20somethingfinance is a personal finance and lifestyle blog catered towards young professionals to help them pursue financial freedom. Its Mission is to unite & assist young professionals in the fight for financial freedom.
I’ve previously covered 529 plans at length, but given the outrageous costs of post-secondary education these days (and the $1.5 trillion+ in student debt created by those costs), I thought it would be worth exploring the possibilities of using a 529 plan for your own educational expenses, for those readers who are thinking about furthering their education. What is a 529 Plan? To recap, a 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving and investment for future education costs for a designated beneficiary. They are also referred to as “Qualified Tuition... [Read the rest of the story at 20somethingfinance.com]
I’ve long believed that teaching personal finance in our public schools was one of the potential cures for our “living paycheck-to-paycheck” culture. In fact, I advocated for teaching personal finance in schools in one of the first articles I ever published on this site, more than a decade ago. Recently, an increasing number of states (now 19 total) have agreed with this premise enough to mandate that their high schools teach personal finance to their students. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. Most Americans have had close to zero personal finance education in their... [Read the rest of the story at 20somethingfinance.com]
My love for health savings accounts (HSA’s) is no secret. Aside from getting employer matching funds from 401K contributions, I believe that HSA’s are the best type of retirement account to contribute to. HSA’s offer tax-free contributions (and investment growth), while withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are also tax-free. And if you don’t use HSA funds for medical expenses, you can withdraw them in retirement – for any purpose – just as you can for an IRA, without penalty, starting at age 65.
So when I found out there is a little-known clause in the tax code that makes it possible to roll over Traditional IRA funds to an HSA (technically referred to as a “qualified HSA funding distribution”), I immediately decided to explore further.
What I discovered, I’ll share with you now. Let’s just say that my findings were “less than encouraging”.
You Only Get One Rollover in your Lifetime
For starters, you only get one IRA to HSA rollover in your lifetime. In other words: you better make it count. That is not troubling on its own, if it wasn’t for the fact that…
The Maximum IRA to HSA Rollover Equals the Maximum Annual Contribution
The maximum amount you can roll over from an IRA to an HSA is equal to the maximum HSA contribution in a given year. You read that right. In 2019, for example, the maximum amount you can contribute to an HSA is:
Individual Plan: $3,500 (+ a $1,000 “catch-up” contribution if age 55+)
Family Plan: $7,000 (+ a $1,000 “catch-up” contribution if age 55+)
To reiterate – these are the maximum amounts you can contribute to an HSA in a given year, but they are also the maximum amount you can roll over from an IRA to an HSA, in your lifetime!
If you were looking for an HSA windfall (as I was when I heard of this possibility), this is not it.
If You’re Eligible to Contribute to an HSA, you’re Missing Out on Contribution Deductions
It gets worse.
You have to be HSA-eligible, meaning you have to have an HSA-eligible high deductible health plan (HDHP), in order to complete a qualified IRA to HSA rollover in a given year. And if you complete a rollover of funds from your IRA to your HSA, you are limiting the amount of new pre-tax deductions you can take for HSA contributions from any other source, as the rollover is not in addition to the annual maximum contribution.
Missed new deductible contributions = higher taxable income = more taxes due.
You Must Remain HDHP/HSA Eligible for 12 Months After the Rollover
Regarding eligibility, IRA to HSA rollovers include a “testing period” requirement. This means that you must remain eligible for your HSA and HDHP for 12 months following the transfer.
You CAN Roll Over Funds from a Roth IRA, but you Would Not Want to
Technically, you can complete a rollover from both Traditional IRA’s and Roth IRA’s to an HSA. But a rollover from a Roth IRA would be far less beneficial, as you have already paid taxes on your Roth IRA contributions. This means that the subsequent qualified medical HSA expense withdrawals would have no net benefit.
Most will Not Benefit from an HSA to IRA Rollover
The only time I can think an IRA to HSA rollover would be beneficial would be this very limited scenario:
You are HSA-eligible in a given year.
You remain eligible for at least 12 months after making the rollover.
The rollover funds come from a Traditional IRA and not a Roth IRA.
You want to access the HSA funds right away for HSA-qualified expense withdrawals.
