We Really Dig This Adorable and Affordable Hobbit House in Wisconsin

For anyone driving around an established neighborhood of traditional homes in Madison, WI, one residence on Stevens Street stands out. Or doesn’t stand out.

“It’s an earth-sheltered home. Not necessarily built into the ground, but it’s earth-covered on the roof and on a couple of sides,” explains the listing agent, Jennifer Rios. “It’s in a kind of older neighborhood, with typical midcentury homes and older.”

She says she doesn’t believe any comparable earth-covered home can be found within at least a 10-mile radius.

The style has proved popular with buyers. The home was listed for $329,900, and multiple offers above the listing price came in after just a few days on the market.

“We went into it not really knowing what to expect with the uniqueness of the home,” Rios explains. “I laid out two scenarios: In this market, we’ll either see a very quick turnaround, or we may sit awhile. We tested it and had the best outcome possible.”

Exterior of home in Madison, WI
Exterior of home in Madison, WI

VRX Media Group


VRX Media Group


VRX Media Group


VRX Media Group


VRX Media Group


VRX Media Group


VRX Media Group

The home has two bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, plenty of living space, and is surprisingly bright.

“It has full exposure on the back side, so there’s lots of nice natural light,” Rios says. “Because of its earth-covered roof and partially on the sides, it’s very temperate inside. The earth provides a really nice installation and flow of air.”

Which adds up to lower electricity bills—a boon in this part of the country.


Watch: Idaho Home Perched on a Lake Is a Storybook Fantasy Come to Life


Living space
Living space

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VRX Media Group


VRX Media Group

Built in 1980, the home has only had two owners in the past 41 years, and the current owner has lived there for 26 years.

Rios says she feels a perfect buyer would be somebody who is environmentally conscious and appreciates the uniqueness of an earth home, and who also likes being able to walk or bike around the city.

She grew up in the neighborhood and knows this distinctive dwelling quite well.

“I would ride my bike by, and wonder who in the world lives there,” she says.

Now that Rios has been inside and scoped out the place, she says that looks are deceiving.

“When you walk in, you kind of feel like you’re entering a hobbit house,” she says. “It’s really surprising when you open the front door, and it’s an abundance of natural light. It feels like a very traditional home for the most part, except for the curved roof line.”

The curve is an interesting flourish.

“It creates such a nice sort of vaulted ceiling effect, but it’s kind of open and airy, which is what a lot of people like nowadays,” Rios adds.

Living space
Living space

VRX Media Group

Inside, the house doesn’t need require any more maintenance than any other 40-year-old home, but Rios points out that the roof does need attention and upkeep—at least after the snow melts.

“You can let it go and become real grassy, or you can mow it,” she says. “The sellers have just gone up there with a weed whacker a couple of times a year.”

Living space
Living space

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VRX Media Group

Living space
Living space

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VRX Media Group

Wine nook
Wine nook

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Aerial view
Aerial view

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VRX Media Group


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VRX Media Group

  • For more photos and details, check out the full listing.
  • Homes for sale in Madison, WI
  • Learn more about Madison, WI

Source: realtor.com

What is revolving debt and how does it differ from installment debt? – Lexington Law

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Revolving debt is any debt without a set loan amount for a specific amount of time. Revolving accounts have an established credit limit, but you don’t have to follow a payment schedule or pay a fixed minimum amount each month. 

Not all debts are created equal, and it’s important to understand how different types can affect your credit score. Two of the major debt types—revolving debt and installment debt—work in different ways, and learning the nuances of each can help you manage your debt and maintain a higher credit score. 

How revolving debt works

The most common form of revolving debt is a credit card. With revolving credit, you have an established line of credit that you can draw on as often as you need to, so long as you don’t go over your limit. Your credit limit is determined based on your income, assets and credit history. 

Here are the basics of revolving debt:

  • Instead of paying a fixed minimum payment each month, your payments are a percentage of how much you borrowed that month. This means your monthly payment rates can change. 
  • You aren’t obligated to pay off the entire balance each month, but you’ll be charged interest on whatever balance you still owe. Revolving credit—such as credit cards—often have high interest rates. 
  • As you pay down your balance, you can continue to borrow more until you reach your credit limit. For example, if you reach your credit limit of $300, a payment of $100 will immediately allow you to borrow an additional $100. 
Revolving debt doesn't obligate you to pay a set balance each month. Like a revolving door, you can borrow repeatedly until you reach your credit limit.

Types of revolving debt accounts

Some types of revolving debt are backed by your assets, while others are not. The most well-known form of revolving debt is a credit card, which is unsecured. A home equity line of credit is another form of revolving debt, which is secured by your home.

These are the most common examples of revolving debt:

Credit cards

A credit card allows you to use any available funds at any time, as long as you continue to make minimum payments and don’t go over your credit limit. Carrying a balance on a credit card subjects you to accruing interest rates, whereas paying in full by the due date listed on your statement allows you to avoid interest charges. 

Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) 

HELOC funds are commonly used by homeowners who need to cover a large expense, such as a home remodel. How much you can borrow is based on the equity of your home, which also serves as collateral. You aren’t required to pay a specific balance each month, but making payments replenishes your available credit (similar to a credit card). 

The main difference between HELOCs and credit cards is that you can only access a HELOC during a defined amount of time, known as the “draw period.” It typically lasts around five to 10 years, after which the debt must be paid back during a “repayment” period and funds can no longer be withdrawn. A HELOC usually has far lower interest rates than a credit card, since it’s backed by an asset (your home). 

