“Real World” Personal Strategy Blog

Four Simple Steps To Increase Productivity In Shakopee, MN

November 10, 2017

Increase ProductivityFirst of all, our hearts are with Sutherland Springs, TX. What a senseless, terrible tragedy for that community, and our nation. Words fail.

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But as difficult as it is to “move on” from the remembrance of such things, our nation continues along with the arguments and concerns of the day. Specifically, the recently-released House GOP tax reform legislation is already causing a great deal of stir.

Mind you, this legislation has NOT been passed. And with the way things are going, things are already changing so quickly that it’s difficult to make an authoritative judgement on what exactly WILL get passed, and what it will mean for regular Shakopee, MN taxpayers, like you and me.

For now, if you want to get the simplest, most “propaganda free” look on what *is* in the bill, you can dive into the summary (with commentary) from the House Ways and Means Committee (which is the committee tasked with writing it in the first place).

But even that is 82 pages.

That same committee is “marking up” the bill, even now as I write, this week, and much of the analysis that we’ve all been reading this week might end up being moot by the time it’s actually through the committee.

And as usual, there is a steadily-accumulating number of opponents to this bill, and not just the natural ones on the Democratic side of the political aisle. Just a small sampling:

– prospective adoptive parents (elimination of the adoption tax credit)
– non-profits who rely upon giving (because of the significant decrease in itemization, which would disincentivize givers who use the charitable deduction)
– Divorcees who pay support (elimination of deductibility of alimony payments)
– those with student loans (elimination of deduction for student loan interest)
– certain home buyers and sellers
– and more

Importantly, these changes are intended to be offset by increases in other deductions, specifically the significant increase in standard deductions.

And if it’s alright with you, let’s not have specific conversations about any action steps these changes might require from you until the dust settles and something is actually passed. Then, we’ll help you make a good plan.

Because MOST importantly, we have no “dog in this hunt”, and will be here for you regardless of what happens. For unfortunately, when politicians talk about “simplification” … the result is almost always anything but.

So, we’ll be watching with you to see what actually gets done from this. Right now, it’s all just talk.

Lastly, and speaking of getting things done, I’ve noticed an increasing crisis of productivity for many people in these days of “always on” entertainment. So I thought I’d switch gears from all the tax talk and give you some quick thoughts on how to increase productivity throughout your day…

Four Simple Steps To Increase Productivity In Shakopee, MN
“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” – Carol Burnett

I’ve discovered a few tricks when it comes to getting things done through the day — and managing others who do so. Here are some productivity tricks I’ve found to be helpful:

1. Turn off cell phone alerts. 
Resist the temptation to stop what you’re doing every time your phone beeps with a new message. You’ll be better able to focus on tasks when you’re not constantly distracted and interrupted.

2. Fine-tune your to-do list.
When planning your day, add estimated times to each item on your to-do list. This will help you decide what to do first and what can be saved for later.

3. Run two-minute drills.
Every few hours, look at your list for tasks that can be done quickly — answering emails and phone calls, confirming appointments, and the like. Spend a few minutes clearing those away, and you’ll have more blocks of uninterrupted time to take on bigger tasks.

4. Take regular breaks.
You’ll burn out if you go full throttle for eight or 10 hours. Determine how long you can effectively concentrate on a single task (usually between 30 minutes and an hour, for most people). Take a break after that time — walk around, get out of the building, talk to co-workers — and you’ll return feeling refreshed.

Let’s get more done this week, shall we?

We’re just a phone call (or email) away: 952-445-8753 (rmenden@mendenaccounting.com)

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Menden’s 5 Retirement Money Mistakes You Can Avoid Ahead of Time

November 3, 2017

Retirement MoneyWe’re turning the corner into November this week, which means that 2017 is close to being over. And based on what I’ve heard from more than a few of my Shakopee, MN clients, turning the corner into 2018 is going to be a welcome event. It’s been a rough year for the nation, and for some people who are close “friends of the firm”.

But we do have a couple more months before that comes, and plenty still to see and do. This also means you still have two months in which you can make positive progress in keeping your tax bill down — no matter what comes from potential tax reform. (Because even if serious tax reform is passed by Congress, it won’t affect this current tax year.)

