Can an Inherited IRA Be Rolled Over?

IRA documents

If you inherit an individual retirement account (IRA) from a spouse, you can treat it like your own IRA or roll it over into a traditional IRA you already have. If you are the beneficiary of an IRA inherited from someone other than your spouse, the options are different. You can’t roll it over into an existing IRA. However, you can transfer it into a new IRA, if you satisfy certain requirements. In either case, failing to follow the rules can result in the IRA being treated as a taxable distribution. A financial advisor can guide you as you deal with an inherited IRA so that you don’t needlessly incur any tax liabilities.

Inheriting an IRA From a Spouse

The owner of an IRA can designate anyone to be the beneficiary of an IRA or other account after the owner’s death. Often, the beneficiary is the surviving spouse. Then the beneficiary has some choices.

First, the surviving spouse can name himself or herself as the owner of the inherited account. In this event, it will be as if the surviving spouse had always owned the account. The same distribution rules will apply.

Second, the new owner can roll it over into an existing IRA. This can be a traditional IRA or, after conversion, a Roth IRA. Any taxable distributions can be rolled over into another plan, such as a qualified employer retirement plan, a 401(a) or 403(b) annuity plan or a state or local government’s 457(b) deferred compensation plan.

If the rollover route is selected, it can be accomplished by a direct trustee-to-trustee transaction.

Or it can be done by taking the funds from the account as a distribution and then depositing the funds into another IRA within 60 days. Waiting longer than 60 days to re-deposit the funds into an IRA risks having the distribution taxed like income.

The most desirable way is to use the direct trustee-to-trustee transaction. This can be set up in advance if the wishes of the original owner regarding the inheritance are known.

The age of the beneficiary determines how the inherited IRA will be taxed. That means, for instance, any distributions before age 59 ½ will get charged a 10% penalty in addition to being subject income taxes. And starting at age 72, the beneficiary will have to start taking the annual required minimum distributions (RMDs.) If a beneficiary was 70.5 or older on Dec. 31, 2019, he or she has to start taking RMDs immediately.

Inheriting From a Non-Spouse

Man working on household finances

If you inherit an IRA from someone other than your spouse, you can’t just roll it over. In this case, the usual approach is to open a new IRA called an inherited IRA. This IRA will stay in the name of the deceased person and the person who inherited it will be named as beneficiary. The inheritor can’t make any contributions to the inherited IRA or roll any funds into or out of it.

The funds can’t just stay in the inherited IRA forever, or even until the new beneficiary reaches the age at which they’d have to start being withdrawn. In most cases, all the funds have to be distributed within 10 years of the original owner’s death. If it’s a Roth IRA, all the interest usually has to be distributed within five years of the owner’s death.

Rather than opening an inherited IRA, the person who inherited the IRA can take a lump sump distribution. Even if the person is younger than 59 ½, the distribution won’t be subject to the usual 10% penalty for an early withdrawal. However, the distributed funds will be subject to income taxes.

Bottom Line

Retired couple on a beachInheriting an IRA from a spouse means the beneficiary can simply name himself or herself as new owner of the account and treat it as if it had been theirs all along. Or the bereaved spouse can roll the funds into a new account. If the inheritor is someone other than a spouse, the usual approach is to set up an inherited IRA, keeping the original owner’s name on the account and naming the inheritor as the beneficiary. But sometimes it makes more sense to disclaim an inherited IRA if, for example, the inherited funds would mean the beneficiary’s estate would be so large it would incur the federal estate tax. In the event an IRA is disclaimed, the funds would go to other beneficiaries named on the account.

Tips for Handling IRAs

  • If you inherit an IRA or expect to – especially if your benefactor is someone other than your spouse – consider discussing the best way to handle it with an experienced financial advisor. Finding one doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • One factor in deciding whether to claim and how to claim an inherited IRA is how much you will get from Social Security. That’s where a free, easy-to-use retirement calculator comes in very handy.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/designer491, ©iStock.com/shapecharge, ©iStock.com/dmbaker

The post Can an Inherited IRA Be Rolled Over? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Chase Credit Journey: Check Your Credit Score For Free

Chase Credit Journey is one of the many credit monitoring services that gives you a credit score for free. Launched by Chase, Credit Journey also monitors your score and gives you advice on to improve it.

One of the best ways to get approved for a loan or a credit card is to have a good credit score. Think of this 3-digit number as a representation of your credit worthiness and credibility.

In fact, lenders use your credit score to see how risky it is for them to let you borrow.  The higher your score, the better.

So,  it is very important to use a free tool like Chase Credit Journey, to know your credit score before applying for a loan, a credit card, or an apartment.

Doing so will give you an idea whether or not you will be approved or denied.

One way to get a credit score for free and monitor it is through Chase Credit Journey. If your credit score is excellent, then you are all good.

All you have to do is maintaining it. If it’s bad, then you can take steps to raise your credit score.

In this article, we will address what Chase Credit Journey is, why you should use it, and some of its limitations.

What is Chase Credit Journey?

Chase Credit Journey is a free online service offered by Chase that gives consumers a credit score and credit report for free. You don’t have to be a Chase customer to use the service.

You’ll need to register by entering personal information, including your credit cards information, existing loans, etc.

Checking your credit on Chase Credit Journey does not hurt your credit score, because it counts as a soft credit inquiry. Soft inquiries, as opposed to hard inquiries, leave your credit score untouched.

In addition to getting a credit score from Chase Credit Journey, you can get one from the following credit monitoring services all for free:

  • Credit Karma
  • Credit Sesame
  • Credit.com
  • Lendingtree
  • NerdWallet
  • WalletHub
  • Creditcards.com

How Does Credit Journey Work?

Chase Credit Journey uses Experian, one of the three credit bureaus, to give you a credit score and report.

Chase Credit Journey uses the VantageScore 3.0 model, which is a collaboration from the three credit bureaus.

Your score is updated weekly but you can access it as much as you can and anytime you want.

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Also, you can sign up for credit alerts through Credit Journey which can notify you if your score changes or if something suspicious is happening on your credit file.

If there are errors, Chase Credit Journey will guide you on how to file a dispute with the credit bureaus. You can’t get your FICO score via Chase Credit Journey.

In addition to getting a free credit score, you also get an analysis of your score and advice on how to raise it and other free resources. This way you can take steps to improve your credit score. 

If you’re ready to give Chase Credit Journey a shot, go online to the homepage to see how Credit Journey works.

You can also access the Chase Credit Journey through the Chase mobile app as well.  If you’re not convinced yet, keep reading.

Chase Credit Journey helps you understand the 6 factors to come up with your VantageScore credit score. They are:

1) Payment history (or late payments): payment history accounts for 35% of your total credit score. In fact, it is the most important factor in your total credit score. Late or missed payments can negatively affect your credit score.

2) Credit utilization ratio (or credit usage): Credit utilization is how much of your credit limit you’re using versus your balance. Credit card utilization accounts for 30% of your total credit score. So keeping it low is ideal. Keeping your credit card balance under 30% is the way to go. For example, let’s suppose your credit card has a credit limit of $5000. You have used $2500 of that credit. Then your credit utilization is 50%. To keep it below 30%, you should only use $1500 of that credit.

