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9 Tax Deductions That Are Gone In 2018 (And What To Claim Instead)

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The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which passed in December 2017, involved some of the most sweeping changes to the U.S. tax system in more than 30 years. And Americans will experience the effects of those changes when they file taxes for 2018.

“Many itemized deductions … will be capped, eliminated or otherwise diluted in power,” said Ben Flood, a certified financial planner and vice president of Bigelow Investment Advisors. “Offsetting this for many tax filers is the fact that the standard deduction is significantly higher.”

How much higher? Nearly double what it was in 2017: $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for families.

That means it will be a lot tougher to qualify to itemize deductions. Those who do will find many differences in what they can claim. Here’s a look at the deductions you won’t be able to claim on your 2018 taxes ― and what you can do instead.

9 Tax Write-Offs You Can’t Claim Anymore

A personal exemption is a sum of money you can deduct for yourself and any dependents from your taxable income. The personal exemption was worth $4,050 in 2017. A family of four, for example, would have received $16,200 in exemptions last year.

“Now, personal exemptions are no longer in play,” said Christina Taylor, head of tax operations at Credit Karma Tax. “This could have a substantial impact on refunds for larger families.”

2. Casualty and theft losses

Prior to the latest tax bill, victims of fires, earthquakes, floods or similar natural disasters who experienced uninsured losses greater than 10 percent of their adjusted gross income could deduct a portion of those losses from their taxable income.

Now? “You’ll only be able to claim them if they were a result of a federally declared disaster,” Taylor said. Those designations are made on a county basis, which means some areas could be declared official disaster zones, while others could not.

3. Unlimited SALT deductions

The new tax law reduced the amount taxpayers can claim for taxes paid to agencies that are not the IRS, according to Arthur Rosatti, an attorney with Ashley F. Morgan Law. These are typically called SALT, or state and local taxes.

“There is now a $10,000 cap on all state income taxes, personal property taxes, sales tax and local taxes,” he said. Prior to 2018, there was no cap. “This will hit individuals who are higher income and live in states with income tax the most,” Rosatti said.

4. Mortgage interest above $750,000

Homeowners previously were able to write off the interest on mortgages up to $1 million. Under the new tax law, however, the cap has been reduced to $750,000 in qualified residence loans. According to the IRS, that limit applies to the combined amount of loans you use to buy, build or “substantially improve” your primary or second home.

The good news is this change only applies to new homeowners, according to Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting. “The $1 million cap still applies to homeowners who took out a mortgage before December 15, 2017,” he said. “New homeowners can take this deduction on mortgages up to $750,000.”

5. Unrestricted home equity loan interest deduction

Before the new tax law, homeowners could deduct interest paid on a home equity loan or line, or credit of up to $100,000, regardless of how the funds were used. For example, if a homeowner used a home equity loan to pay off credit card debt, they’d receive a tax break on the interest paid.

“In 2018, unless that taxpayer used the borrowed funds to buy, build or substantially improve either their primary home or a second home, the interest is not deductible,” said Shan-Nel D. Simmons, a former IRS revenue agent and owner of Nel’s Tax Help.

Taxpayers previously could deduct certain moving expenses related to relocating for a new job, Zimmelman said. This was an “above-the-line” deduction, meaning it could be claimed even if the taxpayer didn’t itemize.

“Now the only people who can take this deduction are military service members moving for assignment,” Zimmelman said.

In the past, if a taxpayer’s job required certain purchases in order for an employee to perform their job and the employer was unable or unwilling to reimburse the employee, those expenses were tax deductible. For example, employees could deduct mileage driven for work purposes (not commuting), uniforms, tools, union dues and more as long as they met the 2 percent rule for miscellaneous deductions.

However, beginning in 2018, “employees will not be allowed to deduct out-of-pocket work expenses they pay to do their job,” Simmons said. This deduction, along with other miscellaneous deductions, is suspended through 2025.

Prior to 2018, fees related to tax preparation could also be combined with other miscellaneous deductions that exceeded 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. This deduction has been suspended through 2025, according to Taylor.