It’s a good idea to project your 2017 tax bill, and make sure there won’t be any big surprises this year, and do whatever we can to keep things manageable. If you need help with that, send me a note by clicking the email button at the top of the page or give us a call at 952-445-8753.

And speaking of surprises, one of the worst surprises that can strike is believing that you are “all set” as you head into retirement, and then having the harsh reality of negative cashflow sink in.

We’ve walked with some people who have gone through this, and invariably they made some basic mistakes before they entered into retirement, and I’ve gathered them here for you to consider.

Note: It perhaps goes without saying, but none of this should be construed as specific investment advice. These are general principles, and every person’s situation is obviously going to be a bit different.

But that said, it’s good to be aware of these tendencies…

Menden’s 5 Retirement Money Mistakes You Can Avoid Ahead of Time
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison

One or two mistakes in handling your retirement money could mean paying a stiff penalty as you grow older — whether financially, or in the emotional drain that “guessing wrong” can take on you. Watch out for these mistakes we’ve seen people make over the years…

1. Obsessing about market losses (or gains).
Focus on your long-term needs, not the daily ups and downs of the DJIA. Catastrophic events and long-term health care needs can cause as much damage to your nest egg as a shaky market.

2. Forgetting about inflation and taxes.
Your retirement savings may be a lot smaller than you think when you start factoring in the rate of inflation and the taxes you’ll have to pay when you start drawing out of it.

3. Not saving in the last years before retirement.
Just because you’ve got only a handful of years left before you retire doesn’t mean you should go ahead and buy that new Lexus. Some people are able to build up substantial savings in their last five years of work because they get serious about saving and investing.

4. Believing you can withdraw more than you really can.
If you rely on average annual returns on your investments to determine just how much you can withdraw, you could be drawing down your retirement fund faster than you should. Average returns are seldom steady. A safe rule of thumb: Count on a 3 percent rate of withdrawal.

5. Not planning for a long life.
Despite the dramatic rise in life expectancy in recent decades, many people still underestimate how long they’ll live. If you’re not thinking about longevity, you could tap out your savings much faster than you should. Look at the figures and add in at least a few extra years as you make your plans.

We’re just a phone call (or email) away: 952-445-8753 (rmenden@mendenaccounting.com)

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

9 Key Questions for Your 2017 Taxes by Roger Menden

October 20, 2017

2017 taxesNow that extended returns have been filed, we set our gaze towards year-end around here, and on making sure that YOU are doing everything possible to ensure that your 2017 tax burden is as low as legally and ethically possible.

I did receive some feedback and questions about the Equifax information I shared, and I should clarify that while I’m not a specific expert in these matters, I’m glad that I could cut through that noise on your behalf.

Again, I encourage you to consider a credit freeze with all three bureaus for at least a year, unless you are applying for a new credit card, applying for a loan or mortgage, or switching cell phone carriers (where monthly credit is extended). In which case, the “unfreezing” process (or “thaw”, as it’s known) is still worth the hassle for the protection it provides.

But back to your 2017 taxes…

Let’s you and I make a plan for your 2017 taxes that will set you up for long-term success. In fact, there may be a few moves we can make that can help your tax hit NOW before we’re forced into “reaction mode” — which is the only mode out of which after-the-fact tax work can be done.

So, if at all possible, I’d like to change that paradigm for you by having you answer a few short questions for me. Send me your answers by clicking the email button at the top of this page. Here are the questions

1) Have you had a significant change in your wage income this year?
<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

2) Have you taken capital gains or losses this year? Are you planning to?
<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

3) Did you start or sell a business this year?
BONUS QUESTION: Do you know anyone who did, that would like input on their tax situation?

<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

4) Did you purchase real estate?
<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

5) Did you make your full contributions to retirement accounts? 
<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

6) Have you considered a Roth IRA?
<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

7) Did you withdraw from retirement accounts, and for what purpose?
<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

**8) Have you sent your family and friends our way — and, if not, is there something which we can help you with, to make this easier?
<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

9) Are there any other tax or financial (or other) issues you think we should know about?
<Put YOUR answer here in your email reply>

Now — your answers to these questions form the “tip of the iceberg”, and they will help us to know which direction to take as we work with you over the next two months to prepare for year-end. With your permission, we’ll contact you back, as appropriate, and set up a time to discuss them further with you, whether by phone or other method.

