Balance, Uncategorized, Work-life balance

Working at Work

I recently attended a lecture on work ethics. The first point the speaker brought up was that it is dishonest to spend time on personal matters at work. She told us that spending large amounts of time talking on the phone or taking care of other matters which have nothing to do with work, while you are being paid to do your job, is essentially “stealing”. To her, it was completely black-and-white. If you waste time at work doing things which are not part of your job description, she said, you need to either deduct the time or make it up. 

Now, we young-folk (the speaker was around the age of 70) in the crowd, were somewhat taken aback by her words. In today’s day and age, it is common to be on your phone during work hours. Whether this means checking your text messages, updating social media or talking to a family member or friend – everyone spends time on their phones at work. Additionally, shopping online, taking a break to chat with a coworker (for more than three minutes) are pretty much accepted as the norm in most workplaces. This woman was clearly from a different generation and there was no way that what she was saying had anything to do with us! Obviously, we do our best to focus on work for the majority of the time we are there, but to tell me that if I take a personal phone call or check the Black Friday sales I am stealing from work? Definitely not.

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Or maybe…

Mulling it over afterwards, I had time to reframe it in my mind. It is clear that not everything is as black and white as she made it out to be and it is true that the workplace environment has somewhat shifted with the age of smartphones and internet. Yet, maybe she is not wrong.

When a person is hired to fill a certain position, it is clear they are being paid to do a job. Most jobs have certain hour requirements and it is understood that during those hours, you will be focused on the job you are being paid to do. Yes, it is true that sometimes personal matters come up that need to be dealt with during work hours and most employers are happy to accommodate when necessary. It is also true, that no one can work for eight hours straight and everyone needs a few minutes to chill during the workday.

Imagine you hired an assistant to help you at work. The first day on the job, she comes in five minutes late. Fifteen minutes later, you come to her desk and you see she’s not there. After a quick search around the office, you locate her in the kitchen, holding a cup of coffee and chatting with a coworker. Ten minutes after that, you can see from where you sit at your desk (having been working the entire time), that she finally returns to her desk and settles in to begin her day. One hour later, you notice she jumps up to take a quick phone call which seems to last fifteen minutes, at least.

woman in white t shirt holding smartphone in front of laptop
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

The next few hours are quiet until at 1 pm, she knocks on your door to let you know she is taking a lunch break. She returns an hour later and again, spends fifteen minutes making a coffee in the kitchen. For the rest of the afternoon, things are quiet, yet every time you walk past her desk, she seems to be texting or checking her phone. At 4:55, you notice that she is beginning to gather her stuff and clear her desk and finally at 5:00 and not one minute later, she is out the door with a quick wave in your direction.

Now tell me, how would you feel about that?

The truth is, when many of us think (honestly) about our workdays, things do not look that much different. Obviously, this example is extremely exaggerated but I think the point is clear.

We all would benefit if we spend a few minutes honestly reviewing the amount of personal time that bleeds into work. Taking it one step further, what if we made a conscious decision to be more mindful of the clock when we are at work? This way, we can go home with a good feeling that we did our very best to focus on our job while we were at work and to keep out all other items that were non-work related during our workday.

Thoughts?

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Balance, Budget, Family Life, Finance, Parenting, Uncategorized

Conversations with our kids

I recently read an article about speaking to your kids about money and it struck me as a great idea for a blog post! It is extremely important to educate our kids about the concept of money and to introduce it to them at the appropriate age.

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Money is a hot topic. Everyone has different opinions about whether or not to be open with your kids about financial topics, when to begin discussing the concept with them and how to do so.

Growing up, my mom created a “job wheel” for us with allowance jobs that would rotate each week. Every Sunday, we would receive our allowance, which was a sum based on our age and the wheel would turn. I, being the youngest, was put in the center of the chart at a very young age after begging my mother to include me. My job therefore never changed – it was “Bring up the apple-juice” week in and week out and I proudly received a quarter for my allowance job each week.

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Our allowance money was used to pay for things that we wanted but did not necessarily need. Whether it was spent on candy, a toy or an item from the dollar store was totally up to us. However, by giving us an allowance each week, my parents were teaching us valuable lessons about money management.

We learned that money does not simply exist in your bank account; it is earned through hard work. We learned that if you truly want something, you may need to save up for it for a few weeks, months or years. And lastly, we were proud of the purchases we made with our own money. We took pride in paying for it on our own and learned that when you work hard for something, that is when you truly appreciate it.