3) Credit age: The third most important factor of your total credit score is your credit age. That means how long you have had credit. Lenders like to see a longer credit age. In your credit report, you’ll be able to see your average credit age.

4) Hard Inquiry: The higher your credit inquiries, the lower your credit score can become. Anytime you apply for a loan or a credit card or when a landlord checks your credit, it can cause a small dip in your credit score. So multiple credit inquiries can hurt your credit score rather than improving it.

5) Total Balances: total balances refer to the amount owed over all of your credits, including your mortgage, student loans, credit cards, personal loans, etc.

6) Available credit: This factor represents the current amount of unused credit you have over your accounts.

Chase Credit Journey best feature: the score simulator

In addition to providing you a free credit score and report, a credit alert, and credit resources, Chase Credit Journey has an invaluable feature called the score simulator.

The score simulator gives you an estimate of how certain changes in your credit behavior can affect your credit score. Those changes include missing a payment, card balance transfer, and closing an old account, etc.

The importance of checking your score via a free credit service like Chase Credit Journey

Your credit score is perhaps the first thing lenders look at to decide whether to approve you for a loan or credit card. The better your score, the higher is your chance of getting that loan.

On the other hand, if you have a bad credit score, getting a loan or a credit card not only can prove very difficult, but applying for it puts a hard inquiry that can actually lower your already bad credit score.

So knowing your score before you actually apply will give you an idea whether lenders will approve you. It will also allows you to apply for credit with confidence. That’s why is important to use a free credit service.

Additionally, checking your credit score and credit report on a regular basis will help you identify what is on your credit report. Outstanding debts and a history of late payments can directly impact your credit score.

You can get your credit report for free by logging on AnnualCreditReport.com from each of the three credit bureaus. But these credit reports do not give you a credit score. Moreover, you get these reports only once every year.

While there are several options, Chase Credit Journey is just another option. It’s never a bad idea to have several options to choose from.

In other words, it’s better to get your score from more than one source. However, there are some limitations to using Chase Credit Journey.

Chase Credit Journey Limitations

One of the limitations Chase Credit Journey has is that it only uses one of the three major credit bureaus, which is Experian. When you get your score from only one credit bureau, you might not see the whole picture.

So, your credit score might not be entirely accurate.

For example, let’s say you transfer a credit card balance to a new credit card. If Transunion and Equifax are the only credit bureaus that recorded the card was closed during the transfer, you credit score might drop, because Experian recorded you opened a new card.

Another disadvantage of Chase Credit Journey is that the VantageScore’s scoring model is not the industry standard. Most companies use FICO scores to decide whether to approve or decline you for a loan or credit.

And while VantageScore and FICO scores range from 300 to 850, the two models use different criteria in coming up with your credit score. In other words, each model weighs the factors differently in calculating your credit score.

So your Chase Credit Journey credit score might be different than a FICO score. So, if you are ready to apply for a loan, find out which actual credit score your lender will use to improve your chance of approval.

The Bottom Line

Chase Credit Journey provides free credit scores and reports from Experian. The scores are updated weekly. The free credit score is based on the VantageScore 3.0 model.

However, while VantageScore’s system is accurate, it is not what most companies use. But one important thing about Chase Credit Journey is that it one other free tool that allows you stay proactive and monitor your credit on a regular basis. In turn, it allows you to know your score before applying for credit.

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc). Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post Chase Credit Journey: Check Your Credit Score For Free appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

6 Reasons to Try the FIRE Movement

The idea behind FIRE is if you can earn more money, live on less, and save and invest the rest, you can cut years — or even decades — off of your working career. Of course, the FIRE movement has its problems. 

Not everyone can save 50% or more of their income to work toward FIRE. And most who retire early continue working in some capacity to avoid running out of money early. Also, achieving FIRE is considerably easier during times of economic prosperity — no matter what anyone says, it would’ve been a lot harder to get excited about FIRE in 2008 when the Dow dropped by 33.84%!

Achieving FIRE and retiring early sounds good in theory, but it’s actually very hard to execute in a real-world sense. But here’s why you should try anyway.

6 Reasons FIRE Still Works

But, you know what? I would argue that anyone who can, should at least try to pursue FIRE anyway. As I’ve become more interested in financial independence, I’ve learned that there are side benefits to cutting expenses and learning to save money and invest more. Some advantages to FIRE don’t even have anything to do with money at all.

If you’re on the fence about FIRE, here are some of the reasons you might want to change your way of thinking and get on board.

1. Encourages Living With Intention

After reading Michael Hyatt’s book, Living Forward, its concept of “drifting” stuck with me. Drifting occurs any time you’re going through the motions in life, but living without any concrete plans or goals. 

Maybe you’re going to work every day, taking care of your kids, and keeping up with bills. But in these day-to-day tasks, you’re not actively achieving anything in particular. 

You’re just waking up and getting by.

With the FIRE movement though, you learn to live with intentionality because you’re forced to focus on your spending, and the specific goals necessary to reach financial independence. 

As you pursue FIRE, you can’t simply drift through life in hopes that the numbers work out in your favor. To have enough money to retire early, you need a plan. You have no choice but to set goals, and the act of doing so forces you to get real about how you’re living and what you really want in life. 

Are you saving to buy a house? Are you saving to pay for college? Are you saving to retire early? Whatever your goals are, FIRE forces you to reverse engineer your long-term plan so it’s actionable and intentional today.

2. Feels More Financially Secure

Here’s another potential side benefit of pursuing FIRE — you get the opportunity to feel more secure and sleep better at night. This is something I personally experienced when I started becoming FIRE-minded, but it’s also backed up by research. 

In fact, a 2019 survey from Schwab showed that 63% of people with a written financial plan said they felt financially stable, compared to only 28% of those without a financial plan. Further, 56% of people with a financial plan said they felt “very confident” about reaching their financial goals.

If you’ve ever felt helpless about your finances before, then this probably makes total sense. Having a plan provides some comfort — even if you are far away from your goal. At least you’re working toward something, and that provides peace of mind. 

3. Forces You to Take Control

I don’t always agree with everything Dave Ramsey says, but I do love some of his best quotes. One example is:

“You must gain control over your money or the lack of it will forever control you.” — Dave Ramsey

The point I’m making is that, if you don’t ask yourself important, uncomfortable questions, you might never get control of your finances — or your life. 

Think about it this way. If you’re drifting through life and spending money without really saving for a goal, you’re at the mercy of your job and outside factors that affect your income and savings. But if you learn to take control of your spending, you’ll also learn to take control of your future finances in ways you probably never realized before.

When most people start pursuing FIRE, they realize right away that the biggest part that’s in their control is their spending. The other side of that coin is, of course, how much you’re able to save.

A recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows the average American set aside 5% to 8% of their income in savings. In contrast, those who pursue FIRE, frequently save 50% to 70% of their incomes toward their goals. 

When you find a way to save a large percentage of your income, this means you’ve taken control of the reins. You have goals and you have a purpose, and your money is no longer controlling your future. You are.