Personal lines of credit 

Very similar to a credit card, these are funds you can borrow as needed and repay immediately or over time. Personal lines of credit allow you to carry a balance that accrues interest as you continue to borrow. Interest rates are usually variable, so it’s tough to predict how much you’ll end up paying for what you borrow. 

Lines of credit usually allow you to withdraw money in the form of a check or cash. If you need cash, a personal line of credit can be the more affordable option due to the high fees associated with credit card cash withdrawals. It’s also possible to receive a higher credit limit with a personal line. 

Business lines of credit

Business lines of credit operate almost identically to personal lines of credit, except they’re used for business expenses. This type of revolving loan lets you access your funds as needed to finance continuous short-term purchases, such as inventory, equipment repair or filling in a gap in cash flow. 

common types of installment debt

How revolving debt and installment debt impact your credit

Revolving debt and installment debt both impact your credit score. Having a mix of different types of credit accounts is one way to build your credit score. Successfully managing multiple kinds of credit is a good indicator to lenders that you’re a responsible borrower. 

While late credit payments of any kind will always negatively impact your credit score, revolving debt in the form of credit cards can look riskier to lenders. This is because unlike installment credit, there’s no personal asset—like a house or a car—attached to it that can be repossessed if you don’t pay on time. 

How revolving debt affects your credit score 

Credit bureaus consider credit card debt to be one of the most reliable indicators of your risk as a borrower. Since lines of credit are one of the most common forms of revolving debt, it’s important to understand the ramifications it can have on your credit score.

Pay attention to these factors when managing revolving debt:

  • High credit utilization ratio: The higher risk attached to revolving credit is mainly due to its impact on your credit utilization ratio. Credit utilization is the amount you owe versus the amount you have available to borrow. Your credit score can drop if you’ve reached your credit limit on all your credit cards—the FICO® scoring method ranks credit utilization as the number two factor used to measure your credit score (right after your payment history). 
  • Number of open revolving accounts: There is no specific number of credit cards that is considered the right number, but lenders do take it into consideration along with your credit history. 
  • Age of open revolving accounts: The older your revolving credit accounts are, the greater the benefit to your credit score. A longer history of responsible credit management indicates less risk to lenders. 
The higher risk attached to revolving credit is mainly because of how it impacts your credit utilization score

How installment debt affects your credit score 

Installment debt is typically considered less risky than revolving debt since it’s secured by an asset that you wouldn’t want to lose—whether that’s a new home, your car or your college tuition. It’s also considered more stable, so it has lower interest rates and less of an impact on your credit score.

Here are a few ways installment debt impacts your credit: 

  • Credit mix: Since having a mix of different credit types can boost your credit score, adding installment debt into that mix will help you diversify if, for example, you’ve only ever built your credit by using credit cards. 
  • Payment history: If you faithfully pay your installment debt each month for the agreed upon loan term, your credit score can go up substantially. 
  • Credit utilization ratio: You can use installment debt like personal loans to pay off high balances on your credit cards. This can significantly benefit your credit score because by using an installment loan to immediately pay off credit card debt, your credit utilization ratio is instantly lowered. 
  • Hard inquiries: Shopping around for installment loans like mortgages and auto loans triggers hard inquiries that lower your credit score. 

Should I be carrying revolving debt?

While revolving credit can certainly improve your credit score, it requires careful attention in how you use it. If you have a habit of missing payments or using too much available credit, it might harm your score more than it would help it. It’s also possible for lenders to make a mistake and inaccurately report a missed payment on a revolving debt account. 

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking about building your credit with revolving debt:

  • Do I need to borrow a large sum of money quickly? While you can use revolving debt to finance a large expense, a key component of using revolving credit responsibly is keeping your credit utilization low. Your credit score can dip if you borrow too much too often, or if you’re close to reaching your maximum borrowing limit. It might make more sense to consider a personal loan with a fixed payment timeline instead. 
  • Will I make my payments on time? Payment history plays a crucial part in how your credit score is determined. If you can’t consistently pay for revolving debt on time every month, it might be best to avoid it for the sake of preserving your credit score. 
  • How is my current credit history? Even if you end up getting approved for a line of revolving credit, lenders could hit you with high interest rates if you don’t have a favorable credit history. 

The credit repair consultants at Lexington Law can help you remove questionable negative items that might be harming your credit score. Since revolving debt can have a significant impact on your score, make sure you address errors on your credit report as soon as possible. 

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

What’s the Best Online Tax Prep Software? – TaxAct vs TurboTax vs H&R Block

In recent years, it’s taken me much longer than I’d like to complete and e-file my state and federal income tax returns. That’s because I’ve spent some time evaluating the most popular online tax preparation software available to filers in the United States, including TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block.

All three have a similar set of core features and capabilities, including the ability to e-file. That can make it challenging to differentiate among them at a glance. But there are differences.

Before choosing one, learn how TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block stack up — and what’s new for the 2020 tax year.

Online Tax Preparation Software Evaluation Method

I’ve done my own taxes and run this comparison for several years in a row. As my tax situation has changed, so have my experiences. For example, during the 2014 tax year, I moved across state lines, forcing me to file two state tax returns.

For the 2020 tax year, I used the same mock tax situation for all three programs to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison. Though it’s a bit more complicated than my actual tax situation, it allows me to explore each platform in greater depth than I otherwise would. Its highlights include:

TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct all have a maximum refund-minimum tax liability guarantee. That means each service waives your prep fees if you can prove another program produces a higher tax liability or lower refund on an identical tax situation.

With these three programs, my federal and state tax liabilities have always been identical across the board. However, the time and expense of preparing with each service vary considerably.

