Try the 4-Gift Rule to Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

This strategy sets clear boundaries on what types of gifts to get and caps how much you buy. It’s a great family tradition to adopt if you want to reduce the financial stress of the holiday season.
These tips for using the four-gift rule will help you stay within your holiday budget and avoid post-Christmas shopping regrets.
This gift category is a way to sneak in learning opportunities for your kids, but you can make it fun too. Even if your children aren’t major bookworms, they might love a book based on their favorite TV show or a new movie that’s coming out. Graphic novels and comics count as books too!
But really though — socks and underwear. Do it.

What Is the Four-Gift Rule?

Or go for something a little more exciting, like headphones, hats or headbands.
Just make sure to set a spending limit for this gift — whatever works best for your budget.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

If you’ve got room in your budget, don’t forget about jolly old St. Nick! You can opt for one Santa gift for the whole family — like a game — or get each kid one present from Santa that you know they’ll love. Look for small trinkets at the dollar store or somewhere similar to fill up the kids’ stockings.
Fortunately, the solution to keeping the kids happy without going overboard with your spending comes down to an easy gift-giving strategy called the four-gift rule.

See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something They Want

This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.
You buy one gift per category — that’s it.
Those of us who have fond memories of opening stacks of presents under the tree on Christmas morning want to re-create that same magical feeling for our kids when the holidays roll around.

Something They Need

You can get creative with this category and find something that you and your kids both agree they need.
What we don’t need, of course, is for our eyes to grow wide when checking our credit card statements and our hearts to sink with disappointment when realizing it’ll take months to pay down all the holiday debt.
Using coupons and shopping sales can really help you score a gift from this category without spending hundreds of dollars.

Something to Wear

Your kids may not have included any clothing items on their wish lists, so think hard about what would be exciting for them to get — like a shirt with their favorite cartoon character on it or a personalized piece of jewelry.
This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn. Maybe your children are shoe fanatics and would really appreciate a new pair. Or perhaps your little one loves playing dress-up and could use a nice jewelry box to store their many accessories.
If you were under your budget on your shiny “want” gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit.
Trim your holiday spending budget by finding free books for your kiddos. This article shares 14 ways to get free kids books.

Something to Read

This is where you can make kids’ wishes come true. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial. It will be your shiny present with a bow on top, so make it count. Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer. Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
Ready to stop worrying about money?

Bonus: One Gift From Santa

By following the four-gift rule and sticking to one present from Santa, the meaning of giving goes a little further instead of letting Santa get all the credit.
The four-gift rule is super simple. It even rhymes, so it’s easy to remember.
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Without being overwhelmed with a plethora of presents, the kids will be able to really focus their attention on the gifts they receive. The magic of Christmas will remain intact — without the extra financial stress. <!–

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10 Tips to Help You Stay Cozy in Your Apartment this Winter

Enjoy cozy vibes in your apartment all winter long with these 10 tips.

With temperatures dropping quickly and the shortest days of the year approaching fast, many apartment renters are looking for ways to stay cozy and ride out the long winter in complete comfort.

Here are 10 simple tips that are sure to help you stay cozy in your apartment until spring returns.

1. Avoid the overheads

Overhead lights are great when you’re staying up late to get some extra work done or trying to find something small you dropped on the ground. What they’re not great for is setting a cozy mood. With the sun setting earlier than any other time throughout the year, you end up spending a solid portion of the winter months basking in unnatural light, regardless of how much natural light your apartment receives in the middle of a sunny day.

Make the most of these early sunsets and treat yourself to some warm and cozy mood lighting. Whether that takes the form of an ultra-modern floor lamp, a hand-me-down lava lamp from your pop’s college days or a Michael Scott-style St. Pauli Girl neon sign, all that matters is that it puts your mind at ease and amplifies your cozy vibe.

2. Light a candle…or five

candles to stay cozy in your apartment

candles to stay cozy in your apartment

For hundreds of years, fire has been the most effective way for people of all walks of life to find coziness in the toughest conditions. From our cave-dwelling ancestors sharing stories around the warm embrace of a communal fire to you and your cousins sitting at the base of the fireplace while grandpa relives the glory days aloud, fires have always been a go-to for cultivating coziness.

Given the fact that many apartments are not equipped with a fireplace, you’re going to have to get a bit creative here. Luckily for you, candles are in vogue and that means every Walmart, Target and CVS boasts an entire section of seasonally scented candles perfect for mellowing out your apartment and inviting those cozy feelings in.

Pro tip: Create your own makeshift fireplace by getting a set of five or so scentless candles. Place them together in a safe spot in your apartment, turn off the lights and stay cozy around your new “fireplace.”

3. Invest in sweats

When you’re getting down to business, you put on a suit. When your business is staying cozy in the winter, you put on a sweatsuit. As temperatures drop and the sun only shows its smiling face for a few precious hours a day, comfort takes the top priority over style. This is especially true if you’re part of the still-growing population of people spending their nine-to-five working from home. Stay home, stay suited and stay cozy.

4. Slide into a quality pair of slippers

Person with slippers staying cozy in apartment

Person with slippers staying cozy in apartment

If you’re already committed to spending a majority of your winter rocking a sweatsuit, slippers are the next logical step (pun very much intended). Less rigid than shoes, more comfortable than your coziest pair of socks, a quality pair of slippers is the final piece you need to achieve total head-to-toe comfort and maximize your overall coziness as winter rages on outside your windows.

5. Organize your closet

Now that you’ve got a cozy sweatsuit and quality slippers, it’s time to trim the fat in your closet by tossing the things you don’t wear.

Buckle up, this step to staying cozy is a three-parter.

Part 1: Remove summer clothes you didn’t wear this year

Go through your closet and set aside all of the warm-weather items you didn’t touch throughout this past spring and summer. Put those clothes in a garbage bag or cardboard box and set them aside for a few months.

Part 2: Remove winter clothes you didn’t wear last year

Go through your closet and set aside all of the cold-weather items you didn’t wear throughout the fall and haven’t touched a month or so into the winter. Add those clothes to your warm-weather collection from a few months ago.

Part 3: Donate these clothes

Donate those clothes and enjoy the cozy feeling that comes with helping those in need in your community. And, as an added bonus, you’re creating more space in your closet for the fashion trends of the future.

6. Get creative

arts and craft supplies

arts and craft supplies

The lighting is right and your sweats are plush. Now that you’re equipped with the things you need to stay cozy, it’s time to take the next step and do some activities that invoke that highly sought-after feeling of pure coziness.

One great way to leverage your creativity to create a more cozy environment is to fill your walls and shelves with your own creations. You don’t have to be a Picasso to display your own artistic creations throughout your apartment. Even if you’re not the most creative person, the whole point here is to pass the time, ignite your imagination and create a more cozy environment in your apartment through your own artistic endeavors.

Whether you’re painting something simple like a heart, learning the ancient art of origami or hopping in on a new trend like creating your own macrame wall hanging, the important thing is that you’re enjoying yourself and engaging your imagination to fend off the boredom that often accompanies cold winter days.

Pro tip: You don’t have to spend money to learn a new skill. Look at YouTube for simple tutorials designed to help you perfect your craft without asking you to spend a dime.

7. Embrace your inner iron chef

They call it comfort food for a reason: it provides comfort. Whether that dish takes the form of a hearty hot soup, an extra cheesy casserole or a downright delicious batch of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, comfort food is undoubtedly one of the keys to cultivating a cozy atmosphere all winter long.

