Most Effective Debt Recovery Solutions

Looking for an effective debt recovery solution?

Collecting money from people who are in debt to your company, is never a fun task. Going after the money you are owed can create unnecessary trouble for you and your business. That’s why there are debt recovery solutions available to take the stress out of retrieving the money owed.

You will find this helpful: 4 Interesting Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund

However, the debt you are collecting is indeed owed to YOU. As a creditor, it is legally your right to attempt to collect the debt after a missed payment. Unfortunately, there is only so far you can go before you move from debt collection into debt recovery.

What Is Debt Recovery?

Debt recovery is when a debt has gone unpaid for a long period of time. As soon as the debt has been unpaid for an extended period, the creditor, or company, hires a non-biased third party to recover the money owed.

Debt recovery is different from debt collection. Debt collection is when you as the creditor attempt to contact the consumer. After the loan, or bill has gone unpaid for an extended amount of time, it is time to bring in the professionals!

Effective Debt Recovery Solutions In the Modern Age

If you are a consumer, ignoring your debt, you no longer live in a world where you can rip up the bill and be done. Maybe you fell for a minimum payment plan, or fell on hard times. Regardless, your debt follows you all over the world!

Digital Footprint debt

As digitizing has made credit scores, as well as recent contact information more available, you simply can’t outrun what you owe!

As a creditor, there are several debt recovery solutions that are extremely effective today. Find a debt collection company that will not only include these strategies but also use all of them in order to close the account!

Finding the Debtors

Collecting up-to-date information on the debtors is vital to debt recovery. However, this information isn’t just about physical addresses!

Here are a few things a good company will uncover about consumers:

  • Phone number
  • E-Mail address
  • Most recent address
  • Commercial Information

Being able to locate, as well as contact a debtor attempting to run out on their debts is one of the most practical and necessary debt recovery solutions!

Creating Debt Recovery Solution Priorities

A good debt recovery solution is finding the right amounts, as well as knowing you can collect them! Altogether, this means that if a debt seems to have the potential to be repaid, industry specialists will likely prioritize collecting this debt first.

Technology allows for this to be done not only with by researching consumer patterns, but also experimenting with new collection strategies. Prioritizing certain collectable debts will not only get you your money faster, but it will also keep the debt recovery company in business!

Digital Collection and Virtual Recovery

All in all, the internet and your digital footprint make it easier and easier for debt collectors to find you. This means that if you are a creditor, you will not only WANT digital debt recovery solutions, but you may NEED them.

Debt Recovery Programs

There are a growing number of programs available to different debt recovery companies. These technological advancements will not only allow for your debt to be collected, but will also help to discover if the debtor is in a better place to pay more on their debt!

Using the information that is practically alive on the internet will be an invaluable way to collect the debts you are owned.

debt recovery solutions company

Debt Recovery Platforms

There are also companies that use digital platforms to collect debt, but also allow consumers to negotiate payment plans, pay back their debt in a timely manner, and do it all online! Using available technology to collect, as well as pay off debt!

The Most Effective Debt Recovery Solutions Are Always Fair

When it comes down to the wire, as a creditor, you want to collect the money you are owed, but you should also be able to keep your company’s hard-earned profile. Finding fair, legal, and effective debt recovery solutions will help to not only get your money to you faster but keep your company in consumer’s good graces!

Find a debt recovery company that will incorporate all of these debt recovery solutions. Avoid the burnout and hire a professional! Because you want the best solution so you can be on your way to getting paid!

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Why Creating Systems Trumps Motivation

I vividly remember the first time I saw Rocky as a kid.  Just a lowly local fighter, Rocky Balboa had to go through so much to get ready for his big fight with the champ Apollo.  After watching the iconic training scenes of him running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, punching giant slabs of meat until his hands bled and doing those grueling one handed pushups, I was so pumped to try to be like him.

So the obvious next step for me was to start running up stairs and punch things day and night.  I would be the best boxer this world has ever seen. After 2 or 3 days of this rigorous training, I slowly fell back into my normal routine and completely forgot about becoming the best boxer in the world.

But I didn’t just forget.  I simply lost my initial burst of motivation.  That little spark that got me off of my couch was great for those first few days. But there was no structure or foundation behind it so it quickly fizzled out.

If I seriously wanted to become a real boxer, I would have done found a coach and schedule boxing sessions at a gym regularly throughout the week.  Since a strong training foundation was never built, my initial burst of motivation was destined to fail.

Motivation is Finite

This same phenomena can be found in the world of personal finance.  We’ll watch an intense movie about stock picking or read an inspiring post about someone who paid off massive amounts of debt.  This will get our juices flowing and we’ll just go out there and do some things for a short while. But it will usually fizzle out in the end.

