Which is Best: Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account?

February 1, 2024

While a health savings account (HSA) and a flexible savings account (FSA) both help you to set money aside for health care costs, they are not the same. Both accounts are often offered by employers, but it is possible to open an HSA independently as long as you have a HSA-eligible health plan in place. FSAs however are strictly employer-based and can only be contributed to if your employer offers them to you. Here are six key differences to know between HSAs and FSAs.

  1. An HSA Belongs to You, Not Your Employer

Whether or not you opened up a HSA through your employer-offered insurance, the funds within your HSA belong to you forever. You may even use your HSA to cover health insurance costs if you leave your current job. On the other hand, FSA funds belong to your company, and when you leave them, you forfeit your FSA.

This is not to say a FSA can’t be advantageous, as long as you intend to stay with your current employer. “The FSA basically works with any kind of health insurance plan,” says Roy Ramthun, president of HSA Consulting Services. “So from that perspective, the ‘flexible’ in the name is pretty good.”

  1. Both Accounts Have Contribution Limits

Each year, the IRS determines maximum annual amounts that can be contributed to both HSAs and FSAs. Employers may also apply their own limits to their employee FSAs. For 2024, the IRS individual contribution limits for HSAs will be $4,150, while the family limit will be twice that. In 2024, the maximum contribution for FSAs will be $3,200. While a HSA has a higher contribution limit, your employer may be contributing to your FSA for you, which may allow you to contribute more of your earnings into your own HSA.

  1. HSA Funds Carry Over

With an HSA, you may carry over unused funds from year-to-year indefinitely. This is helpful when you have more in your account than you can use before the year’s end. With the HSA, your funds won’t go wasted. This is why it is a great way to save up for unexpected health costs down the road.

Alternatively, FSA funds must be used before the year is over, or you’ll forgo the existing funds when the calendar year starts over. Some employers may allow you to carry over part of the funds or provide you with a grace period to use your funds, which is generally two and a half months. Since FSAs are offered through your employer, it will be important to inform yourself of their policies around the account.

  1. FSAs are More Accessible at the Beginning of Each Year

While your FSA funds don’t rollover, if you or your employer plan to contribute your entire limit at the beginning of the year, then that entire amount is available to you immediately. HSA funds accumulate over the year, which means that if you need access to more coverage midyear, you may not have enough money in your HSA to pay your medical bills. The upside to this is that you should be able to reimburse yourself for previous medical expenses from your HSA once those funds become available.

  1. The HSA Can be an Investment Strategy

Unlike an FSA, the HSA can gain interest over time. Couple this with the fact that your funds carry over year to year, and the HSA offers the potential for growing quite a sizable nest egg for potential health care coverage. According to the Fidelity Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate, an average retired couple age 65 in 2023 may need up to $315,000 saved just to cover health care expenses in retirement, while a single individual will need approximately $157,500.

  1. At 65, the HSA Can Act as a 401K or IRA

Before the age of 65, you will be subject to a 20% penalty if you use your HSA or FSA funds for anything other than medical expenses. But once you’re 65 or older, that fee is waived, which means that those HSA funds are only subject to income taxes no matter how you use them. While you avoid the 20% penalty over the age of 65 with a FSA as well, those funds can still only be used for health care coverage.

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Both HSAs and FSAs can prove to be valuable parts of a health coverage plan. Whether or not your employer offers a FSA to you in addition to health insurance coverage for you and your dependents will of course factor into your decision making about whether or not an added HSA will be necessary. Insureyouknow.org can help you store all of your financial and medical information in one place so that you can stay organized and make the best decisions when planning for your family’s health coverage.

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Saving for Your Next Vacation is Easy With a Plan

November 15, 2023

With world oil prices up, so is the cost of everything else. And now that interest rates are on the rise in an effort to combat inflation, hotel prices have risen by ten percent at many popular destinations. The benefits of traveling though are not worth foregoing due to rising costs. Travel is beneficial to your mental health by helping you feel calm and relieving stress and tension. With a little bit of creativity and determination, anyone can save up for a vacation and even get a great deal on travel costs.

How to Save for a Yearly Vacation

The best way to save for a vacation is to plan for it. If you have a specific trip in mind, start thinking about how much it will cost. Then create what is known as a sinking fund. If you think your vacation a year from now is going to cost $2,400, then put away $200 into an account every month. In a year’s time, you would have what you need for that vacation. If you continued the habit, then you’d have that vacation money saved every year.

When bills come in and unexpected expenses pop up, it can become difficult not to dip into your savings. This is why it’s important to keep your vacation account or sinking fund out of reach. Set up an automatic transfer for your savings every month instead of relying on yourself to transfer the money when you get paid. Gaby Dunn, author of Bad With Money, advises separating your money from your general savings so that you don’t use it for a different expense. “It’s also a good idea to open a specific account just for your vacation fund,” she suggests.

Once you’ve determined how much you’ll need to save, it then becomes time to get serious about sticking to a budget. “Many times, people will design their vacation and then attach dollars to it,” says Jesse Mecham, the founder of You Need a Budget. “But it’s better to come up with a reasonable number first, then whittle away at it when you start planning the trip. The reality is that we have only so much money.”

