6 Common Tax Mistakes To Avoid

It’s that time of year again! Get ready to break out the calculator and pencils; dig out the enormous pile of receipts, tax forms, and pay stubs, and get to work. Whether you choose to go it alone, use a tax-prep computer program or hand it all over to an accountant, start with checking out our handy list of common mistakes people make on their tax returns.

1.) Faulty math

One of the most common errors on filed taxes is math mistakes. A small miscalculation can throw off all your numbers and get you into trouble with the IRS. However you choose to prepare your taxes, be sure to triple-check the math before filing.

2.) Name changes and misspellings

When preparing your taxes, you’re thinking about numbers, but don’t forget to pay attention to everything else on your form! If you use a name that’s different than the one the IRS has on file for your Social Security number, or even if you spell it wrong, that can mean trouble for you and your taxes. If you’ve recently changed your legal name, be sure to let the Social Security Administration know.

3.) Omitting extra income

Many people neglect to include secondary sources of income on their tax forms. This may include freelance work and any other side work they may have done throughout the year. If you’ve taken any side jobs in 2017, fill out a 1099-MISC and file it along with your taxes.

4.) Deducting funds donated to charity

Charity laws are complicated! First, only donations given to an organization with a tax-exempt status can be deducted from your taxes. Second, if you’ve donated food items or used clothing, they had to have been in decent shape to be eligible for a write-off. Finally, calculate the value of your non-monetary donations according to what they would be worth if you’d sell them now. Don’t forget to include those charity tax receipts when you file!

5.) Using the most recent tax laws

The current administration has made some major changes to the tax code. While most of these changes won’t take effect until you file your first taxes for 2018, there are some changes that are effective for this year, including the following:

  • The standard deduction increased to $6,350 for single, $9,350 for head of household, and $12,700 for married filing jointly.
  • The maximum earned income tax credit increased to $6,318.
  • The maximum income limit for the EITC increased to $53,930.
  • The foreign earned income deduction increased to $102,100.
  • Annual deductible amounts for Health Savings Accounts increased for individuals only, to $3,400.

6.) Signing your forms

If you’re filing through the USPS, be sure to put your signature wherever necessary, and get a mailing receipt. If filing online, you can use a PIN instead. Most places that require a signature will need to be dated as well.

Check your forms for errors before submitting and file with confidence!

SOURCES:

https://criticalfinancial.com/5-common-tax-mistakes-people-make/

https://gobankingrates.com/taxes/know-before-file-tax-breaks/amp/

https://blog.taxact.com/common-tax-mistakes/amp/

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Plan The Ultimate Family Vacation – Together!

Planning the ultimate family vacation is quite a challenge. This is especially true when you’re trying to fit in the best attractions and give your kids the vacation of a lifetime while staying within a budget.

How can you accomplish all that and still keep your kids happy?

The solution is simple, yet brilliant: Let your kids be a part of planning that vacation! This way, they’ll be the making many of the choices, thus eliminating the usual complaints and groans about your chosen attractions. Plus, your job will be that much easier. As an added bonus, your kids will learn invaluable lessons about budgeting and making choices.

Several weeks before your planned vacation, hold a family meeting. Then, let your kids know what your destination is before enlisting their help in planning the itinerary. Make sure they know what your exact budget is and fill them in on all the best attractions in the area.

Tell them they are going to have to make some very hard choices. They need to decide exactly what they want to do with the vacation budget.

Do they want to try out the famously fantastic Thai restaurant near the hotel and then spend a day at the beach? Or, would they rather pick up a budget meal and take in the huge amusement park in the area? Do they want to go horseback riding and skip the ATVing? Or, would they rather give both activities a miss and spend the money on water-skiing? Let them know that each option is going to make a dent in the budget, so they need to choose wisely!

To make it even more tangible for your kids, withdraw cash for the entire amount you plan to spend on your vacation and place it on the table. Then, when a choice is made, physically subtract the amount it would cost you from the stash of cash. This will allow your kids to actually see how much each attraction will “cost” them and force them to make better choices.

When your meeting is through, you will have your itinerary planned and your kids will have gained an invaluable life lesson in budgeting and decision-making.

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Financial Preparation for 2018

2018 is upon us – are you ready?

