The Ultimate College Senior Checklist

Earning a college degree is no easy feat. Think countless late-night cram sessions, tedious loan applications, heavy textbooks to haul around. For some college seniors, June cannot come fast enough, and it’s understandable why senioritis kicks in. That said, there’s still a lot of important work to do before crossing that graduation stage.

From jumping through the logistical hoops of making it to graduation day to launching a job search and addressing student loan payments, there are a lot of important pre-graduation to-do’s that may require prompt attention.

Here’s a comprehensive checklist that will help college seniors be prepared to graduate and enter the working world.

Dotting I’s and Crossing T’s

Ideally, before senior year begins (or sooner for those planning to graduate early), students should meet with their guidance counselor to make sure they have all of their ducks in a row in order to graduate. Switching majors, studying abroad, or misunderstanding degree requirements can lead to confusion about which classes must be taken to graduate.

Before setting a class schedule for the year, it can’t hurt to double-check with a college counselor that all requirements are being met. Some schools even have a certain amount of community service or chapel hours required in order to graduate, so again, it’s smart to confirm that everything is moving along as it should be.

Preparing for the graduation ceremony needs to be done in advance. Colleges and universities often require students to apply to graduate and register their planned attendance at the ceremony well ahead of the actual day.

To streamline the process, many schools have grad fairs where students can pick up their commencement tickets; buy a cap and gown, class rings and commencement announcements; and ask questions about the logistics of graduation day.

Transcripts can come in handy when applying for jobs and graduate school programs, so picking up a few copies while still on campus can save time down the road. And don’t forget to turn in those library books! No one will want to trek back to campus after graduation to pay late fees.

Getting a Jumpstart on a Job Search

It’s no secret that college graduates flood the job market each June, so getting ahead of the pack can make job searching a little easier. Applying for jobs earlier in the spring can lessen the competition and give seniors confidence that they have a job lined up when they graduate.

If launching a full-blown job search during school isn’t possible, college seniors can at least take steps toward preparing for the job search.

Stop by the career center and see what resources it can provide. Schools have a career center for a reason! Most are ready to help students prepare their resumes and perfect their cover letters, and they typically have job postings from companies looking to hire recent graduates.

Some career centers may offer mock interviews so students can hone those skills, or they may provide support when issues arise during a job search. Popping by between classes to see what services are offered will only take a few minutes.

At the very least, college seniors can poke around online job boards and research local companies to see what opportunities are out there.

Making Connections

As a student, it may feel like having a professional network is unattainable, but many build one while in school without realizing it. One easy way to get a head start on a job search, without doing too much work during a hectic final year of school, is to focus on building relationships and requesting references.

Professors, employers, and intern supervisors can all provide references that can strengthen a job search. Finding that first job out of college can be tricky, when resumes are on the shorter side, so a handful of strong references can make all the difference.

While requesting references, college seniors should tell their connections what career path they’re hoping to pursue. One never knows where the next opportunity might come from.

Paying Back Student Loans

Preparing to navigate life after college can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to finances. No one wants to think about student loan payments, but it can be helpful to start making repayment plans before graduation day.

Try beginning the planning process by simply looking up the current balance for each student loan held, including both federal and private loans. Then note when the grace period ends for each loan and when the lender expects payment. It’s important to plan to make loan payments on time each month, as that can boost a credit score.

Lenders usually provide repayment information during the grace period, including repayment options. Many federal student loans qualify for a minimum of one income-driven or income-based repayment plan.

Federal student loans may qualify for a variety of repayment plans, such as the Standard Repayment Plan, Graduated Repayment Plan, Extended Repayment Plans, Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan, Income-Based Repayment Plan, Income-Contingent Repayment Plan, and Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan. It is important to carefully research each payment plan before choosing one.

For private student loan repayment, it is best to speak directly with the loan originator about repayment options. Many private student loans require payments while the borrower is still in school, but some offer deferred repayment. After the grace period, the borrower will have to make principal and interest payments. Some lenders offer repayment programs with budget flexibility.

Whether students or their parents chose to take out federal or private student loans (or both), reviewing all possible repayment plan options can provide choices. And who doesn’t like choices?

One Loan, One Monthly Payment

Some graduates may want to consider refinancing or consolidating their student debt.

Borrowers who have federal student loans may qualify for a Direct Consolidation Loan after they graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment.

Consolidating multiple federal loans into one allows borrowers to make just one loan payment each month. In some cases, the repayment schedule may be extended, resulting in lower payments, after consolidating (but increasing the period of time to repay loans usually means making more payments and paying more total interest).

Refinancing allows the borrower to convert multiple loans—federal and/or private—into one new private loan with a new interest rate, repayment term, and monthly payment. The goal is a lower interest rate. (It’s worth noting that refinancing a federal loan into a private loan can lead to losing benefits only available through federal lenders, such as public service forgiveness and economic hardship programs.)

Refinancing can be a good solution for working graduates who have high-interest, unsubsidized Direct Loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and/or private loans.

If that sounds like a good fit, SoFi offers student loan refinancing with zero origination fees or prepayment penalties. Getting prequalified online is quick and easy.

Learn more about SoFi Student Loan Refinancing options and benefits.



SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF SEPTEMBER DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

6 Garage Sale Setup Tips to Best Display Your Items & Make More Money

Picture this: You’re cruising down the street one day, and you spot two garage sales on the same block. The first has racks of clothes, bins of books and records, and a few high-value items prominently displayed near the curb. The second features jumbled, messy piles and boxes scattered across the yard.

