Category Archives: financial

The pros and cons of becoming a rideshare driver


With so many possible side hustles available in today’s gig economy, how do you decide which to choose?

Today, I want to make the case that driving with for a rideshare company is a plausible choice for several reasons. But there are also some major distractions that you should be aware of before signing up.

My name is Josh Overmyer. I’ve completed over 2900 rides as an Uber/UberEats driver-partner since 2014. I know what you’re thinking: “That’s a lot of rides!” It is. And I’ve learned a lot in that time.

Here are my biggest takeaways from four years as a rideshare driver.

The Pros of Becoming a Rideshare Driver

Here’s the good news. You likely already have the knowledge and equipment necessary to be a rideshare driver!

Josh Overmyer's Uber ProfileAll of these services are app-based and run on a smartphone, by drivers like you who successfully navigate their communities daily. You probably already know where the popular hang-outs are located, how to get around on your city’s streets, and maybe even alternate routes when roads are backed up.

The particulars of the vehicle will change depending on which service you’re signing up to drive for. But for passenger trips, you usually need a four-door vehicle, while food/parcel delivery may be possible with a two- or three-door car. (Drivers are subject to a criminal background check and a driving record check.)

As with any independent contractor gig, the amount and timing of the hours you drive are completely up to you, within regulations.

  • Some people will be comfortable driving the late-night crowd, which can be lucrative for rideshare drivers because of increased demand when passengers may have been out drinking.
  • Other drivers may stick to daytime hours and handle a more business-like crowd of people heading to/from jobs, doctor appointments, church, the grocery or the airport. Since your pay will generally be influenced by the number of trips you complete, when you need to make more money, you’ll probably want to drive more hours.

Some of the networks now allow the driver to set a destination and get trip requests heading in the same general direction. This helps you to maximize both your time and mileage driven for the maximum possible gain, since you’d be driving those miles with or without a rideshare app running on your phone, such as your daily commute or when you are running errands.

Speaking of maximizing time and costs, driving rideshare could allow you to turn certain everyday life expenses into qualified business expenses.

As I mentioned above, you’ll need a smartphone with a data plan, which you probably already have. Now it could be a deductible business expense! Miles driven or other driving expenses could be deductible as well, but you’ll need to keep meticulous records.

The Cons of Becoming a Rideshare Driver

There are some downsides to becoming a rideshare driver.

  • Simply driving with a rideshare company means extra wear and tear on your vehicle. Every additional mile you drive is one less mile that your car will last over the long-term.
  • Extra driving means more fuel costs, more wear and tear of consumables such as tires & brakes, and you’ll need more frequent oil changes.
  • As a result of all these extra costs and wear on your vehicle, you may face the additional cost of replacing your vehicle sooner than you had previously planned.

A good way to think about rideshare is that you are force-depreciating your current vehicle, which is to say you are extracting value out of your current vehicle to hopefully put money away for your next replacement vehicle.

Here’s another thing to consider: inviting total strangers into your personal vehicle.

Josh Overmyer as Uber driverFrom my experience, most passengers will be normal, everyday people just going about their lives: trips to school or work, to the grocery store, church, or to the airport (or beach in my community). But they are still complete strangers, getting into your personal space, and often strangely sitting right behind you, the driver. It can be creepy!

Even worse are the strangers getting into your car who are not on their best behavior. Some are simply loud and obnoxious, and you get used to that from the young twenty-somethings. Some have spent hours at a cigar bar and reek of cigar smoke that permeates your car’s interior and the smell can linger for days.

Worse yet are the drunks who can’t handle their liquor; sometimes you’ll be lucky and they’ll give you enough warning to pull over to the side of the road — but other times they’ll make a mess in your car.

You might have read the last two paragraphs and decided that you don’t want to deal with unruly passengers but would still like to run a side business doing food or parcel delivery.

I’ve delivered some food orders with Uber Eats, but I ended up with very smelly foods that would stink up my car just before a typical passenger Uber trip, and I had orders that included ice cream or milkshakes that weren’t sealed properly by the restaurant, resulting in a sticky mess.

I had a trip that took me upwards of 40 minutes to complete from the time of food pickup to delivery because the restaurant didn’t have the food ready and the recipient’s phone was dead, and for my troubles I made $6…before costs.

Also remember that you’re purposely placing yourself in traffic, which we all hate.

Not only do you sit there idling, wasting time and fuel, but it drives up your blood pressure and stress. You’re also more likely to get involved in a fender-bender when there are more vehicles on the road, and when you are rushing to a pickup or trying to find a convenient parking spot near the food establishment, so you don’t waste too much time circling the block.

Even when you aren’t in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you may experience eye strain from constantly searching for obscure addresses or watching for pedestrians in congested areas such as downtown, at concert venue, or in entertainment districts. Combined with low-light situations, this makes you more likely to end up in an accident.

The Bottom Line

That’s a long list of pros and cons. After all of that — and after four years of driving rideshare — what’s my overall impression of this side hustle?

Rideshare is a pretty easy gig to get started in — but it won’t make you rich, despite what the radio and TV commercials were telling us all a few years ago. After all operational costs are considered, almost anything else you could think of trying would pay more!

That said, rideshare driving could be a good fit for someone in a temporary cash crunch and who isn’t worried about the longer-term impacts to their transportation budget.

As for me, I stopped driving rideshare after I got a new higher-paying day job last year. If you’d like to read more about the ups and downs of my 2,900+ trips as an Uber/UberEats driver-partner, check out the three-part series about my first side hustle, and why I ultimately decided to quit.

Author: Josh Overmyer

Josh is a single guy is his mid-30s and a veteran of rideshare, with 2,882 Uber and UberSelect trips completed since 2014. He lives and works in Southwest Florida, and writes about personal finance, travel hacking and his investing failures at joshovermyer.com.



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8 Things That You Probably Didn’t Realize Are Taxable


Photo by Agenturfotografin / Shutterstock.com

Everyone knows that wages are taxed by the federal government, but Uncle Sam has a far-reaching definition of “taxable income.”

It covers numerous types of earnings that many people don’t realize are subject to federal income taxes.

What follows are several examples of taxable income that may come as a surprise.

1. Social Security retirement benefits

Generally, people pay federal income taxes on their benefits if they have other substantial income — such as wages, interest or dividends — as we detail in “5 Ways to Avoid Paying Taxes on Your Social Security Benefits.”

If Social Security benefits are your sole source of retirement income, or you have little income in addition to your benefits, your benefits likely would not be subject to federal income taxes.

As of January, the average monthly benefit for retired workers was about $1,464 — for a total of $17,568 per year. That’s well below the taxable threshold for individual tax-return filers — whose benefits are taxable only if what the Social Security Administration calls their “combined income” is between $25,000 and $34,000.

2. Alaska Permanent Fund dividends

When we named Anchorage, Alaska, among the best domestic retirement destinations of the year, we mentioned the Alaska Permanent Fund.

