The Secret Formula for Financial Happiness

Is there really a secret formula for financial happiness? If so, it would look like this:

Income = $100

Spending = $90

Result = Financial happiness

Alternatively:

Income = $100

Spending = $110

Result = Not too happy financially (at least not for long)

Simple, but true.

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4 Low Risk Ways of Starting Your Real Estate Empire

Real estate investing can be lucrative over the long haul, but most people never even get started except for owning their own home. How can you get starting without taking upon too much risk?

Don’t sell your home: It is very common for individuals to purchase their first home with little money down and then sell and move after a handful of years. Usually, there is some equity in the home, which is used as a down payment on a larger home. Aside from a large percentage of your equity being eaten up by selling costs, you now have another 30 year mortgage, most of the time. However, another option is to save up the funds for a down payment on a larger home and then rent out your original home. You still need to prepare the calculations to see if this makes economic sense, and if so, then now you are officially a landlord.

Buy the building: This option is for business owners only. Over time, if your business is growing profitably, then owning a building instead of renting could be a good option for you. There are several advantages to purchasing a building and renting to your business. First, if you occupy a majority of the building then you may be eligible for SBA funding, which generally requires a much lower down payment then traditional financing. Additionally, you know the tenant really well.

Partner up: I’m not a huge fan of partners for various reasons, however, you may have a family member or friend that you can partner with to combine resources that you would not have if purchasing a rental property alone.

Look farther away: The real estate market in North Jersey is very expensive compared to other parts of the State and the country in general. If you look a little farther away, then you may be able to find a real estate property for much less, and quite possibly a higher ratio of rental income received versus the price paid. This will make it easier to come up with a down payment.

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Is Cash Flow Going in the Wrong Direction?

Cash flow. It’s what keeps every business alive just like the blood flowing through your veins. The irony is that although it is extremely important, it is not managed properly by many businesses, even the successful ones. Here are reasons for common cash flow issues and how to fix them:

Problem: delays with receiving payments: Common reasons for not get paid timely include: slow invoicing/billing procedures, customers on long payment terms, not accepting electronic payments, and customers with cash flow issues.

Solutions: Do not delay with invoicing or processing payments from customers, especially as soon as a service has been rendered. When possible, shorten payment terms to get paid quicker and/or ask for payment up front. In some cases it is not possible for customers to pay quicker, and if so, then it may make sense to obtain a line of credit.

Problem: spending cash before a sale: This greatly applies to retailers that have to pay for inventory and then wait until it is sold to receive cash. It can also apply to paying for equipment, wages for employees, and various other expenses.

Solutions: For inventory-driven businesses, monitor your inventory to make sure it coincides with your sales cycle and that inventory is actually selling. Some retailers, specifically online retailers, may be able to have items shipped directly from the manufacturer or distributor once a sale is made, which lowers the amount of cash needed for inventory. Also, stretching out payment terms to vendors is helpful.

For service-based businesses, wages can be one of the largest expenses. Make sure that employees are working on a project that is planned as opposed to wasting valuable time on longer-term projects that cannot be taken to completion, thus not being able to be paid.

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What’s Your Chance of an IRS Audit?

The IRS publishes statistics regarding the percentage of returns that have been examined by type of return. Not surprisingly, some taxpayers have a greater chance of being audited than others according to the latest statistics. Let’s take a look at some stats:

The majority of audits, 74.8%, were conducted via correspondence, and the remaining 25.2% were conducted in the field.

Overall audit rate: The overall audit rate is .5%, but the audit rate of individual returns is .6%.

Corporate audit rates:

.9% for all corporate returns, excluding s-corporations

8.1% for large corporations with assets of $10M or more

.2% for s-corp returns

Individual audit rates:

2.4% for returns with business income and gross receipts of $100,000 to $200,000

3.2% for returns with positive income of $1M or more

.2% for returns with income lower than $200,000, no Earned Income Tax Credit, no business income or rental income.

If you read the footnotes of the statistics, it appears that 37% of individual returns that were selected for examination were due to a taxpayer claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Also, the statistics do not include several million CP2000 notices that are sent to taxpayers each year when there is a mismatch between what is reported on their tax return and what is reported to the IRS. If those notices were included, then the audit rate would be much higher.

