Seven things college freshmen don’t need — and ten they do

This article originally appeared on NerdWalletThose ubiquitous checklists of “dorm room essentials” for college freshmen are filled with items that will be ditched by the end of first semester.

Some parents “go to the store and grab a list like they did when their kids were in elementary and high school and just go straight down the list,” says Lisa Heffernan, mother of three sons and a college-shopping veteran. Or they buy things they only wish their students will use (looking at you, cleaning products).

You can safely skip about 70% of things on those lists, estimates Asha Dornfest, the author of Parent Hacks and mother of a rising college sophomore who’s home for the summer.

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Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift

If you have a special child in your life, you may be wondering what to put under the tree this year. One long-lasting and truly meaningful way to show the child in your life that you care is by taking…

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The post Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Your Guide to Claiming a Legit Home Office Tax Deduction

I’d bet that on just about every city block or long country road, someone is operating a business from their residence. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about 50 percent of businesses are home-based, with a larger percentage (60 percent) working as solopreneurs with no employees.

Having a home-based business is one of the easiest and least risky ways to become an entrepreneur, test your business ideas, and increase your income. No matter if you run a business full-time or as a side gig, claiming the home office deduction can significantly reduce your taxes.

No matter if you run a business full-time or as a side gig, claiming the home office deduction can significantly reduce your taxes.

I received an email from John, who says, “My New Year's resolution is to earn more money working during my off-hours and on weekends. Since the work will likely entail making deliveries for different mobile apps, I’m not sure if it qualifies me for the home office tax deduction. Can you explain more about it?”

Thanks for your great question, John! In this post, I’ll give an overview of the home office deduction. You’ll learn who qualifies, which expenses are deductible, and how to legitimately claim this money-saving tax break no matter what type of business you have.

Who can claim the home office tax deduction

If you work for yourself in any type of trade or business, either full- or part-time, and your primary office location is your home, you have a home business. The designation applies no matter whether you sell goods and services, are a freelancer, consultant, designer, inventor, Uber driver, or dog-walker.

If you work for yourself in any type of trade or business, either full- or part-time, and your primary office location is your home, you have a home business. 

You can have a home-based business even if you’re like John and mostly earn income away from home. This is common for many trades and solopreneurs, such as musicians, sales reps, and those working in the gig economy. If you’re self-employed and do administrative work like scheduling, invoicing, communication, and recordkeeping at home, you have a home business.

Note that employees who work from home can’t claim a home office deduction. W-2 workers used to be allowed to include certain expenses if they itemized deductions. But tax reform took away that benefit starting with the 2018 tax year.

The home office deduction is available for any self-employed person no matter whether you own or rent your home, with the following two requirements:

  1. Your home office space is used regularly and exclusively for business
  2. Your home office is the principal place used for business

You must regularly use part of your home exclusively for conducting business. For example, if you use a guest room in your house or a nook in your studio apartment to run your business, you can take a home office deduction for the space.

You don’t need walls to separate your office, but it should be a distinct area within your home. The only exception to this “exclusive use” rule is when you use part of your home for business storage or as a daycare. In these situations, you can consider the entire space an office for tax purposes.

Additionally, your home must be the primary place you conduct business, even if it’s just the administrative work you do. For example, if you meet with clients or do work for customers away from home, you can still consider the area of your home used exclusively for business as your home office.

Your home doesn’t have to be the only place you work to qualify for the deduction. You might also work at a coffee shop or a co-working space from time to time.

You could also consider a separate structure at your home, such as a garage or studio, your home office if you use it regularly for business. Also, note that your home doesn’t have to be the only place you work to qualify for the deduction. You might also work at a coffee shop or a co-working space from time to time.

RELATED: How to Cut Taxes When You Work From Home

Expenses that are eligible for the home office tax deduction

If you run a business from home, two types of expenses are eligible for the home office deduction: direct expenses and indirect expenses.

Direct expenses are the costs to set up and maintain your office. For instance, if you work in a spare bedroom, you might decide to install carpet and window treatments. These expenses are 100 percent deductible, no matter the size of the office.  

Indirect expenses are costs related to your office that affect your entire home. They’re partially deductible based on the size of your office as a percentage of your home. 

For renters, your rent, renters insurance, and utilities are examples of indirect expenses. You’d have these expenses even if you didn’t have a home office.

For homeowners, you can't deduct the principal portion of your mortgage payment, which is the amount borrowed for the home. Instead, you’re allowed to recover a part of the cost each year through depreciation deductions, using formulas created by the IRS.

Other indirect expenses typically include mortgage interest, property taxes, home insurance, utilities, and maintenance. Allowable indirect expenses actually turn some of your personal expenses into home office business deductions, which is fantastic!

Allowable indirect expenses actually turn some of your personal expenses into home office business deductions, which is fantastic!

