cost more than you bargained for.

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