Relying solely on motivation is not the way to get ahead financially.  In fact, I would say that getting motivated and failing over and over will simply get you so depressed about your financial situation that you might just give up on improving.

But it can get better.  And the way it can is by having a framework or system in place that will keep you financially secure without having to constantly draw from your finite well of motivation.

It’s important to realize that this is THE ONLY way to get ahead financially.  Whether you’re looking to build the next billion dollar company, want to increase your investment contributions or just track your finances, you need a system that will make it easy to reach your goal.

And there are so many financial goals out there.  Setting up a budget, saving for retirement or college, starting a successful freelance business, getting a world class education to increase your income.  These are all worthy financial goals that require a systematic approach in order to find success.

Just Get Started

As mentioned before, setting up a systematic method of attack is the best way to achieve your financial goals.  And it’s not even that hard. It just takes a few upfront steps and some experimenting to get your system right.

In fact, setting up systems is much easier than relying on brute force motivation to achieve your financial goals.  It gives you a path to follow and you just plug along day after day.

Here are some basic systems everyone should have for various aspects of their financial life.  These are easy for almost everyone to implement so give them a try if you haven’t already:

Automatic Bill Pay:  We all have the same bills to pay.  Electricity, water, rent/mortgage, tuition, daycare etc.  Keeping all of these bills in order and remembering to pay them off month after month can be a chore.  Having a stack of papers and writing checks and mailing letters is not a difficult task, but it takes up precious time.  You increase your chance of missing a payment this way which can incur fees and possibly ruin your credit.

Instead, take some time out to set up automatic bill pay.  Most companies allow this by entering your checking account info on their website.  If they don’t have that capability, almost all checking accounts have an online bill pay feature which allows you to send a check to any address at no cost.  

Set these up to occur at regular intervals and you will never have to worry about keeping your routine monthly bills in order.

Saving and Investing:  Whether it’s investing for retirement or starting a rainy day fund, most people’s strategy is to just throw whatever they have leftover at the end of the month towards savings.  And considering that more than 75% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, this is not going to amount to much.

A much more effective way to save is to have a certain amount of money deducted from your checking account into your investment or savings accounts at regular intervals.  This allows you to grow money at a constant rate and will create a sort of “scarcity mentality” that will not allow you to spend money you don’t have.

This can be done a number of ways.  Almost all employers will automatically deduct 401(k) contributions before your check even hits your account, so that one’s pretty easy.  But if you have your own personal investment or savings account you are in charge of, you can easily set up a direct deposit from your checking account at any interval you choose.

Personally, this systematic approach to saving and investing has had a major impact in my life.  I know myself, and I would never consistently put money into my investment accounts if I had to do it manually.  Automatic investing is so easy to set up and is such a game changer I would recommend it to every single person.

Even if you can only start with $20 per month to contribute to your savings account on a regular basis, I would still recommend it.  It’s better to start somewhere than not begin at all. You can always increase your contributions later.

Tracking your Spending:  Gone are the days of balancing your checkbook to make sure you have the right amount of money in your checking account.  You can do almost everything personal finance related online nowadays, and tracking what you spend is certainly no exception.

Instead, I recommend leveraging the power of technology to set up a system to track your spending.There are so many websites and apps out there that allow you to track what’s coming in and what’s going out.  All you have to basically do is connect your accounts (checking, savings, credit card etc.) to the website and they will usually display your transactions on a nice little dashboard. You can then see exactly where your money is going.

I personally prefer Personal Capital.  You can not only track your spending, income and debt accounts, but it gives you a nice detailed look at your investment accounts as well.  You can see in which sectors you may need to invest more in and if you’re paying too much in fees. It’s pretty much a one stop shop for your finances and they are always improving their product.

Investing in Yourself:  While no one is going to directly pay you to do some yoga, investing in yourself is essential to being financially successful.  Self investment can come in so many forms such as exercise, taking classes, reading and meditation.  You have to find the areas that are important to you and your finances and work on them consistently.

Again, you can use technology to set up systems towards your self improvement.  And it doesn’t take much. You can simply set reminders on your calendar when you want to do some reading or exercise.  Or you can block out a certain time of the day to perform your self improvement tasks.

It’s especially important to set up systems for this.  Self improvement tasks fall under the “Non-Urgent but Important” group of tasks.  This makes it easy to justify taking care of the latest “emergency” before you get to your self investment time.  Don’t fall into this trap that and make investing in yourself a priority by setting up a solid and executable plan of action.

Conclusion

I would argue that not setting up systems for your finances is the true reason people don’t reach their goals.  Most people rely solely on willpower and motivation to try to make their situation better, but that really is a limited resource.  

Setting up systems of action is how giants like Oprah, Steve Jobs and Kobe Bryant became wildly successful.  They found a system that worked for them and kept at it until they got what they want.

