Don’t re-invent the wheel. Personal finance rules of thumb let you apply wisdom from the past to reach quick solutions.
Category: Money Basics
Being a homeowner comes with all kinds of pros and cons that donât come with renting. You have a yard, but you have to care for the yard. You have a payment, but you get to deduct your mortgage interest on your tax return! And while the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) reduced… Read More
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Inheriting a home or other property can increase the value of your estate but it can also result in tax consequences. If the property you inherit has appreciated in value since the original owner purchased it, you could be on … Continue reading →
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Working for yourself, either as a part-time side hustle or a full-time endeavor, can be very exciting and financially rewarding. But one downside to self-employment is that you're responsible for following special tax rules. Missing tax deadlines or paying the wrong amount can lead to expensive penalties.
Let's talk about what the self-employment or SE tax is and how it compares to payroll taxes for employees. You’ll learn who must pay the SE tax, how to pay it, and tips to stay compliant when you work for yourself.
What is the self-employment (SE) tax?
In addition to federal and applicable state income taxes, everyone must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. These two social programs provide you with retirement benefits, disability benefits, survivor benefits, and Medicare health insurance benefits.
Many people don’t realize that when you’re a W-2 employee, your employer must pick up the tab for a portion of your taxes. Thanks to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), employers are generally required to withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from your paycheck and match the tax amounts you owe.
In other words, your employer pays half of your Social Security and Medicare taxes, and you pay the remaining half. Employees pay 100% of federal and state income taxes, which also get withheld from your wages and sent to the government.
When you have your own business, you’re typically responsible for paying the full amount of income taxes, including 100% of your Social Security and Medicare taxes.
But when you have your own business, you’re typically responsible for paying the full amount of income taxes, including 100% of your Social Security and Medicare taxes.
Who must pay the self-employment tax?
All business owners with "pass-through" income must pay the SE tax. That typically includes every business entity except C corporations (or LLCs that elect to get taxed as a corporation).
When you have a C corp or get taxed as a corporation, you work as an employee of your business. You're required to withhold all employment taxes (federal, state, Social Security, and Medicare) from your salary or wages. Other business entities allow income to pass directly to the owner(s), so it gets included in their personal tax returns.
You must pay the SE tax no matter if you call yourself a solopreneur, independent contractor, or freelancer—even if you're already receiving Social Security or Medicare benefits.
You must pay the SE tax no matter if you call yourself a solopreneur, independent contractor, or freelancer—even if you're already receiving Social Security or Medicare benefits.
How much is the self-employment tax?
For 2020, the SE tax rate is 15.3% of earnings from your business. That's a combined Social Security tax rate of 12.4 % and a Medicare tax rate of 2.9%.
For Social Security tax, you pay it on up to a maximum wage base of $137,700. You don't have to pay Social Security tax on any additional income above this threshold. However, this threshold has been increasing and is likely to continue creeping up in future years.
However, for Medicare, there is no wage base. All your income is subject to the 2.9% Medicare tax.
So, if you're self-employed with net income less than $137,700, you'd pay SE tax of 15.3% (12.4% Social Security plus 2.9% Medicare tax), plus ordinary income tax.
Remember that your future Social Security benefits get reduced if you don't claim all of your self-employment income.
What is the additional Medicare tax?
If you have a high income, you must pay an extra tax of 0.9%, known as the additional Medicare tax. This surtax went into effect in 2013 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It applies to wages and self-employment income over these amounts by tax filing status for 2020:
- Single: $200,000
- Married filing jointly: $250,000
- Married filing separately: $125,000
- Head of household: $200,000
- Qualifying widow(er): $200,000
What are estimated taxes?
As I mentioned, when you’re an employee, your employer withholds money for various taxes from your paychecks and sends it to the government on your behalf. This pay-as-you-go system was created to make sure you pay all taxes owed by the end of the year.
You must make quarterly estimated tax payments if you expect to owe at least $1,000 in taxes, including the SE tax.
When you’re self-employed, you also have to keep up with taxes throughout the year. You must make quarterly estimated tax payments if you expect to owe at least $1,000 in taxes, including the SE tax.