Key Features

TaxAct, TurboTax, and H&R Block have many features and capabilities in common. TurboTax and H&R Block are especially close cousins, offering tax prep assistance from human experts for users who want it. However, each program is distinct enough to warrant close examination on the merits.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing

Each of these tax prep services can handle virtually any personal income tax situation, from straightforward to very complex. All offer multiple DIY tax prep plans that correspond to general positions on the complexity spectrum. Notably, all offer a free plan for filers with relatively simple situations.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for H&R Block

Pricing for H&R Block’s DIY tax prep plans rises as the tax season progresses. Early birds get better deals (at the lower end of the ranges specified here) than those who prep and file as the deadline approaches.

  • Free. This plan offers free federal and state filing for simple to moderately complex situations. If you can file your taxes using Form 1040 without any additional schedules, the free plan is for you.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $23.99 to $49.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for filers who need to itemize deductions, import a prior-year tax return from another tax prep service, or access H&R Block’s in-house phone support team.
  • Premium. The premium plan costs $39.99 to $69.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state, depending on the filing date. It supports a range of more complex activities, including investment activity and rental property ownership.
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $67.99 to $84.99 for federal prep and filing and $36.99 to $49.99 for each state, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for TurboTax

Like H&R Block, TurboTax varies pricing as the tax season progresses. But its plans are a bit more expensive than either H&R Block’s or TaxAct’s.

  • Federal Free Edition. This plan offers free state and federal filing for relatively simple situations — filing using Form 1040 with no attached schedules. A state fee may apply as the filing deadline approaches, so prep early to avoid surprises.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $40 to $60 for federal DIY tax prep and filing and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for filers who wish to itemize deductions. It also has some additional features, such as prior-year return importing from other tax prep programs, live phone support, and online tax return editing for up to three years after filing.
  • Premier. The premier plan costs $70 to $90 for federal DIY tax prep and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for many complex tax situations, including active investing and rental property ownership, but can’t support situations involving pass-through income via a formal legal business structure.
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $90 to $120 for DIY tax prep and $40 to $50 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners with pass-through income.

DIY Tax Prep Plans & Pricing for TaxAct

Like H&R Block and TurboTax, TaxAct pricing is subject to change, depending on when you file. Lower prices represent early-season discounts that may disappear at any time.

  • Free Edition. Like TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s free plans, TaxAct’s covers federal and state prep and filing fees. It’s appropriate for most people who can file using Form 1040 only with no additional schedules.
  • Deluxe. The deluxe plan costs $24.95 to $44.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on when you file. It’s appropriate for people who wish to itemize deductions.
  • Premier. The premier plan costs $34.95 to $69.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for equities market investors, rental property owners, people with foreign financial accounts, and people who earn passive income reported on Schedule K-1 (but not those actively involved in self-employment or business ownership activity).
  • Self-Employed. The self-employed plan costs $64.95 to $79.95 for federal prep and filing and $44.95 per state return, depending on the filing date. It’s appropriate for self-employed individuals and small-business owners. It also includes additional features for these groups, such as a deduction-maximizer tool that supports year-round expense tracking from your TaxAct account.

Tax Prep Assistance From Human Experts

H&R Block and TurboTax both offer varying degrees of hands-on tax prep assistance from in-house trained tax preparers, Enrolled Agents (EAs), or certified public accountants. H&R Block makes these resources available online and in-person (albeit at a much higher fee), while TurboTax limits hands-on assistance to the online realm only. TaxAct does not offer expert tax prep assistance.

H&R Block’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

H&R Block offers two online expert-assistance packages: Online Assist and Tax Pro Go. Online Assist only provides human experts to review the client’s return for accuracy and tax optimization. Tax Pro Go is a true full-service package in which remote human preparers complete clients’ returns for them.

  • Online Assist. H&R Block bases Online Assist pricing on the complexity of your return, but it generally adds at least $40 to your prep costs. Covering a thorough review by a tax professional and their corrections to your return, you can access it as an add-on to any DIY package.
  • Tax Pro Go. Tax Pro Go users upload their tax documents, such as income statements, to H&R Block’s secure portal. Human preparers do the rest. Pricing is also custom and based on the complexity of the return. It’s comparable to what human CPAs charge for hands-on tax prep (and what H&R Block charges for its own in-office tax prep services). My total state and federal filing cost would have been upward of $250 for the 2020 tax year.

H&R Block also offers in-person tax prep assistance at thousands of storefront office locations across the U.S. If you find yourself at a tax prep impasse at any point and don’t want to use one of H&R Block’s digital expert-assistance packages, you can make an appointment at an H&R Block office and complete it with truly hands-on help.

TurboTax’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

TurboTax also offers two expert tax prep assistance packages: TurboTax Live and TurboTax Live Full-Service. TurboTax Live involves on-demand consultation with and tax advice from TurboTax CPAs or EAs as you prepare your own taxes. TurboTax Live Full-Service is a hands-on prep package that only asks the filer to upload their tax documents and sign off on their completed returns.

  • TurboTax Live. Appropriate for all situations, this package is available as an add-on to any DIY tax prep plan. It adds $50 to $80 to the final plan cost, depending on the plan level. Early-bird pricing ranges from $90 for deluxe clients to $170 for self-employed clients. Late-filing pricing is generally $30 higher, regardless of the plan.
  • TurboTax Live Full-Service. Ideal for very complicated situations, such as business ownership, TurboTax Live Full-Service is priced on par with full-service independent CPA tax prep. As with H&R Block’s Tax Pro Go package, I would have paid upward of $250 for state and federal filing for the 2020 tax year.