Which one would you stop at?

Presentation is crucial to a successful yard sale. You can and should advertise your sale, but you also want to encourage passers-by to stop and look at your wares. If your sale doesn’t make a good first impression, most will just keep going.

No matter how much good stuff your sale has, it won’t bring in shoppers who can’t see it easily. People passing on foot only have your sale in their sights for a couple of minutes at most, and drivers on the street see it for as little as a couple of seconds.

To draw them in, you must show off your sale items so effectively their first glimpse convinces them to take a closer look.

Garage Sale Tips for Presentation

A garage sale has two purposes. It’s a way to declutter your home and bring in some extra cash. And the best way to achieve both goals is to attract as many customers as possible.

When you’re trying to draw in shoppers, pricing isn’t the most crucial factor. Yes, yard sale shoppers love bargains, but if your garage sale items don’t look appealing, no one will even stop to look at the price tags.

So before you even get out the price stickers, you need to spend some time thinking about how to set up your yard sale display to catch the eye.

1. Clean Your Items

Suppose you’re shopping yard sales looking for outdoor furniture. You come across a set that looks sturdy, but the chair arms and backs are coated in grime and their cushions are mildewy. Would you buy them or keep looking for a set in better condition?

That illustrates how important cleaning is. Something that’s otherwise in perfectly good shape becomes a complete turn-off for buyers if it’s covered in dirt. Even if you haven’t used something in years, it can come out of storage sporting a thick coat of dust that makes buyers pass it over.

So before you even think about how to display pieces, give each of them a quick touch-up with a dusting cloth. If anything is especially dirty, take the time to scrub it down with soap and water.

Some garage sale items need more specific cleaning treatment. Run clothes through the washer and dryer to remove dirt and odors, and give shoes a quick polish to remove scuff marks. If you have purses or other bags to sell, clean out dirt and debris from their interiors (and while you’re at it, make sure there’s nothing of value left inside).

2. Show Off the Good Stuff

Shoppers get their first glimpse of your garage sale from either the street or the sidewalk. If all they can see in that first look is a bunch of cheap junk, many will keep moving instead of stopping to browse.

There may be some real gems hidden toward the back of your yard or garage, but many prospective buyers will never see them.

If you want to hold a successful garage sale that attracts as many buyers as possible, put your most appealing merchandise front and center. In my experience, the best yard sale items for attracting buyers include:

  • Antiques of any kind — furniture, houseware, jewelry
  • Appliances
  • Board games
  • Clothing and accessories in good condition, such as shoes and purses
  • Electronics like TVs and stereos
  • Furniture
  • Musical instruments
  • Sporting equipment, including bicycles and camping gear
  • Tools, including garden tools like lawn mowers

In general, large items have more curb appeal than small ones. For one thing, they’re easier to see from the street. Also, little things like cheap toys and kitchen utensils aren’t that expensive to buy new, so they don’t offer the potential for a major bargain.

Another helpful strategy is to display merchandise likely to appeal to men, such as golf clubs or power tools, as close to the road as possible. In my experience, women are more likely to stop at a garage sale than men, so you don’t need to go to as much effort to reel them in.

By displaying things that typically appeal to them most prominently, you’ll attract men as well as women to your sale.

3. Group Like Items Together

Once you’ve drawn customers to your sale, you want to keep them there as long as possible. It might seem like the way to do that is to place everything randomly so shoppers looking for specific finds have to hunt through every table at the sale to discover them. But that strategy is likely to backfire.

As a shopper, I always find it frustrating when a yard sale has no clear layout. If I’m looking for something in particular, such as clothing or books, I want to see all the clothing or books available in one place. If they’re scattered across all the tables at the sale, I’m likely to get frustrated and walk away.

To make shopping easy for your buyers, group similar items together. Make one table for clothing, one for books, one for housewares, and one for toys, for example. That way, people can go directly to the table that interests them and start browsing.

If you have a lot of one type of product, sort it into narrower categories, such as children’s books and adult books.

To make it easier for yourself, sort your merchandise into boxes by category before your sale. On the day of the sale, you can simply bring each box to its own table and start laying everything out.

4. Keep Everything Visible

The easiest way for you to sort goods into categories is to leave them in their boxes. But that isn’t easy for your buyers. No one wants to bend over a box pulling out one baby onesie after another until they find the size and color they’re after.

Haphazard piles of stuff aren’t appealing either. I’ve walked away from more than one rummage sale because all the clothes were in massive, unsorted piles on the tables. Digging through them all to find the few outfits in my size would have taken hours with no guarantee I’d find anything I liked.

To make your sale appealing, lay your wares out in ways that make them easy to see at a glance. There are multiple ways to display different types of merchandise, depending on how much of it you have and what condition it’s in.

Clothing

The best way to display clothing is on hangers on a portable clothes rack. That keeps garments off the ground and makes them easy to sort through. If you don’t have a clothing rack, look for a makeshift alternative, such as an old ladder or a sturdy clothesline strung between two trees.

If there’s no way to hang clothes, the next best option is to arrange them in neatly folded piles on a table. That’s also a suitable way to display clothes for babies and small children.

But note your neatly folded and stacked garments will invariably get unfolded and strewn about as the day goes on, so you have to tidy up your piles from time to time.

