“Real World” Personal Strategy Blog

Four Simple Steps To Increase Productivity In Shakopee, MN

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Planning Strategies For Shakopee, MN Individuals and Families

September 29, 2017 by  

tax planning strategiesAs a planner, I hate speculation. I would much rather plan for what I can control, and harvest the fruits without surprise.
And that’s exactly what we do with our Shakopee, MN clients — at least with those who are smart enough to take us up on it — we PLAN for the upcoming tax season so there are no nasty surprises come tax time, and for many even, a few nice little perks.
Last week, we discussed the various steps you can take to prepare in advance for tax season, and to consider making decisions NOW that can affect how your tax return actually turns out.
Because sure — it’s nice to be “prepared” so that the tax preparation process is easy. But it’s even NICER to be able to be proactive about saving yourself from having to pay too much tax.
As it is often said, there really are two different tax codes in this country: one for those who don’t bother to have someone help them use it, and another for those who take advantage of every legal, ethical and available deduction to help them save.
Tax planning strategies can (and should) impact many financial decisions. Like how you might consider funding various kinds of retirement accounts — and how different tax implications should be considered as you do.
Along those lines today, I’d like to give you just one small example of how you can be utilizing the “other” tax code to avoid having to pay unnecessary taxes on your hard-earned assets.
Tax Planning Strategies For Shakopee, MN Individuals and Families
“What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.” – Isaac Newton
Too many Shakopee, MN folks wait until the winter before they look at their tax obligations. Even worse, too many even among our clients wait until that season before they speak with us in any kind of proactive way.
That’s a problem, and it could be costing you some serious savings.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say that you were considering taking money out of a pension (401k) to finance the down payment on a house.  It’s quite a common maneuver. But let’s say next that you do this withOUT discussing it ahead of time with a professional. That could be a four (or five) figure mistake.
If you were to come into our offices before such a move, I would ask you a few easy, but very important questions, and then (depending on the answer) likely advise you to first roll the money ($10,000) into a Traditional IRA.  You could then withdraw the money at a savings of $1,000.00. This is because money used for a first home, up to $10,000, is penalty-free when taken from an IRA, but NOT a 401K.
Would you be pleased by that move? I’d guess “yes”, especially if you knew about some other local folks I know of, who failed to plan. This couple just learned of the $41,000.00 penalty they had to pay for doing the same thing, but from their 401k.
Ouch.
Other “penalty-free” withdrawal opportunities (I should note here: these are NOT “tax-free”, but penalty-free):
* Unreimbursed medical bills — The government will allow investors to withdraw money from their qualified retirement plan to pay for unreimbursed deductible medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income. (401k or IRA)
* Total and permanent disability (401k or IRA)
* Health insurance premiums after 12 weeks of unemployment (IRA only)
* Death (401k or IRA)
* Higher education costs (IRA only)
There are a few other obscure situations available, but again — these decisions are best made under consultation.
Now, I should say that there is no guarantee that you will save by speaking to us in advance.  But this I CAN guarantee: If you don’t speak with us in advance, we won’t have the chance to save you all we possibly could, on your 2017 taxes.
We’re a phone call (or email) away: 952-445-8753 (rmenden@mendenaccounting.com).
I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve you, and for your referrals.
Warmly,
Roger Menden
952-445-8753
R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service 

 

Roger Menden’s 2017 Tax Planning Guide

September 22, 2017 by  

2017 tax planningThe third quarter of 2017 is officially behind us, and we are moving into the final portion of our year. The NFL is in full swing, school is back, and life begins to barrel at all of us in new ways. Believe it or not, the holidays are around the corner!

(In fact, there have even been Halloween decorations popping up around Shakopee, MN and in stores here and there — which, I must say, seems a little early — but it does demonstrate my point.)

So, before this season gets REALLY busy, it’s a great time for us to take a look at where things are for your taxes over this year.

I’ve put together a simple primer, similar to what I’ve posted in years past, on what you should be pulling together by the end of the year. But the BEST way to be prepared is to have a customized conversation now about installing a proactive strategy to minimize your specific tax burden. 

January through April may be “tax season”, but September through early-November is “tax planning season” — and to that end, I suggest you call us (952-445-8753) or send me an email and set up a time for a tax planning session.

And this is a great start…

Roger Menden’s 2017 Tax Planning Guide
“The measure of life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.” -Peter Marshall

Believe it or not, now is the time to start making sure that you’ll be ready for a few months from now, when tax time is upon us.

Generally speaking, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return. Individual taxpayers should usually keep the following records and supporting items on their tax returns for at least three years:

• Bills, Credit card and other receipts
• Invoices, Mileage logs
• Canceled, imaged or substitute checks or any other proof of payment
• Any other records to support deductions or credits you claim on your return.

