The Three Best Ways to Optimize Your Tax Returns

 

Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.Bobby Unser

 

Happy New Year Everyone! If you’ve been following The Thrive Vine you’ve probably seen not much posting has been going on. Things have been crazy but alot of new and exciting things are happening around The Vine. As always our goal still remains to provide a community to help one another through shared experiences. After all there is no greater resource than each other!

With that said lets hop into this week’s blog. The exciting subject of Taxes… Since it’s January many people might think “It’s only January, I don’t need to file my taxes till April 15th…soooo why are we talking about this now.” Well we all know that 2020 was pretty much a shitshow and I don’t know about you but a $600 stimulus check won’t really do much for me. As a result it’s time we take matters into our own hands by maximizing our tax returns not only this year but for years to come as well. In today’s blog I’m going to discuss Three of the best strategies I’ve been using to ensure I always receive a refund on my taxes…. 

Get Organized With Your Write Offs- When most people think about taxes I think it translates as a fairly easy process. We get our W2’s from our employers, we take them to a tax professional, or enter our earnings ourselves, and then Wallah! Our taxes are done. I wish it was this simple but by taking this approach millions of people leave so much money on the table. With that said organizing your write offs doesn’t have to be weeks of going through receipts or remembering what you purchased. One great tool that I use to track my personal networth is Mint.com. What I love about Mint the most isn’t the fact that it tracks my purchases, or can easily link to any accounts I have… I get the most out of Mint.com when it comes time to do my taxes. Being a landlord and a real estate agent I have lots of things to write off, from any improvements or materials I purchase for my rental property, to writing off my MLS dues and other business expenses I incur as a real estate agent. Mint.com allows me to simply create a tag (which I use as 2020 Taxes) and then download an excel spreadsheet to go through my years worth of transactions. Now you might be thinking… “going through a years worth of transactions… are you kidding me!?” Yea yea I’m getting to that. Like I said you can export all of your data into an excel spreadsheet. Simply filter for your expenses, highlight them and then provide those to your tax professional and you’re golden. 

Now I know what you’re saying, “ummmm that’s great but I don’t own a business or a rental property.” Well this is also a great way to track medical expenses, rent payments (if you are a tenant) or property tax payments. All of which are tax deductible. 

Mind Your Business – Have you ever thought about starting a business but were like “idk if it would ever be successful or profitable.” Well in some instances starting a business might be the right move just for tax purposes. Do you blog and sell content, crochet and sell your work, or mentor individuals? These are all businesses that could have big implications on your taxes. I’ll speak from experience on how owning a business can essentially be the difference between you owing on your taxes. Last year I had a great opportunity to get a decently paying job. However there was one flaw, I couldn’t contribute to my employer’s retirement plan until I was working there for at least 1 year (we’ll discuss why this is important in the next point). Since I wasn’t able to contribute to my 401k plan my paychecks were higher, which was awesome.. But that also made my taxable income higher as well. At the end of the year I was in a completely different tax bracket than the year before because my paychecks were higher than the previous year. Knowing I’d be taxed at a higher bracket I doubled down on organizing my write-offs. At the end of the year I calculated I had over 30k in write offs between services and materials for my rental property, items I needed for my real estate business such as phone, internet, and specific dues associated with being a realtor, and lastly any personal expenses such as co-pays or paying for an educational class. What this meant was that I didn’t end up owing federal or state taxes at the end of the year and that was good enough for me. 

401k Time –  One of the best strategies to lower your taxable income is to contribute more to your 401k. For a long time I personally hated contributing more than 8% to my 401k I always wanted to stay cash heavy and love to have a decent amount of money in reserves. Afterall I didn’t want to tie up hundreds of thousands of dollars in a 401k that I wouldn’t be able to touch penalty free until I’m 65.. That’s kinda a bummer…  However, like most things in personal finance, there is a strategy to get around the 401k access and penalty debacle (more blogs on those strategies to come). For this blog though it’s important to know that the more you contribute to your retirement the more you can take advantage of any employer match AND take the tax advantages that are associated with a lower taxable income. 

Conclusion – It’s never too early to get started on your tax strategy. Being organized and preparing for your taxes to be done doesn’t need to be scary, confusing, or messy. There are so many tools available for making sure you get the most return out of your taxes. How do you prepare for your taxes? Do you have any helpful hints that might help others in the community! Comment below or share on our social media, we’d love to hear from you!