For those living in smaller apartments, an added bonus to upping your kitchen productivity throughout the winter is that you get a little residual heat from your stovetop or oven circulating around the apartment.

8. Work out with your bodyweight

person doing yoga

person doing yoga

Even if you’re living in a 400-square-foot studio, you still have enough room for some bodyweight workouts. While this may seem like a counterproductive activity to staying cozy in your home, bodyweight workouts offer a few advantages that contribute to an overall cozy vibe.

Working out is one of the most reliable ways to activate your endorphins and improve your overall mood. So, if you find yourself feeling bogged down by a cold gray day, take 15 minutes or so to work through some pushups, squats and situps. You can do these three simple workouts in minimal space with no equipment required.

These workouts can act as a palette cleanser for your mood and provide you with a fresh mental start even if you’re at the beginning of a long day.

9. Find your emotional support show

All due respect to 1950’s Hollywood, but the golden age of TV is happening right now. With specialized streaming services opening doors to all types of entertainment, there has never been a better time than now to cozy up on your couch for a full day of pure binging bliss.

If you’re looking for something that will put you in a cozy mood the second it shows up on the screen, here are a couple of qualifiers you should keep in mind before you dive into a new show.

  • Find something that’s easy to follow. This kind of show will allow you to work on your creative endeavors, prep your favorite dish or knock out a quick bodyweight workout circuit without losing track of the narrative.
  • Find something with at least three seasons. You can feel the effects of winter well before and long after the official start and end dates of the season. Because of this, it’s important to pick a show with some staying power that has the ability to last you to the spring.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Netflix fanatic, a Hulu loyalist or dedicated to Disney+, you’re sure to find something that will have you feeling cozy every time take a seat on the couch and pick up the remote.

10. Hit the books

books to stay cozy in your apartment

books to stay cozy in your apartment

There’s something primally pleasurable about cracking open a book and transporting your mind to an entirely new world. When temperatures drop, this joy rises even more. While it’s difficult to put down the remote and pick up a new book, taking some time to read is a truly effective way to keep your mind off the cold and keep the cozy vibes rolling. Don’t know what to read? Here are three book recommendations that pair perfectly with a winter day.

  • “My Year of Rest and Relaxation:” Ever wonder what it would be like to hibernate for a whole year? Author Otessa Moshfegh explores this idea in a wildly entertaining novel that is currently in development to become a movie starring Margot Robbie.
  • “Out There – The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine:” It’s hard not to feel cozy when you’re sitting in a temperature-controlled apartment reading about some of the most harrowing adventures ever documented in the freezing wilderness. Simple as that.
  • “The Little Book of Hygge:” Defined as “the art of creating coziness,” Hygge is something that is only achieved through concentrated efforts. Written by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, this book is the definitive guide to cultivating coziness from arguably the most qualified person on the planet to do so.

Not interested in the titles above? Take a trip to your local bookstore and ask around for recommendations or look around for an online book club that matches your style.

Start prepping and stay cozy all winter long

It doesn’t matter if you’re using light to set the mood, putting your kitchen to the test or escaping your surroundings through a great show or book, coziness is within reach no matter who you are, where you live and what your interests are.

Source: rent.com

5 Home Services You Should Not Pay For

Man holding up his hand to stop a home purchase
Asier Romero / Shutterstock.com

Homeownership certainly comes with a lot of unavoidable if sometimes unexpected expenses, from property taxes to insurance and repairs.

But there are many home-related costs we don’t necessarily need to pay for — and other things we’re not sure are worth it.

Following are some costs you might be on the fence about, and why we think you should avoid them.

1. Air duct cleaning

duct cleaning
Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

Some companies advertise duct cleaning services to supposedly improve your home’s air quality.

Does it work? The Environmental Protection Agency is unconvinced.

It says, “Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems,” and suggests only having ducts cleaned in a few specific situations, such as if mold is visible inside your heating and cooling system or if there are vermin.

2. Custom framing

Selection of custom picture frames
Eric Glenn / Shutterstock.com

Simply hanging artwork in your home shouldn’t be an expensive proposition, but it can be if you rely on custom framing jobs. In some cases, a frame can cost more than what it protects.

The reason custom framing gets so expensive, Vox explains, is the number of options available — a dizzying array of hundreds of frames and mats of all sizes, plus options for moldings and glazings.

For standard-sized images, a ready-made frame may suffice at a fraction of the cost. You can buy them new at a home goods store, or if you want a more “distressed” look and even greater savings, bring a tape measure to your local thrift store and size up some gently-used frames. So-called “floater frames” can provide style and flexibility for displaying art of unusual dimensions.

And then there are a growing number of specialty companies online, happy to provide custom-size frames at a lower cost than local frame shops. The New York Times’ Wirecutter recommends Framebridge, which has a flat fee, high-quality builds and the simplest ordering process among the tested companies.

3. Extended product warranties

Excited salesman
Billion Photos / Shutterstock.com

It’s natural to want to get your money’s worth out of every purchase, and therefore to consider extending a warranty. But many experts suggest they’re usually just not worth it, including Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.

This is doubly true if you use a credit card that automatically extends warranties or have another way to get a warranty. For instance, if you’re a Costco member, you can get a free two-year warranty on items such as TVs, computers and major appliances that you purchase there.

4. Self-storage rentals

storage units
sunlover / Shutterstock.com

Buying more stuff than you need is expensive enough. But what’s even worse is when you run out of space for all that stuff in your home and start paying somebody else to hold on to it for you.

Consider self-storage a temporary solution, for situations like moving a household. Otherwise, you’re paying potentially thousands to hide many things you’re probably going to forget about because they’re not important enough to keep handy or remember in your day-to-day life. All that money wasted because you can’t bear the thought of decluttering.

If you really must maintain a unit, check out “10 Ways to Cut the Cost of Self-Storage.”

5. Junk hauling

Upset woman in a cluttered garage
northallertonman / Shutterstock.com

So you’ve decided to declutter: Great! But don’t pay someone to get rid of your stuff.

Instead, turn to free ways to rid yourself of things you no longer need.

Search for local charities that are willing to pick up your donations. Post listings on websites such as Facebook, Freecycle or the Buy Nothing Project.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Fixed Expense vs Variable Expense

Budgeting is the best way to get a better handle on where your money is going — which can help you get a better handle on where you’d like to see your money go.

But before you dive into the nitty-gritty of each individual line item on your ledger, you first need to understand the difference between fixed expenses and variable expenses.

As their name suggests, fixed expenses are those that are fixed, or unchanging, each month, while variable expenses are the ones with which you can expect a little more wiggle room. However, it’s possible to make cuts on items in both the fixed and variable expense category to save money toward bigger financial goals, whether that’s an epic vacation or your eventual retirement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Fixed Expense?

Fixed expenses are those costs that you pay in the same amount each month — items like your rent or mortgage payment, insurance premiums, and your gym membership. It’s all the stuff whose amounts you know ahead of time, and which don’t change.

Fixed expenses tend to make up a large percentage of a monthly budget since housing costs, typically the largest part of a household budget, are generally fixed expenses. This means that fixed expenses present a great opportunity for saving large amounts of money on a recurring basis if you can find ways to reduce their costs, though cutting costs on fixed expenses may require bigger life changes, like moving to a different apartment — or even a different city.

