Career

What is all the Hype About Generating Passive Income? Here are Four Examples

I’m sure that you have seen YouTube commercials about generating passive income while lounging in a pool with your collection of high-end sports cars collecting dust in your oversized garage. Is this really practical and can you really generate massive amounts of passive income? The answer is yes and no . . .

Passive income defined: Passive income is any income that is derived from sources that you do not actively participate in to generate that income. Examples can include rental real estate, businesses that you do not materially participate, and royalties.

Can you really do it?: Yes, you can do it, which is the simple answer. However, it is much more difficult than the commercials let in on. Here are several ways to generate passive income starting from the least amount of capital needed to the most:

Side business: Start a business on the side while you are either working as an employee or if you already have a business. In order to make your endeavor take as little time as possible, then your need to focus on a either a product or information based business, while skipping a service-based business. The reason for not choosing a service business is because it will most likely require much more of your time.

Existing business: No matter which business you are in, you can make your business less and less dependent upon you so that you are not required to materially participate in the day to day activities. However, this can take at least several years or more to make this happen, and you have to make sure that your sales can support the additional expenses. The approach must be methodical whereas each aspect of your responsibilities is either transferred to employees or outsourced. It is easier to do this if you have a business that is not very complex.

Real estate: Depending upon where you purchase real estate, this can take a lot of capital. However, if you choose a rental property wisely and continue to build your portfolio, then eventually your rental income can substitute your regular income over many years. A good place to start is to either purchase a building for your existing business or to rent your home if you plan on moving.

Investor/lender: Once you have a sizable amount of cash, then you can and should look for privately held businesses to provide capital for. This can be in the form of equity or debt. If you are very selective then you can build a great portfolio over time with returns that are much higher than traditional investments, although the risk will usually be much higher.

There you have it now go for it!

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An Observation Regarding Money Worries

There are a few things that I noticed over the years that seem to contradict each other regarding money worries. There seems to be a link between being charitable, concerns over saving too much, and stress about money.

Charitable giving: some people make a lot of money and give little to nothing to charity, especially as a percentage of their income, and the opposite is sometimes true regarding those with modest incomes. Theoretically, the greater your income then the greater should be your charitable giving. Why does this make sense? I believe that it has to do with a scarcity mentality and a fear of letting go. If you are overly concerned with not having enough money, whether real or imagined, then why would you part with your money?

Overly concerned about saving: Let’s face it, it is daunting to think that we have to make sure to save enough for retirement, college, a house or a larger house, 6 months of expenses for an emergency fund, weddings, sweet 16 parties (they can be over the top nowadays), vehicles, business ventures, and everything else. It even makes me exhausted just writing that! However, some take it too far and save so much or are concerned so much about saving that they get really stressed out. Although I am an advocate for saving up for most of the above (I’m not a big fan of massive weddings and outlandish sweet 16 parties), you have to balance that with current needs or you will be miserable. Who wants to eat the cheap steak to save an extra $10 for their retirement?

Do any of these apply to you? Maybe just a little?

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If You Are Looking for a Good Business Partner Then Pay Attention to What They Do, Not What They Say

Running a business is probably one of the most challenging, while equally rewarding endeavors that only the brave embark on. Some go at it alone, while others choose a business partner because sometimes 1 + 1 = 3 or 5 or 10. However, before choosing a partner you must minimize the risk of choosing the wrong partner by paying attention at what they do or have done, not just what they say.

Look at their past: No one is perfect, but generally, when a person is not able to overcome some of their difficulties, then there is a high probability that they will not magically fix their problems when you are their partner. Rather they will bring these issues into your business and wreak havoc. One time events or actions may not be too meaningful, but repeated patterns are a very bad sign.

Specific examples:

Tax problems: It is not uncommon for business owners to have a tax problem at one time or another due to the complexity and burden of an ever increasing number of taxes, fees, penalties, etc. that they need to be aware of. However, if there is a history of not filing tax returns, especially willfully, or not paying their taxes then watch out.

Health, mental, and addictions: The number of times that I speak to people regarding mental issues or addictions is so high that it doesn’t seem real and seems to be on the rise. Just because someone has a mental illness, doesn’t mean that they will make a bad business partner, unless it is not under control and has been for some time. The same goes for addictions, which can include gambling, spending, drugs, alcohol, and everything else. If the addiction was in the way past and has been overcome, then that is a plus. If it constantly resurfaces or is currently happening then that is a sign that it has not been defeated. Unfortunately, it is hard to know these things, especially if you only know a potential business partner casually. Although, thorough background checks and taking a look at the last year or so of bank statements may shed some truth.