Two Methods on Real Estate Investing… and How to Choose Which One Is Right For You

“Don’t wait to buy real estate. Buy real estate and wait.” – Will Rogers

One thing I’ve learned being a real estate agent is that when it comes to our homes most of us want the best. Why shouldn’t we? Our homes are the places we build our memories, relax; our own private oasis’. However real estate can be much more than a place to build memories; for centuries it has been one of the greatest builders of wealth known to humanity. Yet with all the HGTV shows and hype that surrounds real estate there still lies the heavy debate of how to go about investing in it. The two trains of thought surrounding real estate investing are simply cash flow vs equity. Is it worth being house rich and cash poor?(I’ll explain this later) Or simply keep saving until you can buy a home in cash which you’ll have maximum equity and cash flow? But how long would that take? Is it even worth investing in real estate if you don’t achieve the maximum cash flow?  In today’s blog I’m going to dive a little deeper into the debate of cash flow vs equity and how you can choose which approach might be right for you.

It’s All In The Numbers – Cashflow is defined as “the total amount of money being transferred into and out of a business, especially as affecting liquidity.” In layman’s terms, cashflow is the amount of money left over after all your expenses are paid. Many believe that your mortgage is your only expense when investing in real estate; however it’s important to also calculate for vacancy, maintenance costs, and capital expenditures. Capital expenditures are  “big ticket items”, such as a new roof, furnace, septic, etc… For example, say you can rent a home for $1,200.00/mo however your mortgage is $600.00, and you allocate $400.00 towards your capital expenditures, vacancy, and maintenance costs. That means that you cashflow $200.00/mo for your unit. So the answer in all of this is that it’s important to run your numbers so you can make the maximum amount of money. The great thing about investing in real estate is that your costs and expenses aren’t fixed. What do I mean by that? I mean that if your taxes go up and effect your mortgage, which in turn decreases your cash flow, you could shop around for cheaper homeowners insurance which might offset the increase. Is your water or sewer bill cutting into your profits? Check the home for any slow leaks, or install more water conscious devices such as toilets, dishwashers, etc.. In real estate investing there are many challenges but there are also many answers to the challenges you will face.

House Rich But Cash Poor – Being house rich but cash poor means that you have more equity tied up in your home than actual liquid cash. What the heck does that mean? In the real estate world it means you have a ton of equity in your home; but your cash flow sucks. The next question is, is having alot of equity in your home a bad thing when investing? The answer is, certainly not. Many investors don’t realize that you can tap into that equity to leverage and expand your portfolio. So how do you do that? The best ways to extract equity from a home are a Home Equity Line of Credit (this is easy to do if you have equity in your primary residence) or the ever impressive cash out refinance. When applying for a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) you would go to your local bank or financial institution. The bank would then appraise your home, see what you owe on it, and lend accordingly. For instance say your home is worth 300k but you only owe 190k on it so you have 110k worth of equity in your home! From there you could ask for a specific line of credit such as 25k-50k or the bank will lend up to a specific amount. This is a great way to have access to liquid cash to use as a downpayment on an investment property or even use to absorb some of your monthly expenses. Something to note about HELOC’s are that most are at variable interest rates and, as any line of credit, you need to pay back the money borrowed on you HELOC eventually. Most HELOC’s have payment plans of paying interest only for a certain number of years and then paying back the principal for the later half of the line of credit. Before agreeing to the terms of the HELOC it is always import to understand the terms of the line of credit and to make sure you do not over extend yourself. Another aspect to mention are that all banks have different rates and even introductory rates for HELOC’s; so it’s important to show around for the most competitive rates.

Another wonderful way to tap into your home equity is using what is known as a “cash out refi.” To apply for a cash out refinance simply go to your local bank or lender and they can walk you through the process. Basically the general gist of a cash out refinance is to pull the equity from your home,  in return for a new loan on your home. So what does all this mean? In our previous example say you have a home worth 300k but you only owe 190k on it. So you have 110k in equity that you have in your home! Traditionally a bank will lend up to 80%; that means if you refinance your home you could potentially take up to 88k from your homes equity to anything you’d like with (80%x110k). This includes buying another investment property, putting that money towards your child’s college fund, or even purchasing a new car. The great thing about this cash out refi process is that you do not need to pay back the money that you take from your home’s equity.  The next question is: what happens to your monthly mortgage when you do a cash out refi? In some instances your monthly mortgage might go up, however in an ideal situation your monthly mortgage would go down and you would be locked into a lower interest rate than you previously have; it’s imperative your mortgage professional runs the numbers beforehand.

