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There are some big changes in the standard deduction and exemptions for 2018. We have all the numbers here and how the change will affect tax payers.

standard deduction

Most taxpayers can choose between itemizing tax deductions and taking the standard deduction. Itemizing, which requires accurate record-keeping, allows you to take deductions for specific expenditures from the tax year. The standard tax deduction is a fixed amount. Either way, your deductions reduce the amount of your taxable income. So they reduce the amount of overall taxes you owe.

Generally, if you can show that you’ve had more deductible expenses than the amount of the default standard deduction, it’s better to itemize. This way, you reduce your taxable income by more. So you’ll pay less in taxes.

However, if you don’t have enough itemized deductions, taking the standardized deduction works out best.

In 2013, only about 30% of U.S. households itemized their deductions in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. With 2018’s increased standard deduction amount, there’s a good chance that this number will go down even more. With a higher standard deduction, it will be more difficult for taxpayers to itemize enough to cross that threshold.

IRS publication 501 outlines each year’s deduction amounts. There are some cases where you can make adjustments to the standard deduction. For example, if you are 65 or older, or if you are blind, you get a higher standard deduction.

Taxpayers used to also be able to take a personal exemption of around $3,000, depending on the tax year. This provision has been repealed for 2018, so this is no longer available.

What Tax Reform Means for Deductions

The recent tax reform bill has significantly increased the standard deduction. It has also decreased the number of itemized deductions that are allowed. These factors combined mean more taxpayers will likely take the new, higher standard deduction.

Here’s a historical overview of what the standard deduction has been since 2010:

Tax Year 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
Single $12,000 $6,350 $6,300 $6,300 $6,200 $6,100 $5,950 $5,800 $5,700
Married filing jointly $24,000 $12,700 $12,600 $12,600 $12,400 $12,200 $11,900 $11,600 $11,400
Married filing separately $12,000 $6,350 $6,300 $6,300 $6,200 $6,100 $5,950 $5,800 $5,700
Head of household $18,000 $9,350 $9,300 $9,250 $9,100 $8,950 $8,700 $8,500 $8.400
Personal exemption Repealed $4,050 $4,050 $4,000 $3,950 $3,900 $3,800 $3,750 $3,650

As you can see, the standard deduction is now much higher. Another major increase came with the child tax credit. Now, taxpayers can deduct $2,000 per qualifying child, with a maximum refundable amount of $1,400. This tax credit starts to phase out for married taxpayers filing jointly at $400,000 in income and at $200,000 in income for all other filers.

What Does it Mean for You?

Of course, the main question for most tax filers is, “How does this affect me?” Well, it really depends on a huge combination of factors. Check out this article for an in-depth overview of the major changes the bill introduced. But here are a few bottom-line takeaways to consider:

  • You’re more likely to take the standard deduction. The higher standard deduction alone will be enough to push many taxpayers into taking it rather than itemizing. But taxpayers who used to itemize due to hefty mortgage interest, lots of charitable contributions, or high state and local income and property taxes may find those more-limited deductions aren’t enough to push them over the threshold now.
  • Taxes may be simpler in some ways but more complex in others. Taking the standard deduction is, indeed, simpler than itemizing. But it may take some time to hash out all the practical implications of this tax law. So be prepared for some complications along the way.

You can use calculators like this one to get an idea of exactly how the new tax bill is likely to affect you.

Remember, this tax law takes effect in 2018. So when you’re filing your 2017 taxes in early 2018, the 2017 deductions and personal exemption still apply.

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No more excuses. It’s time to open your first IRA account. We walk you through the entire process, including where to open your account. It’s easy!

First IRA Account

Establishing your first IRA, or Independent Retirement Account, is a big deal in the world of finance. This tax-advantaged account is a great way to save and invest for the future. It generally earns more than you would in a high-yield savings account (thanks to compound interest!). And it allows your money to grow tax-free for decades. Aside from a 401(k)–if you have one–it’s the biggest first step you can make toward saving, and planning for a successful retirement.

Planning for retirement is imperative, too, if you don’t want to work for the rest of your life. No matter how much you make now or how much you’ll need in the future, set aside what you can, when you can. Believe me: your future self will thank you!

So, how do you go about deciding on and opening your first IRA? More importantly, how can you start saving in this retirement vehicle with a limited initial contribution?

