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Blog Archive August 2019



Understanding the Gift Tax

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Have you ever questioned how much you can give or receive without paying taxes? If you’ve been fortunate enough to receive a check or cash gift from a relative, what is the limit before needing to claim it on your tax return? For the opposite scenario, if you are lucky enough to be wealthy and generous enough to give a cash gift, what is the maximum you can offer without paying taxes?

Rest assured that unless the gift amounts to over $15,000, the gift does not need to be reported and taxes do not need to be paid. Furthermore, recipients do not ever pay the gift tax. The threshold at which the gift tax is enforced for givers is purposely high so as to avoid taxes being paid for gifts. It may still come into play of course if the giver is extremely wealthy and the gifts are very generous.

Let us first discern what is considered a gift. The gift tax is a federal tax. A gift is considered anything of value given to someone else, such as cash, property, the use of property, etc., without the exchange of anything in return. A gift may also be considered an item sold for less than it’s worth. For instance, if an expensive watch is sold to a friend for $5,000 less than it is worth, that would be considered a gift.

As of 2019, a taxpayer could gift up to $15,000 per year, per person without having to pay the gift tax. Therefore one person could give several gifts to several different people, but as long as each person’s total gifts do not exceed $15,000, the gift tax is avoidable. From a general standpoint, the limitations and guidelines established are generous enough that they do not affect most people’s typical gifting habits and customs.

There are a few gift exceptions that the IRS has recognized as never being taxable. They are as follows:
  • Charitable Gifts
  • Gifts between spouses
  • Political Donations
  • Educational or Medical Gifts 

The gifts for education or medical reasons must be donated directly to the institution in order not to be taxed. For example, if a relative were attending a university and in support of that you wanted to donate to that university, the donation would have to be made directly to the school. If it exceeded $15,000 and was made to the student, a gift tax would be applied. Also keep in mind that a charitable gift can be claimed as a deduction on your income tax return.

In summary, to avoid the gift tax, avoid giving gifts to any individual person that exceeds $15,000 per year. Remember that once a child is old enough to no longer be a dependent, they are considered an individual and if a parent exceeds the $15,000 per person per year limit in gifts the tax applies. Of course, each parent can gift up to $15,000 if they choose to do so, therefore giving a total of $30,000 per year. This is referred to as gift-splitting.

The gift tax exists to prevent people from avoiding the federal estate tax by giving away all of their money before they die. The estate tax, which can be as high as 40%, is the taxation of an individual’s assets after they die. Many choose to gift portions of their estate prior to their passing to avoid these excessive estate taxes. This is a manner usually utilized by individuals with wealth to pass their assets to their heirs while avoiding higher taxes after death.


The 10 Best U.S. States to Live Based on Cost of Living

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The United States offers a variety of landscapes and living environments. When choosing the perfect location to settle down, many factors should be taken into consideration such as proximity to family and work, climate and preference for urban or rural settings. Although all of these elements are important, the most crucial decision maker is usually budget. Affordability of an area is the most relevant concern of most homeowners and renters when searching for a home.Popular cities like New York and Chicago that have more to offer such as trendy restaurants, theatres and attractions will have the highest cost of living. The perks and convenience of having so many amenities outweighs the higher price per square foot for some, but many prefer the higher bang for their buck that can be obtained for a drive to the suburbs.

U.S. News and ranked the best U.S. states to live based upon cost of living and housing affordability. The cost of living encompasses the expense of common goods and services. As a point of reference, we’ll compare the cost of a half-gallon of milk. Housing affordability compares the cost of housing for a 2,400 square foot, 4 bedroom home compared to the median family income.

10. Pennsylvania – The largest producer of canned fruit and vegetables of all 50 states, Pennsylvania is know as the “Snack Food Capital of the World” because their snack and confectionary sales total $5 billion per year.

