7 Simple Home Improvements to Beat the Winter Blues

Winter can be a tough time of year for many of us, especially after all the holiday excitement dwindles down. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s gloomy. And this is when many of us start to feel the winter blues settling in. 

But there is good news. By planning out a few simple home improvements you can easily transform your space into a happier and cozier place to be, while also enjoying time spent inside. Sprucing up your home can feel good during any season, but certain projects are perfect for giving you a much-needed mood boost during this time of year. 

So, if winter is getting you down, consider these home improvement projects to help you beat those winter blues, no matter how short the days are or how low the temperatures drop.

painted living room

1. Repaint living spaces

Feeling like your home is in need of a dramatic change? A new coat of paint can be a cheap and effective way to switch things up in no time. During this time when many of us need a mood booster, take a page out of the psychology book, and surround yourself with colors that help you relax and increase happiness. In general, cool colors have a calming effect, while warm colors add comfort and can be invigorating. White can help brighten rooms by reflecting light. It makes a small space feel larger and more open, which can help you feel more energized.

Painting can require some patience, especially if you are considering a brand new color, but it’s easy enough for even a DIY beginner to accomplish. And, with the right attitude and a few friends or even some favorite music, you can make repainting your walls fun, too. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your painting project, consider hiring a local painting company to tackle it for you.

kitchen lighting

2. Update your home’s lighting 

What better way to brighten and warm your spirits this winter than with the perfect lighting. Not to mention it’s an easy and affordable way to make your home a more comfortable place to spend time.

Instead of sticking with whatever fixtures came in your home when you bought it, you can use the doldrums of winter as an excuse to try this simple home improvement. Light fixtures are affordable and can often be installed without an expert. Whether you repurpose your holiday string lights or invest in a daylight lamp, the options are endless. You can also completely change the ambiance in your home simply by replacing any harsh white bulbs with calming yellow ones.

skylights in living room

3. Maximize natural light with windows or skylights

With the shorter days and gloomy weather, one of the main factors leading to winter blues this time of year is the lack of natural light. The best solution for this is to increase the amount of sunlight in your home. If your current windows aren’t letting in enough light or air, it may be time to upgrade. 

Skylights can also be an excellent way to improve natural light. This is true even if you live somewhere like Miami, where the sunlight is abundant. Skylights can be installed in many areas of your home, with kitchens and baths being among the most popular choices. Adding more light and sun can go a long way in making the winter darkness a little easier to manage.

simple home improvements bright entryway

4. Install a sound system

There’s nothing like a great song for instantly lifting the spirits. Playing some of your favorite tunes at home is the perfect remedy to help fight your winter blues. It’s a bit less impactful, though, when you’re listening to music through tiny laptop speakers. If you want to really immerse yourself in the sound of your favorite songs, invest in a home sound system.

Setting up a surround sound system or a sound system that plays across multiple rooms is quite simple. Modern technology allows for easy connectivity with Bluetooth, ensuring your home is ready for fun without a costly or complicated setup process.

simple home improvements bathroom

5. Improve organization

After spending months inside due to the pandemic, followed by the holidays, your home may be overrun by clutter. Think about how good you’ll feel when you’ve cleaned your house, and everything has been put back in its rightful place

Improving the organization of a space can occur in a number of ways, from purchasing storage boxes and bins to custom pieces for the closet. A few simple home improvements can go a long way. Whether that’s just going through old mail, sorting clothing to donate, or filing papers, organizing can help create a nicer living space. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the process, bring in a professional organizer or declutter to help.

6. Add greenery to beat winter blues

Plants are amazing gifts of nature. In both work and home environments, live plants can boost your mood, productivity, concentration, and creativity. Plants come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny succulents to large potted plants, making greenery a functional and flexible option for everyone. You can choose from flowers, greek plants like ferns, or even herbs to add color and life to any room.

If you have a large living area, potted trees can also be an excellent addition and one of the simplest home improvements you can do. Available from local nurseries and mail order services nationwide, plants make it easy to add a dynamic living focal piece to any room.

bedroom sanctuary simple home improvement

7. Create a bedroom sanctuary

There’s nothing quite like having a cozy place to escape to on a cold winter day. From fluffy blankets and bedding to essential oils and warm, ambient lighting, your bedroom can be a place of peace from the moment you walk in. Flannel sheets can keep you nice and warm while a plush rug to sink your toes into will add comfort. 

