Financial

Some Horrible Ways to Lower Your Tax Bill That are Not Recommended

I don’t think that I ever met anyone that likes to pay taxes. Everyone feels better when their taxes are paid in full with no outstanding balances, but not actually paying them. Sometimes this hatred of paying taxes can go too far and here are a few examples of what not to do:

Understate your income: As a business owner there is a huge temptation to “pocket” any cash that is received or cash checks instead of depositing them to your account. However, if you understate your income too much then you may be facing jail time and massive penalties.

Overstate expenses: Maybe you really like cars and use multiple cars for your business. However, if your spouse does not work in your business then her car payment is not a tax deduction. The same goes for personal meals, personal expenses, and outright lying about your expenses and deductions. Most likely you do not give 15% of your income to charitable. It’s possible, but not very probable.

Losing money in a side business: The main purpose of starting a business is to make money. Maybe some contemporary experts think that you should try to change the world, but most likely you are selling a product or service that is not going to cure illnesses. Sometimes a newer business owner is so intent on losing money to not pay taxes that they never let their business actually become a business. A business can only lose money for so long. The same goes for real estate investments and traditional investing.

Spend a dollar to save a quarter: Do not ever spend money on an unnecessary tax deductible expense just to save taxes. The math is very simple – spend $1 to produce $.25 of tax savings, which equals $.75 lost.

Multi-state taxation: The tax laws are extremely complex and each state has its own set of rules. However, don’t let this stop you from doing business or working in other states to take advantage of opportunities.

Tax-exempt investments: Even though municipal bonds are exempt from Federal taxes and possibly state taxes, this does not mean that they are appropriate for you. You must do the math to make sure you compare after tax returns of taxable investments to tax exempt investments, otherwise you may be worse off economically.

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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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Will Outsourcing Create Higher Profits?

When we think of outsourcing, we immediately think of manufacturing goods overseas or customer service reps with thick accents reading from a script. Even with all of the negative images of outsourcing, should you still outsource parts of your business or even vital functions? Here are some pros and cons:

Pros of Outsourcing:

Potentially lower costs and better service: Most small businesses do not have the need or resources to have an in house bookkeeper, biller, receptionist, administrative assistant, IT professional, or even your business operations. When outsourcing these roles you can generally get a high level of expertise without the cost of having a full-time or even part time employee. There are probably many businesses that you interact with that outsource some or all of their operations that you are not even aware. Examples include: dry cleaners outsourcing all or some of their operations, restaurants outsourcing their desserts, professional services firms outsourcing to other firms or overseas, and online retailers outsourcing their distribution and fulfillment centers to Amazon. Even your local ice-cream shop probably doesn’t make its own ice-cream.

Continuity: If you choose a good outsourcing partner then you do not have to worry about staffing issues or purchasing and repairing equipment. This helps to ensure that your business operations do not experience major hiccups.

Cons of Outsourcing:

Ironically, some of the reasons for outsourcing can also be the same reasons for not outsourcing.

Potentially higher costs and worse service: An outsourcing partner may actually cost you more than having the task or operations in house, and a cost-benefit analysis should be prepared to see if it makes sense to outsource. Other outsourcing factors to consider are the quality of the task or operations being performed, lack of knowledge of your particular business, and a lack of customers knowing and interacting with your staff.

Continuity: What if a major outsourcing partner makes a change to their policies that adversely affects your business so that you cannot rely on them anymore? If you don’t have another alternative then you may not actually be in business anymore. Also, company culture plays a large role in the success of your business, which is generally lacking from your outsourcing partner.

Outsourcing may be beneficial to the growth of your business after carefully weighing the pros and cons. Sometimes outsourcing may just be a temporary solution until you have the capability to perform the outsourced function in house.

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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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This Will Kill the Economy Long-Term

There are many factors that can help an economy to grow, including productivity gains, wage growth, sound governmental policies, healthy banking systems, etc. A lack of all of these items will hurt economic growth, and there is one more often overlooked item that can and will devastate an economy over the long haul.

It’s probably not what you think, but I’ll give you a hint: think Japan. What is a major issue that is facing Japan? Low birth rates and a disproportionate amount of older persons compared to younger persons. Why does this matter?

Minimum: Statistically, a country needs approximately 2.1 births to have a stable population. If you want to bury yourself in statistics, then you can read reports from the U.N. or The World Bank. Although there are lower mortality rates than in the past, fewer births will mean a declining population and a disproportionate amount of older persons. By the way, the world’s population is expected to stabilize and/or decline by the end of this century.

Disproportion of elderly: In Japan, the population of elderly persons is much higher than in the U.S. Unfortunately, with lower birth rates there are less younger people able to physically take care of the elderly and also financially. Systems like social security will not be able to continue in a healthy fashion if there are not enough younger people available to contribute towards the system.

Basic math: If there are less people available to purchase services and products then economic growth will stagnate or decline. This can be offset somewhat by productivity gains and wage increases to an extent. Also, there will not be enough candidates to fill employment opportunities at businesses, which will stifle growth further.  More people = growing economy.

Myths?: I believe it started back in the 1960’s with doomsday scenarios of overpopulation and a strain on the resources of the planet. It really hasn’t panned out, but there have also been other modern inventions and policies that have stifled population growth. There is one statistic that I’ve heard that states the entire world’s population can fit in the State of Texas comfortably. Even if this statistic is way off and it would take the entire United States, then that would leave the rest of the world wide open.

Solutions: There are a few solutions to address this problem. One is immigration from countries or regions with high birth rates, such as Africa to countries with low birth rates, such as Japan. This would take changes to immigration policies enacted by governments.  The other solution is to encourage families to have more children and not to wait too long to do so. What is the worst that can happen – you may need to buy a massive van to drive your family around?!

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