All posts by Brenda Bryant

The Season is Here Again

We are fast approaching the holiday season (Where did the year go?) and after last year’s holiday spending, you probably have a plan in place for this year. Right??

Some ideas to keep in mind:

What the holidays mean to you.

Is it a time of joy or a time of stress? This is the season of getting together with friends and family. It is a time for sharing, for showing love and appreciation to those around us. If you are worried about your holiday giving, you will not enjoy the camaraderie of friends and family.

Finding the right balance between your money and your holiday spirit.

Buying a gift so that Mary can say she received a gift from you is not a good reason. Buying a gift you cannot pay for is a burden and causes more stress than joy. Have a spending plan. Know how much you can comfortably spend and then stop spending!

Know why you buy gifts.

Is it out of love or obligation? You don’t need to repay George for the gift you received last year. Can you even remember what you received last year? There are some people to whom you always give gifts. You have been doing that for years. But do your gifts have to be purchased? Find some clever ways to share with your loved ones. When I first moved to the West Coast, I met a family who “adopted” me and invited me to various family events. When the holidays came around, I had very little money, so I baked pies and gave them as gifts. These pies were welcomed and enjoyed – and my holiday spending budget stayed intact. What can you give that does not break your bank?

Make a list – and check it twice.

Over the years families get bigger and bigger – added children, in-laws, cousins, etc. So gifting family can become quite costly. Some families have gone to drawing names for any members over 16 and limiting the amount to $20, or $25, or whatever the family decides. They limit the amount of gifts to 2 for family members 16 and under. It helps keeping the fun and love in the season and reducing the stress and frustration.

This is the season of love and caring. You don’t want to still be mad at yourself in July when you look at your credit card bill and see you are still paying for last year’s holiday gifts. Give yourself the gift of financial peace.

Women’s Money Conference

So what did you do over the weekend? I went to the 3rdAnnual (but my first) Women’s Money Conference on Saturday, April 5th. It was filled with smart, intelligent, inquisitive women – and a few brave men. And since it was my first time there, I tried to meet all the sponsors and vendors represented. So I talked with representatives from various banks, credit unions, local and federal organizations, authors, radio stations – oh, yes, you missed a lot – and even a bookstore.

Since I teach Financial Intelligence, I was eager to hear the speakers. The morning started out with Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall. She talked about the importance of understanding how money works. She encouraged everyone to go onto the state website for unclaimed property and see if she is holding YOUR money for you. In fact, one of the participants did have some of that ‘held money.’ The speakers were interspersed with table discussion time and speaker question and answer periods. The interaction with the speakers and with one another, the chance to share good ideas, and the ability to get real answers to questions was priceless.

The speakers included Jerrie Merritt, who talked about the emotional side of spending money; Toni Spilsbury, who talked about the importance of solid organization in the kitchen (the almighty food budget); Carrie Rocha, who talked about how her family’s discipline got them out of debt; Julie Macc, who talked about understanding how to secure your money and monitor your credit; and Kat Bellucci, who talked about building wealth. But the bottom line of all the speakers, vendors, and organizations is that money wealth begins with money knowledge. What do others know about money that you don’t? How are others able to amass a realistic savings plan or buy a house or go to college, and you can’t? The day was filled with various answers to questions like that. We learned about the importance of living with a good financial plan – one that meets our family’s specific needs; of finding the right organizations that can help us buy that house or go to college or build an appropriate savings plan; of surrounding ourselves with the right trustworthy people to mentor us as we flex our financial muscles.

If you would like more information, please go to www.womensmoney.org. You may find some helpful information there. And, of course, you can always contact me at brenda@thegaylegroup.com.

 

Where Did My Money Go?

When I started my first job, I was told my annual salary. Because I knew I got paid every other week, I divided my annual salary by 26. Then set up a basic budget. Now that sounded very simple to follow and easy to do.