Budgeting really becomes about determining where you’re wasting money and where you can save money. Here are five easy ways to save for your next vacation::

  • One of the best ways to cut back on spending is to eat out less often and cook more meals at home. “Anyone I’ve talked to who has saved up a lot of money or paid off a lot of debt has cut back on eating out,” says Mecham. “Learning how to meal plan has been the overarching approach that has worked.” It might take some getting used to, but meal planning on the front end of your week can save a lot of money in the long run that you can put toward your travel budget.
  • Study your spending habits and cut back on buying unnecessary items. It might be coffees to-go, books that could have been borrowed  from the library, or impulse clothing purchases. Notice your spending weaknesses and then get disciplined about avoiding  those temptations.
  • You may have some sneaking subscriptions to streaming services, apps, or memberships that you’re not using often enough to make them worth the added strain on your budget. Take an inventory and see which subscriptions you could go without. The twenty or so dollars you’re spending a month on something you’re not even using could easily go toward your sinking fund instead.
  • Savings account interest rates are often higher with online banks than brick and mortar banks. Kelly Johnson of the travel blog, Snap Travel Magic, suggests finding the highest-yield savings account. Then, “Put 5% of each paycheck,” she advises,
    directly into the account.”
  • Use credit cards that reward you, whether it’s a bonus sign-up offer, regular cash back percentages on money spent, or points that can be put toward travel expenses. “Many credit cards offer sign up bonuses in which you can earn free cash back, extra airline miles and travel points for spending a certain amount of money within the first few months of account opening which you can use to cover a big portion of your travel expenses,” says shopping consultant Andrea Woroch.  

The most important thing when it comes to saving for your travel goals may be to stay motivated. Keep in mind why you’re budgeting by placing a picture of your desired destination somewhere you look often or making it the background image on your phone or computer. This way, if you’re tempted to make a purchase through your phone, you’ll be reminded of why you’re working so hard to save money for your dream vacation.

How to Get the Best Deals on Travel Costs

If you’re willing to be flexible with where you travel to, there is another way to score inexpensive tickets. Companies such as Scott’s Cheap Flights and Secret Flying allow you to seize temporary deals. By entering your home airport into Google Flights, choosing a desired departure date, and leaving the destination blank, people can find startling low prices on round trip tickets. This is not to say you should forego your dream trip for a deal on plane tickets. This is just one strategy to consider if you’re more in need of a break than of an actual place you have in mind.

Knowing how to avoid the high season in certain places is an artform worth mastering. Besides dealing with less crowds on your vacation, you can also take advantage of lower prices on almost all of your costs. While school schedules affect peak travel times, time off varies depending on the location. The ideal time in most places is likely going to be in between seasons or “shoulder season,” such as May in tropical destinations and October in colder places, including Europe. A little research will tell you when it’s best to travel to the destination you have in mind.

Next, shop around and compare the prices of hotels and rental properties. For instance, the advantage of having a kitchen in a rental may vary widely based on where you’re going. In some places, it will be less expensive to eat out than to cook and vice versa. Whichever you choose – hotel or rental – pay close attention to reviews, especially with Airbnb, where only travelers who have stayed there are allowed to leave a review.

How to Save Even When Traveling

Once you’ve worked hard saving up for a trip and doing your research to get the best deal on transportation and lodging, you’ll want to avoid getting caught up in the moment on your trip and go crazy with frivolous spending. The biggest trap people fall into is the cost of meals on vacation.

One way to avoid overpriced dining is to eat where the locals do. Walking fifteen minutes in any direction out of the city can make a huge difference. Not only will you spend less at restaurants, but you’ll have a more authentic dining experience. Asking the locals for suggestions is another best practice to find places to eat, as most people will love the opportunity to share their recommendations.

Just as in avoiding the peak time to travel somewhere, the same goes for restaurants. Making reservations a little earlier or later than when everyone else is will cut down on the costs of that meal, as many restaurants provide specials outside of peak times. Another way to budget is to plan on one splurge meal a day. If you eat a light breakfast and grab a small lunch on the go, then spending more on dinner won’t feel as glutiness.

Beyond eating, be open to free activities, and again: do your research ahead of time. There are many museums that offer free or reduced admissions on certain days and times. Then there’s the gardens, parks, and general sightseeing that are always free-of-charge. Always check for local markets to get a taste of local fare and the unparalleled experience of people-watching in a new place.

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Getting serious about saving money for travel will also help you to get your finances in tip-top shape and make the most out of your money in your everyday life. While you keep your eye on your goals, Insureyouknow.org can help you stay organized by storing all of your financial records, budgets, and plans in one place. Making a plan and sticking to it will be well worth it when you have the means to take a well-deserved holiday, perhaps even more than just once a year.

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Legal and Financial Planning for Those with Alzheimer’s and Their Caregivers

November 1, 2023

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, then there are certain things that you will need to plan for legally and financially. An estimated 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and it is currently the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder that slowly decreases memory and thinking skills, while dementia involves a loss of cognitive functioning; both cause more and more difficulty for an individual to perform the most simple tasks. Though a diagnosis can be scary, the right planning can help individuals and their families feel more at ease.