Half truths or lies: Maybe your potential business partner ran a business in the past and it didn’t work out, which is not that uncommon. They may have the issues above, they may not be so good at running a business, or maybe there is another reason. One way to find out is to ask a lot of questions and then try to verify their answers with some research and legwork. For example, they may say that their landlord kicked them out of the building because the building was sold. Well, you can easily find out if the building was sold, speak directly to the old and new landlord, and look at their bank statements to see if they were actually paying their rent. Another example is to ask if they ever filed bankruptcy and then look into the public records to see if this is the truth and/or to have them run a credit report in front of you.

These are all of the bad things to look out for, but what are the good things to look out for? The answer is to look for the exact opposite. As I tell my children often: seek truth.

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When Should Your Parents Stop Being Involved in Your Financial Affairs?

Our parents raised us and shaped who we are today, and there is probably nothing that we can do in comparison to what our parents did for us, except for perhaps raise our own children well. But, when should our parents stop taking charge of our finances, career and/or business?

It is a good for us to always seek counsel from our parents, especially on matters that they may have more experience with or needed expertise. Even when we are in our fifties it is wise to communicate financial issues with a knowledgeable parent. However, make sure to separate having trust in someone versus their ability to competently advise you.

Once you are in the workforce and are an adult, then you need to deal with your employer directly. Several examples have been shared with me regarding parents contacting their adult child’s previous employer over payroll issues. Even worse is that in those situations the adult child was a professional that advises others! Again, feel free to seek the advice of your parents, but do not have them act as your “proxy.” I can just picture this now, “This is Mr. Smith, and I am calling to let you know that Timmy will not be at work today because he is under the weather. Please cancel his meetings with the executive vice-presidents of Fortune 500 Co.”

Sometimes you may own and operate a business and employ one of your parents, which does happen occasionally. Your parent may be able to give you insight that you are not seeing regarding employees, customers, or finances. However, unless you hired your parent as a strategic advisor because they have developed successful companies in the past, or the CEO, which small business owners actually are, then your parent should not be actively deciding the direction of the company or connections with key people.

Anecdotally, it seems that adults who enforce boundaries with their parents make better financial decisions, are more successful, and have more confidence.  I’ll let the psychologists further elaborate on this topic.

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A Silly Trap When Trying to Pay Off Debt

I have had numerous clients tell me that they are paying off their debts early, whether it is a student loan, car loan or mortgage, which is very admirable. However, they really aren’t paying off their loans early. How can this be and why?

The reason is simple. They are not actually paying off their debts, but prepaying their regular monthly payments. The assumption is that if you make extra payments then those extra payments will go directly towards principal, which in essence will reduce your loan balance. It sounds logical, but usually the loan company will apply these payments towards future bills, so in reality no extra principal is being paid. They are just considered prepayments.

One way of determining if your extra payments are being applied properly is to look at your current monthly statement to see if your payment amount is either -0- or shows a lower amount than normal. If this is the case, then your extra payments are not being applied towards principal.

The proper way and easiest way to ensure that your extra principal payments are being applied correctly is to specify that your extra payment should be applied towards principal. It is best to do this online and then check your activity once the payment settles to confirm this.

It’s not right, but when it comes to finances you must be extra careful and do not make any assumptions!

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Is Debt Good or Bad?

What are we to believe? Is debt good or bad? On one extreme are some financial pundits that say to go into debt and use other people’s money to make money, and on the other extreme are experts that believe that any form of debt is bad. Who should we listen to?

Ignoring the rare exceptions, most successful people have incurred some form of debt either personally or through their business, and if they did not incur this debt then they would most likely not be in the position that they are in currently, even if they have now paid off all of their debts. Let’s look at some pros and cons.

Pros of debts: Without incurring debts, virtually no one in this expensive area would be able to purchase a house. If you were debt averse and had to save up for your house to pay cash, then you may never get there. If a $500,000 house appreciates by 3% per year on average (let’s ignore significant ups and downs to keep the point simple), then just one year later you would need to save an additional $15,000 to purchase your home. You may never get there.

If you want to expand your business or start a new one and need capital to build out your office or purchase equipment, then a loan is most likely needed. Even the best savers have a hard time saving up the significant sum that is needed to do so. The same applies to investment properties.

Unfortunately, you most likely need to incur some debt to finance college or purchase a vehicle.

Cons of debt: Debt is not without risk and I am a big proponent of proceeding cautiously and wisely when incurring debt. Here are several pitfalls of debt:

Over leveraged: If you incur too much debt than you may not able to meet your payment obligations. This is especially true if and when there is a slow down in the economy and/or your business. Think of debt payments as taking from your future income, but you really never know what your future income will be. If you find yourself with tons of debt then you need to closely examine your spending and look for ways to increase your income.