Whichever method you choose, try sorting clothes by size, type, and gender. That makes it still easier for buyers to find what they want. A nice added perk is to display garments like coats with their extra buttons if you still have them.

Accessories

There’s nothing more frustrating than finding one shoe in your size and then having to hunt around for the other before you can try them on. You can significantly increase your shoe sales by taking the time to line pairs up together, either on a table or on a sheet or blanket on the ground.

You can display purses and bags on tables, on the ground, or neatly lined up in boxes. Or if you have a large tree handy, you can make an eye-catching display by hanging handbags from its limbs.

Jewelry is a high-value commodity, so it’s worth making an extra effort to display it well.

Wrap a piece of cardboard in fabric, then stick in pins or small nails to hang necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. You can pin brooches directly to the fabric. If you have coordinating pieces, such as necklace-and-earring sets, display them together.

Books & Recordings

Books are easiest to see if they’re arranged side by side with their spines facing out so people can view the titles at a glance.

The easiest way to accomplish that is to line them up on a bookcase or shelf. But don’t use a bookcase you’re also planning to sell because if someone buys it, you’ll have to remove all the books in a hurry and find a new location for them.

You can also display books by lining them up in a box with their spines facing up. Or if you have a smaller selection of books, you can fan them out on a table faceup so shoppers can see their covers.

Whatever you do, don’t stack books in boxes or pile them on tables so shoppers have to lift each one out of the way to see what’s below it. For all but the most dedicated book buyers, that’s simply too much work to be worth it.

These same display ideas work well for audio or video recordings, including CDs, DVDs, video game cartridges, records, and cassettes. (Yes, there are still people who have held onto their old boomboxes and are willing to buy tapes if they’re cheap enough.) Make the titles visible, and don’t force your buyers to dig.

Furniture & Home Goods

When displaying furniture at a yard sale, consider what type of buyer it would appeal to.

Place sturdy pieces suitable for families near the street, where they’ll draw buyers in. Older, worn-out pieces might appeal to students furnishing a dorm room or DIY fans looking for pieces to make over. Display these pieces farther back but with prominent labels indicating their low prices.

Antique furniture creates a bit of a dilemma. On one hand, it’s an appealing item that can attract shoppers. However, if you place a lightweight piece too close to the street, an ambitious thief could snatch it when you turn your back. Large and heavy furnishings can go in the front, but it’s best to place smaller ones close to the checkout where you can keep an eye on them.

For smaller home decor, consider maximizing its visual appeal by creating little vignettes.

For instance, you can toss a bedspread over a couch to show off its pattern and add a couple of matching throw pillows. To sell a set of dishes, lay out one whole place setting on a table, complete with a napkin and flatware, and keep the rest stowed in a box.

Finally, if you’re selling old electronics, make sure you have all their parts — remotes, cords, and the manual if you have it — bundled along with the primary equipment. You can wrap them up and stash them in a clear plastic bag taped to the side.

Customers will appreciate being able to see at a glance that the equipment has all the necessary parts. And if they want to test the device to make sure it works, all the pieces they need are available. Consider running an extension cord to the house for testing purposes or at least having one handy for shoppers to use.

5. Make Space for Everything

Ideally, most of the goods at your yard sale should be on tables, so shoppers don’t have to bend down to look at them. If you don’t have enough tables to display your wares, borrow from neighbors or friends.

Also, look for ways to create more “table” space from scratch. For instance, you can lay plywood over a pair of sawhorses, milk crates, or even cardboard boxes. You can also use any naturally elevated surfaces in your yard, such as porch steps or retaining walls.

If you’ve tried all these tricks and still don’t have enough table space for everything, prioritize. Reserve your table space for high-value merchandise you really want buyers to see and delicate pieces that could break if left on the ground. Everything else can go on blankets or tarps.

Set out comfortable chairs for yourself and any helpers so you don’t have to spend the whole day on your feet. Set them near a small table or another surface you can use for making change and bagging purchases.

6. Promote Your Sale

No matter how good your yard sale looks, it won’t attract customers if no one comes close enough to see it. That’s why even the best yard sale needs adequate signage.

Before putting up signs, check to see if your town has any regulations about them.

For instance, it might regulate how many signs you can put up, how large they can be, what materials you can use, and where you can display them. It may also have rules about how long before the sale you can put signs up and how long you have after the sale to take them down.

While you’re at it, check all the other local regulations.

Some towns require you to get a garage sale permit, and others limit you to a certain number of sales per year. Putting up signs puts you on the local authorities’ radar, so make sure you’re not running afoul of any rules. Otherwise, the fines could eat into if not exceed your profits.

Once you have any necessary permits and are clear about the signage rules, it’s time to set about making them.

Good yard sale signs are large, clear, and easy to read. Include the address as well as an arrow to point passing motorists in the right direction. If your town allows it, hang signs at all the busiest intersections near your house. From there, leave a trail of signs all the way to your house, pointing shoppers the right way at every turn.

Ensure your yard sale signs include the date and times of your sale as well. I always find it frustrating to see a sign that says, “garage sale,” with an address and no date because I never know if the sale is coming up, currently going on, or already over.

Listing the date and taking down signs once the sale is over ensures shoppers don’t show up on the wrong day.

You can advertise your sale online as well. Sites like Garage Sale Finder exist specifically for this purpose. Many local Craigslist groups have a section for garage sale advertising as well. Other places to put the word out include social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor.