Each payment should be one-fourth of the total you expect to owe. Estimated payments are generally due on:
- April 15 (for the first quarter)
- June 15 (for the second quarter)
- September 15 (for the third quarter)
- January 15 (for the fourth quarter) of the following year
But when the due date falls on a weekend or holiday, it shifts to the next business day. Your state may also require estimated tax payments and may have different deadlines.
How to calculate estimated taxes
Figuring estimated payments can be extremely confusing when you’re self-employed because many entrepreneurs don’t have the faintest idea how much they’ll make from one week to the next, much less how much tax they can expect to pay. Nonetheless, you must make your best guesstimate.
If you earn more than you estimated, you can pay more on any remaining quarterly tax payments. If you earn less, you can reduce them or apply any overpayments to next year’s estimated payments.
If you (or your spouse, if you file taxes jointly) have a W-2 job in addition to self-employment income, you can increase your tax withholding from earnings at your job instead of making estimated payments. To do this, you or your spouse must file an updated Form W-4 with your employer.
The IRS has a Tax Withholding Estimator to help you calculate the right amount to withhold from your pay for your individual or joint taxes.
How to pay estimated taxes
To figure and pay your estimated taxes, use Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, or Form 1120-W, Estimated Tax for Corporations. These forms contain blank vouchers you can use to mail in your payments, or you can submit funds electronically.
When you have a complicated situation, including having business income, one of your new best friends should be a tax accountant.
For much more information about running a small business successfully, check out my newest book, Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers. Part four, Understanding Business Taxes, covers everything you need to know to comply and stay out of trouble.
From personal experience, I can tell you that when you have a complicated situation, including having business income, one of your new best friends should be a tax accountant. Find one who listens well and seems to understand the kind of work you're doing.
A good accountant will help you calculate your estimated quarterly taxes, claim tax deductions, and save you money by helping you take advantage of every tax benefit that's allowed when you're self-employed. In Money-Smart Solopreneur, I recommend various software, online services, and apps to help you track expenses, deductions, and tax deadlines that will keep your business running smoothly.
You donât want to work the rest of your life. Hereâs how to save in your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, even if retirement seems light years away.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
Note: Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the IRS has extended the federal tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020. The recent relief package passed by Congress may have additional tax implications. Please contact a tax adviser for information you may need to complete your taxes this year. Learn more. Itâs finally springâcue the… Read More
The post How to Maximize Your Tax Return for a Bigger Refund appeared first on Credit.com.
Savings bonds can be a safe way to save money for the long term while earning interest. You might use savings bonds to help pay for your childâs college, for example, or to set aside money for your grandchildren. Once … Continue reading →
The post How to Avoid Paying Taxes on a Savings Bond appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.
“Is it better to pay off student loans or a mortgage first? I’m asking for my brother, who took out $80,000 in student loans about 20 years ago and has only paid off about $10,000. He recently bought a home in Southern California and took out a 30-year mortgage that might be as much as $400,000. I don’t know the interest rates he’s paying on these debts. I think he should pay off his student loans first because the total debt is smaller, older, and can’t be discharged in a bankruptcy. What do you think?”
Thanks for your question, Maya! This dilemma is common, especially now that most federal student loans are in automatic forbearance from March 13 to September 30, 2020, due to coronavirus-related economic relief. That means millions of student loan borrowers suddenly have the option to stop making payments without adverse financial consequences, such as hurting their credit or getting charged additional interest or fees.
If you have qualifying student loans and you're dealing with financial hardship due to the pandemic or another challenge, you may be grateful to have your payments suspended. But if your finances are in good shape and you don’t have any dangerous debts, such as high-rate credit cards or loans, you may be wondering what to do with the extra money. Should you send it to your student loans despite the forbearance, to your mortgage, or to some other account?
RELATED: 10 Things Student Loan Borrowers Should Know About Coronavirus Relief
6 Steps to Decide Whether to Pay Off Student Loans or a Mortgage First
Let's take a look at how to prioritize your finances and use your resources wisely during the pandemic. This six-step plan will help you make smart decisions and reach your financial goals as quickly as possible.
1. Check your emergency savings
While many people begin by asking which debt to pay off first, that’s not necessarily the right question. Instead, zoom out and consider your financial life's big picture. An excellent place to start is to review your emergency savings.
If you’ve suffered the loss of a job or business income during the pandemic, you’re probably very familiar with how much or how little savings you have. But if you haven’t thought about your cash reserve lately, it’s time to reevaluate it.