Keep in mind, too, that not all fixed expenses are necessities — or big budget line items. For example, an online TV streaming service subscription, which is withdrawn in the same amount every month, is a fixed expense, but it’s also a want as opposed to a need. Subscription services can seem affordable until they start accumulating and perhaps become unaffordable.

Recommended: Are Monthly Subscriptions Ruining Your Budget?

What Is a Variable Expense?

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts can vary each month, depending on factors like your personal choices and behaviors as well as external circumstances like the weather.
For example, in areas with cold winters, electricity or gas bills are likely to increase during the winter months because it takes more energy to keep a house comfortably warm. Grocery costs are also variable expenses since the amount you spend on groceries can vary considerably depending on what kind of items you purchase and how much you eat.

You’ll notice, though, that both of these examples of variable costs are still necessary expenses — basic utility costs and food. The amount of money you spend on other nonessential line items, like fashion or restaurant meals, is also a variable expense. In either case, variable simply means that it’s an expense that fluctuates on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to a fixed-cost bill you expect to see in the same amount each month.

To review:

•   Fixed expenses are those that cost the same amount each month, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

•   Variable expenses are those that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, like groceries, utilities, restaurant meals, and movie theater tickets.

•   Both fixed and variable utilities can be either wants or needs — you can have fixed-expense wants, like a gym membership, and variable-expense needs, like groceries.

When budgeting, it’s possible to make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses.

Recommended: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Benefits of Saving Money on Fixed Expenses

If you’re trying to find ways to stash some cash, finding places in your budget to make cuts is a big key. And while you can make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses, lowering your fixed expenses can pack a hefty punch, since these tend to be big line items — and since the savings automatically replicate themselves each month when that bill comes due again. (Even businesses calculate the ratio of their fixed expenses to their variable expense, for this reason, yielding a measure known as operating leverage.)

Think about it this way: if you quit your morning latte habit (a variable expense), you might save a grand total of $150 over the course of a month — not too shabby, considering its just coffee. But if you recruit a roommate or move to a less trendy neighborhood, you might slash your rent (a fixed expense) in half. Those are big savings, and savings you don’t have to think about once you’ve made the adjustment: they just automatically rack up each month.

Other ways to save money on your fixed expenses include refinancing your car (or other debt) to see if you can qualify for a lower payment… or foregoing a car entirely in favor of a bicycle if your commute allows it. Can you pare down on those multiple streaming subscriptions or hit the road for a run instead of patronizing a gym? Even small savings can add up over time when they’re consistent and effort-free — it’s like automatic savings.

Of course, orchestrating it in the first place does take effort (and sometimes considerable effort, at that — pretty much no one names moving as their favorite activity). The benefits you might reap thereafter can make it all worthwhile, though.

Saving Money on Variable Expenses

Of course, as valuable as it is to make cuts to fixed expenses, saving money on variable expenses is still useful — and depending on your habits, it could be fairly easy to make significant slashes. For example, by adjusting your grocery shopping behaviors and aiming at fresh, bulk ingredients over-packaged convenience foods, you might decrease your monthly food bill. You could even get really serious and spend a few hours each weekend scoping out the weekly flyer for sales.

If you have a spendy habit like eating out regularly or shopping for clothes frequently, it can also be possible to find places to make cuts in your variable expenses. You can also find frugal alternatives for your favorite spendy activities, whether that means DIYing your biweekly manicure to learning to whip up that gourmet pizza at home. (Or maybe you’ll find a way to save enough on fixed expenses that you won’t have to worry as much about these habits!)

The Takeaway

Fixed expenses are those costs that are in the same amount each month, whereas variable expenses can vary. Both can be trimmed if you’re trying to save money in your budget, but cutting from fixed expenses can yield bigger savings for less ongoing effort.

Great budgeting starts with a great money management platform — and a SoFi Money® cash management account can give you a bird’s-eye view that puts everything into perspective. You’ll also have access to the Vaults feature, which helps you set aside money for specific savings purposes, no matter which goals are the most important to you, all in one account.

Check out SoFi Money and how it can help you manage your financial goals.

Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird


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23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, but you live in an area that doesn’t get any snow, you can use spray snow to make your winter wonderland dreams come true. You can spray artificial snow on your windows to create a frosted look or spray your front door wreath to make it appear to be covered with snowflakes. A can of spray snow costs less than on Amazon.
Dress up your dining table to bring out the joy of the holiday season. Drape your table with a red, green or white tablecloth and fill a vase or tray with seasonal elements, such as pine cones, holly leaves, cranberries, sprigs of pine needles, jingle bells, candy canes or candles.
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23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

1. Wall Christmas Trees

Turn empty flower pots into outdoor Christmas decor with just a little paint. You’ll need at least three pots of varying sizes. Paint them white if you want to create a snowman out of your flower pots or green to make a flower pot Christmas tree. Once dried, stack the pots on top of each other upside down and paint additional embellishments, like a face and buttons on your snowman or ornaments and tinsel on your Christmas tree.

2. Get an Artificial Christmas Tree

You can buy boxes of candy canes for cheap at grocery stores or dollar stores around this time of the year. Fill candy dishes full of these red and white striped treats to go on your tablescape, coffee table or end tables. Or hang one or two candy canes on your Christmas tree in place of buying more pricy ornaments.

A woman decorates a tiny Christmas tree.
Getty Images

3. Get a Tiny Tree

The weather’s getting colder. The days are getting shorter. Before you know it, Christmas will be here.

4. Garland

Transform your doors into the biggest presents ever by covering them in wrapping paper. You can use wrapping paper to decorate your interior doors as well as your front door. Add ribbon or a big bow for extra embellishment.

5. DIY Ornaments

Talk about easy Christmas decorations that make your home merry. You can also stack your wrapped present props in an empty corner, by the base of your staircase or on your front porch.

6. Twinkling Lights

Rather than buying an advent calendar this year, make your own. This post from Country Living has several ideas. Come up with whatever little treat, token or message you want to open each day.

7. Window Stickers

Whether you use a kit or make your own gingerbread from scratch, a gingerbread house is a fun holiday project that can double as Christmas decor. Just know it probably won’t last long — so consider this a temporary decoration!

8. Candles

Bundling up on a snowy day to go to the Christmas tree farm and chop down the perfect tree may be a sweet holiday outing, but you’ll get more bang for your buck by opting for an artificial Christmas tree. Now, artificial trees can get pricy themselves, depending on what size and type you choose. However, you can reuse the tree for years to come, rather than having to put it out to the curb when the new year rolls around.

A front door is wrapped in wrapping paper.
Getty Images

9. Decorate Your Doors

Candles are a simple and low-cost way to add a bit of Christmas spirit to a room. You can create a tablescape with red, green, white or gold candles — or set them on the mantle or a wide window ledge. Set battery-operated votive candles inside Mason jars painted in holiday colors for a flame-free decor option.

10. Bells Around Door Knobs

This winter craft doubles as a cheap Christmas decoration. You may be able to make it with items you already have at home: white tube socks, rice, buttons, pins and a scrap of fabric. This post from Darkroom and Dearly tells you exactly how to create them.

11. Decorate With Ribbon

Instead of buying an expensive 7-foot tree, you can save money by getting a much smaller tree that’ll fit on your tabletop. In addition to spending less on the tree, you’ll save on the amount of lights and ornaments you’ll need to decorate it.

12. Wrap Empty Boxes

Dress up your windows with seasonal decals. You can find window stickers of snowflakes, ornaments, gingerbread men and more at the dollar store, craft store and major retailers like Walmart or Amazon. If stored properly, you can even reuse them for next year.