Usher in the new year with plans for financial improvement and resolutions to do more.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Tune your budget
It’s great to start off the new year with a plan. A budget is just that-a plan that starts with the income you expect and your fixed expenses such as your mortgage, insurance and utilities. The plan incorporates your savings goals, and the remaining money is designated for your other expenses. A realistic budget will help you set your financial goals and will remind you to stick to them. Now is the perfect time to assess last year’s budget or create a new one if you don’t yet have one in place.
Reviewing how you spent last year’s money will help you make better financial decisions for the year ahead. While thinking about it, include a method for tracking your spending. You can do this on a spreadsheet or tag items in your checking account.
Even with a solid plan, there can be surprises along the way, so be sure to build an emergency fund into your budget.
Plan ahead to meet your goals
Consider how you will accomplish your goals. You might have shorter-term goals, such as purchasing a new home, as well as longer-term goals, like retirement. Each set of goals requires different kinds of planning and saving.
Financial planners recommend setting up a separate savings account for each goal. This way, your progress toward that goal is clear.
It’s best to work backward for determining how much you need to save for each goal. Determine the cost of your goal and then establish a reasonable time-frame as well as how much you’ll need to save each month to reach it.
Spend mindfully
Make your financial future more secure this year by identifying your wants and needs. Your needs are necessary for survival and include food and shelter. Your wants are simply things you desire-like a luxury car. Tend to your needs first. Then, if there is money remaining, consider your wants.
This might sound obvious, but for many of us, the lines between wants and needs are blurred.
Maximize tax contributions
Tax deductions can be a valuable source of savings. If you have employer-matching funds available, take advantage of them. Also, verify with your HR contact and your accountant that you are contributing the optimal amount to your 401K and IRA.
Check your flexible savings account (FSA)
If you have unspent money in your FSA, now is the time to use it. Your pre-tax dollars in such accounts typically need to be spent before the end of the year or they are lost.
These are just a few of the many ways you can prepare financially for the coming year. With a little attention to some often-overlooked details, a little perseverance and a little mindfulness throughout, you’ll be moving forward with a strong foundation and positive outlook.
SOURCES:
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4 Ways to Save During the Post Holiday Season

This year’s holidays may soon be, or already are, a memory, but the Santa shock is just beginning. Avoid it completely by thinking about paying for next year’s holidays now.

  1. Buy wrapping paper and decorations now! You’ll find bargain prices for all wrapping supplies and holiday ornaments and they won’t go bad over the year. Save a bundle by stocking up now.
  2. Shop for next year’s presents in January. These will also be steeply discounted and you can save oodles of money by buying things that never go out of style
  3. Save all the gift cards you get throughout the year for the holiday season.
  4. Keep your eyes open for gifts all year long. Whenever you spot a great find or an amazing bargain, grab it. You’ll save by buying what’s on sale and spreading out your gift shopping, instead of doing it all in a month or two.

How do you plan ahead all year for a holiday season that leaves no financial stress in its wake? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

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Give Your Kids The Gift Of Giving

The holiday season brings a flurry of frenzied consumerism, unabashed greed and endless shopping. As a parent, though, you want your kids to associate this time of year with giving and not just with taking. How can you give your kids a joyous holiday season and teach them about kindness at the same time?

The best way to do this is by actively encouraging your children to think of others. Try these activities to help bring the spirit of giving into your home this year:

1.) One in = one out

Is your toy chest overflowing? Do your kids have more games than they need? Institute a rule this holiday season: When you’ve gotten a new toy, choose one to give away. Set up a large box in the corner of your playroom and have your children place one toy in the giveaway box for every new one they receive. They can choose older toys they’ve lost interest in or those they’ve outgrown. When the box is full, take a family trip to the local toy drive or to a needy family in the neighborhood. Watch your kids’ faces light up as they make others happy with their thoughtful donations.

2.) Season’s greetings

Designate one evening this season for writing holiday cards. No, not to your family and friends – these cards are for children who’ve been stricken with illness. Set up a table with lots of cardstock and all your kids’ favorite crafts supplies. Speak to your family about sick children who might be sad this Christmas and could use a simple homemade greeting card to cheer them up. Have fun creating your masterpieces and inscribing them with positive, encouraging messages. Then, get your gang into the car and drive over to the local hospital to deliver them personally!

3.) Grocery giveaway

Many grocery stores hold food drives during the holiday season. Help support a local cause and teach your children about giving to others at the same time. Take your child along with you on your next trip to the grocery and have them choose one food item to purchase for the food drive. If you usually let your child pick a treat at the grocery, ask them if they’d like to forego it this time and instead buy something for the needy. Make sure your child is the one to actually place the chosen food item into the collection bin so they can personally experience the joy of giving.