“The 25 Best Places in the U.S. to Retire in 2019” explains:

“Yes, it may be cold, and, yes, it may be expensive. But once you’ve been a resident for a year, you may be entitled to receive the annual dividend from the oil-revenue-supported Alaska Permanent Fund. In 2018, the fund paid $1,600 per person. However, that’s not the only reason to retire to Anchorage.”

But dividends for adults, and sometimes dividends for children, are subject to federal income taxes, notes the Alaska Department of Revenue.

Fail to report Alaska Permanent Fund dividends on your federal tax return, and you may be hit with a negligence penalty or other sanctions, the state agency warns.

3. Bribes

The IRS expects people to report income from bribes on their tax returns.

“If you receive a bribe, include it in your income,” the federal agency plainly states in Publication 17.

4. Illegal activities

Even criminals are expected to report their income — including income from illegal activities, such as earnings from selling illegal drugs.

Don’t scoff at the thought. Remember, notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone was imprisoned for tax evasion.

5. Alimony

For divorce and separation agreements executed before 2019, alimony is generally deductible by the payer, and the recipient generally must report it as income.

This changes for agreements executed after Dec. 31, 2018, though, notes H&R Block. Per changes to the tax code from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, alimony payers cannot deduct payments, and alimony recipients will not count payments as income.

6. Canceled debts

If you were fortunate enough to convince someone to cancel a debt in 2018, you probably felt a sense of relief. The problem is that you may not be entirely off the hook.

Generally, if a debt is forgiven, unless it’s intended as a gift, the IRS expects you to count the canceled amount as income when you file your federal taxes.

7. Gambling winnings

The euphoria you feel when you win at gambling may quickly fade once you realize that the IRS expects you to pay taxes on your windfall.

And this isn’t only about what happens in casinos. Winnings from lotteries and raffles also must be reported to the IRS as income.

You can, however, use gambling losses that occurred during the same year as your winnings to offset your tax burden.

8. Bartering

You cannot avoid paying taxes by accepting goods or services instead of cash for your work. Generally, you must include the fair market value of those goods or services in your income.

An example from the IRS:

“You’re a self-employed attorney who performs legal services for a client, a small corporation. The corporation gives you shares of its stock as payment for your services. You must include the fair market value of the shares in your income on Schedule C (Form 1040) or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040) in the year you receive them.”

How many of these things did you realize were taxable? Let us know by commenting below or on our Facebook page.



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Current CD Rates: March 2019


Interest rates on certificates of deposit have been rising, but that won’t last forever. Most CDs, unlike regular savings accounts, have fixed rates, so you can lock in a high rate before a bank lowers its CD offerings.

Here’s a look at current CD rates at some online banks and credit unions.

» Want to compare more CDs? Check out our best CD rates

CURRENT CD RATES: 6-month

Citizens Access 2.35% APY
TIAA Bank 2.25% APY
Vio Bank 2.00% APY
» See more best 6-month CD rates

CURRENT CD RATES: 1-year

Ally Bank 2.75% APY
Capital One 360 2.70% APY
PurePoint 2.80% APY
» See more best 1-year CD rates

CURRENT CD RATES: 3-year

Barclays 2.85% APY
Connexus Credit Union 3.00% APY
Synchrony 2.90% APY
» See more best 3-year CD rates

CURRENT CD RATES: 5-YEAR

Alliant Credit Union 3.05% APY
Citizens Access 3.15% APY
Marcus by Goldman Sachs 3.10% APY
» See more best 5-year CD rates



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Free eBook: Get More From Your Money


March 16, 2019 | Meg


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This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Do you need some encouragement or inspiration to stick to your budget or be more intentional with your finances each month? Download this FREE eBook!

Get more from your money ebook

Right now you can download a FREE copy of this Get More From Your Money eBook. This was put together by over 30 frugality and finance bloggers!

In this eBook, those bloggers answers questions like:

  • What’s your #1 tip for saving money every week?
  • What are some tips for saving money on groceries, utilities, and household bills?
  • What are some date night ideas or fun family activities you can do on a budget?
  • What if you feel like you’re already doing all the things? What can you try?
  • What would you say to encourage somebody living on a tight budget?

Go here to get your FREE copy of the Get More From Your Money eBook.


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21 Apps That Will Help You Save Money


If you’re a college student, the best part of your year is quickly approaching: spring break, baby!

Your goal? To have as much fun as you can.

But you know what can quickly put a damper on that fun? Worrying about money.

21 Apps That Help You Save Money on Spring Break

While you could always figure out a way to earn money during spring break, another strategy is to simply keep your costs as low as possible.

Put your money concerns aside, and save money on spring break with these apps.

Apps for Transportation

1. Hopper

Buy your flight now? Or wait? This old favorite takes the guessing game out of when to purchase tickets by analyzing billions of flights and telling you whether the price is likely to go up or down.

2. GasBuddy

Driving to your destination? Don’t leave home without this app. It lists the cost of gas at nearby stations so you can easily find the best deal.

(Want other options? Check out this list of apps that help you find cheap gas.)

3. Uber / 4. Lyft

Instead of paying for a taxi, get a safe (and cheaper) ride home with one of these services.

5. What3Words

Never get separated from your friends again.

When you’re in a new city with unfamiliar landmarks, it can be tough to describe where you are to your companions — especially if you’ve had a few drinks. This app aims to change that by dividing the world into 57 trillion 10-foot squares.

6. Parkmobile

In a big city or a beach town that’s littered with parking meters? Rather than digging up your quarters reserved for laundry, pay for your spot through this app.

7. Citymapper

You can save big by taking public transportation. However, that can get tricky — especially if you’re not used to it. Citymapper helps you plan trips from point A to point B the cheapest and most efficient way possible.

For accommodations, check out…

8. Airbnb

If you’re traveling with a group of friends, renting a house with Airbnb is both economical and fun. Check out these awesome places under $100 per night across the U.S.

And if your own place will be empty while you’re away, why not consider listing it on Airbnb and making some money while you’re partying?

9. Roomer

Want to book a hotel, but don’t want to pay hotel prices? Try Roomer. This innovative app allows you to book deeply-discounted hotel rooms from people who had to cancel their trips.

10. HotelTonight

If you’re really bad at planning ahead or find yourself in a pickle, book a hotel through HotelTonight. It promises last-minute deals for top-rated hotels.

11. Couchsurfing

If you’re down with staying on strangers’ couches, you can snag some awesome, free sleeping spaces. It’s a great way to meet other travelers and gain a local’s point of view.

For food and drink, check out…

12. Price Per Pint

One of the best ways to save money on food and drinks? Hitting up happy hour. But in an unfamiliar city, it’s hard to figure out where to go. Enter this app, which allows you to search by drink type, day, time and city for the lowest priced drink in your area..

13. Drizly

Because the bar can get expensive, you probably want to spend a few nights drinking at home with your friends. Use this app to compare prices at local stores and order booze for delivery.

14. Open Table / 15. Yelp

These two staples help you find nearby restaurants, peruse customer reviews and survey menus and prices.