13. Holiday Cards Display

An easy way to light up the outside of your house without needing yards of string lights and a ladder is to use a light projector. You can buy one on Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart and similar retailers for under .

14. Make your Own Advent Calendar

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A boy eats a gingerbread house he made.
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15. Gingerbread House

Deck the halls without wrecking your finances. Here are 23 festive ideas for cheap Christmas decorations.

16. Display Your Kids’ Holiday Artwork

A flat Christmas tree hung on the wall is a great space saver and money saver. You can make wall Christmas trees out of a string of lights, garland, a large piece of felt or even Washi tape. Check out this article from Apartment Therapy for ideas. It looks festive with or without a tree topper!

17. Create a Holiday Tablescape

Make your home not only look but sound festive by tying jingle bells to some red or green ribbon and then wrapping them around your door knobs. Whenever someone opens a door, the kiddos in the house will be looking over their shoulders to see if Santa’s coming.

18. Sock Snowmen

While you’re out shopping for gifts, it can be very tempting to add a bunch of holiday decorations to your cart to help get your home looking merry and bright. But the cost of Christmas decorations often gets overlooked when making your holiday budget — and you end up spending way more than you thought you would.

A person decorates their Christmas tree with candy canes.
Getty Images

19. Candy Canes

To avoid that post-holiday regret, consider these low-budget suggestions for decorating for Christmas.

21. Fake Snow in Windows

Forget the store-bought ornaments, and pick up your hot glue gun. Create wonderful holiday memories while crafting ornaments you can hang on your tree or use as decor around the house. See this Good Housekeeping post for over 75 ideas for DIY Christmas ornaments.

22. Flower Pot Decorations

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

23. Light Projector

A string of lights can really spread holiday cheer. To save money, opt for shorter strings of light to cover smaller areas — such as a window or mantle piece, rather than along your gutters or around a 7 foot tree. You can also use a string of lights on a blank stretch of wall in the shape of a star or to spell out “Merry Christmas” in cursive.
You can use ribbon for more than just wrapping presents. Take some thick ribbon in Christmas colors like red, green or gold and use it to make bows to hang on your Christmas tree, your mantle and even on door knobs or drawer pulls. Tie them around a glass vase with a candle inside for a simple Christmas centerpiece. <!–

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Garland is a low-budget Christmas decoration that instantly adds holiday spirit to a room. In addition to stringing garland around your Christmas tree, you can hang strings of garland above your mantle, over your doorways, around your window frames or wrapped around the banister of your staircase. Instead of buying your garland, you can make your own using natural elements like dried citrus and pine cones, construction paper, popcorn or cheap ball ornaments.

Paying your credit card early: Does it help your score?

Couple looking at finances together.

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 your credit card early can raise your credit score. After your statement closes, your credit card issuer reports your balance to the credit bureaus. Paying your bill ahead of time lowers your overall balance, so the bureaus will see you using less credit in total. Since utilization makes up around one-third of your credit score, paying your card early can have a positive overall effect. 

However, paying your credit card bill early may work differently if you carry a balance on your card each month. Instead of paying your next statement early, you’re actually making an extra payment on your previous balance. Therefore, you’ll likely still need to pay the minimum amount on your next statement, or your payment could be considered late.

In most cases, paying your credit card bill early is a good idea—and it can have a positive impact on your score. 

Read on to learn more about how paying your card early affects your score. 

How paying your credit card bill early can help your credit score

Paying your credit card bill early may increase your credit score, since the overall debt that gets reported to the credit bureaus is likely to be lower. 

To understand how paying a bill early could raise your score, you need to understand two things: the factors that make up your score and how your credit issuer reports to the credit bureaus. 

How paying early could raise your score

Your score is calculated based on several factors, and two of them are relevant to paying your bill early: credit utilization and payment history. 

  • Payment history makes up around 35 percent of your score, and simply put, paying your bill early means that you aren’t paying it late. Late payments can have a major negative effect on your score, so paying your bill on time or early will help boost your score.
  • Credit utilization accounts for around 30 percent of your score, and it represents how much of your available credit you’re actually using. As a general rule, you should aim to use one-third of your credit or less. For example, if you have a total credit limit of $9,000, you’d want to keep your balance below $3,000.

The credit bureaus—TransUnion®, Experian® and Equifax®—are responsible for keeping track of your credit history. They receive all of their information from lenders, like the financial institution that issued your credit card. 

After your monthly statement is issued with your balance, you have a grace period before the payment is due—typically around 21 days. During that time, your credit card provider will report your balance to the credit bureaus. If you pay your balance before your statement closes, the total listed balance will be lower, so the credit bureaus will see your overall utilization as lower, which could increase your score.

That said, your particular situation may change how early payments work, so you’ll want to make sure you understand your billing cycle and balance before making early payments.

Is it ever bad to pay your credit card early?

While it is never bad to pay your credit card bill early, the benefits you receive from doing so may vary depending on your circumstances.

For example, if you carry a balance on your credit card every month, you may need to adjust how you handle early payments. While it is a myth that carrying a balance on your card improves your score, there are reasons you may have lingering credit card debt nonetheless.

Early payments work differently if your credit card has a balance.

If you do carry a balance on your card each month, keep the following in mind:

  • Your early payment may not count as your minimum payment. If you have a balance from a previous month, you can’t make an “early” payment toward your next statement. Instead, you’re making an extra payment, so you’ll still need to make a minimum payment after your new statement is issued.
  • You may not save money on interest and fees by making an early payment. Depending on how your credit card issuer calculates finance charges on your previous balance, your early payment may not reduce your interest or fees by much or at all. For example, if you’re charged based on average daily balance, simply paying at the end of the month may not help much.

All that said, it’s still usually a good idea to pay down your credit card debt if you have the funds available to do so. You may not see an immediate score increase if you have a substantial balance, but over time, you’ll build the financial habits that can help you eliminate debt and begin making on-time—or early—payments consistently. 

When is the best time to pay your credit card? 

The best time to pay your credit card bill is before the payment is late. While you may benefit from paying your bill early, you’ll definitely see negative effects if you pay your bill late. 

Paying early keeps your payment history intact and may help lower your overall utilization, while paying your bill more than 30 days late will likely lead to a negative item on your credit report. And if you neglect to pay long enough, your account could get sent to collections. 

If you do start paying your credit card bill early, you’ll want to begin checking your credit report regularly to see how your balance is being reported to the credit bureaus. Over time, you should see your utilization drop and your credit score increase.

While sifting through your credit report, it’s important to keep an eye out for inaccurate information like fraudulent accounts, incorrect negative items or factual mistakes. Any of these inaccurate items could be lowering your credit score. Fortunately, it’s possible to dispute these items on your report and repair your credit score. 


Reviewed by Horacio Celaya, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Horacio Celaya was born in Tucson, Arizona but eventually moved with his family to Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Mr. Celaya went on to graduate with Honors from the Autonomous University of Baja California Law School. Mr. Celaya is a graduate of the University of Arizona where he graduated from James E. Rogers College of Law. During law school, Mr. Celaya received his certificate in International Trade Law, completing his thesis on United States foreign direct investment in Latin America. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Celaya has worked in an immigration firm where he helped foreign investors organize their assets in order to apply for investment-based visas. He also has extensive experience in debt settlement negotiations on behalf of clients looking to achieve debt relief. Mr. Celaya is licensed to practice law in New Mexico. He is located in the Phoenix office. 

