Financially Productive Summer

Summer vacation is a quintessentially American innovation. Nowhere else in the world do kids have months on end free from school or any other responsibility. On one hand, it’s great to spend more time with them. On the other, how do you keep them entertained without breaking the bank?

Fortunately, there are a few ways to have the kind of summer break that builds memories without building debt. You can use these months to teach your children valuable lessons about financial responsibility, spend quality time together as a family, and save (or make!) a little money along the way. Try activities like these 5 for a fun, financially responsible summer! 

1) Have a yard sale! 

If there’s one lesson to impart to children about saving, it’s that less is more. It can be hard to impart that lesson with toys from birthdays and Christmases past crowding the closet, collecting dust. Encourage them to find one or two things per day that they could contribute to a yard sale, then have it at the end of the month.

Involve your kids in as many aspects of the plan as possible. Ask them to help you advertise on Craigslist and other social media. Have them tell their friends or their friends’ parents about it. Show them how to do research to price items, and have them work the cash box. All of these are valuable skills that can help them with summer jobs in the future!

When the sale is done, have a conversation about what you can do with the money. It could go toward a family vacation, or into a savings account or college fund. Let them contribute ideas for fun things the family can do with the yard sale proceeds. This can be a chance to teach kids about budgeting while encouraging them not to hold on to things that don’t bring them joy. 

2) Start a (very) small business! 

One way children learn the value of hard work is to earn a wage for doing a job. Paying your kids an allowance to do a job is one way to do that, but certainly not the only one. Getting your kids to help with a very small business is a great way to let them see the rewards of hard work while making a little money on the side.

Business services will vary, but demand for many services is higher in the summer. Businesses need window washers. Elderly neighbors may need help with weeding, mowing, planting, or other landscaping projects. Many people clean house in the summer and list old furniture for sale, which can be rehabilitated and resold for a profit. Any of these small projects would make a fun way to spend some time together this summer.

The business doesn’t need to make a lot of money to be valuable. In addition to quality time, your children can gain an appreciation for the hard work that goes into making a successful business. This could be a great addition to a college application essay or a resume for a first job. 

3) Fix up the house! 

There are tons of great, simple projects that you can tackle as a family to improve the efficiency of your home. Some of the easiest, like installing a new front door, can be done in an afternoon and improve the aesthetic appeal and insulation of your house. These are great projects to tackle as a family.

Any repair or upgrade that you’ve been putting off can be a great summer project. Kids can earn a wage for their labor, or they can work in exchange for some privilege, like going to a sleepover at a friend’s house. Doing this kind of work can help them understand how much hard work goes into home ownership.

These little improvements can add up to significant savings. You’ll start feeling the benefits in lower electricity bills in the summer, and continue to feel them all year round. When you sell your house, these improvements will reflect in the higher value of your home. 

4) Plant a garden! 

Believe it or not, planting a garden is one of the most cost-effective things families can do together. For every dollar you spend in green bean seeds, you’ll get up to $75 back in fresh produce! You can pickle, dry, preserve or can the extras and sell them to friends and neighbors for an even better return!

There are many ways to squeeze additional savings out of a garden. Instead of costly fertilizers, you can compost kitchen waste. You can find reclaimed wood, especially from pallets and shipping containers, to make raised beds. Save seeds from produce, and water with rain collectors.

Planting a garden doesn’t just save money. It can also be a way to encourage your family to eat more vegetables. Tending and caring for a patch of vegetables can be a great way to build responsibility and have fun outdoors this summer! 

5) Plan a stay-cation! 

The average cost of a family vacation is creeping up. For a family of 4, a week of vacation, excluding travel, costs $1,700! Even if you’re taking a road trip in a reasonably efficient family vehicle, that could easily amount to $2,000 or more.

The best parts of a vacation are the shared experiences, and there’s no need to go too far to get those. Find a local festival or cultural event, and plan a vacation in your home town! Check out local historical sites and museums, eat out at nice restaurants, and come home to your own beds at night.