For activities, check out…

16. TUN Student Discounts

Embrace your student status. Use this app to help you find all of the student discounts available in your destination.

17. Groupon

You probably subscribe to Groupon updates in your home city — but what about when you’re traveling? Though some of the discounts may only be available to local residents, you’re bound to find some great deals on tickets or activities in your destination.

For everything else, check out…

18. Whatsapp

If you’re traveling internationally, this app is a must. Don’t get slammed by exorbitant international data charges and keep track of your friends by using this app to text over WiFi.

19. Wifi Finder

You use a lot of data when you travel. Avoid going over your limit by connecting to wifi whenever possible; use this app to find hotspots near you. You can also find passwords, so you don’t have to ask your barista.

20. Cost Split

If you’re traveling in a group, figuring out who owes what can be a royal pain. This handy app does it for you, so nobody ends up unfairly paying more than their share. At the end of the trip, it’ll even email out a detailed report.

Then, check out these five money-sharing apps.

21. Noonlight

You can’t put a price on your safety. This app (formerly known as SafeTrek) has several features to give you (and your mom) peace of mind. Hold down the safety button until you’re safely where you need to be. When you get there, release the button and enter your pin. If you’re in danger, release — don’t enter your pin — and it’ll contact 911.

With a few downloads before you leave, you’re bound to enjoy your trip without breaking the bank. Appy Spring Break!

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.



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TaxSlayer.com Review 2018 – File Taxes for Free Online


TaxSlayer doesn’t blow competition like TurboTax and H&R Block out of the water, but it’s superior in several important ways. Most notably, it’s cheaper than many better-known alternatives. If cost is an important consideration in your choice of an online tax prep program, that’s a huge selling point.

TaxSlayer used to have an impressive free version that routinely made our list of the top free online tax preparation services. Sadly, that changed in the 2015 tax year, when TaxSlayer slimmed down the free plan, reducing its ability to handle complex tax situations. These days, it’s only suitable for filers who can complete their federal returns using IRS Form 1040-EZ.

Regardless of your selected plan, TaxSlayer is quite flexible. It allows you to complete the required forms and schedules with minimal guidance – or, if you prefer, with the help of a “wizard” that emulates more hands-on programs such as H&R Block and TurboTax. If you need help with some parts of your return, but not others, you can use the wizard only for those trickier sections.

Importantly, TaxSlayer one-ups many competitors’ accuracy guarantees, which often apply only to federal returns: If you’re hit with a federal or state penalty or interest charge attributable to a TaxSlayer software calculation error, TaxSlayer refunds it without limit.

That said, there are some devils in TaxSlayer’s details. It’s not ideal for filers who like the security of a robust customer service apparatus or the ability to switch to in-person preparation if they get hopelessly stuck. And, if you’re concerned about security issues, TaxSlayer has some unusual quirks that could give you pause. Regardless, this program is worth a closer look before you pull the trigger on a better-known option.

Pricing, Plans & Features

TaxSlayer offers five main tax preparation plans: Simply Free, Classic, Premium, Self-Employed, and Ultimate. It also provides a separate, totally-free Military package for active-duty filers, who must receive a W-2 from an EIN (employment identification number) related to the military or Department of Defense to qualify. The Military version is a no-cost version of the Classic package, with the primary difference being that it includes unlimited state returns for free.

As a new filer, you’ll choose your package when you begin the filing process. If you attempt to do something that isn’t supported by your current plan, you’re prompted to upgrade. Final pricing is set when you e-file and is subject to change without notice, so your initial quote might rise by the time you complete your return; plan accordingly.

For all packages, TaxSlayer’s system offers you a choice between a guided, interview-style wizard that walks you through the preparation process step-by-step, and a self-guided platform that lets you choose what forms and sections to complete and when. You can navigate back and forth between the wizard and the self-guided system at will, which is useful if you’re confident enough to fill out some sections on your own but feel you need assistance with others.

1. Simply Free

This plan provides your federal return and your first state return for free. Each subsequent state return, if necessary, costs $29.

Before the 2015 tax year, Simply Free (and its predecessor, Free Basic) was suitable for tax situations of virtually any complexity, including cases involving itemized deductions, capital gains or losses from property sales, and small business issues. However, it’s now only appropriate for Form 1040-EZ filers – generally, people who earn the vast majority of their income from regular employment. It’s not appropriate for freelancers, small business owners, solopreneurs, or those who earn foreign income.

Moreover, Simply Free lacks many of the support features and useful functions of higher-priced plans, so it may not be ideal for tax-filing novices or those who wish to complete their returns as quickly and smoothly as possible.

  • Prior-Year PDF Importing. This plan allows you to import prior-year tax returns from other tax prep programs, as long as they’re saved in PDF format. You can’t directly import prior-year information from another program, including TaxSlayer, with the Simply Free version, though you can keep your previous TaxSlayer return as a PDF.
  • Deduction Finder. This plan has a handy deduction guide (Deduction Finder) that follows along with your return and prompts you to enter all applicable deductions – a nice way to ensure you don’t miss any opportunities to save.
  • Free Phone and Email Support. TaxSlayer provides complimentary phone and email support to all customers during tax season. Email support is definitely the preferred contact method – TaxSlayer has grown increasingly protective of its limited phone support resources in recent years. Expect a phone response during weekday business hours, with extended hours subject to change as tax season wears on. Emailed inquiries can take up to 48 to 72 hours to produce a response.

2. Classic

This plan costs $17 for your federal return and $29 for each state return. It includes support for all major IRS forms, meaning it’s appropriate for tax situations of all complexities – including investors, rental property owners, and small business owners. Classic also includes some features and functions that aren’t available with the Free package, making it ideal for filers in search of a fast, smooth tax preparation option.

Classic comes with all the features of the Free plan, plus:

  • Prior Year Importing and Comparisons. If you filed last year’s return with TaxSlayer, you can import data from it. As you fill out your return, the program shows you relevant entries, such as income, deductions, and credits, from the previous year, allowing you to judge the accuracy of your current-year entries.
  • W-2 Importing. You can import electronic W-2s in PDF format with this plan.
  • Maximum Refund Guarantee. This plan comes with a maximum refund guarantee. If you find that another tax prep company offers you a bigger refund (or smaller tax obligation) than TaxSlayer for an identical return, TaxSlayer agrees to refund all of your tax prep fees. You don’t have to file with the other company to get the refund – you just need to show the refund or obligation amount it offers.
  • Refund Advance Loans. TaxSlayer’s refund advance loan is available to Classic and Premium filers. You can get up to $1,000 as little as 48 hours after the IRS accepts your return, subject to limitations based on the size of your expected refund. TaxSlayer offers this service at no charge, and the principal doesn’t accrue interest.

3. Premium

This plan costs $37 for your federal return and $29 for each state return. Its support features are significantly more robust than lower-priced plans, so it’s definitely a solid choice for novice filers or those who lack the confidence or knowledge to navigate a complicated situation on their own.