TurboTax does not have a network of brick-and-mortar locations and thus does not offer in-person tax prep. However, TurboTax Live Full-Service can accommodate virtually any prep-related issues, no matter how tricky or unusual.

TaxAct’s Expert Tax Prep Assistance Options & Capabilities

TaxAct doesn’t offer expert tax prep assistance, making it best for experienced DIY filers who are confident they won’t need professional help. If you get stuck while prepping with TaxAct, you can always take what you have so far to a professional tax preparer in your area.

Federal Tax Prep Process

I’ve prepared my taxes with these three programs for several years running. What follows is a condensed summary of my experience with each, including total prep time, total cost, version used, and observations of key features and functions.

H&R Block’s Federal Tax Prep Process.

  • Time Spent Preparing: 90 minutes
  • Version Used: Premium (In past years, I began with the free version and upgraded only after being prompted, but in 2019 and 2020, I went straight to premium)
  • Total Cost: $76.98

H&R Block is one of the most popular online tax preparation programs around. Despite its plethora of brick-and-mortar offices, filing online is both more convenient and — in most cases, at least — significantly cheaper than filing in person. H&R Block’s software uses an interview-style process that takes you through your taxes step by step, ensuring you don’t miss any crucial forms or schedules.

The platform’s drag-and-drop return upload feature is a big time-saver over the more cumbersome importing tools common to truly bare-bones discount tax prep platforms, such as TaxHawk and FreeTaxUSA.

Also helpful is the last page of each section, which includes a concise summary of the information you enter. If anything looks amiss, you can go back to the corresponding page and edit the erroneous information with one click.

These features also appear in H&R Block’s mobile-friendly Web version and its powerful mobile tax prep app, which has all the main features and capabilities of its standard Web version. You can move seamlessly between the mobile app and Web version to work on your saved return as needed. And you can e-file your return right from the app if that’s most convenient for you.

Another bonus of the service is H&R Block’s transparent pricing. You know exactly how much you’ll pay to file before you do so, and H&R Block makes any pricing increase crystal-clear before you upgrade.

But thanks to the impressive help button on the left sidebar, you may not need to upgrade. When clicked, it produces a pop-up window that lists popular help topics in question form and features a search bar for less common queries.

That makes it easy to get clarification without having to exit your work or open a new window. I’ve played around with this feature quite a bit in the past and never failed to learn something new each time.

TurboTax’s Federal Tax Prep Process

  • Time Spent Preparing: 100 minutes
  • Version Used: Premier. (In past years, I’ve started with the federal free version and upgraded in steps as TurboTax prompted me to move to the cheapest version that could handle my mock situation each time I provided an interview answer the current version couldn’t; this year, I had enough experience to know what I needed)
  • Total Cost: $110

TurboTax is another top-rated online tax filing program owned by Intuit, one of the country’s best-known financial software firms. Appropriately, its interview-style preparation process is extremely intuitive, demystifying tax issues for novice filers.

TurboTax also has a clean, mobile-friendly layout and a high-quality mobile app, not to mention excellent customer support at all plan levels. Phone support is available only with deluxe and higher plans, but it also has a dynamic, user-supported knowledge base.

I have experienced some functionality issues with TurboTax in the past, but these haven’t been disruptive of late. Overall, TurboTax seems to grow more user-friendly every season.

One feature that sets TurboTax apart is the ability to import prior-year returns from any tax prep service as long as the return is in PDF format. TurboTax has long been a leader in this respect, with competitors — namely H&R Block — only belatedly joining it. (To be fair, H&R Block now offers seamless prior-year importing as well.) Robust PDF importing capability is hugely helpful for first-time users.

TurboTax eases you into the interface with helpful pop-up windows that explain the platform’s key features, such as the help bar and internal navigation tools. TurboTax has consistently been (and continues to be) among the most user-friendly tax prep programs around.

TurboTax’s prep interface is blissfully easy to navigate. Its questions are more pointed and easier to understand than H&R Block’s, and the platform rarely presents confusing or vague information. At the beginning of each section, TurboTax takes care to call out less common situations and forms, subtly directing you toward tax forms or rules that are more likely to apply.

The platform also places helpful pop-up buttons next to elements that may require explanations, such as schedules and types of income. Clicking on the button creates a pop-up window that explains the topic in detail. For filers in a rush, it’s a time-saving alternative to searching the knowledge base.

TurboTax waits until you’re done with state taxes to review everything. It’s a marginal time-saver compared to H&R Block’s federal-only and state-only reviews. However, when I attempt to move backward in my federal return to check something manually, I’m occasionally stymied by an HTML error. It happens less frequently than it used to but is worth noting nonetheless.

TurboTax Live — first introduced in the 2017 tax year — is a huge help for filers with complicated situations and comes at a substantial discount to the cost of filing with a CPA. TurboTax Live Full-Service, a new addition for the 2020 tax year, costs still more but is ideal for taxpayers who don’t want anything to do with the prep process but don’t want to visit a CPA in person.

TaxAct’s Federal Tax Prep Process

  • Time Spent Preparing: 115 minutes
  • Version Used: Premier. (In the past, I’ve used the free version, but recent updates have rendered it unsuitable for situations as complex as my mock situation)
  • Total Cost: $79.90

TaxAct’s prep process and fee structure have changed significantly since the early 2010s, when the free version supported the vast majority of available tax forms and schedules and could therefore accommodate virtually any individual tax situation. Today, its pricing model and process are much more in line with TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s, albeit at a slightly lower price point.