However, expenses that are entirely unrelated to your home office, such as remodeling in other parts of your home or gardening, are never deductible. So, your ability to deduct an expense when you’re self-employed depends on whether it benefits just your office (such as carpeting and wall paint) or your entire home (such as power and water).

Also, remember that business expenses unrelated to your home office—such as marketing, equipment, software, office supplies, and business insurance—are fully deductible no matter where you work.

How to claim the home office tax deduction

If you qualify for the home office deduction, there are two ways you can calculate it: the standard method or the simplified method.

The standard method requires you to determine the percentage of your home used for business. You divide the square footage of the area used for business by the square footage of your entire home.

For example, if your home office is 12 feet by 10 feet, that’s 120 square feet. If your entire home is 1,200 square feet, then diving 120 by 1,200 gives you a home office space that’s 10 percent of your home. That means 10 percent of the qualifying expenses of your home can be attributed to business use, and the remaining 90 percent is personal use. If your monthly power bill is $100 and 10 percent of your home qualifies for business use, you can consider $10 of the bill a business expense.

To claim the standard deduction, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure out the expenses you can deduct and then file it with Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business.

The simplified method allows you to claim $5 per square foot of your office area, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. So, that caps your deduction at $1,500 (300 square feet x $5) per year.

The simplified method truly is simple because you don’t have to do any record-keeping, just measure the space and include it on Schedule C. It works best for small home offices, while the standard method is better when your office is larger than 300 square feet. You can choose the method that gives you the biggest tax break for any year.

But no matter which method you choose to calculate a home office tax deduction, you can’t deduct more than your business’ net profit. However, you can carry them forward into future tax years.

As you can see, claiming tax deductions for your home office can be complicated. I recommend that everyone who’s self-employed use a qualified tax accountant to maximize both home office and business tax deductions.

Yes, professional advice costs money. But it’s well worth it, and it usually saves money in the long run when you know how to take advantage of every legit tax deduction.

How To Save Money On Textbooks + Campus Book Rentals Review

If you are looking for tips on how to save money as a college student, then one of the top things you need to learn is how to save money on textbooks such as through cheap textbook rentals. In this post, I will be including a Campus Book Rentals review because I used this textbook rental company throughout college and was […]

The post How To Save Money On Textbooks + Campus Book Rentals Review appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

5 Tips for a Memorable Holiday Card for Your Business

In a time when most communication takes place online, receiving a personal holiday card in the mail is a welcome treat—and one that can help build stronger business relationships while supporting your company’s brand.

So how can you be sure that your company’s holiday card earns a place on the mantel or card display and isn’t just tossed in the recycling bin? Start with a high-quality card from a well-known stationer like Crane, and then remember these tips.

1. Reflect Your Brand

Although sending a holiday card spreads cheer and acknowledges the spirit of the season, it’s a marketing tool ultimately, giving you a chance to thank your customers for their business and maintain top-of-mind awareness. Therefore, it’s important that the design you choose reflects your company brand and sends the right message to customers. Try to choose card designs that align with your brand colors, imagery, fonts, and overall corporate identity. That doesn’t mean you have to stick to boring or conservative designs, but you should consider the message you’re sending. Even conservative businesses like accountants or attorneys can incorporate whimsical or colorful designs into their cards when done appropriately.

2. Consider a Photo

Photo cards are among the most popular design choices for holiday cards. After all, who doesn’t love seeing the smiling faces of friends and family that they might see all that often? Photo cards are also appropriate for businesses and are likely to get the recipients to look more closely at them. Photo cards work well both for businesses where customers have regular contact with your team and for those where your customers might not see you and want to put faces to names. They are also a great choice for family businesses. Including a family photo on the holiday card supports your “family-owned” brand and a personal touch to the card.

3. Make it Personal

Speaking of adding a personal touch, the most memorable holiday cards are those that have a personal touch. Nothing will send your card to the bin faster than a preprinted card that was clearly a mass mailing. People want to feel special and acknowledged, and adding a personal touch to the card creates that feeling. Hand-signing cards is ideal, but not always practical, but many printing companies can add digital signatures that mimic the look of a signature. Another option is to have your team send cards to specific clients with a personalized message thanking them for their business or mentioning a specific memory or project.

Sending business holiday cards is a key part of your marketing, so take the time to do it right.

4. Take Care with Messaging

Understanding your customer base and being culturally sensitive is important all the time, but in particular during the holidays. It’s important to choose holiday cards and write messages that are sensitive to your customers' religious and cultural preferences. This means avoiding cards with overtly religious messages or focused on the religious aspects of the season, instead opt for more neutral designs and greetings. The primary exceptions are if your business is devoted to a specific religion (eg. a Christian bookstore), if you are certain that your customer base is of a specific faith, or if you’re sending greetings for a holiday you celebrate (for example, if you’re of the Jewish faith and sending cards for Hanukkah). Even then, it’s best to opt for cards that have more subtle religious imagery and messages. If you’re unsure, choose a more universal “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” theme.