Making it through yet another winter may seem tough, but a few simple home improvements can be just what you need to turn a cold-weather frown upside down. From a little repainting to installing skylights, there’s plenty you can do to increase your happiness and take your home from bland to beautiful this season.

The post 7 Simple Home Improvements to Beat the Winter Blues appeared first on Redfin | Real Estate Tips for Home Buying, Selling & More.

Source: redfin.com

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

The holiday parties may be over but the financial hangover is just setting in. Holiday sales for 2016 were estimated to top $655 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. If you blew your holiday budget, don’t panic. A January spending freeze may be just what you need to get back on track. If you’ve never done a spending freeze before, here’s what to expect.

See the average budget for someone in your neighborhood.

How Does a Spending Freeze Work?

During a spending freeze, you avoid making nonessential purchases. For example, if you buy fast food two to three times per week or movie tickets once a month, you’d cut those expenses out temporarily. A spending freeze gives you the chance to rein in your spending and evaluate your budget. The money you would’ve spent on fun and entertainment can then go toward paying off the debt you racked up during the holidays.

Getting Started

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

Before starting your spending freeze, you may need to mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come. Getting rid of bad spending habits can be tricky. But with the right mindset, you may be able to cut costs and achieve some of your financial goals.

The key to making your spending freeze work is being able to separate your needs from your wants. You’ll need to be able to pay for essential costs like rent, mortgage payments and debt payments. But you’ll need to recognize that other expenses – like the cost of a daily latte or a pair of new shoes – can be removed from your budget if necessary.

If you’re having trouble curbing your spending, agreeing to splurge on just one item during the month of January may make sticking with your freeze a bit easier.

Related Article: How to Recover From a Holiday Shopping Spree

Put the Money You’re Saving to Work

Once you begin your spending freeze, you’ll need to figure out what to do with the extra money in your bank account. Paying off your credit card bills should be a top priority since credit card debt tends to have a bigger impact on your credit score than installment debt. Specifically, you may want to focus on paying off your store credit cards since they often carry high interest rates.

Which credit card should you pay off first? You may want to begin by paying off the card with the highest APR since that’ll reduce what you’re paying in interest. Or you could pay off the card with the lowest balance. That may give you the momentum you need to knock out the rest of your credit card debt.

Related Article: How to Stop Spending Money Carelessly

Get a Partner Onboard

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

Implementing a spending freeze can be difficult if you’ve never done one before. Having someone else along for the ride may help you fight your urge to splurge.

If you’re married, for example, you could ask your spouse to jump on the spending freeze bandwagon with you. Singles can find a friend or family member who’s willing to join in. Just remember that when you’re choosing a partner, it’s best to pick someone who’s going to encourage you to stick with your freeze and make good financial decisions.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Pogonici, ©iStock.com/killerb10, ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

The post Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need

A woman sits on a gray couch with a laptop on her lap, drinking a cup of coffee

The weather is turning, fall is in the air, and Halloween is around the corner—which means it’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. How can you ensure October is full of treats while not falling for any scammers’ tricks? By arming yourself with these identity protection tips.

Every American should understand the basics of identity theft protection. According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 10% of people 16 and older have been the victim of identity theft. That’s why we’re encouraging people to educate themselves on identity protection tips this autumn. After all, there’s nothing quite as scary as identity fraud!

Here are some identity theft tricks to watch out for and identity security treats to take advantage of.

Trick: Using Your Data to Open New Accounts

According to the FTC, credit card fraud—including opening new credit card accounts—was the most commonly reported form of identity theft in 2019. Thieves can rack up hundreds of dollars’ worth of bills before you know it happened.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your cybersecurity to avoid your data being used to open new accounts in your name:

  • Never use the same password across multiple accounts. Switch your passwords up.
  • Never use a password that’s easy to guess. This includes passwords that include your birthday, first or last name, or address.
  • Use passwords that are random combinations of numbers, letters, and symbols.
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered.
  • Don’t share or write down your passwords.
  • Never click on unknown email links or pop-ups on websites.
  • Make sure websites are secure before entering your payment information.
  • Never connect to public Wi-Fi that isn’t secure.
  • Never walk away from your laptop in public places.
  • Enable firewall protection.
  • Monitor your accounts and credit reports for unusual activity.