TaxAct’s prep interface uses interview-style questions, but the interface is more exhaustive and less responsive to user answers than TurboTax’s or H&R Block’s. Specifically, the system may ask you questions about specific situations that don’t apply to you based on previous answers, whereas TurboTax and H&R Block seem to learn better from earlier responses.

This aspect of TaxAct is less tedious and time-consuming than it has been in the past, though overall prep time is still higher than with TurboTax or H&R Block. With large text and buttons and straightforward navigation, TaxAct’s main website is nearly as mobile-friendly as TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s and significantly more so than true discount programs, like FreeTaxUSA. TaxAct also has a dedicated mobile and tablet app that supports relatively simple tax situations, but this solution isn’t appropriate for filers with self-employment income.

No matter how you choose to use the platform, TaxAct has long had some free or low-cost features designed to simplify and streamline the tax prep process. For instance, early-bird filers can lock in their pricing at the beginning of tax season, even if TaxAct raises its prices in the interim.

The at-a-glance help feature gives you real-time advice and commentary from tax experts as you work through your tax return. The bookmark feature lets you flag interview questions for review at a later time. And it’s easier than ever to call up prior-year tax returns as you prepare your current-year return.

State Tax Prep Process

Some people are fortunate enough to live in a state with no income tax. The rest of us must prepare and file state income taxes every year. All three programs support that endeavor at roughly equivalent cost.

H&R Block’s State Tax Prep Process

H&R Block’s state preparation process unfolds similarly to the federal return — except with state-specific questions. Once you check your federal return for accuracy, the program immediately whisks you into the state section and automatically imports all relevant information from your federal return.

During the 2014 tax year, when I lived in two states, I found it simple to fill out my second state return. H&R Block remembered I’d moved during the year, and the software automatically brought me back to the beginning of the state return process after completing the first. I haven’t moved since and can’t claim income in any other states, so this hasn’t come up since, but the process appears to work much the same today.

TurboTax’s State Tax Prep Process

As with H&R Block, TurboTax automatically transfers all the information from your federal return to your state return. The process for adding a second state, if necessary, is slightly more cumbersome, as you have to navigate an additional drop-down menu. But that’s a pretty minor issue most taxpayers (being single-state filers) don’t have to worry about.

TaxAct’s State Tax Prep Process

TaxAct’s state return section is similar to the other two services’, with automatically imported information and thorough, state-specific questions. As with the federal return, it’s sometimes too thorough. It starts immediately after you finish your federal return, though you’re free to leave it for later.

Accuracy Check

All three programs include a post-prep accuracy check designed to ensure your return is prepared correctly and you’re not set up to pay more than you should.

H&R Block’s Accuracy Check

Every year, before filing, H&R Block has rechecked my entire return for accuracy. I can view my federal and state returns and specify how I want to pay the tax I owe. When I’m eligible for a refund, which doesn’t happen every year, it asks how I’d like to receive it as well.

The process ends smoothly and takes less time — without being any less thorough — than the other two options.

TurboTax’s Accuracy Check

TurboTax follows your state return by reviewing the entire package for accuracy and assessing your audit risk with a handy thermometer graphic. And TurboTax is nothing if not thorough, presenting each accuracy- or audit-related issue and recommended solution in turn before walking you through how you’d like to pay your taxes or receive your refund. Though this thoroughness does lengthen the process of filing taxes, it’s a trade-off some filers may be willing to make.

TaxAct’s Accuracy Check

Like TurboTax, TaxAct waits until you’ve completed all your returns to review them for accuracy, saving some time. However, the review process is more complicated than TurboTax’s and H&R Block’s, with different alert levels (red, yellow, and green) that identify issues of varying severity. TaxAct uses these alerts to assess your overall audit risk, though it doesn’t display this risk in a handy graphic like TurboTax.

You can also skip the alerts altogether if you’re confident you’ve kept everything aboveboard — a nice perk for seasoned filers. One drawback is that there’s no easy way to run your completed return by a professional tax preparer. Both H&R Block and TurboTax offer that option for an additional fee.

Once you pay for TaxAct’s prep services, the platform asks you how you’d like to receive your refund or make any tax payments you owe, then walks you through how to prepare for next year’s taxes. That includes introducing its Donation Assistant app, which can help you track and quantify noncash charitable donations throughout the year, and DocVault, a secure mobile-friendly storage service for important tax-related documents. Despite these services’ genuine usefulness, this part of the process drags on too long when the end is in sight.

Additional Features & Capabilities

All three platforms have some additional features and capabilities worth noting. These include the ability to pay tax prep fees with your tax refund (if you’re entitled to one), digital self-help resources and tax reference materials, and optional tax audit assistance or defense add-ons.

H&R Block’s Additional Features & Capabilities

H&R Block’s refund bonus and user-friendly online help database set it apart.

  • Refund Bonus. H&R Block is one of the few remaining online tax prep platforms to offer a refund bonus. Despite shrinking from 10% in the early 2010s to 3.5% in 2020, it’s better than nothing — $35 for every $1,000 refunded. You do have to take your refund on an Amazon gift card, which is a drag for people who prefer straight-up debit cards. You can still receive your federal refund on a reloadable prepaid debit card, just without any extra cash. See H&R Block’s refund bonus terms for more information.
  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your federal and state tax prep fees with your federal refund for an additional service charge of $39.95 (subject to change).
  • Audit Defense. H&R Block’s Worry-Free Audit Support package is a bargain at about $20 per year. It pairs you with an H&R Block EA to help you interpret and respond to IRS correspondence, prepare for an IRS audit, and deal with the audit itself (with the option for in-person representation if needed).
  • Online Help Resources. H&R Block has an extensive online knowledge base covering a slew of common and not-so-common tax questions as well as H&R Block’s tax prep software itself. The database is searchable and mobile-friendly.

