12 Steps to Filling out the FAFSA Form 2021-2022

For many people, one of the first steps to applying for college is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®. This form helps the government determine your eligibility for federal student aid, including subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, as well as grants and work-study opportunities.

Completing The 2021-2022 FAFSA Application

The FAFSA form 2021 may look a bit different if you’ve filled out the form in the past. That’s because of the FAFSA® Simplification Act, which was passed in December 2020 and designed to make the FAFSA more accessible for lower-income students and families. While most of these changes won’t go into effect for the upcoming FAFSA cycle, we’ll point in this article a few changes to FAFSA you will see this year.

Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA

12 Steps to Fill Out the FAFSA

FAFSA opens Oct. 1, 2020, and closes June 30, 2022 for the 2021/2022 academic year. However, FAFSA deadlines may vary depending on the states and schools you’re applying to, so you may want to check with each school to confirm their FAFSA deadline. If you’re ready to fill out FAFSA, we’ve outlined steps required in the process.

Not ready to fill out the FAFSA? You can fill out an abridged Federal Student Aid Estimator to give you an idea of what filling out the actual FAFSA will be like and to estimate your expected student aid package.

1. Required Documents Ready

Before even loading the online FAFSA form, it may be useful to have all your required documents in order to make the application process even easier. The things you’ll need may include:

•   Social security or alien registration ID

•   Drivers license or state ID

•   Federal income tax returns, W-2s and other financial documents for both yourself and your parent(s) if you’re a dependent (more on that later)

•   Bank statements

•   Untaxed income

•   Title IV Institution Codes for schools you’re applying to (again, more on that later)

•   Download app, if you plan on applying on mobile (you can also apply on desktop)

Dependent students will also need to provide similar information for their parents.

2. FSA IDs

There’s one more thing you’ll need in order to apply for FAFSA, and that’s a federal student aid ID, or FSA ID . This is simply the username or password you’ll use to log into FAFSA. Note that if you need to enter parental financial information, whoever is providing that financial information will also need to create an FSA ID .

3. Basic Information

Now that you have a FSA ID, you’re ready to log in and get started. The first few steps of FAFSA will be filling out basic information. The site or app will first ask you if you are a student, parent, or preparer helping a student fill out the FAFSA. Select which one applies to you. You should then be prompted to provide the following:

•   Your full name

•   Date of birth

•   Social security number

4. Starting the Application

Once you fill in this information, you will be asked to accept or decline the disclaimer, which details how the site will use and monitor your data. You should then be prompted to either start a FAFSA for 2021-2022 or 2020-2021. If you’re filing FAFSA for the upcoming year and are not currently enrolled in college, you should choose “Start 2021-2022 FAFSA.”

You’ll also be asked to create a save key, which is simply a four-digit code you’ll use to save your application. If you don’t finish FAFSA in one sitting, then you’ll be asked to enter your save key to continue filling it out at a later date.

5. Section 1: Student Information

Next, you’ll need to enter some information about yourself, including (but not limited to):

•   Social security number

•   Full name

•   Date of birth

•   Email address

•   Phone number

•   Home address

•   State of residence

•   Citizenship status

•   High school completion status

•   College degree level

•   If you’d like to be considered for work-study

6. Section 2: College Search Section

To send your FAFSA information to schools you’re applying to, you’ll need to find the federal school code for each school you want your information sent to. Doing so allows colleges to receive your FAFSA information and use it to provide you a financial aid package. You can find this code either on the school’s website or by searching for it on the FAFSA form itself.

7. Section 3: Dependency Status

You can either apply to FAFSA as a dependent of your parents or as an independent. If you’re a first-time college student and will graduate from high school in 2022 and/or are under 24 years old, you’ll most likely need to file as a dependent, meaning you’ll need your parents’ financial information to apply.

Section 3 of the FAFSA will help you determine if you’re an independent or dependent student. You’ll need to provide some more information about yourself, such as your marital status, if you have children or other dependents, and if you’re at risk or are currently experiencing homelessness.

Once you’ve filled out this information, FAFSA should display a message that determines whether or not you’re considered a dependent and therefore need parental financial information to determine expected family contribution (which will soon be replaced with the student aid index).

(Note that the rest of these steps assume you’re filing as a dependent. While the process of filing as an independent will be similar, you won’t be asked to provide information about your parents.)

