7 habits of highly effective retirement savers

Saving for retirement can be a slog, yet some people have a better time of it than others.

Planning ahead helps a lot. The best retirement savers are more than four times as likely to have given “a great deal” of thought about their retirement age, their lifestyle during their golden years, their future health-care costs and their financial goals than the worst savers, according to a new survey by Voya Financial, which scored more than 1,000 full-time workers on how prepared they were for retirement.

Overall, Voya found that Americans had middling scores for retirement readiness, but the best savers shared some common financial traits.The top scorers did more than think about retirement, they took action. Here are seven habits they had that you can use to boost your retirement savings:

Create a budget. Seems obvious, but 65 percent of the highest scoring workers had a budget compared with 19 percent of the lowest-scoring savers. “This attention to detail here allows for a more predictable glide path through the retirement years,” said George Clough, vice president of wealth management strategies at People’s United Bank in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Max out your workplace retirement plans. The highest-scoring workers were twice as likely to contribute the maximum amount to their workplace retirement plan than lowest-scoring workers. The top savers were also more likely to at least contribute enough to their retirement plans to receive their employer’s matching contribution. It’s free money.

Read more via 7 habits of highly effective retirement savers.

Top 10 Tips for Starting a Small Business

1) Do what you love.

You’re going to devote a lot of time and energy to starting a business and building it into a successful enterprise, so it’s really important that you truly deeply enjoy what you do, whether it be running fishing charters, creating pottery or providing financial advice.

2) Start your business while you’re still employed.

How long can most people live without money? Not long. And it may be a long time before your new business actually makes any profits. Being employed while you’re starting a business means money in your pocket while you’re going through the starting a business process.

3) Don’t do it alone.

You need a support system while you’re starting a business (and afterwards). A family member or friend that you can bounce ideas off and who will listen sympathetically to the latest business start up crisis is invaluable. Even better, find a mentor or, if you qualify, apply for a business start up program such as The Self-Employment Program. When you’re starting a business experienced guidance is the best support system of all.

4) Get clients or customers first.

Don’t wait until you’ve officially started your business to line these up, because your business can’t survive without them. Do the networking. Make the contacts. Sell or even give away your products or services. You can’t start marketing too soon. (See Attracting New Business on a Shoestring Budget and The 7 Best Places to Find Clients for tips.)

5) Write a business plan.

The main reason for doing a business plan first when you’re thinking of starting a business is that it can help you avoid sinking your time and money into starting a business that will not succeed. (See Why You Need a Business Plan for other good reasons.)

Remember, you don’t have to work through a full scale business plan for each new business idea you come up with; my Quick-Start Business Plan, for instance, will let you test the potential of your business idea much more quickly.

6) Do the research.

You’ll do a lot of research writing a business plan, but that’s just a start. When you’re starting a business, you need to become an expert on your industry, products and services if you’re not already. Joining related industry or professional associations before you start your business is a great idea.

7) Get professional help.

On the other hand, just because you’re starting a business, doesn’t mean you have to be an expert on everything. If you’re not an accountant or bookkeeper, hire one (or both).(These Tips for Finding a Good Accountant may be useful.) If you need to write up a contract, and you’re not a lawyer, hire one. You will waste more time and possibly money in the long run trying to do things yourself that you are not qualified to do.

8) Get the money lined up.

Save up if you have to. Approach potential investors and lenders. Figure our your financial fall-back plan. Don’t expect to start a business and then walk into a bank and get money. Traditional lenders don’t like new ideas and don’t like businesses without proven track records.

9) Be professional from the get-go.

Everything about you and the way you do business needs to let people know that you are a professional running a serious business. That means getting all the accoutrements such as professional business cards, a business phone and a business email address, and treating people in a professional, courteous manner.

10) Get the legal and tax issues right the first time.

It’s much more difficult and expensive to unsnarl a mess afterwards. Does your business need to be registered? Will you have to charge GST or PST? Will you have to have Workers’ Compensation Insurance or deal with payroll taxes? How will the form of business you choose affect your income tax situation? Learn what your legal and tax responsibilities are before you start your business and operate accordingly.

