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Tax day is finally here!
To celebrate getting your tax return finished, test out your knowledge of tax history with our trivia quiz. Also read about some helpful hints that can make paying your bills less stressful.
We also have some suggestions for how small businesses can help one another stay afloat until the entire economy returns to normal. Finally, read about some tips from the Federal Trade Commission on keeping your kids safe online.
Please call if you would like to discuss how this information could impact your situation. If you know someone who could benefit from this newsletter, feel free to send it to them.
- Tax History Trivia!
- The Art of Bill Paying
- Helping Your Fellow Business Owner
- How to Protect Your Kids Online
Tax History Trivia!
With the IRS moving tax day back for all U.S. filers for the second time in as many years, it’s time once again for a fun diversion by looking back at tax history! Test your tax knowledge using these questions to stump your friends and family.
- In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln enacted a flat tax on wages above $800 to help pay for the Civil War. What was the tax rate?
- a. 3%. Even though Lincoln enacted this 3% tax, the Federal government didn't have an effective way to collect the tax at the time. The result? The tax fell far short of its projected revenue goals. Thankfully, the government now makes tax law changes with plenty of time to implement the change...oh, maybe not so much has changed after all!
- In what year did taxes start being withheld from paychecks?
- c. 1943. In a need to drum up some cash for a war, the government started requiring taxes to be withheld directly from paychecks rather than waiting for quarterly or annual payments.
- The estate tax, which may apply to your assets after you pass away, was originally enacted in 1797 to fund which branch of the U.S. Military?
- Air Force
- b. Navy. It was repealed in 1802, but later returned to help fund the Civil War.
- In 1921, which state was the first to enact a sales tax?
- West Virginia
- d. West Virginia. As of today, all but 5 states (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon) have a sales tax. And it is as complicated as the imagination of the respective state legislatures.
- The United States has a progressive income tax system, with your first dollar of earnings being tax-free and your last dollar earned being taxed as high as 37%. What was the highest tax rate when this progressive income tax system was first introduced in 1913?
- b. 7%. Hard to believe the federal government didn't seem to need more taxes than this. The top tax rate did jump, however, to 77% five years later during World War I. The top individual income tax rate for 2021 is 37%.
- Tax day this year is May 17, pushed back one month from the traditional April 15 deadline. But the deadline wasn't always April 15. Tax day moved to April 15 in 1954. What day were taxes due prior to 1954?
- March 15
- February 15
- April 1
- May 15
- a. March 15. The deadline was moved from March 15 to April 15 in 1954 to give taxpayers more time to deal with the additional complexities being built into the tax law.
- How many pages of instructions were needed for the first Form 1040 in 1913?
- d. 1. Speaking of added complexity, the basic Form 1040 instructions for the 2020 tax year has 111 pages.
The Art of Bill Paying
Paying bills is an inevitable part of everyday life, but that doesn’t mean it has to be stressful. Here are some ways to get control of your budget and perfect the art of stress-free bill paying.
- Make a budget. Knowing what you are making and what you are spending is essential to proper bill paying. First, find out how much you are making every month and then subtract the static items such as rent or mortgage payments, credit card payments and cell phone expenses. Then, budget out how much you will need for other essentials (such as food and clothing). Once the essentials are accounted for, you can look at the money you have left and decide where to allocate the rest.
- Find a budget tool that works. One of the best ways to get a handle on your finances is to use a budgeting app such as Intuit's Mint or PocketGuard. You can securely link your bank accounts to these apps and download all your transactions in the app. Your bank may also have an app to track your spending, so also check with them. You can then choose which tools to use to make a budget and categorize the transactions to be allocated to a certain part of the budget (such as food, car, housing, etc).
- Set up autopay. Put recurring bills such as utilities, internet, and your cell phone on autopay so they will be automatically deducted from your account on their due date. If you decide to use autopay, it is still a good idea to look at the amounts being deducted every month to make sure everything is correct.
- Consider your non-regular payments. Don't forget to account for bills that come due occasionally and plan for the cash outlay. Common examples of this are property tax payments, income taxes, and annual/semi-annual insurance payments. You will need to plan to have enough cash on hand for these expenses when they come due.
- Adjust due dates. Paying bills isn’t as stressful when you know that you can afford to pay them, and what better time to pay bills than right after you get paid! The money will be there and you can pay those bills before that money has a chance to go anywhere else. Consider asking if you can change the due dates for some or all of your bills to correspond with when your paychecks are deposited into your bank account.
