Summertime is vacation time! Someone seems to be on vacation at any given point in the summer. I love vacations! Some vacations consist of camping trips. Others are more exotic vacations. Where do you want to go on vacation? I often wonder how others pay for big trips — especially unexpected trips. Have you also wondered this? I would love to hear what you do. Here are a few ideas that my family does:
This is a fancy accounting term for savings. I like to have a plan for everything in life, but it’s just not possible. So, I plan and prepare as much as possible and then I try to have some flexible savings. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what vacation opportunities will come up, so having some retained earnings allows us to take advantage of these opportunities. It is also fine to turn down a vacation that we can’t afford, but I would rather find a way to be able to afford it and enjoy it. My daughter had the chance to visit family in Alaska with only a few weeks notice. She had savings, and we had some money budgeted for general vacations, which is how we paid for her to go. That worked out well, but now our family has a chance to go to Alaska in a year. This is a much bigger and more expensive trip because there are six of us going this idea won’t work for us.
We have a budget category called vacation, and we put some money into it each month. Since most of our trips have been inexpensive, this has worked well for us. We try go to a family cabin once a month. For those trips, we use some money from our grocery budget to pay for food, and we use money from our transportation budget to pay for travel. So, we don’t have to dip into our vacation money for those trips. If you like to travel, but don’t have a specific destination in mind, regularly putting money into a savings account might be the solution for you. That way, when friends or family invite you to go on vacation, you’ll be ready. Wasatch Peaks Credit Union has resources to help us do this. The Christmas Club Savings Account is one tool that can help you save for your dream vacation by providing a separate account for you to automatically save each month.
We all have received unexpected income. This could be in the form of a gift, inheritance, commission, or bonus. We don’t have control over the timing of this income, but when it comes, unexpected money can be used for vacationing. When our family receives a gift, there are usually many expenses which compete for that income, so we have to prioritize and pay for the top priority. Sometimes tax returns can also be unexpected money. My goal is to not have a tax return because it ties up our money, but last year our income was lower than I expected and we overpaid taxes, so we received a return. I budgeted it for vacation, which is also going to be our Christmas present (see #4). I don’t like to have more tax withheld than necessary, but it is a forced savings account.
We don’t need or have room for anymore stuff around our home, so we are going to start giving our kids trips for Christmas and birthday gifts. (Most of our trips are local and don’t require flying.) We do hope to fly more in the future. We are giving our family a trip to Alaska next year so we can attend a family reunion there. Even though we don’t leave for a year, we will need to pay for airfare ahead of time. This is a challenge for our family. My husband and I have been discussing how we will pay for this since we need more than the amount that we usually spend on Christmas. Do we borrow from savings that we have set aside for emergencies and a car? Vacations are not usually an emergency, but it is a challenge to pay for a vacation before you actually go on the vacation. I’ll let you know how it turns out in a future post.
My parents gave our family a trip to Hawaii for Christmas when my step-dad retired. It was an amazing trip, and we wouldn’t have been able to go without it. We really appreciate their generosity and hope to be able to do this in the future for our children and grandchildren.
Although this suggestion won’t immediately allow us to travel more, eventually it will. As debt is paid down, the freed up money becomes available for trips! We have been working on paying down debt so that we free up the money used for debt payments. I don’t recommend borrowing money for trips because that does the opposite: it ties up money.
While our kids are young, we decided to stay close to home and explore Utah, but as they get older, we would like to go farther, and these trips cost more. I’m considering go back to work to pay for some of the trips which we would like to take in the future. We dream of going to Spain, South Africa, Norway, and other international destinations. These are going to cost a lot and we don’t have room in our current budget to pay for these, so one option we are considering is for me to go back to work.
Which one of these ideas have you used to pay for vacations? What are some other ways that you have paid for vacations?
I hope you enjoyed the President’s Day holiday. Our kids were out of school on Friday & Monday, so we had a long weekend full of fun times. President’s Day reminds me of tax season. Although IRS technically started accepting tax returns on January 23rd, most of us have not filed because we were waiting for information. Also, some returns weren’t being processed at that time. For example, if you are claiming the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit or if you are claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and were receiving a refund, it wouldn’t be paid before February 15th. Now, tax season is definitely here. Unless you are waiting on some K-1s or 1099s, you probably have the forms that you need in order to file your taxes.