You should normally keep records relating to property until at least three years after you sell or otherwise dispose of the property. Examples include…

• A home purchase or improvement
• Stocks and other investments
• IRA transactions
• Rental property records

Health insurance verification
The IRS will be sending out “information returns” (form 1095) before the end of January (presumably) that should cover your documentation … but as with everything in dealing with the IRS, it’s a good idea to be armed with your own documentation as well, which would include insurance cards, EOB forms, statements from your insurer, etc.

If you are a small business owner, you must keep all your employment tax records for at least four years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.

Examples of other important documents business owners should keep include:

• Gross receipts: Cash register tapes, bank deposit slips, receipt books, invoices, credit card charge slips and Forms 1099-MISC
• Proof of purchases: Canceled checks, cash register tape receipts, credit card sales slips and invoices
• Expense documents: Canceled checks, cash register tapes, account statements, credit card sales slips, invoices and petty cash slips for small cash payments
• Documents to verify your assets: Purchase and sales invoices, real estate closing statements and canceled checks

Here’s the best part of all of this: 

By pulling together this information NOW, we can really work our “magic” and ensure that we aren’t simply playing catch-up for you after the fact. 

That’s what tax planning is all about, and we very well might be able to pro-actively affect your 2017 tax bill during this final quarter of the year.

So give us a call this week, and let’s plan out the rest of 2017 and beyond.

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

Warmly,
Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Hurricanes, Tax Deadlines in Shakopee, MN and Data Breaches

September 13, 2017 by  

Data BreachOur hearts and prayers continue with Houston, and with those in the path or wake of the western wildfires. And now, of course with the entire state of Florida. Fortunately, some of the most dire Irma scenarios did not play out, but we are still dealing with a storm that is the 7th-worst such storm ever to hit the mainland since we’ve been recording the data. And with millions without power, and countless numbers displaced … well, it’s no fall picnic, that’s for sure.

The IRS has set up a “catch all” page for those cleaning up from Harvey, Irma, and other such disasters, and it can be found right here: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-relief-in-disaster-situations. And here’s a recent article that goes into deeper detail about financial and data recovery in the wake of disasters: https://www.accountingtoday.com/news/irs-offers-taxpayer-disaster-planning-and-recovery-advice-for-hurricane-irma

And of course, if you have been impacted by any of these disasters in any way, we are here for you (or for your friends)! Allow us to help you sort through the financial muck so you can better deal with all of the mess of cleaning up other aspects of your life.

To top it off, the news of the Equifax data breach snuck under the radar, but 140+ million people were affected. (More here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do) Keep an eye on your credit reports in the following months, and this is just another reason to be prepared to submit your tax returns as EARLY as possible (so scammers can’t do so with your data)! And go to the link above to see if you were affected, plus to enroll in some free credit monitoring.

Last bit of “housekeeping”: Third quarter estimated taxes are due on Friday, September 15th (as well as a few other tax deadlines). If you are in one of the designated “disaster areas”, this deadline has been waived, however (see the link above from IRS.gov for more info, if that might be you).

Phew! Lots of details today, which aren’t my favorite with which to open a post here, but I wanted to make sure you saw this information, on the chance you might have been affected by any of it.

In fact, there’s so much information in the above, that instead of my normal tips for managing your finances and Shakopee, MN household, I thought I’d leave you with a story. It’s one of those “old yarns”, and it’s a little cheesy … but I thought it fitting for this week.

Hurricanes, Tax Deadlines in Shakopee, MN and Data Breaches
“The measure of life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.” -Peter Marshall

A ship was wrecked during a storm at sea, and only two sailors survived. They reached a small, deserted island.

The two sailors were good friends, but they agreed that they should separate to avoid fighting with each other over food and shelter. They split up and lived on opposite sides of the island.

The first sailor prayed to God for food. The next morning he discovered a tree bearing fruit on his side of the island. From a hill, he saw his friend still scrambling to find something to eat. “God must have heard my prayers, but not his,” he thought.

That night he prayed for fresh water, and the next day he found a spring. The other sailor had to ration his own water and wait for rain.

Lonely, the sailor prayed for a companion, and soon after a small dog came swimming up to the beach, the survivor of another shipwreck. But the second sailor was still alone.

And so it went. The first sailor got everything he prayed for, while the second one struggled to survive.

One night the sailor prayed for rescue. And the very next day a ship sailed into sight on his side of the island. He jumped and waved, and soon a boat was sent to shore. The sailor and his dog eagerly jumped in, and the rescuers started rowing back to the ship.

Then a voice came into his head. “What about your friend?” the voice asked.

Believing he was hearing God, the sailor said, “We both prayed, but only my prayers were answered. Why should I do anything for him?”