Treat: Check Your Credit Reports

Identity theft protection starts by being proactive and regularly monitoring your information for suspicious activity. That includes monitoring your credit report.

Did you know that you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from all three credit reporting agencies? In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, make October the month that you request your reports and go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you recognize all the open accounts under your name.

[Note: Through April 2021, you can review your credit reports weekly.]

An added bonus of checking your reports early in the month is that you can give your credit a good once-over before the upcoming holiday shopping season. Unexplained dips in your credit score could be a sign that something is wrong.

When you request your free credit report from the credit bureaus, your report does not come with your credit score—you have to request that separately. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get 28 of your FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll also get account monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance.

Protect Your Identity with ExtraCredit

Trick: Charity Fraud

October also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everywhere you look, pink is on display. With so much national attention on breast cancer, it’s easy to fall for scams that claim to be legitimate charities.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for phony COVID-19 related scams this fall and winter. For example, watch out for fake charities that pretend to provide COVID relief to groups or families but are simply stealing money.

Even worse than handing over money to these heartless fraudsters is that you may have handed over your credit card numbers or other personally identifiable information in the process.

Treat: Know Your Worthy Causes

Before donating to a charitable cause, do your homework. You can use websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to check a charity’s reputation. Additionally, consider contacting your state’s charity regulator to confirm the organization is registered to raise money in your state.

After you’ve verified the status of the charity, consider making donations directly through the national organization. Avoid giving money or financial information directly to someone that reaches out to you through email, phone calls, or door-to-door interactions.

It might be a bit of extra work, but at the end of the day, you can feel good knowing your money is going to support a real cause. If you want to support October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider donating directly on the national website. An added bonus is that you’ll receive a receipt you can use for tax deduction purposes.

Trick: Tax Refund Fraud

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service announces its “dirty dozen” scams. These are the tax fraud scams the IRS determines to be the most common for the year. The 2020 list includes refund theft. A tax thief gains access to your information, files a fraudulent return in your name before you do, and has the funds paid out them. The only way you find out about it is that your legitimate tax return—the one you submit—is rejected for having already been filed.

Another way individuals fall victim to tax refund fraud is by using an unscrupulous return vendor. Dishonest vendors and ghost preparers steal personal information to file a tax refund and pocket the money or use that information for other types of identity fraud.

It’s unclear what exactly the next round of stimulus legislation will include, but if another stimulus check is included, watch out for attempts to steal your COVID stimulus checks. Remember that the IRS never contacts you via email, social media, or text.

Treat: File Early

It may feel like you just finished filing your 2019 taxes, but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year. While filing your taxes might be the last thing you want to think about this month, it’s crucial to stay on top of your tax return documents so you’re ready to file as early as possible. This is especially true for individuals who have reason to believe that their personal data has already been breached.

Always ensure you work with a reputable tax return vendor. You can look at the vendor’s online reviews before considering them as an option for tax return help.

Additionally, individuals that are paid to assist with or prepare federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns. Always ask for this number before you hire an individual and hand over your personal information.

If you file early, you can beat out someone filing before you and receiving your return first. The earliest you can file is January.

Trick: Social Media Scams

Our social media accounts allow us to stay connected with friends and family. Unfortunately, scammers understand this and have started using social media to commit identity fraud.

There are many variations of social media phishing scams, but the basics are generally that a scammer creates an account to gain your trust and gather personal information from you. For example, many people have their name, birthday, and workplace information on their Facebook or other social media account. Those three things alone could be enough for someone to gain everything else they need to create a credit card application under your name or access your existing accounts.

Treat: Be More Exclusive and Private

Consider taking a quiet October morning to comb through your social media accounts. Start with your followers. Consider deleting everyone you don’t know personally.

If a follower base is important to you, consider another approach. Go through each social profile and scrub any personal details. Change the spelling of your last name slightly, delete your birthday, and remove other personal information, such as place of work. Ultimately, this can reduce the risk of being an easy target for identity fraud.

These core identity protection tips should help you stay safer online. With COVID-19 causing people to feel scared, individuals are more vulnerable to being tricked. Remember that identity fraud happens to millions of people every year, and it’s important to remain vigilant.

Stay Vigilant This Fall

Identity theft can have long-lasting consequences. If you’re recovering from identity fraud or simply unhappy with your credit score, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit is a five-in-one credit product that provides tools to helps you build, guard, track, reward, and restore your credit.