8. Section 4: Parental Information

If you need parental information for FAFSA, you’ll include that in this section. Information you’ll need includes (but is not limited to):

•   Parental marital status

•   Date of parent’s marriage

•   Parent social security number

•   Parent name

•   Parent date of birth

•   Parent email address

•   Parent’s spousal information for all of the above

•   Household size

9. Section 5: Parent Financials

Next, you’ll need to provide some financial information about your parents. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

10. Section 6: Student financials

Now it’s time to provide some financial information about yourself. You’ll be asked for information such as (but not limited to):

•   Last year taxes were filed

•   Tax return type

•   Filing status

•   IRS Data Retrieval Tool (otherwise, need to fill in tax information manually)

•   Combat pay

•   Grant and scholarship aid

•   Education credits

•   Untaxed IRA distributions

•   IRA deductions and payments

•   Tax exempt interest income

•   Child support payments

•   Need-based employment programs

•   Net worth

11. Check for errors

Once you’ve reached the end of the application, you should receive a FAFSA summary. Before hitting submit, you may want to ensure that all the information you included is accurate. Reviewing this information closely may help avoid filing a FAFSA correction later.

12. Agreement of Terms

The FAFSA requires you to accept or reject its agreement of terms. If your parent(s) also provided information because you filed as a dependent, they will also need to accept these terms in order for you to submit the application. Both you and your parent(s) will e-sign using your FSA ID. Once you’ve accepted the terms, your FAFSA will be complete.

Sample FAFSA Form for 2021/2022

Do you need some extra help? FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit is rich with resources and information. Some documents include step-by-step instructions on how to complete the FAFSA on the website and mobile app, lists of tips for filling out the FAFSA, question-and-answer documents, and more. You can also view a sample FAFSA form or a presentation on how to fill out FAFSA using the mobile app.

This student aid report may also be useful if you need to see another FAFSA sample form.

Recommended: How much FAFSA Money Can I Expect?

What’s Different About the 2021/2022 FAFSA

As previously discussed, the FAFSA Simplification Act passed last December resulted in a few changes to FAFSA. However, most of these changes won’t go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. For FAFSA 2021-2022, major changes include the following:

•   Automatic-Zero EFC: FAFSA will give all applicants with an income of $27,000 or less an EFC of zero, meaning FAFSA does not expect families to help pay for the applicant’s college. This amount increased $1,000 from last year, which set the cut-off at $26,000, so more students should be able to receive a EFC of zero.

•   Schedule 1 Questions: When populating tax information from the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, the tool will automatically answer whether or not the applicant filed for a Schedule 1.

Additional changes are already scheduled for the 2022/2023 FAFSA form, such as drug convictions no longer negatively affecting one’s ability to get financial aid. Additionally, registration status for Selective Service for eligible males will also no longer be considered for financial aid. You can review the latest changes to the FAFSA on the official FAFSA website.

A Few Extra Tips

Completing the FAFSA can be an overwhelming process. For those filing for the first time, you may want to check out this 2021-2022 FAFSA guide and some FAFSA tips to make the process even easier. If you need some more help on how to fill out FAFSA 2021/2022, some tips from StudentAid.Gov include:

1.    Completing the form: It can be tempting to skip the FAFSA altogether, especially if you’re from a middle- or upper-class family and you believe you won’t be eligible for aid. However, falling for this assumption could mean leaving aid on the table.

2.    Paying attention to deadlines: As stated earlier, FAFSA 2021/2022 opens Oct. 1 and closes June 30, 2022. However, the schools you’re applying to may require you to fill out the FAFSA before June 30, so it’s best to ask each school’s financial aid office about what their FAFSA deadlines are to avoid losing out on aid.

3.    Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: This tool auto-fills your latest tax information from the IRS database. When you fill out FAFSA, you’ll have the option to either fill out your tax data manually or use the tool. Using the tool could help you avoid making costly mistakes while also saving you time.

4.    Filling out every section: Not sure how to fill out a section? FAFSA offers helpful tips throughout each section of the FAFSA form to make filling out the FAFSA easier. Additionally, not filling out a section of FAFSA could result in your form not being submitted or you receiving less financial aid.

5.    Double-checking the form: Before you submit, you may want to go back and double-check your answers to make sure everything is filled out and is accurate.

Recommended: Navigating Your Financial Aid Package

The Takeaway

Filling out the FAFSA is a great first step to pay for your dream school. This is one of the best ways of getting scholarships and grants you won’t have to pay back or government-backed loans to help you pay for college-related costs. By learning how to properly fill out the FAFSA (and then actually doing so!), you can increase your odds of getting a bigger financial aid package.