Putting Legal Documentation in Place

Christopher Berry, Founder and Planner at The Elder Care Firm, recommends three main disability documents that should be in place.

First, there needs to be a financial power of attorney, a document that designates someone to make all financial decisions once an individual is unable to do so for themselves. If an individual lacks a trusted loved one to make financial decisions, then designating a financial attorney or bank is an option.

The next document that needs to be in place is the medical power of attorney that designates someone to make medical decisions for an individual. In many cases, it may be appropriate to appoint the same person to be the financial and medical power of attorney, as long as that person is well-trusted by the individual. In the event that something happens to the original power of attorney(s), successor (or back-up) agents for power of attorney(s) should also be designated.

The last document is the personal care plan, which instructs the financial and medical power of attorney(s) on how best to care for the individual in need. For instance, those entrusted to the care of an individual will need to make sure they sign medical records release forms at all doctor’s offices; copies of the power of attorney or living will should also be given to healthcare providers.

These three documents provide a foundation to make decisions for the individual diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia when they no longer can themselves. It’s ideal to include the individual in these conversations in the early stages of their diagnosis, so that they may be a part of the decision-making process and appoint people that they will feel most comfortable with during their care.

How to Pay for Long-Term Care

Since Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, the level of care an individual needs will increase over time. Care costs may include medical treatment, medical equipment, modifications to living areas, and full-time residential care services.

The first thing a family can do is to use their own personal funds for care expenses. It’s important for families to remember that they will also pay in their time, as many children of loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia will become the main caregivers. It may be wise to meet with a financial planner or sit down with other family members, such as your spouse and siblings, to determine how long some of you may be able to forgo work in order to provide full time care.

When personal funds get low or forgoing work for a period of time becomes difficult, long-term care insurance can be a lifesaver. The key to relying on long-term care insurance though is that it needs to be set up ahead of the Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnoses, so considering these plans as one ages may be smart.

Veterans can make use of the veterans benefit, or non-service-connected pension, which is sometimes called the aid and attendance benefit. This benefit can help pay for long-term care of both veterans and their spouses.

Finally, an individual aged 65 or older can receive Medicare, while those that qualify for Medicaid can receive assistance for the cost of a nursing home. If someone’s income is too high to receive Medicaid, then the spenddown is one strategy to know; under spenddown, an individual may subtract their non-covered medical expenses and cost sharing (including Medicare premiums and deductibles) from their available income. With the spenddown, a person’s income may be lowered enough for them to qualify for Medicaid.

Minimizing Risk Factors During Care

Research published recently in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that nearly half of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia will experience a serious fall in their own home. Author Safiyyah Okoye, who was at John Hopkins University when the study was conducted, recommends minimizing risks such as these by safeguarding homes early on in diagnoses. “Examining the multiple factors, including environmental ones like a person’s home or neighborhood, is necessary to inform fall-risk screening, caregiver education and support, and prevention strategies for this high-risk population of older adults,” she states.

The good news is that since the progression of Alzheimer’s is often slow, families have plenty of time to modify the home for increased safety.

In addition to fall prevention modifications, other safety measures may include installing warning bells on doors to signal when they’re opened, putting down pressure-sensitive mats to alert when someone has moved, and using night lights throughout the home. Coats, wallets, and keys should also be kept out of sight, because at some point, leaving the home alone and driving will no longer be safe. Conversations about these safety measures, such as when an individual will have to stop driving, are ones that caregivers should have early on with their loved ones. Including individuals in their future planning while they are still cognitively sound will help both them and their caregivers feel more comfortable with the journey ahead.

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It’s important to remember that even though receiving an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis can be devastating, it is not the end. People with Alzheimer’s can thrive for many years before independent functioning becomes difficult. Both patients and caregivers will feel more calm through planning ahead. Insureyouknow.org can help caregivers stay organized by storing all of their important documents in one place, such as financial records, estate planning documentation, insurance policies, and detailed care plans. Above all, there is hope for those with Alzheimer’s; research is happening every day for potential therapies and future treatments.

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How ChatGPT is Shaping Retirement

October 15, 2023

Chat GPT is an artificial intelligence program that can answer human questions. This chatbot is able to understand human language that is spoken or written and then uses algorithms to process and analyze this information in order to produce answers. For instance, you may ask ChatGPT informative questions such as how climate change is affecting endangered species, but Chat GPT can even be directed to write a poem. When it comes to finances, ChatGPT may even be able to help someone begin their retirement planning.

ChatGPT Provides Content, Not Human Advice

Anyone can ask ChatGPT anything, and they will receive a remarkably well-rounded response. If someone were to ask what their retirement plan should include, the chatbot will provide an outline of the basic elements of a common retirement plan. The problem with this is that ChatGPT won’t know the person asking the question and be able to understand the individual details of their life that would make a difference in their retirement planning.

While Chat GPT may not completely replace the value of a human financial advisor, that doesn’t mean that financial advisors won’t need to change the way in which they advise clients to plan for their retirement. If anyone can get a basic plan through ChatGPT, then the services provided by an advisor need to become more about the one thing ChatGPT can’t provide: the human understanding and emotional side of advice. Despite having spent decades taking the emotion out of financial decisions, financial professionals will have to pivot to provide more humanity than ever.