9. Other miscellaneous expenses

Many other miscellaneous deductions are off the table for 2018. Also included in this bunch are expenses related to investment fees, legal fees, home office use and alimony for divorces finalized after December 31, 2018. These deductions will be reinstated in 2026 unless Congress votes to extend the current rule.

5 Valuable Deductions And Credits You Can Still Claim

Though it seems like taxpayers lost many important deductions for the 2018 tax year, the increased standard deduction could help take the sting out of losing those benefits, Flood said.

Plus, there are several valuable tax write-offs, some of which were previously on the tax bill’s chopping block, that remain for 2018. Those include:

Families might be able to offset some of the personal exemption loss with the revised Child Tax Credit, which is now worth up to $2,000 in 2018. “Congress also raised the income threshold to $200,000 (for single filers) before the credit starts to phase out,” Rosatti said. “The new law is also giving a $500 credit for qualifying dependents who are not children.”

Taxpayers who do itemize can still deduct qualifying charitable donations. The deduction is limited to 60 percent of adjusted gross income for cash gifts ― up from 50 percent in previous years. Any amount in excess of that can be carried forward up to five years.

3. Student loan interest deduction

Another above-the-line deduction available to student loan borrowers is a deduction on the interest paid. Borrowers can deduct of up to $2,500 in interest per year. The deduction begins to phase out for borrowers with an adjusted gross income over $65,000 and caps at $80,000.

4. Contributions to IRAs and HSAs

If you contribute to a tax-advantaged savings plan, such as an individual retirement account or health savings account, those contributions are still eligible for the same tax benefits.

5. Self-employed expenses

Though the miscellaneous deductions outlined above have been suspended through 2025 for regular employees, self-employed workers can still write-off qualifying work-related expenses. Deductions such as self-employment taxes, insurance premiums and yes ― a home office ― can be claimed using the Schedule C form.

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Like To Shop From Your Phone? These 5 Apps Will Help You Save Big.

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From cashback sites to coupon aggregators, there’s no shortage of money-saving opportunities for savvy shoppers. But while many of these apps are great for people who shop from their laptops or even venture into physical stores, few work as well when shopping directly from a phone.

Even so, there are a few apps that make earning deep discounts on purchases easy for mobile shoppers. And I should know ― I’ve used them all. Often, you can stack the discounts from a few of these apps on a single purchase to multiply the savings. And if you use a rewards credit card to make the purchase? Now you’re cooking with gas.

But first, a word of warning: These apps only save you money if you use them on purchases you were going to make anyway. If you get carried away chasing that rewards dragon, you’re not really saving any money.

With that said, here are five tried-and-true apps that help you save money when shopping on your phone.

1. Wikibuy

Available on: iPhone, Android

Wikibuy is my favorite shopping tool thanks to several money-saving features. I started using the Wikibuy Chrome extension a few months ago to quickly see if any item I was considering purchasing could be found elsewhere for less. I use it alongside the Honey extension to run coupon codes before finalizing a purchase.

In addition to scouring the web for the best deals, Wikibuy also offers cash back on qualifying purchases and adds products I’ve viewed online to a “watchlist” that tracks price drops. It’s basically the Swiss army knife of shopping tools ― one that’s earned me an extra $8 and change on top of the savings I’ve scored so far.

Wikibuy

Activate discounts and cash back offers directly through the Wikibuy app.

Fortunately, many of these great features translate well to the mobile app. You can search for a particular item and see which retailer is offering the lowest price, or search by store to find out what sales and cash back offers currently exist. In the example above, I searched for Macy’s and found that Wikibuy was offering 6 percent cash back on purchases there at the moment. All I had to do was click “activate” to be taken directly to the Macy’s site with my cash back reward waiting to be automatically applied.

2. RetailMeNot

Available on: iPhone, Android

RetailMeNot has been around for a long time, and though there are many competitors out there, I still find their app to be one of the most mobile shopping-friendly.