Final Word

A well-organized garage sale takes more work to set up than a haphazard one.

But putting in this extra effort maximizes the chances your sale will succeed once it gets going. Shoppers are more likely to stop for an attractive sale, and those who stop are more likely to stick around long enough to find something they want to buy.

By taking the time to display your goods well and price them right, you can host a great yard sale instead of just an OK one. And that helps you turn more of your clutter into cash.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Micro Wedding Is Sign of the Times

Micro weddings have become ultrachic in the time of coronavirus. These smaller weddings allow you and your future spouse to exchange your vows, enter into a legal relationship and get access to each other’s health insurance all while living through these socially-distanced times.

What Are Micro Weddings?

A micro wedding is generally a wedding with less than 50 guests. In the before times, micro weddings were often a cost-cutting measure as the most effective way to cut your budget is to cut your guest list.

When you cut your guest list, you’re cutting down on the amount of space you’ll need at the venue. Simultaneously, you’re cutting down on the costs of food, alcohol and favors.

During the time of Coronavirus, micro weddings are helpful to your health as well as your wallet. You may even want or be required to cut your guest list further than the normal standard of 50 guests.

Planning a Micro Wedding

When you’re planning a micro wedding the first thing you’ll want to start with is your guest list. You may only want your closest friends and family there for your big day. Or, in this time of pandemic, you may only want it to be the two of you and the officiant. In some states, you can even eliminate the officiant via a self-uniting marriage.

Whether you have a handful of guests or just the couple at your micro wedding, venues and vendors across the wedding industry have many ways to help you share your big day while saving money.

Get Creative with the Venue

Because you have a smaller guest list, your venue doesn’t need to be nearly as large. Your favorite art gallery might be renting out space, or you might be able to book a private room at your favorite restaurant. If a venue had a minimum guest count prior to 2020, those minimums have likely been reduced or eliminated altogether.

If you are absolutely set on having a larger wedding despite the pandemic, you could book your local park or another outdoor venue to make the event safer. Be sure to remind your guests that they still need to wear masks and observe the 6-foot rule even though the event will be taking place outside.

Newly weds get married as hot air balloons are released all around them on top of a mountain.
Getty Images

Destination Weddings

You may have a bit of pent up wanderlust, dreaming of a destination wedding. Destination weddings are usually micro weddings. Because you or your guests will have to pay for extra expenses like hotel rooms and travel costs, the number of people who can attend usually becomes inherently smaller.

There are certainly some Caribbean destinations that are allowing Americans to visit during the pandemic, and some of the resorts are offering great deals. But despite more and more Americans getting vaccinated, many people are still avoiding air travel. Be prepared for some guests to decline your invitation if air travel is involved.

Instead of air travel, you can either commit to a long road trip through locales where the infection rate is low, or pick a venue within convenient driving distance. Traveling in your car with other members of your bubble is a far safer way to get from point A to point B.

Remember that even if you’re fully vaccinated, there is still potential for you to spread the virus to your guests, your hosts and anyone else you may come into contact with. The more the virus spreads, the more likely it is to harm the unvaccinated, even if those unvaccinated people aren’t in your immediate circle.

Allowing the virus to spread like this also provides it with increased opportunities to mutate into vaccine-resistant variants, which could force us all into lockdown again until boosters for new strains are available.

Invest in Quality Videography

Maybe you never dreamt of having a micro wedding. You might even be upset that you can’t have a huge party with your family and friends.

One way to help soften the blow of having a micro wedding during the pandemic is to share your big day with quality videography. You can either livestream your ceremony or hire a videographer to document the celebration.

Because business has been slower and videography has new importance during the pandemic, some venues and videographers are offering discounts on these services.

Curbside Tastings

The mere fact that you’re feeding less people at your micro wedding means you can spend less on your wedding cake and any catering your micro wedding may require.

During the pandemic, some bakeries, restaurants and caterers are offering curbside tastings to ensure everyone’s safety.

Drive-By Wedding Visits

Maybe in normal times, your sister would have been your matron of honor, but she has a disabled child who is high-risk. Even though you are both vaccinated, her child is not. She can’t risk exposing herself to even asymptomatic cases of the virus as she could unknowingly pass them on to her child.

You still want her to be a part of your big day. If she lives within driving distance, you could schedule a drive-by visit prior to the micro wedding ceremony. Either she and hers could drive by your place, where you’d be on display in your gown or tux, or you could drive by her place, stepping just outside the car to show her how good you look while keeping a masked distance of well over six feet.

It’s not the same. It’s still incredibly sad that she can’t be there, and you might even want to consider postponing your wedding until she can attend. But if the show must go on, these drive-by visits can still provide you both with a special memory from your special day.

Include Remote Readings

If you’re having a Zoom micro wedding, even those who cannot attend can participate in your ceremony. In the case of your sister, she may perform a reading or conduct a prayer through the screen. You can customize your ceremony any way you see fit, using your creativity and the power of the internet to make your micro wedding all that much bigger.

Micro Wedding Ideas for a Smaller Guest List

When planning a micro wedding, you may find that you have a bit of a budget surplus because of these cut costs. Both the budget surplus and the fact that you’ll have far fewer guests at your wedding allow you to get creative and a little more personal with the finer details of micro wedding planning.