How AI Can Improve an Advisor’s Abilities

Once upon a time, the internet threatened travel agents everywhere, as people could suddenly book their own plane tickets, hotel rooms, and rental cars themselves, from the comfort of their home computers. But travel agents are alive and well, and that’s because the internet still couldn’t do one thing that an agent could: understand a client’s needs and provide personal advice. Instead of mere transactional planning, personalized insight is the new premiere service that a travel agent can provide, and financial planners can grow to do the same.

While ChatGPT can provide concrete information, it cannot begin to factor in the unique preferences of an individual. True conversation is more than the exchange of information. It involves feelings and the confirmation that the person you’re speaking with understands you. A good financial advisor already understands this. Their job is about more than just offering retirement plans; people need empathy. Financial advisor Patti Brennan says her clients “are looking for someone who isn’t just focused on managing their money; that’s just table stakes. What they really want is to know they’ve got someone they can count on during times of crisis; someone who will be a trusted advocate for their future and quality of life.”

Mitchell Morrison, CEO and founder of Eyeballs Financial, says, “ChatGPT is like building a chassis for the financial plan. Its chief weakness is that the answers you get are only as good as the questions you ask.”

While a machine can provide the building blocks of a good plan, an advisor has the capability to understand the complexities of financial planning and the nuances of a person’s life. Together, ChatGPT and the advice from a professional can be used to formulate a plan that is more well-rounded than if someone just relied on one or the other. Rob Leiphart, a certified financial planner at RB Capital Management, adds that, “ChatGPT lacks one crucial step needed in financial planning and investment management: KYC,” or know your client. “It doesn’t begin by asking questions of its own in order to hone its responses. Instead, it provides generic or basic advice,” he says.

While AI ‘s abilities will evolve, financial advisors will be required to as well. Professionals should view ChatGPT as a tool and reevaluate their role in retirement planning. While clients can be well-versed through the framework that ChatGPT can provide them, financial planners can become educators, coaches, and navigators of their retirement plans.

What AI Can Do For You Now

ChatGPT can do more than provide information on how to begin planning for retirement. It can also be used as a resource to think outside of the box in terms of finances. Here are five ways anyone can use ChatGPT to improve their finances now.

1. Research side gigs

Whether you’re interested in supplementing your income now or during retirement, you can ask ChatGPT, “What are the best side gigs for retirees, in my area, or in my field of work?” AI will provide a list of options ranging from consulting, house sitting, or personal errands.

2. Build a better resume

Perhaps you’d like to make more money in your working years or there are a handful of positions you’ve always wished you could land. ChatGPT can help make your resume stand out by suggesting which skills recruiters are looking for in certain positions.

3. Get your business off the ground

ChatGPT could tell you how much you’ll need to start that business you’ve always dreamed of starting, including what resources you’ll need to get going, projected earnings, and even help with sales copy. Whether you’re selling goods or services, you’ll need good advertising to attract potential clients. ChatGPT can provide you with a better idea of what your business idea will entail and help you to create a detailed plan of action.

4. Get tips for writing a better house listing

Planning to make money for retirement by selling your house or planning to move when you can retire are both common goals. An attractive house listing can help you get the best offer on your current property. Paired with gorgeous pictures of your home, ChatGPT can help you write the listing that will get you the most interest. You could even use ChatGPT to help you buy your home elsewhere by researching the most cost effective places to retire.

5. Find financial planners in your area

Once you’ve decided it’s time to start thinking about your retirement, ChatGPT can provide you with a list of qualified and highly-rated financial advisors in your area. Plus, educating yourself through ChatGPT on common retirement plans before you meet with your advisor will give you an idea of what to discuss at your meeting.

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Retirement planning can be overwhelming, but you’ll benefit from using every resource available to you, including ChatGPT. For now ChatGPT is an excellent starting point but shouldn’t be the main resource of your final plan. Insureyouknow.org can help you compile your research, store your financial records, and serve as a valuable place to regularly revisit and fine tune your retirement plan.

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Paying for Early Childhood Intervention Services

October 1, 2023

Over three million children in the United States had a reported disability according to the 2019 U.S. Census, and that number has risen 0.4% since 2008. Children experiencing developmental delays, not reaching developmental milestones, or those at risk may be eligible for early intervention services and supports.

When to Screen for Developmental Delays

If a child is born prematurely or with a genetic condition, then that child may qualify for early intervention as soon as birth. Early screening is part of the services that should be offered while parents are in the hospital for their child’s birth. However, if a parent becomes concerned about their child’s development after birth or notices any changes, they should refer their child for an early intervention evaluation. Eligibility for services is based on an evaluation of a child’s skills and abilities. A doctor’s referral is not necessary for an evaluation. It’s important for parents to educate themselves on which milestones their children should be reaching and not rely completely on their doctor’s recommendations; it is parents who spend the most time with their children, so they may notice something that a pediatrician won’t catch during a routine check-up. Emma Fitzsimmons, a New York mom who claims early intervention saved her son’s life, tells other parents, “If you’re worried that your child has delays, I would encourage you to seek out Early Intervention services and to ask for recommendations to find the best therapists in your area and a good service coordinator, the person who oversees your case.”