I recently attended an 8 hour seminar highlighting the updates for taxes - by the way, that was the short class. The long one was 2 days. Some things in life never change, but tax law isn’t one of those unchangeable things. For this post I’ll mention some of the tax topics that I think the readers here will appreciate. Apply each topic to your situation.
Partnership returns are due on March 15th now, which falls on a Wednesday this year. By the way, whenever a tax filing deadline falls on a weekend, taxes are due on the following Monday. Because April 15th falls on a Saturday and Emancipation day is observed on Monday, April 17th, the tax filing deadline is April 18th this year for individual filers and businesses filing an 1120. (See IRS for more information.)
Tip: If you have some investment accounts, you will want to wait until the final 1099s are sent out. Last year I worked on several tax returns that we thought had the final 1099s, but a few weeks after they were filed, another 1099 was received. Some of these 1099s were not received until mid-March. It is easier, cheaper, and better to wait to file than to amend a return, but returns can be amended. Regardless of when you file, I recommend you prepare the information you’ll need for your return now!
You have until your tax return filing deadline to contribute to your IRA accounts! For most of us, that is April 18th. Each year my husband and I try to reach our $5,500 limit for IRA contributions. Some years we do and some years we don’t even get close, but we aim for it. Having a few extra months helps me. If you haven’t started contributing to an IRA, I recommend you start with a small amount. That’s how we started. How much do you want to contribute before the tax deadline? You need to know this in order to file your taxes. For specifics, check here.
Tip: Always be aware of phase-out amounts. This means that if you earn over certain amounts, the credit or deduction “phases” out until you aren’t allowed any of that benefit. You can look up the specific phase-out amounts for the deduction or credit you may be wondering about. Just because a deduction is generally allowed, doesn’t mean it will be allowed for you. For example, if you are married, the phase-out range for the American Opportunity Tax credit is $160,000-$180,000. This means that as your income reaches $160,000, the credit will ratably be reduced, and if you make over $180,000, it will be gone. I often hear someone say “that is tax deductible” in conversation. I think to myself that it depends on the taxpayer’s income. Student loan interest is tax deductible unless you earn over the phase-out amount. I won’t list all of them here, but you can easily check them on IRS’s website for any deduction or credit that you are considering.
Will you be receiving a huge refund? Emotionally, it feels great to get a large refund. I understand this! I know I’m swimming upstream to suggest that you adjust your withholding, but a large refund means that you are letting the government hold your money. I try to withhold just enough to get a small refund.
Some people tell me that they don’t have the self discipline to save throughout the year so at least that forces them to save. I get that. However, USING your budget will solve this problem, and you can get off that wagon. I’ll get off my budgeting “soapbox” now.
IRS is trying to protect against this. If you want to read more information about possible fraud, click here.
Identity theft is a big problem right now. I personally have a friend who wasn’t able to file her taxes electronically because someone had fraudulently used her social security to file taxes.
This was an important law passed at the end of 2015. Some tax provisions were made permanentsuch as Child Tax Credit, AOTC - American Opportunity Tax Credit, & Tax Free transfer from IRA to charity.
Other tax provisions were extended. For example, the deduction of mortgage insurance premiums was extended through 2016. This is a nice deduction if it applies to you.
The IRS website is a great resource for tax topics. I hope your tax season goes well!
Q: Tax forms have started rolling in and my mailbox looks like a can of alphabet soup exploded in it! What do I need and where do I start?
A: This is a tough time of year for people who don’t like paper. Starting at the end of January and continuing through March, taxpayers start drowning in paper. Sorting out what’s important and finding a place to store it is a big challenge, and it becomes harder if you don’t know what’s what.
Fortunately, it’s easier to tell these forms apart than you might think. There are only a few types of forms you’ll need to deal with, and most of them don’t even need paper. Here are the four most common tax forms you’ll see and what to do with them!
This is the most common informational form you’ll receive. It’s a statement from your employer that contains your yearly wages, how much tax you’ve had withheld and how much you’ve paid (pre-tax) for things like health care premiums. If you have one job, this may be the only major tax form you get.