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

Cost of Goods Sold Formula: A Step-by-Step Guide

Cost Of Goods Sold Definition
Cost of goods sold (COGS) is the cost of producing the goods sold by a company. It accounts for the cost of materials and labor directly related to that good and for a designated accounting period.

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As a company selling products, you need to know the costs of creating those products. That’s where the cost of goods sold (COGS) formula comes in. Beyond calculating the costs to produce a good, the COGS formula can also unveil profits for an accounting period, if price changes are necessary, or whether you need to cut down on production costs.

Whether you fancy yourself as a business owner or a consumer or both, understanding how to calculate cost of goods sold can help you feel more informed about the products you’re purchasing — or producing.

What Is Cost of Goods Sold?

Cost of goods sold is the cost of producing the goods sold by a company. It includes the cost of materials and labor directly related to that good. However, it excludes indirect expenses such as distribution and sales force costs.

What Is the Cost of Goods Sold Formula?

Four illustrations help explain the cost of goods sold formula, which accounts for beginning inventory, purchases, and ending inventory.

When selling a product, you need to understand the production costs associated with it in a given period, ​​which could be a month, quarter, or year. You can do that by using the cost of goods sold formula. It’s a straightforward calculation that accounts for the beginning and ending inventory, and purchases during the accounting period. Here is a simple breakdown of the cost of goods sold formula:

COGS = beginning inventory + purchases during the period – ending inventory

How Do You Calculate Cost of Goods Sold?

To calculate cost of goods sold, you have to determine your beginning inventory — meaning your merchandise, including raw materials and supplies, for instance — at the beginning of your accounting period. Then add in the new inventory purchased during that period and subtract the ending inventory — meaning the inventory leftover at the end for your accounting period. The extended COGS formula also accounts for returns, allowances, discounts, and freight charges, but we’re sticking to the basics in this explanation.

Taking it one step at a time can help you understand the COGS formula and find the true cost behind the goods being sold. Here is how you do it:

Step 1: Identify Direct and Indirect Costs

Whether you manufacture or resell products, the COGS formula allows you to deduct all of the costs associated with them. The first step is to differentiate the direct costs, which are included in the COGS calculation, from indirect costs, which are not.

Direct Costs

Direct costs are the costs tied to the production or purchase of a product. These costs can fluctuate depending on the production level. Here are some direct costs examples:

  • Direct labor
  • Direct materials
  • Manufacturing supplies
  • Fuel consumption
  • Power consumption
  • Production staff wages

Indirect Costs

Indirect costs go beyond costs tied to the production of a product. They include the costs involved in maintaining and running the company. There can be fixed indirect costs, such as rent, and fluctuating costs, such as electricity. Indirect costs are not included in the COGS calculation. Here are some examples:

  • Utilities
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Office supplies
  • Accounting and payroll services
  • Insurance costs
  • Employee benefits and perks

Step 2: Determine Beginning Inventory

Now it’s time to determine your beginning inventory. The beginning inventory will be the amount of inventory leftover from the previous time period, which could be a month, quarter, or year. Beginning inventory is your merchandise, including raw materials, supplies, and finished and unfinished products that were not sold in the previous period.

Keep in mind that your beginning inventory cost for that time period should be exactly the same as the ending inventory from the previous period.

Step 3: Tally Up Items Added to Your Inventory

After determining your beginning inventory, you also have to account for any inventory purchases throughout the period. It’s important to keep track of the cost of shipment and manufacturing for each product, which adds to the inventory costs during the period.

Step 4: Determine Ending Inventory

The ending inventory is the cost of merchandise leftover in the current period. It can be determined by taking a physical inventory of products or estimating that amount. The ending inventory costs can also be reduced if any inventory is damaged, obsolete, or worthless.

Step 5: Plug It Into the Cost of Goods Sold Equation

Now that you have all the information to calculate cost of goods sold, all there’s left to do is plug it into the COGS formula.

An Example of The Cost of Goods Sold Formula

Let’s say you want to calculate the cost of goods sold in a monthly period. After accounting for the direct costs, you find out that you have a beginning inventory amounting to $30,000. Throughout the month, you purchase an additional $5,000 worth of inventory. Finally, after taking inventory of the products you have at the end of the month, you find that there’s $2,000 worth of ending inventory.

Using the cost of goods sold equation, you can plug those numbers in as such and discover your cost of goods sold is $33,000:

COGS = beginning inventory + purchases during the period – ending inventory
COGS = $30,000 + $5,000 – $2,000
COGS = $33,000

Accounting for Cost of Goods Sold

There are different accounting methods used to record the level of inventory during an accounting period. The accounting method chosen can influence the value of the cost of goods sold. The three main methods of accounting for the cost of goods sold are FIFO, LIFO, and the average cost method.

Two illustrations help explain the difference between FIFO and LIFO, which is an inventory method of accounting for the cost of goods sold.

FIFO: First In, First Out

The first in, first out method, also known as FIFO, is when the earliest goods that were purchased are sold first. Since merchandise prices have a tendency of going up, by using the FIFO method, the company would be selling the least expensive item first. This translates into a lower COGS compared to the LIFO method. In this case, the net income will increase over time.

LIFO: Last In, First Out

The last in, first out method, also known as LIFO, is when the most recent goods added to the inventory are sold first. If there’s a rise in prices, a company using the LIFO method would be essentially selling the goods with the highest cost first. This leads to a higher COGS compared to the FIFO method. By using this method, the net income tends to decrease over time.

Average Cost Method

The average cost method is when a company uses the average price of all goods in stock to calculate the beginning and ending inventory costs. This means that there will be less of an impact in the COGS by higher costs when purchasing inventory.

Considerations for Cost of Goods Sold

When calculating cost of goods sold, there are a few other factors to consider.

COGS vs. Operating Expenses

Business owners are likely familiar with the term “operating expenses.” However, this shouldn’t be confused with the cost of goods sold. Although they are both company expenditures, operating expenses are not directly tied to the production of goods.

Operating expenses are indirect costs that keep a company up and running, and can include rent, equipment, insurance, salaries, marketing, and office supplies.

COGS and Inventory

The COGS calculation focuses on the inventory of your business. Inventory can be items purchased or made yourself, which is why manufacturing costs are only sometimes considered in the direct costs associated with your COGS.

Cost of Revenue vs. COGS

Another thing to consider when calculating COGS is that it’s not the same as cost of revenue. Cost of revenue takes into consideration some of the indirect costs associated with sales, such as marketing and distribution, while COGS does not take any indirect costs into consideration.

Exclusions From COGS Deduction

Since service companies do not have an inventory to sell and COGS accounts for the cost of inventory, they can’t use COGS because they don’t sell a product — they would instead calculate the cost of services. Examples of service companies are accounting firms, law offices, consultants, and real estate appraisers.

salary, business owners should have a well-rounded view of the costs associated with their goods sold. Following this step-by-step guide to learn how to use the cost of goods sold formula is a good starting point. As always, it’s important to consult an expert, such as an accountant, when doing these calculations to make sure everything is accounted for.

Sources: QuickBooks

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Source: mint.intuit.com

What Credit Score Is Needed For A Us Bank Platinum Visa?

Are you thinking about applying for the US Bank Platinum Visa?

The minimum recommended credit score for this credit card is 750.