5. Mail Carefully

There’s no point in putting time, effort, and money into your holiday card only to have many of them returned undeliverable because you have incorrect addresses. Devote some time to updating your mailing list, adding new contacts, removing old or outdated addresses, and removing duplicates. If you’re sending cards to contacts and clients at other companies, make sure that the recipients are still with the company and that you have their titles correct.

This means that you should begin working on your holiday cards well in advance. You might not be thinking about the holidays yet in October, but it’s best to get your company cards in the mail as close to Thanksgiving as possible. Not only does getting your card in the hands of your contacts early make it more memorable—it’s not going to get lost in the pile of cards filling mailboxes the week before Christmas—but it also ensures that people receive them before they head out of the office for the holidays. Many people take time off in the days before and after Christmas, and if your cards are mailed late, they won’t be seen until after the New Year. If you are running late with your holiday cards, consider sending New Year’s greetings instead.

Sending business holiday cards is a key part of your marketing, so take the time to do it right. Your customers will be happy to receive them and remember your company in the year to come.

Learning How To Survive On A College Budget

College is expensive and everyone knows that. Between paying for tuition, parking, textbooks, extra fees, and everything else, you also have basic living expenses to pay for as well. All of these costs are either brand new or somewhat new to you most likely as well, so you might not even know how to survive […]

The post Learning How To Survive On A College Budget appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

16 Good Jobs for Teens (Plus Business Ideas!)

If you’re a teen looking for a job (or a parent helping your teen find a job), you’re in luck! Most people know that 16-year-olds can work in a variety of stores and restaurants. However, some companies will hire teens as young as 15, and sometimes even as young as 14. We’ll share where you should look if you’re a teen looking for ways to earn your own cash.

Here are some of the more well-known jobs that employers hire 14 and 15-year-olds for.

Jobs for 15-year-olds

There are a few companies willing to hire teens as young as 14 or 15. We’ll focus on a few industries that hire 15-year-olds first.

Restaurant Worker

Fast food and casual restaurants often hire teens as young as 15. For instance, Boston Market is a casual restaurant chain with over 450 locations in the United States. Some of the job positions they might hire 15-year-olds for include busboy/busgirl jobs and cleaning crew.

Grocery Store Worker

Some grocery stores will hire 15-year-olds to work as a cashier or stock person. Hy-Vee is a national grocery store chain with nearly 250 locations in states such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois.

Note that not all Hy-Vee stores hire 15-year-olds. Check with your local Hy-Vee location and talk with the manager there.

Movie Theater Worker

As a movie theater worker, you might sell tickets, take tickets, work in concessions or do theater cleanup. The AMC movie theater company has locations throughout the U.S and often hire teens as young as 15. As with Hy-Vee, locations are independently managed and many locations will hire 15-year-olds, however not all locations do.

Amusement Park Worker

Six Flags amusement parks and other amusement parks commonly hire teens as young as 15. There are a variety of job positions available such as park cleaner, store cashier, food service jobs and ride operators.

Check with your local Six Flags or other amusement parks to see what types of job positions are available for 15-year-olds.

Lifeguard

The American Red Cross lets teens as young as 15 get certified for service as a lifeguard. If you’re interested in this type of job, talk with hiring managers at local pools and beaches.

If they’re willing to hire a certified lifeguard at 15, get your certification through your local Red Cross or online.

Jobs for 14-year-olds

Some industries, although not many, hire 14-year-olds. There are a variety of restaurants and stores that hire 14-year-olds. Some of the jobs you might do in a restaurant at 14 include cleaning, cashiering, and food preparation.

The following restaurants often hire teens as young as 14. Note that the hiring age can vary by location.

  • Baskin Robbins
  • Ben and Jerry’s
  • Bruster’s Real Ice Cream
  • Chick-Fil-A
  • Culver’s
  • Dairy Queen
  • McDonald’s
  • Rita’s Italian Ice

Grocery stores also hire teens as young as 14 at times. Again, each location may vary on the hiring age based on management preference and state laws. But the following grocery stores have been known to hire 14-year-olds.

  • Giant Eagle
  • Giant Food
  • Kroger
  • Publix
  • Winn Dixie

If you want even more ideas for jobs for teens check out this list.

Not interested in working for a company? Try this next idea on for size.

Businesses you can start as a teenager

What if you want a job as a teenager but you want something different? How about starting your own business?

One of the keys to operating a successful business is to “underpromise and overdeliver.” In other words, do a better job than what you agreed to do and make the customer extra happy they hired you.

Here are some business ideas that anyone age 14 or up can start.

Tutoring

Are you smart in school subjects such as English, reading, math or science? How about working as a tutor for other students your age or younger?

Advertise your skills to parents of other children in your area, or on social media outlets. Set a rate of pay; most tutors charge by the half-hour or by the hour.

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