Hand sanitizer and face masks are set out for guests to use during a wedding reception.
Getty Images

Wedding Favors

The following are a few favor ideas you might consider for your micro wedding, depending on your budget and your wedding’s theme. The dollar signs are meant to show you the relative expense but the exact dollar amount of each is based on your own budget.

  • Masks. ($-$$) Masks can be custom-printed with names and wedding date, nodding to the extraordinary times we’re all living in while giving your guests a functional gift they’ll be able to use in their day-to-day lives. You may even want to make these favors available to guests upon arrival rather than at the end of the celebration. That way if anyone forgot to bring their mask, they’ll literally be covered.
  • Hand sanitizer. ($) You can find plenty of beautiful yet affordable options for custom-printed hand sanitizer right now. Instead of the “Germ-X” label, your label will include your names, the wedding date and perhaps some adorable quote about love. This is another good favor to make available to your guests upon arrival.
  • Fauci-approved smooches. ($) Want to DIY your micro wedding favors? One cute idea is to get a glass jar, fill it with Hershey Kisses, and affix a label that reads “Social Distance Kisses.”
  • Flip flops. ($-$$) If you plan on driving to the beach for your destination wedding, flip flops can make a great wedding favor. If guests forget about the sand and wear fancy shoes to your celebration, they’ll appreciate the option to switch to beach-friendly attire upon arrival. Because your guest count is small, you can ask each guest for their shoe size beforehand so everyone is accurately accounted for. You can also go the extra mile and order custom flip flops with your names and wedding date printed on them.
  • Custom luggage tags. ($$$) This option is a little more expensive, but if you find yourself with extra padding in your wedding budget you may decide they’re worth it. Luggage tags can serve as a token of hope that life will go back to normal soon and we won’t have to stress as heavily should we have to get on a plane and traipse through the airport.

Guest Book

Similarly, because micro weddings have so few people in attendance, you can use creative ideas for a non-traditional guest book. Your guest book can then be integrated in your day-to-day married life.

Here are some ideas that can be customized to any micro wedding budget:

  • Picture frame. ($-$$$) When you get your wedding pictures back from the photographer, there’s likely to be one photo that just blows you away. Before the wedding, purchase a frame where you can display that much-anticipated picture. Buy a frame with a removable mat. Then, you can have your guests sign the mat in lieu of a guestbook on your wedding day. Their well-wishes can be displayed in your home alongside your favorite wedding photo.
  • Ornaments. ($-$$$) Have you ever known someone who has a tradition of picking up a Christmas ornament on every vacation? Their tree then reminds them of all the journeys they’ve enjoyed. You can do a similar thing for your wedding day — especially if you have a small guest list. Instead of a guestbook, provide ornaments and paint pens coordinated with your wedding colors. Each guest will sign one. Every year, you can display your wedding-day memories on your tree, remembering those who were there with you.
  • Tiles or stepping stones. ($-$$$) Are you and your soon-to-be spouse remodeling? Or doing some landscaping work? If so, you can integrate your wedding day into your design plans. For instance, if you’re doing interior repairs and plan to lay tile, you can put out some tiles at your micro wedding in lieu of a guest book. Each guest would then sign one, and you could integrate your guest book into your home. If you’re doing outside work, you could have each guest sign a wet stepping stone, even adding their handprint if they want to. You can then integrate these stepping stones into your garden.

Stationary

Things are a lot more hopeful right now with somewhat improved vaccine distribution, but there are still so many unknowns. As you plan your micro wedding during uncertain times, you might want to familiarize yourself with some Corona-era additions to the wedding stationary world:

  • Change-the-date announcements. Change-the-date cards are now incredibly common for wedding postponements. Just like wedding invitations, these cards range from cute and witty all the way to incredibly formal. You can look for a template that matches the tone of your wedding day.
  • Virtual wedding invitations. Maybe you’re doing your part by giving the virus as few opportunities to mutate as possible. That’s why you’re doing a Zoom micro wedding with just the two of you plus your officiant. Paper invitations to your wedding are still a beautiful touch, but the most convenient way to invite your guests to livestream the event is through a virtual invitation. With virtual invitations, your guests will have access to a clickable link where they can participate in your ceremony live.
  • Elopement announcements. Whether you elope or simply choose not to announce to anyone but your micro wedding guests that you’re getting married, after-the-fact wedding announcements are a good way to include family and friends. Prior to the pandemic, these were commonly used for elopements, so you can find plenty of templates online even if they predate 2020. But you can also find pandemic-specific announcements whether you eloped or did, indeed, plan and have a few guests. Ideally, this announcement will contain a link to a wedding website where friends and family can view either pictures or video of your celebration after the fact.

It can be hard to break it to family or friends that they are either not invited or are uninvited to your wedding. But you are not the only one going through this situation. The silver lining is that because so many couples have faced the same circumstances, there are plenty of templates online and professionals who have worded the same sentiment for numerous clients. You don’t have to stress about the wording on your own.

Brynne Conroy is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. She blogs at Femme Frugality.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Why Today’s Retirees Need to Pursue Tax-Minimization Strategies

Today’s retirees face many obstacles, from an unpredictable market to a lack of guaranteed income in retirement. While these are important challenges to address, they would be remiss to ignore their future tax burdens. We’ll likely see increased taxes in the future, and this will affect today’s retirees more than tax increases have affected retirees in the past.