The vast majority of Americans are living a paycheck to paycheck life because they don’t know where their money is going and they are not saving or investing enough.  These two huge problems can be solved by setting up systems that make personal finance as easy as a late round Rocky comeback.



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The Sharp Bite of COBRA Insurance

So I’m self employed now. I made the change about 6 months ago and am winding down from being an employed optometrist. Working for the man can become tiring.

But one thing working for the man did provide was health insurance at an affordable price. Now that I’m not employed full time, we had to fend for ourselves in the glorious US healthcare system.

Most large companies provide some sort of subsidized health insurance for their employees. You sign up for the plan, and the premium is taken out of your paycheck. Employers will usually foot half the premium while you pay the rest. Not a bad deal AT ALL!

In my case, it was a 50/50 split. I paid about $630 per month and my employer paid $630. The plan was a pretty decent HSA eligible plan so it worked well for us.

Once I left the company, I had 3 options:

-Stay on the current health plan aka COBRA

-Find a plan on the marketplace

-Sign up for some other “alternative” types of insurance such as preferred risk plan and health sharing plans.

The marketplace plans were much too expensive and we didn’t qualify for the health sharing plans since you have to be Christian to join them. And I don’t think they accept fresh converts.

So we decided to go with COBRA. And it has been an experience to say the least. Let me first give you an overview of COBRA insurance.

Premium times two

COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. Definitely not as scary sounding as the acronym. It’s a federal law that allows for health benefits to continue for someone who has experienced a job loss or other major life changes.

In my case, by signing up for COBRA we could continue on our current insurance plan without any interruption. Sounds pretty easy right? It is, but it comes with a price.

When I was employed full time, I paid $630 a month and my employer paid $630 a month to cover the monthly premium. But on COBRA, I have to pay the entire $1,260 premium on my own.

The law says I can be charged up to 102% of the premium, which I certainly was. Along with dental insurance which I paid very little for with my employer, my grand total came out to be about $1,400 per month.

The sort of good thing is, I knew this going in and factored it into my decision when becoming self employed. But going from $630 a month to $1,400 a month for health insurance is still taking some getting used to.

So while it was nice to continue my health plan and maintain all the deductibles I had already met, the monthly premium was not so nice.

Silver Linings

Health insurance is an issue for the self employed no doubt about that. Any entrepreneur will tell you that. But its not all bad.

While I do have to pay for health insurance directly from my checking account, the premiums will be an above the line tax deduction. This is pretty much the same as having a pre-tax deduction being employed, so it’s not really an advantage. But it’s nice to know I’ll be getting similar tax savings.

Being able to continue my coverage with COBRA also allowed us to keep our deductibles. We had kind of a busy healthcare year early on so we already met our deductible before I left the job. So it’s nice to have a few months of no more deductible to worry about.

Especially since there is another baby on the way! That’s right, number 3 is around the corner so it’s imperative that we keep those deductibles met for all the hospital bills.

So while health insurance can be a drag for the self employed, there are options. And you need to compare and see what the best option is for you and your family.

Even if it is a snake bite from a COBRA. Which I hope is a covered treatment!

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February is Failed Resolution Month

Make Goals Great Again!

Did you make a New Years resolution for 2019? Most likely it has failed by now. Not that I know you personally or anything. But research tells me so.

It’s estimated that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail. When they fail can vary, but I would guess around February sounds right since it’s tough for most people to do anything new for a month. Myself included.

Most resolutions are usually health or money related. Not surprisingly, I will focus on how to meet money resolutions. Although health and money are related in many ways.

In any case, here is why I think most money resolutions fail and how we can make resolutions that stick.

SMRT. I mean SMART

Most of us know what SMART goals are. It refers to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. We’ve all seen this acronym many times.

But as with most things money, knowledge isn’t everything. Execution is where people go wrong. Setting SMART goals is the key but I feel most people just gloss over it or aren’t specific enough.

A big reason why most people don’t adhere to the SMART goal philosophy is that their goals really aren’t attainable. An example is someone who makes a goal to earn $100,000 in 2019. While it’s better than a general goal of “make more money”, this goal still has some flaws.

If this person is used to making $50,000 a year, getting to $100,000 a year is going to be tough. You could break it up even further and say the goal is to make $8,333.33 a month. But if the first few months don’t go right, which is likely since the beginning is always the toughest, then they might abandon the goal.

So what’s the best way to use SMART goals for the New Year? You should still make them specific, measurable and have a timeline. But you need to make the first step ridiculously easy.

Momentum is the key

Let’s say someone made a goal to save 20% of their income in 2019. A worthy goal indeed. But if they are currently saving 5%, it will be pretty tough to crank up the savings rate by 15% and not feel shell shocked.

