Insurance

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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Are there Alternatives to Traditional Health Insurance?

My last post titled, “Did You Know that NJ Now Requires All Residents to Have Health Insurance?” gave a few exceptions to the new New Jersey mandate that requires all New Jersey residents to have health insurance. One of the exceptions to the mandate is health care cost sharing, which almost no one has ever heard of. It may be a good fit for you or maybe not, but here are some details regarding health care cost sharing to help you decide.

Examples of health care cost sharing ministries: Solidarity Healthshare (my family and I are currently members), United Refuah, and Christian Healthcare Ministries

What is health care cost sharing: This is taken from Solidarity Healthshare’s website https://www.solidarityhealthshare.org/ :

“Health care sharing ministries provide a way to pay for health care costs that is different than traditional health insurance.

As a member of a health sharing ministry, you pay a Monthly Share Amount. This monthly share is then used to pay for the health care needs of other members. When you have a health care need and if you have met your Annual Unshared Amount, other members will pay for your health care needs.

Members also agree to a common set of beliefs that help determine which medical costs the community will share towards. With Solidarity HealthShare, guidelines on the medical expenses that members share towards are primarily guided by the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. These beliefs help define what is and is not eligible for sharing.”

What is the cost: For Solidarity, the monthly cost to join ranges from $149 for a single person under 30 years of age to $449 for a family under age 65. The amount that each member is responsible for before their costs are eligible for sharing is between $500 for a single person to $1,500 for a family. Each health care cost sharing ministry encourages and supports healthy behaviors and lifestyles and encourages you to be in charge of your own health care. This is what enables the ministries to be so cost effective.

What’s covered/not covered: All three healthcare sharing ministries seem to be very transparent about what expenses they cover and do not cover. Their websites list medical expenses that are covered, which is very comprehensive.  Items that are generally not covered are:  pre-existing conditions may be limited, dental, vision, and other expenses that are outlined as not eligible for sharing. Each health care cost sharing ministry has difference guidelines.

Caveats: Unfortunately, the cost of your monthly membership is not tax deductible. Additionally, you want to make sure that you thoroughly review what is covered and what is not covered according your situation and needs. Also, it seems that health care cost sharing makes most sense for individuals that are not covered with health insurance by their employers, such as self-employed individuals.

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Did You Know that NJ Now Requires All Residents to Have Health Insurance?

Starting this year, New Jersey is requiring all residents to have health insurance. Even though the Federal government has gone in the opposite direction, there are a handful of states that have their own mandates or are considering a mandate. What are some of the requirements, exceptions, and penalties regarding this new law?

Requirements: The law requires you to have minimum essential health coverage or qualify for an exemption of coverage. If you do not have coverage or qualify for an exemption, then you will incur a shared responsibility payment when you file your 2019 New Jersey tax return next year.

Exceptions: There is a whole list of exemptions, and some of them are as follows: income related, such as marketplace affordability and income below filing thresholds, gaps in coverage of less than two consecutive months, hardships, and group memberships, such as being a part of a health care sharing ministry.

Penalties: The minimum penalty is the greater of 2.5% of your household income or $695 for an individual taxpayer. This increases to a maximum of $15,060 for a family of two adults and three dependents with a household income greater than $400,001.

The penalties are steep so make sure that you are properly covered or are able to receive an exception to the penalties. For those who are looking for non-traditional coverage options, health care sharing ministries such as Solidarity HealthShare or Christian Healthcare Ministries may prove to be good, low-cost options. However, make sure to perform your due diligence to make sure that these can be the right fit for you.

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So You Want to Flip Homes?

Buy a house, put in a few improvements, and then sell it for a much higher price. Do it again and again. It sounds so simple, but here are a few pointers to keep in mind if you want to succeed with house flipping:

Experience: If your experience in real estate is performing repairs on your home during weekends, then you do not have the required experience. Ideally, you should have experience in both residential construction and real estate sales.  Experience as a general contractor will help you to determine the amount of time and costs to improve a potential flip, while experience in real estate sales will help you to locate a property, determine the market characteristics, and eventually sell the property.  Both are extremely important because you want to maximize your profit by investing your time and money in the right house and the smartest improvements. If you do not have this experience then you need to spend the time to learn as much as possible before purchasing a flip to minimize costly errors.

Know your costs and potential selling price: Before purchasing a property you need to estimate your cost of purchasing the property, the necessary improvements, and carrying costs such as real estate taxes, loan payments, utilities, and insurance. Just as important is the estimated selling price. If you underestimate your costs, overestimate the selling price, or underestimate the time to improve and sell the property, then your chance of profit will be greatly decreased. The formula is simple, but not always easy to accomplish; profit = the selling price minus all costs. With this in mind you want to make sure that you leave enough wiggle room to make a profit in case your estimates are off.