Premium includes all the features of lower-priced plans, plus these:

  • Live Chat Support. Premium customers have access to an on-site live chat feature that’s operational at the height of tax season (early January through mid-April). You can access live chat during TaxSlayer’s posted phone support hours: 9am to 9pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm Saturday, and 12pm to 5pm Sunday (all times Eastern). These hours are subject to change as tax season advances.
  • Priority Phone and Email Support. Premium customers also get priority support for emailed and called-in queries. All communication from Premium customers gets pushed to the front of the line, ahead of communication from Free and Classic customers. This substantially reduces hold and wait times, though TaxSlayer doesn’t say by exactly how much.
  • Ask a Tax Professional. You can ask unlimited questions of TaxSlayer’s in-house tax professionals over phone or email. Since some questions may require research, phone responses may not be instantaneous (once you call in and ask your question, it can take one business day for a TaxSlayer employee to get back to you). Ask a Tax Professional is useful if you encounter an issue that can’t be resolved by TaxSlayer’s wizards or onsite help functions. However, TaxSlayer stresses that all information provided by its tax professionals is general in nature and should not be construed as tax advice.
  • Federal Audit Assistance for Free. TaxSlayer’s federal audit assistance package, which is claims is worth $29, is available to Premium customers at no extra charge for three years from your filing date. Keep in mind, it doesn’t include support for audits or other issues relating to Schedule C or K filings.

4. Self-Employed

This plan costs $47 for your federal return and $29 for each state return. Its support features are even more impressive than the Premium plan’s, with extra support and hand-holding for self-employed filers and solopreneurs.

Self-Employed includes everything in the Premium plan, plus:

  • Access to Self-employment Tax Professionals. TaxSlayer’s cohort of self-employment tax professionals are distinct from its mainline tax support team. If you have a question related to your Schedule C filing, or any uncertainty about the business tax deductions for which you might be eligible, you’ll find help here.
  • Self-employment Tax Tips and Reminders. This plan’s interface includes reminders and tips for self-employed filers; there’s no need to go hunting for answers in the help database.

5. Ultimate

This plan costs $59 for your federal return and $29 for each state return. It’s distinguished by front-of-the-line support for all tax and technical issues, plus full audit defense for three years from your filing date and identity theft protection.

Ultimate includes everything in the Self-Employed plan, plus:

  • Full Audit Defense for Three Years. If you’re audited by the IRS, you can count on full defense (including representation) for three years from the date of your audited return. This is more robust than TaxSlayer’s audit assistance package, which doesn’t offer total defense.
  • Identity Theft Protection and Restoration. This identity theft protection and restoration plan is a $39 value, according to TaxSlayer.
  • Front-of-the-line Support for All Issues. No matter what your issue is, your queries are always kicked to the front of the line.

Additional Features

TaxSlayer has some other features and functions available to all filers, regardless of plan level:

Pay Prep Fees With Your Refund

TaxSlayer allows all customers to deduct TaxSlayer’s prep fees, including those for state returns, from their federal refunds. The one-time fee is $25, subject to change.

Link to IRS Refund Tracker

You can access the IRS’s Refund Status system directly from TaxSlayer’s homepage, by clicking the “Where’s My Refund?” link in the bottom navigation bar.

Refund Calculator

TaxSlayer has a pretty elaborate on-site tax refund calculator that allows you to enter much of the information you’d include on your return – filing status, personal income, profit or loss from a business, standard or itemized deductions, and credits – and receive an estimate of your federal refund or the amount you owe. You can enter as much or as little as you like, but a complete accounting ensures a more accurate number.

You don’t have to be a member to use this calculator, so it’s a nice way to estimate your refund or tax obligation before you begin your return in earnest.

Mobile Apps and Functionality

TaxSlayer offers Android and iPhone apps for download. These are functionally identical to the regular website and also include value-added features, such as the on-site refund calculator. TaxSlayer’s regular website is already quite mobile-friendly, so while the app is a nice option to have, it’s not strictly necessary.

Knowledge Base

TaxSlayer has a well maintained, searchable knowledge base with a comprehensive range of help topics. There are also separate sections for issues related to the Affordable Care Act and recent federal tax legislation.

TaxPerks Referral Program

TaxSlayer has a refer-a-friend program (Tell-a-Friend) that lets you refer up to 10 new users by email after you file your return. Each referral earns TaxPerks points which are redeemable for gift cards. Program rules are subject to change, so check with TaxSlayer for exact terms and details.

Advantages

1. Paid Plans Are More Affordable Than Comparable Options at Some Competitors
In addition to a comprehensive Free plan, TaxSlayer users enjoy moderately priced paid plans. The most expensive option, Self-Employed, charges just $47 for federal filing and $29 per state. By contrast, H&R Block’s most expensive plan costs up to $104.99 for federal and $36.99 to $39.99 per state, depending when you file. TurboTax costs up to $199.99 for federal and up to $39.99 per state.

2. No Fees or Interest on Refund Advance Loans
Any TaxSlayer customer expecting a tax refund can apply for a refund advance loan with no upfront fees or ongoing interest charges. If you’re entitled to a federal refund, this is a big perk that can help you through a temporary cash crunch or provide some crucial breathing room to get through your post-holiday spending hangover.

3. Choice Between Guided Wizard and Self-Preparation
TaxSlayer has a flexible interface that lets you pick and choose how you complete your return. If you have a simple tax situation or can tackle a more complex return on your own, you can use TaxSlayer’s self-guided forms and schedules which provide minimal support and guidance.

If you’re not sure whether a particular situation applies to you – for example, whether you should itemize deductions or claim the standard deduction – you can take advantage of TaxSlayer’s guided wizard, which asks interview-style questions and provides explanations along the lines of hands-on tax prep programs like TurboTax and H&R Block. Regardless of your chosen plan level, you can move back and forth at will between the wizard and self-guided interface, and non-linearly between disparate sections of your return.

4. Powerful Refund Calculator
TaxSlayer’s refund calculator is quite comprehensive, almost like a mini-return that you don’t have to pay for. If you want to get a sense of how big your refund or obligation will be before completing and paying for your return, this feature is ideal. TaxSlayer’s calculator also guides you step-by-step through each relevant item, making it easier to use than the less user-friendly calculators issued by TurboTax and TaxAct.

5. Strong Mobile Resources
TaxSlayer’s website and prep program are among the most mobile-friendly I’ve seen, rivaling TurboTax’s for ease of use and navigation. Its mobile apps are also quite powerful, with most of the features and functions of the regular website. By contrast, TaxAct’s website and prep program aren’t as mobile-friendly.

6. Accuracy Guarantee Includes Federal and State Returns
TaxSlayer’s accuracy guarantee promises to reimburse filers for federal and state penalties and interest attributable to software calculation errors. That’s a significant advantage relative to some competing services, which only offer accuracy guarantees on federal returns.