However, if your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your college expenses, you may want to consider private student loans. It’s important to note that private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans, like income-driven repayment plans or deferment options. For this reason, private student loans are generally considered only after other sources of funding have been considered.

SoFi’s Private Student Loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents. In just a few minutes, you can apply online for student loans and be well on your way to financing your education.

Find out more about SoFi’s Private Student Loan options.

Header photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev

FAFSA photos credit: FAFSA’s Financial Aid Tool Kit


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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.
Get the Penny Hoarder Daily
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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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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Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA: Key Differences and Considerations

Self-employment has its perks but an employer-sponsored retirement plan isn’t one of them. Opening a solo 401(k) or a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA) allows the self-employed to build wealth for retirement while enjoying some tax advantages.

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) is similar to a traditional 401(k), in terms of annual contribution limits and tax treatment. A SEP IRA, meanwhile, follows the same tax rules as traditional IRAs. SEP IRAs, however, allow a higher annual contribution limit than a regular IRA.

So, which is better for you? The answer can depend largely on whether your business has employees or operates as a sole proprietorship and which plan yields more benefits, in terms of contribution limits and tax breaks.

Weighing the features of a solo 401(k) vs. SEP IRA can make it easier to decide which one is more suited to your retirement savings needs.

Investing for Your Retirement When Self-Employed

An important part of planning for your retirement is understanding your long-term goals. Whether you choose to open a solo 401(k) or make SEP IRA contributions can depend on how much you need and want to save for retirement and what kind of tax advantages you hope to enjoy along the way.

Recommended: When Can I Retire? This Formula Will Help You Know

A solo 401(k) could allow you to save more for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis compared to a SEP IRA, but not everyone can contribute to one. It’s also important to consider whether you need to give some thought to retirement planning for employees.

If you’re hoping to mirror or replicate the traditional 401(k) plan experience, then you might lean toward a solo 401(k). Whether you can contribute to one of these plans depends on your business structure. Business owners with no employees or whose only employee is their spouse can use a solo 401(k).

Meanwhile, you can establish a SEP IRA for yourself as the owner of a business as well as your eligible employees, if you have any. It’s also helpful to think about what kind of investment options you might prefer. What you can invest in through a solo 401(k) plan may be different from what a SEP IRA offers, which can affect how you grow wealth for retirement.

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA Comparisons

Both solo 401(k) plans and SEP IRAs make it possible to save for retirement as a self-employed person or business owner when you don’t have access to an employer’s 401(k). You can set up either type of account if you operate as a sole proprietorship and have no employees. And both can offer a tax break if you’re able to deduct contributions each year.

In terms of differences, there are some things that set solo 401(k) plans apart from SEP IRAs. Under SEP IRA rules, for instance, neither employee nor catch-up contributions are allowed. There’s no Roth option with a SEP IRA, which you may have with a solo 401(k). Choosing a Roth solo 401(k) might appeal to you if you’d like to be able to make tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

You may also be able to take a loan from a solo 401(k) if the plan permits it. Solo 401(k) loans follow the same rules as traditional 401(k) loans. If you need to take money from a SEP IRA before age 59 ½, however, you may pay an early withdrawal penalty and owe income tax on the withdrawal.

Here’s a rundown of the main differences between a 401(k) vs. SEP IRA.

Solo 401(k) SEP IRA
Tax-Deductible Contributions Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Employer Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Employee Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Withdrawals Taxed in Retirement Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Roth Contributions Allowed Yes No
Catch-Up Contributions Allowed Yes No
Loans Allowed Yes No

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) plan is a traditional 401(k) that covers a business owner who has no employees or employs only their spouse. Simply, a Solo 401(k) allows you to save money for retirement from your self-employment or business income on a tax-advantaged basis.

These plans follow the same IRS rules and requirements as any other 401(k). There are specific solo 401(k) contribution limits to follow, along with rules regarding withdrawals and taxation. Regulations also govern when you can take a loan from a solo 401(k) plan.

A number of online brokerages now offer solo 401(k) plans for self-employed individuals, including those who freelance or perform gig work. You can open a retirement account online and start investing, no employer other than yourself needed.

If you use a solo 401(k) to save for retirement, you’ll also need to follow some reporting requirements. Generally, the IRS requires solo 401(k) plan owners to file a Form 5500-EZ if it has $250,000 or more in assets at the end of the year.