Capital: If you don’t have the necessary capital to purchase a fixer upper, make improvements, and pay the carrying costs, then you need to either obtain a loan or partner with someone who has the necessary capital. Make sure that you have a cushion just in case your estimates are wrong.

Time and opportunity cost: Let’s say that you are a contractor and are looking to flip a house. Make sure that you estimate that you will make more money on the time spent with your flip than during your regular construction activities. The same goes for anyone else trying to invest their time and money in a flip.

Start small: If just starting out then make sure that your first slip does not have the potential to decapitate you financially. Just think back to what happened to many house flippers about a decade ago.

Taxes: Most likely your profit will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates and possibly self-employment taxes vs. long-term capital gains rates. This is due to the fact that you are usually considered to be a dealer with the intent to buy, improve, and sell a home in a short time frame.

Alternatives: An alternative and close cousin to house flipping is to rehab a rental property, rent it out, and hold it for the long term. It is not as exciting as house flipping, but it can be very worthwhile, while also carrying less risk.

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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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IRS and NJ Taxation Highlights

 

Yesterday I attended a continuing professional education seminar with speakers from both the IRS and the State of New Jersey. Here are some highlights after all of the recent Federal changes and also many New Jersey changes that most people are not aware of:

Your paycheck may be under withheld: After the new Federal tax law changes, many people have seen an increase in their take home pay due to the tax cuts, but it is quite possible that too little has been withheld. If you want to be safe then ask your employer to increase your withholdings, and you can also use the withholding calculator at irs.gov. Beware that it is really meant for simpler tax situations versus being self-employed, having rental income, and investments. If you are one of our business clients that we already prepare a year-end tax projection for, then we will take care of this for you.

Private debt collectors: The IRS uses private debt collectors, and the State of New Jersey has already been doing this for years through Pioneer Credit Recovery. This can cause concern especially with all of the fraud that is taking place nowadays. By the way, the IRS will not ask you to drop off cash somewhere, send a money order, or purchase gift cards to settle your debts.

New Jersey tax amnesty: There are many unknowns to all of the changes that NJ has made, including the start date of a tax amnesty program. The program will likely start on November 15th of this year and end on January 15, 2019, and allows a reduction of interest charged and elimination of penalties for old tax debts from February 1,  2009 through September 1, 2017. You should receive a notification on this program if you have old debts, but you can file and pay your old debts even if you do not receive a notice from the State.

New Jersey property tax deduction increase : The property tax deduction on your New Jersey tax return has been raised to $15,000 from $10,000.

Penalties for not having health insurance in New Jersey: New Jersey now requires residents to have health insurance or they have to pay a tax penalty. New Jersey has taken the opposite approach of the Federal government.

Increased pension exclusions in New Jersey: This will be phased in over the next several years, however, there is an income limitation of $100,000, which has not increased.

There are many, many more changes related to New Jersey, including reinstatement of Urban Enterprise Zones, increased tax rates on income over $5,000,000, taxes on ride sharing, taxes on liquid nicotine, and changes to payments plans.

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Don’t Make These Easily Avoided Financial Mistakes

We are all not perfect and everyone makes mistakes. However, the key is to avoid these financial mistakes as much as possible:

Penny wise and dollar dumb: The actual expression is penny wise and pound foolish, but I still remember a partner from my first job saying this to a client (maybe it’s the American version). I guess it doesn’t matter how you say it as long as you make your point. The message is to not be cheap so that you save a few dollars, but it ends up costing you a lot more down the road. This can happen with almost any financial transaction so always be aware of what you are trying to accomplish.

Ignoring tax notices: Don’t be surprised to find out that your bank account has been levied or there are liens against your assets if you don’t address tax notices. Surprisingly, the notice may actually be wrong, but the IRS or states do not know this. If you do not resolve the notice timely, then penalties, interest, and collection costs may be added to your balance or you may not receive your refund.

Not filing your returns: Sometimes taxpayers hesitate to file their tax returns when they know that they owe money, but do not have the ability to pay their balance. Fortunately, there are usually payment arrangements that can be made in these cases. Also, every now and then I come across a situation where there is actually a refund due to a client, but they took too long to file their returns so they are not longer eligible to receive it. Now that’s painful!

Not saving anything: Just about everyone can save at least 1% of their income to make this a habit, and then can increase their savings rate over time. The earlier you start, the better and don’t convince yourself otherwise.

