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Wednesday, December 20, 2017
It’s not surprising that identity thieves and con artists love the holidays. More shoppers, more deals and more buying motivation makes the season rife with opportunities to steal. But you don’t have to let the holiday spirit cloud your shopping safety judgment.
Here are a few tips to avoid fraud, whether you’re shopping online or at your local mall:
- Shop on websites you trust. During the holidays, your e-mail inbox may be filled with unsolicited messages urging you to “click here.” Don’t. Scammers set up websites that mimic legitimate stores. They want your personal information so they can steal from you. Stick to reputable stores and sites and you’ll be better off.
- Background-check your choice charities. Many legitimate church groups and nonprofit organizations engage in fundraising activities during the holidays. If you’re confident that the group is above-board, go ahead and donate. But if something seems off – hold on to your money.
- Be attentive — especially at the mall. Large shopping centers offer scammers ample opportunities to steal. Don’t be fooled by someone selling a typically expensive product for way less money than it’s worth. Make sure you keep track of your purse, wallet and shopping bags. And be aware of your surroundings when you leave the mall. If you don’t feel completely safe walking alone through a dark parking lot, ask a security guard to escort you.
- Purchase gift cards wisely. These little pieces of plastic can be great stocking stuffers, but they’re also prime targets for crooks. Scammers have been known to copy numbers from gift cards hanging in store displays. They then call a toll-free number to learn when the card is activated and use the card number to make purchases. One way to avoid this is to buy from retailers who keep gift cards behind the checkout register.
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Monday, December 11, 2017
Preschoolers and teenagers obviously have different financial concerns and abilities. But there are a few basic lessons that all children should learn by the time they enter college or start a career:
- Money = choices. Teach your child how to choose between spending and saving, and how to do both intelligently. A regular allowance will help your child gain real-world financial experience.
- Money requires planning. At about age 9 or 10, start to show your child how to develop a simple spending plan. In later years, demonstrate how to plan for larger expenditures.
- Responsibility comes with money. Inevitably, your child is going to make some money mistakes. Try to avoid criticism, but don’t automatically fix every problem and let your child off the hook.
- Good money management skills are priceless. Specific lessons might range from how to compare interest rates on savings accounts, to the pros and cons of mutual fund investing. But there should be one common element to all of your teaching in this area: money doesn’t take care of itself.
The way you handle your money may be the most powerful lesson of all for your children. For your child’s sake, as well as your own financial wellbeing, it’s important to practice what you preach.
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Monday, December 4, 2017
Giving on a yearly basis could trim both your estate and income taxes. First, there’s the annual exclusion for gifts. Currently, you can give $14,000 annually to any number of recipients without paying federal gift tax. Married couples can double this amount by gift-splitting – a gift of $28,000 from one spouse is treated as if it came half from each.
Why giving is a two-way street
Gifts do more than help out children who need the money. They also reduce your estate so your estate will pay less estate tax upon your death. Apart from annual gift giving, you can currently transfer (during your lifetime or through your estate) a total of $5.49 million with no estate or gift tax liability. On amounts above this threshold, you or your estate will be faced with taxes at the current top rate of 40 percent. So a consistent program of annual gift giving might create substantial tax savings.
Note that gifts to individuals do not entitle you to an income tax deduction. A gift isn’t a charitable contribution. Conversely, a gift doesn’t constitute taxable income to the recipient. Gifts of income-producing property may, however, reduce your taxable income. Once you’ve given the property away, the recipient (not you) receives the income it produces and pays any income tax due on it.
Giving can be easy
One advantage to annual gift giving is that it is relatively simple to do, especially if you’re giving away cash. Another advantage is flexibility. You’re not locked into anything; you can see how much you can afford to give away each year. You can give away anything – cash, stock, art, real estate, etc. Valuation is the fair market value on the date of the gift. Subsequent appreciation, if any, belongs to the recipient’s estate (not yours).
Before you give away assets, be sure you will not need them yourself to provide income in later years. Consider the impact inflation will have on your resources.
Proper planning is essential in this area; get professional assistance before you do any gift giving. Contact our office if we can help.
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