4.) Senior moments

Does your child love performing? If you’ve got a young star at home, this is the perfect way to teach them to use their talents to make others happy. Have your child invite several friends over one afternoon and ask them to prepare a small dance or a short comedy routine. Let them dig through your costume collection to outfit themselves for their grand debut and practice their gig  until it’s perfect. Then, delivery them to the local nursing home for spreading the cheer among the residents. They’ll relish the stardom and the residents will adore the little performance. That’s a win-win all around!

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Best Gifts From College Students On A Budget

The holidays are a stressful time of year if you’re in college. You’ve got to pack your whole life into a suitcase for a month while passing the hardest tests you’ve taken in your life. It’s tough to remember gift shopping.

There are lots of ways you can take part in family gift giving. Try these low-cost gift ideas to make your parents, friends and family smile! Let’s spread some goodwill!

1.) Do the legwork or research on a joint gift

If you have older siblings or other potential allies, you may be able to work out a joint gift for your parents. They could provide the funding while you do the research and legwork. For example, your mom has wanted new cookware. Do the research on the best brand and shop around to get it at the best price. You do the wrapping, and sign both your names to the card. This isn’t just for mom and dad – consider working with your parents to get gifts for younger siblings. You make a contribution of time and effort to the gift giving process and have a chance to show you care. As a college student, you’re learning all kinds of research skills; put them to the test and find the right gift at the right price!

2.) Find nifty, locally produced stuff in your college town

College towns are full of cottage industries. Somewhere in town, a tiny shop has soaps, jams, posters, and other local goods. These are the best kinds of gifts because they’re easy to transport, are consumable, and there’s nothing to dust. You can fill your bag with soaps, candles, and other little gifts to give to friends back home and extended family. It helps them connect to where you are and might give them a reason to come visit!

3.) DIY dorm room projects

Finding projects you can tackle in a space that’s the size of a cubicle can be a challenge. Cruising DIY hubs like Buzzfeed and Pinterest can produce hundreds of neat ideas. You can make hand-decorated mugs, framed pictures or braided necklaces. There are tons of projects that don’t demand much in either space or supplies. All it costs you is a little bit of money, a free Saturday and a whole lot of love. You can make sentimental, hand-crafted presents for everyone in your life.

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Surviving the Holidays Stress Free

With crowded stores and an ever-growing list of people to shop for, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to overspend on your holiday shopping. No worries, though; UCCU’s got you covered! Read on for pre-and post-holiday tips and have yourself a jolly December without breaking the bank.

Pre-Holidays Tips

1. Revise your gift list

Chances are, lots of the people you exchange gifts with would be relieved to be taken off your list. Talk to coworkers and acquaintances about just exchanging cards this year, or make a deal to only exchange homemade or inexpensive gifts.

This way, you can focus on buying special gifts for those closest to you instead of generic gifts for everyone you’ve ever met.

2. Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa

Still got a mile-long list? Try one of these creative solutions! A Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa activity saves money and stress while adding a bit of intrigue to any party. Everyone involved only needs to bring a single gift – and it’s always fun.

Set a reasonable price cap on gifts so no one walks out with a candy cane while the person next to them hauls off a flat-screen TV.

3. Bake holiday treats

Reduce the financial weight of the season by whipping up your own holiday treats instead of buying gifts.

It’s hard to find the perfect gift, but no one turns down a tin of homemade holiday cookies!

4. Make a budget and stick to it

We all plan to stick to a budget this holiday season – make this the year it really happens.

Set an absolute limit to how much you will spend on the holidays.  This will encourage you to plan your spending rather than grabbing impulse items as you shop.

5. Make use of holiday deals….but don’t get distracted

When prices drop, we sometimes go wild, snatching up random items because we don’t want to miss out on those “crazy, low holiday prices.”

Make use of these deals by buying items on your list at a discounted price – but don’t buy things you don’t need.

6. Rethink giving

Instead of running to the mall again, think of other ways you can give that will make the world a better place and truly brighten someone’s holiday.

It’s the perfect time of year to volunteer at local soup kitchens, homeless shelters and charity organizations.

2 Post-Holiday Tips

1. Use those gift cards

Gift cards are a typical holiday gift, but they’re often forgotten and unused.

Put your gift cards in your wallet and spend them creatively.  If you’re not a fan of on-the-go coffee, use your Starbucks gift card to pick up ground coffee beans to use at home.  Rent a movie with your iTunes card.  Whatever it might be, just use those gift cards!