While some parents prefer to shelter their children from the concept of money and finances for as long as possible, I am ever so grateful to my parents for introducing us to the concept of fiscal responsibility at a young age.

Have you spoken to your kids about money? Please share how you introduced the concept to them!

 

Accounting, Budget, Family Life, Finance, Taxes, Uncategorized, Work from Home, Work-life balance

Refocusing – Post Tax Season (YAY!)

Now that things are calmer at work, I have more time to focus on long-term goals. At work, this means focusing on building our Family Office. Research, networking and speaking with current clients to give them the TLC they deserve are all part of my daily routine.

There are so many people who would benefit tremendously from the services we offer. With monthly reports to view your entire financial life in an easy-to-understand way, you gain and invaluable insight into your finances. For an individual of high net worth, this is crucial to ensuring that financial goals are being set and met on a regular basis. It provides oversight that is too time-consuming or detailed for wealthy people to do on their own. I so enjoy providing this service to my clients and I believe it is an important part of their lives which gives peace of mind and eases the burden from their daily lives.

On the home front, the post-tax season resumption of life has been refreshing. I come home at a normal hour each day, spend time with Manny, feed him dinner, bathe him and put him to bed. I make dinner for myself and my husband (most nights!), and we get to sit down and eat together. While I used to log back into work on the nights I came home early, now I have my evenings to spend time relaxing and focusing on my family and whatever I choose. I even read a few books recently!

One thing I have decided to spend some time focusing on is building my own practice. While at work I perform services for mostly wealthy individuals, in my own practice I am focusing on providing tax and accounting services to small businesses and individuals who may not yet be able to afford a more expensive accountant. My rates are very affordable and I am happy to be able to help out friends and family who are starting out.

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Many businesses take time to grow and may not be able to afford hiring a full-time bookkeeper or paying a large firm for services. However, letting your accounting needs slide is not an option. In order to properly evaluate the performance of your business, your accounting records need to be up-to-date. Vendors need to paid on time and customers may need a reminder that you are not offering a free service. Additionally, tax returns need to be filed and other filing requirements need to be met.

For these businesses, it is my pleasure to offer my services as a virtual bookkeeper. I’ll log in once a month, (or more often when necessary), update the books, reconcile the accounts and send the business owners reports as requested. When the tax return needs to be prepared, the process is smooth and straight-forward and there is no need to start catching up 12 months worth of transactions at year-end.

Need a bookkeeper? Feel free to reach out!

Accounting, Finance, Uncategorized

Cleaning up the books

Whenever a client sends me a copy of their Quickbooks file, the first thing I do is check the file to see whether it is accurate. While I may not have any other documents or information to verify the numbers, there are numerous signs that a set of books does not properly reflect the financial situation of the company.

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1. Look at the Financial Statements

The first thing I check is the balance sheet and compare it with the previous year. Do the numbers appear to be correct? If the cash balance is not positive, that is definitely a red flag. If there is a large amount in undeposited funds, that is another item to look into furthers. Loans that have not changed since the prior year may not be current, or payments may have been mistakenly booked as income instead of repayment of the loan.

Next, I take a quick peak at the profit & loss statement. Do the numbers seem to make sense? (If income is negative, that is a sign that something is wrong). How do the amounts compare to last year?

2. Print a Reconciliation Report

This step is key for numerous reasons. First of all, if the account has never been reconciled, or has not been reconciled recently, I have no way of knowing if the cash balance is correct. If this is the case, (and it happens more often than you would think,) I would immediately contact the client for bank statements or ask the client to perform the reconciliations.

Another very important reason to review the reconciliation report is that it will list all the transactions that have not cleared the bank. Any checks that were written out but were not yet cashed, or funds that were received but have not yet been deposited will be listed here. If there are checks on this list that are more than six months old, they need to be written off. Most checks expire after six months, so this means they will never be cashed and the bank balance is therefore inaccurate.

3. Look at the detail

Once I verify that the Quickbooks seem to be set up properly and the transactions are being entered timely and correctly, I begin to scan the detail of the accounts. I will print a comparative profit & loss statement to compare the accounts with the prior year. If an account seems to be significantly higher or lower than the prior year, I will look through the detail of the transactions to see if any items have been mistakenly recorded in the wrong account.