Sign Up Now

The post Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Don’t Let Debt Ruin the Holidays: Proactive Steps

A smiling woman wearing a denim dress and a red headband looks down at her shopping bags

According to numbers for the 2018 holiday shopping season, American shoppers incurred an average debt of just over $1,000. And not everyone could pay that debt off quickly, leading to expensive, long-term credit card debt for some.

But holiday shopping debt isn’t the only financial burden people face. Many enter the season with other debt. If that’s you, don’t let debt ruin the holidays. Instead, consider some of these tips to manage debt before the holidays so you can enjoy the festivities with reduced stress.

1. Find Out Exactly Where You Stand Financially

Before you create a plan to tackle your debt, ensure you’re accounting for all of it. According to a 2019 study, around one in five adult Americans weren’t sure if they had credit card debt when asked.

Even if you think you have a handle on your debt, it’s a good idea to give your reports a once-over. This lets you ensure you didn’t miss something important and that no one has used your identity to run up debt in your name. That could come as a nasty surprise if you try to use or obtain credit for holiday shopping.

You can get a free copy of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Normally, you can get one per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. But because of assistance measures put in place for COVID-19, you can get a free copy from each bureau every week through April 2021. You can also get a free Credit Report Card from Credit.com, which includes your Experian VantageScore 3.0 and regular updates on what is affecting your scores.

2. Create a Monthly Budget

Once you know everything you owe, sit down and take a look at your monthly budget. List all of your regular expenses and decide where you can cut to help put more money toward your debt.

Use tools such as credit card debt calculators to determine how much you should pay every month on debt to reduce it in a certain amount of time. This helps you understand how much money you should be putting toward debt to pay it off before the holidays arrive.

3. Choose a Method for Paying Down Debt

Every situation is different, so the way you pay down debt depends on what might work best for your situation. Here are a few tips to consider.

Go with a Basic Snowball Method

The Snowball Method means you line up all your debts by total balance. You make a minimum payment on each while throwing anything extra at the debt with the smallest balance. You do so because you’ll be able to pay off that one the fastest.

Once you pay off the first debt, you take everything you were putting on it each month and add it to what you’re paying on the next-smallest balance. As you pay off each debt, you have more money to put toward the next one. By the time you reach the biggest debt, you can pay it off fairly quickly.

Make Use of Balance Transfer Cards

If it’s not realistic to pay down all of your debt before the holidays, you might want to concentrate on getting your finances in order and ensuring your debt costs as little as possible. One way to do that is to make use of a balance transfer card.

These cards let you transfer existing high-interest credit card debt to a card that has 0% APR for a period of time. If you can pay the debt off within that time—which can range from a year to two years on average—you can save a lot in interest.

Consider Taking Out a Personal Loan to Consolidate Debt

If you’re dealing with high-interest debt or payments that simply add up to more than you can handle every month, you might consider a personal loan to consolidate debt. A debt consolidation loan doesn’t get rid of your debt, but it might make it more manageable. You might end up with a single monthly payment that reduces how much you must worry about during the holidays.

4. Set a Holiday Budget and Stick to It

Once you have a plan for dealing with your existing debt, ensure you don’t re-create it with your holiday spending this year. Spend smart during the holidays. Make a list of what you want to do, the meals and treats you want to make, and the gifts you want to buy.

Assign everything on your list a dollar amount, and then take another look. Can you realistically afford all of this? You might need to make some priority decisions and reduce your list to fit a holiday budget you can afford without racking up too much debt this season.

5. Use Credit to Your Advantage

If you don’t let debt ruin the holidays, you might be able to use credit as a financial tool to your advantage as you shop or participate in festivities. The right rewards credit cards help you earn points or miles as you spend—and you can earn even more points for spending in certain categories.

For example, you might have a cash-back credit card that gives you more cash back in the final quarter of the year on travel or grocery shopping. You could use that card to fund expenses as you go visit relatives or prepare a feast when they come to your home.

If you spend on your card only what you were going to spend with cash anyway, you can pay your balances off immediately. That means you get those rewards without any interest cost for doing so. If you don’t have a rewards credit card, you can find options to consider in the Credit.com credit card marketplace. Here are a couple to start with.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now

on American Express’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% for 12 months on purchases


Ongoing Apr:
13.99%-23.99% Variable


Balance Transfer:
N/A


Annual Fee:
$95


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • $95 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Card Details +

This card gives you 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases. You can also get 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and transit, making it a potentially good card to use when you’re traveling. The Blue Cash Preferred® card allows you to earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.

Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard

Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card

Apply Now

on Amalgamated Bank of Chicago’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% on Purchases for 12 months


Ongoing Apr:
12.90% – 22.90% Variable APR on purchases


Balance Transfer:
12.90% – 22.90% Variable APR on balance transfers


Annual Fee:
$0


Credit Needed:
Excellent

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months; after that the variable APR will be 12.90% – 22.90% (V), based on your creditworthiness
  • Earn $150 Statement Credit after you spend $1,200 on purchases within the first 90 days from account opening
  • Earn 5x rewards on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories such as dining, groceries, travel, and automotive
  • No upper limit on the points you can accumulate, and since points never expire, you can save up for a big award!
  • Earn Points on Every Purchase! It’s simple: $1 = 1 Point
  • No Annual Fee or Foreign Transaction Fee
  • Select Your Rewards Your Way
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee

Card Details +

The Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard® allows you to earn 5X rewards up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories. Categories include dining, groceries, fuel, travel, and other popular spending areas. If you’ll be spending in a certain category during the holidays, you could earn extra rewards points to redeem on travel or other purchases.

Reward Yourself

It’s never too early or too late to start planning financially for big seasons such as the holidays. If you’re ready to take a step toward that plan today, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. Reward It from ExtraCredit connects you with personalized offers and offers cashback rewards when you sign up and are approved for them.

Reward Yourself This Holiday Season

The post Don’t Let Debt Ruin the Holidays: Proactive Steps appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

What Is the Self-Employment Tax?

Working for yourself, either as a part-time side hustle or a full-time endeavor, can be very exciting and financially rewarding. But one downside to self-employment is that you're responsible for following special tax rules. Missing tax deadlines or paying the wrong amount can lead to expensive penalties.

Let's talk about what the self-employment or SE tax is and how it compares to payroll taxes for employees. You’ll learn who must pay the SE tax, how to pay it, and tips to stay compliant when you work for yourself.

What is the self-employment (SE) tax?

In addition to federal and applicable state income taxes, everyone must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. These two social programs provide you with retirement benefits, disability benefits, survivor benefits, and Medicare health insurance benefits.

Many people don’t realize that when you’re a W-2 employee, your employer must pick up the tab for a portion of your taxes. Thanks to the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), employers are generally required to withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes from your paycheck and match the tax amounts you owe.

In other words, your employer pays half of your Social Security and Medicare taxes, and you pay the remaining half. Employees pay 100% of federal and state income taxes, which also get withheld from your wages and sent to the government.

When you have your own business, you’re typically responsible for paying the full amount of income taxes, including 100% of your Social Security and Medicare taxes.

But when you have your own business, you’re typically responsible for paying the full amount of income taxes, including 100% of your Social Security and Medicare taxes.

Who must pay the self-employment tax?

All business owners with "pass-through" income must pay the SE tax. That typically includes every business entity except C corporations (or LLCs that elect to get taxed as a corporation).

When you have a C corp or get taxed as a corporation, you work as an employee of your business. You're required to withhold all employment taxes (federal, state, Social Security, and Medicare) from your salary or wages. Other business entities allow income to pass directly to the owner(s), so it gets included in their personal tax returns.

You must pay the SE tax no matter if you call yourself a solopreneur, independent contractor, or freelancer—even if you're already receiving Social Security or Medicare benefits.

You must pay the SE tax no matter if you call yourself a solopreneur, independent contractor, or freelancer—even if you're already receiving Social Security or Medicare benefits.

How much is the self-employment tax?

For 2020, the SE tax rate is 15.3% of earnings from your business. That's a combined Social Security tax rate of 12.4 % and a Medicare tax rate of 2.9%.

For Social Security tax, you pay it on up to a maximum wage base of $137,700. You don't have to pay Social Security tax on any additional income above this threshold. However, this threshold has been increasing and is likely to continue creeping up in future years.

However, for Medicare, there is no wage base. All your income is subject to the 2.9% Medicare tax.