Disadvantages

1. No Maximum Refund Guarantee With the Free Version
Maximum refund guarantees are industry-standard in the tax prep business, and TaxSlayer is no exception. However, its maximum refund guarantee, which offers to refund your prep fees if you get a bigger refund with the same entered data at a competing tax prep service, doesn’t extend to its Free version. This is a pretty glaring omission. By contrast, TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct offer maximum refund guarantees with all packages, including free versions.

2. No Audit Support for Lower-Priced Plans and Certain Filers
You need to upgrade past the Free plan to get free audit support, which includes an over-the-phone consultation with an in-house tax professional who can answer any questions about correspondence you receive from the IRS or state revenue agencies. For full audit defense, you’ll need to upgrade all the way to the Ultimate package, which costs $81 for your federal return and one state.

3. No Refund Bonus
TaxSlayer doesn’t offer a refund bonus – you always receive the exact value of your federal refund, no more. By contrast, H&R Block offers a refund bonus up to 5% of the total refund (depending on the package you use) when you agree to receive at least $100 of it as an Amazon gift card.

4. Customer Support Isn’t as Robust as Some Other Programs
TaxSlayer does have free phone and email support for everyone, but its customer support system has several disadvantages: restricted operating hours, lack of a user-curated help center (such as TurboTax’s AnswerXchange), and a two-tiered, priority support system that pushes Free and Classic customers to the back of the line when Premium customers need help. Also, online live chat is only available to Premium customers.

By contrast, H&R Block’s phone, email, and live chat support – including 24-hour support during the January-to-April tax season – is available to all customers, regardless of package. And, H&R Block has a network of more than 10,000 physical offices that offer in-person support, something TaxSlayer can’t provide.

5. Website Has Some Functionality Issues
No website is perfect, but TaxSlayer’s has enough errors and functionality issues to impact the user experience. Though the return preparation process is generally smooth for me, I have encountered “page not found” errors in TaxSlayer’s help database before. A couple years back, I was directed to a particularly egregious missing page from the site’s main navigation bar, though that particular issue appears to be fixed now. And I experienced several timeouts when navigating to TaxSlayer pages from search engine results pages.

I expect TaxSlayer to address these issues as time goes on, but their mere existence suggests the trains aren’t all running on time at TaxSlayer HQ. By contrast, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with H&R Block’s tax prep interface.

Final Word

Few people enjoy preparing and filing their taxes, but not everyone has the same relationship with the IRS, state revenue authorities, and their tax preparer. If your tax situation is simple and straightforward, your highest priorities are likely to be filling out your return as quickly and cheaply as possible, and maximizing your refund. If your situation is more complicated, avoiding an audit is likely to be a major concern.

Though TaxSlayer isn’t perfect, it offers opportunities for taxpayers at both ends of the spectrum, often at a lower cost than the competition. If you’ve been filing with a better-known program like H&R Block or TurboTax in the past, maybe it’s time to give TaxSlayer a closer look.



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Do Your Finances Spark Joy? Applying the ‘KonMari’ Method to Your Money


Take a look around your home at all of the “things” filling each room. Now ask yourself this question as you survey the crammed closets, cluttered guest bedroom, or overfilled garage: Do all of these things bring you joy?

Answer honestly. If you need a little help getting started with this sort of evaluation, pour yourself a cup of tea and cozy up with an episode of the Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.

Kondo, as you may know, is a Japanese organization guru and bestselling author who has risen to practically rock star status based on her expertise with tidying up one’s personal space (she’s even been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People).

Her approach to improving one’s home is known as the KonMari method, and it involves six specific steps: commit yourself to tidying up; imagine your ideal lifestyle; finish discarding first; tidy by category, not location; follow the right order; and ask yourself if each possession sparks joy.

“Beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go” explains the KonMari website.

The key phrase there is identifying what in your life speaks to your heart. The goal of the entire effort is to simplify your life by being mindful about what you own and, ultimately, becoming happier with your life.

Those in personal finance circles have taken notice of the KonMari method and are abuzz about how the same approach and principles can be applied to managing one’s money in a much more fruitful, streamlined, and fulfilling way. And it makes perfect sense. Because if you can declutter your house, can’t you similarly declutter your spending?

“Marie Kondo helps people decide what it is you value in your life,” explains Scott Henderson, an accredited financial counselor and founder of Simplifinances. “It’s about how you can use money to live a more joyful life and then cut out everything else.”

Want to give your finances the KonMari treatment? Here’s how to get started.

1. Be aware of where your money is going.

Perhaps the first step toward applying KonMari to your finances is to take stock of how your money is currently being spent, in the same way you might look around your house and review what’s already cluttering your space.

“Most of us don’t even know how we spend our money,” says Henderson. “By recognizing where you spend money, then you’re able to decide, ‘Do I value this?’ You may not be spending your money on things you actually value.”

Henderson suggests sitting down and reviewing at least two to three months of your spending in order to get a truly accurate picture of where all of your money goes. One month’s worth of bank statements may not be sufficient for this effort.

2. Now check your values around spending.

Are you spending money on things that truly matter to you? Does the way you spend and save your money align with your personal principles and life goals? What are your values and long-term goals? All of these questions are part of the process.

“Figure out what you want most, not what you want right now,” suggests Matt Dworetsky, president of New Jersey-based Dworetsky Financial. “If you want that international vacation, it won’t be hard to give up your daily coffee from Starbucks. But, if that $5 cup of coffee is really $5 worth of indulgence and enjoyment, you don’t have to give it up – there will just be a trade-off in other areas of your life.”

The key here is to identify your core values, and determine whether the way you spend money is supporting those values. For example, if spending quality time with your family is important to you, investments you make toward that end — like taking a job with more flexible hours or planning a family outing — are likely to bring you more joy than, say, buying a new watch for yourself. Other examples of core values might include treasured experiences with your family members or friends, supporting charities, living in an environmentally friendly manner, retiring early, or seeing the world.

“Life is not just about acquiring stuff, it’s about spending money and time on things that you value,” explained Henderson.

If a greater portion of your spending is shifted toward supporting these values and big picture goals, then ideally your money will bring you more joy. But that doesn’t simply mean donating more of your money to charity. It means being more thoughtful about your day to day spending as well.

Daniella Flores, the creator of iliketodabble.com, a site about creative money tips and side hustles, recently went through this exercise for herself and her wife, writing down everything in their daily financial life that sparks joy and supports their personal passions, while also identifying those things that do not.

“The things that come to mind that spark joy are our investments; our side hustles, like my blog; our savings; the cash-back apps that we use, because that becomes extra money to utilize; our travel credit cards and points to use for free travel,” said Flores. “Things that do not spark joy for us are the remaining student loan debt that I have. I’m only a couple thousand away from paying that back though, so I’m happy to say that will soon spark joy for me. Bills being past due doesn’t spark joy, which is why we have all our bills on auto pay.”

3. Clean up and de-clutter.

A core part of this process involves actually getting rid of those bills, subscriptions, or expenses that don’t bring you joy or support your values. (Think of this as the “Finish Discarding First” portion of the KonMari method.)