BUT – and there is always a but – when I received my first check, I was actually shocked. The amount of money I had in my budget did not match the amount of money in my paycheck. I did know that income tax would be taken out and had allotted a percentage for that, but I had not allotted for enough or for other deductions. So I went investigating. After all, somebody was taking my money and I needed to find out where my money went.

The state in which I was working took out SIT – State Income Tax (also called withholding tax) and SDI (State Disability Insurance). Of course, the federal deductions included FIT – Federal Income Tax, as well as FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act). FICA is the combination of Medicare and Social Security. Medicare deductions are 2.9% and Social Security deductions are 12.4%. And then there were a few other deductions, depending on the department, job description, and location. In my case I had to pay a portion of health insurance. The company also offered a retirement program. I paid up to 6% of my salary into it and the company matched up to 3%.

The company paid taxes for having me as an employee. I paid half the FICA and the company paid the other half – Medicare at 1.45% and Social Security at 6.2% each. They also paid state (SUTA-State Unemployment Tax Act or SUI-State Unemployment Insurance) and federal unemployment (FUTA-Federal Unemployment Tax Act). Those funds were used to help pay me when I was unemployed. A portion of those funds were used for retraining. When I became employed again, my new employer paid those taxes.

When I finally figured out the real percent of deductions, the only way I could change my amount was to revamp my withholding withdrawals (exemptions). Exemptions range for 0 (the most amount of tax withheld) and 9 (the least amount).

So take a good look at your pay stub and review your deductions.

 

Brenda Gayle Bryant is the owner of the gayle group, is certified in QuickBooks and Microsoft Office, and is a past board member of both the National Speakers Association and American Society for Training and Development. Although she has been a corporate consultant for many years, her passion is teaching people sound financial techniques. Let’s get the scary out of finance.Contact her at brenda@thegaylegroup.com for a free financial analysis.

 

What Your Social Security Number Means

Social Security numbers came into existence after the Social Security Act in 1935. The purpose was to identify wage and salary records for the millionsof workers covered by the new law.This was a method for maintaining permanentand accurate earnings records for each person workingin employment covered by the Social Security program.Hence, the Social Security number.

The Social Security number (SSN) consists of ninedigits divided into three parts:

XXX – XX – XXXX

The first 3 numbers are the Area number; the second 2 are theGroup number, and the last 4 are the Serial number.

This unique configuration, plus the fact that an SSN isused for many purposes besides employment (incometax returns, bank accounts, drivers’ licenses, and soforth), makes the number easily recognizable. Althoughmost people believe that each part of the number has aspecial significance, few know what that significance is.

If you got your number before 1972, the Area number indicated the location(State, territory, or possession) of the Social Security officethat issued the number. Because an individual could apply for an SSN at any SocialSecurity office, the Area numberdid not necessarilyindicate where the person lived or worked.

If you got your number after 1972,the Social Security Administration has been issuing SSNs centrally from its headquarters in Baltimore. TheArea numbernow indicates the person’s State of residenceas shown on the SSN application.

There are a few exceptions to these rules. Before1964, Area numbers700-728 were assigned by the RailroadRetirement Board to workers covered by the Railroad Retirement Act. Area number586 is dividedamong American Samoa, Guam, the Philippines, andAmericans employed abroad by American employers. From 1975 to 1979, it was also used for Indochineserefugees. Area number 580 is assigned to persons applyingin Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The 9-digit number provides the capacity for assigningnearly 1 billion SSNs. To date, approximately 277million numbers have been issued, leaving about 75% still available. Only Florida has used up its originalallotment. Several other States (Arizona, California,and Mississippi), and Puerto Rico are expected to exhausttheir original allotment within the next 2 decades.

Additional Area numbers have been designated for theselocations. About 5-7 million new numbers are issuedeach year, but even at this rate there will be sufficientnumbers available for several generations to come.