RetailMeNot

Before going through with a mobile purchase, use the RetailMeNot app to check for coupon codes and deals available through that retailer. You can filter by in-store coupons, online codes and official store sales. The coupons are crowdsourced, so they won’t always work. However, the app will note whether codes have been verified by users and allows them to leave comments for others. Some purchases also qualify for cash back.

RetailMeNot’s coupon codes are an easy way to stack savings. For instance, you might use Wikibuy to find the best deal on a particular item and activate a cash back deal. Then before you check out, you can check RetailMeNot for coupon codes. Make the purchase on a rewards credit card to earn extra points, and after the transaction goes through, your Wikibuy account will also be credited.

3. Paribus

Available on: iPhone, desktop

To continue saving money after you’ve made a purchase, sign up for Paribus. The free tool tracks online purchases you’ve made by scanning your email for receipts and automatically submits claims for refunds when the price drops within the price protection window or is delivered late.

Paribus is a great tool because all the magic happens behind the scenes. I actually forgot I had signed up for it until I began receiving emails notifying me of claims Paribus had submitted. At first, I was a little freaked out that some app was contacting companies on my behalf and demanding money. But then I started receiving that money.

Paribus

Email from Paribus notifying me of a price drop.

For example, I received an email from Paribus regarding an entertainment center I recently purchased from Walmart online (side note: don’t ever buy an entertainment center online). The price had dropped within Walmart’s price protection period, so Paribus automatically contacted the retailer to request a refund for the difference. Even though I ended up returning that piece of junk item, it was nice to know Paribus had my back. I’ve also received small refunds when Amazon Prime purchases arrived past the guaranteed two-day delivery window.

4. Dosh

Available on: iPhone, Android

Dosh (which is U.K. slang for “money”) is a fairly new cash back app that’s set itself apart from the competition. Rather than researching offers ahead of time and dealing with coupons or codes, Dosh’s cash back system is more set-it-and-forget-it.

Simply link one or more credit cards to the app; when you make a qualifying purchase with that card, Dosh automatically applies your earnings ― up to 10 percent of the purchase price ― to your Dosh wallet. You can also browse the app for deals and click through to activate cash back.

Dosh

The Dosh app awards cash back for purchases at thousands of retailers, restaurants, hotels and more.

I recently signed up for Dosh and connected my rewards credit card to double up on earnings. I have yet to make a purchase, but I already earned a $5 bonus for linking my first card. Once I rack up at least $25, I can cash out via PayPal or direct deposit.

5. Drop

Available on: iPhone, Android

Drop is another fairly new cash back app that works similarly to Dosh, though it has a few limitations.

By linking your debit or credit card to your Drop account, you automatically earn points on qualifying purchases. Those points can then be redeemed for cash back in the form of gift cards to major retailers such as Amazon and Whole Foods. The downside is that you’re forced to choose only five merchants from Drop’s list that will qualify for points. Choose carefully, because you won’t be able to change your selections. However, Drop also recommends one-time offers from other retailers that you can take advantage of.

Drop

Dosh lets you earn points on one-time offers as well as from your chosen retailers.

Cash is earned at a rate of $0.001 per Drop point (1,000 Drop points = $1). Dosh also recently implemented an earning cap of 5,000 Drop points per week ($5). Clearly, this is no get-rich-quick scheme. But considering you don’t actually have to do anything to earn the points once your account is set up, you might as well add this app to your mobile shopping arsenal.

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4 Signs Another Recession Is Coming ― And What It Means For You

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What a wild ride the last couple of months have been.

On Dec. 4 the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled by almost 800 points, only to rally nearly 800 points three days later. That following Monday, it fell again by close to 500 points, but then recovered to end positively for the day.

A few weeks later, we entered into what is now the longest-running government shutdown in history, with no end in sight.

These events and others have many people wondering if the next recession is looming. The short answer: maybe. Here’s what you need to know about a possible recession and how to prepare for one.

Are We Headed For A Recession Soon?