Let’s talk about the first steps toward opening an IRA. Then we’ll discuss the best ways to fund one if you only have, say, $1,000 to contribute.

Who Can Open One?

First, know that not everyone is eligible to contribute to an IRA. So, who is eligible to establish and contribute to one? If you are younger than 70 ½ and have earned, reported income of any kind, you’re good to go.

The rules for an IRA are simple: you’re can contribute up to the maximum of either the annual contribution limit or your earned income for the year, whichever is lower. The annual contribution limit can change from year to year. For 2018 it’s $5,500 in or $6,500 if you’re over 50.

This means that if you earned $100,000 this year, you can still only contribute up to $5,500 (or $6,500) to your IRA. Conversely, if you only earned $2,500 this year, that is all you can contribute. Even if you have savings elsewhere or your parents want to give you a little extra cash, you can’t put more in the account than you earned in income.

Decide Which Type Is Right for You

There are two types of IRAs to choose from: traditional and Roth. Both are tax-advantaged. This means they both offer tax benefits as they grow. But they work very differently.

Both IRA types have the same contribution limit. You can have both types of IRAs and contribute to both throughout the year. But if you split the money, the combined amount you contribute to both accounts still can’t exceed the applicable maximum.

A traditional IRA lets you see the tax benefits now. You contribute money to this account during the year tax-free. You can contribute pre-tax dollars through your employer. Or you can contribute post-tax income on your own, and then deduct the contributions when you file your taxes.

Your earnings in the traditional IRA will grow tax-free over the years. However, when you withdraw the funds in retirement, you will pay income taxes at whatever your normal rate is at that time.

A Roth IRA is a little different. You will contribute to this fund with after-tax dollars throughout the year. So your employer won’t contribute from pre-tax dollars. And you can’t take a tax write-off for your contribution. Every penny you contribute has already been taxed.

Again, your earnings will grow tax-free over the years. However, when you withdraw funds, you won’t pay any income taxes. None, nada, zip. You’ll be able to withdraw dollar for dollar in retirement (after age 59 ½), without Uncle Sam taking another cut.

So, which one should you choose?

Well, first off, you don’t have to choose. You can certainly open both types, or even open one now to begin contributing and then open the other type later on. However, if you’re asking which would be the better choice for you, here’s the general rule:

  • If you think you’re making more money now than you will in retirement, go with the traditional IRA. Taking the tax break now, while you’re in a higher income bracket, is smarter and results in more savings.
  • If you think you’ll make more in retirement than you’re making now, go with the Roth IRA. A tax cut now, in the form of annual deductions, doesn’t do you much good if you’ll pay higher taxes on distributions when retirement comes.

Decide when you’re most likely to be in a higher tax bracket, and take the tax benefits then. You can also change this later down the line, if your career shifts and you wind up making substantially more or less than you do now.

Where to Open It

So, you’ve picked an IRA type and set aside some cash. Now, where is the best place to open your account and invest the money? After all, an IRA isn’t simply a savings account, meant to sit around earning a couple percent in interest. It’s a retirement account that you want to grow.

You have a few options available. Almost all major financial institutions offer IRAs. You can open one through a bank or a credit union of which you’re a member. You could turn to mutual fund companies or investment accounts for a more traditional option. Or you can even look into using your IRA to invest with a peer-to-peer lending site, such as Lending Club or Prosper.

You have many, many investment options–more so than with 401(k) investments, in fact. Which you choose is determined by your risk level, your ability to manage the account, and whether you have any specific investment goals.

You can invest your IRA with a robo advisor like Betterment or Wealthfront. These low-cost options can help you decide on a portfolio. They’ll even re-balance your portfolio over time to keep meeting your investing needs.

You could look into utilizing a broker, such as Ally Invest or OptionsHouse. If you want to invest in ETFs (exchange-traded funds) or individual stocks, this is the way to go. This is a great option if you want to pick and choose where your money gets invested.

Mutual fund companies, such as Fidelity, Vanguard, or Charles Schwab are some other preferred places to invest. Each company offers plenty of its own mutual funds to choose from, so you can pick the one that best suits you.

Within the “mutual fund” umbrella, you have a number of options for where your money actually goes. You can pick a target-date retirement fund, which is a fund based on your expected year of retirement. The company will rebalance your portfolio and asset allocation as you go, according to an established timeline. Essentially, the company starts you off in higher-risk, higher-reward investment options when you’re young. As you near retirement, they’ll move your money into safer bonds.