Having emergency money is so important because it keeps you from going into debt in the first place. It keeps you safe during a rough financial patch or if you have a significant unexpected expense, such as a car repair or a medical bill.
How much emergency savings you need is different for everyone. If you’re the sole breadwinner for a large family, you may need a bigger financial cushion than a single person with no dependents and plenty of job opportunities.
If you’re the sole breadwinner for a large family, you may need a bigger financial cushion than a single person with no dependents and plenty of job opportunities.
A good rule of thumb is to accumulate at least 10% of your annual gross income as a cash reserve. For instance, if you earn $50,000, make a goal to maintain at least $5,000 in your emergency fund.
You might use another standard formula based on average monthly living expenses: Add up your essential costs, such as food, housing, insurance, and transportation, and multiply the total by a reasonable period, such as three to six months. For example, if your living expenses are $3,000 a month and you want a three-month reserve, you need a cash cushion of $9,000.
If you have zero savings, start with a small goal, such as saving 1 to 2% of your income each year. Or you could start with a tiny target like $500 or $1,000 and increase it each year until you have a healthy amount of emergency money. In other words, it might take years to build up enough savings, and that’s okay—just get started!
Your financial well-being depends on having cash to meet your living expenses comfortably, not on paying a lender ahead of schedule.
Unless Maya’s brother has enough cash in the bank to sustain him and any dependent family members through a financial crisis that lasts for several months, I wouldn’t recommend paying off student loans or a mortgage early. Your financial well-being depends on having cash to meet your living expenses comfortably, not on paying a lender ahead of schedule.
If you have enough emergency savings to feel secure for your situation, keep reading. Working through the next four steps will help you decide whether to pay down your student loans or mortgage first.
2. Reach your retirement goals
In addition to saving for potential emergencies, it’s critical to save regularly for your retirement before paying down a student loan or mortgage early. So, if Maya’s brother isn’t contributing regularly to meet a retirement goal, that’s the next priority I’d recommend for him.
Consider this: If you invest $500 a month for 35 years and have an average 8% return, you’ll end up with an impressive retirement nest egg of more than $1.2 million! But if you wait until 10 years before retirement to start saving, you’d have to invest over $5,000 a month to have $1 million in the bank. When it comes to your retirement savings, procrastinating can make the difference between scraping by or have a comfortable lifestyle down the road.
When it comes to your retirement savings, procrastinating can make the difference between scraping by or have a comfortable lifestyle down the road.
A good rule of thumb is to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement. For instance, if you earn $50,000, make a goal to contribute at least $5,000 per year to a tax-advantaged retirement account, such as an IRA or a retirement plan at work, such as a 401(k) or 403(b).
For 2020, you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over age 50, to a workplace retirement account. Anyone with earned income (even the self-employed) can contribute up to $6,000 (or $7,000 if you’re over 50) to an IRA.
The earlier you make retirement savings a habit, the better. Not only does starting sooner give you more time to contribute money, but it leverages the power of compounding, which allows the growth in your account to earn additional interest. That’s when you’ll see your retirement account value mushroom!
3. Have the right insurance
In addition to building an emergency fund and saving for retirement, an essential part of taking control of your finances is having adequate insurance. Many people get into debt in the first place because they don’t have enough of the right kinds of coverage—or they don’t have any insurance at all.
Without enough insurance, a catastrophic event could wipe out everything you’ve worked so hard to earn.
As your career progresses and your net worth increases, you’ll have more income and assets to protect from unexpected events. Without enough insurance, a catastrophic event could wipe out everything you’ve worked so hard to earn.
Make sure you have enough health insurance to protect yourself and those you love from an illness or accident jeopardizing your financial security. Also, review your auto and home or renters insurance coverage. And by the way, if you rent and don’t have renters insurance, you need it. It’s a bargain for the protection you get; it only costs $185 per year on average.
And if you have family who would be hurt financially if you died, you need life insurance to protect them. If you’re in relatively good health, a term life insurance policy for $500,000 might only cost a couple of hundred dollars per year. You can get free quotes for many different types of insurance using sites like Bankrate.com or Policygenius.com.