4. Empowers You with Information

According to a joint study from PwC US and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) at the George Washington University, only 24% of millennials demonstrate basic financial literacy. And, even with minimal knowledge of their own, only 27% had sought out professional financial advice. 

This is one area where even studying FIRE can leave you dramatically ahead. After all, pursuing FIRE or even reading about it forces empowers you with information about saving and investing for the long haul. 

For example, through FIRE you’ll randomly learn personal finance lessons like the 4% rule for retirement and how to create a budget. These are cornerstone concepts of the FIRE movement. 

You’re also forced to think about your income and your financial situation in a brand new way. This includes questions, like “How much are you actually earning?” and “How much interest are you paying toward debt every month?”

As a financial advisor, I can tell you for sure that a lot of people don’t know the answer to any of these questions because they’ve never thought about it before. You wind up learning so much that can help you along the way toward your goal.

5. Learn How to Budget and Question Yourself

I remember back in the day when my wife and I first started getting serious about budgeting. We’d sit down to look over our bills, and were shocked by some of our ongoing expenses and subscriptions. 

These budgeting “meetings” made a big difference in how we worked together to achieve our financial goals. When we sat down to look over our expenses, our income, and where we were headed, we found ways to spend less without affecting our quality of life.

Now, I hate budgeting, but I do think it’s an important part of pursuing FIRE — especially at first. After all, you can’t really work toward major financial goals if you have no idea where your money is going every month. 

And, the thing is, you can’t really argue anything when you start budgeting and tracking your expenses. You get the chance to see where your money went, in black and white, and you get the opportunity to act accordingly. This may sound like a huge buzzkill, but I’ve found that taking control and budgeting is actually really empowering. 

Crazily enough, not enough people have any idea how they spend the income they work so hard to earn. In fact, a recent survey from the budgeting app Mint found that 65% of respondents had no idea how much they spent last month. 

When you ask someone pursuing FIRE how much they save each month, these people know. In fact, they often know their savings amount down to the penny. 

6. FIRE Helps You Be Grateful

Finally, there’s one more major benefit of FIRE that goes largely ignored. I’m going to call it the “contentment factor”. It’s the ability to be content with what you have. 

Everything involved with FIRE — tracking your spending, cutting things you don’t care about, creating long-term goals — can really put your life in perspective for you. It also makes you realize you might have more power over your life than you realized. That’s a pretty amazing lesson. 

And of course, learning contentment leads to learning how to feel grateful. How amazing is it that, in this broken world we live in, you can earn a living, care for your family, and set aside something for the future? How amazing is it that you have the chance to work hard and retire early, and then spend decades doing whatever it is you love?

This brings me to a quote I love from Oprah:

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” ―

Oprah Winfrey

This is what I love about FIRE; it really encourages you to be grateful and teaches you to be content with what you have. After all, there is no way you could ever save 50% or even 30% of your income without these lessons. 

Pursuing FIRE teaches you that you don’t need the hottest pair of sneakers, and that you might not need that cable television package you pay for each month. It teaches you that a huge car payment isn’t worth it, and that any “friend” who judges your car probably isn’t a good one. 

Learning about FIRE makes you ask yourself all of these questions, and sometimes, that’s all it takes to realize how good you have it.

Garth Brooks once said that “you aren’t wealthy until you have something money can’t buy.” 

And perhaps that’s the greatest benefit of pursuing FIRE. You learn that happiness and true contentment comes from within. And that, my friends, is priceless.

The post 6 Reasons to Try the FIRE Movement appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Guide to Small Business Startup Loans

Man working on a puzzle

It takes money to make money and virtually any small business will require some startup capital to get up and running. While the personal savings of the founders is likely the most common source of startup funding, many startups also employ loans to provide seed capital. New enterprises with no established credit cannot get loans as easily from many sources, but startup loans are available for entrepreneurs who know where to look. Here are some of those places to look, plus ways to supplement loans. For help with loans and any other financial questions you have, consider working with a financial advisor.

Startup Loans: Preparing to Borrow

Before starting to look for a startup loan, the primary question for the entrepreneur is how much he or she needs to borrow. The size of the loan is a key factor in determining where funding is likely to be available. Some sources will only fund very small loans, for example, while others will only deal with borrowers seeking sizable amounts.

The founder’s personal credit history is another important element. Because the business has no previous history of operating, paying bills or borrowing money and paying it back, the likelihood of any loan is likely to hinge on the founder’s credit score. The founder is also likely to have to personally guarantee the loan, so the amount and size of personal financial resources is another factor.

Business documents that may be needed to apply include a business plan, financial projections and a description of how funds will be used.

Startup Loan Types

There are a number of ways to obtain startup loans. Here are several of them.

Personal loan – A personal loan is another way to get seed money. Using a personal loan to fund a startup could be a good idea for business owners who have good credit and don’t require a lot of money to bootstrap their operation. However, personal loans tend to carry a higher interest rate than business loans and the amount banks are willing to lend may not be enough.

Loans from friends and family – This can work for an entrepreneur who has access to well-heeled relatives and comrades. Friends and family are not likely to be as demanding as other sources of loans when it comes to credit scores. However, if a startup is unable to repay a loan from a friend or relative, the result can be a damaged relationship as well as a failed business.

Venture capitalists – While these people typically take equity positions in startups their investments are often structured as loans. Venture capitalists can provide more money than friends and family. However, they often take an active hand in managing their investments so founders may need to be ready to surrender considerable control.

SBA loan applicationGovernment-backed startup loans – These are available through programs administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Small Business Administration (SBA) as well as, to a lesser degree, the Interior, Agriculture and Treasury departments. Borrowers apply for these through affiliated private financial institutions, including banks. LenderMatch is a tool startup businesses use to find these affiliated private financial institutions. Government-guaranteed loans charge lower interest rates and are easier to qualify for than non-guaranteed bank loans.

Bank loans – These are the most popular form of business funding, and they offer attractive interest rates and bankers don’t try to take control as venture investors might. However, banks are reluctant to lend to new businesses without a track record. Using a bank to finance a startup generally means taking out a personal loan, which means the owner will need a good personal credit score and be ready to put up collateral to secure approval.

Credit cards – Using credit cards to fund a new business is easy, quick and requires little paperwork. However, interest rates and penalties are high and the amount of money that can be raised is limited.

Self-funding – Rather than simply putting money into the business that he or she owns, the founder can structure the cash infusion as a loan that the business will pay back. One potential benefit of this is that interest paid to the owner for the loan can be deducted from future profits, reducing the business’s tax burden.

Alternatives to Startup Loans

Crowdfunding – This lets entrepreneurs use social media to reach large numbers of private individuals, borrowing small amounts from each to reach the critical mass required to get a new business up and running. As with friends and family, credit history isn’t likely to be a big concern. However, crowdfunding works best with businesses that have a new product that requires funding to complete design and begin production.

Nonprofits and community organizations – These groups engage in microfinancing. Getting a grant from one of these groups an option for a startup that requires a small amount, from a few hundred to a few tens of thousands of dollars. If you need more, one of the other channels is likely to be a better bet.