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits

Just like other 401(k) plans, solo 401(k)s have annual contribution limits. You can make contributions as both an employee and an employer. Here’s how annual solo 401(k) contribution limits work for elective deferrals:

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits by Age in 2021 (Elective Deferrals) Annual contribution in 2022
Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution in 2021 and 2022
Under 50 $19,500 N/a N/a
50 and Older $19,500 $6,500 $20,500

The limit on 401(k) contributions, including elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions, is $58,000 for 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. That doesn’t include an additional $6,500 allowed for catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older.

If you’re self-employed, the IRS requires you to make a special calculation to figure out the maximum amount of elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions you can make for yourself. This calculation reflects on your earned income, or means your net earnings from self-employment after deducting one-half of your self-employment tax and contributions for yourself.

The IRS offers a rate table you can use to calculate your contributions. You can set up automatic deferrals to a solo 401(k), or make contributions at any point throughout the year.

What Is a SEP IRA?

A SEP IRA or Simplified Employee Pension Plan is another option to consider if you’re looking for retirement plans for those self-employed. This tax-advantaged plan is available to any size business, including sole proprietorships with no employees, and its one of the easiest retirement plan to set up and maintain. So if you’re a freelancer or a gig worker, you might consider using a SEP IRA to plan for retirement.

SEP IRAs work much like traditional IRAs, with regard to the tax treatment of withdrawals. They do, however, allow you to contribute more money toward retirement each year above the standard traditional IRA contribution limit. That means you could enjoy a bigger tax break when it’s time to deduct contributions.

If you have employees, you can make retirement plan contributions to a SEP IRA on their behalf. SEP IRA contribution limits are, for the most part, the same for both employers and employees. If you’re interested in a SEP, you can set up an IRA for yourself or for yourself and your employees through an online brokerage.

SEP IRA Contributions

SEP IRA contributions use pre-tax dollars. Amounts contributed are tax-deductible in the year you make them. All contributions are made by the employer only, which is something to remember if you have employees. Unlike a traditional 401(k) that allows elective deferrals, your employees wouldn’t be able to add money to their SEP IRA through paycheck deductions.

Here’s how SEP IRA contributions work.

SEP IRA Contributions by Age

Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution
Under 50 Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 in 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a
50 and Older Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a

The IRS doesn’t allow catch-up contributions to a SEP IRA, a significant difference from solo 401(k) plans. So it’s possible you could potentially save more for retirement with a solo 401(k), depending on your age and earnings. If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to follow the same IRS rules for figuring your annual contributions that apply to solo 401(k) plans.

You can make SEP IRA contributions at any time until your taxes are due, in mid-April of the following year.

The Takeaway

Saving for retirement is something that you can’t afford to put off. Whether you choose a solo 401(k), SEP IRA or another savings plan, it’s important to take the first step toward growing wealth.

If you’re ready to start saving for the future, one way to get started is by opening a brokerage account on the SoFi Invest investment platform. All members get complimentary access to a financial advisor, which can help you create a plan to meet your long-term goals.

Photo credit: iStock/1001Love


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
SOIN1021438

Source: sofi.com

It Still Pays to Wait to Claim Social Security

Laurence Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University and author of Money Magic: An Economist’s Secrets to More Money, Less Risk, and a Better Life. He also developed MaxiFi Planner and Maximize My Social Security—software programs designed to help users raise their living standards by getting the most out of their Social Security benefits.

In its most recent annual report, the Social Security Board of Trustees said that if nothing is done, the trust fund will be depleted by 2033, which would mean Social Security would be able to pay out only 76% of promised benefits. What do you say to people who plan to file at age 62—which results in about a 25% cut in benefits—because they’re afraid the program will run out of money? I have run through our software a benefit cut starting in 2031, and you still see a very major gain from waiting to collect. But I don’t see the politicians cutting benefits directly. I think they’re going to raise taxes on the rich. Congress could also use general revenue to finance Social Security, or they could partially index benefits for the rich. Historically, they phase in changes, so anybody who is close to retirement is quite safe—and by close I mean 55 and older.

Yet many people fear that if they postpone claiming Social Security until age 70, they’ll die before they’ll be able to take advantage of the higher benefits. What’s your response to that? They’re ignoring longevity risk. If you’re 98 and collecting a Social Security check that’s 76% higher and adjusted for inflation, that’s where you want to be. A lot of people will live that long. If you buy home insurance and your house doesn’t burn down, are you shortchanged because you paid the premium? You’re protecting yourself against catastrophic events. Financially, the catastrophic event is living to 100.