What’s more, a stay-cation can show your kids the rich culture of their surroundings. Use your stay-cation as a time to visit sites of personal interest, like where you and your partner met, or where their great grandparents went to school. They’ll appreciate the deeper knowledge of where they come from, and you can appreciate the togetherness… and the savings! 

SOURCES:

The Three Best Jobs For College Students


College is a place for learning, but one of the best ways to learn is by doing. If you’ve been keeping up with friends who have graduated, you know the job market can be a cruel and unforgiving place. To prospective employers, your GPA, your extracurricular activities and your major matter a whole lot less than the all-powerful “experience.” You need a job!

In addition to the resume boost, a little disposable income can really take the pressure off your budget. Being able to finance a spontaneous road trip, a midnight taco run or a ticket to your favorite band’s show without having to dig yourself further into debt is a great feeling. How can you squeeze in work experience between classes, projects and a social life? It’s all about choosing the right job. Here are three jobs ideas. 

1.) Retail sales 

Getting a job working in sales is a great way to start a career in marketing, advertising, or business. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, because you’ll learn the fundamentals of convincing people to buy. Look for stores you shop at regularly. If you’re a clothes horse, Kohls or GAP might be your best bet. If you’re more outdoorsy, REI or Sports Authority could be a better fit. These places do most of their business after hours and on weekends, so you can work around your class schedule. 

2.) Freelance writing 

If you’re thinking about a career in journalism, getting some bylines under your belt is a necessity. One of the best ways to do that is to sell your own work. Sites like Blogmutt will pay a few dollars for a few hundred words, while sites like Elance offer longer-term projects. Either way, the work is the focus, not the hours. You can tackle projects in your spare time, earn a little money, and build your portfolio in the process. 

3.) Fitness instructor 

You know you need to get to the gym anyway. Why not make a gig out of it? Teaching yoga or leading a calisthenics class can be a great way to get your sweat on while building your resume. If you plan to go into education or physical training, this experience will set you apart from your peers. Even better, you’ll learn how to market yourself – which is a valuable skill in any endeavor.

Job Seekers Beware: ‘Re-packing’ Jobs Could Lead To Jail Time!


We keep hearing the economy is improving, but that news rings hollow for many Americans. Long-term unemployment is still a reality for 2.8 million people. They’re isolated and increasingly desperate, making them a perfect target for cyber-criminals.

The Better Business Bureau is reporting a new breed of cyber-crime that turns innocent people into accessories in the distribution of stolen merchandise. The scam starts like a lot of others, with a job offer from an anonymous company. The work sounds ideal. It’s work-from-home, set your own hours, and work as much or as little as you like. Best of all, it’s easy. You receive shipments at your house, then repack them and ship them to another address.

If you sign up, you’ll receive packages containing products and instructions about shipping them to other addresses, sometimes overseas. Your employer will want you to cover shipping, but promises to reimburse you for costs on top of your salary. At the end of the month, you get a check from your employer.

The first bad news comes when you attempt to cash that paycheck and it turns out to be fake. All the work you’ve done, plus the shipping costs you paid out of pocket, are gone. It’d be bad enough if it ended there.

Worse yet, you might end up facing criminal charges. At the very least, you’ll be an accessory to the theft of the goods you handled. If you helped to redistribute those goods, you handled stolen property. Even if you didn’t know the goods are stolen, if you didn’t ask questions where a reasonable person would have, you’re guilty.

To make matters worse, if you shipped those items internationally, you likely had to lie on customs documents. That’s a federal offense. The scammers just tricked you into taking all of the legal risk while they keep the money.

Similar scams are common in money laundering. A scammer will contact you or leave a post on a job board asking for financial service assistance. They’ll send a check and ask you to deposit it, then wire them back some of the money. You can keep a portion of it as your payment. The check was written against stolen funds and the issuing institution refuses to pay it. You’re out whatever you wired the scammer and could face charges as an accessory to fraud.