The Bottom Line

Green plant growing out of a jar of coinsStartup businesses seeking financing have a number of options for getting a loan. While it is often difficult for a brand-new company to get a conventional business bank loan, friends and family, venture investors, government-backed loan programs, crowdfunding, microloans and credit cards may provide solutions. The size of the loan amount and the personal credit history and financial assets of the founder are likely to be important in determining which financing channel is most appropriate.

Tips on Funding a Startup

  • If you are searching for a way to fund a business startup, consider working with an experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • One way to minimize the challenge of getting startup funding is to take a “lean startup” approach. That approach could be especially helpful to baby boomers, who are “aging out” of their careers and living longer than earlier generations but still need (or want) an income. Learn how many of them are turning their retirement into business opportunities.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Andrii Yalanskyi, ©iStock.com/teekid, ©iStock.com/Thithawat_s

The post Guide to Small Business Startup Loans appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

What Is a Stafford Loan and How Do You Qualify?

How do you qualify for a stafford loan?

If you’re in search of financial help for higher education, you may have explored different scholarships and grants to pay the way. Gifted money is a great way to pay for school without having to worry about paying it back after graduation. However, if you don’t have all your expenses covered through scholarships and grants, you might need to consider student loans to fill in the gaps. If you’re exploring federal aid, Stafford loans might be an option. Here’s what they are, how much they cost and how to know if you qualify.

What Is a Stafford Loan?

A Stafford loan is a federal student loan provided by the government to help pay for your education while you’re attending a university, community college, trade or technical school. 

Stafford loans are now referred to as direct subsidized loans or direct unsubsidized loans. The difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans is who pays for the accrued interest of the loan while you’re in school and how much you may be able to borrow.

A subsidized loan is only available to undergraduate students in financial need. The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest that adds up on your behalf while you’re in school at least half-time, as well as during the six-month grace period after graduation and during deferment or forbearance periods. The limit on how much you can borrow is $3,500 for the first year, $4,500 for the second and $5,500 for the third and fourth years. The aggregate loan amount is capped at $23,000, which is lower than unsubsidized loans.

An unsubsidized loan is available for both graduate and undergraduate students and isn’t based on financial need. The student is responsible for the interest that builds up while in school. Payments could be more costly than those for a subsidized loan because of that accrued interest.

If a subsidized loan doesn’t cover all your college costs, you can take out an unsubsidized loan, too. The aggregate loan amount for unsubsidized loans is capped at $31,000 for undergraduate students considered dependents and whose parents don’t qualify for direct PLUS loans. Undergraduate independent students may be allowed to borrow up to $57,500, while graduate students may be allowed to borrow up to $138,500.

These types loans have fixed interest rates determined by the government, come with a fee and allow the student to borrow for up to 150% of the length of the program they’re enrolled in. For example, if you’re attending a four-year college, you would be able to borrow these loans for up to six years.

How to Qualify for a Stafford Loan How do you qualify for a stafford loan?

What you need to get a Stafford loan depends on your financial standing.

Students or parents of the student must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Next, you’ll receive an award letter that details if you qualify for a Stafford loan. Your financial need determines if you’ll get a direct subsidized loan. If you don’t qualify, then you may receive a direct unsubsidized loan.

If you do qualify for one of these loans and you’re ready to accept the federal aid, you’ll need to submit a Mastery Promissory Note (MPN). This is a legal document which states that you promise to pay back your loans in full, including any fees and accrued interest, to the U.S. Department of Education. The school of your choice will determine how much money you’re eligible to receive and the funds go straight to your school – not to you. Since you can receive money based on your need or school enrollment – not your credit score – only your application is required.

Stafford Loan Alternatives

If you’ve exhausted all of your financial aid options, it might be time to explore other means to pay for school.

Direct PLUS Loans

Direct Plus loans are federal loans that are available to graduate or professional students, or parents of undergraduate students. They require a credit check and you might be required to make payments while you or your child is in school. However, you could request deferment and make payments after you or your child graduates or drops below half-time.

Private Student Loans

If you can’t get any further federal aid, you may consider private student loans. Instead of coming from the U.S. Department of Education, these types of loans are issued from private issuers, such as banks, credit unions or online lenders.

If you’re not sure where else to look, contact your school’s financial aid office. It may have scholarships, grants or other small loans available that you might qualify for.

The Bottom Line

How do you qualify for a stafford loan?

College is expensive and not everyone can afford to pay for it out of pocket. Tapping into financial resources, including Stafford loans like subsidized and unsubsidized loans, as well as direct Plus loans and private student loans, may help. Don’t be afraid to contact your school’s financial aid office for even more resources to pay for school.

Tips for Student Loan Borrowers

  • If you’re not sure of the best strategy for securing student loans, consider working with a financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Interest rates for private student loans are often higher than those for federal loans. If you or your child is struggling to pay private student loans, consider student loan refinance rates available now.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/William_Potter, ©iStock.com/utah778, ©iStock.com/BrianAJackson

The post What Is a Stafford Loan and How Do You Qualify? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

How Equipment Financing for Businesses Works

Three forklifts at a warehouseFinancing the purchase of essential equipment lets businesses preserve cash for working capital, hiring staff, expanding marketing efforts or other purposes. Equipment financing can be done with term loans, SBA-backed loans, lines of credit and credit cards. Equipment loans are generally easier to get than other forms of financing and may require no down payment, since the loan will be secured by the equipment being purchased. If you’re not sure which option to take, consider talking to a financial advisor experienced in this area.

Many sorts of businesses use financing to acquire a variety of equipment types. Construction companies finance the purchase of bulldozers and cranes, restaurants finance refrigerators and ovens, fitness centers finance workout machines and computers to run their offices, to name a few.

Loans may be any amount up to the value of the equipment, with 100% loan-to-value financing, although 20% down payments could be required. Interest rates range from under 5% to more than 30%, with repayment terms extending 10 years or more, up to the useful life of the equipment. Approval for an equipment financing request often depends on the business credit score, size of the down payment and the existence of a business plan documenting cash flow projections adequate to repay the borrowed sum

Types of Equipment Financing

Businesses obtain equipment financing from a number of sources, including traditional banks large and small, online lenders, SBA-affiliated lenders and credit cards.

Term loans. Local and national banks and online lenders make equipment loans of one to 10 years in length for up to 100% of the equipment value, at interest rates ranging from 4% to 25%. Banks favor loans to established businesses with good credit scores and well-documented repayment plans. Online lenders have more flexible guidelines but also may charge higher rates and fees.

Small Business Administration 504 loans. These government-guaranteed loans are made by nonprofit Certified Development Company (CDC) lenders certified by the SBA. Known as 504 loans, they can only be for up to 40% of the cost of acquiring fixed assets, and require 10% down by the borrower, with a private lender providing the remaining 40%.

Lines of credit. Revolving lines of credit arranged through banks or online lenders can be set up in advance and used to purchase equipment as needed. Borrowers only pay for funds they have actually borrowed through the line of credit, and monthly payments may vary with changes in the balance owed. Lines of credit usually don’t require collateral or down payments but have higher interest rates than loans.