There are also certain accounts that are important to look through. Many people find it easy to put transactions into “miscellaneous expense” or “Ask my Accountant”. However, on a financial report, you cannot show half of your expenses as “miscellaneous”.

Another important account to look at is repairs. People are often unaware of which repair expenses need to be capitalized and will put certain capital costs in this expense accounts. These expenditures may actually belong on the balance sheet and need to be depreciated.

Setting up your books properly to begin with can save a person a lot of time (and money). If you are unsure how to do this on your own, reach out to a bookkeeping service or hire a bookkeeper of your own. Once you are set up, you may be able to enter and reconcile the transactions each month. It is also a good idea to have someone review your books each quarter to ensure everything is recorded properly. Additionally, if you are unsure about something, ask. You don’t need to wait until your tax return is being prepared to call your accountant. We work year-round, by the way 😉

Accounting, Current Events, Tax Tips, Taxes, Uncategorized, Work from Home

Working for Yourself – Lower Taxes?

Whether you are a mompreneur (a term I learned on LinkedIn recently), a dadpreneur (I think they’re entitled to a “cool” term too) or an entrepreneur (the original works here too), or even just a recipient of pass-through income from a partnership or S-corporation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has given you the chance to claim a 20% deduction (Section 199A) off your taxable Qualified Business Income (QBI).

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Before we get into the details of the deduction, let’s discuss the term QBI. Whenever you hear the term “Qualified” income, you know there is also such a thing as income that does not qualify, as well. QBI is defined as the net amount of income, gain, deductions and losses with respect to your trade or business. This applies to self-employment income as well as income from a partnership or S-Corporation, as long as the business operates in the U.S.

If you are paid on a W-2, your income is not considered qualified business income. Reasonable compensation from an S-corporation and guaranteed payments from a partnership are excluded, as well. It also does not include investment income such as capital gains/losses, dividends and interest.

On a simple level, the deduction is calculated as 20% of QBI. If you earn $100,000 from your business, you will only pay tax on $80,000.

If you are self-employed, this is a huge tax break!

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Working for yourself has many perks, but generally speaking, low taxes is not one of them. With the additional Medicare and Social Security tax (self-employment tax, which totals 15.3%) you need to pay, you do not always come out ahead when you go out on your own. That’s why this new 20% deduction is major for self-employed persons.

However, as your income increases, certain limitations become applicable. For taxpayers earning more than $157,500 if filing single and $315,000 if filing joint, you will need to pay attention to the following.

The 20% deduction must not exceed the greater of:

  • 50% of W-2 wages paid by the business
  • 25% of W-2 wages plus 2.5% of the unadjusted purchase cost of depreciable assets

It’s also important to note that the IRS specifically does not allow professionals whose business falls into the category of “Specified Service Trade or Business” to claim the 199A deduction. This includes professionals involved in health, law, accounting, actuary, consulting, financial and brokerage services. It also includes a business whose principal asset is a skill of its owner or one of its employees. The last part does leave a bit of a gray area, and you should definitely consult with your tax advisor to find out whether your business falls into that category.

All in all, however, 199A will result in significant tax savings for many taxpayers. I sincerely hope you are one of them!

Current Events, Education, Tax Tips, Taxes, Uncategorized

529 Plans – Paying tuition can result in tax savings

What is a 529 Plan?

Until the recent changes to the tax law with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many parents were unaware that there was a tax-advantageous tuition savings plan option. With the introduction of TCJA, 529 plans were thrown into the limelight, especially with the promised changes to the rules of these investments plans.529 Plan

Traditionally, 529 plans were investment accounts that could be opened to save money for qualified-higher education expenses (i.e. college tuition). A parent (or really, anyone) can set up a 529 plan for their children at any point in time and the earnings on the account are tax free, as are withdrawals from the account as long as they are used for expenses that fit the requirements of the plan. Should a person withdraw funds from the account for other reasons, it may be subject to a ten percent penalty on their tax return, as well as federal, state and local taxes on the earnings. Many states even give a deduction for contributions to a 529 plan up to a certain amount. For example, residents of New York State can deduct up to ten thousand dollars of their contribution to a 529 plan.

TCJA Changes

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expands the benefit of 529 plans even further. Recent regulations expand the allowed use for these funds to include K-12 tuition. Account owners can used up to ten thousand dollars per year per beneficiary to pay for tuition. For parents paying private school tuition, this a great benefit as they can now set aside money to be invested for the purpose of covering the costs of their children’s elementary and high school tuition. This new rule is a federal change only and the many states have already disallowed the deduction of a contribution to a 529 account which will be used for other K-12 tuition.