Make the first step easy. Save 1% more for January. That’s it. It sounds stupidly simple but this is where the battle will be won. By the end of January, they will be saving 6%. Do 1% more for February, and repeat until the end of the year.

The momentum will likely carry this person to their goal. Maybe one month they can save 2%. But June is a tough month and they can’t save any extra. There will be ups and downs but by working on finding ways to save just a little more each month this person will get a crash course in being financially savvy.

After the year is up, they might by at a 16% savings rate. Didn’t quite get to 20%. So is the goal a failure? Absolutely not! Because you can do the same process for the following year and easily get to a 25% savings rate.

All from the first initial easy 1% savings increase. Momentum is a real thing and putting too much pressure on yourself too quickly greatly decreases the chance of hitting your financial resolution

The Big Picture

As humans, we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year. But we also greatly underestimate what we can accomplish in 5 years.

This is essentially the problem with goal setting. We set our sights too high to achieve a short term win. But if we take smaller steps and are okay with stretching our timeline just a little bit, momentum will help carry us to our goals.

Let’s not make February the month where goals come to die for The Broke Professional readers. Just recalibrate them and keep on moving forward.

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The Most Effective Way to Avoid Burnout

Burnout doesn’t really have an official definition. But it can be characterized by bouts of depression, hopelessness and feeling flat from being stressed out at work.

Anyone can experience burnout, but it is pretty common among high income professionals such as doctors, lawyers and dentists.

Doctors are especially prone to feeling burnout out from work. Depending on the specialty, the rate of burnout can be anywhere from 30-40%. This is a popular article by a surgeon in Australia about the particular reasons physicians are feeling stressed and burnt out. Pretty fascinating read.

Burnout is real. So how do we address it? There are a number of ways including increasing morale and decreasing administrative tasks so professionals can actually focus on their job.

But this being a personal finance blog, I’m going to propose a financial way to help deal with burnout. And it’s pretty simple: Make enough money and have a plan for it.

Money = freedom

There are lots of ways people deal with burnout. And most of them involve escaping to something else like alcohol, food, television or medication. All valid ways to deal with stress and burnout.

Valid, but not very effective. In the end, burnout is largely due to lack of control. You can’t control your hours, your co-workers, the weather etc.

Most people also can’t usually control how much money they make. While money isn’t everything, I feel it plays a huge role in the potential for burnout.

Let’s say a doctor is being forced to work hard 80+ hours a week with very little sleep. His salary is $50,000/year. I guarantee you that doctor will start looking for the exits real soon.

How about he magically gets a raise to $500,000? He will definitely stick around that job longer despite the hard work. But he may start looking elsewhere after it just gets to be too much.

Now how about he gets a raise to $5 million? That will be the most loyal doctor you will ever see and burnout will be the farthest thing from his mind.

While this is an extreme example, it does show that if financial security is there, the risk of burnout will decrease. But we all can’t just pull a lever and make more money appear. Increasing income is a long term process that takes some trial and error. But for someone who is staring burnout in the face, time is one luxury that they don’t have.

So the focus should shift to what you can control. Specifically, how you spend your money and your overall financial plan.

Focus on what you can control

People who are stressed usually spend money to make themselves feel better. But it’s only temporary, and then you have less money. Which makes you more stressed.

So the first thing I would recommend is to find your biggest spending leak and plug it. Whether it’s eating out, drinking out or shopping, you need to cut the spending or risk facing burnout.

If you successfully do that, you will have some extra money every month. Now comes the important part: Make a plan for that money. You don’t need a full on financial plan that has retirement projections for multiple scenarios. That will come when you have more time and money.

Just make a simple goal for that money. For example, if you have an extra $200 every month, set up an automated savings plan into a Roth IRA. Or if you need some more in your emergency fund, send the money there every month.

The important thing is to do it and make it automatic. This will be a nice first step to financial independence and allow you to take back some control in your life. Which will eventually help minimize your chances of burnout at work.

Once you’re able to save more money, and hopefully make more as well, you can continue to take some more control by adding more money to your existing plan. Or you can make new goals such as saving for travel, a home or even working a little bit less.

Now that’s real control.

Burnout is Real, but not Inevitable

I have to admit, working in a corporate environment is tough. While I have thankfully never gotten to the point where I just want to walk off the job, I have experienced stressful situations which can make me wonder what I’m doing with my life.

But money can be a good motivator. And if you have a plan for your money that will eventually lead to financial independence, you will be able to tolerate a lot.

Obviously, if you are in an overly stressful and toxic environment which is affecting your health and well being, you should find an exit plan. But having a solid financial foundation will let you make the best decision for yourself and your career.

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Don’t Laugh at the Latte Factor

If you need this every day, then you don’t value money.

Some personal finance concepts will live on forever. Pay Yourself First is one of them. Debt Snowball is another one. And of course from uncle Dave Ramsey himself, “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.”