Average Home Price: $354,855          Cost of Milk: $1.92


9. Kansas – Even though Kansas has an impressive $20 Billion dollar agriculture industry, their main industries are actually focused on manufacturing, bioscience, wind energy, renewable fuels and bioenergy.

Average Home Price: $280,734          Cost of Milk: $1.42

8. West Virginia – Known as The Mountain State, West Virginia offers a range of outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, skiing and whitewater rafting. West Virginia produces the majority of the coal used throughout the United States.

Average Home Price: $310,633          Cost of Milk: $1.53

7. Missouri – Health care and professional services are Missouri’s dominating industries aside from the largest beer-producing plant in the country, which is located there, Anheuser-Busch.

Average Home Price: $247,085          Cost of Milk: $2.11

6. Nebraska – “The Cornhusker State” counts both corn and beef as its largest product. Cattle outnumber humans 3 to 1 with about 19,000 cattle ranches in the state.

Average Home Price: $297,899          Cost of Milk: $2.01

5. Michigan - Best known for Detroit based Ford Motor Company, established in 1903, the auto industry is still a huge part of the state’s main revenue. Michigan’s ideal location on Lake Erie has allowed it to become a main hub for Great Lakes Shipping. Michigan’s shoreline also has the advantage of bordering four of the five Great Lakes, the longest freshwater coastline of any state, attracting a great deal of tourism.

Average Home Price: $273,390          Cost of Milk: $1.57

4. Oklahoma – Oil and natural gas are the main components of Oklahoma’s economy. As part of “Tornado Alley” Oklahoma is one of the states struck most often by tornadoes.

Average Home Price: $270,787          Cost of Milk: $1.94

3. Indiana – After becoming a major contributor to the automobile industry in the early 20th century, Indiana’s capital became the host of the most popular car race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. Aside from cars, Indiana also produces 36 million tons of coal per year.

Average Home Price: $277,456          Cost of Milk: $1.32

2. Ohio – Ohio is known for the Ohio Oil Rush of the 1960s, when the state produced more oil than any other state in the country and contributed to John D. Rockefeller’s massive wealth. Ohio has also been the origin of seven U.S. presidents. Several Fortune 500 companies are headquartered there, such as Kroger, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, Cardinal Health and others.

Average Home Price: $262,426          Cost of Milk: $1.45

1. Iowa – A farm state, Iowa is famous for the caucuses that take place there every four years when a new president is up for election. Food processing is the Hawkeye State’s largest industry and Iowa is home to the nation’s largest cereal mill and popcorn processing plant.

Average Home Price: $314,988          Cost of Milk: $2.03


How an Amateur Can Profit from the Stock Market

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Have you been contemplating investing in the stock market but have little or no knowledge of how it works? Basically, when buying stocks, you are purchasing a small portion of a company. Initially, years ago, most people purchased stock through a stockbroker. Today, individuals can buy and sell stocks online through their chosen brokerage firm. Investing can be an overwhelming and complicated process but the best way to tackle your apprehensions is to dive in. Start simple with long-term, low risk investments. The risky and latest trending stocks are not ideal for someone just starting out and unfamiliar with the way the stock market operates. The most likely result will be unfavorable and leave you unwilling to try your hand at investing again.

Many postpone experimenting with investing for financial reasons. They feel as if they need a nest egg before they can begin. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You can become an investor with as little money as you decide is reasonable, even $100. The point is to start. The sooner you start, the more time you’ll have for your funds to have the potential to grow and prosper. If you are investing a minimum amount, consider these tips to make the best use of your funds:

Dividend Stock – Companies that are consistent in their earnings offer dividends to their stockholders. As long as you own at least one share, you will receive a dividend, which you will have the option to reinvest to purchase more stock.

Short-term Cash Investments – Certificate of Deposits (CDs) offer market risk protection for your funds while securing it from being liquidated. Your money must be deposited for a set amount of time, the longer the, period the higher the return.