Another change to the TCJA allows funds to be rolled over from a 529 plan to an ABLE account, as long as the beneficiary remains the same or is a family member. ABLE accounts are tax-favored accounts for disabled individuals so that these people and their families can save money for disability-related expenses. This only applies if the individual became disabled before reaching the age of twenty-six. Contributions (including rollovers from 529 plans) are limited to fifteen thousand dollars for 2018.

Some basic rules

Each 529 plan can have only one owner and only one beneficiary. A person can be the owner of multiple 529 accounts and a beneficiary can receive funds from multiple accounts as long as the collective money in all the accounts does not exceed the state maximum limit on contributions.

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Most states allow you to change the beneficiary of the plan to another eligible family member if needed and have no time-limit within which the funds need to be used. Additionally, they do not usually have an age limit for the beneficiary using the funds.

There are no income restrictions on who can own or contribute to a 529 plan.

Most contribution limits are typically between $235,000 and $520,000 per beneficiary, but if varies from state to state.

Now What?

All in all, there can be significant benefits to opening a 529 plan, and it is a tax-savings option for everyone with no income limitation. To learn more about the benefits of starting a 529 plan and the recent Federal changes, reach out to your accountant.

Current Events, Finance, Tax Tips, Taxes, Uncategorized

IRS Blocks SALT Workaround

Beginning in 2018, the itemized deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) will be capped at $10,000. This is another significant change resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), especially for taxpayers living in states with high property taxes and state tax rates, such as New York and New Jersey.

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Since the introduction of the TCJA, there has been a lot of discussion among various states to introduce legislation that would provide a workaround to this tax limit. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have all passed laws to circumvent the new Federal tax law. Among the concepts introduced is the idea for cities and states to create charitable funds to collect monies from taxpayers. This would allow the taxpayers to claim a charitable contribution on their federal tax return if they will be itemizing. It will also permit them to claim a state tax credit for this amount.

However, the IRS has proposed regulations to block the states from such workarounds.  The new rule states that if a taxpayer received a state or local tax credit for a charitable contribution, then their federal charitable deduction must be reduced by the same dollar amount. The IRS’s basis for this law is the existing rules regarding charitable contributions. You may only deduct a charitable contribution for which no personal benefit was received.

Calculating the limitation is extremely straight-forward – a person whose contribution is $50,000 and receives a state credit in the amount of $40,000 can only deduct $10,000 as a contribution on his federal return ($50,000 contribution – 40,000 state credit = 10,000 allowable deduction).  If the tax credit was less than fifteen percent of the contribution, their deduction is not limited.

Multiple states have filed lawsuits against the IRS and Treasury claiming the new tax law violates the constitution and unfairly targets Democratic states.

Uncategorized

I spent how much on groceries?? In one month??

We all have those moments. You open the credit card bill and blink. You look again and then check a third time to make sure you’re seeing correctly. Yet the number remains the same.

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You start scrolling through the bill and as you look, you nod. “Yes, that makes sense.” “Oh right, I bought that this month!” “Wait – that was this billing cycle?”

Looking through the individual charges, the total starts to make sense. Mentally you note that you spent way too much on clothing this month or groceries or Amazon orders. You make the decision then and there to be more careful going forward. You pay the bill and promptly forget about the whole thing.

Until… The next month rolls around and the entire event repeats itself.

As a part of my job as the family office manager in my accounting firm, I provide bookkeeping services for individuals. I download all the bank and credit card transactions each month and categorize them in accounting software. Whether a person is looking to create a budget or just wondering how their money is being spent, it is invaluable to have a system to track spending and monitor cash flow.

Household Budget

When forming a new business, companies spend time and resources developing accounting systems and processes so that they can evaluate whether they are achieving their goals. If a company does not have proper accounting with accurate numbers, they have no measure of their profitability and growth.

Similarly, individuals need to gauge whether they are reaching personal financial goals. Am I saving money for retirement? Will there be an inheritance for my heirs? Or on a more immediate level – Can we afford to go on that luxury vacation this year? How will we pay for college for our children?

There are many online software programs which track cash flow and aggregate accounts so that one can view everything in one place. Mint.com is a great example of a software where you can list all your accounts and track expenses. For a person whose financial situation is complex, however, with other non-liquid assets, an outsourced service may be a good fit for you. By subscribing to a system of accounting for your personal finances, you will gain vital insights which will guide you to achieve your financial objectives.