But the one I want to talk about today is the Latte Factor. It’s a term that has been in the personal finance lexicon for over a decade now, but it is still somehow a polarizing subject.

David Bach first officially introduced the Latte Factor in his book The Automatic Millionaire. This was actually the first personal finance book I ever read and sparked my interest in the subject. A really good book for people at any stage in their finances.

In the book he talked about the ability to give up spending money on something and redirecting that money into savings. The example he gave was of giving up your daily latte. Thus, the Latte Factor.

The numbers are actually pretty amazing. Say you spend $4 every day on a delicious latte. (I worked at Starbucks for years so I know there are many people who do this.) Now instead of spending $4 every day on a drink, take that money and put it into an investment account.

Here’s what happens. If you put that daily $4 into a retirement account that gives you a modest 6% return, you will have $1,547.60 in one year. Not bad at all!

But if you keep doing it, the numbers get crazy. After 5 years, you’ll have $8,723.97. 10 years? $20,398.60. How about we jump to 40 years? How about you have $239,509.62! Just from giving up your little $4 addiction, you can rack up thousands of dollars pretty fast.

So why do so many people have a problem with the Latte Factor?

Overly Sensitive Coffee Lovers

Like I mentioned before, I worked at Starbucks during high school and college. It was at a new store in the mall and from the day it opened, it was packed every day. To say Americans are addicted to coffee is an understatement.

I would see the same people come in day after day for an expensive coffee and a pastry. This would easily be $7 a day. And this was 15 years ago. Starbucks is more expensive and this country is more addicted to sugary coffee and snacks.

So there certainly is a large part of the population that spends close to $10 a day at expensive coffee houses. (By the way, a daily $10 habit can turn into almost $600,000 after 40 years at a 6% growth rate).

And after reading criticisms about the Latte Factor, most people just seem to be mad at the idea of taking away their lattes. They say if you enjoy your lattes and they make you happy, keep them! Don’t let some cold financial guru tell you to stop your habit.

These people are not looking at the big picture. It’s not just lattes that are a candidate for the chopping block (which they should be since most lattes have unholy amounts of sugar). It’s anything you buy that isn’t essential and doesn’t bring you happiness.

Let’s make a list: cigarettes, alcohol, donuts, expensive cell phone plans, expensive car loans, fancy groceries, fancy shaving cream, movie theater food, airplane food, soda, bank fees, non-library books, barely used gym memberships, and so on.

Long enough list for you? Most people have many little expenses like this. Imagine cutting just half of them out and putting it towards your investment plan? I hate the saying, but you’d definitely be living your best life!

Conclusion

If drinking an over-caffeinated beverage spiked with sugar every day really makes you happy, don’t let David Bach or anyone else say you can’t have it. Just realize that you love lattes and high blood sugar more than money and continue to feed the addiction.

But try to look outside yourself and find out what non essential expenses you can cut or minimize. Once you can do this, funnel that savings right into your investment accounts and watch your wealth grow year after year with the additional latte flavored rocket fuel.

And with today’s technology, it’s easier than ever. When you pass by the coffee shop and have the urge to scarf down that overpriced scone, just pull out your smartphone.

Simply sign into your investment account, transfer that $5 from your checking account, and walk away with a smile knowing you are fueling your wealth and some billionaire CEO.

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How to Lose Friends and Scare Away People

red stapler

Many people have read the popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  This book came out way back in the 1930’s but is still read by many today.  This book can teach you how to effectively network and connect with people to form meaningful relationships, in both your personal and business interactions.

It’s one of those books that teach you new things every time you read it.

But this post is not about all that syrupy good stuff.  This post is about the exact opposite. I will share a guide that will make sure you stay unhappy and stuck in your dead end job for a very long time, or even lose your job altogether.

It outlines the steps you need to take to ensure that you can effectively alienate both your family and friends while being scorned by co-workers at the same time.  It’s a rare skill to be able to lose friends AND scare away people, but I’ll show you how it’s done.  (This is all sarcasm by the way. Well most of it)

1.  Be late.  For everything.  It is said that time stops for no one.  It’s time to prove them wrong.  There are many places and people that expect you to be on time.  Your boss and your clients.  Mom and dad.  Your spouse.  Even your kids may expect you to be on time so they’re not stranded in front of school in 20 degree weather.

What gives them the right?  Take your time wherever you go and in whatever you do.  Deadlines and panicked phone calls from your children can wait.  You have more important things to do.  Time is a limited resource, so keep as much of it for yourself as you can.  (Reality: Pick your kids up if needed.  Don’t make your wife wait.  Ever.)

2.  Networking is for dweebs.  Who has time to network when there are so many shows to watch on Netflix?  You love your current job, but not that much, so talking to others in your field and keeping current on your skills should be the last thing on your mind.