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Instead of Taking out More Debt, Do This Instead

One of the first ways most people try to cover a financial shortfall is to incur more debt. Whether this is to support a struggling business or even on a personal level. This may be a solution in some cases or may be used in conjunction with other financial methods. However, there is another solution that may work to solve your shortfall.

Reason for shortfall: Simply put, there will be a shortfall when your income is less than your expenses. Sometimes this is temporary or seasonal and you may be able to predict a shortfall based on business patterns.

The debt solution: Usually, most businesses turn to debt to smooth out the shortfalls. While this may be a viable solution, it should be well though-out and other options should be explored.

Alternative solutions: Aside from needing funds to support a large purchase, if your income is not enough to cover your expenses then instead of first choosing debt, here are a few other options:

Sales: Focus on increasing your sales. An increase in sales will help to increase your bottom line results. Will your expenses increase as a result? Most likely yes, but so should your profit. Aside from industries that have a poor cash conversion cycle, which is a topic all by itself, the additional business activity should help to offset your financial shortfalls.

Expenses: Small businesses should always be conscious of what they are spending their money on. Based on observation, small businesses do not usually spend their money excessively, but they may spend allocate it to areas of their business that do not generate a benefit, such as poorly spent advertising dollars.

Profitability by service/product/client: It may come as a surprise, but most likely there are several aspects of your business that are really not that profitable or may not be profitable at all. If that is the case, then by eliminating these activities your profits will increase as you can focus on increasing sales of higher profit services.

Don’t always go for the “easy” solution, but perhaps a simple, more sweat-producing, long-term solution to help the finances of your business.

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Use the Snowball Effect to Get Better Financial Results

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a snowball effect is a situation in which something increases in size or importance at a faster and faster rate. It sounds too simple and general, but it is a useful principle that can be used to achieve significant results over time. Practical examples of this are as follows, along with how the opposite can also be true:

Savings/Investments: Do you find it hard to save or invest? Start with saving just the smallest amount possible and then build upon there. For example, if you start with a small percentage, such as 2% and increase it by 2% each year, then within 5 years you will be investing 10% of your income. If you are unable to save at all, then you need to either increase your income, decrease your expenses, or possibly do both.

Paying off debt: Want to pay off your personal and business debts quickly? Allocate a small percentage of your income towards paying off your balances, starting with the smallest balance first. Once you have paid off the smallest balance, then use those payments towards the next largest balance. If you start with the largest balance then you will lose the moment due to a lack of sense of achievement.

Increasing your income:  If you increase your income by 10% per year, then it will double in about 7 years and in approximately 5 years if you increase it by 15% per year. Even more modest increases can make an impact over time. Small actions, such as allocating a consistent amount of your time and resources to increase your business volume will add up significantly over time. For example, that one extra phone call (made or received), blog post, additional employee hired, etc. matters. For a multitude of tips, search prior blog posts.

Avoid this approach: Most people want instant results and because of this they either stop too soon or start too strong in an unsustainable manner. There is nothing wrong with strong approaches, but it must be sustainable over the long-term. All you have to do is apply this approach to weight loss and fitness and see how many of your friends and family start an exercise program and eat extremely healthy and then stop after a few months. It is hard to go from no exercise to spending an hour and a half 5 days a week exercising.

Over time your results will get better and better, but give it time to be productive. Think of your actions as planting a fruit tree, as it will take time to bear fruit.

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5 Ways Your Calendar Will Help You to Work Less Hours

Are you using your calendar as a tool to be as productive as possible? Most people do not use their calendar in a way to maximize its effectiveness, but if used properly, it can help you to reduce the amount of hours you work. Here are 5 ways your calendar can help you to work less:

Scheduled tasks get done: When a task is scheduled there is a high probability that it will get worked on. Have you ever had the feeling that you did not get anything accomplished on a particular day? The main cause is most likely due to not having tasks scheduled.

Allocation of time: How much time should you allocate for a specific task or meeting? By allocating specific time slots and durations, this will help to alleviate the open-endedness of meetings and tasks. Parkinson’s Law states “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Batching of activities: Similar activities may benefit by scheduling them close together or within the same day(s). For example, new clients or patients may need a much longer time slot for an appointment, which can all be scheduled on a specific day.