So, if you're self-employed with net income less than $137,700, you'd pay SE tax of 15.3% (12.4% Social Security plus 2.9% Medicare tax), plus ordinary income tax.

Remember that your future Social Security benefits get reduced if you don't claim all of your self-employment income.

What is the additional Medicare tax?

If you have a high income, you must pay an extra tax of 0.9%, known as the additional Medicare tax. This surtax went into effect in 2013 with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It applies to wages and self-employment income over these amounts by tax filing status for 2020:

  • Single: $200,000 
  • Married filing jointly: $250,000 
  • Married filing separately: $125,000 
  • Head of household: $200,000 
  • Qualifying widow(er): $200,000

What are estimated taxes?

As I mentioned, when you’re an employee, your employer withholds money for various taxes from your paychecks and sends it to the government on your behalf. This pay-as-you-go system was created to make sure you pay all taxes owed by the end of the year.

You must make quarterly estimated tax payments if you expect to owe at least $1,000 in taxes, including the SE tax.

When you’re self-employed, you also have to keep up with taxes throughout the year. You must make quarterly estimated tax payments if you expect to owe at least $1,000 in taxes, including the SE tax.

Each payment should be one-fourth of the total you expect to owe. Estimated payments are generally due on:

  • April 15 (for the first quarter) 
  • June 15 (for the second quarter) 
  • September 15 (for the third quarter) 
  • January 15 (for the fourth quarter) of the following year

But when the due date falls on a weekend or holiday, it shifts to the next business day. Your state may also require estimated tax payments and may have different deadlines.

How to calculate estimated taxes

Figuring estimated payments can be extremely confusing when you’re self-employed because many entrepreneurs don’t have the faintest idea how much they’ll make from one week to the next, much less how much tax they can expect to pay. Nonetheless, you must make your best guesstimate.

If you earn more than you estimated, you can pay more on any remaining quarterly tax payments. If you earn less, you can reduce them or apply any overpayments to next year’s estimated payments.

If you (or your spouse, if you file taxes jointly) have a W-2 job in addition to self-employment income, you can increase your tax withholding from earnings at your job instead of making estimated payments. To do this, you or your spouse must file an updated Form W-4 with your employer.

The IRS has a Tax Withholding Estimator to help you calculate the right amount to withhold from your pay for your individual or joint taxes.

How to pay estimated taxes

To figure and pay your estimated taxes, use Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, or Form 1120-W, Estimated Tax for Corporations. These forms contain blank vouchers you can use to mail in your payments, or you can submit funds electronically.

When you have a complicated situation, including having business income, one of your new best friends should be a tax accountant.

For much more information about running a small business successfully, check out my newest book, Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers. Part four, Understanding Business Taxes, covers everything you need to know to comply and stay out of trouble.

From personal experience, I can tell you that when you have a complicated situation, including having business income, one of your new best friends should be a tax accountant. Find one who listens well and seems to understand the kind of work you're doing.

A good accountant will help you calculate your estimated quarterly taxes, claim tax deductions, and save you money by helping you take advantage of every tax benefit that's allowed when you're self-employed. In Money-Smart Solopreneur, I recommend various software, online services, and apps to help you track expenses, deductions, and tax deadlines that will keep your business running smoothly.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

10 Free Holiday Activities for Couples Paying off Debt

  This is where it all started guys. On a quiet summer afternoon I hit publish on my first post titled 10 Free Activities for Couples Paying off Debt and the rest is history. I thought it fitting to do…

The post 10 Free Holiday Activities for Couples Paying off Debt appeared first on Modern Frugality.

Source: modernfrugality.com

Best Places to Celebrate Halloween in 2020

Image shows a carved and lit jack-o-lantern wearing a medical mask and sitting on some steps outside, surrounded by fallen leaves. SmartAsset analyzed various data sources (taking into account COVID-19) to find the best places to celebrate Halloween in 2020.

Halloween typically scares up a major boost in U.S. consumer spending, to the tune of $8.78 billion in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. Though this year’s celebration will be scaled down in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trade group still projects that Americans will shell out $8.05 billion on things like candy, costumes, decorations and greeting cards. Despite the fact that many city governments are discouraging trick-or-treating and the CDC is recommending extensive safety guidelines, it’s still possible for families to get in the spirit of the holiday with the proper protocols in place. Whether you’re planning to don costumes and go house to house with your pod or attend a Zoom masquerade, not all locations are equally conducive to enjoying the festivities. That’s why SmartAsset crunched the numbers to find the best cities in the U.S. to celebrate Halloween in 2020.