Following the advice on starting a business above will make starting a business both a smoother, less stressful process and go a long way towards ensuring the business you start lasts and thrives.

via Top 10 Tips for Starting a Small Business.

Why people still feel the economy stinks – Oct. 22, 2014

U.S. unemployment is down. Consumer confidence is up. Inflation is low.

Things are improving, yet Americans are still worried. The economy is voters’ top concern ahead of the midterm elections next month, ranking ahead of national security, according to a recent Politico poll.

Only 42% of those surveyed by CNN late last month thought the economy was in good shape. While that’s the highest share since January 2008 and an improvement from the 29% who felt this way a year ago, it’s still weak overall.

Let’s take a look at what’s going right: The unemployment rate is below 6% for the first time since 2008. Job openings are back to 2001 levels. Consumer confidence is at its highest point since before the recession, and inflation remains a tame 1.7%.

Related: What do women want in a husband? A job!

Sounds great, but it’s taken the country a long time to get to this point, said Richard Curtin, chief economist of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers.

The recovery has also been stronger for some than others. Young adults are still having a tough time starting their careers, while older Americans are having difficulty shifting into retirement after their nest eggs were destroyed during the Great Recession.

“It’s taking so long to recover and it’s been so uneven,” he said. “It’s been more than five years since the end of the recession.”

Related: Obama’s midterm message: Believe me, we’re better off

Although the unemployment rate has fallen rapidly in the past two years, it remains at a relatively elevated level, said Justin Wolfers, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The average jobless rate in the decade before the Great Recession hit in December 2007 was 4.9%.

Americans also don’t feel any better off. While more people may have jobs, they aren’t bringing home fatter paychecks. Wages and income have remained stagnant for years, making it tough for folks even though inflation is low. Median household income, which stood at $51,939 last year, is back to 1995 levels.

Consumers expect a median income boost of 1.1% over the next year, Curtin said. But that won’t keep up with their inflation expectations of 2.8%.

“American households, on average, are still struggling with their living standards slowly eroding,” he said.

Not everyone, however, is suffering from flat-lining wages … and that’s also why the average American remains worried about the economy. The rich are seeing both their income and wealth rise. The wealthiest 5% of American households held 63% of all wealth in 2013, up from 54% in 1989, according to a recently released Federal Reserve survey.

“Rising inequality is why Main Street doesn’t feel like it’s benefiting from the full fruits of the recovery,” Wolfers said.

via Why people still feel the economy stinks – Oct. 22, 2014.

Asian stocks on edge as HK seethes, U.S. dollar shines | Reuters

The dollar index rose as high as 85.737, its highest since July 2010, in early trade after having posted an 11th straight week of gains last week, extending the longest winning streak since its 1971 uncoupling from gold.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Friday raised its estimate of gross domestic product growth to an annualised 4.6 percent, the fastest pace in 2-1/2 years, and accelerating from the 4.2 percent reported last month.

The data reinforced the perception that the United States is the brightest spot in the global economy, with the Federal Reserve on course to raise interest rates while other major central banks need to enact more stimulus to support growth.

Read more at Asian stocks on edge as HK seethes, U.S. dollar shines | Reuters.

Changes proposed to allocation rules for rollovers

The IRS says it has become aware that some plan providers have been treating disbursements from retirement plans that contain both pretax and after-tax contributions as a single distribution of the aggregate disbursement amount, rather than as separate distributions, as required by the regulations. In proposed regulations issued on Thursday (REG-105739-11) and Notice 2014-54, the IRS gave its blessing to this treatment, providing rules on how to allocate pre- and after-tax amounts distributed from IRAs, including Roth IRAs, to multiple destinations.