US Bank Platinum card

How to Increase Your Chances of Getting Approved for US Bank Platinum Visa

Getting approved for a credit card requires a little planning. Most credit card offers require very good credit. When applying for new credit, it’s important to know your credit scores and what’s on your credit reports.

Credit card issuers want to see a strong credit history, steady income, and low credit utilization. If you’re using too much of your existing revolving credit, it’s a sign that you may not pay them back. It’s also important to make sure that you haven’t applied for too much credit in the recent past. Having too many credit inquiries can lessen your chances of getting approved.

Need help improving your credit score?

One of the best ways to improve your credit scores is by removing negative items from your credit report. Lexington Law can help you dispute (and possibly remove) the following items:

  • late payments
  • collections
  • charge offs
  • foreclosures
  • repossessions
  • judgments
  • liens
  • bankruptcies

They have over 28 years of experience and have removed over 7 million negative items for their clients in 2020 alone. So if you’re struggling with bad credit and want to increase the likelihood of getting approved for new credit, give them a call at (800) 220-0084 for a free credit consultation.

10 Embarrassing Online Shopping Fails to Avoid This Holiday Season

There’s no need to wait in long lines at crowded stores to snag the perfect holiday gifts at the best prices. All kinds of great deals can be found online.

However, online shopping comes with its own perils when you’re trying to stick to a budget. Buying virtually makes it easy to buy a cartload of stuff in a few simple clicks — without really paying attention to the real-life dollars you’re spending.

Before you hit that “buy now” button, check out how to avoid making these 10 common mistakes when you shop online.

10 Online Shopping Mistakes to Avoid This Holiday Season

As you browse online for your holiday finds, avoid these pitfalls to keep yourself from spending a ho-ho-whole lotta money.

1. Getting Fooled by Terrible Discounts

When is a Black Friday sale not really a sale? When the discounts aren’t any better than the ones you normally receive.

For example, if you can typically find your favorite brand of shoes for $50 — even though the “suggested retail price” is $90 — consider $50 the benchmark. So if a retailer advertises the shoes for 50% off, but the discount is off the regular suggested retail price of $90, it won’t be much of a deal because you’re only saving $5 off of what you’d normally pay.

Let it be a lesson that just because an item is listed on the sale page of a website doesn’t mean something is worth your money.

2. Spending More to Get “Free” Shipping

We’ve all been there. You know you can get free shipping if your order totals more than $50, but your cart comes to $48.50.

Maybe you can find something for $1.50 to meet the minimum… or maybe you’ll just toss in that $10 item you don’t really need but lets you get the free shipping.

Rather than sorting the sale section from low to high, step away from the virtual cart and rethink your original purchase.

Would it be worth paying to have that original item shipped and sticking to your original budget? Or consider other shipping options the retailer offers — could you use a ship-to-store option that lets you save on shipping and drive up to get the goods?

3. Not Abandoning Your Cart

Yeah, it might be bad form to leave a cart full of stuff in a brick-and-mortar store, but do it online, and you could score a better deal.

Some retail sites will trigger an email coupon when you leave items in your cart and close your browser. Leave your cart for a few hours (or a day) and you could receive an email saying, “Did you forget something? Here, have a discount!”

If you don’t need to place the order immediately, a short period of indecision can help you get a better deal.

4. Falling for Expensive Promoted Products

Websites like Amazon, Etsy and eBay know that consumers want convenience — and are easily distracted by the first item they see in search results. So they place advertised products in the search results, even if you choose to sort by price from lowest to highest.

Before you click on that attractive-looking item, thinking it’s in your price range, double-check for an indicator that it’s a promoted product.

5. Not Shopping in Incognito Mode

Did you know some online shopping sites will show higher prices depending on your location, the time of day you’re shopping and whether you’ve checked out the item on the site earlier?

Shop in your browser’s private mode to avoid retailers switching up prices to try to get you to buy now.

6. Shopping While Intoxicated, Tired or Hungry

No. Do not.

That is how you end up with a skirt two sizes smaller than what you normally wear, because you think you might be able to fit into it eventually. And it’s a final sale. Just don’t do it.

If you have the tendency to shop when you’ve been drinking or late at night as you try to cure your insomnia, do yourself a favor and protect your wallet from your worst shopping tendencies.

Put a few of these shopping safeguards in place to prevent your retail hangover.

7. Not Doing Your Research

Never make an impulse buy based on the image of the item alone.

Did you read reviews for the product? (Bonus points if you peep user-uploaded photos.)

Did you check the specs on expensive electronics to make sure you’re getting a high-quality item? Or that it has the connectors you need for it to work with your current setup?

Did you check the clothing size chart?

If you can’t rattle off the reasons it’s worth buying that product right now, step away from your laptop. You’re not ready to buy.

8. Not Checking the Return Policy

A lot of online stores let you make returns, but some of them also make you jump through hoops before you can get your money back.

Before you buy, check the store’s restrictions on returns and find out how much it will deduct from your refund (for return shipping or restocking) if you send the item back.

9. Not Using a Cash-Back Program

If you’re not shopping online through a cash-back portal, you’re missing out on free money.

Check out these Google Chrome extensions — they automatically detect if there’s a rebate, cash-back offer or deal for your purchase.

Bonus points if you shop with a credit card that offers cash back or reward points.

10. Not Having a Budget

Before, when you headed to the store, you may have had a list, or if you shopped with cash you’d know how much you had left to spend. It’s a lot easier for online shopping to get out of control since you can hop from site to site — and can do it any time.

Plus, online retailers purposely try to get you to spend more by suggesting similar products you might like based on what you’ve searched for.

If you set aside an hour before you start your holiday shopping to review your numbers and create a holiday budget, you’ll be able to make the holiday cheer (and more cash) last into the new year.

Lisa Rowan is a former writer at The Penny Hoarder. Staff writer/editor Tiffany Wendeln Connors and senior writer Nicole Dow contributed to this post.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

12 States That Tax Social Security Benefits

Are Social Security benefits taxable? You can bet your bottom dollar they are – at least by the federal government, which taxes up to 85% of your benefits, depending on your income. But what about state taxes on Social Security? Unfortunately, a dozen states can tack on additional taxes of their own.

States have different ways of taxing Social Security, too. For example, New Mexico treats Social Security benefits the same way as the feds. But other states tax Social Security benefits only if income exceeds a specified threshold amount. For example, Missouri taxes Social Security benefits only if your income tops $85,000, or $100,000 for married couples. Then there’s Utah, which includes Social Security benefits in taxable income, but starting in 2021 allows a tax credit for a portion of the benefits subject to tax. Other states have different methods of taxing your Social Security check.

Also remember that a tax on Social Security doesn’t necessarily mean a state is unsuitable for retirement. Colorado, one of the states that taxes at least some Social Security benefits, actually ranks as one of the 10 most tax-friendly state for retirees. That’s why it’s best to weigh all state taxes when researching the best places to retire. And our list of the 12 states that tax Social Security benefits will help you do just that. For each state, we provide information on the state’s sales tax, property tax, and any death taxes. We’ve also included a link to the state’s page in our State-by-State Guide to Taxes on Retirees, where you can find additional information about taxes on seniors.

The state-by-state guide to taxes on retirees is updated annually based on information from state tax departments, the Tax Foundation, and the U.S. Census Bureau. Income tax rates and thresholds are for the 2021 tax year unless otherwise noted.