Here’s the thing: There’s essentially always a recession on the horizon. That’s because recessions, which are often defined as periods of significant economic decline that last at least two consecutive quarters, are a natural part of the economic cycle, according to Zhi Li, owner and financial planner at Twelve Two Capital. “It is reasonable to anticipate that a recession will happen sometime in the future and reasonable to think one might happen soon given the long expansionary period that we are in,” he said.

But as far as predicting when, exactly, a recession will happen, you might as well consult your magic eight ball. Although there are a few data points we can look to when predicting an approaching recession, nailing down a specific time frame isn’t possible. Even so, plenty try.

According to Li, most economists don’t predict a recession will happen this year, but they do think one is likely to happen within the next two. Here’s why.

Signs A Recession Is Coming

Whether or not a recession will occur soon depends on who you ask.

Take the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index, for instance. It examines 10 leading economic indicators to arrive at a growth or decline rate for the economy, and it helps predict recessions in the months leading up to the downturn. In November, the LEI grew by 0.2, which signals that our economy is still humming along though growth has slowed a bit.

Advisor Perspectives / dshort.com

“The LEI has historically dropped below its six-month moving average anywhere between 2 to 15 months before a recession,” according to Advisor Perspectives.

Then again, other common economic measures say otherwise. Here are a few reasons why we might actually experience a recession soon.

Stock market performance is often considered a strong indicator of overall economic health. And historically, stock market peaks have preceded economic downturns by an average of seven to eight months (the actual range is a lot wider). On Oct. 3, the Dow Jones hit its highest closing record for the 15th time in 2018 at 26,828.39, following the record-setting day prior.

Less than three months later, the stock market experienced the worst December since the height of the Great Depression.

Even so, you should take these “signs” with a grain of salt. As the late Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson joked decades ago, “the stock market has predicted nine of the last five recessions.” Certain stock market behavior can signify a recession is coming, but by no means heralds one.

A somewhat more reliable indicator is the yield curve on U.S. Treasury securities. “Historically, when the yield curve inverts ― the interest rate on shorter-term treasury bonds is higher than the interest rate on longer-term Treasury bonds ― a recession can sometimes follow,” said Rockie Zeigler III, a certified financial planner and owner of RP Zeigler Investment Services.

How closely are the two correlated? Let’s just say the curve was inverted prior to the past seven recessions. In early December, the front-end of the yield curve inverted for the first time in more than a decade, meaning the yield on 5-year Treasury notes dropped below the 2- and 3-year notes.

Another major number that could point to an imminent recession is unemployment. And counterintuitively, it’s a low rate of unemployment that often signals a slowdown.

Recently, unemployment dropped to 3.7 percent ― a nearly 50-year low. Wages are also growing at the fastest rate since 2009. According to Forbes, strong job market statistics like these indicate that we’re reaching the end of the latest economic cycle rather than the beginning. In fact, an unemployment rate below 4 percent ― which is quite rare ― has often immediately proceeded past recessions.

Finally, as mentioned above, recessions are a normal part of the economic cycle. “While it’s not a very technical indicator, a long run of economic expansion can tell us something, too,” Zeigler said. “We haven’t had a recession or bear market since 2008-2009. The economy has been expanding (albeit slowly) since then. So have the stock markets.”

For these reasons, Zeigler said, we might actually be overdue for slowing economic growth, if not a recession.

What Does This Mean For You?

Zeigler added recessions impact the average person in two major ways. The first is unemployment: “When a recession hits, generally it’s accompanied by rising unemployment,” he said.

The second is spending. “If a person is able to keep their job, they probably won’t be completely confident in spending their money on things like TVs, cars, homes and services because of all the negativity that accompanies a recession,” Zeigler said. “Our economy is very dependent on consumer consumption of goods and services and folks tend to ‘hunker down’ during recessions because they fear losing their job.”

That means regardless of when the next recession hits, it pays to be prepared.