These scams are an unfortunate part of the job search process. They prey on the uncertainty and desperation that characterizes long-term unemployment. The widely anonymous nature of the Internet provides a perfect cover for schemers. If you want to keep yourself safe, follow these tips: 

1.) Be proactive in your job search 

It’s possible that your dream job may fall in your lap, though it’s far more likely that you’ll have to work really hard to get it. If you post your resume on a job site and walk away, it’s possible that the only people who are going to contact you are scammers. If you work with a recruiter or employment agency, you’ll form a contact that can help you land the job you want.

Working with an agency will also help you weed out the scams. You’ll have someone you know and trust to sort the real opportunities from the bogus ones. They’ll help put your resume in places where it needs to be instead of in the wrong hands. 

2.) Check the links 

Many of these scams work by “spoofing” a legitimate job posting. You’ll see an email saying that X company has reviewed your resume and thinks you would be a good fit for this position. The email will contain a link to something designed to look like a legitimate job posting on a big job board like Monster or Indeed.

Checking to see where links are really going is a hassle, but a quick mouse-over the link will show you the URL. If you don’t recognize the domain (the first part after the http:// and before the .com or .org), don’t click the link. Report the email as the scam attempt it is. 

3.) Watch for keywords 

“Repackaging” or “reboxing” are common keywords in these scams. For money-laundering, scammers often refer to the work they are proposing as “payment processing” or “wire transfer assistance.” It’s worth taking a moment to think about what you’d be doing. No legitimate business would need a personal checking account to move money around. If they’re a business that can pay for your services, they have a checking account. Similarly, they have an address and postal services.

If an employer is seeking your personal information before they’ve hired you, they’re not a potential employer. They’re crooks trying to steal your identity. It’s as simple as that. 

SOURCES: 
http://www.tylerpaper.com/TP-News+Local/212834/look-out-for-reshipping-job-scams#.VNJ-I9X3-ix  
http://career-advice.monster.com/job-search/getting-started/money-laundering-reshipping-scams/article.aspx
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

Refund Expectation Management: 3 Reasons Your Refund Might Not Be As Big As You’re Expecting


Everyone tells you not to plan on having a tax refund. If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, though, you know where every dollar is going. You might be counting on that money to give you the breathing space you need.

Even if you’re a little further ahead than that, you may still have made plans for your tax refund. You might be planning to pay off a credit card from the holidays or hoping to put a down payment on a car. You might just be hoping to take a little vacation over spring break!

Whatever your plans for the money, it’s a good idea to temper your expectations. Unfortunately, you can’t count on the same tax refund you got last year. Here’s why.

1.) Student loan garnishments

If you’re behind on your student loans, you might not see much of your refund. If you don’t have much of an income, it’s easy to get behind and it’s hard to catch up. One of the reasons lenders love these loans is that they’re very difficult to get rid of. If you’re in default or declare bankruptcy, those lenders are still trying to get their money.

Student loan companies know that, for people with minimal income, tax refunds are a source of a big chunk of money. Also, since it’s not a regular source of income, the rules regarding garnishment are more lenient. Ordinarily, creditors are only allowed to take 15% of your discretionary income if you have one loan, or 25% if you have multiple loans. For a tax refund, the Department of Education can instruct the IRS to apply the full amount of any tax refund you’re due to the balance of your loan.

Even if you’re paid off in full, it might be wise to check with your spouse. This process can also apply to your refund for his or her defaulted student loans. As far as the IRS is concerned, you’re one taxpayer with one set of obligations.

This process can apply to federal student loans, federally subsidized loans and some private loans. You’ll receive a notice of proposed offset from the IRS. You have 65 days from receipt of the notice to object to the offset. Deferments can be provided for up to 3 years for economic hardship and unemployment. They may be provided indefinitely for individuals seeking an advanced degree or for people with disabilities.

It’s also possible the “loan” may just be a paperwork error. If you’ve unenrolled from classes but haven’t yet received a repayment from the school, for instance, you might get your refund back with a short letter. The notice of referral will provide you instructions to request a review.

2.) You made more money

Usually, getting a raise is something to celebrate. If you got one this year, that’s good news for your career future. It’s less good news for your refund.