Credit cards. Business credit cards are easy to get as long as a business has a good credit score and some operating history. The application process is simple and funds are available immediately upon approval. Some other loans may take days or weeks before funding. However, the amount that can be tapped with a credit card is limited and rates and fees are higher than alternatives.

Equipment Leasing

Commercial refrigeratorBusinesses that lack the credit score, operating history or down payment needed to qualify for a loan or other purchase financing can acquire equipment by leasing it. Leasing requires no down payment and approval is much easier to get than when requesting a loan. Monthly lease payments may be less than a loan payment would be, freeing up additional cash. And when the lease term is up, the business can return the equipment without owing any more.

The downside of leasing is that it ultimately can cost more than buying. While monthly lease payments could be lower than loan payments, the total of lease payments may be more than the amount of all the loan payments. Also, while there is no down payment, the business won’t own the equipment at the end of the lease.

The Bottom Line

Mobile craneEquipment financing gives businesses access to essential machinery, fixtures, furniture and other assets without the need to devote large sums of cash to outright purchase. Equipment loans are available from a variety of sources, including government-guaranteed loans, and are generally easier to get than other forms of financing. Be sure to avoid taking out equipment loans with terms that exceed the useful life of the asset. Otherwise, you risk being on the hook to make payments on a piece of equipment that has already been retired or scrapped. With this in mind, leasing may be a better option than buying for equipment that quickly becomes obsolete.

Tips for Small Businesses   

  • Before signing a loan or arranging for another way to finance an equipment purchase, consider talking it over with an experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • How you finance equipment can affect your taxes. Tax rules for independent contractors differ from what a traditional employee experiences, but they’re not overly complicated. Getting familiar with the basics can make filing your taxes as an independent contractor easier to navigate.

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Source: smartasset.com

Best States for Veterans – 2020 Edition

Image shows an advisor sitting across from a member of military personnel; there are official papers and a computer on the desk between them. In this study, SmartAsset analyzed various data points to find the best states for veterans.

How easily veterans adjust to their lives after service depends on many factors, not the least of which is their ability to maintain adequate finances to cover their home payments and daily needs. There’s good news for vets on that front, though: While about 37,000 veterans still experienced homelessness in January 2019, the homelessness rate among veterans declined more than 2% in 2019 and had decreased 50% since 2010, according to a 2019 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Despite that marked improvement, not all places are equally suited to help veterans thrive. That’s why SmartAsset crunched the numbers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to find the best places for veterans.

To do so, we looked at data across nine metrics: veterans as a percentage of population, veteran unemployment rate, overall unemployment rate, percentage of veterans living below the poverty line, housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans, percentage of a state’s businesses owned by veterans, number of VA health centers per 100,000 veterans, number of VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 residents and taxes on military pensions. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Veterans are less likely than the general population to live below the poverty line. Nationally, 11.1% of the U.S. population is living in poverty, according to 2019 figures from the Census Bureau. The average for this metric across this study is 6.7%, possibly because military benefits help keep some veterans afloat when they might otherwise face financial challenges.
  • More populous states may not be as suitable to veterans. The bottom three states in the study are California, New York and Illinois, which have the largest, fourth-largest and sixth-largest state populations, respectively. These states struggle in two metrics: the unemployment rate for veterans and housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans. This may be due, in part, to their high populations, which increase both competition for available jobs and demand for housing.
  • Pension taxes vary. Each state chooses how to tax military pensions. All in all, 30 states don’t tax military pensions at all, including eight out of the top 10 states (Nebraska and Montana are the exceptions). Military pensions are partially taxed in 13 states, along with the District of Columbia, and they are fully taxed in seven states.

1. South Dakota

South Dakota, home of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, is the best state in the U.S. for veterans. South Dakota has 21.04 Veterans Administration health facilities per 100,000 veterans, which is the second-highest rate for this metric overall, meaning veterans in South Dakota should have relatively good access to health services. There are also 3.51 VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 residents, ranking 10th. In addition, South Dakota does not tax military pensions.

2. Wyoming

Wyoming takes the runner-up spot. Wyoming has the highest number of VA health facilities in the country, at 28.99 per 100,000 veterans. It also does not tax military pensions. Wyoming finishes in the bottom half of the study in terms of the percentage of veterans who are living below the poverty line (coming in at 38th, with a percentage of 7.1%). However, the veteran unemployment rate in the state is 1.0% – second-lowest in the study – so veterans looking for work could do worse than thinking about the Cowboy State.

3. North Dakota

North Dakota is one of the least populous states in the nation, but it does well by its veterans. The Rough Rider State has the lowest unemployment rate for veterans in the nation, at 0.9%. Its overall September 2020 unemployment rate is also low, coming in at 4.4% – fourth-lowest in the nation. Housing costs make up 19.90% of the median income for a veteran, the second-best rate for this metric in the study.

4. West Virginia

West Virginia has housing costs that make up just 18.95% of the median veteran income, the best rate for this metric in the study. The Mountain State has the sixth-highest concentration of VA health facilities in the study, at 12.39 per 100,000 veterans, and the third-highest number of VA benefits administration facilities, at 5.78 per 100,000 residents. Military pensions are not taxed in this state. See more about retirement tax friendliness in West Virginia here.

5. Maine

Maine is one of two Northeastern states to be ranked in the top 10, and it gets there partially on the strength of its 1.3% veteran unemployment rate, ranking fourth-lowest in the country. Maine’s population is made up of 8.89% veterans, the eighth-highest percentage for this metric. Maine also has 5.13 VA benefits administration centers per 100,000 residents, ranking sixth-best. There are no taxes on military pensions in the Pine Tree State.

6. Alaska

Also known as The Last Frontier State, Alaska has a relatively small population, but one that is 10.74% veterans, the highest percentage for this metric across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Alaska also comes in first for the metric measuring the percentage of businesses owned by veterans, at 11.60%. The state doesn’t do nearly as well, though, when it comes to employing veterans, as the unemployment rate among veterans is 6.3%, near the very bottom of the study. On the plus side, the state does not tax military retirement pay.

7. Nebraska

Nebraska had an overall unemployment rate of just 3.5% in September 2020, the lowest in the country, and that rate is particularly impressive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Nebraska also has the fifth-best unemployment rate for veterans, at just 1.4%. Nebraska taxes some portion of military pensions, making it one of two states in the top 10 of the study where military pensions are not completely tax-free.

8. New Hampshire

Veterans in New Hampshire own 9.42% of the state’s businesses, placing the Granite State at 12th overall for this metric. The entire population of the state is 8.52% veterans, the 14th-highest rate for this metric across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. New Hampshire performs relatively poorly in terms of housing affordability: The average housing cost represents 36.25% of the median veteran income, sixth-highest in the study. However, Military pensions are tax-free in the state. Those who are seeking assistance with balancing all of these financial factors may wish to consult our roundup of the top 10 financial advisors in New Hampshire.

9. Montana

Veterans will find a built-in community in Big Sky Country, where the population is 10.28% veterans, second-highest in the study. That said, Montana taxes military pensions fully – the only state in our top 10 to do so and one of just seven to do so nationwide. Still, Montana ranks ninth for both of the unemployment metrics we measured, with a veteran unemployment rate of 2.3% and an overall September 2020 unemployment rate of 5.3%.