Thanks to big increases in home values, seniors have seen their housing wealth grow to a record $9.6 trillion. Are reverse mortgages, which allow seniors to tap that equity while remaining in their homes, a good source of retirement income? When the Federal Housing Administration insured most reverse mortgages, I thought, they can’t be that bad. But when I spent several weeks looking at them carefully with software, I decided that they’re way too expensive. They’ve got huge fees. You could sell your home and move into a continuing care retirement community—that’s like buying an annuity and long-term-care insurance at the same time. Or you could sell the house to the kids and write a contract in which they let you stay in it until you die. You take care of me and as soon as I die, you get the house. I die early, you win. I die late, I win. But it’s a win-win because we’re insuring each other.

What did the pandemic teach us, if anything, about the state of personal finances in the U.S.? We don’t save enough. The Chinese save 30% of their disposable income. We save very little. This is a wake-up call. The pandemic got me to think about what I was spending on housing, living in Boston. We downsized and moved to Providence, where house prices were a third as expensive. The pandemic has been a saving and spending wake-up call for us, just as the Great De­pression was for those who lived through it. We’ve realized life is much riskier than we thought. The pandemic is making us all reevaluate our finances and what really matters, which doesn’t include driving a BMW.

Source: kiplinger.com

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

How to Financially Prepare for a Child – 13 Steps to Take

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Stressed about how much it costs to have and raise kids?

Having extra mouths to feed barely scratches the surface of the expenses to come. From larger housing to larger cars, higher health care costs to higher education, diapers to child care, strap in for a costly ride.

But like everything else in life, it helps to be prepared. The better your financial planning, the better you can navigate the costs without derailing your current lifestyle. 

How to Financially Prepare for a Child

If you tried to make every ideal financial move before having kids, you’d reach retirement age before even trying. So don’t think of these as prerequisites for trying to get pregnant. 

Instead, think of them as parts of your larger financial plan that apply more than ever as you start having children.

1. Reconsider Your Income

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing low-paying work you love. I never believed my mother — an educator — when she said, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.” She proved me wrong by achieving a seven-figure net worth through frugal living, working a side hustle (tutoring), and consistent investing. 

But your motivation matters. There’s a difference between choosing a modest-income career because you’re passionate about it and being stuck in one due to inertia. 

I know teachers who love what they do and wouldn’t want another job even if someone offered to double their salary. Others coast their way through every tedious lesson plan. 

If you don’t love what you do, go back to the drawing board. That goes doubly if you also don’t love your salary. 

Brainstorm jobs that provide fulfillment and meaning to you personally. Then get creative and explore remote positions, jobs that provide free housing, or jobs that pay well even without a college degree. 

Choose a career that fulfills you both personally and financially. It doesn’t need to pay a huge salary, but aim to get up every morning happy with the career choice you made. 

2. Enroll in Health Insurance

Pregnancy is expensive. So are delivery, infant checkups, and pediatric health care in general. If you do nothing else before your baby arrives, get health insurance. 

Fortunately, not having insurance through your employer doesn’t mean you have to go without it. Explore options for health insurance without employer coverage. There are even part-time jobs that provide medical insurance. 

Note that families with a high-deductible health insurance plan may well burn through every dollar of that deductible over the course of pregnancy, delivery, and the first few months of life. Plan accordingly. 

Low-income families can explore the Children’s Health Insurance Program as another option.

3. Revamp Your Budget

Once upon a time, I spent more money on happy hours, dinners out, concerts, and entertainment in general. My budget looked different before I got married, and then it changed again after my wife and I had children. 

That’s normal. Your budget isn’t static. It’s a living thing that evolves over time alongside your life. And if you do it right, you can save more money even after having children. I managed to do it through a mix of house hacking, getting rid of a car, and moving overseas. 

If you don’t have one, create a formal budget. If you do have one, look over all your budgeting categories and start brainstorming ways to spend less and save more. 

4. Check Your Emergency Fund

You never know when an emergency or unexpected job loss could leave you without an income. And when you have children, the stakes are higher. 

As you prepare for the responsibility of a family, set up an emergency fund to cover two to 12 months’ worth of expenses. 