Retirement Then vs. Now

Today’s retirees are the first IRA generation: Whereas previous generations could primarily rely on Social Security benefits and pensions to cover their retirement expenses, many of today’s retirees find themselves having to fund a much larger portion of their retirement through their own pre-tax retirement accounts. And while retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs have significant benefits, they also come with downsides, namely that all of the withdrawals in retirement are taxable as ordinary income at the current tax rates in our country.

This means that if tax rates were to rise, the retiree living off of IRAs will have to pay more in taxes and therefore live off of less after-tax income. Previous generations saved their money in after-tax accounts, meaning if tax rates were to rise, it would not affect them the same way it will for this IRA generation. When we look at the history of taxes and the Biden administration’s tax-increasing proposals, it’s clear that retirees need to have a tax-minimization plan.

Could We See Taxes Increase?

We need to plan for the tax rates of the future, not the present. Previously, tax increases primarily affected wage earners. The Social Security payroll tax and income tax increases had little effect on Social Security beneficiaries and retirees who saved in after-tax accounts. However, those who take distributions from a tax-deferred retirement account and who invest in the market are affected by both income tax increases and new taxes.

These could include:

  • The possible elimination of the favorable long-term capital gains taxes rates for the wealthiest investors. This could mean those with incomes of $1 million or more might pay up to 39.5% on their gains, rather than the current top rate of 20%.
  • Lowering of the current standard deduction. Many retirees don’t itemize their deductions and rely on the standard deduction.  Therefore, if the current standard deduction is lowered, people’s taxes could go up.
  • Imposing the Social Security payroll tax on workers or households earning over $400,000 annually. This tax — in which employers and employees each pay 6.2% and the self-employed pay the full 12.4% — helps pay for Social Security benefits.
  • Lowering the federal estate tax exemption amount, which could affect estates above about $5 million.

Retirees should note that we may be experiencing tax rates at 100-year lows now, and that this could end in light of recent increased government spending. Our already large national debt increased during the pandemic, with the CARES Act of 2020 costing $2.2 trillion and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 costing $1.9 trillion. We will have to pay for this eventually, and retirees with large tax-deferred IRAs could be the ones to do it.

When we look at history, we see that after a period of increased government spending during World War II, income tax rates in the following decades were much higher than they are now. In 1944, the top rate peaked at 94%, and by 1964 it had only gone down to 70%. This doesn’t mean that an individual’s tax bracket will go from 22% to 70%, but there is a lot of room in between where retirees could feel the effects.

When running a financial plan, retirees need to calculate how much taxable income they will have and how much of that will be left after taxes. If tax rates rise, retirees could need to withdraw more from their taxable retirement accounts to be left with the same amount of income, ultimately drawing down their savings faster.

RMDs

Taxes on retirement income can become more burdensome starting at age 72. Most retirees must take RMDs (required minimum distributions) from their traditional retirement accounts starting at age 72, and the amount they must withdraw is based on their age and account balance.

RMDs could force someone to withdraw more than they normally would from their tax-deferred retirement account, causing them to jump into a higher tax bracket. Retirees under the age 72 should look to do careful planning that may minimize this effect by the time they reach this age.  (Keep reading for an idea on how to help do that below.)

Taxes and Your Legacy Goals

RMDs can also potentially increase a beneficiary’s tax burden due to the SECURE Act passed in 2019. It ended the “stretch IRA,” which allowed beneficiaries to stretch out distributions from an inherited retirement account over their lifetimes. Now, most non-spouse beneficiaries must empty traditional accounts within 10 years of the original owner’s death.

Those who want to pass on their retirement accounts should consider tax minimization strategies when creating an estate plan. One possibility is a charitable remainder trust.

What Can Retirees Do Now to Prepare for Higher Taxes Later?

Those who will draw a significant portion of their retirement income from taxable retirement account should take note, and work to minimize their overall tax burden. There are many strategies they can employ, including converting part or all of their traditional 401(k) or IRA to a Roth IRA. This involves paying tax on the amount converted and eventually withdrawing it from the Roth tax-free. If we see taxes increase in the future, a Roth conversion at today’s rates could potentially be a good strategy for those whose tax burden won’t substantially decrease in retirement.

In addition to providing tax-free income, a Roth is also exempt from RMDs. This means that the money in a Roth IRA can continue to grow throughout the owner’s lifetime tax-free. When it’s inherited, the beneficiary will have to drain the account in 10 years, as with a traditional IRA. However, distributions from traditional IRAs, distributions from Roth IRAs are not taxable and will not incur an early withdrawal penalty as long as the account is at least five years old.

The Bottom Line for Retirees

Retirees who have both traditional and Roth IRAs can strategically withdraw from each to avoid going into a higher tax bracket, continue to reap the tax-advantage benefits of a retirement account after age 72, and pass on potentially tax-free wealth to their beneficiaries. Those who think tax hikes are on the horizon and who don’t plan to live on significantly less income in retirement should consider tax-minimization strategies such as a Roth conversion.

Investment Advisory Services offered through Epstein and White Financial LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.  Epstein & White Retirement Income Solutions, LLC is a licensed insurance agency with the state of California Department of Insurance (#0K53785).  As of March 31, 2021, Epstein and White is now a part of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an Investment Adviser with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. The information, suggestions and recommendations included in this material is for informational purposes only and cannot be relied upon for any financial, legal, tax, accounting, or insurance purposes.  Epstein and White Financial is not a certified public accounting firm, and no portion of its services should be construed as legal or accounting advice. Please consult with your own accountant and financial planning professional to determine how tax changes affect your unique financial situation. A copy of Epstein & White Financial LLC’s current written disclosure statement discussing advisory services and fees is available for review upon request or at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

Founder and CEO, Epstein and White Retirement Income Solutions

Bradley White is founder and CEO of Epstein and White. He’s a Certified Financial Planner™ and has a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Diego State University. He’s an Investment Advisor Representative (IAR) and an insurance professional.