10. Hawaii

Hawaii places first in this study in terms of number of VA benefits administration facilities, at 6.64 per 100,000 veterans. It is important to note, though, that the Aloha State had an unemployment rate of 15.1% in September 2020, ranking last for this metric in the study. Furthermore, housing costs make up 39.41% of median veteran income, second-worst overall. However, only 5.8% of veterans are living below the poverty line, good for 12th overall. The state also has top-20 rankings for veterans as a percentage of the population, veteran-owned businesses as a percentage of all businesses and VA health facilities per 100,000 veterans.

Data and Methodology

To conduct the 2020 version of our study on the best states for veterans, we compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across the following metrics:

  • Veterans as a percentage of the population. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Veteran unemployment rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for September 2020.
  • Percentage of veterans living below the poverty line. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of median income for veterans. This is annual median housing costs divided by median income for veterans. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Share of veteran-owned businesses. This is the percentage of all businesses in a state that are owned by veterans. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2018 Annual Business Survey.
  • VA health facilities per 100,000 veterans. Data come from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • VA benefits administration facilities per 100,000 veterans. Data come from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Taxes on military pension. States were assigned a 1 if the state does not tax military retirement pay, a 2 if there are special provisions or other considerations for military pension taxes and a 3 if the state fully taxes military retirement pay. Data comes from militarybenefits.info.

First we ranked each state in each metric. From there, we found the average ranking for each state, giving all metrics a full weight except for the two metrics measuring unemployment, which each received a half weight. We used this average ranking to create our final score. The state with the best average ranking received a score of 100, and the state with the worst average ranking received score of 0.

Money Tips for Veterans

  • Financial help from someone who’s always got your six. Veterans, like everybody else, sometimes need help with financial matters. A financial advisor can provide that help and bring in reinforcements to set you on the right path. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Don’t sacrifice continuing education because of costs. If you want to go to college after you serve, the GI Bill will help — but you may still end up with student loans. To discover how much you’ll need to pay, use SmartAsset’s student loan calculator.
  • Create a strong strategy for your budget. Use SmartAsset’s budget calculator to figure out how much you should be spending on different areas and you’ll make sure you have enough money for everything.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com.

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Wealth Tax: Definition, Examples, Pros and Cons

Man holding large wad of bills

A wealth tax is a type of tax that’s imposed on the net wealth of an individual. This is different from income tax, which is the type of tax you’re likely most used to paying. The U.S. currently doesn’t have a wealth tax, though the idea has been proposed more than once by lawmakers. Instituting a wealth tax could help generate revenue for the government but only a handful of countries actually impose one.

Wealth Tax, Definition

A wealth tax is what it sounds like: a tax on wealth. This can also be referred to as an equity tax or a capital tax and it applies to individuals.

More specifically, a wealth tax is applied to someone’s net worth, meaning their total assets minus their total liabilities. The types of assets that may be subject to inclusion in wealth tax calculations might include real estate, investment accounts, liquid savings and trust accounts.

A wealth tax isn’t the same as other types of tax you’re probably familiar with paying. For example, you might be used to paying income tax on the money you earn each year, self-employment tax if you run a business or work as an independent contractor, property taxes on your home or vehicles and sales tax on the things you buy.

Instead, a wealth tax has just one focus: taxing a person’s wealth. According to the Tax Foundation, only Norway, Spain and Switzerland currently have a net wealth tax on assets. But a handful of other European countries, including Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, levy a wealth tax on selected assets.

How a Wealth Tax Works

Uncle Sam picks a rich man's coat pocketGenerally, a wealth tax works by taxing a person’s net worth, rather than the income they earn in a given year. In countries that impose a wealth tax, the tax is only levied once assets reach a certain minimum threshold. In Norway, for instance, the net wealth tax is 0.85% on stocks exceeding $164,000 USD in value.

Wealth taxes can be applied to all of the assets someone owns or just some of them. For example, the wealth tax can include securities and investment accounts while excluding real property or vice versa.

Every country that imposes a wealth tax, whether it’s a net tax or a tax on selected assets, can set the tax rate differently. It’s not uncommon for there to be exemptions or exclusions to who and what can be taxed this way.

A wealth tax can be charged alongside an income tax to help generate revenue for the government. The wealth tax rates are typically lower than income tax rates, in terms of the actual percentage rate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean paying less in taxes. Someone who has substantial assets that are subject to a wealth tax, for instance, may end up paying more toward that tax than income tax if they’re able to reduce their taxable income by claiming tax breaks.

Is a Wealth Tax a Good Idea?

In countries that use a wealth tax, the revenue helps to fund government programs and organizations. In some places, such as Norway, revenue from the wealth tax is split between the central government and municipal governments. It would be up to the federal government to decide how wealth tax revenue should be allocated if one were introduced here.

In the U.S., the concept of a wealth tax has been used to argue for a redistribution of wealth. Or more specifically, lawmakers who back the tax have suggested that it could be used to more fairly tax the wealthy while relieving some of the tax burdens on lower and middle-income earners. While wealthier taxpayers may take advantage of loopholes to minimize income taxes, a wealth tax would be harder to work around, at least in theory. That could yield benefits for less wealthy Americans if it means they’d owe fewer taxes.

That sounds good but implementing and collecting a wealth tax may be easier said than done. It’s possible that even with a wealth tax in place, high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth taxpayers could still find ways to minimize the amount of tax they’d owe. And the tax itself could be seen as unfairly penalizing wealthier individuals who own charities or foundations, invest heavily in businesses or save and invest their money instead of using it to buy things like luxury cars, expensive homes or other physical assets.

It’s important to keep in mind that a wealth tax is targeted at people above certain wealth thresholds, so most everyday Americans wouldn’t have to pay it. But it could cause problems for someone who unexpectedly receives a large inheritance that increases his wealth, even if his income remains at the lower end of the scale.

The Bottom Line

Rich man in his private jet

In the U.S., the wealth tax is still just an idea that’s being floated by progressive politicians and lawmakers. Whether a wealth tax is ever implemented remains to be seen and it’s likely that debate over it may continue for years to come. And enforcing one could be difficult if it were ever introduced, if for no other reason than there are many ways for the extremely wealthy to avoid taxes. In the meantime, talking with a tax professional may be the best way to manage your own personal tax liability.

Tips on Taxes

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about the best ways to handle taxes as you grow an investment portfolio. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors online. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized financial advisor recommendations. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Managing taxes is an important part of growing wealth and creating an estate plan. The less you pay in taxes, the more money you have to save and invest toward establishing a legacy of wealth. A free income tax calculator is a good way to start figuring what you owe or to get confirmation that  your calculations are correct.

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Source: smartasset.com

Where Upper-Middle-Class People Are Moving

Image shows two adults with their baby in front of a large beige house with a landscaped front yard and spacious driveway. SmartAsset analyzed IRS data to conduct its study on where upper-middle-class people are moving.