The refund is the difference between what you paid in taxes and what you ended up owing. Your taxes are withheld from your paychecks assuming they stay the same all year. If you got a raise in June, then you were effectively under-withholding for the first half of the year.

Beyond the difference in payment, you may find your raise puts you just above the threshold for credit programs. Credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) have income eligibility requirements. If you made more money this year than you did last year, you may not qualify. The same is true for subsidized insurance premiums through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). If your income changed after you obtained coverage, you may have to hand back a part of that subsidy.

The EITC is fairly significant, particularly if you have kids. It may be worth your time to look for other deductions you can take to get your gross income under the threshold. Consider working with a professional tax preparer, too.

3.) You were the victim of identity theft

The past few years have seen an increase in tax returns filed fraudulently on behalf of victims of identity theft. A crook uses your Social Security number and fabricates financial information to get a hefty tax refund, then cashes the check. You’re not only out your tax refund, but also may be facing criminal charges for the phony info on “your” return.

With cuts to the IRS budget this year, its enforcement and investigation of these crimes has dropped. You should contact the IRS immediately if you receive notice that more than one tax return was filed using your Social Security number or if you are issued a W-2 (an income statement report from your employer) by an employer you don’t recognize. These are red flags that someone is fraudulently using your identity.

The FTC recommends you contact the IRS’s Specialized Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490.  You should also prepare proof of your identity, like a copy of your drivers’ license, Social Security card, or passport. The IRS has a form, IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039, that will start the investigative process. Recovering from this crime will take time, but you will get the refund you’re due.
If you plan to do your own taxes, TurboTax is an option that can guide you through the process more easily.  The good news is that Destinations Credit Union members can get a discount on TurboTax!

SOURCES:

Three Tricks To Retire Rich


The difference between working yourself to death and retiring to live a life of comfort is smaller than you think. We like to believe in the simple caricature that rich people retire rich and poor people don’t retire. The truth is, much of the difference between retiring and continuing to go to work every day comes down to a few simple choices. Let’s take a look at three tricks that separate the successful retirees from the workers who are too insecure to retire:

1.) Timing your retirement

Investment professionals like to tell you that successful investment is about time in the market. Timing the market, they insist, is far less important. That’s true for putting money in. The more time you have to take advantage of the power of compound interest, the better off you’ll be.

When it comes time to retire and start making withdrawals, though, timing does matter quite a bit. Consider identical workers who made the same median income. Each saves 10% over their 35-year careers. Yet, they end up more than $200,000 apart in retirement savings.

How? One retired during the height of the Great Recession in 2009. The other waited four more years until 2013 when stocks had rebounded. It’s not just that stock prices rebounded during that time. It also gave the one who worked longer four more years of buying dirt cheap stocks that shot back up in value.

The lesson here is simple: if the market is down, keep working and investing. Wait another few years for things to rebound and reap the rewards. If our early retiree worked four more years, his retirement savings would have doubled. Market prices tend to even out over time, so prices that are low now will return to normal. Waiting until they do can make your retirement much better.

2.) Don’t over commit, especially when things are good

You may already know you should save between 10 percent and 15 percent of your income. Aim to split your savings between conservative and aggressive investment options. However, many people forget one important part of that split: some part of your aggressive investment needs to remain in cash.

As stock prices rise, you need to be leaving yourself more and more cash on hand. This is so you can take advantage of the inevitable retraction that follows these expansions. “Buy-low, sell-high” isn’t a well-kept secret. But it’s still sound advice for retiring with enough money to support a luxurious post-work life.

How much cash should you keep in your aggressive investment portfolio? The frustrating answer is that it depends on a variety of factors. If you’re not heavily involved in your portfolio, you likely don’t need to keep more than 5 percent cash in your account. If you’re an active participant in your retirement investments, keeping a little more cash on hand isn’t a bad idea. This will let you pick up undervalued stocks and reap the profits of your savvy judgment.

3.) Get professional help

Spectrum Group conducted a survey of households with more than $1 million in net worth. They found that only 20 percent of them see themselves as experts on investing. About 40 percent of respondents are adviser-assisted or adviser-dependent investors. That means they consult with a financial expert before making most of their investment decisions. Another 30% are “event-driven.” They get professional help before major life milestones, like retirement or home-buying.