Current Regs. Sec. 1.402A-1, Q&A-5(a) provides that “any amount paid in a direct rollover is treated as a separate distribution from any amount paid directly to the employee.” Under the proposed amendment, that separate distribution requirement would not apply to distributions made on or after Jan. 1, 2015, or an earlier date the taxpayer chooses, so long as that date is not earlier than Sept. 19, 2014, the date the regulations were filed for public inspection in the Federal Register.

Under the new rules, all disbursements of benefits from the plan to the recipient that are scheduled to be made at the same time are treated as a single distribution no matter whether the recipient has directed that the disbursements be made to a single destination or multiple destinations.

If the pretax amount of the aggregated disbursements that are treated as a single distribution is less than the amount of the distribution that is directly rolled over to one or more eligible retirement plans, the entire pretax amount is assigned to the amount of the distribution that is directly rolled over. If the rollover is to two or more plans, then the recipient can select how the pretax amount is allocated among these plans. To make this selection, the recipient must inform the plan administrator before the direct rollovers are made.

If the pretax amount equals or exceeds the amount of the distribution that is directly rolled over, it is assigned to the portion of the distribution that is directly rolled over up to the amount of the direct rollover. Any remaining pretax amount is then assigned to any 60-day rollovers (not direct rollovers).

If the remaining pretax amount is less than the amount rolled over in 60-day rollovers, the recipient can select how the pretax amount is allocated among the plans that receive 60-day rollovers. If, after the assignment of the pretax amount to direct rollovers and 60-day rollovers, there is a remaining pretax amount, that amount is includible in the distributee’s gross income. If the amount rolled over to an eligible retirement plan exceeds the portion of the pretax amount assigned or allocated to the plan, the excess is an after-tax amount.

more information at Changes proposed to allocation rules for rollovers.

2014 State Minimum Wage Adjustments Require Careful Employer Review | ADP@Work Blog

The federal minimum wage for covered nonexempt employees is $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. The federal minimum wage provisions are contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Many states also have minimum wage laws. In cases where an employee is subject to both state and federal minimum wage laws, an employee is entitled to the higher of the two.

On February 12, 2014, President Obama issued Executive Order– Minimum Wage for Contractors, which increases the minimum wage for employees under a federal contract that becomes effective on or after January 1, 2015. The Executive Order increases the minimum wage for those employees covered under its provisions to the higher of either $10.10 per hour or the state or local prevailing wage. Employees covered are those who are employed by contractors, subcontractors, or under a contract-like instrument for services or concessions that are covered under the Davis-Bacon Act, Service Contract Act, and any other related acts, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In the upcoming year, it is likely we will see many states adjusting their minimum wage rates.

Impact on Employers: Employers must comply with these minimum wage laws and should review their employees’ hourly rates of pay and make any necessary adjustments to bring their employees to the correct minimum wage if they have not already done so. Please take careful note of the effective dates, as they may vary by state.

 

via 2014 State Minimum Wage Adjustments Require Careful Employer Review | ADP@Work Blog.

How Painless Is Your New Customer Experience? | Your Administrative Solutions

Is your business easy to do business with?   The answer could impact your revenue as well as your reputation for service.  Here are a few tips to help you stand in your customer’s shoes for just a few minutes to answer those questions.

 

First Impressions

What is the first image of your business that your future customer sees?  Is it your website?  A sign in your office window?  An ad?   Whatever it is, take a look at it with fresh eyes, like you’ve never seen it before.  You may have several images to consider if clients approach your business in many different ways.

What do you notice first?  Is the website simple or cluttered?  Is your sign rusty and crooked or new and attractive?  Do you need to make any changes based on what you see?

Voice Time

If a customer calls, how many times does the phone ring before it’s picked up?  Does the voice sound inviting and excited that someone called, or is it as if you were just interrupted?  Or worse, did they get a recording?

If they walk in, how are they greeted?  What does your waiting room look like?

Service

What is the interaction like with you?  Are you able to answer the prospect’s questions?  Do they feel comfortable with you or are they intimidated? What do you suspect it’s like for your clients?