Source: kiplinger.com

Paying taxes as a freelancer

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.

Paying taxes as a freelancer can be a bit more involved—and expensive—than paying taxes as a W-2 employee. When you’re a freelancer, you’re the boss. That’s great if you want some flexibility, but it also means you’re self-employed, so you are responsible for both the employer and employee parts of employment taxes.

When you work for someone else, your paycheck amount is your pay minus all appropriate deductions. That includes deductions for federal and state income taxes as well as Medicare and Social Security contributions.

But what you might not realize is that your employer covers part of the Medicare and Social Security amounts. As a self-employed individual, you have to pay the total amount yourself. That’s 12.4 percent for Social Security and 2.9 percent for Medicare—a total of 15.3 percent of your taxable earnings, not including federal and other income taxes.

When Do I Have to Start Paying Taxes as a Freelancer?

According to the Internal Revenue Service, if you earn $400 or more in a year via self-employment or contract work, you must claim the income and pay taxes on it. The threshold is even lower if you earn the money for church work. If you earn more than $108.28 as a church employee and the church employer doesn’t withhold and pay employment taxes, you must do so.

What Tax Forms Should I Know About?

Freelancers report their income to the IRS using a Form 1040, but they may need to include a variety of Schedule attachments, including:

  • Schedule A, which lists itemized deductions
  • Schedule C, which reports profits or losses from their freelancer business
  • Schedule SE, which calculates self-employment tax

These are only some of the forms that might be relevant to a freelancer filing federal taxes. Freelancers must also file a tax form for the state in which they live as well as with any local governments that require income tax payments.

If you’re planning to do your taxes on your own as a freelancer, it might be helpful to invest in DIY tax software. Look for options that cater specifically to home and business or self-employment situations. These software programs typically walk you through a series of questions designed to determine which forms you need to file and help you complete those forms correctly.

Six Tips for Doing Your Taxes as a Freelancer

As a freelancer, chances are you spend a lot of your time attending to clients and getting production work done. You may not have a lot of time for business organization tasks such as accounting. But a proactive approach to paying taxes as a freelancer can help you prepare to do your taxes and pay what can be a surprisingly big bill each year.

Here are six tips for handling taxes as a freelancer.

1. Keep Track of Your Income

Track your income so you know how much you may need to pay in taxes every year. Keeping track of your numbers also helps you understand whether your business is profitable and how you’re doing with income compared to past years.

You can track your income in a number of ways. Apps and software programs such as QuickBooks and Wave let you manage your freelance invoices and track income and expenses. Some also help you generate financial reports that might be helpful come tax time.

Alternatively, you can track your income in an Excel spreadsheet or even a notebook, as long as you’re consistent with writing everything down.

2. Set Money Aside in Advance

It’s tempting to count every dollar that comes in as money you can use. But it’s wiser to set money aside for taxes in advance. Depending on how much you earn as a freelancer, you could owe thousands in federal and state taxes by the end of the year, and if you didn’t plan ahead, you might not have the money to cover the tax bill.

That can lead to tax debt that comes with pretty stiff penalties and interest—and the potential for a tax lien if you can’t pay the bill.

3. Determine Your Business Structure

Make sure you know what your business structure is. Many freelancers operate as sole proprietorships. But you might be able to get a tax break if you operate as an LLC or a corporation. Talk to legal and tax professionals as you set up your business to find out about the pros and cons of each type of organization.

4. Know About Relevant Deductions

As a freelancer, you may be able to take certain federal tax deductions to save yourself some money. Tax deductions reduce how much of your income is considered taxable, which, in turn, reduces how much you owe in taxes. Here are a few common deductions that might be relevant to you as a freelancer.

Home Office

You can take the home office deduction if you’ve set aside a certain area of your home for use by the business. The IRS does have a couple of stipulations.

First, you have to regularly use the space for your business, and it can’t be something you use regularly for other purposes. For example, you can’t claim your dining room as a home office just because you sometimes work from that location.

Second, the home has to be your principal place of business, which means it’s where you do most business activity. You can’t claim the deduction if you normally work outside the home but sometimes answer work emails while you’re in the living room.

Equipment and Supplies

You can also deduct the cost of equipment and supplies that you buy for your business. That includes software purchases and relevant subscriptions, such as if you pay monthly for Microsoft 365 or annually for a domain name.

Make sure you have backup documentation for any business expenses you deduct. That means keeping receipts that show what you purchased so you can prove that the expenses were for business. You also have to be careful to keep business and personal expenses separate—art supplies for your child’s school project, for example, wouldn’t typically be considered valid business expenses.

Travel and Meals

Meals and travel expenses that are related to your business may be tax deductible. If you stay in a hotel, book a flight or incur other travel expenses that are necessary for the running of your business, you can claim them as a deduction. The same is true for 50 percent of the value of meals and beverages that you pay for as a necessity when doing business.