Also noteworthy, are that cash out refinances do come in handy for those of us who used an FHA loan on our homes. With FHA loans most of us are required to have PMI or private mortgage insurance on our homes. However a great way to avoid this is to purchase a home using an FHA loan, create some equity in the home such as renovating a kitchen, bath, or new floors, and then eventually refinance into a conventional mortgage which could then drop the PMI from your monthly mortgage. This would ideally decrease  your monthly mortgage. Eventually this pays off because when/if you go to ever rent out your home; your cash flow will increase as your monthly mortgage would decrease. Yet the best part about refinancing into a conventional mortgage from an FHA loan is that you then get your FHA loan back! So then you can pick another property and use your FHA loan again; which allows you to invest in real estate with a lower down payment as low as 3.5%.

Conclusion – So how do you determine which is right for you cashflow or equity? It really depends on your goals. In my opinion if you are trying to obtain a cushion or a basis of financial independence you need some sort of “passive” income stream to absorb the income coming in from a 9-5 job. In this instance I would say you need to get a few good cash flowing properties under your belt and want to focus on properties that will allow you to either pay them off fast; or properties that you can see a good amount of cash flow from. However with all that said using an equity approach is also extremely powerful and can also buy time/years of freedom from a 9-5 position. For instance say you have 1 rental property and can do a cash out refinance where you would receive 80k. If you already know that your expenses for 1 year total about 35k/yr, by just refinancing that one house you buy yourself almost 2 years of time. During that time you could focus on creating a new business, traveling, or just taking time for yourself and step away from a traditional “job” for a few years. There are powerful lessons to be learned using real estate to purchase your time. Cash flow vs equity is just one approach; it’s ultimately up to you to explore the many options and opportunities real estate investing can open up to you. What aspects of real estate investing interest you? Would you go with cash flow over equity or vice versa? Let us know your thoughts  in the comments below!

Three Strategies To Give Yourself A Raise

“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.” 
― Tim Ferriss

Hello to all my fellow Thrivians out there! I hope you are well and I wanted to start this blog off by doing a little recap of what I’ve been up to. Everyone needs a break and I currently took about a 4 month hiatus from blogging. Why? You might ask? Well I’ve been pursuing exactly what today’s blogging topic is about. For those who might be seeing this as the first blog; the Thrive Vine has become almost a documentary of the journey of becoming financially independent; or close to at least, by the age of 35. In 1 month I’ll be 30 years old, so I figured that leaves me 5 years to buckle down and start making some moves. One of those moves was to make more income; something which I think many of us try to strive for. Below are not only the observations and success I had on my journey; but also 3 different strategies you can take to give yourself a raise:

Get a new Job – There are honestly two ways main ways you can give yourself a raise. By either cutting spending and making a lifestyle change; or by generating more income. For me, I took the later path of trying to generate more income by changing jobs and making an upward move in my career. Here are how the numbers worked out for me. I was previously making $43,600 at my old position after being there for a little over 5 years. I’ll admit it was a nice place to work; however the income change wasn’t happening as quickly as I wanted/needed it to, to continue on my path to becoming financially independent. After applying to numerous positions and going through the hell that has become job searching (more blogs on that to come) I landed a job in about 2 months time. The starting salary was 55k with a 5% bonus so we’re talking about 57k/year. Which isn’t too shabby and is more than enough for me to speed up the process of saving/investing…So you can say in a little over 2 months I gave myself about a 14k raise. However is getting a new job always the answer? The answer is a big HELL NO; in fact I would suggest changing jobs for two reasons: If you genuinely don’t like it; and the work you do doesn’t give you fulfillment. Or reason two, if you really feel that you can’t go anywhere further and you’ve reached your max at that company. My reason was the latter.

Create Your Own Position In The Same Company– Recently a friend of mine had an amazing success story of increasing her income by a little over 20k/year through the art of promotion. The uniqueness of this situation comes in the reality that the position she was promoted to never existed and she essentially convinced managers and VP’s of the work and title that she was doing. So the underlying question is; how can anyone do this? The answer here is leverage. When you prove that you are an asset to a company your company is more inclined to give you the opportunity to move up the ladder. In my friend’s situation she went from a regular technical coordinator position to an Executive Assistant which allows her to support not only her manager but VP’s of the company as well. When all else fails remember to look at your manager or boss and think “what tasks can I take off their plate” as a result, a promotion might be in your future along with additional income.