Can you find your number:

 

State Area Number
Alabama 416-424
Alaska 574
American Samoa 586 (group numbers 20-28)
Arizona 526-527, 600-601
Arkansas 429-432
California 545-573, 602-626
Colorado 521-524
Connecticut 040-049
Delaware 221-222
District of Columbia 577-579
Florida 261-267, 589-595
Georgia 252-260
Guam 586 (group numbers 01-18)
Hawaii 575-576
Idaho 518-519
Illinois 318-361
Indiana 303-317
Iowa 478-485
Kansas 509-515
Kentucky 400-407
Louisiana 433-439
Maine 004-007
Maryland 212-220
Massachusetts 010-034
Michigan 362-386
Minnesota 468-477
Mississippi 425-428, 587-588
Missouri 486-500
Montana 516-517
Nebraska 505-508
Nevada 530
New Hampshire 001-003
New Jersey 135-158
New Mexico 525, 585
New York 050-134
North Carolina 237-246, 232 (group number 30)
North Dakota 501-502
Ohio 268-302
Oklahoma 440-448
Oregon 540-544
Pennsylvania 159-211
Puerto Rico 580 (group number20), 581-584,596-599
Rhode Island 335-039
South Carolina 247-251
South Dakota 503-504
Tennessee 108-415
Texas 149-467
Utah 528-529
Vermont 008-009
Virginia 223-231
Virgin Islands 580 (group numbers01-18)
Washington 531-539
West Virginia 132-236 (except group number 30)
Wisconsin 187-399
Wyoming 520
Railroad Retirement Board 700-728
Outside United States 586 (group numbers 30-58, 60-78)

The smaller numbers start in the East Coast and get larger as they move to the West Coast, with the exception of Washington, DC, US territories, etc.

Primary source: Social Security Bulletin

Brenda Gayle Bryant is the owner of the gayle group, is certified in QuickBooks and Microsoft Office, and is a past board member of both the National Speakers Association and American Society for Training and Development. She has been a small business coach for over 20 years and her passion is teaching people sound financial techniques.

Tracking Your Finances

When working with businesses, the first thing I look at is how money moves in the company. We, the owner and I, review the Chart of Accounts – the backbone of the company’s financial structure. Then we follow a very simple process. First we look at all the accounts that the company is currently tracking. Second we look at what goes into each of these accounts. And third the owner gets homework – to define each of the accounts tracked.

Now why am I telling you about how I work with businesses? Because you need to track your own accounts in a similar way. But you don’t have a Chart of Accounts for your personal finances. In fact you may never have understood or even heard that term before. But you need a personal Chart of Accounts to monitor how money moves into and out of your house. And it’s really not that hard to put one together. A Chart of Accounts is simply a listing of how you use money. It is broken into two basic categories – Income and Expenses.

Income

First jot down how you get your money – salary, commissions, Social Security, dividends, pension, etc. – anything that we can call ‘income.’ There are different kinds of income, but because we are making this simple, our definition of income is money that comes to us.

Expenses

Then we need to track how money leaves us – oh, let me count the ways! Expenses are things you pay – utilities, rent or mortgage, auto, phone, cable, groceries, etc. Your job is to jot down as many of these as you can. One of the first things you will immediately see is that there are more ways for money to leave you than there are for money to come to you.

Definitions

Once you have a workable personal Chart of Accounts, define each account. For example,

Account Type Account Name Account Definition
Income Salary Money from Job
Income Commission Money from Sales
Expense Auto Fuel, Repair and Maintenance
Expense Utilities Gas, Electricity

You get the picture.

The next big step is to decide how you spend your money. Put your expenses into two simple categories – Needs and Wants. You may find that this phase may not be as simple as I have implied because sometimes we can confuse our Wants with our Needs.

You Need to buy groceries to feed your family, but where do you shop, what kinds of items do you buy, is eating out easier than cooking, etc.? I Need to eat; I Want a steak. I Need a new pair of shoes; I Want the cute ones that cost more than I can comfortably spend. I Need to get to work; I Want a new car.