Increases risk: Debt amplifies the risk of any financial endeavor due to a decrease in cash flow from making debt payments and the financial obligation of the debt. Most debt is personally guaranteed, even if it is for business. Trust me when I say that a bank owns you when you take out an SBA loan. They may even put a lien on your children, but that may just be a rumor.

Makes you spend more (much more): Surprisingly, this isn’t mentioned too often as most people only consider the monthly payments, interest rate, and length of a loan. However, debt makes you less cautious when spending and investing money, even if it is for something productive, such as  purchasing equipment for your business or buying rental properties. The end result is that you wind up spending more than you anticipated. Why do you think so many companies offer enticing payment plans for just about everything? If you have the resources to pay cash, then it probably makes sense to do so.

Increases costs: Even loans with low interest rates increase your costs due to both interest and fees, which can be very significant.

As you progress on your financial journey, then a noble goal is to become debt free. Ideally, you should try to avoid debt when possible, but it may provide you with a much needed boost to get you started. Just do not over do it.

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Just When I Thought I Was So Smart . . .

As a professional, it’s always wise to project a good image of yourself, especially that you are intelligent. However, sometimes or many times we do things that really humble us and hopefully help us to not be so prideful. Here are a few things that I have done recently and not so recently:

GPS: My GPS on my phone showed that it would take about 2 hours to get back home, which I thought was due to traffic and was normal, even though I was about 35 minutes away. For some reason the GPS kept on taking me through side streets with lights, which seemed to appear every 200 feet. Finally, after about 20 minutes I pulled over and took a good look at the directions and realized that I was taking the bike route. Yes, it took me 20 minutes to pull over.  I think that my pride ran away at that moment.

App and phone purchases: If you know anything about children and video games then you know that you can make in-app purchases within the games to obtain more virtual money, coins, or gems. There weren’t the proper safeguards in place on their tablets and in a blink a lot purchases were made. A lot of purchases were made. Did I mention that a lot of purchases were made? We were able to get some refunds, but let’s just say that where this is a will there is a way, especially when your children then ask if they can borrow your phone and decide to go on a shopping spree at Amazon. I really don’t need a PS4.

Per diem: When I started my practice years ago during the recession it took time to acquire clients, which is normal and expected. In the meantime I could have worked per diem at another firm at least for that first year or so. However, I had such a bad experience with the previous firm that I worked for as an employee that I told myself I would never again work for anyone else. The extra cash made working per diem would have been nice and would have made the transition from employee to practitioner easier and less stressful financially.  Eventually, I did work per diem after about a year or so at a few different firms, and I met some really good people.

There are many more that I’ll keep to myself, but we all need to be humbled from time to time.

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Should You Talk About Religion and Politics in a Business Setting?

We are taught that you should not speak about religion and politics because it causes tension, disagreement, and bad feelings. What about in a business setting at work with your boss, employees, co-workers, and clients/customers? The correct answer is . . . .

Maybe. Here are some examples of when and when not to speak about these emotionally charged topics:

When it’s not ok: First, take a look at yourself. If you are unable to speak about religion and politics without letting your emotions take control, without insults (I do not mean being politically correct), and being open to both learning from the other person and teaching the other person, then you need to first work on this before speaking about religion and politics. Similarly, are you able to speak to the other person and have a conversation, or do they just want to spew their beliefs without regard to having an actual discussion? Does the other person disagree with you regarding everything because they do not want to even hear facts or truths? If that is the case, then it is probably futile to speak with them about religion and politics and possibly any other topics as well.

When it’s ok: It’s okay when the exact opposite is true of when it’s not ok. When you are able to speak to people with charity then you are ready. When you are ready to have a dialogue and are open to learning the other’s position, even if you do not fully agree with them, then you are ready.  If you are passionate about your beliefs, then don’t beat people up to get your point across, even when you are 100% correct. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth, but also be sensitive to your timing. Lastly, you can communicate more by the way you live your life then with verbal communication.

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5 Financial Truths

There is a lot of information out there about finances, and it’s hard to figure out what is exactly true or not true. Always seek the truth, especially from someone that is not trying to sell you something. Here are some examples:

College: We are led to believe that all of our children must go to college to be successful and make a lot of money. While I am a big believer in education and college, it is not the only route and it is not for everybody. With the high cost of college, the decision to attend college should not be automatic. There are alternatives, such as becoming a tradesman, learning a special skill that does not require college, starting a business, sales positions, military or government positions that do not require college, stay at home parent (yes, this is a vocation), etc.