Lifestyle funds are similar, in that they automatically rebalance your portfolio as you go. However, with these, you choose your asset allocation from the get-go, and it doesn’t change over time.

You can also utilize financial advisor services to manage your investments. Each of the mutual fund companies mentioned here offers these services. This is a bit more costly of an option, but can be a great choice if you want to have more control over your money.

Which of these options really depends on your personal preferences and how much money you have to invest. Many companies have initial investment minimums of $0 to $500. But some have minimums of $2,000+. Be sure to check out the details and our reviews before you settle on a company for your first IRA.

Opening and funding an IRA is a great first start toward saving for retirement. It provides more of a return on your savings than a basic savings account would, and also offers tax advantages that help you keep a little more of what’s yours.

By wisely contributing and investing your IRA, you’ll not only grow your money but also save for a successful retirement future. And believe me, you’ll be glad you did.

 

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APR vs. APY: While the seem similar, there’s a big difference between annual percentage rate and annual percentage yield. Here’s what you need to know.

APR vs. APY

APR and APY are short acronyms with big importance. Despite the confusion, these two terms are not interchangeable. What exactly is the difference between APR and APY? Here’s a quick lesson:

  • APR stands for annual percentage rate
  • APY stands for annual percentage yield
  • APR is more commonly used regarding credit cards, mortgages, and loans
  • APY is more commonly used regarding interest-bearing accounts

One thing APR and APY have in common is that they come into play in our lives just about every day if we use credit cards, pay a mortgage, or keep money in the bank. Both determine how much you will earn or pay on investment products and loans. Understanding the basic differences between APR and APY is important before you do something like open a credit card or choose an investment account.

APR is going to be tossed at you when you shop around for credit cards, car loans, or home loans. APR represents the interest you’ll be responsible for paying. APY is a phrase you’re going to hear as you search around for bank accounts, CDs, and a variety of investment products. APY is the amount you stand to earn if you place your money in the hands of a financial institution.

The Basics of APR

The rate portion of an annual percentage rate refers to the amount of money a lender is charges when you borrow money. You can figure out the APR of a loan or balance by multiplying the period rate by the number of payment periods in a year. A simple way to look at it is that an account with an interest rate of 1 percent will have an APR of 12 percent.

On the other side, you can divide the APR by the number of payment periods to get the per-payment rate. Many loans will give you the APR rather than the per-payment rate. If your car loan has a 7.5 percent APR, you’ll pay .625 percent in interest every month.

Sometimes you’ll see both an interest rate and an APR for any given loan or balance. In this case, the APR is typically higher. That’s because APR includes interest, points, broker fees, and additional fees. This is especially common for accounts like mortgages.

The Basics of APY

APY is the rate of return of an interest rate. It takes into account compound interest. Compound interest is the interest you earn on top of the principal and simple interest. APY takes the interest rate and provides a percentage based on how often interest is compounded during a year.

Remember the account with an interest rate of 1 percent and an APR of 12 percent? That same account would carry an APY of approximately 12.68 percent. However, that’s just a basic estimate using the most basic scenario. Actual percentages will always depend on factors like the specific financial institution you’re dealing with and state laws.

Things to Keep in Mind When Shopping Around for Rates

Keep in mind that most lenders and institutions will list whichever number makes their products appear more appealing. This is why it’s important to always ask a potential lender or institution which percentage type they’re quoting as you’re shopping around for loans or accounts.

Compare all the options you’re considering based on the same percentage type to get a true picture. Anything else would be like measuring apples against oranges instead of making a true apples-to-apples comparison. The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) requires all lenders to provide you with accurate cost information that allows you to comparison shop for loans.

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Prosper claims to offer great rates for both borrowers and investors. In this Prosper review, we put these claims to the test.

prosper review

Prosper offers a different way to look at lending. The Prosper platform is a peer-to-peer marketplace where people can borrow money for all aspects of life. It’s an interesting platform for people who need to borrow money. But it’s also great for investors, who have potential to get solid monthly returns. Prosper offers loans for the following:

  • Debt consolidation
  • Home improvements
  • Vehicles
  • Babies and adoptions
  • Small businesses
  • Weddings and other special occasions

Prosper’s big strength is that it removes the roadblocks between people and the funding they need to make the next big leap in life or pursue their goals. It’s a virtual platform for funding that provides both lenders and borrowers with the tools and transparency they need to make informed decisions. There are no in-person meetings with lenders or lengthy application processes.