Besides, who wants to be one of those guys that’s always shaking hands with people and smiling?  Not this guy.  (Reality:  Yes, you should make sincere and strong relationships with those people in your industry who make more than you or know more than you.)

3.  ALWAYS pass the buck.  Don’t be the “go to” guy in your workplace.  People will be asking you to do all kinds of stuff that you frankly don’t feel like doing.

If a client asks you to do an urgent project, first try to convince them that it’s not really that urgent, and if that doesn’t work, ask them to give the project to what’s his name down the hall.  (Reality: Try to be indispensable to your clients and supervisors.  They’ll greatly appreciate it because they’ll have to do less work.)

4.  Read a lot less.  There is this perception out there that successful people read a lot.  While this may be true, it certainly doesn’t sound like fun.  Reading hundreds of pages of material relevant to your field will take the excitement out of everything else in life.

If you know so much about your area of expertise, where are you going to get the rush of possibly making a bad decision?  Leave the reading to the librarians.  (Reality: Keep current on your field by reading relevant blogs or journals.  You’ll at least know when your field will become obsolete.)

5.  React to EVERYTHING.  All those people you work with and those clients you serve are out to get you.  Whether it’s your bobbleheads, awesome desk chair or even your red Swingline stapler, the world wants to see you pay and take your things.

This is why it is very important to react to every little thing.  And react HARD.  Throw objects, swear loudly, storm out of the room and, ideally, all three at the same time.  Every little sideways glance and convoluted comment that could be about you needs to be addressed.  These people will not stop until you’re out on the street.  (Reality:  People don’t have time to worry about you so don’t go crazy about everything.  They’re too busy worrying about themselves.)

These are my top 5 ways of being an anti-Dale Carnegie.  I’m sure there are many, many other ways I could think of to lead you down the path of the social pariah, but all this typing is hurting my fingers.  If you would like to share your own ways of losing friends and scaring away people, please feel free to share in the comments.

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An Easy and Inexpensive Way to File Your Taxes

Most people file their taxes online nowadays.  I have for the past 4 years.  The fact that I actually enjoy doing my own taxes is icing on the cake.

If you have a fairly simple tax return that has a low chance of being audited, filing online is a lot cheaper and easier than going to an accountant.  All you have to do is wait for all of your paperwork to come in, prepare your beverage of choice and take an hour or so to complete your return.

And if you are owed a refund or owe Uncle Sam some money, you can usually take care of that right away online.  In today’s streamlined and app friendly world, filing online is just the most convenient option for most people.

And when there are so many people filing online, competition will increase.  Everyone knows the big players like TurboTax and H&R Block.  How can you not know them since they are advertised everywhere?  I’ve used both TurboTax and H&R Block and both do a great job.  But they are also both on the pricier end of the tax software spectrum.

As technology and software becomes more sophisticated, more players have been appearing on the tax software scene.  Some are pretty bare bones but can offer very competitive pricing (sometimes even free!).  While others are just TurboTax clones that fizzle out after a while.  Time has filtered out some of the weaker companies, so there are a number of good options out there.

This year, I did my taxes with a company called FreeTaxUSA.  It sounds like a spammy company name, but they’ve actually been around for a while and this year they have taken their tax software to the next level.  And their pricing is incredible.

Federal returns are free.  State returns are $12.95.  And this is the case no matter how simple or complex your tax situation is (though if I had a full fledged business as my main income source, I would probably use an accountant.)

Here’s my review of my experience with FreeTaxUSA

Disclaimer:  I have no financial affiliation with FreeTaxUSA (FTU).  I wish I did but maybe next year.  This will actually be one of the few non-biased tax software reviews you will see on the internet.  

Navigation

TurboTax is known for its easy to navigate menus and streamlined interface.  They ask you tax questions interview style and you enter your numbers as you go along.  Ease of navigation is one of the big reasons TurboTax is the most popular tax software out there.  But FTU is very close behind.

There is actually very little difference between TurboTax and FTU when it comes to navigation.  FTU asks very similar style interview questions and will flag you when something doesn’t seem right.  It’s easy to find what number should go into what box on each form and then move on to the next section.

The menu is very clean and easy to navigate as well.  Income, deductions and filing options are clearly separated.  The only restriction I found is that you can’t jump ahead to the next section before completing your current section.  I didn’t find this as a big problem though since it helps keep you on track.  You can jump back to previous sections you have completed of course.

I actually found the interface a little easier and cleaner than TurboTax.  So ease of navigation is a huge plus.

Support

Having customer support is an important part of doing taxes.  When you have your own personal accountant, you can pepper them with as many questions as they have time for.  This support is what causes many people to hesitate doing their taxes with software.