Schedule key tasks early on: Important, but usually not urgent tasks, should be scheduled first thing in the morning or early in the week. There is a constant pull for your time and if you do not focus on important items first, then you may never get to them.

Long-term planning: A calendar can include tasks that are several weeks or months in the future. This can include both tasks and meetings. If you can plan your vacation months in advance, which is very important, then you can and should plan business tasks well in advance also.

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Beware of These 3 Conflicts Between Husbands and Wives When Both Work, Which Lead to Marital Tensions

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 61.1% of both parents work in families that have children under 18 years of age.  It seems to make economic sense to have both parents working nowadays, but it can create underlying tensions, which you should be aware of:

Independence vs. interdependence: Spouses are interdependent upon one another, but with both spouses working, this can create a lack of unity. Problems may arise by simply and innocently having separate checking accounts for each spouse. The problem is that this can create disunity and a lack of joint decisions regarding financial matters versus working together to make decisions jointly.

Income comparisons: When there is a large disparity of income, which there commonly is, one spouse may look down upon the other spouse as not contributing enough financially to the household. There may also ensue an unspoken, unhealthy competition between each spouse whereas they focus too much effort on who makes more money.

Importance comparisons: Everyone wants to believe that their job is more demanding, more stressful, and harder than others, whether this is real or perceived. Even so, comparisons to your spouse’s job are not going to make for a pleasant conversation at dinnertime.

There are many more, but they are just variations of the overall theme of comparisons and a lack of working together. Can you imagine what a comparison-free, working-together household would look like?

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What Should You Do When You Receive a Notice from the IRS?

Did you notice that the title states “when” and not “if” you receive a notice? The volume of notices received from the IRS, along with those from the states, has steadily increased over the years, which means that the odds of you receiving a notice are pretty high. What are some of the steps you should take?

Don’t ignore the notice: This may sound basic, but do not ignore the notice. Usually, there is a deadline for your response, and if you do not respond then the issue may get worse and more complicated. If you do not understand the notice or have an accountant, then quickly send the notice to him/her.

Make sure it belongs to you: Sometimes, the notice may not even be yours. Sometimes the IRS or the states have an old address on file, which happens to now be yours. If the notice does not belong to you then ask the post office to return to sender. That is an easy fix, but not as common as one could hope for.

Time period and type of tax: The notice should show what periods and type of tax the notice relates to. Common notices are for Form 1040 (individual taxes), Form 941 (payroll taxes), and various states’ sales and payroll taxes.

What is the notice asking for: A commonly received notice from New Jersey and New York is one requesting additional information to process a refund after filing your tax return. You should provide the information requested and send a cover letter via certified mail. Other common notices state that there was additional income that was not reported, such as stock sales or pension income, and now there is a proposed change to your tax return. The scariest notices are levy notices or lien notices, which are supposed to come after no action has been taken on previous notices.

Compare the notice to your records: In many cases you want to verify the validity of the notice and should compare the information in the notice to your own records. It is possible that the notice may be incorrect or only partly correct.

Always respond timely: Make sure to always adhere to the timeline of the notice and to send any correspondence by certified mail as timely proof of a response. Even though you may respond timely this does not mean that the IRS or states will respond timely to you, and you may have to be patient.

As a warning, the IRS will never email you nor will they ask you to purchase prepaid gift cards from CVS to provide to them. Also, they will not threaten to deport you or throw you in jail. If you did something criminal then they will just show up at your house at 6 AM or possibly 5 AM, and I am sure that you already know why they are there.

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Do This to Avoid a Big Tax Surprise

If there is one recurring theme from this tax season that caused the biggest tax surprise it is this:

Double-check your withholdings: The withholding tables were revised and many taxpayers were under withheld, which caused them to owe taxes versus receiving a refund. The easiest way to correct this is to see how much you owed and then divide it by the number of paychecks left in the year. Then, either ask your employer to withhold this extra amount or complete a new Form W-4 to request this additional amount to be withheld from your paycheck.

Remember, a lower refund does not mean a lower tax liability. A refund is a function of your withholdings and estimated tax payments versus your tax liability.

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