In other words, more than simply realizing what makes you happy and what does not, you must take action to adjust your financial picture and spending to align with your new roadmap.

“We can look at subscriptions we don’t use and cancel them,” said Agnes Kowalski, a wealth therapist. “We can look at services we’re paying for that we don’t enjoy. For example, if you resent having to pay so much for cable every month, cancel and just use Netflix.”

You can also stop buying things you can’t afford, adds Flores. The looming bills will just clutter your mind with stress. And while you’re at it, prioritize paying off debt.

“Start with the highest-interest debt first so it doesn’t continue to accumulate, thus cluttering your financial life even more,” says Flores.

Once you’ve got the ball rolling, keep it going, finding even more ways to declutter your finances and to reduce spending in areas that don’t make you happy.

“Don’t waste time on frustrating, expensive services like cell phone provider contracts and outrageous car insurance companies,” continues Flores. “Always research before signing up for anything. For instance, you don’t need to have Verizon or AT&T for good cell service. Try cheaper service providers like Republic Wireless or Mint Mobile. Another example is we switched our car insurance providers as soon as I found out I was paying much more than I should be paying. After we did our research, we saved ourselves $150 a month by switching.”

4. Tidy up by spending category.

In the same way Kondo suggests tidying up your home by category (clothes, books, papers, komono/miscellaneous, and sentimental items) you may also want to view your spending by categories going forward.

Those categories can be up to you, but ideally they’ll align with your values.

“Set up some sort of system that makes it easy to manage your money according to your values,” says Henderson. Track your expenses, and each time you spend money, assign it to a specific category.

While Henderson suggests categories such as housing, transportation, food, and entertainment, your own list could be tailored to include whatever is meaningful to you.

If that sounds a bit like a budget, well, you’re not far off; after all, a budget is simply meant to help you prioritize your spending — to make sure you have enough money for essential needs, but also the “wants” that are most important to you.

5. Access joy.

Ultimately, the goal of taking the KonMari method into the realm of personal finances is to make money more joyful and less stressful, because for so many of us, money is a significant source of stress and worry.

To further emphasize joy around your money, consider naming your bank accounts with descriptions tied to happier or more meaningful goals: “Savings for an awesome pool account or saving for that trip to Greece account,” suggests Kowalski.

But ultimately, sparking joy with your personal finances comes down to a fundamental shift in mindset, which is tied to a change in the way you use money in your life and the power it has in your world.

“Asking how your finances spark joy is all about shifting your mindset from ‘What can I afford?” to ‘What do I value?’” says Ahna Holloran, a personal finance coach for Fika Finance, who works to help people improve their lives and eliminate stress by taking control of their money. “When you do this, it becomes less about having to stick to a rigid budget, depriving yourself and feeling miserable, to being content with what you have the financial decisions you’re making.”

All of a sudden, says Holloran, you’re evaluating your purchase decisions based on what will really bring you joy over the long term, rather than simply living for the short-term rush.

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What is money for? An evening with Vicki Robin


Your Money or Your LifeWhen I was a boy, my heroes were athletes and astronauts. I dreamed of playing pro football one day. Or, better yet, walking on the moon.

As an adult, my heroes are more mundane. They’re the people who make personal finance accessible to average people. Long-time readers know that billionaire investor Warren Buffett is one of my heroes. So too is Dave Ramsey, who has helped countless people — including me — get out of debt.

But perhaps my biggest hero is an unassuming 73-year-old woman in cat-eye glasses who lives on Whidbey Island in Washington’s Puget Sound.

In 1992, Vicki Robin (and her partner, Joe Dominguez) published Your Money or Your Life, a book designed to help readers transform their relationship with money. In 2004, the book transformed my relationship with money. It rocked my world. It inspired me to seek financial independence, which the book defines as “no longer having to work for money”.

Fast-forward fifteen years.

Today, in 2019, I’m awe-struck to actually be exchanging email with Vicki Robin, discussing the past, present, and future of financial independence. And this week, when she came to Portland, I not only got to hear her speak in person, but also got to treat her to dinner.

Your Money or Your Life

Last night, Douglas Tsoi, founder of the Portland Underground Graduate School and the School of Financial Freedom, hosted a talk from Vicki Robin. A few dozen money nerds — including some GRS readers (Hi, Scott! Hi, Brandon!) — gathered to hear Robin’s thoughts about financial independence.

For the sake of clarity, I’ve taken some liberties in what follows. I haven’t changed any of Robin’s ideas, but I’ve shifted some topics and quotes in order to create a smoother, more coherent flow for the blog. I’ve treated Robin’s Q&A responses, for instance, as if they’re part of the main talk. A real journalist would be mortified. I am not a real journalist.

Some folks in the audience were unfamiliar with Your Money or Your Life, so Robin started by briefly recapping the book’s message.

The goal of Your Money or Your Life, Robin says, is to transform your relationship with money in order to liberate your most precious resource, time. The book’s nine-step program is meant to help readers track the flow of money and stuff in their lives, guided by both self-interest (“does it work for me?”) and higher values (“does it work for the world?”).

It’s natural that we act in our own self-interest. If we aren’t right with ourselves, it’s tough be of service to others. But Robin worries that too many people get stuck in the self-interest side of things and never move beyond that, never see how achieving financial independence gives them the freedom to leave a lasting, positive impression on the world.

Like me, she wants people to “live on purpose”.

Interlude
After Robin’s talk, a GRS reader named Brandon introduced himself to me. “Thanks for the work you do,” he said. “Especially what you share about mission and purpose.”

“Has that been useful for you?” I asked. “I feel it’s important, but sometimes I feel like I’m writing into a vacuum. I don’t know if it actually helps anybody.”

“Yes, absolutely,” Brandon said. “My wife and I have both done your personal mission statement exercise. It’s helped to give our lives direction. It’s very useful.”

A Story of Money

“In the western world, we live in a story of money,” Robin says. “On a personal level, this usually means that more is better. Whatever you have, a little bit more is better.” Our society is built around this narrative, which is pushed on us from all sides. (Even minimalism turns out to be about having more: “I have more less.”)

We’re all living this story together.

While the definition of financial independence in Your Money or Your Life is “no longer having to work for money”, Robin stresses that being FI isn’t about not working. Financial independence doesn’t mean leaving your job. It doesn’t mean seeking a life of idleness. Financial independence is about being independent from consumer culture, from the default ideology of the western world.

“There’s an ongoing campaign to convince people that they need more than they have. We’ve been persuaded we need more stuff. We’re constantly bombarded by messages of more.”

Robin isn’t immune to these messages. She recently considered buying a laptop case for when she travels.

“A useful question for me when I’m in the presence of something I must have is: Who wins if I buy this? Do I win? Or does somebody else win? Maybe I win a teeny bit by getting a computer case, but the company that sells it is the real winner.”

She smiled. “Besides, I’d probably just misplace the new case in my office. I’d be better off wrapping my computer in a towel!”