Nowadays, online tax programs really excel in customer support.  You can always email an expert and get an answer, but many companies even have live chat or the option to have your return reviewed by a CPA.  So you’re never alone.

FTU has email support, but unfortunately no live support options.  I can’t comment too much on this because I didn’t really use the support services.  Our return is easy enough and I live and breathe this stuff anyway so I can find my answer pretty quickly if I needed too.  But for those that really value someone being available to help you throughout the filing process, TurboTax and HR Block are better options than FTU.

Pricing

Where FTU really shines among the competition is the pricing.  It’s a flat rate of $0 for your federal return and $12.95 for state.  No matter how complicated your return may be.  If you have out of the ordinary things like foreign accounts or large investment income in your kids name, you may be out of luck.  In cases like that I would want to see an accountant anyway.

But for the vast majority of Americans, the pricing would stand.  And it makes a huge difference.  Since we own a home and have some stock sales, the total with TurboTax would have been $59.99 for federal and about $35 for state.  That’s a total of $94.99 for TurboTax compared to $12.95 with FTU.  That’s a no brainer of a decision to me.

There is one totally free filing service I know of with Credit Karma.  But their interface seems clunky and they haven’t gotten very good reviews.  FTU is a very good product that has gotten great reviews, so $12.95 is an absolute steal.

Conclusion

With technology getting more and more sophisticated and streamlined, filing taxes online has never been easier.  While the big boys like TurboTax and H&R Block are always a great option, it’s worth it to see what other companies are up and coming in the tax software world.

FreeTaxUSA is definitely one of those companies.  I was able to do my taxes with no problem and it was a great experience all around.  I was able to get my refund direct deposited into my checking account very easily as well.  It’s not much different than TurboTax but it is much cheaper.  Very hard to beat $0 for a federal return and $12.95 for a state return.

It may not be the ideal solution for people who need live support or have very complicated returns.  But I believe the vast majority of people could save a lot of money having their taxes done with FTU.

Again, I have no financial affiliation with the company.  Just giving my honest review.  Click here to go to their home page and check it out.

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Easy Ways to Winterize Your Home and Save Money

This is another guest post from my friend Anum Yoon who blogs over at Current on Currency.

Today’s practical post will discuss ways to save money by making your home more efficient in the cold weather.  Floridians and Texans, find another article!

The winter chill has set in. There aren’t too many parts of the country that have escaped the bitter cold and snow. You don’t want to go outside unless you absolutely have to — maybe a quick run to and from the car.

If you’re not a fan of winter, this is going to be a long three months or so. You’ll be inside more, and the only good news is that you’ll have more time to do some the things around the house you may have been putting off.

Also, winter isn’t a booming season for construction, so you might be able to get some discounted prices on materials or projects. Take a look around the house and see which rooms need your attention most.

Winter is a good time of year to attend to your DIY projects or hire out the ones that require professional help. Here are a few investments you can make in your home this winter to improve your living space and add value to your home.

Have Your Furnace Serviced

If your furnace is going to die, it’s probably going to happen on a weekend in the middle of the coldest part of winter. That’s just the way it goes. Better to pay to have it checked now than to pay a lot more later.

Hire a reliable, trusted professional to service your furnace and hot water tank yearly or as recommended. They will make sure both are in good working order and that the filters have been changed for optimum performance.

A professional service can identify any potential problems or maintenance issue before they cause you problems in the winter. If they recommend replacement, feel free to seek a second opinion, but don’t delay too long.

You don’t want to risk being without heat and all the problems that can cause. A new furnace will increase your home’s value and may generate some return on your investment at the time of sale.

Update or Replace Insulation

Your furnace is working hard to heat your home. What a waste of energy and money if the heat is escaping through your roof, wall spaces, or cracks and crevices throughout your home.

If you are confident in your abilities, it might be simple enough to add a few rolls of insulation in places where there is an apparent need. Another idea is to have a professional come out and inspect your insulation.

They may discover leaks you weren’t aware of. Some companies use tiny pieces of insulation that they can spray into your attic. These pieces fill in all the open cracks and areas where leaks can occur.

Other spots you can attend to yourself include the electrical outlets, hot water tank and hot water pipes. You can purchase DIY insulation kits for these areas and accomplish your goals with minimal effort. You can also caulk windows and doors and add weather stripping to stop cold drafts and leaks. The less cold air coming in, the less money going out.

Buy an Energy-Efficient Garage Door

While you are insulating the rest of your house, you might want to consider your garage as well, particularly the door. When that garage door comes open, it’s the biggest open space into your home. All that cold air comes rushing in and hits the outside walls of the interior.

While you have to open and close your garage door, you can cut down on energy costs by purchasing an insulated, energy-efficient garage door. You can keep the inside of your garage at a more consistent, comfortable temperature. It will make any garage projects more tolerable, even in the winter. Your furnace won’t have to work as hard to compensate for the cold air seeping in. It makes sense to have an insulated garage door even if it isn’t attached to your house.