There seems to be one big difference between millionaire investors and less successful ones. The millionaires recognize their weaknesses and find help to compensate. They devote their effort and energy to what they’re good at: their job or small business.

There’s no harm in getting some help for your retirement savings plans. Our knowledgeable representatives are standing by to assist you with opening or funding an IRA, rolling over a 401(k), opening a certificate, or saving money in any one of a dozen other ways. Call, click, or stop by Destinations Credit Union today!

SOURCES:

Fall Into Tax Planning!


The leaves are changing. The nights are getting longer. There’s a cool breeze blowing and apples are falling off the trees. Everyone knows what that means: it’s tax planning time!


Remember, no one can offer you accurate tax advice without a careful review of your finances. If you have questions about filing your taxes, you should speak to a tax planning professional. For most people, though, a little bit of knowledge is enough to get started paying less to Uncle Sam and keeping more in your retirement fund.

While most people don’t start thinking about their taxes until February or even April, the best time to make changes is this year. If you haven’t thought about your taxes since you paid them in the spring, you’re still in good shape. For most tax matters, changes made by December 31st are assumed to be in effect for the whole year. Let’s look at four areas of tax planning you should aim to tackle as quickly as you can.

1.) Make any necessary changes to your retirement accounts

If there’s anything that is further off than tax planning, it’s retirement planning. Still, one of the most compelling reasons for making contributions to your retirement is preferential tax treatment. For starters, you should be contributing the maximum to either a Roth or a Traditional IRA.

From there, it gets a little trickier. If your income dropped this year, say, because you or your spouse lost your job or had a significant reduction in hours, you might not get much benefit out of the tax deduction that is presented by a Traditional IRA. You can take this opportunity to switch a portion of your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Essentially, you’re “paying” the tax on a portion of your IRA in a year when it won’t cost you as much, then switching it into a tax-free growth account.

You also need to make sure you’re contributing to your employer’s 401(k) program. Those contributions are also made pre-tax, so you can deduct your portion of the matching funds from your tax burden. If you haven’t been contributing, see if you can make “catch-up” contributions to take advantage of the preferential tax treatment.

Regardless of how you save, you could be rewarded for it. New this year is the Saver’s Tax Credit, which offers a sliding scale of tax breaks based on your income and how much you save. Investing in an approved retirement vehicle like a 401(k) or IRA can let you deduct as much as 40% of your contribution from your tax bill.

2.) Spend your “use-it-or-lose-it” funds

Many employers offer plans like Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA). These programs also offer preferential tax treatment, but many of them empty out at year-end whether you’ve used the funds or not. These programs are a great way to save for unplanned medical problems, but if you were lucky enough to avoid those costs, you’ll need to spend that money before it goes away.

There are a few common tricks you can use to spend the money without wasting it. Obviously, if you’ve been putting off a minor medical procedure (a mole removal, an eye exam, new contacts) that’s the easiest place to spend. Otherwise, you may need to get creative. A few staple goods are FSA eligible. Over-the-counter painkillers, first aid kits and supplies, and some disaster preparedness supplies are generally eligible for reimbursement. Consider getting first aid kits as Christmas gifts for young children or donating them to community programs.

3.) Plan your charitable contributions

If you’re going to donate to a charity, you can give in a way that maximizes your tax benefit. One of the easiest ways to do that is to give stock. Not-for-profit organizations don’t have to pay the capital gains tax, so they can sell it for the full amount. This means you get to take credit for the full value of the gift. This is also true if you plan to give real property (houses, buildings, land, etc.) or use another complex giving strategy to maximize the value of your contribution.

However you give, make sure you keep detailed records about your gifts. You want both a receipt from the organization and another form of proof, like a copy of a check or a bank record. Not-for-profit organizations are almost always overworked and understaffed, so counting on their bookkeeping can sometimes be an exercise in frustration. Keep your own records just to be sure.