Build up your emergency fund. According to Bradley Nelson, president of Lyon Park Advisors, your top concern during a recession should be staying on top of your bills and ensuring you have a reliable source of income.

“Everyone should have an emergency fund of three to nine months of mandatory expenses, depending upon their circumstances,” Nelson said. “A money market account is a good place to have this stashed.” He also suggested thinking about what skills and resources you have at your disposal in case that fund isn’t enough, including spouse employment, side hustles and part-time jobs.

Know your risk tolerance. Though it can be difficult to predict your own behavior during certain situations, you should ask yourself what you’d do if the market were to drop by 10, 20 or even 50 percent. “If the answer sounds like ‘I’d sell everything to preserve what’s left,’ alarm bells should go off,” Nelson said. “It’s a sign your portfolio doesn’t match [your] risk tolerance.”

If that’s the case, you should reexamine your asset allocation. “Better to come up with an allocation you can live with through thick and thin now, rather than wait for markets to drop and sell your assets at fire sale prices,” Nelson said.

Take advantage of rock-bottom prices. Even though continuing to invest during a major market downturn might feel like lighting money on fire, it’s actually the smart thing to do in most cases. “Investors should have a shopper’s mentality. This means… having a shopping list of quality products to buy at bargain prices,” Nelson said.

In other words, you should aim to sell high and buy low. And though it’s probably hard to think of a recession as an opportunity, for the savvy investor, that’s exactly what it is.

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Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster With These 7 Tips

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Student loans aren’t just a nuisance plaguing today’s young college grads. More than 44 million Americans collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. There’s a good chance that includes you.

Wouldn’t it be nice to finally get rid of that debt and be able to spend money on things you actually care about? The good news: There are a few strategies you can use to pay down those loans faster. Here are seven you can try.

1. Turn windfalls into extra payments.

One of the best ways to pay down your student loan debt fast is by making more than the minimum payments. Of course, “just pay more” isn’t realistic advice for most people. But hear me out on this one: Even a few one-off extra payments can have a significant impact on your student loan balance.

For example, you could apply part of your yearly bonus from work or a tax refund to your debt, said Brian Walsh, a certified financial planner and financial planning manager at SoFi. Or you could participate in a challenge like dry January or a no-spend month to come up with the extra cash. It might feel painful to put something fun like a cash windfall toward your student loan debt, but the results can be dramatic.

Don’t believe it? Say you have a $20,000 loan at 6 percent interest and 10 years left to pay it off. If you made just one extra payment of $100 each year, you’d pay off your loan five months sooner and save $315 in interest.

2. Split your payments in two.

Another trick you can use to pay off your loan faster is dividing your monthly payment into two. For example, if you have $300 due at the end of every month, make one payment of $150 on the 15th and a second payment of $150 on the 30th.

“This little trick could knock off an entire year of payments.”

– Sean Moore, certified financial planner

Not only can this make payments a little easier to manage, since most people get their paychecks every other week, but “paying half every two weeks equals one extra payment made each year without even noticing the difference,” said Sean Moore, a certified financial planner and founder of SMART College Funding.

That’s because, on a monthly schedule, you’d make 12 payments per year. However, splitting payments among 26 weeks (52 weeks in the year, divided by two), you end up with 13 months’ worth of payments over the same time period.

“On a typical 10-year repayment schedule, this little trick could knock off an entire year of payments (and interest)!”

3. Sign up for auto-pay.

Though it won’t have the most dramatic impact on your student loan debt, signing up for automatic payments can knock off a bit of interest and help you put more cash toward the principal balance.

This tactic allows your student loan servicer to automatically deduct your payment from your bank account each month. Besides ensuring that you pay on time and never miss a payment, some lenders may also give you a discount just for enrolling,” said Janet Alvarez, a personal finance expert at Wise Bread. Usually, that discount is 0.25 percent.

4. Refinance.

If you have a steady income and good credit, you might qualify to refinance your student loans. Refinancing involves taking out a new loan and using the funds to pay off the old loan. Usually, people refinance their loans to achieve a new term length, a lower interest rate or both.