There is nothing wrong with Wanting things; we all do it. But when you have a well-defined personal Chart of Accounts, it helps you to focus on your Needs. Once you have a clear idea of how your money moves into and out of your household, you will be better able to manage your finances in an organized manner.

Tis the Season

Tis the Season to pull out your shoebox, put your receipts in order, and get ready to file your taxes.
Organizing your information goes a long way in making sure your fax information is accurate. Whether you prepare your own taxes or you go to a tax preparer, here are a few things the IRS lists on its website to help you move in the right direction.

Tax Preparation for Personal Information
Who is filing the tax return and how many people are covered on it:

⇒ Your Social Security number
⇒ Your spouse’s Social Security number (if married)
⇒ Social Security numbers for any dependents

Tax Preparation for Income Information

The following documents will help you prepare all the income information that you need to file a federal tax return:

⇒ W-2 Forms from all employers you (and your spouse, if filing a joint return) worked for during the past tax year.
⇒ 1099 Forms if you (or your spouse) completed contract work and earned more than $600.
⇒ Investment income information (including: interest income, dividend income, proceeds from the sale of bonds or stocks, and income from foreign investments).
⇒ Income from local and state tax refunds from the prior year.
⇒ Business income (accounting records for any business that you own)
⇒ Unemployment income
⇒ Rental property income
⇒ Social Security benefits
⇒ Miscellaneous income (including: jury duty, lottery and gambling winnings, Form 1099-MISC for prizes and awards, and Form 1099-MSA for distributions from medical savings accounts)

Tax Preparation for Income Adjustments
The following adjustments can help reduce how much you owe in taxes, and in turn, increase your chance of receiving a tax refund:

⇒ Homebuyer tax credit
⇒ Green energy credits
⇒ IRA contributions
⇒ Mortgage interest
⇒ Student loan interest
⇒ Medical Savings Account (MSA) contributions
⇒ Self-employed health insurance
⇒ Moving expenses

Tax Preparation for Credits and Deductions
There are many tax credits and tax deductions for various expenses, which are designed to help lower the amount of tax that an individual has to pay:

⇒ Education costs
⇒ Childcare costs
⇒ Adoption costs
⇒ Charitable contributions/donations
⇒ Casualty and theft losses
⇒ Qualified business expenses
⇒ Medical expenses
⇒ Job and moving expenses

Tax Preparation for Direct Deposit
Are you interested in having your tax refund directly deposited into your bank account? If so, you will need to provide two things:

⇒ Your bank account number
⇒ The bank’s routing number

This tax forms / preparation checklist should help you get organized before filing your next income tax return.

Brenda Gayle Bryant is the owner of the gayle group, is certified in QuickBooks and Microsoft Office, and is a past board member of both the National Speakers Association and American Society for Training and Development. Although she has been a corporate consultant for many years, her passion is teaching people sound financial techniques. Let’s get the scary out of finance. You can contact her at brenda@thegaylegroup.com. Check out her websites:
www.worthaccount.com/988037
www.worthunlimited.com/988037

Medicare

Have you seen the commercials for Medicare? They are everywhere – trying to convince you that “my insurance company” has the best offer. But for many people choosing the right plan, Medicare or any other type of insurance, can be a confusing prospect. My neighbor come over to ask me to help him decide which plan he should use. Years ago the company would decide which plan we all took. Now that decision has been put back in our hands. So with all these commercials bombarding us and all the massive insurance books and pamphlets mailed to us, this whole process can become overwhelming.

The open enrollment period is from October 1 through December 7 for existing Medicare participants. New enrollees will be notified by the government several months before they are eligible.