If Maya’s brother is missing critical types of insurance for his lifestyle and family situation, getting it should come before paying off a student loan or mortgage early. It’s always a good idea to review your insurance needs with a reputable agent or a financial advisor who can make sure you aren’t exposed to too much financial risk.
4. Set other financial goals
But what about other goals you might have, such as saving for a child’s education, starting a business, or buying a home? These are wonderful if you can afford them once you’ve accounted for your emergency savings, retirement, and insurance needs.
Make a list of your financial dreams, what they cost, and how much you can afford to spend on them each month. If they’re more important to you than paying off student loans or a mortgage early, then you should fund them. But if you’re more determined to become completely debt-free, go for it!
5. Consider your opportunity costs
Once you’ve hit the financial targets we’ve covered so far, and you have money left over, it’s time to consider the opportunity costs of using it to pay off your student loans or mortgage. Your opportunity cost is the potential gain you’d miss if you used your money for another purpose, such as investing it.
A couple of benefits of both student loans and mortgages is that they come with low interest rates and tax deductions, making them relatively inexpensive. That’s why other high-interest debts, such as credit cards, personal loans, and auto loans, should always be paid off first. Those debts cost more in interest and don’t come with any money-saving tax deductions.
Especially in today’s low interest rate environment, it’s possible to get a significantly higher return even with a reasonably conservative investment portfolio.
But many people overlook the ability to invest extra money and get a higher return. For instance, if you pay off the mortgage, you’d receive a 4% guaranteed return. But if you can get 6% on an investment portfolio, you may come out ahead.
Especially in today’s low-interest-rate environment, it’s possible to get a significantly higher return even with a reasonably conservative investment portfolio. The downside of investing extra money, instead of using it to pay down a student loan or mortgage, is that investment returns are not guaranteed.
If you decide an early payoff is right for you, keep reading. We’ll review several factors to help you know which type of loan to focus on first.
6. Compare your student loans and mortgage
Once you have only student loans and a mortgage and you’ve decided to prepay one of them, consider these factors.
The interest rates of your loans. As I mentioned, you may be eligible to claim a mortgage interest tax deduction and a student loan interest deduction. How much savings these deductions give you depends on your income and whether you use Schedule A to itemize deductions on your tax return. If you claim either type of deduction, it could reduce your after-tax interest rate by about 1%. The debt with the highest after-tax interest rate is typically the best one to pay off first.
The amounts you owe. If you owe significantly less on your student loans than your mortgage, eliminating the smaller debt first might feel great. Then you’d only have one debt left to pay off instead of two.
You have an interest-only adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). With this type of mortgage, you’re only required to pay interest for a period (such as several months or up to several years). Then your monthly payments increase significantly based on market conditions. Even if your ARM interest rate is lower than your student loans, it could go up in the future. You may want to pay it down enough to refinance to a fixed-rate mortgage.
You have a loan cosigner. If you have a family member who cosigned your student loans or a spouse who cosigned your mortgage, they may influence which loan you tackle first. For instance, if eliminating a student loan cosigned by your parents would help improve their credit or overall financial situation, you might prioritize that debt.
You qualify for student loan forgiveness. If you have a federal loan that can be forgiven after a certain period (such as 10 or 20 years), prepaying it means you’ll have less forgiven. Paying more toward your mortgage would save you more.
Being completely debt-free is a terrific goal, but keeping inexpensive debt and investing your excess cash for higher returns can make you wealthier in the end.
As you can see, the decision to eliminate debt and in what order, isn’t clear-cut. Mortgages and student loans are some of the best types of debt to have—they allow you to build wealth by accumulating equity in a home, getting higher-paying jobs, and freeing up income you can save and invest.
In other words, if Maya’s brother uses his excess cash to prepay a low-rate mortgage or a student loan, it may do more harm than good. So, before you rush to prepay these types of debts, make sure there isn’t a better use for your money.
Being completely debt-free is a terrific goal, but keeping inexpensive debt and investing your excess cash for higher returns can make you wealthier in the end. Only you can decide whether paying off a mortgage or student loan is the right financial move for you.
A personal loan is money you borrow from a bank, credit union, online lender or another financial institution to use for a variety of reasons. It offers flexible repayment terms and fixed monthly payments. Nearly all personal loans are unsecured, which means you are not required to provide collateral. The best personal loans come with […]
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