Know What Your State Offers

If eligible for early intervention, children may receive services to help with physical skills (crawling and walking), cognitive functions (thinking and learning), communication (talking and listening), adaptive skills (eating and dressing), and social-emotional development (play). Services are wide-ranging and can include speech therapy, physical or occupational therapy, psychological services, home visits, nutritional services, audiology (for hearing issues), vision therapy, social work, assistive technology, and even transportation.

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, covers early intervention and school-aged services. Under Part C of IDEA, funding is made available to each state and requires services to be made available to eligible children with disabilities. While all states offer early intervention, the screening processes and services offered vary state by state. The first step in finding out what your child may qualify for is learning about what your state offers. The CDC offers links for each state in order to learn about the benefits your state offers. Each state has its own guidelines around how families qualify, but generally, a child must exhibit a developmental delay or have been diagnosed with a specific health condition that is known to lead to delays, such as a genetic disorder. The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (or ECTA) also outlines the services each state offers. In some states, children may be eligible for services if they are at risk and not yet exhibiting any delays, such as having been born at a low weight. If a child is found eligible for services, a care team will develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), which will outline the services a child will receive and the desired outcomes for those services. For instance, physical therapist Tonya McCool explains, “If a child presents with a delay that limits their abilities to complete age-appropriate milestones, a provider will assist by guiding the child into appropriate positions, providing them opportunities to experience new opportunities or helping them try new things so that their families can continue to work with them throughout the week to meet their goals.”

Who Pays for Early Intervention Services?

Under IDEA Part C, Child Find services, which include the initial referral, evaluations, the development of the IFSP, and service coordination must be made free to families, but depending on your state’s policies, some services may be provided at a cost or on a sliding scale. In addition to the federal education funds provided through IDEA, Medicaid and private insurance can also help cover the costs of interventions, such as speech therapy and hearing services. Finding a provider that is familiar with Early Intervention funding will know best how to help families cover the costs of these services. Although early intervention is mandated by IDEA and designed to meet the needs of children, it often requires a combination of resources to cover the costs of services. The ECTA’s website offers contact information for each state’s lead agency, who will be able to provide parents with the resources they’ll need to secure services and funding. If your child qualifies for interventional services, it will be important to become educated in what services must be provided at no cost to you through IDEA Part C.

What Happens When Services End?

Once a child is three, if they are still experiencing delays or require supports, then services will continue and transition into special education services. These are often provided through a child’s school at no additional cost to you. The age at which a child begins schooling also varies state-by-state, which is why it’s important for families to work with their initial early intervention team in order to ensure children continue receiving the supports they need. When an IFSP is developed, it should include any support for the transition to preschool when a child turns three. Plans should be reviewed every six months, as children change quickly from birth to age three.

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Early intervention services can have an enormous impact on a child’s ability to meet developmental milestones. These services are provided not only for a child, but also so that their caregivers have the tools they need to create a healthy environment for their entire family. Insureyouknow.org can help you keep track of medical records, interventional resources, and your child’s IFSP, as well as their progress. When it comes time for your child to start school, having this paperwork organized in one place will help you provide their school with everything they require in order to ensure the necessary continued supports.

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Five Things To Know About the Capital Gains Tax

September 15, 2023

It’s never too early to start planning for tax season. While much of what you own will experience depreciation over time, any profit made from something you sell may be subject to the capital gains tax. So if you think you’ll be making a return on a previous investment this year, then you’re going to want to be well-versed in the capital gains tax.

Understanding the Capital Gains Tax

A capital gains tax is a tax on profits made from the sale of assets, such as stocks, businesses, real estate, and other types of investments. When you sell anything and make a profit, the U.S. government views that profit as taxable income. The capital gains tax is calculated by deducting the original cost of the asset from the total sale of that asset. It’s important to understand the capital gains tax guidelines, such as profits made from real estate or collectibles, which come with their own unique rules. Understanding the rules can help you make the best decisions about your capital gains income.

In order to minimize losses and maximize your gains, here are five things to know about the capital gains tax.

The Real Estate Rules

If a person sells their home for $250,000 or less, or a married couple sells their home for $500,000 or less, then they are exempt from the capital gains tax; this exemption is only available once every two years. If you sell your home or any other investment property for more than that but reinvest the money made from the sale into a new property, then you would also be exempt from paying taxes on your real estate gains; this is known as the 1031 exchange. Cory Robinson, financial portfolio manager says, “That’s the beauty of taking gains: You can immediately reinvest.” For a home to qualify as a primary residence, you must have lived in it for at least two years, or two years out of a five year period. It’s important to understand the rules around property sales, so speaking with an advisor is always recommended before selling your home. “Familiarize yourself with the capital gains tax exclusion rules and consult a tax advisor,” says financial analyst Greg McBride. “If the property has been your primary residence for less than 24 months, for example, you may decide to hold off until you’ve reached that threshold to avoid capital gains tax.”

The Difference Between Short and Long-term Capital Gains

Put simply, if you have held any asset for less than a year before selling it, then that asset is considered a short-term capital gain and is subject to a higher capital gains tax; if you own that asset for longer than a year before selling, then your profit is considered a long-term gain and subject to a lower tax rate. This is why selling any asset before you’ve owned it for at least 12 months should be avoided if possible.