There are several basic parts to Medicare

Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) helps cover:

  • Inpatient care in hospitals
  • Skilled nursing facility care
  • Hospice care
  • Home health care

Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) helps cover:

  • Services from doctors and other health care providers
  • Outpatient care
  • Home health care
  • Durable medical equipment
  • Some preventive services

Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage [HMO or PPO]):

  • Includes all benefits and services covered under Part A and Part B
  • Usually includes Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) as part of the plan
  • Run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies
  • May include extra benefits and services for an extra cost

Medicare Part D (Medicare prescription drug coverage):

  • Helps cover the cost of prescription drugs
  • Run by Medicare-approved private insurance companies
  • May help lower your prescription drug costs and help protect against higher costs in the future

When you are ready to make your decision, I recommend talking with an insurance broker, who can help guide you to the right decision.

For more information about Medicare 2015, go to http://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/10050.pdf.

Brenda Gayle Bryant is the owner of the gayle group, is certified in QuickBooks and Microsoft Office, and is a past board member of both the National Speakers Association and American Society for Training and Development. Although she has been a corporate consultant for many years, her passion is teaching people sound financial techniques. Contact her at brenda@thegaylegroup.com for a free financial analysis.

 

Debt is Debt

Debt is debt. That’s a simple statement that carries a lot of emotion. If you buy something and don’t pay for it in full, you have debt. Most of us fall into that category. There are times we buy and pay in full, and there are times we buy and make payments. Payments equal debt.

Is there such a thing as good debt or bad debt? Financial experts disagree. Some believe all debt is bad debt. If you can’t pay for it, don’t purchase it. Others believe there is good debt because many people cannot afford to pay for a house or a car or even higher education in full.

Bankrate.comsays, “As a general guideline, your monthly mortgage payment, including principal, interest, real estate taxes, and homeowners insurance, should not exceed 28% of your gross monthly income.” Others may go as high as 35%. But remember this amount does not include your other debts.

“The amount of personal debt in this country is ever-increasing, and a large part of the reason is that credit has never been easier to get” according to bankrate.com. When you take a close look at your other expenses, are they paid in full or are you making payments on them, also?

Debt is a concept that America understands quite well – or at least thinks so. But is America allowing making payments – getting into debt – to take the place of saving money and paying for purchases in full?
One way to help curb debt is by paying off the largest amount of debt we use consistently – credit cards. Credit card interest rates can go up to 29.99% – the maximum allowable interest rate on any credit card, per valuepenguin.com. That is a lot money to pay. Add that percentage to what you purchase, and you can see the real price of your purchase.

American Express recentlychanged how it calculates debt:

“You may see interest on your next statement even if you pay the new balance in full and on time and make no new charges. This is called ‘trailinginterest.’ Trailing interest is the interest charged when, for example, you didn’t pay your previous balance in full. When that happens, we chargeinterest from the first day of the billing period until we receive your payment in full. You can avoid paying interest on purchasesby paying yourbalance in full and on time each month. Please see the ‘When we charge interest’ sub-section in your Cardmember Agreement for details.”
You need a car. Can you pay for it in full or do you have to finance it? If you cannot pay for it in full, you are in debt. Some financial experts feel this is good debt because it is a necessity. Others feel this is bad debt because it does not appreciate – gain value after purchase.

The bottom line for you is to first take an honest look at your finances now. Can you afford to make that purchase – no matter what it is? If so, buy it. If not, should you finance it and make payments or should you save up to purchase it when you can pay the amount in full? Either way, be honest about you finances.

Brenda Gayle Bryant is the owner of the gayle group, is certified in QuickBooks and Microsoft Office, and is a past board member of both the National Speakers Association and American Society for Training and Development. Although she has been a corporate consultant for many years, her passion is teaching people sound financial techniques. You can reach her at brenda@thegaylegroup.com or www.worthaccount.com/988037.

Are Your Holidays Really Over?

So now that the holidays are over, are you happy that you paid for all your gifts in full or are you unhappy because you are dreading your January bills? And February and March? You get the picture. If you are the former, congratulations! If you are the latter, you have a whole year before the holidays are upon you again.