I hope to see you in here soon.

We’re just a phone call (or email) away: 952-445-8753 (rmenden@mendenaccounting.com)

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

A Credit Freeze How-To, and Why Roger Menden Recommends It Now

October 13, 2017

credit freezeI hope you’re well today. This is the final week before extended returns are due (Monday, October 16th is the due date this year), so we are working hard with those clients who placed an extension on their filing to make sure that everything is set up and filed properly.

So, it’s a busy week for us in our Shakopee, MN offices this week, and I’d ask for your understanding about that for your communication with us.

But just because it’s busy, doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t take the time to communicate with you, and this week I’m addressing the big Equifax data breach, and what you should know about it, and what you should do. I’ve received some questions about it over the past couple weeks, but based on my research, it’s a messy situation overall, and rock-solid answers to certain questions seem hard to come by.

That said, I have some advice and rock-solid answers to some questions, and a few thoughts on the ones for which information seems unclear.

Here we go…

A Credit Freeze How-To, and Why Roger Menden Recommends It Now
“The best way to convince a fool that he is wrong is to let him have his own way.” – Josh Billings

It’s been about one month since the massive “data breach” at Equifax, which affected about 145 million Americans (more than half the country), led to the firing of their CEO, and has caused a great deal of stress to millions of people — including most of us here in Shakopee, MN. And, well, if you’ve done any research on the matter, you’ve also no doubt seen conflicting advice and a fair amount of nonsense.

First of all, it’s still unclear whether the data on the Equifax site EquifaxSecurity2017.com is actually accurate. In other words, you might get a “false positive” and you might get a “false negative” when you submit your information there. There have been multiple reports I have seen in which people submit the same information multiple times and receive varying information. No doubt that their systems were slammed after all of the press coverage, but the fact remains that the site still apparently remains unreliable.

So, it’s a good idea to just assume that your information was part of the breach, even if you have checked and think that it wasn’t.

So what should you do? I’ll keep this simple because there’s just so much noise out there about this topic: First of all, request a credit freeze at all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Transunion).

Here are the online links to do so:

Equifax:
https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp

Experian:
https://www.experian.com/ncaconline/freeze

Transunion:
https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp

Don’t trust the online process? Here are the phone numbers for it:
Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
Experian: 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872

Why a credit freeze, and what does this do?
A “credit freeze” essentially locks your credit from being issued to any other person (including yourself). It seems like overkill, but consider it to be like “locking the doors to your financial house”. (In this way, it is far superior to programs like “LifeLock”, which can be understood as a “delayed alarm” system for your credit.)

“Unfreezing” your credit, while it does take a bit of doing, is not burdensome. It takes about 20 minutes to freeze your credit at all three agencies, and as long as you keep the PIN from that process, temporarily unfreezing them as needed is almost instant.

The only time you really need your credit to be active is when you are applying for a new credit card, applying for a loan or mortgage, or switching cell phone carriers (where monthly credit is extended). As long as you are not doing these things several times per year, the hassle is minimal.

Here are a couple things you do NOT need to do:

  1. Check your credit score. All this really does is verify your “credit worthiness” and doesn’t help you determine if you’ve been affected or if your credit is being used by a third party.
  2. Subscribe to a paid credit monitoring service. All that you need is provided for free, especially if you freeze your credit.
  3. PANIC. We are in your corner, no matter what comes.

I do recommend you ensure you are prepared to submit your tax returns as early as possible in 2018. That may sound self-serving coming from me, but the reason security experts agree on this step is so you can close the window for scammers to file in your name, with information they may have obtained from the breach. Obviously, some of my clients have complicated situations that mean waiting on K-1’s, 1099’s, etc. However, it’s a very good idea to not dawdle in the process, and this is ESPECIALLY true if you will be expecting a refund.