1 of 12

Colorado

Scenic shot of mountain in Colorado reflected in waterScenic shot of mountain in Colorado reflected in water

State Taxes on Social Security: For beneficiaries younger than 65, up to $20,000 of Social Security benefits can be excluded, along with other retirement income. Those 65 and older can exclude benefits and other retirement income up to $24,000. Also, Social Security income not taxed by the federal government is not added back to adjusted gross income for state income tax purposes.

Note that, beginning in 2022, the $24,000 cap is removed for federally taxable Social Security benefits, which effectively makes all federally taxed Social Security income deductible for taxpayers 65 and over.

Sales Tax: 2.9% state levy. Localities can add as much as 8.3%, and the average combined rate is 7.72%, according to the Tax Foundation.

  • Groceries: Exempt
  • Clothing: Taxable
  • Motor Vehicles: Taxable
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt

Income Tax Range: For 2021, Colorado has a flat income tax rate of 4.5%. The rate was reduced from 4.63% to 4.55% with the approval of Proposition 116, which appeared on the November 2020 ballot. The rate for 2021 was then lowered to 4.5% because of a high fiscal year revenue growth rate. Denver and a few other cities in Colorado also impose a monthly payroll tax.

Property Taxes: In Colorado, the median property tax rate is $494 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: There is no inheritance tax or estate tax.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Colorado.

2 of 12

Connecticut

picture of a covered bridge in Connecticutpicture of a covered bridge in Connecticut

State Taxes on Social Security: Social Security income is fully exempt for single taxpayers with federal adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 and for married taxpayers filing jointly with federal AGI of less than $100,000. Taxpayers who exceed these thresholds can still deduct 75% of their federally taxable Social Security benefits on their Connecticut tax return.

Sales Tax: The state taxes most items at 6.35%, and localities are not allowed to add to that.

  • Groceries: Exempt.
  • Clothing: Taxable (6.35% for items under $1,000; 7.75% for items over $1,000; items costing less then $50 are fully exempt)
  •  Motor Vehicles: Taxable (6.35% for vehicles under $50,000; 7.75% for vehicles over $50,000; 4.5% for non-resident military personnel on full-time active duty in the state)
  •  Prescription Drugs: Exempt.

Income Tax Range: Low: 3% (on up to $20,000 of taxable income for married joint filers and up to $10,000 for those filing individually). High: 6.99% (on the amount over $1 million for married joint filers and over $500,000 for those filing individually).

Property Taxes: In Connecticut, the median property tax rate is $2,139 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: Connecticut has an estate tax with a $7.1 million exclusion for 2021 ($9.1 million in 2022). The tax due is limited to $15 million. Connecticut is the only state with a gift tax on assets you give away while you’re alive. If you made taxable gifts during the year, state law requires that you file a Connecticut estate and gift tax return to identify such gifts. However, taxes are due in 2021 only when the aggregate value of gifts made since 2005 exceeds $7.1 million ($9.1 million in 2022). Estate and gift tax rates for 2021 range from 10.8% to 12% (11.6% or 12% in 2022).

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Connecticut.

3 of 12

Kansas

Farmer plowing huge Kansas fieldFarmer plowing huge Kansas field

State Taxes on Social Security: Social Security benefits are exempt from Kansas income tax for residents with a federal adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less. For taxpayers with a federal AGI above $75,000, Social Security benefits are taxed by Kansas to the same extent they are taxed at the federal level.

Sales Tax: 6.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4%, and the average combined rate is 8.7%, according to the Tax Foundation.

  • Groceries: Taxable
  • Clothing: Taxable
  • Motor Vehicles: Taxable
  • Prescription Drugs: Taxable

Income Tax Range: Low: 3.1% (on $2,501 to $15,000 of taxable income for single filers and $5,001 to $30,000 for joint filers). High: 5.7% (on more than $30,000 of taxable income for single filers and more than $60,000 for joint filers). Kansas also has an “intangibles tax” levied on unearned income by some localities.

Property Taxes: In Kansas, the median property tax rate is $1,369 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: There is no estate tax or inheritance tax.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Kansas.

4 of 12

Minnesota

A road and the aurora borealis in MinnesotaA road and the aurora borealis in Minnesota

State Taxes on Social Security: Social Security benefits are taxable in Minnesota, but for 2021 a married couple filing a joint return can deduct up to $5,290 of their federally taxable Social Security benefits from their state income. The 2021 tax break can be as much as $4,130 for single and head-of-household filers, and up to $2,645 for married taxpayers filing separate returns. The deduction is phased out for married couples with more than $80,270 of provisional income (it’s reduced to zero for couples with more than $106,720 of provisional income). The phase-out range for single and head of household filers is $62,710 to $83,360. For married taxpayers filing separate returns, the phase-out range is $40,135 to $53,360.

Sales Tax: 6.875% state levy. Localities can add as much as 2%, with an average combined rate of 7.47%, according to the Tax Foundation.

  • Groceries: Exempt
  • Clothing: Exempt
  • Motor Vehicles: Exempt from ordinary sales tax, but taxable under special 6.5% excise tax ($10 for certain older vehicles; $150 for certain collector vehicles)
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt

Income Tax Range: Low: 5.35% (on less than $27,230 of taxable income for single filers and on less than $39,810 for joint filers). High: 9.85% (on more than $166,040 of taxable income for single filers and on more than $276,200 for joint filers).

Property Taxes: In Minnesota, the median property tax rate is $1,082 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: Minnesota’s estate tax exemption is $3 million, but the state looks back to include any taxable gifts made within three years prior to death as part of your estate. Tax rates range from 13% to 16%.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Minnesota.

5 of 12

Missouri

St. Louis and the Gateway Arch in MissouriSt. Louis and the Gateway Arch in Missouri

State Taxes on Social Security: Social Security benefits are not taxed for married couples with a federal adjusted gross income less than $100,000 and single taxpayers with an AGI of less than $85,000. Taxpayers who exceed those income limits may qualify for a partial exemption on their benefits.

Sales Tax: 4.225% state levy. Localities can add as much as 5.763%, and the average combined rate is 8.25%, according to the Tax Foundation.

  • Groceries: Taxable (1.225% state rate; additional local taxes may apply)
  • Clothing: Taxable
  • Motor Vehicles: Taxable
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt.

Income Tax Range: Low: 1.5% (on taxable of income from $108 to $1,088). High: 5.4% (on more than $8,704 of taxable income). Kansas City and St. Louis have an earnings tax of 1 percent.

Property Taxes: In Missouri, the median property tax rate is $930 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: There is no inheritance tax or estate tax.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Missouri.

6 of 12

Montana

A fenced farm and the mountains of MontanaA fenced farm and the mountains of Montana

State Taxes on Social Security: Social Security benefits are taxable. The method used to calculate the taxable amount for Montana income tax purposes is similar to the method used for federal returns. However, there are important differences. As a result, the Montana taxable amount may be different than the federal taxable amount. (Beginning in 2024, Social Security benefits will be taxed by Montana to the same extent they are taxed at the federal level.)

Sales Tax: No state sales tax. Resort areas such as Big Sky, Red Lodge and West Yellowstone have local sales taxes.

Income Tax Range: Low: 1% (on up to $3,100 of taxable income). High: 6.9% (on taxable income over $18,800).

Starting in 2022, the top rate will be 6.75% on taxable income over $17,400. Then, beginning in 2024, the income tax rates and brackets will be substantially revised (there will only be two rates – 4.7% and 6.5%).