To do this, we analyzed data for a total of 210 cities. We considered a range of metrics that we grouped into four categories: family friendliness, safety, weather and candy & costumes. For this year’s study, we included metrics like internet connection and recent COVID-19 infection rates to account for the different ways Americans will celebrate the holiday as a result of the pandemic. 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 2020 study on the best places to celebrate Halloween. Read our 2019 study on the best places to trick-or-treat here.

Key Findings

  • California cities take a number of hallowed spots at the top. Cities in the Golden State dominate the top 10 of this study. Five California cities – Vacaville, Fremont, Livermore, Oceanside and Menifee – are in the top 10, and there are four more in the top 15. The major factor driving a lot of these California cities to the top is their safety rating. Two of the above cities, Livermore and Fremont, rank in the top five for safety. The three other California cities finish within roughly the top 15% of the study for this category.
  • Halloween towns without frightening housing costs. A person who is burdened by housing costs is spending at least 30% of income on housing, with the threshold for “severely housing cost-burdened” at 50%. All the cities in our top 10 have housing costs below that 30% threshold, with residents of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina spending just 17.99% of income on housing costs (ranking first in the top 10 and fifth overall for this metric). The city in the top 10 with the highest housing costs as a percentage of income is Menifee, California, at 28.32% – still coming in below the 30% threshold. The average figure for this metric across all 210 cities in the study is 23.58%, so many families may still have some money left over – no doubt a “boo-n” for their costumes and candy budget.

1. Vacaville, CA

The best place to celebrate Halloween in 2020 is Vacaville, California. There are a study-topping 13.94 candy stores per 10,000 total establishments in Vacaville, which ensures trick-or-treaters will have plenty of sweet options to stick in their pumpkin pails and pillowcases. This, combined with a ranking of 38th out of 210 for the 34.84 costume shops per 10,000 total establishments (a top-quintile ranking), puts Vacaville at ninth in the candy & costumes index for this study. The city also finishes 32nd overall for the safety index, which includes a daily COVID-19 infection rate of 8.27 per 100,000 residents, 58th out of 210.

2. Sparks, NV

Trick-or-treaters who don’t have warm or waterproof costumes can rejoice: Sparks, Nevada has the fifth-best ranking for the weather category in this study. That includes a precipitation probability of just 1.0% on Halloween (ranking ninth out of 210) and an average temperature that is just 3.4 degrees off the ideal Halloween temperature of 60 (ranking 44th out of 210). Nearly 22% of the population in Sparks is younger than 14, the 33rd-highest percentage for this metric in the study and an indication that youngsters will have many in their demographic available to participate in some spooky fun.

3. Fremont, CA

Fremont, California ranks fourth in our study for the safety category. It is tied for the third-lowest rate of new COVID-19 infections in the study, at 3.31 each day per 100,000 residents. Fremont also finishes 24th out of 210 in terms of its relatively low violent crime rate, with just 211 cases per 100,000 residents each year. What’s more, the city finishes 16th in the family friendliness index, buoyed by a population where 95.07% of homes have internet access, seventh-best in this study and helpful for those who want to take their Monster Mash online.

4. Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia Beach, Virginia also scores well in the safety category – ninth-best in the study out of all 210 cities. The violent crime rate in Virginia Beach is particularly low, ranking eighth overall, with just 117 incidents per 100,000 residents each year. In terms of COVID-19 cases, Virginia Beach falls just outside the top quartile, finishing 55th, with 8.16 new cases per 100,000 residents each day. The city also ranks 37th of 210 for its relatively large concentration of costume shops, at almost 35 per 10,000 total establishments.

5. Livermore, CA

The third California city in our top 10 is Livermore, located on the Bay Area’s eastern edge. Livermore ranks third in the safety category, on the strength of being tied for third-fewest new COVID-19 infections, at just 3.31 per 100,000 residents each day. Livermore also has the 21st-lowest rate of violent crime overall (ranking in the best 10% of the study), at 203 incidents per 100,000 residents each year. Furthermore, the city has the 14th-best family friendliness index in the study, powered by an eighth-place ranking for the percentage of homes with internet access, at 95.00%, making it that much easier to use the World Wide Web to show off that homespun spider web decor.