TurboTax’s Additional Features & Capabilities

TurboTax doesn’t have a refund bonus, but its reasonable pay-with-your-refund fees and extensive online help resources shine.

  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your TurboTax prep fees with your federal refund for an additional $34.99 processing charge (subject to change and may vary by state). There’s no option to pay with your state refund.
  • Audit Defense. TurboTax offers free basic audit support for all clients. This service extends to interpreting IRS correspondence and preparing a response. For help preparing for an audit and representation during the audit process, you must add TurboTax’s Max package, which costs about $60 and includes audit representation and identity theft monitoring.
  • Online Help Resources. TurboTax has a searchable help database and an extensive knowledge base filled with user-generated questions and answers. It’s immensely useful for the tax-curious, if a bit overwhelming.

TaxAct’s Additional Features & Capabilities

TaxAct doesn’t offer a refund bonus but does have a cheap pay-with-your-refund option and a reasonably priced audit defense add-on.

  • Pay With Your Refund. You can pay your TaxAct tax prep fees with your state or federal refund for a processing fee of about $20 (subject to change).
  • Audit Defense. TaxAct only offers audit defense through its Protection Plus add-on, a third-party package that includes full IRS and state representation in the event of an audit. TaxAct does have a self-service audit assistance portal that helps clients interpret IRS and state tax letters but doesn’t make human employees available for this function.
  • Online Help Resources. TaxAct has an extensive online help database that’s fully searchable and organized by tax year. It’s a helpful resource for clients with questions about prior-year returns or tax topics.

The Verdict: Should You Choose H&R Block, TurboTax, or TaxAct?

None of these tax prep platforms is perfect. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and you should choose the software you use based on your tax situation and personal preferences.

You Should Use H&R Block If…

H&R Block is relatively easy to use and has moderate pricing and robust customer support. The experience is straightforward, with none of the bugs that plague TurboTax and without the overwhelming detail inherent in TaxAct’s interview process.

However, H&R Block could be a bit more friendly — and a bit more cost-competitive for filers who need some extra help. In general, H&R Block is suitable for people who have some tax filing experience and comfort with the basic contours of the process, including choosing the appropriate filing status and selecting the correct forms.

H&R Block might be the right choice for you if:

  1. You Value Transparent Pricing. H&R Block has transparent pricing. You always know exactly how much you’ll pay to file — and how much you’ll add to the final cost of your return if you need to upgrade to a higher-priced plan.
  2. You Want to Save Time. H&R Block has consistently been the fastest of these tax prep programs, at least for me. It hasn’t won by a mile, but the difference is notable enough to mention. The contrast with TaxAct is particularly acute.
  3. You Want a Refund Bonus. H&R Block continues to offer a refund bonus to filers who consent to transfer their tax refunds to Amazon gift cards. It’s impossible to say how much longer that will continue, but for now, it’s an advantage over TurboTax and TaxAct.
  4. You Need In-Person Support During or After Filing. H&R Block has a network of more than 10,000 branches across the U.S., making it easy to switch from online to in-person preparation if needed. TurboTax and TaxAct can’t say the same. H&R Block also offers free in-person audit assistance for all online filers, a key perk for folks who worry the IRS will audit them.

See our full H&R Block review for a complete analysis.

You Should Use TurboTax If…

TurboTax is significantly more expensive than H&R Block or TaxAct. Though its free plan has grown more robust in the past couple of years, it’s still lacking.

That said, you do get what you pay for: an intuitive interview process, a user-focused (and mobile-friendly) layout, and lots of support. It’s nice to be able to import from so many sources too. So TurboTax is ideal for novice tax filers as well as more experienced filers for whom affordability isn’t a top concern.

TurboTax is the right choice for you if:

  1. You Value User-Friendliness. TurboTax is the most user-friendly of these programs. Its design and aesthetic are intuitive and easy on the eyes, unlike the more cluttered, less intuitive TaxAct. Its questions are both simply worded and logical, whereas H&R Block’s interview questions and explanations can be confusing. And in addition to offering a powerful app, TurboTax’s regular version is very mobile-friendly. That’s good news for taxpayers who prefer to prepare their returns on a tablet.
  2. You Like Impressive Importing Capabilities. TurboTax has long been a leader in prior-year tax return importing. If you can upload your return in PDF format, you can import it to TurboTax without manually reentering information.
  3. You Depend on Good Customer Service and Help Functions. TurboTax has some useful support features, including a customer service hotline with extensive hours and a comprehensive knowledge base. I’ve referred to TurboTax’s knowledge base more times than I can count and have almost always had my questions answered to my satisfaction.

See our full TurboTax review for a complete analysis.

You Should Use TaxAct If…

TaxAct has always been the cheapest option of the three, and its functionality has improved significantly over the years. Now, it’s nearly (but not quite) on par with TurboTax and H&R Block.

That said, my TaxAct return has consistently taken longer than my TurboTax and H&R Block returns. The support infrastructure is unimpressive, though the tax audit defense no longer costs an arm and a leg — just $10 when you upgrade to the premium plan.

But TaxAct is no longer the best game in town for ultra-frugal filers.

In general, TaxAct is ideal for somewhat more experienced filers who don’t mind exchanging time for money. Though its interface has gotten more user-friendly over the years, it’s still not the best software for first-timers.