Investment and Rental Property Strategies

The rules around investment property are different since their value typically depreciates over time. A 25 percent rate then applies to the gain from selling real estate that depreciated, because the IRS wants to recapture some of the tax breaks you’ve been getting due to depreciation, known as Section 1250 property. If you sell a rental property that you have not lived in for at least two years for over $250,000 (or $500,000 if married), then that property could be subject to not only the depreciation rate but a capital gains tax that is based on your income bracket. One wat to avoid this could be to invest in property in opportunity zones, areas identified as economically disadvantaged, which are tax-free when sold after ten years. Deducting expenses, such as home improvements, repair, and even closing costs, is another way to lower the amount of profit that is subject to the capital gains tax.

Your Income Bracket Determines Your Capital Gains Tax Rate

Tax rates are determined by your tax bracket, so a lot of people will actually pay no capital gains tax on the sale of long-term assets if they fall in the 0% tax rate. For the 2023 tax year, a single person that made up to $44,625, and a married couple that made up to $89,250 jointly would not have to pay any capital gains taxes.

Keep Track of Both Gains and Losses

When an asset is sold for more than what it cost, it results in a capital gain, but when the asset is sold for less than it cost, it results in a capital loss. If you have both gains and losses, it will be important to know your net gain, or your gains minus your losses; only net gains are subject to the capital gains tax. If you only have losses in a given year, then capital losses could actually lower your taxable income. This loss is limited to $3,000 per year per person (or $1,500 if you’re married). If you have an excess of $3,000 in losses, then those losses can actually be carried forward to future tax years.

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It’s never a good idea to buy or sell assets solely for tax purposes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be well aware of the rules around the capital gains tax. Insureyouknow.org can help you store all of your financial records in one place, so that it’s easier for you to keep track of your assets and taxable income. Before selling any investment, it’s important to know the laws unique to your state and speak with an advisor, who will know best what taxes you may be held responsible for. It’s good to know that for many, zero taxes on gains are actually possible.

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5 Benefits of Paying Off Your Mortgage Early

August 17, 2023

For many Americans, a home mortgage is one of the heftiest and lengthiest investments they will make in their lifetime. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, mortgages accounted for 71% of combined household debts in 2022. The good news is with proper planning, this stressor can be eliminated. Depending on your financial position, opting to pay off your mortgage early can make a positive impact on your finances. It can simultaneously offer you a sense of peace and stability and provide greater financial freedom.

“Paying off your mortgage is a major milestone,” said Meaghen Hunt of Bankrate. “It’s a moment to celebrate, but also to take specific steps to ensure you’re the legal owner of the property, and to continue paying your homeowners insurance and property taxes on your own.”

  1. Reduce Interest Costs

The more time you carry a mortgage for, the more interest you will pay. Paying off your mortgage early allows you to save significantly on interest. Laura Tarpley of Business Insider estimates that paying off your mortgage early could save you tens of thousands of dollars. “Just make sure to clarify with your lender that all extra payments will just be going toward your principal, not interest,” she cautioned.

  1. Live Debt-Free

Forbes estimates that nearly 10 million American homeowners who are still paying off their mortgages are 65 years of age or older. That is a significant number of individuals still saddled with debt well into their old age. The increased financial security of having a paid-off mortgage means greater room in your finances to address other debts. The funds spent to make a mortgage payment can be redistributed to pay off other outstanding debts such as loans, credit card balances, and more. Overall, the ability to live debt-free without the stress of having to make a substantial payment is a significant benefit.

Hunt cautions that you may see your credit score suffer after paying off your mortgage especially if it was the only debt you carried. Although there is a brighter side. “In some cases, your score can improve, depending on what other kinds of credit you’ve borrowed,’ she added.

  1. Eliminate Monthly Payments

Most homeowners can expect to pay off their homes in 30 years making normal monthly payments. Not having to meet monthly payments frees up a sizable amount of money that can be invested in other, potentially high-earning, endeavors. This could allow for more wealth to be generated over time. Additionally, if you are unable to make your monthly payments due to financial instability, you are protected from losing your home.

  1. Be Financially Free

Mortgage payments often make up a substantial portion of one’s expenses and are also multi-year, with the average mortgage spanning between 15-30 years. Paying off your mortgage ahead of schedule frees up funds and allows for greater room to direct funds to other places.

 “For people nearing retirement, a paid-off mortgage means they have that much more free cash flow from their fixed income when they stop working,” said Miranda Marquit of Bankrate. “It allows you to tap the equity in your home if you need money in the future.”

  1. Have Peace of Mind

Arguably one of the most advantageous benefits of having a fully paid mortgage is the right to own your home outright. Additionally, it protects you from the instability of the housing market which can lower the value of your home.

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Having a mortgage paid off early provides many advantages, such as money saved long-term that permits debt and interest-free living and greater availability of funds to direct towards other investments. While not having to keep up with costly monthly payments into your retirement sounds appealing, it is important to take inventory of your finances before making the decision to pay off your mortgage early. Use insureyouknow.org to keep a track of your payments and debts to determine if an early mortgage payment is the right fit for you.