4.) Investigate early tuition payment

You or your child may have a big tuition bill coming due in a few months. If you wait to pay that until February or March when it comes due, you may miss out on a chance to cash in on the American Opportunity credit. The plan replaces the Hope credit and allows for a $2,500 deduction and as much as a $1,000 credit for eligible expenses for four years of undergraduate study.

If you are a student filing for the first time and don’t have much of an income, paying your Spring tuition now could result in a $1,000 check right around the time spring break rolls around. Because the American Opportunity credit is a highly-charged political issue, it’s entirely possible it will be repealed next year, so you may miss out on the possibility to claim it if you wait.
____________________________________________________________________________________ 
   
If you’re thinking about your tax future and need help, Destinations Credit Union is right beside you. Our team of dedicated representatives is standing by to help you start saving for retirement or saving money for education.  Call or stop by Destinations Credit Union today!
SOURCES:

The New Sharing Economy: Earning Money From Your Underused Property


Need some cash? Thousands of people are turning to sites like AirBnB to turn their spare rooms, cars, and free time into extra spending money. You can capture some of this entrepreneurial spirit and capitalize on it in three ways.

1.) Rent your spare room

If you haven’t heard of AirBnB, it’s the flagship of this new economy. People list their spare rooms for rent, and short-term vacationers can search them by location, amenities or price. Rates are usually lower than hotels, and the accommodations can be much nicer. The thrill of staying with a local who can recommend nearby attractions or restaurants also attracts tourists. AirBnB is popular – the company boasts 350,000 people who are renting rooms by using the service.

Getting started with AirBnB is as easy as sprucing up a spare bedroom and making a listing. Obviously, living in a tourist hotspot is a major benefit, but it’s far from required. If you want to increase your revenue, renovations like a private entrance, secure storage facilities and private bathrooms are highly sought-after by renters.

If you rent, you may need to check your lease for potential sub-leasing complications. If you own your home, a quick call to your insurance agent to ensure this practice isn’t forbidden by your homeowner’s policy wouldn’t be a bad idea. One New York AirBnB user made $37,000 from renting the spare room in his condo. He used the profits to buy a vacation house, which he now rents on the service.

2.) Share your car

For people traveling by plane, car travel is one of the biggest expenses. Whether by taxi or in a rental car, it can be quite costly to get from place to place. Popular services like Uber allow folk with spare time to undercut the big rental and taxi companies and offer rides to traveling strangers. Alternative services like RelayRides allow you to rent your vehicle to others during extended periods of disuse while you’re traveling or if you only need your car a few days a week.

These services occupy a significant legal gray area. If someone borrowing your car damages it, how will you hold them responsible? If they run a red light and are caught on a traffic camera, will you be stuck with the ticket? You may run afoul of larger, established taxi and rental companies that have the power to influence regulation.

Still, success stories with these services exist. One struggling California musician started renting his car on the service. One $200,000 investment later, he owns eight high-end SUVs and a few sedans. Renting cars has become his full-time job. It’s required sacrifice, as he now finds his music career increasingly confined to weekends. But it’s allowed him to pay the bills.

3.) Share your skills

For some people, like engineers and writers, the freelance economy of the Internet was fairly obvious. These kinds of tasks can be done remotely. Increasingly, though, other kinds of labor are becoming sharable. Services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk began as a survey site, but entrepreneurs realized its potential as much more. Now, tasks like transcription, data entry, and research can be completed by willing laborers who never have to leave the comfort of their computers.

More specifically, services like Google Helpouts allow you to share skills remotely, too. A video conference instruction enables you to instruct others in doing something you’re good at, and the possibilities are endless. You can use Helpouts to help people practice English, organize a kitchen cabinet or cook your family specialty. You can use your specialized knowledge to make a little extra money and brighten someone else’s day.

Realistically, wages for this type of work are not high at all. A global economy means competing against people who live in countries with considerably lower standards of living. You can expect to earn between $2 and $3 per hour for unskilled Internet labor, though many skilled workers are earning much more than that. With enough dedication and practice, you can turn your hobbies and spare time into your own cottage industry.