TaxAct is a solid choice if:

  1. You’re Set on Paying Less. TaxAct is the cheapest of these services. I have a complex tax situation, but I was able to walk away from my most recent filing without spending more than $79.90 (though that would have been $114.90 had I waited until later in the season to file). That’s less than I spent for tax prep with H&R Block and TurboTax. So while TaxAct has grown more expensive in recent years, it’s still the cheapest option among them.
  2. You Want a Price-Lock Guarantee. TaxAct offers a price-lock guarantee to all customers at sign-up. Once you create your account, you’re locked into TaxAct’s pricing at that moment, even if you leave your return for months and TaxAct raises prices during the intervening period. Since tax prep companies frequently raise prices close to the filing deadline, that’s great news for frugal filers. One caveat: TaxAct’s first price-lock step-up happened extremely early in 2020 (for the 2019 tax year), in late January. Another step-up occurred in mid-March. It’s likely the 2020 tax year will play out similarly.
  3. You Crave Useful Apps to Help You Keep Track of Important Forms and Records. TaxAct has useful tools that help you keep track of any necessary documentation you need to complete your return, including receipts, bills, and tax forms. You can add photographic records to a secure, mobile-accessible storage area (DocVault) throughout the year, potentially eliminating the need to file tax-related papers for reference at tax time. You can use a separate app, Donation Assistant, to calculate the fair value of noncash charitable donations, an extremely helpful tool for filers who donate valuable items, such as vehicles and furniture. In the past, I’ve had to scour the Internet for fair-value charts from reputable sources without any clear guarantee they’re accurate.

See our full TaxAct review for a complete analysis.

All Are Great If…

Despite clear differences, all three of these tax prep software programs have some selling points in common. If you have a simple tax situation or don’t want to visit a tax preparer’s office in person but otherwise aren’t too picky about how you get your taxes done, you can’t go wrong here.

Any of these tax prep options are good if:

  1. You Have a Simple Tax Situation. Whatever else you can say about TaxAct, TurboTax, or H&R Block, all three are effective — and dirt cheap if not free — for simple tax situations that don’t require attached schedules.
  2. You Need to Import a Prior-Year Return From Another Tax Prep Program. Although this hasn’t always been the case, all three programs now have robust prior-year return importing tools that make it easy to switch from another provider.
  3. You Don’t Want to Visit a Tax Preparer’s Office or Pay CPA Prices for Tax Prep. With the exception of TurboTax Live Full-Service and H&R Block’s Tax Pro Go, you’ll pay far less to prep your taxes with any of these services than with a full-service human tax preparer. And you won’t have to visit a physical office location, either — unless you’re prepping with H&R Block and decide you’d like to do that before filing.

Final Word

TurboTax, TaxAct, and H&R Block are three of the most popular online tax software options, but they’re not the only ones out there. A bevy of other options exists, from relatively well-known providers like TaxSlayer and eSmart Tax to lesser-known options like Circle CPA and FreeTaxUSA.

And the federal government can help with free tax preparation options thanks to the Free File Alliance (a consortium of about a dozen tax prep companies that offer free filing services to filers who meet certain income and residency criteria) and Free Fillable Forms, which are available to filers regardless of income or residency.

With all these options, depending on your tax situation, you might find one that’s easier, faster, or simply less stressful to use.

And if you don’t want to face a potentially hefty processing charge to pay your tax prep fees with your tax refund but don’t want to pay out of pocket immediately, use a rewards credit card to pick up the tab. If you stay within your card’s spending limit and pay your balance in full by the statement due date, you avoid processing fees and earn a small return on your outlay. Check out our roundups of the best cash-back credit cards and best travel rewards credit cards for ideas.

Source: moneycrashers.com

374: Can You Succeed in Real Estate by Modeling Your Business on FedEx? Kenny Klaus is Living Proof that You Can!

Kenny Klaus is a nationally-recognized expert in local real estate. Since 1999, he has dedicated himself to serving the East Valley community. As Team Leader, Kenny provides strategic direction for The Kenny Klaus Team while serving as the Lead Listing Specialist. He also specializes in HUD homes, Short Sales/REOs, as well as New Build and Traditional transactions. Kenny is a Certified Residential Specialist, a Certified Distressed Property Specialist, and an Accredited Buyer Representative. He is a Double Platinum Award Winner, a Multi-Million Dollar Award Winner, a Hall of Fame Member, and Chairman’s Club Member. Kenny is a popular teacher in the real estate industry, and has spoken to thousands of Keller Williams Realtors at their national events as a guest of KW’s co-founder and chairman.

Join us as Kenny shares his mindset and a glance at his journey to becoming a Real Estate Rockstar by becoming a nationally-recognized expert in local real estate.

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Sign up for the Self-Publishing Success Summit for FREE!

July 7, 2015 | Crystal Paine

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Sign up for the Self-Publishing Success Summit for FREE!

Have you ever considered writing a book? If so, you’ll want to sign up for the FREE Self-Publishing Success Online Summit being held July 12-23.

This Summit features interviews from 37 different authors and entrepreneurs and will give you lots of valuable information to help you write, market, and publish your book.

Here are the three main topics this online event covers:

Step 1 – Writing You Book – You’ll learn how to easily & effortlessly write your first book and how to overcome the doubts and fears that keep you from writing.

Step 2 – Marketing & Publishing – Learn how to successfully launch your book once it’s written…including revolutionary “outside of the box” tactics today’s top authors are using to sell more books.