Get Another Offer – Another good friend of mine also went through the process of getting an over 30k raise! In his situation he didn’t get a new job or even get a position title or promotion. He went out and interviewed with another company and after being granted the position from that company, he took the offer letter to his current manager and from there his company decided to match the competitors offer. So again how does one do this? The answer again is that you need to be an asset to the company that you work for. From my experience I’ve found companies are ok with letting some people go; however if you make yourself a resource to them they’ll reward you; and in turn will help you give yourself a raise.

Conclusion – Lets review: There are a bunch of ways to give yourself a raise at work by staying at where you currently work or by moving on. In any of the above situation one thing does hold true; you need to be really good at what you do in order to move up. If you feel that you are the backbone of your department or organization speak up and get the pay you deserve for your hard work! What you do you think? What are some other ways you give yourself a raise and gain more income? Leave your comments below!

Three Things I Wish I Knew About Personal Finance In High School

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” – Albert Einstein

If I had to define High School, I’d define it as a weird time where you’re discovering who you are on a personal level, what you want to do with the rest of your life, and oh yea and at the end of your tenure in the school system you’ll be making one of the biggest financial decisions of your life by choosing a college to go to… no pressure. It’s already been 12 years since I graduated high school and at the time there were zero personal finance classes; like seriously nothing that would remotely prepare you for a financial future #Iwastoobusysolvingforx. Thankfully some high schools are now teaching personal finance, yet, I certainly feel there should and can be much more emphasis on the topic of our schools to prepare our youth for not only responsible financial decisions, but a prosperous life. In today’s blog we’re going to be going back to highschool, so please find your assigned seats and get ready to review Three Things I Wish I Knew about Personal Finance in High School.

Gambling Is Not the Same as Investing – This one goes out to all my crypto maniacs out there. It seems obvious however there is a huge lack of education about what investing is; especially when it comes to the stock market. Many of us, myself included, started dabbling in stocks with frankly little to no clue with what we are doing. We take a few shares of Amazon, maybe some of Apple, and then always look for the home run company; you know, the company that is the next Facebook or is going to be the next big thing. For years I did this; and looking back I lost more money than I had to because I didn’t know the secret to investing. Investing requires a massive amount of education, patience, and discipline. Gambling on the other hand is essentially the exact opposite #anotherbitcoinplease. Investing requires a plan; now there’s nothing wrong with reading the prospectus of a company, and investing and believing in that company. However if you blindly choose individual stocks or speculate the next big thing; you might be a gambler. To date, many who have achieved FIRE suggest the best investment strategy is to invest heavily in a total stock market index such as VTSAX (Vanguard Total Stock Market index) or SWTSX (Schwab total stock market index, I personally use this one). Some of these market indexes track the S&P 500 and NASDAQ and have been proven to see better gains than picking individual stocks. If you aren’t already investing or are hesitant about investing, the total stock market indexes are really a great way to get into investing; as the historical data that backs up the indexes shows consistent gains over time. 

Choose Your College Wisely – I don’t think I’ll ever agree with leaving the biggest financial decision of their life up to an 18 year old. When you’re 18 you want to fit in, you want to pursue an interesting and impressive career, and you also have an absolute zero understanding of debt or how to manage it. Education is an incredibly powerful tool; however college can also wreak havoc on your financial future for years to come. At the end of the day college is an investment. Although the experience of college life might set the illusion or mirage of being appealing; no one should base their decision of attending a college based solely on social or party aspects of an institution. I think all too often it’s easy to associate a “party school” with a wonderful “networking” opportunity. However, don’t let the temptation of partying overshadow the return you will receive on your investment. It’s important to choose wisely. If you don’t know for sure what you want to do; there is no shame in attending a community school while you figure it out. Still don’t know what you want to do with your life? Start interning (yes working for free) at local small businesses. There are so many businesses out there that need help and if you’re unsure of what you would like to pursue, it’s a wonderful idea to speak with people in your community and trying different jobs. You’ll find what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at etc… Give yourself the gift of developing your passion and finding your “why” in life before making a financial decision that can be with you easily for the next 10-20 years. 