It’s also one of the most important forms. You’ll want to keep it with other tax documents until it’s time to file your taxes. This information – your yearly earnings and the amount of tax you’ve had withheld – are the most important factors for determining what your tax bill will be (or how big a refund you’ll get).
This is a series of forms identifying income from sources other than a contract job. Most common is the 1099-INT, which lists interest income. You may get one of these from any financial institution where you have an account.
If you freelance or work as a contractor, you’ll probably receive a 1099-MISC. If you received unemployment or another source of government income, you’ll get a 1099-G. If you had debt canceled this year, you’ll get a 1099-C. There are a few other kinds of 1099 forms, but they all do basically the same thing.
You’ll need to hold on to these forms, too. They document income that you haven’t yet paid any taxes on. You’ll need the amounts on these forms when you get ready to file.
These are relatively new forms that deal with health insurance. Form 1095-A is a statement about insurance purchased through a marketplace exchange. 1095-B is for private health insurance. 1095-C is for employer-sponsored health care coverage.
These forms are important if you get a health insurance subsidy through the Affordable Care Act. If not, you can go ahead and put this form into long-term storage. You’ll be asked when you file if you had health insurance all 12 months of the year. The IRS receives a copy of this form to check your work, so you’ll only need it if issues come up regarding your coverage.
Two forms, the 1098 and the 1098-T, report tax deductible expenses. The 1098 form lists mortgage interest and points on your primary residence, while the 1098-T itemizes tuition and other expenses paid to an institution of higher learning. The 1098-T is used in a variety of places, including claiming the Lifetime Learning Credit and the Hope Credit.
Unfortunately, in order to take advantage of deductions relating to mortgage expenses, you’ll need to itemize your deductions. Claiming the deductions listed on the 1098 requires you to forgo the standard deduction, which for most people turns out to be a bad idea. Unless you have a host of other deductions, or you bought or refinanced your home this year, claiming the standard deduction and filing the 1098 away for later will serve you best.
The bad news is you can’t file your taxes and be rid of the whole mess until you get all of your forms together. You’ll need to keep any W-2 forms, 1099 forms and your 1098-T form together until all of them arrive. Get a manila folder or a document envelope to keep them all in the same place. Keep that folder somewhere safe, and as soon as possible, file your taxes so you can put it into storage. Keep your returns for at least 3 years after you file. A paper copy of last year’s tax return in your filing cabinet can make a world of difference!
How do you keep up with the paperwork requirements of your tax return? Have a magical filing system? Share your best organizational strategies with us in the comments!
Tax season is here, and unfortunately that also means that “tax scams” are here as well. Every tax season, there are more schemes targeting innocent taxpayers through phone calls, emails, in person, and even through social media channels. Some call to “verify” tax return information over the phone, some demand payments for a fake “Federal Student Tax,” and some impersonate tax preparers. Whatever the scheme, taxpayers need to vigilant against the scammers. Here are several tips to avoid being a victim:
Scams can sound convincing. These con artists use fake IRS identification badge numbers that appear to be legitimate. They usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.
Scammers might have your information. use online resources to get your information. They may know a lot about their target such as the victim’s name, address, and even the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number. They will use this information to make the call sound official.
Scams use scare tactics. If the victim doesn’t answer, the caller will likely leave an “urgent” callback request. If the victim does answer but refuses to cooperate, the caller may become hostile and insulting. They will may threats of police arrest, deportation, or license revocation. They may call back from other numbers or send emails pretending to be the local police or DMV to support their calls.
Scams ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. Emails seek practically any information, from filing status to verifying PIN details. Scam emails can look like official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry. When victims follow the email links sent to them, the official-looking websites ask for personal information.
• Call you and demand payment. The IRS will not call you about your tax bill without first sending you a bill in the mail.
• Ask for your credit card or debit card information over the phone.
• Require that you use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
• Threaten you to have the police arrest you for not paying.
• Initiate contact with you by phone, text, email, or social media channels to request your personal or financial information.
• Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
• Report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
• If phone scammers target you, also contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov. Use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” to report the scam. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
• Do not respond to the email or click on the links.
• Forward the scam emails to the IRS at
If you know or think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to talk about payment options.
For more information and resources, you can visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.
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