Step 3 – Monetizing (Making Money) – Take your book to the bank. Speakers share their top strategies to build passive income, even a business, from your first book… including how to use a book to drive 1,000’s of leads & customers.

Sign up for this event for FREE here.

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Source: moneysavingmom.com

What is Zombie Debt, and How Do You Get Rid of It?

If you’ve ever been sent to collections over an unpaid debt, then you know what a hassle this process can be. Collection agencies are often aggressive and resort to harassing phone calls and manipulative debt collection tactics.

In most circumstances, you can work something out with your creditors, deal with the delinquency, and move on. But what if you’ve dealt with your delinquency and your creditors are not moving on?

Then you’re dealing with a problem commonly referred to as zombie debt.

What is zombie debt?

Zombie debt is any debt that has long been erased from your credit report yet debt collectors still keep trying to collect on it. It could be that the debt is past the statute of limitations, it’s already been paid off, or it may not even be yours.

The original creditor is likely done with it and has moved on. But just when you think it isn’t an issue anymore, the debt is bought by another debt collection agency. Then you start receiving the harassing phone calls and letters all over again.

Not only is zombie debt frustrating, but you continue to suffer financially for a mistake that you’ve either already dealt with or were never responsible for in the first place. Even if a debt collection agency cannot legally collect on the debt, it can still show up on your credit report and hurt your credit score.

Common Case of Zombie Debt

Let’s look at some common cases of zombie debt:

  • Time-barred debt that is past the statute of limitations: If you default on a loan, the debt collector has a certain length of time that they can collect on that debt and take you to court. Once you’re past the statute of limitations, you’re no longer liable for the debt. However, debt collectors will often purchase the old debt and try to collect it anyway.
  • Debt that was discharged in bankruptcy: Sometimes, debt collection agencies will try to revive debt that has been dealt with and discharged through bankruptcy.
  • Debt that isn’t yours: If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, then a debt collector may be harassing you about debt that isn’t even yours. This is the most frustrating kind of zombie debt since you never did anything wrong.

What kind of tactics do debt collectors use?

A debt collector’s only goal is to convince you to make a payment on the debt they claim you owe. And many debt collectors are willing to resort to questionable or even illegal practices to get you to pay up.

That’s because the minute you make a payment on the debt, it gives the debt collector an opening to sue you for the remaining balance. If the debt is beyond the statute of limitations, even a small payment resets the clock entirely.

Knowing some of the common tactics that a debt collection agency uses is the best way to know how to handle them. Here are a few examples to watch out for:

  • Threaten to sue you: Many debt collectors will threaten to take you to court, even if they can’t legally collect on the debt and are not allowed to sue you. The goal is simply to scare you into making a payment.
  • Verbally harass you: According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors are not allowed to harass borrowers. But unfortunately, many debt collectors do it anyway.
  • Try to get information out of you: Debt collectors will try to learn anything about you that they can so they can use the information against you.
  • Lie to you: Many debt collectors will promise to stop bothering you if you make a payment. They may also promise to remove negative items from your credit report in exchange for a payment. This is usually just a manipulation tactic to get you to make a payment.

See also: How to Deal with Debt Collectors

How to Get Rid of Zombie Debt for Good

If you’re constantly being contacted about zombie debt, it may feel like there is no end in sight. Let’s look at a few ways you can finally kill that zombie debt for good.

1. Monitor your credit score

Information is your best defense against debt collectors who will lie to you to get you to make a payment. Make sure you monitor your credit report closely and watch out for any new items affecting your credit score. And if a debt collection agency is trying to drag up a debt you’ve already paid, look for any receipts and bank statements that verify that fact.

2. Don’t let a debt collector pressure you into making a payment

People often feel embarrassed by their old debt, which gives a debt collector an opening to manipulate you into paying. But you shouldn’t make any payments until you have more information.

The minute you make even a small payment, it becomes much harder for you to get rid of that zombie debt. If you’re past the statute of limitations, making a payment resets the clock on that debt.

If the debt isn’t yours, it becomes much harder to prove that fact if you’ve made a payment. So no matter how much a debt collector tries to pressure you or embarrass you, refuse to make even a small payment on the debt.

3. Ask the creditor to verify the debt

Send the debt collector a debt validation letter. This is a letter requesting that a debt collector proves you owe the debt and that they have a right to collect on that debt.

If the debt collector is unable to validate the debt, then they cannot legally try to collect on it. And if they’re unable to validate the debt, they must remove the item from your credit report. 

4. Seek out additional help

And finally, if this problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better then it may be time to seek out the help of an attorney. Stop communicating with the debt collector. You don’t have to respond to them. An attorney will inform you about what your rights are and what the best course of action is.

Bottom Line

Zombie debt can be challenging to deal with and it may feel like a problem that will never go away. But by being aware of some of the common tactics debt collectors use and seeking help from an attorney, you’ll be prepared to deal with them. And once you’ve resolved the debt for good, you can begin taking steps to repair your credit and build a better financial future.

Source: crediful.com

858: Inauthenticity Is Killing Your Real Estate Career with Peter Lorimer

Peter Lorimer, co-host of Netflix’s hit new show Stay Here and CEO of PLG Estates, hates to see agents kill their careers with inauthentic approaches to branding and business. Peter says, “If you find yourself as a real estate agent thinking, ‘What do I need to post, what do I need to say, what do I need to get the most eyes on,’ that’s a slippery slope to homogenized bullshit.” On this podcast, you’ll hear why cookie-cutter agents can’t close modern consumers, how going against the grain made Peter the top Keller Williams agent in Los Angeles, and what you must do to ensure your brand’s longevity.

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