Despite electric vehicles being the most efficient vehicles on the market, with gas prices having been relatively low over the last few years, electric vehicle sales in the United States have not been overwhelming. EV’s sold in the US reached a peak of 361,000 units last year (an 81% increase over the prior year) – thanks to the popularity of the Tesla Model 3. Yet, this constitutes just 2.1% of all light vehicles sold in the US. With that low of a total market share, you may be surprised to learn that the very generous federal electric vehicle income tax
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You won’t be getting a pat on the back from me for receiving a tax refund. Tax refunds, after all, are interest-free loans to the U.S. government that typically can be attributed to taxpayers being too conservative with their withholding tax allowances.
If you have received (or will be) a sizable refund, the good news is that you’ve effectively survived the prior year without that additional cash flow, so now you can put those recaptured funds to good use. Remember, a refund is not a gift from the IRS, it’s not a windfall to be used on (lack of) discretionary spending, it is your hard earned money, and it has fallen behind on being used to your financial betterment. In my opinion, here are the 4 best ways to make up for your money’s lost time.
1. If you Get 401K or HSA Employer Matching, Bump your Contributions by the Amount of your Refund
If your employer offers you a 401K match on your employee contributions, and you aren’t already pacing to get that maximum match, you’ll earn a very high return on topping off your 401K by the amount of your refund.
The same goes for any matching HSA funds you might get. Where should you contribute? To whichever of the two gives you the highest matching return. If you were already scheduled to maximize one of them, then move on to the next one.
Given that you can’t directly contribute to your employer-sponsored 401K or get matching HSA funds outside of payroll, in theory, the process would work like this:
Add the amount of the tax refund to your checking account.
Elect to bump up your 401K or HSA contributions by the amount of your refund over the next few pay periods, boosting your contributions and employer matching funds.
Use the increased funds in your checking account to supplement your lower payroll deposits in covering basic living expenses.
After you’ve fully contributed the refund amount, bump your contributions back to their original levels.
This act could result in a very high return of 50%, 100%, or other (depending on your employer’s matching funds) – and it’s a guaranteed positive return!
2. Pay Off Any High-Interest Debt you have, in Order of Highest APR
If #1 isn’t an option, or you are on pace to get your employer’s maximum 401K and HSA matching anyways, I would next turn to paying off high interest debts, in the order of highest APR to lowest APR. Remember, your tax refund is your money, and that money could have been used to pay off debts over the course of the prior year. Since it wasn’t, any unpaid debts were compounded over time. It’s time to reverse that.
Yours may vary, but interest rates, from highest to lowest APR, typically follow this order (by debt type):
Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) / Home Equity Loan
Granted, paying off debt is not technically an “investment”, but effectively, it is. The unfortunate circumstances of building up debt has led to guaranteed compound interest working against you, and when you eliminate that debt, you are effectively getting a guaranteed positive return (by partially/fully eliminating future accrued interest).
3. Contribute to your HSA or IRA
If you’ve already received maximum matching funds in #1, or debt interest rates in #2 are lower than the returns from what I’m about to highlight, the best use of your tax refund will be to contribute even more to your HSA or make an IRA contribution. Deciding which of the two is more advantageous to contribute to is a bit complicated, and I cover it in my HSA contribution deadline post. It essentially comes down to what percentage Saver’s Tax Credit you might be eligible for on retirement contributions, and how that percentage compares to your individual tax rate (which comes back to you in the form of tax-free withdrawals from your HSA for medical expenses).
Either way, whether adding funds to your HSA for tax-free medical expense withdrawals, or getting a tax credit for IRA contributions, you’re getting a guaranteed positive return.
Nest smart thermostat: the top selling, highest rated, smart programmable thermostat. Versus a non-programmable thermostat, it could save you $180+ per year.
Philips A19 LED bulbs: a great LED bulb that I personally use that has similar light qualities and appearance to an incandescent, but one-tenth of the energy use and a cost of just over $1/each.
Delta Low Flow Showerhead: gives you a choice between a 1.85 gallon-per-minute (gpm) and 2.5 gpm flow, without feeling like you’re not getting enough water. The 2.5 gpm setting can save a family of four $260 per year in heating costs alone vs. an older 5.5 gpm unit. That’s a 640% ROI in one year! Not to mention the huge amount of water savings.
These 4 tactics will help you turn the negative of receiving a tax refund in to a strong positive.