Too much long-term savings/illiquid assets: Sometimes the opposite is true when people tie up all of their money in their retirement plans or real estate, but do not accumulate short-term savings. What tends to happen is that retirement savings are tapped if there is a financial emergency or long-term financial set-back, which in turns ends up creating a tax issue.

Don’t Worry if the Timing is Not Right to Conquer the World

Ever feel frustrated that your business or your career isn’t going as well as it should? I’m sure that most people feel like this from time to time, but sometimes there are valid reasons for this. Not excuses, as the “success” coaches may call them, but as human beings we have many moving parts to our lives. Some reasons for not being able to conquer the world right now and what to do include the following:

Health Issues (Physical & Mental): They may come at any time and can be minor, permanent, or severe. Health issues can put you out of work for months or even years. The main objective should be to focus on getting your health back so that you can take care of yourself and your family. Next, you should look into how future health problems may be prevented, if possible. You may also find that you have to attend to family members that get sick, such as spouses, children, and aging parents. First things first.

Raising Children: Raising children is not an easy task and many parents feel the tug between working and taking care of their children, especially mothers. This is especially true when both parents work, which is the majority of parents nowadays. I’ve written about the trap when both parents work full-time as the financial benefit is not usually as great as it seems when factoring in taxes, additional expenses, etc. Some options to help juggle responsibilities are to change your work schedule, have a flexible schedule, or work part-time, especially during school hours.

Addictions: Addictions can be in the form of alcohol, drugs, pornography, and gambling to name the major ones. No one likes to talk about this because of the stigma of addictions, but these will have a devastating impact of your business or career, even if you are indirectly impacted by addictions, such as with a child or spouse. Healing and overcoming addictions needs to take place.

Family Issues: Divorce or separation is a common family issue and may go hand in hand with the other examples above. Marriage struggles, especially divorce, will not only impact you and your children emotionally and spiritually, they tend to destroy family finances. Who care if they are successful if their family is torn apart? Marriage therapy, family therapy, or spiritual guidance from a priest or minister can help to save your marriage. Also, all kidding aside, they are much less expensive then a divorce attorney.

We are not machines, but people that have problems, emotions, and are all fighting our own battles. Some battles are greater than others, but we must build a solid foundation before conquering the world.

If You Want More Success Then Know the Difference Between Important vs Urgent

Important vs. urgent. Many people confuse the two, but if you want to be more successful, then you need to be able to discern between them. Important items have great significance or value while urgent items require our attention immediately. Here are some examples:

Important:  These are items that you need to do, but do not have to be done today, such as projects and assignments, planning, exercising, learning/training, saving for the future, etc.

Urgent: These usually have to do with grabbing your attention immediately, such as text messages, social media, doing dishes (our spouses may disagree with this one), interruptions, emails, most telephone calls, etc.

The problem arises when the urgent items seem to be important because they are pulling at us, and then we ignore all of the important items that we should have done. This is probably why many people say that they didn’t get anything done because their attention was diverted to urgent items. Even worse is when we procrastinate and make the important items both important and urgent.

What are some solutions? If an item is important, then you should set aside time either daily, weekly, or monthly to take care of it and actually put it on your calendar. Once an important item is scheduled there is a high probability it will get done. As for the urgent items, you can schedule these as well to take care of them at specified times or on a specific day. If you want to be bold then try this experiment for one week or even one month: shut off all of your alerts, emails, etc. while you are working, and designate a time to check them, say twice a day. Then, see if your productivity improves, and let me know what happens.

Don’t Be a Co-Signer Unless You Want to Pay Someone Else’s Debts

Your friend, child, brother, or parent can’t get a mortgage or a car loan so they ask you to be a co-signer. Of course you will be a hero and co-sign for your loved one! But beware of the dangers before doing so.

In reality, the lender is assuming that the odds are fairly high that there will be a default on the loan, otherwise, why would they need someone else to co-sign on the loan? There are certainly many situations that the loan never goes bad, but why take such a chance? Consider this:

If the borrower defaults on the loan, then your credit will take a hit because you are personally responsible for the loan. The lender may also come after you for payments on a loan that you never benefited from. Actually, you had almost all of the risk without any real benefit.

If you are familiar with Murphy’s law, then you know that what can happen will happen. So, what if you are ready to obtain a mortgage or finance a car and then find out that the loan you co-signed went bad? You may not qualify for the loan for yourself or the terms may not be as favorable as they were originally.

One last item to consider is the damage to the relationship once a co-signed loan goes bad. As Polonius said over 400 years ago in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend . . .” Even thousands of years before Shakespeare numerous bible versus were also written to warn against co-signing such as Proverbs 22:26-27 and Sirach 29:16-18.