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Are you too old to open a Roth IRA?

July 1, 2023

Many people intend to rely on their 401(k) plans offered through employment, personal savings and collecting Social Security and Medicare benefits during retirement, but financial advisors recommend diversifying your retirement plan to include a Roth IRA. Plus, if you’re not offered a 401(k) plan through work, Social Security and savings alone may not be enough. The first step in determining whether it’s too late to open a Roth IRA is understanding the potential benefits and downsides of having one.

Understanding the Roth IRA

The difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA is that a Roth IRA allows for tax-free income during retirement, while a Traditional IRA taxes withdrawals. With a Roth IRA, contributions are taxed upfront, so all withdrawals of earnings are federal tax-free once the account has existed for five years, and the account holder is at least 59½. Contributions, though, can always be withdrawn at any age without taxes or penalties, which could be especially important during unexpected financial hardship. For anyone new to investing or planning for retirement, IRA expert and accountant Ed Slott recommends starting with a Roth IRA, saying, “There’s just no question that that is the better place,” to start.

Opening a Roth IRA

In order to contribute to a Roth IRA, you must earn an income, but there are income limits. In 2023, a single person may make $153,000 or less, while those who file jointly may make $228,000 or less. While there are no RMDs, there is a Maximum Contribution allowed of $6,500 under the age of 50 and $7,500 for those 50 and over. That means that if you have extra income to invest between the age of 50 and 70, the Roth IRA might be just right for you. Contributions are not tax deductible and all earnings grow tax-free. Because Roth IRAs do not have Required Minimum Distributions (or RMDs) after the age of 73, this is yet another reason that it might be the perfect account to consider for someone who is older and may be behind on their retirement planning.

The Benefits to Opening a Roth IRA at an Older Age

The earlier you start saving for retirement, the better. With a Roth IRA, the longer the account is open, the longer someone has to save and take advantage of compound interest. Winnie Sun, managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners says she always points young investors to Roth IRAs, because not only can it get them started on long term investing, but it can “help them sock away money that can be accessed in an emergency.” There are still advantages to opening a Roth IRA even at an older age, as long as an individual falls within the income and contribution limits. If you’re over the age of 59½ or getting there, then once the account has been open for five years, there will be no penalty for withdrawing earnings tax-free, and if you plan to continue earning past 73 or don’t need to withdraw funds at that time, then there will be no harm in not withdrawing a certain amount per year as Roth IRAs do not have RMD restrictions. While some people view the inability to claim contributions as a tax deduction as the downside to Roth IRAs, others argue that not having to pay taxes on your distributions is the upside to that later on. Perhaps the best way of looking at this feature is that retirees may leave their heirs tax-free funds, which may be particularly important for some people. Income, though, may be the most important factor in opening a Roth IRA later in life, as some individuals don’t earn more until they are older. It may not be until an older age that an individual has the extra income that they can now invest, especially once the mortgage is paid or their children are independent. Many find themselves in the unfortunate position of not having saved up what they’ll need, and so they’ll want to make the most of their earnings while they can; that’s when a Roth IRA can help.

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The best thing to do when it comes to retirement planning is to start early, but because of various situations, this isn’t always possible for everyone. Even if an individual has been saving or has a decent 401(k) plan through their job, opening a Roth IRA at a later time can help many people plan on having extra funds during their retirement years. Insureyouknow.org can help you store all your retirement plans in one place so that your retirement accounts and other finances are easy to access and can be updated regularly. This way, you can focus on earning and enjoying your funds both now and later in life.

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The Everything Kids’ Money Book

November 15, 2022

You want your children to become financially stable adults. But how can you interest them in this important topic, and make it easy to learn about and fun, when they are in their formative years? Your answer is The Everything Kids’ Money Book by Brette Sember that visually depicts boys and girls undertaking some enterprise having to do with money such as having a lemonade stand, saving for a new bike, or collecting coins. Written with kids ages 7 to 11 in mind, the author promises to teach them about money—“Earn it, save it, and watch it grow.”

Hands-On Activities Covered

Would your child like to . . .

  • Learn how to make money at jobs appropriate for their age?
  • Track where a dollar bill has been before they got it? There’s a simple way to find out. 
  • Learn how to make all their pennies shiny? It’s easy.
  • Design their own dollar with someone’s face they like—Batman? Spiderman? The Incredibles?
  • Do a magic trick with a dollar bill to impress their friends?
  • Find out what fun things they can do for free? Grandpa and Grandma might know.
  • Make a pizza garden?

Fun Money Facts Revealed

Would they like to know . . .

  • Why they are called Piggy Banks, not Doggy banks, or something else?
  • What is the name of the buffalo on the nickel and where did it live?
  • What are dead dollars?
  • What are some things money has been made from in the past?