There are a number of products and perks with shopping at Costco, that make the cost of a Costco membership worth it, in my view. For starters, Costco gasoline is typically $0.20 – $0.30 less, per gallon, than other local gas stations on a given day. The Costco Kirkland Signature alcohol pricing is phenomenal. And one would be very hard pressed to find a better deal on a bushel bundle (for lack of a better term) of toilet paper. As a pet owner, one of the best deals in all of Costco has to be the quality and pricing of
The post Costco Kirkland Dog Food & Cat Food Review... [Read the rest of the story at 20somethingfinance.com]
Just about every incremental purchase we make (of both goods and services), has the goal of boosting our happiness – whether we realize it or not.
The milkshake on the way to work to keep you company? Happiness.
The stylish new wardrobe to show off at work? Happiness.
The craft beer(s) with your buddies? Happiness.
The fancy overpriced haircut that we think makes us look a few years younger? Happiness.
The nostalgia from the concert tickets to see one of your favorite artists from your teenage years? Happiness.
The brand new SUV that you “just feel like” was made for you? Happiness.
The social media jealousy-inducing trip to Costa Rica? Happiness.
What’s wrong with a little more happiness in our lives, after all?
Here’s the thing – research repeatedly shows that the happiness we seek and sometimes gain from our consumption is fleeting. We get a very temporary boost of dopamine (if we’re lucky). Then, we quickly return to our natural state of being. Never quite being satiated, we seek out more. And, as evidenced by many uber wealthy consumers (actually, almost every consumer), “more” is never quite “enough”.
In fact, one could summarize the happiness promise that drives modern capitalistic economies simply as:
Work (time) -> money -> consumption of goods/services in the pursuit of happiness -> temporary dopamine boost -> return to normalcy -> repeat
Need evidence? Despite higher income levels, economic growth, and far more stuff than ever before, happiness levels in the United States have actually decreased over the last 40 years.
What is the solution to this hedonic treadmill of chasing happiness through consumption that usually leads to lifestyle creep, the loss of time and money, and not much else?
Stop chasing happiness through consumption. Realize and acknowledge it for being the mirage that it is.
If you’re going to spend your money on purchases aside from life sustaining needs, focus instead on removing negatives from your life. For example:
If you wake up every morning with back pain, maybe it’s time to purchase a new mattress.
If you are suffering from depression/anxiety, spend money on therapy/doctors visits/medicine.
If you are shamefully overweight, invest in home exercise equipment and healthy food.
If your old computer keeps crashing on you and wasting your time with every reboot, buy a new computer.
If you love running or hiking, but it leaves your feet in pain, buy some new shoes.
If your dishwasher is broke, and you spend 15 minutes every night washing dishes, buy a new dishwasher or get your old one repaired.
If you are worried that your outdated bike will fall apart on the road, and it’s preventing you from biking, buy a newer bike.
If there are 5, 10, 20 of these negatives in your life, every single day, the additive negative effects can definitely put a damper on life. When done wisely, removing them can be a very powerful and efficient way to enhance your life.
What if <gasp> you unexpectedly receive a tax form after you’ve already filed your tax return with the IRS?
Or, perhaps you realize you never received a form to begin with. Or, maybe you forgot to claim a deduction or credit that you were eligible for.
First, relax, we got this. There is a simple way to remedy each of these scenarios through the process of filing an amended tax return.
What is an Amended Tax Return?
An amended tax return is a way for you to correct an incomplete or inaccurate tax return that you have previously filed. When you file an amendment, you submit the new and/or corrected documentation, along with a form that signals you are making an amendment, as well as any payments due.
If you Haven’t Already Filed, Opt for an Extension Versus a Future Amendment
If you are waiting on a form or running out of time to complete your return by the April tax deadline, then your best move is to file a tax extension. Note that the extension must be postmarked by the tax deadline. A tax extension will typically get you an additional 6 months from the April tax deadline.
A tax extension will be much less painful than filing an amended return. Note, however, that this doesn’t let you off the hook for paying taxes due (with the information that you presently have on hand).
If filing an extension isn’t an option or even relevant, then you will want to complete the following steps to amend your tax return.
Step 1: Gather Your Tax Return & Amended Forms
If you know that you will need to file an amended tax return, first gather your original return, plus any forms that will need to be amended.