Additionally you want to educate yourself on debt and how to manage it. The way to eliminate debt is to get ahead of the interest rate so more of your payment goes towards the principle of the loan. Before heading to college run how much of a loan you will need, the interest rate on the loan, and what your monthly payment might look like. Furthermore factor in additional payments, and how you can budget to get ahead of the interest rate. If you keep chipping away at the principle of the loan by making additional payments you will pay it off incredibly faster than making just minimum payments. 

You Have More Time Than You Think – I think there’s a weird stigma that once High School and even College is over people seem to think adulthood begins. Well I’m gunna shine a little wisdom. Whether you are 18 or 65 years old “adulthood” is kind of a mindset. Will you have responsibilities? Of course you will. However I also think it’s important to always keep learning and growing. The last item I wish I new about personal finance in High School would be to continue to invest in yourself. This could be in the form of education, educating others with your experience, or investing in your health. I think it’s important to realize that it’s ok to go off on different ventures through life; whether they be business related or personal journeys. Although you don’t need money to make things happen; as we grow older we learn that money buys time. The more money you have, the more time you have bought back. Setting financial goals are important; however rewarding yourself and staying creative and ambitious is also equally important. 


Conclusion – High School taught me alot of things; however personal finance wasn’t one of them. Truthfully, Personal Finance doesn’t really require many crazy formulas or for you to bust out your TI-83 graphing calculator and map your way to success. It requires discipline, patience, and a willingness to be adaptable to market conditions. Most importantly it requires education. Always keep learning, educating yourself, and above all keep striving towards your goals. What are some things you wish you learned about personal finance in High School? We’d love to hear your thoughts; share in the comments below!

Three Tech Savvy Tools That Will Help You Save Time And Money This Summer

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke

Here’s a small confession: I’m a bit of a tech geek when it comes to new apps and gadgets. Here’s another confession: I’m admittedly in love with saving money, which of course if you’re reading this blog, I hope you are too! I recently had the chance to try out some different apps and sites; and wanted to share my findings with you. Below are the ones I found that not only saved me time but saved me money as well!

 

GasBuddy – As the old saying goes “Gas prices are as fickle as the heart” (#thatsnotarealsaying) and indeed they are. With gas prices expected to soar over $3.00 a gallon in New Jersey this summer I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll walk to work if I have to. Luckily with GasBuddy, I don’t have to! GasBuddy is an app that simply shows you where the cheapest gas is in your area.

 

You simply put in your location and how many miles you’d like to travel and GasBuddy does the rest. The app is always being updated constantly by other users driving by and reporting what price they are paying for gas. Although I mostly use this app for finding the cheapest gas stations in my area, GasBuddy also has a feature where you can put in what type of car you have and it will alert you of any recalls. Overall I thought it was a really cool app and has saved me quite a bit of money already.

 

Project FI and Republic Wireless –  I’ve been following Google’s Project FI and Republic Wireless for some time. Both apps work towards cheaper cell phone service. Having a cell phone bill that is $15-$20 will certainly beat my $67.00 verizon bill every month for sure!

 

So how do Project FI and Republic Wireless work? Both apps are only compatible with certain phones sold mostly by Motorola; here is a complete list of phones for Project FI and Republic Wireless. The way you get service through both service carriers, is essentially through switching between various networks and wifi. Both services tap into T-Mobile and Sprint networks which allow you access to hotspots and networks virtually anywhere. Need data? You can also purchase additional data from both services. If a $15.00 phone bill means not streaming netflix from my phone, and just using my phone for regular functions; well that sounds like a win to me!

 

JobScan Are you going to be looking for a new job this summer? If so, you’ll need to dust off your resume and JobScan is just the tool for the job. JobScan is honestly revolutionary in that you can upload your resume and it will tell you which positions your resume is targeted towards. You can also copy and paste the job description you are looking for and it will help you find your highlighted skills.

 

JobScan also helps will coverletters, highlighting your skills, and above all getting your resume seen through search bots and filters that companies use to view resumes. If you’re planning on job hunting this summer, JobScan is a must! It’s a huge time saver and probably the most efficient way out there to get your resume seen.

Conclusion – Well there you have it folks! 3 tech savvy ways to save some time and money this summer. I hope that you find some of these links and services useful; I know I have! Do you have an app or website that has helped you out? Let us know in the comments below and share with the community!