How much you need depends on the stability of your income and expenses. The more variable each is, the more months of living expenses you should stash away. An average person needs three to six months’ expenses, but people with inconsistent incomes or living expenses need closer to a year’s worth. 

You can always temporarily cut out costs like entertainment or a gym membership to save on expenses. But needs like electricity and food are nonnegotiable. 

And while some of your expenses may go down while you’re unemployed (such as gasoline), others may go up. For example, if you spend $200 per month on employer-subsidized health insurance, that expense may rise while you’re unemployed, as you may be forced onto a new plan or required to pay for your current plan in full.

5. Get Serious About Paying Off Unsecured Debts

Many people have unsecured debts, such as credit card debt, personal loans, and student loans. And those often come with high interest rates that exceed the long-term returns you can earn by investing. 

That makes paying off your unsecured debts a high priority. Follow a structured plan to pay them off quickly, such as the debt snowball method. 

Once you incur the added expenses that come with having kids, you’re less likely to have room in your budget to chip away at that old debt. Plus, the interest on it can make the expenses your child requires that much harder to manage.

While baby-related expenses tend to be significant initially, they don’t completely go away once your children are done with diapers. In fact, school-age kids can cost more than infants because they require more expensive clothing and food as well as money for activities like soccer lessons and ballet classes.

6. Plan for Child Care

Child care is the elephant in the room when planning the financial costs of having children. 

Explore all your child care options, from nannies and au pairs to day care to relatives and friends. If one parent doesn’t love their job, you can explore becoming a single-income family, with one parent staying home for the first few years of your children’s lives. 

Whatever you decide, plan and budget accordingly — because parental leave will be over before you blink. 

7. Plan for Baby Essentials

My wife wouldn’t let me try this experiment, but I believe you could get everything you need for an infant for free — or almost anything. 

Diapers cost money, and there are some things you should never buy used for safety reasons. Everything else you can get either free through services like Freecycle or inexpensively used via eBay, Craigslist, or local garage sales. 

Whether you buy used or new, get creative to save money on baby gear. See this baby supplies checklist from The Bump to ensure you plan for every need. 

8. Update Your Will

Your estate plan does more than tell your family and friends who gets your autographed guitars after you die. It also makes provisions for child care if you die prematurely. Your will can include provisions for an unborn child, which you can amend after they’re born.

You have a couple of options for creating a will (or any other estate planning documents):

  • Do It Yourself. You don’t need a lawyer to create a valid will. You simply need to be 18 or older and of sound mind. You also need to sign your will in front of two witnesses and ensure it’s accessible once you die. You can use an online service like Trust & Will to draft one affordably.
  • Hire an Attorney. The cost is significantly more, but a lawyer handles all the details for you. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1,000 for a basic will. If your assets and estate are complex or you need to establish a trust, it could cost upward of $10,000.

Optional Financial Moves to Consider

Some moves could help you feel more ready for kids, though they aren’t strictly necessary. If you can’t do them, no need to worry. In fact, some people may decide holding off on these is smarter than doing it before they have kids. 

So consider this type of financial planning purely optional: a list of ideas for thought rather than more reasons to fret. 

9. Reevaluate Your Housing

You can care for an infant in a studio apartment. They certainly won’t know the difference. But that doesn’t mean you’d enjoy it. 

As a long-term planning exercise, think about what type of home you want to live in for the next few years. You don’t need extra bedrooms or bathrooms right away, as infants can sleep in the same room as you for a while. Even when they move out of your room, they could move into a room with an older sibling. 

But you may decide you want a larger home, so start thinking about what that looks like and how to pay for it. Only buy a home if you plan to stay for at least a few years, as closing costs on either end of the transaction make it cheaper to rent otherwise. 

10. Reevaluate Your Transportation

If you and your spouse each drive two-seat sports cars, one of you may need to swap it out for a more family-friendly option. 

Of course, you don’t always need a car. My wife and I don’t have one. We simply take the car seat with us when we hire an Uber. I also installed a baby seat on my bike so I can transport my daughter that way too. 

Consider the public transportation, walkability, and bikeability of the area you live in. It’s possible you could live without a car too.

But most Americans drive cars as their primary means of transportation, so if yours is either too small to fit your whole family or unreliable, it’s probably time to get a different one. But explore used cars first as a more budget-friendly option. 

Give yourself more flexibility by choosing three to five models you’d be happy to buy, and shop around among both dealerships and individual owners to find the ideal used car for you and your growing family.  