A New Story

Your Money or Your Life is meant to help readers see the world through different eyes. It’s meant to help people escape Plato’s Cave, to free themselves from the Matrix. When you reject the standard narrative, you’re able to define what’s valuable to you, what is enough for you.

“Moderating your consumption is resisting the dominant narrative,” Robin says. “It’s a sort of independence, a sort of freedom. It’s opting out of the idea that growth is good.”

When Robin and Dominguez wrote Your Money or Your Life, their aim was to help readers “liberate their life energy” so that they could use that energy to pursue what brings them (and the world around them) value.

“If everyone could do what they’re called to do, the world would be a better place,” Robin says.

Robin thinks it’s time for society to create a new shared narrative. She believes it’s time to set aside the story of money, to adopt a story that works toward the common good, not just the individual good.

How do we do this? She’s been thinking about this for years (and it’s the subject of her next book). Her advice reminds me of Action Girl’s guide to living, which I shared in 2006 when Get Rich Slowly was a baby blog.

In short:

  • Find others who are doing work of value. Work with them.
  • Help them bring forth something the makes life better for everybody.
  • Allow them to help you.

Financial independence isn’t an ultimate purpose. It’s a means to an end. It allows us to put ourselves in a position to contribute to society, to take care of others (children, elders, whomever).

What Is Money For?

Vicki RobinIn 1989, when they started writing the book, Robin and Dominguez had been teaching their financial freedom workshop for ten years. They’d seen that, on average, attendees were able to decrease their spending between 20% and 25%. What’s more, folks were happier. And they were consuming less.

When they decided to write Your Money or Your Life, they had two objectives.

  • They wanted to liberate people to be of service.
  • They wanted to liberate the planet from consumerism.

When Robin updated the book 25 years later, she felt discouraged. Instead of a reduction in consumerism, it seemed like the world had “gone further down the path of degradation”. Her goal with her revisions was to reach a new generation of readers.

As she worked on the new edition, she was pleased and humbled to discover that — unbeknownst to her — she’d helped inspire an entire movement: the FIRE movement. (FIRE is a clumsy acronym for Financial Independence and Early Retirement.)

But she was saddened to see that many of the folks pursuing financial independence were motivated purely by self-interest. They had no desire to be of service. They weren’t pursuing a higher aim.

“People are using FIRE as a way to escape something,” Robin says, “not as a way to pursue something bigger.” She wishes more folks would use financial independence as a platform to pursue large goals, to change their communities — and the world.

“What is freedom for?” she asked the audience last night. “What is FIRE for? Once money is no longer your story, what is your story? Who am I? What makes my life worth living? Who are my people?”

Life After Work

Robin says we don’t talk about these ideas as a society. We don’t talk about what a post-work “story” would look like. “If money is our religion,” Robin says, “then our jobs are the central rituals. Work is what we do from the time we’re born until the time we die.”

She believes we’re all meant for more than work. We want to apply our life energy to things that we think are valuable.

“We are born to contribute,” she says. We’re born to be useful, to be a meaningful part of our communities. “To say that work is only to get income is to befuddle the mind. I’ve left paid employment but I haven’t left work.”

Now, she works on improving herself and on improving society. “I work for the benefit of all every moment of my life.”

Robin spent some time talking about the difference between work and play. She says: “I aspire, as I do my work in the world, to do it with a spirit of play. To do it with a spirit of curiosity. To not make anybody an enemy. I think that’s something to aspire to.” I agree whole-heartedly!

Robin’s talk — and the Q&A that followed — was dense with information. I’ve only summarized the main points. For my own reference (and the reference of those who attended), here are are two interesting concepts that she referred to in passing:

Robin concluded her talk by sharing some of the new ideas she’s been exploring over the past few years. “What if we could have financial independence for everyone?” she asked. What would that look like? Is it even possible?

She’s still hashing out these ideas as she writes her next book.

Dinner with Vicki Robin

As much as I enjoyed Robin’s talk last night, I enjoyed taking her to Thai food on Monday even more.

Sometimes when we meet our heroes, we’re disappointed. I was not disappointed. I was impressed with Robin’s quick mind. I also liked how she’d ask questions without hesitation, trying to dig deeper into my motives and meaning.

For example, I shared how I struggle when I’m put in a position of authority. I don’t like being treated like a money expert because I don’t feel like a money expert. As a result, I’m reluctant to speak in front of large audiences. And I’m dragging my feet when it comes to setting up the Get Rich Slowly channel on YouTube.

On the other hand, I love meeting people one on one. I enjoy talking with readers about their financial situations, asking questions about their choices, trying to find solutions to their problems.

After listening for a few moments, Robin cut to the core: “You’re preferred mode is relational,” she said, “not informational.”

It was a simple statement, but it made a big impression on me. She’s right. (My therapist once told me I’m a “relationship guy”.) I need to consider this when choosing how to proceed with projects. Maybe I’m struggling with the YouTube channel because I don’t want to be a talking head. Maybe instead I need to film myself in conversation with others.

“Maybe you should let people pay you to do coaching calls,” Robin suggested. “And you might want to consider doing more partnerships. You should work with Douglas Tsoi on his School of Financial Freedom.” I think she’s right.

Anyhow, the past couple of days have made me feel like a boy again. But instead of dreaming about my heroes, I actually got to meet and talk with one. Isn’t life crazy? (And I have high hopes that I’ll get to meet and talk with Vicki Robin again in the not-so-distant future.)

Author: J.D. Roth

In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he’s managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.



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5 Things You Should Stop Buying This Year


Skeptical woman with cleaning brushSTUDIO GRAND WEB / Shutterstock.com

Behind the attractive labeling and advertising, there’s a dizzying array of chemicals that go into many items we buy.

These chemicals make products smell good, help fight grease and dirt, and make our busy lives easier. But some of them also have drawbacks — like the potential to harm you or the environment, if not also a higher price tag than safer alternatives.

Following is a sampling of household products that you might not have given much thought to before but might want to stop buying in 2019.



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17 New York First-Time Home Buyer Grants


First-time home buyer grant programs are one way to make buying a house in New York more affordable. Rather than saving up the cash all on your own, first-time home buyer grant programs provide money you can use for a down payment and closing costs, among other things.

What is a first-time home buyer grant?

First-time home buyer grants are available through a variety of entities, including city and county governments, community development organizations and nonprofits. In many cases, the money doesn’t have to be repaid.

Each grant program has its own terms, conditions and eligibility requirements, but in general, applicants must:

  • Be a first-time home buyer.
  • Take a home buyer education course.
  • Satisfy income requirements.
  • Satisfy purchase price requirements.
  • Occupy the house as your primary residence.
  • Purchase in an approved location.

Grants aren’t the only programs for first-time home buyers in New York, of course. The State of New York Mortgage Agency, or SONYMA, offers affordable mortgages and other assistance options you may find helpful.