6. Elgin, IL

Elgin, Illinois ranks 11th out of 210 in the family friendliness category of our study. Housing costs represent just 19.87% of income on average, the 24th-best percentage for this metric overall. The population is 22.61% children under the age of 14, ranking 26th out of 210. Elgin is also a fairly festive place for Halloween. There are 12.29 candy stores per 10,000 establishments, the fourth-highest rate for this metric in the study.

7. Mount Pleasant, SC

Mount Pleasant, South Carolina ranks 12th overall for the candy & costumes category out of all 210 cities we analyzed. That includes having 52.93 costume shops per 10,000 establishments, the sixth-highest rate in the study for this metric. Mount Pleasant is also a relatively affordable place to live, having the fifth-lowest housing costs as a percentage of income overall, at just 17.99%.

8. Oceanside, CA

Although housing costs in Oceanside, California make up 28.02% of income (ranking 193rd out of 210), this coastal city near San Diego has the 14th-best weather index score in the study, which is great news for trick-or-treaters who don’t want to be soaked and shivering while they’re participating in contactless candy pickup. There is just a 1.4% chance of precipitation on Halloween in Oceanside (ranking 19th of 210). Plus, the average temperature there, at 8.2 degrees away from 60 degrees, ranks in the top half of the study.

9. Dearborn, MI

Dearborn, Michigan finishes in the top 45 for all four data categories we considered, including ranking 33rd of 210 (a top-quintile ranking) for the candy & costumes category. There are 34.57 costume shops for every 10,000 establishments, the 40th-best rate for this metric in the study. Dearborn is also a very young city: It has the fifth-highest percentage of residents younger than age 14, at 24.87%, which might help costumed kiddos feel a little less like the pandemic’s gotten everyone stuck in a real ghost town.

10. Menifee, CA

Menifee, California ranks 22nd out of 210 for the candy & costumes category. It has 6.78 candy stores per 10,000 establishments, ranking 32nd overall for this metric. It’s also unlikely your Halloween will be rained on in Menifee – there is a 0.6% chance of precipitation on Oct. 31, the best rate for this metric across all the cities we examined.

Data and Methodology

To find the best cities to celebrate Halloween in 2020, we analyzed 210 cities in 10 metrics across four categories:

Family Friendliness Metrics

  • Percentage of residents 14 years or younger. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of income. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Percentage of households with internet access. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.

Safety Metrics

  • Violent crime rate. This is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s 2018 Uniform Crime Reporting database as well as NeighborhoodScout.com.
  • Property crime rate. This is the number of property crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s 2018 Uniform Crime Reporting database as well as NeighborhoodScout.com.
  • Daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. This is the seven-day moving average of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Oct. 17. Data comes from Halloween2020.org.

Halloween Weather Metrics

  • Precipitation probability. This is the chance it rains 0.5 inches or snows 0.1 inches on Halloween. Data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • Average temperature. This is the average maximum temperature on Oct. 31, from 1981 to 2010. We compared the average maximum temperature to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which we think is the perfect temperature for trick-or-treating. Data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Candy & Costumes Metrics

  • Concentration of candy stores. The number of candy stores (including confectionary and nut stores) per 10,000 establishments. Data comes from the 2018 County Business Patterns survey
  • Concentration of costume shops. The number of costume shops (including clothing accessory stores, other clothing stores and formal wear and costume rental stores) per 10,000 establishments. Data comes from the 2018 County Business Patterns survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric, assigning equal weight to every metric except for the two crime metrics, which each received a half-weight. Then we averaged the rankings across the four categories listed above. For each category, the city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0. We created our final ranking by calculating each city’s average score for all three categories.

Tips for Managing Your Money to Avoid Spooky Surprises

  • Save yourself the toil and trouble. Organizing your finances doesn’t need to be a nightmare. A financial advisor can help make your life much easier. 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.
  • Make sure your mortgage doesn’t haunt you. If you want to buy a home in one of these great Halloween cities, which are also fantastic locations to lay down roots as a family, consider using SmartAsset’s free mortgage calculator to see what your monthly payment might be.
  • Budgets don’t have to be blood-sucking. A budget can help you get on track to be able to spend a bit extra in October to enjoy Halloween properly. Use SmartAsset’s budget calculator to avoid vampiric bites to your savings account.

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

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