If the prospect becomes a client, what do they have to do?  Are there lots of forms to complete?  How organized are you in getting the client started and serviced for the first time?  Are you respectful of their time if they are in a hurry?

Mystery Shoppers

You’ve probably heard of mystery shoppers who are hired to give their opinions of what their client experience was like for them.  They go through a similar process, evaluating every client touch point and suggest ways to make it a smoother experience.

Almost every business could benefit from periodically reviewing the client experience to discover where the weakest links are and how they can be fixed.  Ask yourself these questions to see where you can improve your client’s experience and make it easy to do business with you.

Read more here: How Painless Is Your New Customer Experience? | Your Administrative Solutions.

12 Expenses That Aren’t Tax Deductions For Most Taxpayers

“Can I deduct the cost of taking care of my cat? She’s like a member of the family.”

Over the course of the year, I’ve received a bunch of questions – like the one above – about deductions. My answer is often, “It depends.” That’s because facts and circumstances matter: deductibility may hinge on such specifics as your occupation, whether you’re self-employed, the location of your office or whether you have a diagnosed medical condition.

But for many taxpayers, the ones without quirky jobs or unusual circumstances, the answers are largely the same. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list 12 expenses that you likely can’t deduct on your individual federal income tax return:

Pets. No matter how much your four-legged, scaly or feathered friend feels like a member of your family, the cost of caring for your pet – from food to vet visits – is generally not deductible. The IRS considers pet-related expenses routinely personal. A few exceptions do apply, including service animals and guard dogs.

Alarm systems. Generally, there is no tax deduction for installing an alarm system at your home. Similarly, the monthly fees are not deductible. If, however, the property that you alarm is a rental or commercial property, the installation and the monthly fees are deductible as the cost of doing business. Additionally, if you take the home office deduction, then you may claim the pro rata portion of the alarm system on your taxes, just as you do with other home office expenses; the portion attributable to the non-office portion of your home is still not deductible.

Gym memberships. Most weight loss programs are only deductible as a treatment for a specific disease diagnosed by a physician. The diagnosis is key and the program must be specifically ordered by the doctor: if your doctor merely advises you to lose some weight to protect your health, that’s not sufficient. That said, you cannot deduct gym or health club membership dues even if your doctor orders you to up your activity level. Some separately stated activity fees, such as those for water aerobics, however, could be deductible if prescribed by a doctor.

Maternity clothes. Clothing for work is only deductible if the sole purpose of the clothing/uniform is clearly for business purposes (think branded uniforms). It’s not deductible if you could wear the clothes outside of your workplace even if you don’t. That goes for maternity clothes, too. If you have to stock up on maternity clothes – including suits for court or coats for outdoor use – to get you through your pregnancy, that cost is not deductible even if you don’t plan to wear them again.

Driver’s license fees. While state and local taxes are deductible, including certain personal and real property taxes, associated costs and fees may not be. That includes your driver’s license fees and car inspection fees. Similarly, you can’t deduct the cost of licensing dogs, cats or other animals – even if they’re considered property in the state where you live.

Plastic surgery. You cannot deduct the cost of surgeries to simply look or feel better; the procedure must be a treatment for a specific disease diagnosed by a physician. But plastic surgery for non-medical purposes (including breast augmentation surgery for cosmetic reasons) is never a deductible expense.

Political contributions. You cannot deduct contributions made to a political candidate, a campaign committee, or a newsletter fund. And don’t try to be tricky: you can’t get around the rules by claiming it’s for business or other purposes. The IRS clearly states that advertisements in convention bulletins and admissions to dinners or programs that benefit a political party or political candidate are not deductible.

Commuting expenses. You cannot deduct the costs of getting to and from work, no matter if you take a bus, trolley, subway, taxi, or drive your own car. Commuting expenses to and from your regular place of work (as opposed to travel for work) are never deductible.