When I was younger, the banks offered a Christmas Club account. It was a savings account that was specifically for handling Christmas gifts. I remember putting aside a little money every week so that I would have enough money to buy gifts. All I had was an allowance and any money I could make working in the neighborhood. By the time November came, I felt like I had accomplished a big feat. The interest rate was negligible. But I did not do it for the interest; I was interested in the principle – the money.

Another thing that was available at that time was layaway. It was available all year long at most of the stores my mother shopped in. So if I saw something before the holidays, I could put it on layaway, pay for it a little every week, and with my last payment, it was mine free and clear. A form of layaway has come back into play around the holidays and is a great way to have your gifts paid for before you give them – and no after-holiday bills!
But what if you are still paying off your current holiday bills? Kimberly Palmer in Your10-Step Financial Recovery Plan says that main things on which you should focus are goal setting, making a plan, putting it into action, sticking with it so you can actually reach your goal.

One of your goals is to get your holiday bills paid. But what other goals do you have? Also, do you have a financial partner – someone with whom you can discuss your goals and help you build a plan that makes sense for you? If there is no one close to you who can fill that position, look online for options. You can find incentives and motivation that will help keep you focused and propel you toward your goal.

Build a plan – a step-by-step program that you can follow. Make sure your steps are small and achievable. If you make them too big or too cumbersome, you will give up and accomplish nothing but more debt and aggravation. Some people use vision boards that have pictures of what the end result will look like. Or you can put together a ‘look book’ as Kimberly calls it. It is a visual representation what why you are following the steps in your plan.

The most important part of your plan is ACTION. All of your goals and planning and visioning mean nothing if you don’t put them into action. Do something. You have already decided on your steps. Just follow them.

When you need encouragement (and you will), call on your financial partner or look online for motivation from articles, testimonials, etc. You can do this. A great way to track your progress is to review your week. That means EVERY WEEK look at what you have accomplished. Sometimes it is hard to see you are going in the right direction while you are still traveling on the road.

You have a worthy goal – to, if not eliminate you holiday bills, reduce them greatly. Enjoy the peace and joy of giving gifts and being holiday debt free. You can do it!

A Little Something on the Side

When I was a kid, my mother had a drawer where she put the bills – the electric bill, the phone bill, rent, etc. When she would get paid, she would put a portion of that bill’s amount into the envelope. Then when the bill was due, I would take the envelope down to the phone company or the electric company, pay the bill, get a receipt, and bring it back home to my mother. But my mother would complain that there was always more month than money. I didn’t understand that comment until I became responsible for my own finances.

One of the principles of good financial health is the pay yourself first. In our house since the month lasted longer than the money, paying oneself was a chore. BUT … in my mother’s bill drawer was another envelope called “something”. Her “something” envelope would get a dollar or two put into it, if she had it to spare. And that did not happen often enough. The “something” money was sometimes used when she needed a new uniform and did not have the full amount, or I needed a new pair of shoes, or we needed to make a quick run to the grocery store. The “something” envelope never had a lot of money in it and was never able to act as a real savings. But that envelope many times kept us out of trouble.

I remember one time my mother had had a particularly rough week. She and I had not spent very much time together and she was bone tired. So she took her “something” envelope and bought us dinner. That was a true rarity. We always cooked and ate at home. It was such a special treat for both of us.

So years later when I graduated from college and landed a very good job, I would think of my mother’s “something” envelope. Even though I tried to pay myself first and accumulate funds in my savings account, I always kept a little in a piggy bank (my version of a “something” envelope) in case I might need a little help with my finances, or just go to the movies, or whatever. I remember my mother asking me once about where I had learned to do this. I told her I had spent 6 years in college and 18 years with her. In college I learned from books. At home I learned from her.

So you may want to pay yourself first and feel, as my mother did, that your month out distances you money. Just remember that a little something on the side can really add up.

Brenda Gayle Bryant is the owner of the gayle group, is certified in QuickBooks and Microsoft Office, and is a past board member of both the National Speakers Association and American Society for Training and Development. Although she has been a corporate consultant for many years, her passion is teaching people sound financial techniques