The middle class may be feeling the squeeze, but the upper-middle class certainly isn’t. The former cohort has shrunk from 61% of households in 1971 to just 52% now, according to the Pew Research Center. The upper-middle class, by contrast, has seen an uptick to 12% of households compared to just 10% almost 40 years ago. This growing, high-earning demographic, which SmartAsset defined as those with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000, is also on the move, migrating across state lines potentially for job opportunities, attractive housing markets or lower tax liabilities.

To find where upper-middle-class people are moving, SmartAsset analyzed inflows and outflows of people in this income range in every state as well as Washington, D.C. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s second study on where upper-middle-class people are moving. Read the 2019 version here.

Key Findings

  • The South and West dominate the top of the list. According to Census regional divisions, half of our top 10 states are in the American South (Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee), and the other half are in the West (Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Washington State and Colorado).
  • Upper-middle-class Americans are gravitating toward tax havens. Four states in our top 10 – Florida, Texas, Nevada and Washington – have no income tax. Two other states – North Carolina and Colorado – have a flat rate income tax. Furthermore, Tennessee does not have a personal income tax but does tax some dividends and interest.

1. Florida

Florida’s warm weather and lack of a state income tax may be why so many upper-middle-class people want to move there. The net migration of upper-middle-class people to Florida between 2017 and 2018 was 18,876, nearly three times as many as the next closest state.

New or prospective Florida residents may wish to consult SmartAsset’s list of the state’s top financial advisor firms.

2. Texas

Texas saw a net gain of 6,706 upper-middle-class people from 2017 to 2018. Again, the lack of income tax in the Lone Star State may account, in part, for this influx.

3. Arizona

Arizona does have income tax, but it’s among the lower rates in the nation, topping off at 4.50% for incomes higher than $159,000. The net migration of upper-middle-class people to the state from 2017 to 2018 was 6,685.

4. North Carolina

North Carolina saw a net gain of 6,002 upper-middle-class people over the time period we considered for this study. North Carolina has several big cities, access to many beaches and a flat income tax rate of 5.25%, all of which could be attractive to people with incomes from $100,000 to $200,000.

5. South Carolina

South Carolina has among the lowest property tax rates in the nation, so high-income earners can buy their dream house without worrying about being overwhelmed by taxes. The Palmetto State saw an increase of 4,927 upper-middle-class people from 2017 to 2018.

6. Tennessee

Tennessee is another state that does not tax salaries or wages (but there are taxes on interest and dividend income). The Volunteer State gained 3,215 upper-middle-class people from 2017 to 2018.

7. Idaho

Though Idaho has fairly high income taxes, it has low property taxes and is actually one of the best states for homeowners. That may explain, in part, the appeal of the state, which saw a net migration of 2,708 upper-middle-class people between 2017 and 2018.

8. Nevada

Nevada is another state offering no income tax, which is a strong incentive for people making higher incomes. The Silver State gained 2,644 upper-middle-class citizens from 2017 to 2018.

9. Washington

Washington State is another state with no income tax. This factor could be one contributor to the increase in upper-middle-class residents by 2,593 from 2017 to 2018. Those in Washington seeking a financial advisor firm to work with may wish to consult SmartAsset’s list here.

10. Colorado

Colorado gained 2,580 upper-middle-class residents between 2017 and 2018. Those interested in moving there might wish to note that the Rocky Mountain State has a flat income tax of 4.63% and relatively low property taxes.

Data and Methodology

To find out where upper-middle-class people are moving, SmartAsset compared data from tax returns between 2017 and 2018 for every state and Washington, D.C. We found the inflows and outflows for people earning between $100,000 and $200,000 and subtracted the outflows from the inflows to calculate the net migration. Then, we ranked all 50 states, along with Washington, D.C., by this net figure. All data is from the IRS.

Tips for Managing Your Money in the Upper-Middle Class

  • Seek professional financial advice. If you are an upper-middle-class income earner, a financial advisor can help you make the most of your funds. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Considering moving to a new state? Even if you’re in the upper-middle class with a substantial income, you don’t want to blow your budget on housing. Find out how much house you can afford so that you can narrow down your search.
  • Did you factor in taxes? Taxes are important when considering where to move. See your tax burden with SmartAsset’s income tax calculator.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com

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A Comprehensive Guide to 2020 Tax Credits

Couple preparing tax returnsEvery year, people’s lives change in ways that affect their taxes. They may start a higher education program or have a child, and others take on elderly parents as dependents. These situations can change their eligibility for tax credits. In addition, federal, state and local governments sometimes adjust rules about credits, so it is crucial to understand what credits you can take. Navigating the world of tax credits and deductions can be confusing. That is why a trusted financial advisor can help you find every tax credit you are entitled to.

What a Tax Credit Is (and Isn’t)

Tax credits encourage people to spend money by giving them credit toward that expense. For example, one of the most common tax credits is the Child Tax Credit. Taxpayers who have children under the age of 17 receive a credit to help reduce the cost of raising a child. Another popular tax credit is the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). The LLC encourages people to pursue further education by crediting part of the overall cost back at tax time.

A tax deduction lowers one’s taxable income, thus reducing the tax liability. If a person receives a deduction, he decreases the amount from his income, which lowers his taxable income. The lower a person’s taxable income, the lower the tax bill.

By contrast, a tax credit decreases the tax bill rather than a person’s taxable income. So, if a person has a $100,000 salary and has a $10,000 deduction, the taxable income will be $90,000. If the person in this example is taxed at a rate of 25%, the tax bill will be $22,500. If that same person has a $10,000 credit instead of a deduction, he will be taxed at 25% of their $100,000 income and owe $25,000 in taxes. However, he will then be credited $10,000 and owe only $15,000.

Some tax credits are refundable, but most are not. A refundable tax credit, which is different from a tax refund, can be given to taxpayers even if they do not owe any taxes. Additionally, a refundable tax credit can be given in addition to a tax refund. A nonrefundable tax credit means that a person will get the tax credit up to the amount owed. For example, if a person owes $2,000 in taxes and receives $3,000 in nonrefundable credits, that will simply erase her tax bill. If she gets $3,000 in refundable credits, she will receive a $1,000 tax refund.

Some common tax credits for individuals include:

  • Child Tax Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Credit for Other Dependents
  • Adoption Credit
  • Low-Income Housing Credit
  • Premium Tax Credit (Affordable Care Act)
  • American Opportunity Credit
  • Lifetime Learning Credit

Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit is a refundable credit up to $1,400 and offers up to $2,000 per qualifying child age 16 or younger. Parents of children who are 16 or younger as of Dec. 31, 2020, can qualify for this tax credit. For someone to be eligible for the Child Tax Credit, the modified adjusted gross income must be under $400,000 if the parents of the child(ren) file jointly and $200,000 for any other person filing.

Additional requirements to qualify for the child tax credit include that the person filing must have provided at least half of the child’s support in the calendar year, and the child must have lived with the person filing for at least half the year. There are some exceptions to this rule, and it is best to discuss the child tax credit with a tax advisor.