The IRS does set an “ordinary and necessary” rule here. For example, if you’re traveling to meet with a client and you need to eat lunch, that is likely to be considered necessary. But if you opt for a very lavish meal for no other purpose than to do so, it might not be allowed under the “ordinary” part of the rule.

Business Insurance

If you carry liability or similar insurance for your business, you can deduct it as a cost of doing business. You may also be able to deduct the cost of other insurance policies if they are necessary for your trade.

5. Estimate Your Taxes Quarterly

The IRS offers provisions for estimating your employment taxes on a quarterly basis. Self-employed individuals, including freelancers, can make these estimated tax payments, too. Paying as you go means you won’t owe a large sum every April, and if you overestimate, you may get a tax refund.

Quarterly payments are due in April, June, September and January. They can be mailed or made online. Depending on how much you earn, you may need to make quarterly estimated tax payments to avoid a penalty at the end of the year.

6. Consult a Tax Professional

As you can see just from the basic information and tips above, paying taxes as a freelancer can get complicated quickly. Consider talking to a tax professional to understand what all your obligations are and how best to reduce your tax burden using legal deductions. You might be missing a major deduction every year that could save you a lot of money.

And remember that as a freelancer, you’re running your own small business. That means paying attention to all your finances, including your credit report. If you ever want to take out a business loan or seek other funding to grow your business, you might need to rely on your good credit score.

Check your credit score, and if you find inaccurate negative information making an impact on your score, contact Lexington Law to find out how to get help disputing it.


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

Managing Your Money, Together

To learn more about how our Minters are achieving their financial goals, we reached out to everyday Mint users, just like you, to hear their stories. Whether it’s paying off student loans, or working toward buying a home, we’re so inspired by the dedication this community has shown in working toward your goals and dreams.

One of the Minters we connected with is Jordan. He shared with us how he’s used Mint to reach a number of his financial goals. Check out his #EmpowerMint story:

My wife and I have been interested in getting out of debt ever since the day we took on student loans. With the desire to pay those loans off, we strived to learn more about budgeting and personal finance.

As we grew in our journey, there were many financial things we questioned that felt ‘normal.’ We heard so many messages that emphasized the need to have the newest toys to be happy, that having debt is normal, and that most people live paycheck to paycheck. We realized that we didn’t feel comfortable with any of that, and that we found satisfaction in being content with what we have. 

Knowing that money issues were often a problem area for couples, my wife and I started using Mint shortly after we got married in 2010 to ensure transparency and partnership from the beginning. We found Mint to be a terrific tool for us to have a complete picture of our financial situation. During this time, I was working full-time and my wife was finishing up her last year in nursing school. Mint was an immediate help in keeping track of where our money was going and in starting budget discussions that have proved to be invaluable in our marriage. It also helped initiate discussions on both near-term and long-term goals, which have been so key in helping us plan both strategically and aspirationally. 

As time went on, Mint was instrumental in helping us achieve so many of our goals including:

  • Paying off student loans
  • Paying for grad school with cash
  • Preparing for kids
  • Starting a 529
  • Saving for a down payment
  • Buying a home

Our current goal is to complete our 15-year mortgage in under 5 years. A combination of Mint, aggressive savings, overtime shifts, and side hustles have helped put us in a position to achieve this goal within the next 12 months. Once that goal is complete, we’re excited to have a little fun and celebrate this accomplishment, and then prepare for the next chapter in our financial journey. 

In addition to this goal, we also have various net worth milestones we would like to achieve in the next 1-, 5-, and 10-year periods. We are very excited about the concept of financial independence, and would like to be in a position where we have the opportunity to focus our attention on things outside of work, such as further investing in our family and causes that are important to us. With Mint, we can see how the choices we’re making are helping move us closer to achieving these goals. 

Today, we check Mint on a daily basis in order to stay on top of our expenses and monitor for any fraudulent activity. Years ago, Mint helped me identify a fraudulent charge almost immediately, enabling me to notify our bank and get the issue resolved. Reviewing our expenses enables us to stay within our budget, catch fraudulent activity, and follow the ‘every dollar’ budgeting rules that have been so helpful for us. In addition, linking our accounts has automated what would otherwise be a very manual and time-intensive process. 

I have also loved using the trends feature to have full visibility into exactly how our money is being spent and to help ensure we’re always partnering as we work towards our financial goals, rather than feeling like one person is pulling the other along. We can budget with transparency and not feel any need to hide transactions for personal expenses and rewards or small splurges. 

The trends feature has also allowed us to get a sense of what our typical spending has been in different categories. We periodically review our budget, and being able to easily see our historical spending in different categories has helped us set realistic targets, as well as track our progress when we are attempting to change habits. Lastly, being able to see changes in our net worth over the years has been inspiring, as we have been able to see in real-time how decisions to save or forego immediate gratification can have long-term benefits.

Beyond that, we have found a great deal of joy in doing things ourselves, whether it is cooking meals for the week, doing our own car maintenance, or trying to fix something ourselves before calling someone. Additionally, the satisfaction has compounded as we’ve seen that making these choices has helped us not only learn new things, but also in achieving our goals. 

Knowing what we know now, we’re really excited to pass these values on to our kids, and we’re happy to discuss them with anyone who asks. Additionally, I can see a ‘life’ after work that involves volunteering in some form in the personal finance field, whether that is teaching folks about budgeting or just encouraging them in their financial journey.

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Source: mint.intuit.com