Private school. Private school expenses (including tuition) are not deductible. However, expenses for a child in nursery school, preschool, or similar programs for children below the level of kindergarten are deductible for purposes of the child care tax credit if they otherwise qualify as child care. The IRS takes the position in Pub 503 (downloads as a pdf) and in the Regs that expenses to attend private or parochial kindergarten or higher grades are not deductible (I happen to think that’s not always the case).

Babysitting. Occasional babysitting so that you can catch a movie that isn’t animated (!) or enjoy a nice meal may be a much-needed expense, but it’s still considered personal in nature and not deductible. This should be distinguished from childcare that allows you to work or look for work: those expenses may be count towards the child and dependent care credit.

Vitamins. For federal income tax purposes, you can only deduct qualifying medical expenses: qualifying medical expenses include the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. That includes any medicine or drug which requires a prescription of a physician for legal use. Over the counter meds – even if you need them – don’t count unless prescribed by a doctor (like gym memberships, the prescription is required, a mere mention or suggestion isn’t sufficient).

Child support. Child support is tax neutral. It is neither tax deductible to the payor nor taxable to the recipient. Spousal support, on the other hand, is both tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the recipient. You don’t get to choose which is which at tax time: that’s up to the judge or it must be memorialized in agreement.

 

It’s worth mentioning again that some taxpayers can claim certain of these deductions under specific circumstances (home offices, diagnosed medical conditions, special occupations) but these deductions are off-limits for your average taxpayer. If you think they might apply to you – or you’re not sure – it’s always best to consult with your tax professional.

–from Kelly Phillips Erb via Forbes.com. For more info go to 12 Expenses That Aren’t Tax Deductions For Most Taxpayers.

Succession Planning: The Talk You Need to Have – AICPA Insights

According to the 2013 Private Companies Practice Section CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, succession planning is among the top five concerns for four out of five firm sizes. The 2012 PCPS Succession Survey, however, shows that only 46% of multi-owner firms have a written succession plan in place. A mere 6% of sole practitioners have a Practice Continuation Agreement with another firm.

These numbers are concerning, and the consequences are real. As CPAs, we know it’s easier (and wiser) to plan for tomorrow before tomorrow comes. In the absence of a formal succession plan, your firm’s transition could lead to confusion and oversights, resulting in the loss of time, money and clients. Firms, and especially their clients, need new leaders and a clear plan to ensure uninterrupted delivery of critical services.

Fortunately, it’s not too late. Consider these three aspects of succession planning, and help ensure your firm’s longevity:

(read more at:  Succession Planning: The Talk You Need to Have – AICPA Insights.

Impact of Sec. 1411 on S Corporations and Their Shareholders

One of the more significant changes to the tax landscape in recent years is the new 3.8% tax on net investment income under Sec. 1411. This tax, which was further clarified in recently finalized regulations, will affect many entities and taxpayers including S corporations and their shareholders. The following discussion outlines noteworthy aspects of these rules pertaining to S corporations and their owners.

In General

Effective for tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2013, Sec. 1411 imposes a tax of 3.8% on the lesser of (1) an individual’s net investment income or (2) the excess (if any) of the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income over certain thresholds. Sec. 1411(c) defines net investment income as the sum of:

  1. Gross income from interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, and rents (other than such items that are derived in the ordinary course of a trade or business that is not a passive activity with respect to the taxpayer or trade or business of trading in financial instruments or commodities);
  2. Gross income from passive activities under Sec. 469 with respect to the taxpayer or from the trade or business of trading in financial instruments or commodities; and
  3. Net gain attributable to the disposition of property other than property held in a trade or business that is not a passive activity with respect to the taxpayer or a trade or business of trading in financial instruments or commodities.

Net investment income is reduced by certain allowable expenses, as detailed in Regs. Sec. 1.1411-4(f).

Issued on Dec. 2, 2013, the final regulations under Sec. 1411 (T.D. 9644) generally apply to tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2013. While the final regulations clarify many areas of uncertainty under the prior proposed regulations, several issues remain for S corporations and their shareholders to consider with respect to Sec. 1411.

Impact of Sec. 1411 on S Corporations and Their Shareholders.