“You both prayed,” the voice agreed. “But while you prayed only for yourself, your friend asked that your prayers should be answered.”

Realizing the truth, the sailor immediately had the boat turn around to rescue his generous friend.

During this season, let’s remember: we’re not alone.

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

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Should Shakopee, MN Parents Sacrifice Their Retirement for Their Children’s College Debt?

College DebtAs Houston continues to recover from the devastation of Harvey, if you’ve been paying attention, you also have gotten a bit of a refresher on the greatness of humanity when pushed against the wall.

Aside from the outpouring of financial assistance flying towards Houston, here is another short roundup of humans doing wonderful things:

An armada of private boats headed to Houston. (link goes to Facebook video)

“To h*** with profits!” (link goes to Facebook video)

Stranded bakers keep on baking.

Free pizzas delivered by kayak.

Stranded elderly couple jokingly orders a boat from Chick Fil-A, and then …

No doubt, there are more. If you have any of particular note, feel free to send them along. We’d love to see them — because in this season, and this cultural moment, it’s so good to be reminded that there is goodness around us, just waiting to be discovered.

Now, as we move into fall, and with Labor Day behind us, college is on the brain for parents around the country. And with costs continuing to rise, there is an increasing amount of pressure to liquidate retirement or take on debt in order to fund the education of our children.

I have some words about this.

Should Shakopee, MN Parents Sacrifice Their Retirement for Their Children’s College Debt?
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”  -Louis L’Amour

Yes, today’s college students are more indebted than ever. But there is a worrying trend rising, with more of the college-financing burden shifting to parents–and it is something that is being encouraged by private lenders and colleges. As a result, now it isn’t just that Shakopee, MN young people are starting their careers under the weight of a heavy debt load — many parents are ending their careers under the same kind of weight, which might be even worse.

The dangers of PLUS loans
Over the last 25 years, an increasing portion of federally subsidized education loans has shifted to parents. Whereas parents made up just 4% of all federal education loan borrowers in the 1989-1990 academic year, they accounted for 20% in the 2011-2012 academic year (the most recent year for which data is available). That data is a few years old, but rest assured, the trend has only increased since.

The average balance for these so-called PLUS loans grew from $15,323 to $40,154 in that time. Perhaps not surprisingly, in 2013, 17% of PLUS loans held by borrowers age 65-74 were in default (again, this was four years ago — imagine how it is now). In that situation, the government has the power to garnish a portion of Social Security benefits to get paid.

The rise of private lenders
Private lenders are jumping on the loan-to-the-parents bandwagon. More than a few universities have partnered with private lenders, asking them to make education loans available to parents who were looking for more financing options.

Unlike federal loans to parents, private lenders do not charge an upfront fee (the government charges nearly 4.3% to cover the costs to originate and guarantee the loans), and for creditworthy borrowers, private loans may charge a lower interest rate.

Schools apparently like it when Shakopee, MN parents do the borrowing, in part, because such loans are not included in a scorecard in which the U.S. Education Department discloses universities’ median student debt at graduation, a statistic some families use as a gauge of a school’s affordability.

Indeed, paying for college has never been a more complicated puzzle, which is made all the more challenging because of parents’ desires to see their kids succeed. But a heavy debt load is not a good option for students or parents.

What to do instead? Well, here’s a good place to start: Make a commitment not to borrow for college. Start there, and then work on the details.

For example, and as difficult as this option may be to entertain, consider: Should your child even go to college, or right away?

Consider having your child take a gap year after high school to earn money for college debt while better discerning what to study. Just 19% of students at public universities graduate in four years (!). Many students simply don’t know what they want to study, so they change majors, lengthening the time they spend in school, and driving up the cost.

Consider having your child go to community college for two years while living at home, and then transfer to a four-year school that you’ve predetermined will accept the community college credits.

Choose a state school instead of a private school. In a study cited in the book Debt-Free U, students who qualified for a prestigious school but decided to go to an affordable state school instead typically ended up doing just as well in their career as the ones who went to more prestigious schools.

Another important option: Have your child work part-time while in school and full-time during the summer.

Parents of younger kids, start saving in an education fund as early as possible (a 529 college savings plan and/or Coverdell Education Savings Account are good options to explore).

If someone has to take out a loan, let it be your child. Then show him or her how much that will cost on a monthly basis upon graduation, and make sure they understand what the implications are (probably living with roommates, perhaps not having a car, etc.). A recent study showed most students do not understand what they’ve gotten themselves into with their school loans.

The bottom line? Do not sacrifice your later life’s financial security for the sake of your kids’ college education.

Though it is tempting, sure, you AND your children will be grateful you made the hard choices now, so you didn’t have even harder circumstances later.