Certain people can get a personalized PIN for their taxes, which is another safeguard against fraudulent tax returns in your name. Here is a link to more information about it, but it’s currently only available by IRS invitation, or if you have an address in Florida, Georgia, or the District of Columbia: https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/get-an-identity-protection-pin

I do hope all of this helps. I am not a dedicated expert on these matters, but I have seen enough nonsense to be able to cut through the garbage a little bit for you.

(Here is another great place to find answers if I haven’t addressed everything you are concerned about — the New York Times’ continually-updated FAQ about the Equifax breach:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/your-money/equifax-data-breach-credit.html )

I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve you, and for your referrals – and we’ll be in touch again next week, after the extension deadline!

We’re just a phone call (or email) away: 952-445-8753 (rmenden@mendenaccounting.com)

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Should You Set Up A Trust? 5 Questions For Shakopee, MN Families

October 6, 2017

set up a trustWe all woke Monday morning to news of more senseless tragedy and horror, this time, as you no doubt have heard, from Las Vegas. Yet another picture of a kind of terror that I cannot fathom; imagine going to a simple music festival and suddenly having death rain down from the sky. Words cannot describe.

Our hearts are with you, Vegas.

It seems brutal to “move on” from such a thing, even here in this space, but such is life in the modern world. As we grieve, we press forward with what we must set our hands to.

And Congress must set its hands to figuring out whether or not President Trump’s tax reform agenda will actually take shape. As with many things Congress- or policy-related, we here at R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service will choose to withhold judgment or action until something actually takes place. And we’ll be right here to explain it for you if it ever does.

But one thing that is certain in the future is that we would all like to be wise about how we would set up the next generation, financially. And so today, I’m covering some information about what you should consider along those lines…

Should You Set Up A Trust? 5 Questions For Shakopee, MN Families
“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.” – Leonard Cohen

Parenting here in Shakopee, MN is more than reading to your children or getting them to eat their vegetables. It’s also about securing their financial future. One way to do that is by drafting a trust and naming a trustee.

This is a great tool to consider, and it supersedes a will in many cases. It’s definitely something to consider.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if a trust is right for your family:

Do you anticipate leaving your children more than a modest sum of money? 
A trust may not be worth the effort if you think you’ll only be leaving a child (or children) $100,000 or less. On the other hand, if you’re leaving life insurance money to cover four years of school and you own a home, there’s a good chance a trust would make sense for you.

Do you want to have some say in how your children’s money is spent? 
A trust allows you to restrict spending to basic support, including food, clothing, education and health care.

This is something that can’t be done with a custodial account. If the custodian is a soft touch, he could end up lavishing your child with designer jeans and a fancy car, leaving very little left for the college years. Even worse, if the custodian is also the guardian, he could start writing himself large “support” checks to help cover his other expenses.

Would you prefer that your children not inherit the money when they turn 18 or 21? 
If you think giving a high-school senior a large sum of cash is a recipe for disaster, then you should consider a trust. The ability to delay inheritance is one of the great benefits of a trust.

Should something happen to both parents, for example, kids can receive half of their inheritance at age 30, and the remaining amount when they reach 35 (or some other pre-established benchmark). Our 20’s are such a transitional time that it often makes sense not to burden children with weighty financial decisions.

Do you want the money to be used for a college education? 
If you specifically bought life insurance so that there would be enough money to help fund college in the event of your death, then you’ll definitely want to delay the age at which your kids inherit your money. Otherwise, your child could think a red Ferrari is a better investment than a diploma.

Would you like your children to have recourse if their money is mismanaged? 
One more benefit of a trust that you don’t get with a custodial account is that a trust is a legal contract; the trustee has an obligation to follow your directions and act in a reasonable and prudent manner. If the beneficiary feels the trustee spent the money frivolously, he can demand an accounting, and can sue for reimbursement if the trustee acted improperly with the funds. It may be pretty tough to prove illegal or improper actions with a trust, but just the threat of a possible lawsuit can keep someone in line.

I hope these questions (and answers!) are helpful. Feel free to share this information with your Shakopee, MN friends.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve you, and for your referrals.

We’re just a phone call (or email) away: 952-445-8753 (rmenden@mendenaccounting.com)

Warmly,
Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

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