Purchase Energy-Efficient Windows

You know if you have good windows or not. If your rooms stay relatively warm in the winter, they are quality windows. If it feels like the wind is blowing through your living room, your windows are either in poor condition or you left one open.

Investing in Energy Star rated windows will cost a lot of money, but it will save you an average of 12 percent on energy costs. You also may qualify for an energy rebate from your local utility company or state government for making the investment and saving energy. In time, they will pay for themselves. Rotting, drafty single pane windows will continue to deteriorate and, at some point, you will be forced to replace them.

If you think you might be selling your house soon, consider new windows a wise investment and selling point. There is no guarantee you will recoup your money, but your house will be more saleable than your similar neighbor’s house with old windows. Regardless of your intentions, it’s money well spent. It would just be nice if all that money could buy you a better view, too.

Hook up to Smart Thermostat

Instead of wasting money and energy heating your house while you’re at work, hook it up to a smart thermostat you can control online. You can set up a schedule so your thermostat lowers the temperature while you’re gone but starts heating back up before you come home. If you encounter a change in your schedule, you can just log in and make adjustments from your desk at work.

A smart thermostat potentially will save you money, but more importantly, it will give you the ability to control your energy use. You need to look no further than a family member to realize we all have a different idea of what a comfortable temperature is. You’ll still fight over the thermostat.

Improve Your Home This Winter

Things break down, and they don’t always work the way you want them to. But generally speaking, money invested in your house will make it more appealing, more comfortable and more valuable. Plus it’s your home. What better place is there to spend your hard-earned money? Winter will pass before you know it. Wouldn’t it be nice to go into spring already having accomplished some household projects for the year?

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Do Some Charity Before It’s Too Late

For most people, the end of the year is usually a time to take it slow and spend your days with family and friends.  Work takes a backseat until the start of the new year.

Working in the optical world is the complete opposite.  It’s a madhouse!  Appointment books are full and patience is thin as everyone and their mother (literally) is scrambling to get eye exams, glasses and contacts before their insurance benefits and flex spending dollars reset.

(This is one reason I favor Health Savings Accounts over FSA money.  HSA accounts are portable and never expires.)

But there is one other thing people should be rushing to do during the last week of the year…GIVE!  Give away to charity that is.

Giving to charity is something we should do anyways if we have the means.  The rich hoarding wealth is one of the main problems in the world today.  But if you’re eligible for a tax deduction, it can save you some money come tax time along with that warm and fuzzy feeling.

And with the next tax law coming into effect in 2018, many people should be looking to maximize charitable contributions this year.

Standard or Itemize?

Here is the official IRS statement on charitable contributions:

You can only deduct charitable contributions if you itemize deductions on Form 1040, Schedule A (PDF)Itemized Deductions.

To be deductible, you must make charitable contributions to qualified organizations. Contributions to individuals are never deductible. To determine if the organization that you contributed to qualifies as a charitable organization for income tax deduction purposes, refer to our Exempt Organizations Select Check tool. For more information, see Publication 526Charitable Contributions and Can I Deduct My Charitable Contributions?

What this means is that if you want your charitable contributions to be tax deductible, you need to be able to itemize your deductions.  Common itemized deduction expenses include mortgage interest, state and local income taxes, property taxes, medical expenses and, of course, charitable contributions.

If the total of these expenses is greater than the standard deduction, than you would save more money on taxes by choosing to itemize your deductions.  If itemized deductions don’t exceed the standard deduction amount, you should go with the standard deduction.

For tax year 2017, the standard deduction for single filers is $6,350 and for married filers it is $12,700.  With the new tax plan that takes into effect in 2018 (thanks Trump), single filers will see a standard deduction of $12,000 and married filers will jump up to $24,000.

Contribute to Charity…Now!

Meaning that those people who normally take the standard deduction and don’t come close to meeting the necessary expenses in order to itemize…rejoice!  Your deduction will almost double with no effort on your part.  For these filers, the charitable contribution deduction never applied anyway.

But there will be many people who can itemize deductions in 2017 but won’t be able to in 2018.  For these people charitable contributions will be deductible for 2017 but not 2018.  That means they can deduct charity to their heart’s content for the last week of the year since they won’t be able to next year.

There are many things that can count as charitable contributions.  Cash is the easiest thing to donate, but you can also donate clothing, furniture, stocks and even your time.  Make a list of a few charities that resonate with you and contact them to see what is deductible.

All charitable contributions must be made in 2017 to be considered deductible when you do your taxes in April.  So take advantage of this last week to get that charity money in.  Just like FSA dollars, this time it’s use it or lose it!

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