And if you need a resource to think this through, we’re right here.

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

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

Preparing a Disaster Plan In Shakopee, MN

disaster planAll of our hearts are with Houston, and the areas surrounding that have been devastated in the past few days. It feels a bit like Katrina did, though the true measure of the disaster is still yet to be understood (as in New Orleans).

What *is* clear is that many lives, businesses, and families have been radically altered.

How have you been processing this one?

When faced with these kinds of events, I’m often struck by how different my daily existence is from the images of devastation. The same is true here … but I must confess to feeling (at least at first) some “disaster fatigue” setting in.

It seems that the world has spawned disaster after disaster over the past few years. Perhaps it’s that social media has made everything seem so “present”. Even as compared to Katrina, which was over a decade ago, the connectivity of our lives is so much stronger.

But that doesn’t mean we turn away. No, this is the time where we actually need to “press in” a little, and care.

Charity Navigator, which is a great place to vet charities on a variety of financial (and otherwise) areas, has compiled a list of places to donate money: https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=5239

So, rather than my normal tax or financial fare this week, I have something different. I’ve stopped apologizing for being such an obsessive planner … it sort of pays to be that way, in my profession, after all! This week, I wanted to remind you of what we almost never think about during “good” times: How to prepare your Shakopee, MN family for “grid-failure” emergencies.

This past weekend seemed like a really good time to bring it back to our minds. It often takes such events to kick us into gear to make a good plan.

Preparing a Disaster Plan In Shakopee, MN
“Prepare while others are daydreaming.”  -William Arthur Ward

With the images of devastation we’ve been seeing from Houston, in addition to being moved for those who are currently experiencing all this, I’ve been reminded how important having a plan really is.

This is true for finances (a tax plan, an estate plan, etc. — let us know if you need to set one of those up! 952-445-8753), and it’s equally true for a big natural disaster.

We can be so complacent about the security of our daily existence, that an event like this seems unrealistic. But, we’re getting continued reminders, every year, of how fragile our modern world truly can be.

But that doesn’t mean you have to panic.

No, with a few basic points of preparation, you and your family could be vastly more prepared than your neighbors, even giving you the opportunity to be ones who can support and assist your neighbors, rather than have to *ask* for support.

There are three primary areas where you need to be prepared:
Energy/Power/Heat
Water & Food
Family

1) Energy: However unlikely a massive grid failure might seem now, it’s important that you at least think through what you and your family would do about heating your home during the winter (wood stove? indoor propane heater? burning your furniture?), and/or cooling your home during the summer (which may not be quite as critical).

Additionally, consider what parts of your existence are dependent on power, and what it would be like to live without it. Write down your plan.

2) Food & Water: For water and food, it’s a very good idea to have food and water for at least 3 days on hand, and in permanent storage. Typically, you need about a gallon of water, per person, per day … and non-perishable food is now so readily-available, that you have your pick for how to stock up. You can save water in a leech-proof plastic jug and just switch it out every 5 years.

3) Family Plan:
* Identify meeting places where you and your family would come together, in the event of some sort of catastrophic grid failure or event, in which you aren’t able to stay at home.
* Put together a “Go Bag” for your family, which carries critical supplies and information for whatever circumstance you may run across. Here is what your bag should include …

  • A disaster plan including location of emergency centers, rallying points, possible evacuation routes, etc.
  • Positive Identification, such as driver’s license, state I.D. card, or social security card
  • Enough medicine to last an extended evacuation period
  • Cash and change, as electronic banking transactions may not be available during the initial period following an emergency or evacuation
  • A first aid kit
  • Fire starting tool (e.g., matches, ferrocerium rod, lighter, etc.)
  • Professional emergency literature explaining what to do in various types of disaster, studied and understood before the actual disaster but kept for reference
  • Maps and travel information
  • Standard camping equipment, including sanitation supplies
  • Weather-appropriate clothing (e.g., poncho, headwear, gloves, etc.)
  • Bedding items such as sleeping bags and blankets
  • Medical records
  • Pet, child, and elderly care needs
  • Battery- or crank-powered radio
  • Lighting (battery- or crank-powered flashlight, glow sticks)
  • Firearms and appropriate ammunition
  • Fixed-blade and folding knife
  • Duct Tape and rope/paracord
  • Plastic tarps for shelter and water collection
  • Slingshot, pellet gun, blowgun or other small game hunting equipment
  • Wire for binding and animal traps

This all might seem a bit excessive now … but so does every disaster plan — until disaster actually strikes.

So, perhaps make it a fun family activity to work through setting up these plans, and you’ll sleep much better knowing you’re prepared!

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

Warmly,

Roger Menden
952-445-8753

R. Menden Accounting & Tax Service

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