Retirement savings: Saving for retirement is a good thing, however, it should be balanced with both short and mid-range needs. For example, if you allocate virtually all of your savings towards retirement accounts and ignore having a cash cushion, then your risk of financial catastrophe increases. If a financial crisis arises or a large purchase needs to be made, then you will have to withdraw from your retirement accounts, which is one of the worst financial decisions to make due to both income taxes and penalties on the withdrawals. Furthermore, if you do not have withholdings taken from your distributions, then you will probably end up with a tax problem once you file your return. The prudent action is to have a cash cushion of 3 to 6 months of expenses for emergencies and to save for mid-range goals, such as a house purchase.

Debts: Debt truly is a double-edged sword. There are some who advocate staying away from debts at all costs and others who encourage you to leverage yourself to make more money. The truth is that debt should be used wisely and sparingly, if necessary and as a last resort, and it should not cripple you. If you are able to avoid debt, then that is excellent, as debts increase your risk and they also encourage risky behavior and increased spending in many cases.  To prove this point, why do you think McDonald’s started to accept credit cards, why do auto loans have 7 year terms, and why can young adults take out massive loans for college?  It is to get you to spend more than you would have otherwise.  As you mature financially you should seek to decrease your debts.

Most people would not be able to afford a house without obtaining a mortgage, and if they waited to purchase a house and rented instead, then they would most likely be worse off financially over the long term. Also, some businesses may need to incur debts to purchase expensive equipment, inventory, or improvements that would not be possible if they did not incur debts. To emphasize, it should be used wisely and sparingly.

Expenses, income and savings: Most likely your expenses are way too high. If you are able to save 15- 20% of your income and have no debts then spend whatever you want. Otherwise, set aside money towards savings to steadily increase the percentage that you save each time you get paid. This way you will spend whatever is left over. If you are not able to do this then you need to take a serious look at decreasing your expenses and increasing your income. The truth is that it is really not that hard, but most people have a hard time doing this. As Yogi Berra said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”

Home and health = wealth: In the quest for success, don’t ignore your most valued relationships or your health. Nothing can cripple your finances as quickly as health or family issues, such as divorce. With either of these issues your expenses increase exponentially while your income suffers at the same time. Make sure to prioritize.

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Where Are all of the Young CPA’s and Why Should You Care?

I was at another continuing professional education seminar recently, which is very often as CPA’s are required to have 120 hours of continuing education every three years. One of the observations that I make each and every time is that I am one of the youngest CPA’s in the entire room. This is true now and was true 10 plus years ago when I became a CPA. Unfortunately, I have been jumped past the young man status, so it has nothing to do with being a “young” CPA. Why does this matter and why should you care?

Some details: When looking around the room this time and every time, It appears that approximately 5% of the CPA’s are younger than 50 years old, with the majority being older than 60. Could it be that older CPA’s attend the seminars that I happen to attend or is this true throughout the profession. When digging deeper, I found out that according to the AICPA, approximately 75% of CPA’s are expected to retire in the next 15 years, so my observation applies throughout the entire profession, and not just Bergen County.

More accountants, less CPA’s and CPA firms: Studies are showing that although there are more accounting graduates, less are becoming CPA’s. There are numerous reasons why including greater education requirements, time requirements, and the expense of taking and studying for the exam. Also, although I do not have a statistic on the age of CPA’s that own small firms, I do not know, even casually, one CPA firm owner that is younger than me. Just to reiterate, I am not a spring chicken anymore.

Negative impact on clients: CPA’s are the main business and tax advisors to small business owners and many individuals, so who will fill this void? I can only make several guesses to the alternatives, which are not very good for clients. Alternatives include: using non-CPA business advisors and preparers (whom generally lack the education, expertise, and training of CPA’s), using larger firms (along with much higher prices and less attention to the “little” guys), and doing everything yourself (ie. QuickBooks, however you need to be an accountant to actually get the numbers correct, along with not receiving guidance that saves business owners more than they actually pay their CPA). Another negative aspect is that there will be less CPA’s to collaborate with as peers. As a side note, the CPA’s that I know have been the most generous, helpful, and supportive people to me professionally.

General trends: There has been a generally trend for less people to start their own businesses, which has been the case for decades, according to a 2017 report by the Kauffman Foundation, titled, “The Entrepreneurship Deficit.” Several reasons are cited, including demographic changes, technology, and geographic changes. It appears that the CPA profession is not immune to these general trends, and as a result there are less small CPA firm owners.

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