- Don’t forget to pay yourself! One of the best ways to start developing a savings account is making yourself part of your budget! Take however much you think you can spare and set up an automatic transfer to a separate savings account. Use this money to establish an emergency fund of approximately six to nine months of expenses. This extra cushion will come in handy if something unexpected occurs.
Helping Your Fellow Business Owner
Your firm survived 2020. Now you may be asking yourself when will the economy return to pre-pandemic levels? Will it be this fall? A year from now? Longer?
Until the economy fully emerges from the pandemic, small businesses can help one another stay afloat. By collaborating with other like-minded firms, your business can find creative ways to strengthen local markets and encourage consumer loyalty.
Consider the following ideas of how you can help each other:
- Partner with industry peers. One Vietnamese restauranteur in New York City was eager to open his business for in-person dining. Then the pandemic hit. According to a Time Magazine article, two years of careful planning, hard work and sacrifice seemed fruitless. But sympathetic restaurant owners in nearby Chinatown reached out with an innovative idea: offer a punch card to encourage customers to support local businesses. By partnering with this newly-minted entrepreneur and introducing him to like-minded people, established firms kept the restaurant business alive in their locale and helped a fledgling owner pursue his dream.
- Donate staff resources. During government-mandated quarantines, some industries enjoyed burgeoning revenues while others were trying to keep staff employed. Why not offer to help if you have excess labor? For example, businesses selling camping gear and recreational vehicles saw an uptick in consumer demand. A company supporting that industry might offer some of its staff on a temporary basis to help another firm meet customer needs. Such a partnership could provide the added benefit of boosting morale and avoiding layoffs.
- Leverage locations. Say you’re a company that raises chickens. You might partner with a firm offering other meat products to share a tent at a farmer’s market. Or two dance studios might join forces to enable patrons to attend similar classes at across-town venues. You could team up with others to organize a business fair. Or you might donate space to help another business sell goods at a common location for centralized pickup and delivery.
- Share your expertise. Perhaps you’ve experienced great success with your business website, but other firms are struggling to make inroads in the digital marketplace. You could teach these companies how to connect with customers via social media. Train them to build and market a website. If you have remote workers, share your experience about helping home-based employees stay productive.
- Cross promotions. Look for businesses that you can help and that can help you. Then cross-promote each other's services. Customers of dog groomers need veterinarians and vice versa. Accountants need their hair cut and customers of hair salons need accountants. Vacation rental property owners can offer restaurant deals for their renters and restaurants can offer the rental owners coupons for meals. The ideas are endless, you just need to think creatively.
Before making a commitment to help another business, be sure to weigh the pros and cons. Any potential relationship should benefit both parties. Don’t be afraid to consider companies outside your industry or local market, but look first to businesses with services and products complementing your own.
How to Protect Your Kids Online
Do you know what your kids are doing online? That question may seem like it has a simple yes or no answer, but that’s hardly the case. With so many streaming platforms, social media outlets and new gaming options popping up every day, it’s nearly impossible to fully protect your kids from what they can encounter online.
The Federal Trade Commission has several suggestions for protecting your kids online. Here are some of its recommendations.
- Overcommunicate. How successful you will be with your child’s online safety hinges on communication. Ask them about the newest apps and online trends. Be open about the dangers of the internet and teach them to be skeptical about every website and app. Encourage them to bring concerning items they find to you to have a discussion. The goal is to make your child as concerned about their online well-being as you are.
- Limit where and how they use their devices. Most phones, tablets and computers have parental control options that allow you to set age, time and content restrictions. Spend some time to understand what’s available to parents and how it works. It can be hard to know where to draw boundaries for your children, but don’t let that discourage you. A good practice is to start by over-restricting and then becoming more lenient over time. In addition to what your kids can access, set rules about where they can use their devices.
- Stress the safe-guarding of personal information. Most kids know not to openly share addresses, phone numbers or personal information online, but there are a few places where it happens inadvertently. One of those is in your profile you set up for a website or app. In some cases, your profile is made public to other users. Another place it can happen is in-app chatting. Most apps and games have a forum that allow users to interact with one another. Frequently ask your kids about who they are interacting with online and follow up on any suspicious online relationships. Never allow photos of your home or address to be shared or posted.
- Observe attitude and behavior. Monitor your child's activity and let them know you are doing so. If your child is struggling with something they came across online, or have found themselves in a dangerous situation, they may show signs through their behavior. If you notice them withdrawing emotionally, looking to access devices in private, or showing signs of anxiety or depression, your kids may need your help.
Discussing the dangers of the online world with your child can be uncomfortable and awkward, but in today’s interconnected world, it’s imperative in order to keep them mentally healthy and physically safe.