Baby, Balance, Family Life, Parenting, Uncategorized, Work-life balance

Mommy Guilt

My mom lent me a book called “Toddlers and Parents” by T. Berry Brazelton a few weeks back, and I finally had a chance to begin reading it yesterday afternoon.

The book, written in 1974, details the challenges and triumphs of raising a toddler. While it was written over forty years ago, and parenting techniques continue to change and evolve, the struggles he discusses are still relevant today. The book has different chapters featuring separate sets of parents and children, focusing on a number of different parenting situations such as a stay-at-home mom, working parents, single parents, and sibling rivalry, among others.

He writes by showing a “day in the life” of each home, describing the events of the day and noting the psychological/physiological reasons behind that behavior in the child or parent. As I read the book, I find myself nodding along and even exclaiming to my husband – “This is me! That is exactly how I feel!”

In the second chapter (that’s as far as I got so far, though I’ll share more as I read more,) he describes the Tucker family and their fifteen-month old daughter, Kara. Mrs. Tucker is working full-time and he describes how she struggles with the guilt of leaving her child with a caretaker and going to work. At the same time, she loves her job and gets fulfillment out of it.

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He writes, “This is the biggest danger for women and their children – this unconscious, often unexpressed feeling of “cheating,” of guilt about any satisfaction in life besides being the “womanly” role of housekeeping and caring for children… woman’s instinctive need to do a good job as a mother as well as to be free to do other things…”

This really hit home with me, personally. I love my son – he is truly the light of my life. He is the cutest, most delicious thing in the world and when he smiles at me, I feel like a million dollars.

At the same time, it is not always so easy being home with him the whole day. I appreciate that I go to work and have some time to myself, where I can interact with other adults and have conversations that are slightly more intellectual than ba ba ba. And that makes me feel guilty. Exactly as Dr. Brazelton describes, I feel as if I am hurting my son by liking my job and looking forward to going to work each day. Although in my situation, staying at home with my son is not an option, as we need the income from my job, maybe I shouldn’t enjoy it so much. Maybe I shouldn’t get so much satisfaction and fulfillment from it.

He continues, “I am not foolish enough to think that a mother who stays home full of resentment does better by her children than one who leads a more fulfilled, rounded life. Having a fulfilling role besides being a housewife may well give a mother more positive feelings and less negative ones with which to surround her children.”

The point we working moms need to focus on is how having a job can make us into better parents.

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Regardless of the reason you choose to work – whether it’s to maintain your sanity or because your family needs the income or a bit of both – you can enjoy your job. Love your job.

That way, when you come home from work – you can love your children. When you come home, you feel calm and happy and good about yourself, which enables you to use those positive emotions in your interactions with your children.

 

Uncategorized

Ask. Research. Plan.

Oftentimes, clients will inform me of important events and impactful financial decisions they made in the prior year. If only they would have picked up the phone and called me before-hand, I would have been able to research for them and advise them how they could perform these activities in a way that would  benefit them financially and result in tax-savings.

For example, a business client of mine sold a property they owned at a massive gain last year. Each partner’s allocated gain was more than half-a-million dollars. They only informed us that the property was sold after the sale had been finalized already and the funds had been divided up among the partners.

When I began working on the partners’ individual returns, I noticed that if they had waited one more year, they would have been allowed to claim certain losses against the income and the entire gain would not have been taxable. However, since I only found out after the sale took place, there was nothing I could do for the client to avoid paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

This happens so many times in so many different ways. Clients will open new businesses or business will be booming for them this year in comparison to last year and they fail to mention it. Only when March/April comes around do they mention “by-the-way…” and by then it’s almost too late to do anything.

Financial-Advisor

It is so important to have a dedicated person in your life with whom you consult about significant decisions which impact your life financially. Whether a person is getting married, divorced, having children, starting a new business, buying/selling a home, opening an investment account, retiring or dying (we all do eventually), find someone to talk to. Call your accountant, financial advisor or someone you know with investment and financial management experience and discuss with them your plans before you go through with them.

It is much easier to fix errors before they happen; to prevent issues from arising before your plans go through. Once the event has occurred, there is very little you can do to save yourself from the ramifications.

Plan ahead, do your research and consult with a professional.