Child and Dependent Care Credit

The cost of childcare, eldercare and other in-home care in the U.S. is high and tends to rise each year. If a couple is married and files jointly and has paid expenses for the care of a qualifying child or dependent so that one or both can work, they are likely eligible for the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

To qualify for the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the taxpayers must have received taxable income. This is because the credit is designed to help individuals who need to hire a caretaker to stay in the workplace.

Additionally, there are several qualifiers on the person being cared for. A child must be under age 13 when the care was provided. A qualifying spouse must be unable to take care of himself and have lived in the taxpayer’s home for at least half the year. A qualifying dependent must be physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself, have lived with the taxpayer for at least half the year and is either a dependent or could have been a dependent of the taxpayer. A taxpayer can claim up to $3,000 of expenses for one child or dependent and up to $6,000 for two or more children or dependents.

There are limits on who can provide care to qualify for this tax credit. The caregiver must not have been the taxpayer’s spouse, a parent of the child being cared for or anyone else listed as a dependent on the tax return. Additionally, the caregiver can’t be a child of the taxpayer.

Any child support payments you’ve received won’t be counted as taxable income. And if you’re the one making the child support payments, the income you used to do so won’t be tax deductible.

Federal Adoption Credit

Families that grow through adoption might be eligible for the Federal Adoption Tax Credit. Adoption can be an expensive process, and as families take on the burden of legal fees and more, the Federal Adoption Credit can help to decrease the burden when filing taxes.

To be eligible for the full credit, adoptive parents must earn $214,520 or less, regardless of their filing status. The credit is up to $ 14,300 per eligible child. An eligible child is any person under the age of 18 that is mentally or physically unable to take care of themselves. Eligible expenses include court costs, attorney fees, home studies and other travel expenses related to the adoption. The Federal Adoption credit is nonrefundable, so it will not produce a refund.

There are several rules for the Federal Adoption Credit, so it is important to speak with your tax advisor before claiming this credit. For example, if you received employer-provided adoption benefits, you may not claim the same expenses that were covered by your employer for the Federal Adoption Credit.

Credit for Other Dependents

Form 1040

The Credit for Other Dependents is a tax credit available for taxpayers who do not qualify for the Child Tax Credit. For example, someone who has a child age 17 or older or has other adult dependents with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number might qualify for this credit. This tax credit amount is $500 for each dependent that qualifies for the tax credit. The credit is available in full to a taxpayer who earns $200,000 or less and decreases on a sliding scale as that person’s income increases.

An example of someone eligible for the Credit for Other Dependents is a single person filing who has a child dependent that is 17 years old and another child who is 21 and in college. Both children would likely qualify as dependents, and each would be eligible for the $500 credit. Another example is if someone has an adult relative living with him listed as a dependent on his tax return. In any case, the dependent must be a U.S. citizen, national or resident alien.

Lifetime Learning Credit

To promote education in the United States, the IRS created a tax credit called the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). This credit is for qualified tuition and expenses paid for qualified students at qualified institutions in the United States.

To claim the LLC, a person, their spouse or their dependent must pay qualified higher education expenses. Additionally, the student must be enrolled at an eligible educational institution. Eligible educational institutions are colleges, technical schools and universities offering education beyond high school. All qualified educational institutions are eligible to participate in a student aid program run by the U.S. Department of Education. The IRS publishes a list for people to search if their school is a qualified educational institution.

To receive the LLC, a person must have received a 1098-T tuition statement from the higher education institution. The credit is worth 20% of the first $10,000 that a person spends at the higher education institution. For example, if a person started school at a university in the fall semester and tuition cost $10,000 or more, that person would receive a credit of $2,000. The LLC is not refundable, so a person can use the credit for taxes who owe but will not receive the credit as a refund.

Additionally, the LLC has income limits. In 2020, a person’s income must be $69,000 or lower if filing single and less than $138,000 if filing jointly to receive any of the LLC. To be eligible for the full LLC amounts, a person can earn up to $118,000 filing jointly or $59,000 filing single.

The Retirement Contribution Savings Credit

The Saver’s Credit, or the Retirement Contribution Savings Credit, has been around since the early 2000s. It was created to help low- and moderate-income individuals save for retirement. Depending on a taxpayer’s income, the Saver’s Credit is worth 10%, 20% or 50% of her total savings contribution up to $1,000, or $2,000 if a person is filing jointly.

For example, if a person is filing single, her income qualifies her for the 50% credit tier, and if she contributes $2,000 to an IRA, she can receive a credit of $1,000. The maximum credit is $1,000, so if the same person decides to contribute $2,500 to an IRA, she will still receive a $1,000 tax credit.

Earned Income Tax Credit

An Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduces the tax bills for low- to moderate-income working families. The credit ranges from $538 to $6,660 depending on a taxpayer’s filing status, how many children they have and their earned income. This amount changes every year, so be sure to verify the EITC with a tax advisor or verify with the IRS.

To qualify for the EITC, a taxpayer must have earned taxable income from a company, running a farm or owning a small business. People who do not earn an income, are married filing separately or do not have a Social Security number are not eligible for this credit. Additionally, people who earned over $3,650 in investment income are ineligible for this tax credit.

To earn the maximum EITC, a single filer can earn $50,594 or less, and a joint filer can earn $56,844 or less and have three or more dependent children. The amount of the EITC credit decreases if a taxpayer has fewer children.

American Opportunity Tax Credit

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is available to eligible students in the first four years of higher education. Students must be pursuing a degree or other recognized credential, be enrolled at least half time for at least one academic period or semester, not have received the AOTC or the Hope credit for more than the past four years and not have a felony drug conviction at the end of the tax year.

Students may receive up to $2,500 of credit for the AOTC. The credit is refundable up to 40%, so if a student is eligible for the full $2,500 and receives a tax return, the student can receive up to $1,000. The credit is awarded for 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified educational expenses and 25% of the next $2,000 of educational expenses. Therefore, if a student pays at least $4,000 in educational expenses, he will receive the full $2,500.

To prove they are eligible, students must receive a 1098-T from their educational institution. A taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income must be $80,000 or less, or $160,000 or less for a married couple filing jointly to receive the full AOTC. If the student is a dependent, the taxpayer may claim the AOTC when filing taxes.

An example of someone claiming the AOTC is a parent who earns $79,900 and has a student in the first four years of a degree program. Another example of someone eligible is a student who is not a dependent of anyone and works part-time, earning $80,000 or less. If you are unsure if you or your family qualifies for this tax credit, be sure to speak with a tax advisor.

The Takeaway

IRS buildingThere are many tax credits that American taxpayers can take advantage of. These credits were created to encourage spending in specific areas of the economy and help low- and moderate-income families prosper. In addition to tax credits, there are plenty of other ways to keep more money in your pockets during tax season. Be sure to check out the IRS website to learn more about other tax credits, including the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit, Foreign Tax Credit and more.

Tips on Taxes

  • Navigating the world of tax deductions and credits can be cumbersome and confusing. That is why it is so valuable to work with a financial advisor. Finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s matching tool can connect you with several financial advisors in your area within minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Using a free tax return calculator can help confirm that you did your arithmetic correctly … or indicate that you may have missed a credit or deduction.

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