Property Taxes: In Montana, the median property tax rate is $831 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: There is no inheritance tax or estate tax.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Montana.

7 of 12

Nebraska

Nebraska fields in a stunning sunscapeNebraska fields in a stunning sunscape

State Taxes on Social Security: For 2021, Social Security benefits are not taxed for joint filers with a federal adjusted gross income of $59,960 or less and other taxpayers with a federal AGI of $44,460 or less. For taxpayers exceeding these thresholds, Social Security benefits are taxed by Nebraska to the same extent they are taxed at the federal level.

For 2021, taxpayers can chose to deduct 5% of Social Security benefits included in federal AGI instead of following the rules above. The optional deduction percentage increases to 20% for 2022, 30% for 2023, 40% for 2024, and 50% for 2025 and thereafter. (Note: The state legislature intends to enact future legislation that would increase the percentage to 60% for 2026, 70% for 2027, 80% for 2028, 90% for 2029, and 100% for 2030 and beyond.)

Sales Tax: 5.5% state levy. Localities can add as much as 2.5%, and the average combined rate is 6.94%, according to the Tax Foundation.

  • Groceries: Exempt
  • Clothing: Taxable
  • Motor Vehicles: Taxable
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt

Income Tax Range: Low: 2.46% (on up to $3,340 of taxable income for single filers and $6,660 for married couples filing jointly). High: 6.84% (on taxable income over $32,210 for single filers and $64,430 for married couples filing jointly).

Property Taxes: In Nebraska, the median property tax rate is $1,614 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: With Nebraska’s inheritance tax, the closer the heir’s relationship to the decedent, the smaller the tax rate and the greater the exemption (surviving spouses are exempt from the tax). For example, the tax on heirs who are immediate relatives (e.g., parents, grandparents, siblings, children and other lineal descendants) is only 1% and does not apply to property that is worth less than $40,000. For remote relatives (e.g., uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews), the tax rate is 13% and the exemption amount is $15,000. For all other heirs, the tax is imposed at an 18% rate on property worth $10,000 or more.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Nebraska.

8 of 12

New Mexico

New Mexico desertNew Mexico desert

State Taxes on Social Security: Social Security benefits are taxed to the same extent they are taxed at the federal level.

Sales Tax: 5.125% state levy. Localities can add as much as 4.313%, and the average combined rate is 7.84%, according to the Tax Foundation. New Mexico’s tax is a gross receipts tax that covers most services.

  • Groceries: Exempt
  • Clothing: Taxable
  • Motor Vehicles: Exempt from ordinary sales tax, but taxable under special 4% excise tax
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt

Income Tax Range: Low: 1.7% (on up to $5,500 of taxable income for single filers and $8,000 for joint filers). High: 5.9% (on taxable income over $210,000 for single filers and over $315,000 for married couples filing jointly).

Property Taxes: In New Mexico, the median property tax rate is $776 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: There is no inheritance tax or estate tax.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in New Mexico.

9 of 12

Rhode Island

Rose Island lighthouse in Rhode IslandRose Island lighthouse in Rhode Island

State Taxes on Social Security: For 2021, Social Security benefits are not taxed for joint filers with a federal adjusted gross income of $111,200 or less, single and head-of-household filers with federal AGI of $88,950 or less, and married taxpayers filing a separate return with a federal AGI of $88,975 or less. For taxpayers exceeding these thresholds, Social Security benefits are taxed by Rhode Island to the same extent they are taxed at the federal level.

Sales Tax: 7% state levy. No local taxes.

  • Groceries: Exempt
  • Clothing: Exempt if under $250
  • Motor Vehicles: Taxable
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt

Income Tax Range: Low: 3.75% (on up to $66,200 of taxable income). High: 5.99% (on taxable income over $150,550).

Property Taxes: In Rhode Island, the median property tax rate is $1,533 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: Rhode Island has an estate tax with a 2021 exemption amount of $1,595,156 ($1,654,688 for 2022). Rates range from 0.8% to 16%.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Rhode Island.

10 of 12

Utah

An arch in the desert of UtahAn arch in the desert of Utah

State Taxes on Social Security: Social Security benefits are included in Utah taxable income to the same extent they’re taxed at the federal level. However, beginning in 2021, a nonrefundable tax credit is available for Social Security benefits. The credit is calculated by multiplying the Utah income tax rate (currently 4.95%) by the amount of Social Security benefits included in federal adjusted gross income (AGI). The total credit amount is reduced by $.025 for each dollar by which the taxpayer’s modified AGI exceeds $25,000 for a married person filing a separate tax return, $30,000 for a single filer, and $50,000 for a married couple filing a joint return or a head-of-household filer. Taxpayers can’t claim both the Social Security credit and the general $450 credit for retirees.

Sales Tax: State levy is 4.85%, but mandatory 1% local sales tax and 0.25% county option sales tax are added to the state tax (for a 6.1% total rate). Plus, localities can add up to an additional 2.95%, making the average combined state and local rate 7.19%, according to the Tax Foundation.

  • Groceries: Taxable (1.75% state tax, plus mandatory 1.25% in local and county taxes)
  • Clothing: Taxable
  • Motor Vehicles: Taxable
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt

Income Tax Range: Utah has a flat tax of 4.95%.

Property Taxes: In Utah, the median property tax rate is $575 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: There is no inheritance tax or estate tax.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Utah.

11 of 12

Vermont

Vermont farm scene in fallVermont farm scene in fall

State Taxes on Social Security: Social Security benefits are not taxed for joint filers with a federal adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less and other taxpayers with a federal AGI of $45,000 or less. Taxpayers who exceed those income limits may qualify for a partial exemption on their benefits.

Sales Tax: 6% state levy. Municipalities can add 1% to that, but the average combined rate is 6.24%.

  • Groceries: Exempt
  • Clothing: Exempt
  • Motor Vehicles: Exempt from ordinary sales tax, but taxable under special 6% purchase and use tax
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt

Income Tax Range: Low: 3.35% (on up to $40,950 of taxable income for singles and up to $68,400 for joint filers). High: 8.75% (on taxable income over for $206,950 for singles and up to $251,950 for joint filers).

Property Taxes: In Vermont, the median property tax rate is $1,861 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: Vermont has an estate tax with an exemption of $5 million for 2021. The tax rate is a flat 16%.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in Vermont.

12 of 12

West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West VirginiaHarpers Ferry, West Virginia

State Taxes on Social Security: In 2021, 65% of Social Security benefits taxed by the federal government are excluded from taxable income for single taxpayers with federal adjusted gross income of $50,000 or less ($100,000 or less for joint filers). Beginning in 2022, qualifying taxpayers can exclude all Social Security benefits.

Sales Tax: 6% state levy. Municipalities can add up to 1% to that, with an average combined rate of 6.51%, according to the Tax Foundation. 

  • Groceries: Exempt
  • Clothing: Taxable
  • Motor Vehicles: Taxable
  • Prescription Drugs: Exempt

Income Tax Range: Low: 3% (on up to $10,000 of taxable income). High: 6.5% (on taxable income of $60,000 or more).

Property Taxes: In West Virginia, the median property tax rate is $571 per $100,000 of assessed home value.

Inheritance and Estate Taxes: There is no inheritance tax or estate tax.

For details on tax breaks for retirees and state taxes on other retirement income, see the complete guide to taxes on retirees in West Virginia.

Source: kiplinger.com