» MORE: Explore New York first-time home buyer programs


First-time home buyer grants available across NY

1. Housing Opportunities Foundation grant (statewide)

Offered through the New York State Association of Realtors and the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region, this grant program provides $2,000 to help first-time home buyers cover their down payment and closing costs. The grant is a gift, and if awarded, there’s no obligation to repay it. The grant is available only to buyers in New York state who are working with a real estate agent. Grants are awarded through a monthly lottery of qualified applicants. Those who are denied can apply again the next month.

» MORE: Tips for first-time home buyers


Grant programs in NYC boroughs

2. HomeFirst Down Payment Assistance (all NYC boroughs)

The HomeFirst program offers up to $40,000 in assistance for down payment or closing costs. Assistance is provided in the form of a forgivable loan, meaning no payment is due as long as buyers occupy the home for 10 consecutive years. The property can be a one- to four-unit family home, condominium, or a cooperative, and it must be located in one of New York City’s five boroughs. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, applicants must be able to contribute some of their own funds toward the purchase.

3. NeighborhoodLIFT program (Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens)

The NeighborhoodLIFT Program offers up to $20,000 in down payment assistance. Funds are provided in the form of a five-year forgivable loan, and a portion is forgiven each year the buyer occupies the home. The remaining balance is due immediately if the buyer moves before five years have passed. Although the NeighborhoodLIFT program isn’t limited to first-time home buyers, all applicants must attend an approved home buyer education course. The property must be located in Brooklyn, Bronx or Queens.

4. “HOME” grant (Brooklyn)

Offered through Neighborhood Housing Services of Brooklyn, this grant program provides up to $20,000 in assistance for prospective home buyers. Funds are provided by the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) agency. Only homes in Brooklyn are eligible.


Grant programs in the Capital District

5. Home Acquisition Program (Albany)

Offered through the Albany Community Development Agency, this program provides buyers with a percentage of their home’s purchase price — up to $14,900 — for down payment and closing cost assistance. Funds are provided in the form of a prorated, deferred loan with a maximum term of five years. Buyers are required to repay the grant if they sell or transfer the property, or pass away within the first five years of owning it. The property must be located within the city of Albany.

6. HOME Down Payment Assistance Grant Program (Albany County)

This program is designed to help offset the cost of buying a home in Albany County. The Albany County Rural Housing Alliance, or ACRHA, provides funds in the form of a 10-year forgivable loan. The amount of assistance provided depends on applicant need and income. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, applicants must be able to contribute $1,500 of their own funds. The property’s purchase price cannot exceed $190,000, and the home must be located outside the city of Albany.

7. Home Buyer Incentive Program (Troy)

Administered by the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP), this program provides up to $20,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, applicants must have $1,500 saved in an account for three consecutive months and the property must be located within the city of Troy.

8. Homebuyer Program (Rensselaer County)

This program, administered by the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP), offers up to a $20,000 grant for down payment and closing costs. Applicants must have $1,500 saved in an account for three consecutive months and also meet general eligibility requirements. Only properties within Rensselaer County, but outside the city of Troy, are eligible.

9. First-Time Home Buyer Program (Colonie)

This grant program helps first-time buyers purchase a single-family home, condo or townhouse in the town of Colonie, village of Colonie and village of Menands. “The grant amount ranges between $14,000 and $25,000 depending on income and family size,” Jennifer Kennedy, an aide at the Colonie Community Development Department, said in an email. The buyer will have to repay the grant if they don’t use the home as their primary residence for the period of time decided at closing. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, applicants will need to have a savings account that shows an average balance of $1,500.


Grant programs in western NY

10. Homeownership Program (Lockport)

Funded through the New York State Governor’s Office for Small Cities, this grant program provides up to $19,000 to help cover a down payment, closing costs and other expenses related to buying a house. If the property is sold, transferred, foreclosed on or no longer occupied before the 11th year of ownership, a portion of the grant may have to be repaid. Grant funds can only be used to buy a single or two-family home within the city of Lockport, and the purchase price cannot exceed $80,000.

11. Hometown Housing Program (Hamburg)

Offered through the Hamburg Department of Community Development, this grant program provides first-time home buyers with up to $10,000 in down payment assistance. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, applicants must agree to occupy the property for 10 years. If buyers sell the house or change the title in any way before the 10-year mark, the grant must be repaid in full. Applicants must also be able to contribute at least 5% of the total cost of the home. Only single-family homes within the town of Hamburg and the villages of Blasdell and Hamburg are eligible.


Grant programs in central NY

12. Homsite Mortgage Assistance Program (Auburn and Cayuga County)

Offered in cooperation with the city of Auburn, this program provides grants of up to $3,000 to help qualified first-time home buyers cover down payment and closing costs. Funds are provided in the form of a deferred loan, meaning no repayment is required as long as buyers own and occupy the home for five years. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, applicants must contribute $500 of their own funds. They’ll also need a signed purchase offer for a home located within the city of Auburn or Cayuga County. The purchase price of the home must be $110,000 or less.

13. Purchase/Rehabilitation Program for First-Time Home Buyers (Cortland County)

Offered through the Cortland Housing Assistance Council and the Empire Development Corporation, this grant program provides funds that first-time home buyers can use to reduce closing costs and fix up their new home after purchase. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, applicants must buy a single-family home located within Cortland County.

14. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services ‘Due On Sale’ Assistance (Tompkins County)

This grant program provides up to $30,000 for down payment and closing costs. Funds are provided in the form of a no-interest loan, but the full amount must be repaid if the property is sold. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, the property must be located in Tompkins County (but outside the city of Ithaca), cost $165,000 or less and pass an inspection by Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services.

15. Home HeadQuarters Closing Cost Assistance (Syracuse)

This grant program provides first-time home buyers with up to $4,000 to pay closing costs. Assistance is in the form of a deferred loan that is forgiven if the buyer lives in the home for at least five years. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, buyers must contribute at least $500 to the purchase. The home must be located in Syracuse and not cost over $120,000.


Grant programs in the North Country/Mohawk Valley

16. Housing Assistance Program of Essex County (Clinton County)

This grant program provides up to 5% of the mortgage principal to be used as a down payment, pay closing costs or correct issues with the property. Although the program name includes Essex County, funding is currently restricted to homes within Clinton County, HAPEC housing counselor Penny Daniels said in an email. Funds from this grant program can also be used to build a house on land the applicant owns.

17. Down Payment Assistance (Utica)

Offered through the HomeOwnership Center, this grant program provides first-time home buyers with $6,500 to use for a down payment or closing costs. Funds are provided in the form of a fully forgivable loan. As long as applicants maintain ownership of the property for five years, no repayment is required. In addition to meeting general eligibility requirements, buyers have to make a personal contribution of $2,000. Only properties in specific parts of Utica are eligible.


Your next step

Think you’re a good fit for one of the New York first-time home buyer grants listed above? Take the next step by contacting the organization that offers the funds. Ask about additional eligibility requirements and make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions before you apply. You may also want to ask for guidance on choosing a mortgage lender that’s known to work with the grant program you’ve chosen.

» MORE:  Browse the best SONYMA mortgage lenders

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