Peer–to-Peer Lending – Automated programs are offered through companies such as Lending Club that allow individuals to invest as little as $25 at higher rates of return. This diversifies your risk and lowers your cost of investing.

Index Funds – Some brokerage firms such as Charles Schwab wave a minimum balance for investments into index funds. This allows you to use minimum funds to invest in a variety of stocks.

Individual Stocks – Purchasing even one stock can make you a profit. Using a discount broker can keep costs down and investing in stocks rather than EFTs can allow you to profit than the market average.

Invest in your 401K – Investing even a small amount regularly from your paycheck will add up to a great deal over time, especially if your employer matches contributions. Always take advantage of a full employer match whenever possible. Be sure to select an asset allocation so that the funds are invested rather than sitting in a money market fund. Having your savings in cash will not increase their potential as much as being invested.

When you do decide to invest, do your research. Often, people get caught up in the excitement of a tip they hear from a friend or relative and invest spontaneously. If you know absolutely nothing and are extremely hesitant to invest, consider a target date fund, which distributes your money based on when you expect to retire. This is an easy, simple way to begin that will not be difficult to manage.

Overall, investing can be as simple as you need it to be. The important concepts to remember are to start as early as possible, no matter how minimal your initial investment may be and to remain invested.


Facilitating the Home Buying Process

Happy husband and wife in front of their new home.

Are you considering buying a home? Whether it is your first home purchase or your third, there are several considerations to take into account before finalizing such a major decision. First and foremost, a budget must be determined.

As a general rule of thumb, your target limit should be two and a half times your gross annual salary. For example, if your salary is $200,000, your budget should be no higher than $500,000. That number must now be adjusted to accommodate any other large expenses you may have such as car payments and credit card debt. Current mortgage rates, insurance and real estate costs must also be taken into consideration. Free calculators are available online that offer mortgage estimates based on all of these factors.

Your primary housing expenses should never exceed 28% of your income. This will be considered when applying for your loan. Your rate will also depend upon the amount you apply towards a down payment and your credit score. If you are able to apply at least 20% of the total home purchase price, your rate will be the best available and you will avoid paying mortgage insurance.

Consider approaching a mortgage limit based upon the monthly payment rather than the total amount. Evaluate the dollar amount you feel comfortable spending per month that will not strain your current obligations. Use that amount to work with your lender to determine the total amount you would like to spend on a home. Your lender may suggest you can spend a higher amount but only commit to what feels comfortable to you. The responsibility will be on your shoulders alone for years to come.

Once you’ve decided to purchase a home and finalized a dollar amount, what is the best way to find your dream home? In today’s real estate market most people begin their search online. There are so many websites that offer all of the information you need at your fingertips, therefore, it’s a great place to start. Properties can be filtered by price range, square footage and area. even specifies school districts and Trulia allows the user to set time limits for work commutes. Accounts can be created to save homes that you are considering and notifications can be arranged so users are alerted when new homes are added that meet the specifications they desired. Foreclosures can even be searched for on Fannie Mae’s HomePath and Freddie Mac HomeSteps websites 20 days prior to the properties being available to real estate investors.

Of course, attending an open house is still a great option as well.  The type of information you can gather at an open house cannot be found online. For instance, by attending at the end of the open house and checking the attendance sheet, you can surmise the amount of interest in the home by the amount of the people that attended. Typically, neighbors attend open houses out of curiosity, which is a great way to get a feel for the locals and the community. An open house is also a great way to see the house in a way carefully staged pictures online never would. This is a great opportunity to see if the closets are well kept, if the water pressure is satisfactory and if the basement smells like mildew. Keep in mind that the agent running the open house is hired by the seller and therefore will offer all information in a positive manner. Do not offer too much of your own info or be too enthusiastic if you are seriously interested in purchasing the home. If you have your own agent, give the listing agent the name of your agent when you arrive at the open house and have your agent do all of the negotiating and communicating.
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