For instance, you might refinance a 10-year student loan to a term of seven years. It would result in higher monthly payments, but you’d pay the loan off faster and save money on interest. And if you can refinance to a lower interest rate as well, more of your money will go toward paying down the balance as fast as possible.

Let’s take our $20,000 loan example from above. With 10 years left at 6 percent interest, your monthly payments would be $222.

Now let’s say you refinance to a slightly lower rate of 5 percent. Your bill would drop to $212. Not a huge difference, sure. But what if you kept paying $222 each month despite the new lower bill? You’d knock off six months and $335 in interest from your loan. Now imagine what would happen if the interest rate difference was even bigger.

Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, suggests creating a refinancing ladder to maximize your savings. “The way you do this is start with a payment you can afford pretty easily, say, a 10- or 15-year loan. Pay extra when you have extra, and you’ll cut down the amount that you owe rapidly,” Hornsby explained. “After a couple of years, you can refinance again to a seven-year loan, often with the same payment but with a lower interest rate. Finally, you could refinance one more time to a five-year loan before you finish paying off the entire amount.”

Keep in mind that you should work with a lender that doesn’t charge loan origination fees, which might cancel out interest savings. It’s also a good idea to weigh the risks of refinancing federal student loans, because doing so would change them to private loans and permanently forfeit federal protections such as income-driven repayment and forgiveness options.

5. Join a company that offers repayment assistance.

If you’re looking to change jobs, it’s worth looking into companies that help pay student loans as a benefit.

“These programs will give you money toward your student loans simply for working at the company.”

– Adrian Nazari, CEO and founder of Credit Sesame

“More and more employers are embracing an employee benefit called student loan repayment assistance,” said Adrian Nazari, CEO and founder of Credit Sesame. “Unlike tuition reimbursement, where you get paid for going to school, these programs will give you money toward your student loans simply for working at the company.

Only a small percentage of companies currently offer this perk, but those that do include Fidelity, Aetna and Staples. “The amounts vary from as little as $500 per year to $10,000 per year,” Nazari said.

6. Volunteer.

According to Nazari, there are organizations that offer student loan repayment assistance in exchange for working on nonprofit projects. For example, SponsorChange and similar organizations match volunteers who have sought-after skills with sponsors who fund student loan payments for each project completed.

“You do need to adhere to their guidelines and successfully complete the program according to their requirements in order to qualify for loan repayment assistance,” he said. “But it can be a great way to give back while making a dent in your student debt.”

7. Pay according to your personality.

Finally, if you have more than one loan to tackle, it helps to follow a repayment strategy that aligns with your personality. According to Willie Anderson, who advises clients and writes on various financial topics, there are two main methods for debt repayment: The debt snowball and debt avalanche.

The debt snowball method is ideal for people who need to experience wins right away. “With this strategy, you’ll begin paying the smallest balance off first,” Anderson said. “Continue to make the minimum payments on your other accounts and put as much money as you can towards the smallest balance.” Once the smallest balance is paid off, combine the amount you were paying on that balance with the minimum payment on your next-smallest balance, and so on. “This strategy can help keep you motivated and encouraged since you should start to see some results right away,” Anderson said.

If you’re more about saving as much money as possible, you might want to give the debt avalanche a shot. “With this method, you throw the largest payment you can at your highest-interest-rate debt every month, while paying the minimum payments on your other debts.” By focusing on interest rates rather than the balances, you save more money overall.

A final thought:

Keep in mind that as annoying as student loan debt is, it might not always be the most urgent financial matter to address.

“Before aggressively paying down your student loans, you should make sure you paid off high-interest debt such as credit cards or personal loans,” said Walsh. “You should also make sure you are saving enough for your long-term goals,” he said ― think retirement ― since, over time, the returns from investing have been higher than the interest rate most people pay on student loans.

So if you have most of your financial ducks in a row and your student loans are the last thing holding you back, by all means, pay them off as fast as you can.

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