11. Buy Life Insurance or Disability Insurance

In households with one breadwinner or a partner who significantly outearns the other, life insurance makes sense. You want to ensure your family would survive financially if it lost that primary breadwinner. 

Life insurance policies come in two broad buckets:

  • Term Life Insurance. Term life offers coverage for a specified period. It’s generally cheaper and comes with a guaranteed set death benefit. With term life insurance, your premiums increase at preset intervals, such as 10, 20, or 30 years.
  • Whole or Universal Life Insurance. Also known as permanent life insurance, whole or universal life insurance death benefits never expire as long as you pay premiums. These policies often also provide certain living benefits, such as the ability to borrow money against the policy.

As a rule of thumb, your death benefit should be six to eight times your annual salary. But there are other considerations to take into account, such as your homeownership status and anticipated number of dependents as well as how much you can afford. 

If you’re unsure about your coverage needs, talk to an independent financial advisor and shop around for the right plan. You can compare policies on sites like Policygenius and GoCompare.

The same concepts apply to long-term disability insurance. Both protect against the risk of the breadwinner losing their ability to earn. 

Granted, not everyone needs life insurance or disability insurance.

For example, my wife and I live on one income even though we both work. We live on her income and save every dime of mine. And we don’t have life or disability insurance because we maintain low living expenses relative to our income and a high savings rate to build our net worth quickly. 

If either of us kicked the bucket tomorrow, each of our incomes would be enough in itself to support ourselves and our child, and the surviving spouse would have a hefty nest egg to fall back on in a crunch. 

Avoiding the need for life insurance and disability insurance by “self-insuring” are two of the many hidden benefits of pursuing a financially independent lifestyle. Once you build enough money, you can opt out of life and disability insurance. 

12. Double Down on Retirement Investments

I joke that my backup plan for retirement is my daughter. If she were old enough to get the joke, she wouldn’t laugh. 

The worst thing you can put on your adult children is asking them to take care of you in retirement. It adds a burden on them in an already hectic time of their lives, when they’re trying to start and raise their own families. 

Before you even consider setting aside money for their college education, take a closer look at your retirement investments. If you have the slightest worries about them, put more money into your tax-sheltered retirement accounts long before saving money for your kids’ college tuition. 

They have many other ways to pay for college, but you only have one way to pay for your retirement. 

Invest money now so it can start compounding, and decide what to do with it later. You can withdraw contributions from a Roth individual retirement account tax- and penalty-free to put toward any costs, but you can only use 529 plans or ESAs for education costs.

13. Invest to Help With College Costs

Not paying your kids’ college tuition doesn’t make you a bad parent. Young adults who pay for their own college education often take the experience much more seriously. And many parents question whether to help with college even when they can afford it. 

Even small amounts invested when your child is young can compound into significant sums by the time they turn 18. If you decide to chip in, you have several tax-friendly options to do so. 

  • 529 Plan. Your 529 college savings plan earnings grow and remain tax-free if you spend them on qualified educational expenses. 
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account. A Coverdell ESA works similarly to a Roth IRA for education expenses. There are income limits ($110,000 for single filers and $220,000 for married), and the maximum allowable yearly contribution is $2,000, regardless of your income.
  • Upromise.Upromise allows you to earn cash back to use to pay for college. Unlike 529 plans and ESAs, you don’t have to contribute additional money. Rather, you earn cash back on expenses like online retail purchases and restaurant meals.

In all cases, you can open the accounts early and designate your child as a beneficiary after birth.


Final Word

As much as I preach fiscal responsibility, I know firsthand that putting off children doesn’t always make sense, financially or otherwise.

My wife and I married in our early 30s and agreed to spend one year building a foundation for our marriage before having children. Then one year became two, then three. 

I started a business, and my wife worried about money. Then we went through a rough patch in our marriage. We survived it but had reached our late 30s by that point. 

When we finally started trying in earnest, nothing happened, which kicked off a stretch of infertility questions and interventions. Eventually, we did have a child, but not all couples are so lucky. 

Many of my friends haven’t experienced the joy of having children despite spending large sums of money — not to mention enduring immense heartache — trying to do so. In one of life’s bitter ironies, many delayed trying for children because they worried about money. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I know plenty of parents without much money who have multiple children. And every one of them finds a way to make it work.

There’s no perfect time to have children. They disrupt your life in every possible way. But like billions of parents with less money than you have, you’ll find a way to make it work too.

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Source: moneycrashers.com