Step 2: Fill Out IRS Form 1040X (with or without the Help of Tax Software)
Next, you’ll need to fill out IRS Form 1040X – the official form from the IRS that is needed to amend a tax return.
The best tax software programs should all be able to help walk you through the process of filling out Form 1040X (and if they don’t, you should probably switch).
For example, when logging in to H&R Block (after I filed my return), I see this option on the home screen:
If you haven’t used tax software, and filed a simple paper form instead, you will need to download Form 1040X. Fortunately, the form also comes with comprehensive instructions that you can follow for guidance.
Part III of 1040X allows you to write out an explanation of the changes that you are making.
Step 3: Submit Your Amended Return with Amended Forms
After completing your amended return, submit Form 1040X, along with any amended forms and other paperwork. If your amendment(s) result in additional taxes due, you should include the additional tax payment with the amended return. This can help to minimize interest and penalties that may be due, since you are technically making a late payment.
If you feel that you are due a tax refund (or additional refund) from the amendments, expect an 8-12 week delay for the IRS to process your amended return.
Time Limit to File an Amended Return
Note that for most taxpayers, the IRS limits the amount of time that you have to file an amended tax return to 3 years from the date that you file the original return.
As the tax deadline approaches, I wanted to share something that may come as a surprise to many – not all income-earning Americans are legally obligated to file a federal tax return. In fact, there are gross income level thresholds that, if not surpassed, may result in an individual (or married) filer not being required to file a tax return with the IRS.
These minimum income tax filing thresholds vary based on age and tax filing status and closely resemble the new higher standard deduction amounts. If you surpass these income thresholds, you typically must file a tax return. The thresholds are as follows:
Single Tax Filer Minimum Income:
In 2019, when filing as “single”, you need to file a tax return if gross income levels are at least:
Under 65: $12,000
65 or older: $13,600
Married Filing Jointly Minimum Income:
In 2019, when filing as “married filing jointly”, you need to file a tax return if gross income levels are at least:
If both spouses are under 65: $24,000
If one spouse is under 65 and one is 65 or older: $25,300
If both spouses are 65 or older: $26,600
Married Filing Separately Tax Filer Minimum Income:
In 2019, when filing as “married filing separately”, you need to file a tax return if gross income levels are at least:
All ages: $5
Head of Household Tax Filer Minimum Income:
In 2019, when filing as “head of household”, you need to file a tax return if gross income levels are at least:
Under 65: $18,000
65 or older: $19,600
Qualifying Widow(er) (with Dependent Child) Tax Filer Minimum Income:
In 2019, when filing as “qualifying widow(er) with dependent child”, you need to file a tax return if gross income levels are at least:
Under 65: $24,000
65 or older: $25,300
Self-Employed Tax Filer Minimum Income:
In 2019, regardless of age, if you have self-employment income, you need to file a tax return if net self-employment income is $400 or more, even if your gross income is below the amounts listed above for your filing status.
Do I Need to File a Tax Return?
In addition to those surpassing the income levels above, if you were paid via a 1099-MISC form or you purchased health insurance on a state or federal exchange, you may also be required to file a return.
The income levels provided above are general guidelines provided by the IRS, but there are a number of exceptions (i.e. if you or your spouse are claimed as a dependent, are blind, etc.). When in doubt on whether you need to file a tax return or not, I would highly recommend using the IRS’s interactive tax assistant tool, aptly titled “Do I Need to File a Tax Return?“.
If you have a complicated tax situation, I would also recommend reviewing chapter 1 of IRS Publication 54, as it covers self-employment income, foreign earned income, citizenship status, and much more, in great detail.
The Better Question is: “Should I File a Tax Return?”
Just because you can avoid filing a tax return – it doesn’t mean you should. There may be cases where you are below the minimum income levels, and it would still be advantageous to file a tax return, even if you are not required to. In some cases, you may be eligible for a refundable tax credit, and could be leaving money on the table if you do not file. Here are a few examples:
Earned Income Tax Credit: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a significant tax credit for lower and lower-middle income taxpayers that rewards earned income, particularly for those with children. And it is refundable.
Child Tax Credit: with changes to the Child Tax Credit, up to $1,400 of the credit can be refundable for each qualifying child.
American Opportunity Tax Credit: up to 40% of the American Opportunity Credit (one of a few educational tax credits and deductions), is refundable. The refundable portion is capped at $1,000.