The Basics of Borrowing Through Prosper

Borrowers can get a rate quote in minutes just by answering a few questions on Prosper’s website. Once you’ve been cleared to receive the loan, Prosper deposits funds straight into your bank account. The process usually takes between three and five business days. Here are the basics of Prosper loans:

  • Fixed terms of either three or five years
  • Maximum loan amount of $35,000
  • Minimum loan amount of $2,000
  • No early payment penalties
  • No hidden fees
  • No minimum income requirement
  • Minimum credit score of 640
  • Payment schedules cannot be adjusted
  • Late fees are charged if payments are not made on time
  • Borrowers can file joint loan applications
  • Payment modification plans are available in some situations

Prosper assigns every borrower on the platform a grade. This grade determines the interest rate Prosper offers and the origination fee borrowers pay. In addition, it’s what investors will look at when deciding whether or not to invest in your loan.

How does Prosper determine your grade? They look at things like your credit score, income, and current debt level. The average income of a Prosper borrower is $88,746. The average FICO score is 710. Those two figures should give you a good idea of how you’d do when seeking a peer-to-peer loan from Prosper’s investors.

The Basics of Lending Through Prosper

Prosper offers the opportunity to invest in personal loans. Lenders can browse loan options for creditworthy borrowers based on factors like FICO scores, Prosper ratings, and loan terms. Prosper assigns each loan opportunity a rating based on its levels of risk and return. As with other investment types, you can earn a higher return. But you generally have to take on more risk for that.

Lenders can either select individual loans or use Prosper’s Auto Invest tool to create a target portfolio. Prosper deposits monthly returns from investments directly and automatically into your account. Prosper does require a $25 minimum investment per loan. The estimated return for Prosper investors is 7.57 percent.

Is Prosper a Good Choice?

Prosper offers a simple and solid way to take part in the peer-to-peer lending world. With loan amounts between $2,000 and $35,000, it’s a good option if you’re looking for a way to finance just about anything without going through traditional banking channels. One thing that separates Prosper from peer-to-peer lending platforms that may appear similar is the fact that the company doesn’t fund loans using its own money. Prosper does underwrite applicants.

What’s the bottom line on Prosper? Borrowers can enjoy a fast way to get funding as long as their credit history is in decent shape and they have a solid income. Lenders may find Prosper to be a simple investment tool that allows them to enjoy some diversification.

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10 Steps to Break the Credit Card Habit

by Abby Hayes

Credit cards offer convenience, security, and rewards. Overspend with a credit card, however, and the interest and fees can bury you. Here are 10 tips to stop using credit cards. If you’ve got a bad credit card habit, chances are you know it. Whether or not you’re willing to admit it is a whole other […]

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The Best Current and Historical Bank Interest Rates — February 2018

by Rob Berger

We’ve tracked bank rates since 2008. The latest list shows the best bank interest rates available nationwide as of February 2018 (with daily updates). Since many banks are constantly updating their interest rates offered on savings, money market and checking accounts, this chart should come in handy. On the 1st of every month, this page […]

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The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2018

by Michael Pruser

Enjoy free travel with this list of the best travel rewards credit cards of 2018. I’ve personally used several of these credit cards for free flights and hotel stays. It’s time to plan your holiday travel. That may mean cashing in the travel rewards you’ve accumulated on credit cards–or it may mean starting to use […]

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Best Robo Advisors

by Kevin Mercadante

A robo advisor can make it easy to invest in an IRA or taxable account. But how do you choose? Here’s our 2018 list of the best robo advisors for your money. This is something of a controversial topic. There are any number of “best robo-advisors” lists, and they all look a little bit different. […]

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7 of the Best Places to Open an IRA in 2018

by Kevin Mercadante

Opening an IRA is an important decision. To help, here is our survey of the best IRA accounts for 2018, including fees and features of each option. Just about every bank, investment brokerage, and robo-advisor welcomes Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). But there are a handful of institutions that stand out above the rest. Below are […]

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How to Find the Most Affordable Cell Phone Plans

by Abby Hayes

The cell phone company war bodes well for consumers, with cellular plans reaching all-time lows. Here are some of the cheapest cell phone plans we could find. Over the past few years, cell phone providers have declared an out-and-out war to win over consumers. This spells good things for the consumers, who can now take […]

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