Difficult Concepts Explained

As a New York Law Guardian, Brette Sember has many years of experience working with children. She has written more than 40 books on a variety of topics, such as law, health, food, travel, education, business, finance, parenting, adoption, and seniors. In The Everything Kids’ Money Book, she tackles subjects such as:

  • Investments
  • Budgets
  • Saving money
  • The cost of living
  • Credit cards and debit cards
  • Income tax
  • Why borrowing money can lead to trouble
  • Why lottery tickets are not a good investment
  • Investments
  • Budgets
  • Saving money
  • The cost of living
  • Credit cards and debit cards
  • Income tax
  • Why borrowing money can lead to trouble
  • Why lottery tickets are not a good investment

All these topics are covered in easy-to-understand language and unfamiliar terms are defined in the glossary. Answers to some of the questions posed and a page of resources are included at the back of the book. This section features books and websites with ideas kids will enjoy, more magic tricks to perform with money, how to start a small business, a website with money games, and how to collect coins.

Kids’ Money Book Promoted

MyBankTracker.com which “tracks thousands of banks to help you find the perfect match for your banking needs,” says this book is “more than simply a manual; The Everything Kids’ Money Book is a well-organized workbook that covers everything from money printing to compound interest.”

Investopedia.com which calls itself “The world’s leading source of financial content on the web,” echoes this opinion by saying the book, “Not only teaches kids how to save and earn their own money but also how to invest and earn interest.”

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If you decide to spend some bonding time discussing money concepts with your daughter or son, you may learn or relearn some basic financial truths. Keep a list of your kids’ moneymaking, spending, and savings plans at insureyouknow.org. You can measure their financial success on this portal and watch with them the ebb and flow of their profits and expenses.

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Do You Realize How “Precious” a Child Is?

September 15, 2022

The cost of raising a child through high school has risen to $310,605 because of inflation that is running close to a four-decade high, according to an estimate by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC.  

In 2017—years before the pandemic and during an extended period of very low inflation—the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected that the average total expenditures spent on a child from birth through age 17 would be $284,594. This estimate assumed an average inflation rate of 2.2 percent and did not include the expenses associated with sending a child to college or supporting them during their transition to adulthood. Since 2020, the inflation rate has skyrocketed— 8.5 percent as of July 2022—partly due to supply-chain issues and stimulus spending packages that put more cash into Americans’ pockets. The Federal Reserve has now raised interest rates substantially to control inflation.

The multiyear total is up $26,011, or more than 9 percent, from a calculation based on the inflation rate two years ago, before rapid price increases hit the economy, reports the Brookings Institution.

The new estimate crunches numbers for middle-income, married parents, and doesn’t include projections for single-parent households, or consider how race factors into cost challenges. 

Expenses

The estimate covers a range of expenses, including housing, education, food, clothing, healthcare, and childcare, and accounts for childhood milestones and activities—baby essentials, haircuts, sports equipment, extracurricular activities, and car insurance starting in the teen years, among other costs.

In 2019, the typical expenses to raise a child were estimated by the USDA as follows:

  • Housing: 29%
  • Food: 18%
  • Childcare and Education: 16%
  • Transportation: 15%
  • Healthcare: 9%
  • Miscellaneous (included Personal Care and Entertainment): 7%
  • Clothing: 6%

Housing

Housing at 29 percent is the most significant expense associated with raising a child. The cost and type of housing vary widely by location. Other variables include mortgage or rent payments, property tax, home repairs and maintenance, insurance, utilities, and other miscellaneous housing costs.

Food

The cost of food is the second-largest expense, at 18 percent of the overall cost of raising a child. Over time, food prices have trended up, with food-at-home pricing increasing 12.1 percent and food-away-from-home pricing increasing by 7.7 percent from June 2021 to July 2022. The USDA expects rising costs for 2022, with increases as high as 10 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.

Childcare and Education

Childcare and education expenses in 2019 accounted for 16 percent of the cost of raising a  child, and it continues to increase.

The widespread acceptance by employers of remote work and letting employees work from home part or full-time has eased the burden of childcare costs for many families, cutting the cost by as much as 30 percent for some workers.

Education is a major expense when it comes to raising children. When it comes to kindergarten through high school, parents can choose between public and private schools. For private schools, the Education Data Initiative estimated that tuition costs an average of $12,350 per year. Associated costs, like technology, textbooks, and back-to-school supplies, could bring that up to $16,050. For a child to be in private school from kindergarten through eighth grade, the estimated cost could be about $208,650. Additional expenses for extracurricular activities such as sports, the arts—music, theater, and yearbook—and other clubs also add up and are accompanied by fees for participation, equipment, and travel, which have also increased due to inflation.

Healthcare

The total cost of a health plan is set according to the number of people covered by it, as well as each person’s age and possibly their tobacco use. For example, a family of three, with two adults and a child, would pay a much higher monthly health insurance premium than an individual.

Strategies

Raising children is rewarding and fulfilling to many people. But it’s also become very expensive. By preparing mentally and implementing financial planning strategies, you can be well-equipped to raise your child to adulthood comfortably, even on a budget.

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If you are a parent, you are responsible for raising your child and providing food, clothing, shelter, and security. Consider getting insurance coverage—including life, short- and long-term disability, and health insurance to avoid putting your family at risk financially in the event of unexpected hardship. To cope with the rising costs of raising children, live within your means, save money wherever possible, and shop around for home and auto insurance each year for the best deals. At insureyouknow.org, you can track your expenses to raise a child and file insurance policies that cover your family’s financial and healthcare needs.

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