The Premium Assistance Tax Credit: under some circumstances, a taxpayer with health insurance purchased through the health insurance marketplace may be eligible for subsidies help offset premium costs. Any subsidies not paid by the IRS directly to the insurance company may be available to the tax filer in the form of a refundable tax credit.
It’s also worth noting that aside from your federal tax filing status, some states require filing at any level of income.
How to File Your Taxes
If you’re unsure about whether you need to file your taxes or not, or if it would be beneficial to do so, I would recommend that you go ahead and file.
Most taxpayers who have filed their own taxes are probably somewhat aware of the “Presidential Election Campaign Fund”.
In the most recent version of HR Block’s online tax filing survey, for example, you are prompted to voluntarily select a box for yourself (and your spouse if filing jointly) that says “I want to designate $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.”
And on the new (post-tax reform) IRS 1040 form, you will see the Presidential Election Campaign Fund option on the middle, right side of the form:
But how many people truly know what the Presidential Election Campaign Fund is, what it does, and if it impacts their taxes?
I certainly did not know the full details prior to completing research for this post. And what I found was actually quite interesting…
What is the “Presidential Election Campaign Fund”?
This fund helps pay for Presidential election campaigns. The fund reduces candidates’ dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups and places candidates on an equal financial footing in the general election. The fund also helps pay for pediatric medical research. If you want $3 to go to this fund, check the box. If you are filing a joint return, your spouse also can have $3 go to the fund.
Matches the first $250 of each contribution from individuals that an eligible Presidential candidate receives during the primary campaign. Nominees can decline the funds.
Funds the major party nominees’ general election campaigns (and assist eligible minor party nominees). Nominees can decline the funds.
Funds pediatric cancer research. Funds that used to also go to national party committees (Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee) are now diverted towards research for pediatric cancer through the National Institutes of Health, due to legislation passed in 2014. The funding for research was expected to total $126 million over a 10 year period.
This fund is the sole public funding source for Presidential election campaigns. There are, however, some fairly restrictive matching rules in place. Namely:
To be eligible to receive public funds, the Presidential nominee of a major party must agree to limit spending to the amount of the grant and may not accept private contributions for the campaign.
Candidates may spend an additional $50,000 from their own personal funds, which does not count against the expenditure limit.
In the last few Presidential general elections, both major party candidates have declined the matching funds, due to the sheer amount of money that needs to be raised to competitively run a Presidential general election campaign, and the lack of public matching due to a shrinking number of people checking the box on their 1040 filing.
In 2017 and 2018, only 4% of taxpayers checked the funding box. In the first year that the box made its way on to the 1040 form (1976), 27.5% of taxpayers checked it. In 2016, the fund disbursed only $3,474,862, while Presidential candidates spent $2.4 billion!
Why such low participation? My gut says that most taxpayers don’t know the correct answer to the following question…
Do Presidential Election Campaign Fund Elections Increase Your Taxes Due or Decrease your Tax Refund?
Does checking the Presidential Election Campaign Fund box result in an increase in taxes due or a decrease in your refund?
The answer is “no”.
The IRS’s 1040 form instructions clearly state, in the last line:
If you check a box, your tax or refund won’t change.
The 1040 federal income tax form asks taxpayers whether they’d like to designate $3 of their taxes paid to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. When taxpayers check “yes,” three of their tax dollars are placed in the Fund. Checking the “yes” box does not increase the amount of tax that taxpayers owe, nor does it decrease any refund to which they are entitled. The tax checkoff is the sole source of funds for the public funding program.
That solves that critical question.
Should you Check the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Box on your 1040 Filing?
Presidential elections (both primary and general) are enormously expensive for candidates to be competitive. Candidates need to fund massive operations that include staff, travel, facility rentals, polling, consultants, operations, research, advertising, and much more.
If you are in favor of more competition in the enormously important component of our democracy that is the Presidency (particularly for more major party candidates in Presidential primary elections and third party candidates in the general election), and/or you are in favor of pediatric cancer research funding, then check the box! It will not personally raise the amount of taxes you owe, or reduce your refund.
Presidential Election Campaign Fund Discussion:
Were you aware of what the Presidential Election Campaign Fund does?
Did you know that checking the box on your tax form does not impact your tax filing?
Have you previously checked the box, and will you moving forward, with this additional information?