2. Regift

You’ll probably wind up with a bunch of gifts you don’t want.  Hold onto them; many gifts can be  re-gifted next year or used as birthday gifts throughout the year.

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How Can I Shop Safely On Black Friday?

Most people love the prospect of saving big on Black Friday sales, but are worried about the risks.  Between the danger that crowds pose and the possibility of your credit card being compromised, there’s a lot that can go wrong.  Black Friday does pose some serious risks to shoppers, but with the proper safety measures, you can protect yourself without missing out on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Here’s how:

1.) Plan ahead

Planning ahead means you’ll spend less, be out of line faster and decrease your risks. Sites like BlackFriday.com can help you plan your day and find the best deals.

2.) Credit card only

Credit cards are the best way to shop when there are high risks to your safety. You can always dispute a charge; you can never reclaim stolen cash. Also, keep your card as close to you as possible. If using a debit card, cover the payment terminal with your other hand when inputting your PIN.

3.) Shop with a friend

The mall may be crowded, but a determined criminal can find a way to corner you and empty your wallet or take your bags. Stick with your friends and never enter deserted areas alone.

4.) Keep your cool

Nothing you can purchase on Black Friday is worth your health or safety. Avoid all scuffles with fellow shoppers.

5.) Move your car

If you spend the day at the mall and routinely drop off your bags in your car, it’s best to move your car to a different spot. Thieves watch shoppers leaving the mall with lots of bags and follow them to their cars. If they see you dropping off your goodies and then heading back to the mall, they’ll consider making off with your things. If you drive off, though, they’ll think you’re leaving and won’t follow you.

6.) Online safety

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are notorious for online scams of every kind. Here’s what to remember when shopping online:

A.   Beware of phishing scams

Be alert for suspicious looking emails and links. Delete anything that doesn’t look right.

B.   Make sure your connection is secure

Verify security by looking for the padlock icon on the address bar and by using sites with an “S” tacked on to the “http.”

C.   Pay securely

Only use trusted payment systems like PayPal or GoogleWallet. Shop from sites you trust and make sure they’re legitimate by checking the URL and looking out for sites that end in .org or .net. Never agree to wire money for a purchase.

D.   Strengthen your system

Before shopping online, check that your device’s security systems are updated with the most recent protection and security patches. If you’re using Wi-Fi, make sure the network is secure and requires a password to join.

Your Turn: Do you have any other tips for safe shopping on Black Friday Cyber Monday? Share them with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/venturebeat.com/2014/11/28/5-things-you-can-do-to-stay-safe-shopping-online-on-black-friday/amp/

https://www.moneycrashers.com/black-friday-tips-for-safe-shopping/

https://www.google.com/amp/www.telegraph.co.uk/black-friday/0/11-tips-for-staying-safe-shopping-online-on-black-friday-and-cyb/amp/

https://www.google.com/amp/mashable.com/2016/11/21/online-shopping-safety-black-friday-cyber-monday.amp

https://www.consumersafety.org/news/safety/stay-safe-shopping-on-black-friday-and-cyber-monday/

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Thanksgiving Costs: 7 Ways To Save

Thanksgiving means giving thanks for all the good in our lives. It also means stuffed turkey and gravy, cranberry pie and mashed potatoes. It’s a time-honored tradition of spending time enjoying a delectable holiday meal while in the company of those we love.

It can also mean spending an awful lot of money.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average host cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 guests will spend approximately $50 on the dinner alone. Of course, if you’re expecting more than 10 guests or you tend to overspend when hosting, your costs can easily top that amount. Between the turkey, ingredients for that luscious holiday meal and décor to set the ambiance, hosting a Thanksgiving dinner is not cheap.

Looking for ways to cut back without compromising on the quality and festivity of your meal? Look no further! At UCCU, we love to keep your wallet plump. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of seven easy ways for you to save on your Thanksgiving costs this year.

1.) Verify your guests’ attendance

Before you start writing up a spectacular menu or a detailed shopping list, check to make sure you have an accurate head count of the guests and family members who will be joining you for Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t want to end up with a fridge full of leftovers. Verify that all who are invited are indeed planning on showing, and only then begin planning your menu.

2.) Find out what your guests like

While you’re doing your inviting, ask for your guests’ individual tastes. You don’t want to forget that Great Aunt Martha is on a strict gluten-free food plan or that your cousin’s spouse is a vegetarian. Aside from specialized diets, ask about particular foods your guests like to eat and those they won’t touch. If something on your menu isn’t very popular with your guests, skip it – even if you think it’s an “obligatory” Thanksgiving food. This way, you won’t slave over a pumpkin soup that nobody will touch or end your holiday meal with trays full of leftovers and lots of hungry guests.

3.) Make it a potluck

Slash your spending and your stress in one step by answering an enthusiastic “yes!” to every guest who asks if they can bring something. Don’t just say “anything’s fine,” though, or you might have seven desserts. Instead, create a Google Sheet or group message with your planned menu and let your guests input what they’d like to contribute to the meal. This way, they’ll know exactly what you need, you’ll know what they’re bringing, and best of all, you won’t be doing all the cooking yourself.

4.) Serve on smaller plates

Most people will load up their plates to capacity, regardless of the plate’s size. Curb the wasting at your table by using smaller dinnerware. Let your guests load up all the way without leaving half-full plates. They can always refill if they still want to eat more later.

5.) DIY décor

You can set a beautiful holiday tablescape without blowing your budget; all it takes is a little imagination. Shop the local dollar store for discounted décor that still packs a punch, like colored vases, fake flower arrangements, and other centerpieces. Look for easy, inexpensive DIY ideas online. Finally, get creative by using things from around the house – or yard – as your décor. For instance, you can create a whimsical candleholder by affixing cinnamon sticks around a candle or design an autumn-themed centerpiece with leaves and pinecones from your own yard.

6.) Shop the sales

Grocery stores and shopping centers tend to run specials on turkeys and other Thanksgiving staples starting as early as Halloween. Plan your menu several weeks in advance so you can take advantage of these sales. Keep it flexible until you see the circulars and then base your dishes on the ingredients and produce that’s cheapest. Also, be sure to shop around for your turkey! Supermarkets tend to have the best deals on the birds, with some even running free turkey deals when you spend a specific amount on other groceries.

7.) Cook from scratch

Most everything is less expensive – and tastes better – when it’s homemade. Think gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and apple pie. Start your cooking well enough in advance so you don’t find yourself relying on too many convenience foods and paying the price both in cash and taste. Your wallet and your guests will thank you!

When you gather ’round the table with family and friends this Thanksgiving, you can be thankful for all the good in your life without feeling guilty over how much you spent on the meal. All it takes is a little planning!

Your Turn: What are your best Thanksgiving dinner hacks? Share them with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/mayakachroolevine/2016/11/16/9-realistic-thanksgiving-hacks-to-cut-your-costs-this-month/amp/

http://www.chasingfoxes.com/10-super-easy-dollar-store-thanksgiving-decor-ideas/

https://www.money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2013/11/07/7-ways-to-save-money-on-thanksgiving-dinner

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thepennyhorader.com/smart-money/save-money-thanksgiving-dinner/amp/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/usatoday.com/story/94074598/

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Investing – Step #2: Start Saving

Don’t invest a penny before you build a substantial savings account.

This might sound counterintuitive to a wannabe investor, but it’s important to have a solid cushion of savings before you start putting your money into the market. Life is full of surprises. You don’t want to be caught in an emergency that leaves you desperate for cash when all your funds are tied up in bonds, CDs and stocks.

This month, work on building up your savings to minimize risk. Here’s how.

  1. Follow the 50/30/20 rule. Financial advisers suggest that 50% of your income goes toward necessities, like your mortgage, transportation and food costs; 30% goes toward discretionary non-essentials, like dining out, paying for a top-tier cellphone plan and updating your wardrobe; and the last 20% goes toward savings. If you begin dividing each paycheck automatically, you’ll launch a habit of saving that will greatly enhance your financial life.
  2. Put away three to six months of living expenses. Now that you are in the habit of saving, the next sensible step is to put that money toward something substantial. Experts suggest the first step of saving is building up an account that is large enough to cover your living expenses for three to six months. This will tide you over in case there’s an unexpected event that keeps you from earning your regular salary. That may be an illness, your company downsizing or anything that leaves you suddenly unemployed. Calculate exactly how much you need to live on each month, and start saving. Then, even if the unthinkable happens, you won’t be up a creek without a paddle.
  3. Build up a series of cash reserves – including an emergency fund. Aside from living expenses, it’s important to have accessible cash for those unanticipated events, like a major household repair or a medical emergency.

Your Turn: What steps have you taken toward building your savings this month?

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